Passage 33, Holyhead to Aberystwyth

Purple Polly made her venture debut appearance on this day.

Purple Polly is a big sail (it’s purple). Bigger than my two normal ones put together. But she’s fickle and fussy. Only any use in a F3 or F4 wind, no less no more. Only any use if the wind is within a 45 degree range from my beam backward. Perfect sailing conditions, in other words. Which is what I had on the morning of this passage.

Trouble is, Purple Polly is quite tricky to rig. Lots of ropes all over the place which you have to make sure are routed around the boat just so. Really needs two people. But as I was crossing Caernarfon bay I saw another boat fly their asymmetric sail (to use the technical term). It’s a real job to single handedly rig up and at first I just sighed in faint jealousy. Then I thought again. And rehearsed in my mind what it would involve. After half an hour of indecision, I decided to go for it. I wasn’t busy after all.

Took me another half an hour to get it set (only had to re-route a rope twice before it all worked). But it paid dividends. I picked up at least another knot and was bowling along at 8 knots for at least an hour. Until the wind died when it flapped around uselessly. So spent another half an hour taking it all back down again. Good exercise though.

In the morning I’d put on quite a few layers as it felt quite nippy. By the end of the purple polly episode I was hot and sweaty. So I started to de-layer. And discovered I could go to the bare minimum as by now the sun was shining full force. So the rest of the trip across Cardigan Bay was another shorts-on-deck soaking up the rays kind of experience with the motor going. It was glorious and I had a full view of Snowdonia as a bonus.

The start of this passage involved going round the North and South “stack” of Anglesey - challenging tidal gates. I’d done my homework and had timed it right, though it was still pretty choppy at one point. In less ideal conditions this must be a quite a nasty piece of sea. So I got a speed kick going round these and I had the tide with me all the way down to the next tidal gate through Bardsey Sound which was giving me 2-3 knots of tide. As I motored through and into Cardigan bay I was doing 7 knots. But the tide could not be in my favour for ever and I was down to 5 knots for the rest of the passage - save for the hour I tried with just sail again when I could only manage 3 knots. I didn’t feel like crawling my way to Aberystwyth to arrive in the early hours of Friday morning when I could motor and get there while it was still light. So I got in at 9:30pm when I still had a bit of light to see where I could tie up (and see all the nasty lobster pot buoys strategically placed in the approach to the harbour).

This was my first passage of stage 4 and I’d arrived on the boat the afternoon before having taken the train up from London. I’d bought provisions in Holyhead (not a town that can boast many attractions) and spent most of that evening sorting out a residual issue with my VHF - which is now all working to my satisfaction.

After the passage (a long one - 72 miles, 12.5 hours), I was fairly knackered and got to bed quickly, satisfied that I had at least sailed more than I’d motored.

Discovery day 1 at Aberystwyth

Out came the bike and I thought a little nosey around town for starters. You’ll not be surprised to learn that Aberystwyth is a thoroughly pleasant town. Nice shopping areas, lovely sea front complete with clean beaches and castle ruins. It has a mountain rail lift affair. Actually, the sea front is especially nicely done with tidy viewing points and walk ways. The only thing it suffers from, along with every other sea front towns, is that many of the houses actually on the seafront are in a fair state of disrepair. I don’t really understand this. Surely these are prime location properties? But no one seems to want them. Weird.

Anyway, as I was cycling around forming the above impressions, I happened upon a big colourful notice extolling the virtues of a 26 kilometre cycle route to the “Devil’s Bridge”. Sounds right up my street, I thought, and immediately set forth on the route as described. One bit of the route had a little triangular wedge shaped icon indicating a steep hill. OK, so it’s a bit hilly, so what. Off I popped up hill and down dale. Well, up hill and down nowhere actually. I guess I should learn that any cycle ride from the coast is only going to go one way - up! Boy, did it go up where that triangular wedge was. Up and up and up. My ears popped and the temperature dropped. And still I went up. This was worse than my Isle of Man experience (which I have since measured to have been a climb of over 1,000 feet). Still, not complaining. I need the exercise and it was lovely to experience the Welsh countryside.

I arrived at Devil’s Bridge pretty knackered at 2:30pm. Fuel from my morning porridge having been exhausted many miles previous. So an immediate intake of a ham and cheese baked potato and two cups of tea did the necessary.

Had a quick look around - basically a spectacular gorge with bridges and walkways. Big waterfalls. I’d seen it all before actually so was not upset about missing the walkways on account of my sciatica. I can cycle but I can’t walk.

The route was not easy to follow and I made a few expensive mistakes (there and back!) by toiling up a hill here or hurtling down a hill there only to discover I had to undo that to get back on track. I’m not a great road navigator. So, for me, it was longer that 52km there and back!

I was back by 5pm. I spent much of the evening having a very pleasant drink and chat with my neighbours Juliette and Tony who were on their way down to Plymouth having bought a lovely Grand Banks motorboat. Tony gave me the full tour and I must say these are really nice boats. Loads of room. Not like my cramped quarters. If I were to get a motorboat, a Grand Banks would be near the top of my list.

Discovery day 2 at Aberystwyth

It rained most of the morning and early afternoon so I replenished my water and fuel tanks and deliberated for quite some time as to how I was going to get round the next headland - the Pembrokeshire Peninsula. The weather is not good over the coming days and I may be in for a rough ride.

Had another long chat with Mike, the harbour master. Nice bloke, ex-lifeboat coxswain. Lots of boaty experience who has advised me much on how to get round that nasty Pembrokeshire Peninsula. He also showed me some scary photos of the sea front and harbour in a storm. A few years ago the whole beach was shifted up onto the water front causing all sorts of damage. 

By 2:30pm I risked an outing on the bike, hoping the rain had called it a day. I went another designated cycle route this time which was a pleasant meander along the Ystwyth river (yesterday was the Rheidol river). Erm,  lots of fields, trees, hills, valleys, sheep, cows and such like. All very nice. I do like to see farmers out and about doing their thing. Cutting grass, tilling the land, herding cows. Their welly-glad kids helping out. It all seems so romantic. Perhaps because I once worked on a Swiss farm for a year and it brings back memories of the simple life. Bet they don’t find it particularly romantic though!

I got away with no rain but since it was muddy ended up splattering all my clothes. I made this trip a short one and was soon back after some 12 miles. Juliette ad Tony invited me in for a cuppa and so we relaxed in the ample expanse of their saloon. Rest of the evening spent blogging and planning. A relaxing day. 


72 mile trip with enough wind to sail a little over half, with purple polly helping out. On deck in shorts in the warm sun for the afternoon. Took almost 13 hours and was in Aberystwyth as it was getting dark. 50 miles cycled on 2 discovery days, waiting for the better winds to allow me to make progress.

Passage 34, Aberystwyth to Fishguard