Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Small Fry, part 3

'Shyauk' beating towards Mizzen Head

Soon after dawn, the friendly Irish brought us papers and milk; then they towed ‘Shyauk’ to a mooring alongside the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Thus began two days of sunny bliss. This compulsory stop enabled us to shop without haste, have showers at the Club, chat with competitors, and enjoy several walks into the local countryside.

For me, setting sail on a Friday was ominous. I was pleased the date was the 12th and not the 13th. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but my brother, being a priest, was not at all superstitious. He dismissed the belief held by quite a few sailors that putting out to sea on a Friday brings bad luck. Setting sail on Friday, 13th would be worse, because the number 13 is thought by many to be unlucky. Starting at 0208 hours didn't make me feel any better. In fact, we were ten minutes late reaching the departure point at Roche Light.

When we were clear of the harbour we found that the wind was a westerly Force 2. Our immediate goal was to sail south of the Fastnet Rock, which was a requirement of the Race Rules. I'd heard much about this infamous rock, and I was looking forward to seeing it. With the wind from the west we took an age to get there. As we closed the Rock on Saturday morning the wind veered to the northwest and it freshened to Force 4. That was exactly what we didn’t want, because that meant beating into the wind. Mizzen Head and the other headlands jutting out to the southwest would be that much more difficult to overcome.

The Battleground

Mizzen Head and Sheep’s Head were supremely beautiful. Beyond them we could see mountain tops in the far distance, shrouded in mist. Nature's muted hues of blue, brown, grey, green and purple blended into the finest harmony. Craggy cliffs rose from the sea. They were fierce and wild with foaming breakers at their base. The scene was of magnificent grandeur, as 'Shyauk' was held captive by wind and tide. Saturday darkened and the drama intensified. First there was The Battle of Mizzen Head which was followed with The Battle of Sheep’s Head. These headlands were like powerful, valiant knights wielding swords of conflict. We had cut it too fine; we should have avoided warring by going well offshore.

The southwest coast of Southern Ireland is a frightening place in a rising wind. To the west there are three-thousand miles of ocean where the wind can roar and build a swell. The power of the waves when they blast the cliffs is unbelievable, and as the sea is funneled into a bay like Bantry Bay the waves become murderous curlers with fang-like teeth. This battleground presented a real challenge for 'Shyauk' and her crew.

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