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  • Writer's pictureMark

Overnight to Milford Haven

Altor is at anchor in West Angle Bay, Milford Haven, Wales. The more I sail, the more I love the frequent forward progress and constant change that this life brings. I think most of us can quickly fall into behavioural patterns and become creatures of habit. Being a creature of habit feels safe, familiar and secure and it can make casting off the lines to embark on an adventure a little daunting. This adventure didn’t start without some trepidation and that feeling continued for a while but now I can say that a change has occurred. That creature of habit has been tossed over the side and left in our wake. Now I feel a desire to move and to seek new horizons. I actually crave it. When we arrive at a new destination it feels so good and yet almost immediately I am consulting the charts for the onward passage! The more we move, the more I want to move but stay still for a few days and those little roots start to spring from your feet and once again you have to push yourself to shove off, if you know what I mean!

So how did we get here? Well, let me tell you! We got here by having a beautifully blessed 160 mile sail from the Helford River.

This life is teaching me not to be greedy because contrary to what I have just written, the sail itself was a mixed bag but the highlights that we experienced throughout the journey simply washed away any frustrations. We motored out of the Helford River and headed south. We punched the tide down to Lizard Point where the engine was switched off and we drifted very slowly for 20 miles with the tide to Lands End. We waited patiently for the forecasted easterly to fill our sails but it didn’t come. Once again the tide was about to turn against us so we decided to motor around Lands End and on doing so we were greeted with an unforecasted northerly! If you are undertaking a passage which is a straight line between two points, weather planning is quite simple but when you are transiting south, then west and finally north to your destination things become a little harder. Of all the wind directions, a northerly was the hardest to work with considering our longest part of the voyage was 100 miles north from Lands End. We motored for a few hours until we had enough space on our starboard side to tack up the west coast and we did just that in a dying breeze until the wind was no more! Where, oh where is that easterly breeze? We motored for another 5 hours and split the night shift into a pattern of three hours each whilst the other slept and at this time of year, this far west, 6 hours is longer than the night is dark but it was during this short period of darkness, on my shift, that I saw one of the best sights I have ever seen in my life! This was courtesy of the mammals with which we seemingly have little in common and yet feel so deeply attached. Yep, Dolphins! Dolphins seem to show up just when you need them. My first ever experience of dolphins was 20 years ago, capsized off the Cornish coast during a windy race week. The rescue boat was there but my sister and I were keen to get the boat upright unaided and carry on with the race. We’d previously had the pleasure of dolphins jumping out of the water amongst the boats during the racing but it was only when we were onshore again after the capsize that the guys on the rescue boat told us that five dolphins were closely circling all the time we were in the water. They stayed ‘on station’ until we had the boat upright, untangled and had heaved ourselves back onboard. We never saw them but apparently they were only twenty or so feet away throughout this time, seemingly concerned for our welfare. If you think that sentiment is mere fantasy, fair enough, but you do at least have to agree that they are far more curious of us than most other wild animals ever are! Whilst cruising around these parts over the last few years years, whenever I have felt tired, annoyed or exhausted, one, two or thirty dolphins have shown up and made everything better! I have no idea why they have such an effect on us but when they roll onto their side and make eye contact as they ride the wave in front of your boat, there is a connection. I can’t explain it but its there. Be in no doubt abut that!

By night an encounter with a dolphin is usually nothing more than the noise from their blowhole but on this occasion an ingredient was present that changed things completely. At this time of the year the water can be filled with a certain type of algae. When this algae is disturbed you get a very bright luminous green light show and this is called phosphorescence. It’s like millions of fireflies glowing brightly in the water. To see what looked like luminous torpedoes coming towards the boat at speed, in the black of night and visible from about 30 meters away was jaw dropping. To watch these beautiful creatures twisting and turning whilst covered in a sparkling cartoon like green aura and to witness this light bursting skywards as the dolphins jumped clear of the water before diving back under the boat followed once again by this magical green trail was very special. Some things in life make you stare helplessly is awe, some take your breath away, some bring you out in goose bumps and some bring a tear to your eye. This indescribably spectacular performance by these beautiful mammals did all of these things to me and left me in a naturally induced state of euphoria.

I consider it unlikely that I will bear witness to such a spectacle again but that doesn’t disappoint me because I will never ever forget what I was privileged to watch for those few precious moments that night.

In case you think I’m getting too carried away with sentiment or being too hippyish about this wondrous world, I should also add that whilst I was watching this truly remarkable event it was not lost on me that the brightest luminous light on many dolphins came from their snouts. At one point I felt like I was watching 30 or so luminous dildos dancing, twisting and turning and I was immediately transported back in time to a stag do dildo show in Amsterdam, many years ago! Who would ever have thought that dolphins could do it better. You’ve got to love the wonder of the natural world 😀

That morning there was a beautiful sunrise and at about 8am the easterly wind finally rolled in. What followed can only be described as 45 miles of champagne sailing into Milford Haven. It never gets any better than that. Beautiful clear sky, bright sunshine, lots of dolphins, Altor of Down under full sail, perfectly trimmed and trucking upwind to our destination. YES! That is what its all about. We made our way through the entrance and turned to port into West Angle Bay where we dropped the anchor. West Angle Bay is really well protected from Easterly winds and the dramatic Pembrokeshire scenery slowly but surely blew our minds. I was on a high from the champagne sailing so instead of relaxing I made a few modifications to the boat. I am still learning how to sail Altor and our passage had highlighted a few areas needing improvement. Asha is fast becoming an awesome pair of hands above and below deck so together we got the tools out and got stuck in!

The sun shone, our tiredness grew, the early evening whisky was poured and sleep wrapped us in it’s soft warm blanket as the waves rocked us gently all night long. Bliss.

Waking up in a new place is always exciting but sliding the hatch open and seeing such dramatic and spectacular surroundings was heavenly.

Whichever day it was that you created this place, you were on it fella and I applaud you!

We embarked on a dinghy mission to get supplies and what a mission it turned out to be but suffice to say that six hours later we had fresh food, forty litres of diesel, ten litres of petrol and plenty of alcohol! To celebrate we went to a nearby cove, only accessible by dinghy, for a beach bbq and a few beers. Being sheltered from the easterly wind and facing west, it was the perfect private place to watch the sun go down. However, before we could get started we were reminded that Wales is a different country and we discovered that some people are not happy with our presence here.

On making landfall in the cove, I was busily tying the dinghy up to some rocks when I noticed a big black rib approaching Altor. I couldn’t see much as I was looking directly into the setting sun but I immediately felt a sense of duty to protect my boat. Who the hell was getting so close to my home, my pride and my joy? I whistled loudly, got their attention and waved them over to me. As they approached and picked their way through the rocks I saw that it was the police!

Lockdown is still in FULL effect in Wales and we were made aware of a 'Notice to mariners’ which states that only commercial boats are allowed to be moving around in Milford Haven. Furthermore, we learned that some locals had reported us to the police, hence their visit to us. We explained ourselves in the usual way and once again the police were excellent. They were professional, helpful, completely reasonable and very pleasant. We chatted and they told us they would make the coast guard aware of our presence. I said that we may move further inland to shelter from the forthcoming northerly wind and they said that this was fine. I told them we would keep our AIS on so our whereabouts would be known in case any other complaints were received so they could quickly ascertain that it was us and not another ‘offender’!

I am always hugely respectful to the police and I expect the same in return. My respect only dwindles to nothing if it is not reciprocated. This is how I am in life with everyone. The police came by again the next day, same boat but a different crew and they said that they had received an email about us so they knew what we were up to and just wanted to say hello and check that we were okay on their way out to escort a ship into port. The way the police have been towards us is a credit to them. Once again, great policing and a great interaction.

I continue to acknowledge and be grateful that this life has enabled us to slip through the net of bureaucratic bullsh*t of this time and that sense is prevailing here because in the event of a pandemic, this would be the best way to isolate and keep us safe from others and others safe from us! I don’t blame whoever complained about us. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, you can’t please all of the people all of the time and neither should you try.

In stark contrast, we went ashore the following evening to look for water and on the beach we met a lovely couple from the local village who were extremely friendly and welcoming. Once we learnt that there wasn’t a tap nearby, they took our jerry cans home and filled them before delivering them to us 10 minutes later! They asked if we needed anything else such as fresh vegetables or meat which they said they would happily give to us from their supplies. We thanked them kindly for their extremely generous offer but the water was all that we needed. What truly decent souls! Once again, we have met some lovely humans who want to help for the sake helping, nothing else.

Those lovely people have no idea that we are writing a blog so they might never see our gratitude written down but I want to say thank you for spreading the love and compassion that us humans are so naturally capable of and yet find so easy to forget.

The following evening we were ashore again and met an absolutely lovely lady on the beach. She has a beautiful home high on the hill overlooking the bay and had seen us come in and anchor. We chatted for fifteen minutes or so and once again we were offered water, coffee and general hospitality.

Then we met another lovely person, originally from Kent, who lives in Thailand for most of the year. She came here for a few months work just prior to lockdown. We talked about our journey and the strange current times before she handed us a bag of Thai influenced goodies, some fresh eggs and other bits and pieces. I have to say that all this blows my mind. The generosity and good will we have encountered recently is overwhelming and I can’t emphasise enough how much meeting such incredibly good and kind hearted people enhances the joyful experience that is our ‘Adventure Now’. I truly believe that if everyone treated others how they would wish to be treated, the world would be a better place.

Lizard Point Lighthouse

South cardinal marker to keep you clear of some rocks off Lands End

Longships Lighthouse in all its rugged beauty

Dolphin watch

It didn't take long for the party to start!

No problem if you're late, just make a grand entrance!

West Angle Bay, Barbados. Sorry, I mean Wales!

The local constabulary on their way in to our bbq cove for a chat. Good people.

BBQ and sunset heaven, the dinghy just in view tied to a rock

The bbq beach from the clifftop path

Some stunning views of the Pembrokeshire coast.

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