Jim and I had planned to do a trip this season but sadly due to ill health Jim was shore bound and unable accompany me in person although he was able to give lots of advice and guidance in preparation for the trip, Conwy being his second sailing home and the Alt to Conwy trip being one he had made numerous times over the years.
 
My friend Leigh had braved a few dinghy sailing excursions with me in the past including an unfortunate dismasting on Crosby Marine lake and had also sailed back from the Albert Dock with me this season learning basic crew skills. He hadn’t been deterred by my style of command and was still enthusiastic for the next trip despite my warnings of how long it actually takes to get anywhere on a sailing boat.
 
A week of intensive planning followed as we prepared ourselves mentally and physically. Rations were purchased (mostly of the pot noodle and pork pie variety) and we studied the charts and weather forecasts in true Chichester style.
 
The day was Saturday the 1st of August with a departure time of 8.30am, High tide being 9.20am. Up bright and early we kissed our wives (and baby) goodbye, double checked we had packed the beer and set off.
 
The weather conditions were an overcast force 4-5 north easterly, a bit breezy for my liking but heading in exactly the right direction for Conwy.
 
Having completed the ten or so pre start checklists devised by Jim we stowed our gear, fuelled up and we were ready to go. 
 
The boat looked warm and comfortable inside and with the space afforded by Westerlys I was looking forward to our stay, which would be the first overnight stay on Wren, a stark contrast to my trip to Conwy the previous year in “little Mojo” which could only just about house my Dad and I but with none of the comforts Wren had to offer.
 

With the Red Duster mounted and flying proudly from astern we tentatively slipped the mooring for foreign shores.

We crept up the Alt still fighting much of the flood and a strong head wind. Drizzle started to come down and the weather started to look a bit ominous.

As we left the Alt the wind seemed stronger that that to which I am accustomed so we gingerly let out half the roller reefing head sail and put the engine into neutral.

The boat ploughed along through the swell registering 4.5 knots on the GPS without too much heel. Once we had passed the Queens Channel our nerves had been steadied and I decided to hoist the main.

The engine was then fully switched off and we began peaceful swoosh forwards at what (for a yachtman!) was a mighty pace never dipping below 5 knots and often over 6 and in exactly the right direction.

As we began to get passed the Burbo Bank windmills in record time, I started to mentally adjust our ETA at Conway, I began to imagine arriving at 3pm in time for a spot of lunch and a walk around the town, before aperitifs aboard and a hearty meal in Conwy thereafter.

However just as these thoughts were forming the wind started to die off and move astern. We had by this point rounded the last of the Burbo windmills and it felt like we were on a new leg anyway.

Aiming for the top of the next set of wind mills (the Prestatyn set) we rolled in the genoa and let the main full out washing along albeit slowly. Still affected by my earlier imaginings of a 3pm arrival I put the engine on bumping us up to a respectable 4 knots. Cruising I reasoned was about making a reasonably paced passage using engines where appropriate. It’s only racing where you’re compelled to hang about at 1 knot or so.

By this point I started to note that Leigh who had been a bit quiet for a while had started to turn a pale shade of grey, my offer of a pork pie didn’t perk him up and he was soon over the back of the pushpit bowing to the inevitable with such force that several times I reached out to grab him for fear that he might hurl himself over the back out of either momentum of stomach movements or out of sheer desperation.

My two crew, Leigh and the Auto helm.

As Leigh settled down to a steady groan and I settled down to a third pork pie and cup of tea I decided to use the auto helm Jim had recently located in his airing cupboard.

After ten minutes of looking at it and with no help from the immobilised Leigh, I called Jim (my onshore technical support team) for some technical support. A friendly chat and some vital information later the auto helm was fitted and steering away happily to itself. The Orme was now in sight and with a few beeps and clicks we were aiming straight for its tip.

This was my first experience on a boat of my own with an auto helm and possibly due to the absence of any other distractions I stared at it again for tens minutes this time in sheer wonderment of how such a device could have been created, the ultimate crew member.

With the steering taken care of and no worrying looking boats on the horizon I nipped below and went to make some more tea and check the pork pie levels.

The sun had started to come out and Leigh had started to enter the beginnings of a recovery. We both sat up for’ard enjoying the view and gentle motion of the boat.

We were now parallel to the Prestatyn windmills to our port and once again the reaching of the windmills demarked the commencement of a new phase to the voyage.

Wind starting to freshen up

The wind began to back up and freshen, creeping up to a force 4 occasional 5, reluctantly we had to point away from the distant but still prominent Orme and headed further out to sea toward a large (presumably radio) pylon which looked to be of mild interest.

Sadly the increased waves had also increased the waves of nausea suffered by Leigh and on my advice he took to a decent lee bunk (ultimately to become Leigh’s bunk!) to ride out the storm.

Luckily my trusty helmsman 3000 continued to steer quite happily and I set about adjusting the sails and made (probably unnecessary) minute alterations to the course to maximise the vessel’s efficiency.

However with reference to the vector made good feature on the GPS and knowing it wasn’t taking into account the fact that we would have to sail around the Orme I was beginning to realise a 3pm arrival was beyond the realms of possibility, perhaps 5pm would be just as good and would be a more respectable hour for a beer.

As we drew up to the beacon we tacked and set a course for the last of the third set of windmills whose name I don’t know as they appeared to have sprung up from the seabed within the last year.

The wind stayed consistently fresh and encouraged by the boats performance so far I tightened up the main, created a storm jib of sorts with the roller reefer and killed the engine.

We appeared to be surfing tight to the wind, the boat at an impressive heel crashing through the waves confidently and smoothly, spray every now and then flying over the cockpit. The GPS stated speed over ground at 6 knots and even the vector made good was 4.5 knots although we were kind of heading for Llandudno by this point which would have confused it seeing as how on the next tact we would be heading almost 90 degrees away from it.

At this point I noticed a seal stick its head up about twenty metres from the boat and take a good look, its head looking slightly humanesque. It seemed strange to have the solitude of the open sea suddenly broken by a pair of enquiring eyes particularly as we were still a fair distance from the shore. I reached for the camera to get a quick snap but it was evidently camera shy as it ducked away at the prospect of a picture and did not reappear again.

Having reached the end of the windmills we tacked around the last of them heading back up with the idea of rounding the Cape of Good Orme on the following tack then seamlessly sweeping into Conwy on the same line.

However some two hours later and still not having rounded the Orme we began to fully appreciate how far away it is despite it being in clear view for hours and that even when to get there it is massive and can’t simply be nipped around.

Approaching the Orme

By this time Leigh was back in the cockpit and we took off the auto helm conducting a series of small tacks so as to get closer to the Orme and get a good look at its impressive structure. We were close enough by now to see sheep on the mountainside. A clear indication that we had at last reached Wales.

With a sigh of relief we finally rounded the Orme and headed straight across the bay looking for the channel markers, with the wind abeam as we turned into the channel we rocketed up towards Conwy and were soon moored up at the visitor’s pontoon at Conwy Marina.

Just passing the Orme heading toward the channel

Weary, sunburned (despite the lack of sun) and bedraggled we checked our watches. 8.30pm. Not quite the early arrival I had promised when selling the trip to Leigh.

Still our spirits were high and after an embarrassingly lame go at raising Conwy marina on the VHF (we had been at sea so long our normal speech abilities had temporarily left us) to which we received no response, we marched straight to the control centre to register our presence elated with our arrival on dry land.

Our elation was further sustained by news from the Conwy Marina officer that as the­ sill was broken and we couldn’t get into the marina we could stay on the visitors’ pontoon for free and with full shower privileges.

Despite the free and probably necessary use of a shower we rushed straight to the bar and still clad in our wellies and sea faring clobber we made our way past the land lubbers and took our rightful place at the bar trying to look as salty as possible so that we may tell of our daring voyage if questioned.

Five minutes later and having somehow paid £7.50 for a pint and a coke (the latter being for Leigh who was still a bit ropey) we decided this bar may not be the place for us.

We headed back to the boat to drink some of our own beer and work out how best to get to Conwy itself.

We then discovered that despite our diligent checking somehow the beer had not made it on board. However our disappointment was short lived as at that moment a passing speed boat dropped of a man who advised that he was driving to Conwy if we wanted a lift.

With the first pint wearing off and Leigh’s vigour for life returning we thanked the man profusely, quickly changed and hitched a lift into Conwy proper, which is a fantastic little walled town.

Making notes of strategic takeaways as we travelled through the town we stumbled across the Liverpool Arms an excellent pub on the waterfront looking onto a melee of different boats.

Several pints later and combined with general fatigue we were just about able to make it up the slight incline to the most promising looking fish and chip shop. After some heavy weight purchases we then taxied back to the marina clutching plastic bags full of takeaway and ate them on the marina pub’s outside tables (some recompense for my £7.50) Leigh managed to buy two pints for a more sensible £5.00 which tasted just as good and we then retired to bed.

Wren provided plenty of space and with the hatch sealed up and curtains drawn we settled down for a very comfortable and much needed sleep.

The dawn saw us revitalised and ready for action. The tide window back to the Alt allowed for a very reasonable 12pm departure, however conscious of my drastic underestimates of journey duration the previous day and acutely aware that the Alt re-entry window could not be messed with we planned to depart no later than 10.30am.

Even so we had time to enjoy the free shower facilities we had been lucky to obtain and took time to enjoy bacon sandwiches and coffee aboard whilst basking in the sun.

The weather had vastly improved on the day before and there was blue skies above and a steady force 2 westerly, a quick phone call to the Coast Guard for a weather report confirmed the prospect of a force 3 westerly to come providing for perfect conditions for a relaxing return leg.

Having checked fuel supplies (surprisingly high) we cast off and bid our farewell to Conwy’s fair shores.

The wind seemed fresher as we motor sailed up the channel and with full genoa and main out (with a bit of engine just in case) we set off at a good pace making our way out of the channel with the wind abeam. Then, when there was enough water we cut back across the bay toward the end of the Orme homeward bound.

Heading back across the bay to the Orme

As we rounded the Orme and pointed directly for the mouth of the Alt (accordingly to the GPS) the wind was now coming from astern as was the swell.

Each surge forward knocked the wind out of the genoa and it flapped ineffectually and annoyingly interrupting the Archers omnibus on the radio which we had accidentally stumbled across and been drawn into.

In order to keep things relatively low maintenance we rolled in the genoa, let the main out and set the engine at low power, motor sailing peacefully downwind surfing each roll of swell gradually swooshing our way home.

And so we continued for most of the day basking in the sun drinking the occasional cup of tea, eating the occasional pork pie and letting the autohelm take the strain.

Leigh and I on the return leg.

Leigh had fully obtained his sea legs and was able to finish the last of the pork pies followed by a pot noodle for good measure. A great testimony to his returned good health.

Leigh at the helm

We actually made much better time than expected and so decided to head up to the north of the Burbo Bank wind farm running parallel to the start of the Queens Channel.

We spent our time lazily observing the various commercial traffic and joined up with several other yachts who had all approached from different directions and were all heading presumably to Liverpool.

We passed the wreck at Formby point and then with the main sail down and the engine in neutral we gradually drifted toward Hightown.

It was by now 7pm and with high tide scheduled for 10.30 the earliest we could hope to get back in was 8.30pm.

We anchored off the Alt and took the opportunity to pack up and have a quick tidy in order to speed up our departure once back on the mooring.

As the tide drew in and whilst watching the depth sounder apprehensively we started to cautiously edge our way toward the mouth of the Alt having to steer diagonally to take into account the current trying to sweep us over the rocks leading to the outer corporation marker.

We stayed clear of the rocks but touched the sea bed a couple of times as bounced into the channel. We then proceeded as slowly as possible up the Alt trying to pick the deepest line as we went.

We were largely successful only running aground once next to two fishermen who didn’t look best pleased to see us and who ignored my “I am sorry” wave as we revved the engine trying to motor off the mud. Our presence didn’t seem to perturb the fish though as whilst we were there one of the fisherman hooked a bizarre looking flat fish much to his, ours (and the fish’s) surprise.

Floating free again we motored without incident back to the mooring, literally moments later we were both in the dinghy, I having to row like a maniac to beat the tide flooding against us.

Exhausted we reached the slip and stepped ashore shaking each other’s hands in celebration of a voyage successfully completed.