Family sailing and strange weather

Mizen

My elder son Ben and his children Otto and Liberty arrived last Saturday for the final week of this leg of the journey. My hope was that the children would enjoy an experience on the edge of the wild—not too wild, but not too civilized either. On Sunday we enjoyed a quiet sail down Long Island Sound to Crookhaven, but then the west wind blew up. We were safely moored to a visitors buoy, but I had not reckoned on the way the winds funnel down the valley, and so quite a lot of the time Coral was swinging around on her mooring and pitching uncomfortably in the short waves. We dressed up in waterproofs to go ashore each day and had several good walks, but much the time were rather cooped up together in Coral’s cabin, big enough for one or two adults but not much space for lively youngsters.

On Tuesday we blew back downwind to Schull with just the headsail set and decided we needed a day ashore, so drove to the Visitor Centre at Mizen Head. Mizen is the far southwest corner of Ireland, indeed of the whole British archipelago, and is a quite spectacular setting. The headland itself is actually an island, reached by an arched bridge across a chasm from the mainland. The wind accelerates through the crack with wild whistle, making it difficult to keep to ones feet. Looking down, one can see the waves crash into a narrow inlet, piling foam against the rocks; to the south is the vast expanse of the Atlantic; to the north there is a view through the narrow gap of the chasm toward precipitous cliffs, their strata split into angular forms and piled up by tectonic forces so they lie at apparently chaotic angles, reminding me of the strange shapes of Daniel Libeskind’s postmodern architecture.

Once across the bridge and on the headland itself, we could see that the wind was beginning to pile the sea up. Lumpy waves marched past from the north, and long streaks of foam blew across the water surface downwind of the headland. Immediately below us among the rocks in a particularly disturbed patch of sea the water was turning back against the wind, causing eddies and particularly confused patterns of waves. And where the waves broke over the rocks they threw plumes of white water high into the air that then ran down through the cracks and fissures in rivers of foam.

The whole scene was quite sobering for me, having looked up at the head several times from a small yacht but never before from above, in such strong winds from above. “About Force 6”, said the chatty man who took out tickets. “No more than that. Some people they say, ‘is that all? I thought it would be a gale’ and I tell them to stand in an open car at 40 miles and hour to know what a gale is like.” I wondered what Coral had looked like from up here when Steve and I passed the previous week, when I had imagined the coastguards looking down at us. But of course there are no coastguards actually looking out from the Mizen, only tourists: all the lights are automatic and the coastguards themselves are somewhere further inland.

On Wednesday the weather turned. The depression that brought the strong winds was now dumping rain on the west of England, while we had had a really warm summer day—with a lighter, but still chill north wind. We took Coral out from Schull to nearby Carthy Islands—a group of grass-topped rocks grouped around a sheltered lagoon, reached by a narrow passage between the rocks. The children were able to go ashore on a real uninhabited island as I had promised. Later, we saw that the islands were also home to a colony of seals, some twenty or thirty including some cubs, which caused great excitement for both children and adults.

Later in the week we landed on larger Castle Island, scoured the beach for interesting shells and sheep bones and explored the several deserted houses. Quite small, roofless, tumbling down in places but still with fireplaces, doors and windows, it is funny to think that these ruins were once home to families, with children, parents and grandchildren making a hard living together.

So a good week in the end, and after the hard pounding of the first two weeks of this part of the journey on the whole quite restful. I hope it gave Otto and Liberty a view of the world they might not otherwise have. But lurking in the background is always the question of the strange weather we have been having. “What do you make of this weather?” I asked Simon in Schull Watersports as we arranged to leave Coral on a buoy until Gib and Suzy join me there in July. “It’s really strange, isn’t it,” he replied. “The sun has come out but it is still so cold with this continual north wind.”

It difficult to say whether this odd spring is evidence of the effects of climate change or just a particularly extreme pattern of our changeable climate. But the disturbing thought that human activities are changing the Earth on which we live lies continually, and uneasily, at the back of my mind.

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Comments

  1. Miriam Darlington says:

    Fantastic to be following you into this wind-filled journey. I’m in awe at the courage! The strange weather you are having reminds me that the wind is a fickle thing, but you must know that more than most. It’s touching to hear of the children joining you and having the enchanting adventure of going to an uninhabited island.
    All best for the next part of the journey.
    Miriam
    PS I think young seals are known as ‘pups’.

    • Thanks for following and for your comments, Miriam. Is the wind a fickle thing? Well, moment to moment it may change, but there are regular patterns, especially here on the Atlantic coast of depressions coming through, the wind first backing south then gradually veering round to the northwest; or hanging in the west/southwest as a procession of winter depressions blow through. But the cold easterlies we had in March, and now the bitter northerlies of much of May, do seem very odd to me, fickle in a different, and rather disturbing way.

  2. Kathleen King says:

    dear Peter, I’ve been following your adventures avidly. Despite the fact that I know nothing about sailing, so don’t quite understand some of the more technical bits of your stories, I can feel my stomach go funny just reading your evocative descriptions of winds and waves…
    I now live by the sea, and love it, with my feet firmly ashore. Last week a seal had come very close to shore and was showing off his playful way of devouring a fish. It was exhilirating to watch, and that was just one seal! What an adventure you have embarked on.
    I too have this nagging sense that this cold, windy spring is perhaps a sign of times to come rather than a one off freak occasion.
    all good wishes for your continued journey
    Kathleen xxx

  3. Malcolm Parlett says:

    Thank you, Peter, for taking us with you on your journey – for that is what it feels like. Your descriptions are easy to enter into – perhaps because I have sailed with you, but actually I don’t think it is this. You write with a mixture of factual detail in an unpretentious style but we never forget this is your personal writing: your feeling reactions are never far away. There’s you, the weather, the boat, and the sea – (and your family this time)..; and there are little reminders of the dangers, the unpredictable, and these keep the reader just a little nearer the edge of their seat. It makes for a rich mix, a balance, and a fascinating read.
    I wish you well for the remainder of your time on this leg of your voyage. And the right winds and right tides at the right time,
    Malcolm

    • Thank you, Malcolm, for your several thoughtful comments. It has been a little strange, knowing that while I am out there are sea people are able to read my reflections. Writing the blog has made me write more, and also become clearer about what I might be editing out! But I have had a strong and affirming sense from your comments that you really know me.

      P

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