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How sailing got in here .....


After a 25 years lapse, I recently got back into sailing, crewing in three boats belonging to the Cardiff Bay Yacht Club, here in South Wales.


Enjoying sailing as I never did before, experiencing the challenges of the Bristol Channel with a tidal range only second to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, and seeing some interesting ships, some naval, I hope visitors to will not object to seeing personal material in this way.


Naval-History.Net has lots about ships and the men who sailed them, but little about the seas they sailed on. If you have similar tales of your local stretch of water, wherever it might be, you might like to add them to your own site or to this one.


Gordon Smith




1. Motor boat Watchful


I have to admit that my first trip across the Bristol Channel was not sailing, but in motor boat WATCHFUL owned and skippered by Tony Beasley (right, on the left with Dave Adams). Tony, Lieutenant, RNVR (Rtd) and ex-Sea Cadet Corps commanding officer was once the owner of ex-HDML.1001, which served off Normandy and which he sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. That story can be found in HM HARBOUR DEFENCE MOTOR LAUNCH HDML.1001 - her Royal Navy and subsequent career.


Watchet is a pleasant small town, with nice walks, decent pubs, good fish and chips, and a fascinating little museum. It also has a high tidal range (photo - what you sail over to get in during Spring tides) with just a sill holding back  the water in the Marina.


When we first got in I was amazed to see ex-Fast Patrol Boat HMS GAY ARCHER - whoever thought one of those would still be in existence! A little later I was pleased to see the handsome ex-Naval tender LOYAL GOVERNOR, and what appeared to be the hull of an old Admiralty pinnace - BARBARY-T.


In closing this trip, the last image is approaching Penarth Head and the entrance to Cardiff Bay (now non-tidal with the construction of the Barrage) and the Cardiff Docks. Penarth Head with St Augustine's Church on its summit has long been an important landmark, and I am told the Admiralty has paid for the tower to be repaired so it would remain in existence.


Penarth Head obviously sticks in sailor's memories. A Canadian officer serving in corvettes based in Milford Haven in World War 2, emailed me about sailing to Cardiff for a refit, and remembering having to go round a headland to get in. Did I know it? Yes, I lived there!




2. Cardiff's Tidal Range


Penarth Head with the tide in (the preceeding image) is somewhat different from the tide out.


The first two images show the buoys marking the "Wrack" passage - Welsh for "witch" - out of Cardiff Bay nearly high and dry, with Penarth pier peeping round the corner in the second one.


The final two give some idea of the the lift or drop the barrage locks have to provide to allow passage between Cardiff Bay and the sea. And on an extreme Spring tide, it can be greater than this, with moored boats experiencing almost white water conditions as the lock fills. Mooring springs are recommended.




3. Yacht El Pinereto to Watchet


After a number of attempts over the months to sail across were thwarted by bad weather or difficult tidal conditions, we at last made it in 42-footer EL PINERETO, an ex-charter boat owned and skippered by Gerry O'Keeffe (in the first photo and on the helm in the second).


The second photo also shows, from left, John Jenkins owner of 26 ft CAROLANN who knows the local waters so well, I reckon he has walked the bottom, Gerry again, crew Gareth Lloyd, and Barry Upton who owns another 26-footer, as yet unnamed.


On the way out we were overtaken by HMS RANGER.


Again, the tidal range at Watchet, but only Neaps this time.


Possibly a better photo of GAY ARCHER. This time I also had a chance to go on board and speak to her owner Paul Childs.


EL PINERETO in the Marina.

Motoring out from Watchet. The town and harbour can be quite difficult to spot going in, especially in a morning mist.


Finally the Norwegian MV AASFJORD, to whom we are grateful. On the way over, the winds increased to 6/7, gusting 8, and we met her off the Welsh coast near Lavernock Point. After passing a navigation buoy, she stood on for a while before turning, saving us some awkward manoeuvring.




4. A Proud Dad


Poppy, then aged 11, my youngest daughter had her first sail in August 2008, then two more in September - all out into the Bristol Channel. Two trips were  on CAROLANN and one on EL PINERETO. She took to it like a duck to water. Even in a Force 4-5 in the smaller boat, not an ounce of concern.


Then in October, some of us tried to make Swansea in EL PINERETO, but westerly near-gales meant all we did was tack back and forth across the Bristol Channel. Eventually we gave up. My attempts to capture the sea-state with a camera were not very successful, but I later found I had made a short and noisy video. Poppy's response when seeing it was "that's not rough", so I reckon we have a real sailor here.


I have since bought my first boat for  25+ years - a 16ft Wayfarer cruising dinghy. Poppy has already been out in it once, in December! No fair-weather sailor either.




February 2008


Motor boat WATCHFUL (centre boat)
Motor vessel LOYAL GOVERNOR. Ex-Clovelly-class Royal Navy Auxiliary Fleet Tender A.251 Lydford, ex-Loyal Governor (RNXS), ex-A510 Alert (RMAS), built 1971 by Isaac Pimblott & Sons, Weaver Ship Yard, 23.2m (76'1"), 330hp diesel, 8/10kts, possibly lying southern Spain mid-2008      
Motor vessel BARBARY-T. From hull shape, rudder etc, believed to be ex-Admiralty pinnace, but no other details

ex-Royal Navy fast patrol boat P.1041 GAY ARCHER (see below)


May 2008



June 2008


(left) HMS RANGER, P.293, Archer-class patrol and training boat, now serving with Sussex University Royal Naval Unit (URNU), built by Watercraft Ltd, Shoreham-by-Sea in 1987, 40 tons, length 20.8 m (68 ft 3 in), 18kts, 5 regular crew plus 12, has been armed with 3 GPMG, can mount 20mm cannon. At this time sailing from Penarth, where two of the class are regularly moored in the Marina. Passing in front of the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm in the full image.

ex-Royal Navy fast patrol boat P.1041 GAY ARCHER, built by Vospers at Portchester, launched August 1952, c50t std/65t full load, 75ft overall, armed with short 4.5in gun as MGB or 2 torpedo tubes as MTB, plus 1 or 2-40mm Bofors, 40kts, 13 crew. Now privately owned by Paul Childs, she is one of the few MTB-types still in existence, and he needs all the help he can get. Search the internet by "Gay Archer" for more

Yacht EL PINERETO, 42 footer, in Watchet

Norwegian coastal cargo ship AASFJORD, built 1978,  3,960 tonne, 95m, sailing out of Cardiff. Apparently the crew carry out all loading and unloading without any port assistance.


4. A PROUD DAD, September 2008

Penarth Marina and yacht CAROLANN
Poppy's first helm
MV Balmoral, an excursion vessel found at various points around the coast of Britain including the Bristol Channel. She had just departed Penarth Pier.
Flatholm island and lighthouse from EL PINERETO
Newport-registered suction dredger WELSH PIPER at anchor between Flatholm and Steepholm, one of her working areas. Steepholm in left hand image

Always ready to take the wheel
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset in the distance
WARNING - a short but LOUD video


An October attempt to reach Swansea


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