September 8-10, 2017 – Final ISORA race of the 2017 season. A late Thursday night departure with Jen Kneale. As we request permission to exit the harbour, the Manannan ferry hails on VHF and advises to expect 25 knot winds and lumpy seas. We decide to poke our nose out and see for ourselves, as we can always run back to the shelter of Douglas. AJ Wanderlust sets sail, and enjoys a fast beam reach romp toward Holyhead. It starts off as a very dark night, but soon the clouds clear a little to reveal a brilliant full moon and stars. The seas grow as we approach the tides off Skerries and Holyhead, but AJ Wanderlust flies along, entering the harbour at 6 am. A couple hours sleep and the rigger arrives at 8 am to inspect AJ Wanderlust’s rig and mast. Inspection complete at 10 am, and just after 11:30 am we set sail for Pwllheli, Wales.
We motor out to the Stacks off Holy Island, the tide is with us and the wind is on the nose. AJ Wanderlust bounds up and down in the big waves, a prelude to what will be in tomorrow’s ISORA race. Around the Stacks and the seas moderate. Engine off and sails up, we enjoy a sunny sail toward Pwllheli. The tide is with us and makes for a fast passage. In route, more sailboats begin to appear on AIS. They are ISORA boats, also in passage to the race. It is nice to have the company nearby. An earlier than expected arrival put us in Pwllheli at 8 pm, time enough to enjoy a couple beers at the Plas Heli Sailing Club. And then off to bed for a proper sleep.
Saturday morning 8:30 am start to the final ISORA race. Course is Start – PSC2 buoy – Kish Lighthouse – Finish. The first VHF communication is a race delay, as boats fight the tide out of Pwllheli Harbour. The starting horn sounds at 8:40 am. Twenty one boats have made the start line. A lovely start with wind, but not too much wind. A beat to the PSC2 buoy, and then a beam reach down to St. Tudwall. Calm seas, good speeds. And then we turn the corner, and the seas begin to build. And continue to build. Deep breath, Bardsey Sound is not going to be pretty. Jen is trimming sails, AJ Wanderlust is not pointing as high as the other boats. It is a compromise, AJ Wanderlust is a comfortable cruiser racer, heavy and stable, but not the best pointing boat in the fleet. But AJ Wanderlust is holding her own, she is in the pack.
As we approach Bardsey Sound, I can see the white foaming water. It is blowing 20 to 25 knots now. At least, thank God, this will be quick. Messy, but quick. AJ Wanderlust enters the heaving seas, probably estimated at 15 feet and in quick succession. White water cascades over the bow and down the decks as she ploughs through. Jen is vocalizing her opinion of Bardsey. It is not favourable, and not repeatable. But then she grabs her camera and starts videoing the carnage. Whew, a distraction. I am watching, looking at angles, our course over the ground, and coming to the realization we are going to have to tack in this chaos. I call the tack, choose the wave and AJ Wanderlust spins around to change course. It is one of the few moments that I doubt sailing all the ISORA double handed. Ten big gorillas as crew might top two strong girls on this occasion. But the two girls do just fine .... and then they do it again, as we need one more tack to clear the anger of Bardsey Sound.
We exit Bardsey into what seems a pleasant and welcoming Irish Sea, the beat into 6 foot waves seems nothing after Bardsey. It is 59 miles to Kish Lighthouse. West, we go west until the tide changes at 2 pm. At first, we are almost on the rhumbline with the tide driving AJ Wanderlust’s bow northward. But as the tide decreases our course falters. With the change of tide, we head north for an hour. I decide I like the VMG of west significantly more and thus we tack. The plan is to reach the Irish coast and catch the tide at an accelerated rate when it again changes north. We watch a few other boats on AIS, comparing our position to theirs. I have “Aquaplane” and “Pipedreamer” constantly in sight. We are now under full sails, the wind having slackened off to 15 knots again. We sail consistently, changing helm each two hours. It is around midnight when we reach Kish Lighthouse. And it is 2 am, 29 minutes and 8 seconds when we cross the finish line in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. We have been racing for 17 hours 49 minutes and 8 seconds.
Into the National Yacht Club for a couple celebratory beers. And a watchful eye on the weather. There are gale warnings in the Irish Sea. Plans to move the boat further south are abandoned, as the weather is even worse south. Back on board AJ Wanderlust, I set my alarm for 6 am. I check the weather again, and decide that given timing of expected blow, we can safely make it back to Isle of Man. We slip the dock lines and go for it. A very fast sail back to Douglas in just over 10 hours, speed is enhanced by the engine as we are running ahead of a possible gale. Another 308 nautical miles added to AJ Wanderlust’s 2017 log. 2017 season miles now totalling 6,506 nautical miles. Thanks again for crewing, Jen Kneale !!
Check out the video (above) of AJ Wanderlust in Bardsey Sound compliments of Jen.