Sunseeker Chapter 9
Once past the point the waves lengthened and the motion eased. The sun shimmered across the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In the distance, away to the west we could see the two little islands of Saltee; Great Saltee and Little Saltee with the Saltee Sound between. Could we really take Sunseeker through that little gap? Altering course for the west we steered straight for the “little gap”. Inshore of us we could see a white sail against the green of the land, a tiny red hull sometimes lost in the swell.
As we approached the Saltee Sound, which, admittedly, did seem wider now, the fair tide that we had carried all the way from Arklow turned against us. Between the two islands the tide was racing through the sound and slowed us to nearly a standstill. Slowly, inch by inch we motored forward, watching with fascination the waves breaking on the rocky shore of Little Saltee to starboard.
We had been advised to look out for the white church of Kilmore on the mainland. When this came into view as we passed Little Saltee, we must alter course to the north and after about a quarter of a mile resume our westerly course. This was to avoid a shoal area north of Great Saltee. But we mustn’t go too far to the north because there is an uncharted rock in the fairway. We looked hard for this rock but couldn’t see it or any disturbed water where we thought it might be. So we turned Sunseeker to the west again, heading for the lighthouse on Hook Head, the eastern arm of the Waterford Harbour.
Leaving the Saltees in our wake we began to enjoy the longer, steadier swell of the open sea. Sunseeker would climb the face of a swell and pause at the crest before gently tumbling down into the trough. Time after time she tirelessly repeated this until suddenly, after chugging happily all day, the engine coughed, spluttered and stopped.
The light on Hook Head began to wink at us as the daylight faded. The faint breeze from the west died to nothing and we and Sunseeker were left to wallow in the swell. The joy of the peace and quiet soon left us as we realized that the tide was setting us back towards our old friends the Saltees.
After a bit of head scratching I checked the fuel level in the diesel tank. As Sunseeker rolled in the swell the gauge was registering between half full and empty. Maybe the engine had been starved of fuel. In the rolling and pitching doghouse, five gallons of diesel were siphoned from a spare canister into the main tank. With all of our fingers crossed the ignition key was turned. It took a long time for the air to bleed from the system, but eventually the motor sprang into life once more.
With daylight almost gone, our course now was marked by the three-second flashes of the lighthouse; we were on our way again. Rounding Hook Head about a mile off, we could see the lights of Dunmore East, though they were still more than four miles away. The vast expanse of Waterford Harbour was pitch black. This was the first time we had entered a harbour at night so our approach was very cautious. Our eyes strained for a sight of the red and green lights that would show us the harbour entrance. The sea was glassy calm. As the harbour opened up the sulphur lights blazed down onto the dozens of colourful fishing boats. It is a stage scene, but all the actors have gone for a coffee break. It was half past midnight on Sunday night and all the fleet must have been in harbour. On our right, as we slowly inched our way in, we heard the gentle whirring of machinery as ice was loaded onto a waiting fishing boat. Over to our left the boats were moored three or four deep.
Tying up alongside the smallest, it was still a long climb up the side and over the bulwarks. Silence, broken only by the humming of the ice factory, returned as we shut down Sunseeker’s engine. It was not a good place to lie because in only a few hours the harbour would be teeming with life as the fishing fleet prepared to leave after a weekend’s rest. So we cast off and motored back out of the harbour to find a mooring buoy among the yachts we had passed on our way in. Carefully we manoeuvred around the moored yachts until a likely mooring was found. Three big, red buoys marked it. Admittedly the riser was rope, not chain; but it looked thick and strong. There was no wind, no movement in the water and there seemed to be no threat of a change. So we tied up, tidied up and, after a cuppa, headed for bed. Tired after a long, long day we were nonetheless pleased with our achievement in “getting round the corner”.
We woke to bright sunlight and a glorious view. Our mooring is in a small bay, bounded by low, green-topped cliffs and headed by a rough sea wall. Perched on the hillside above are several pastel-coloured cottages, crowned with thatch. Snuggled into a cleft behind the sea wall is a tiny inn. A line of jagged cliffs pierced by caverns run away from us to the north. To the east and south are spread the vast, sun-speckled waters of Waterford Harbour. Hook Head light stands proudly atop the headland, guarding faithfully the approach to this beautiful, natural harbour.
Teenagers crouching in tiny sailing dinghies and precariously perching on windsurfers skim skilfully across the blue water all around us. They are, we later learned, pupils of the sail-training school based in the harbour near to the sailing club. Some are good, some not so good, but they are all enjoying themselves. There are laughs and splashes and cries of joy, derision and friendly encouragement.
A little later in the day we were intrigued to see a small, open boat working between the moored yachts. Hidden from our view, we could only speculate as to their purpose. Emerging from behind the nearest yacht, it approached us.
“Do you know that you’re tied to a crab pot?” we were asked by one of its occupants.
“Well, no – but will we be alright?” was our reply.
The two men working the boat laughed in a not unkindly manner and, in a gentle brogue they told us,
“Aye – unless you damage the gear; then you’ll have to pay for it. But that don’t matter ‘cos it don’t belong to us”. And with that they put the engine into gear and chugged away towards the harbour, chuckling merrily.
Maybe, we thought, it was time to put in a little practice setting the anchor!
The following day we inflated the dinghy and rowed ashore for fresh food and bread. It was on the way back that we realised that the slow puncture was rapidly becoming a quick one. We had to paddle a good deal faster if we were to reach Sunseeker before the dinghy sank beneath us!
Sometime during Tuesday 15th August, our second day in Dunmore we made the decision to cross to Spain from here. If we could get a favourable, long-range weather forecast, it should be possible to be across Biscay before September. In all the books that I had read, by sailors leaving the UK to cross the Atlantic, September was the month to avoid when crossing the bay. All who had ignored this had met with terrible weather, gale force winds and high seas. Throughout our preparations I had stated to Rene and others that our cruise would not be spoilt by trying to cross in September. Now that dreaded month was rapidly approaching. If we didn’t go now we could find ourselves wintering on the south coast of Ireland, cold wet and windy as it is.
The following day, at the Dunmore Harbour House Hotel and Restaurant, we were able to obtain a long-range weather report on their fax machine. New-fangled, high technology can have its uses. We shopped for fresh stores expecting to take seven days maybe eleven at the most. Postcards were bought, written and posted to those at home. With high spirits, dampened only a little by the prospect of encountering the unknown, we made our way back to Sunseeker, determined to leave tomorrow. The weather maps showed the weather remaining settled with light winds favourable for our passage. More importantly there were no “nasties” waiting out there, ready to pounce on us as soon as we left inshore waters.
End of Sunseeker Chapter 9