Milford Haven

Nearly all of Pembrokeshire's coast falls within the National Park, established in 1952, and early recognised as an absolute gem of the British Isles. The coast has a varied landscape of offshore islands, rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, wooded estuaries and wild inland hills. Milford Haven waterway is one of the finest natural harbours in the world, according to Admiral Lord Nelson, and manages to combine the ultramodern industrial activity of the oil refineries and the brand new Liquified Natural Gas terminals with the thriving offshore wildlife sanctuaries of Grasholm, Ramsey, Skomer and Skokholm. These islands are particularly noted for their populations of Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and Puffins.

The upper reaches of the River Cleddau are particularly tranquil. Divers come from all over the UK to the Marine Nature Reserve of Skomer to explore the wrecks. The Vikings discovered Milford Haven in about 850 and left their legacy by naming many of the features of the coast. Grasholm, Skomer, Skokholm, even Lundy, are all Viking names.

A fleet of eight boats gathered at Neyland YC on Saturday. The first sailing day was Sunday, and since the host club traditionally put on a seriously good Sunday Lunch we opted to fit the sailing around that! So we had a local sail upriver in the morning, diverting off the main estuary to explore Cosheston Pill, enjoying attractive scenery and very challenging winds; massive wind shifts and considerable variation in strength, and even at times flat calm interrupted by sudden shortish blasts of force 5 from random directions, followed by another flat calm, followed by another blast of force 5 from an entirely different direction.

Then after a convivial lunch the intention was to head down the estuary and then go up the Pembroke River. We enjoyed a pleasant sail about as far as the entrance of the Pembroke River, and then the squall hit; torrents of rain, which felt almost icy, with enough wind for me to feel that Steve had made a very good call in his decision to reef. Then, after we had sailed through the somewhat unpleasant conditions of the squall, the wind now died, so we decided to abort and return to base.

On the following day, Monday, we headed upriver with a view to a picnic lunch at either Llangwm or a little further upriver at Picton Point. Winds were stronger than on the Sunday, and again very variable and unpredictable in both strength and direction, so several of us reefed before launching, while the younger generation chose to still use full sail and enjoyed planing back and forth while waiting for a certain boat to launch; the usual suspect. Eventually all boats were afloat and we set off upriver on a broad reach. After the first major bend in the estuary the winds eased substantially, although still very variable in both strength and direction, so this scribe at least shook out the reefs. We continued up through the wooded reaches of the estuary, enjoying both the scenery and the challenging sailing conditions, until at the head of Castle Reach where the terrain becomes much more open and the wind has less to obstruct it. The produced a blast of very much stronger winds at surface level, and with a significant length of fetch it also generated substantial waves. While the younger generation enjoyed the challenge, and several of us older hands took it in our stride without demur, common consent was that this was “a bit blowy” and everyone was very happy to turn round and sail back to Rhooseferry, at the bottom of Castle Reach, where we went ashore for our picnic lunch.

Although our lunch venue was well sheltered we could see and hear the evidence of the wind in the tops of the trees above us, and sure enough when we set off again after lunch to return to base we had plenty of wind almost immediately.

In the morning we sailed down the Haven, through the tanker port, as far as Angle Bay, where we went ashore for a pub lunch. This is the pub patronised by the crew of the local lifeboat station, as well as by sailors and no doubt land-bound tourists, so it is in a scenic waterfront position and it displays numerous lifeboat photos and certificates and testimonials.

The passage was a close fetch, later becoming a beat, against the tide, but we did that in the full knowledge that we would be bucking the tide both ways. Tides were at the bottom of neaps, and we could work the shallows, and by the time we would have to come into the main channel even the peak flow was only 0.6 knots, so there was no difficulty in beating that sort of tide. In favour of going downriver was that the weather forecast suggested that this might be the last opportunity this week. Winds were much steadier in strength than in the previous two days, at around force 4, but still very variable in direction.

After lunch we continued further down the Haven, and crossed to the north side, to visit Dale, once the last village on that side and a significant sailing and watersports centre. After a brief stroll ashore, and ice creams we then set off in good sunshine for a long spinnaker run and occasional broad reach back to base. I haven’t measured the distance, but 10 miles is a reasonable guess.

Despite the strong winds we decided to continue down the Haven, but once past the tanker terminals they also decided that they had had enough; Angle beckoned, it was nearer than the original destination, and it has the benefit of a pub. So for the second time in successive days they went into Angle, and patronised the pub.

Friday saw rather more moderate winds, again with rain and drizzle, albeit that the latter was only intermittent. Again we headed downriver, and for the third time in as many days went into Angle and patronised the pub, although we discovered that the combination of increasingly big tides and our arrival just about Low Water resulted in our having to wade through glutinous mud and then hose if off once we reached the pub. After lunch we then sailed on to the intended destination of the previous day, just for a look and with no intention of going ashore, before then turning round for the passage back to base. And having unexpectedly brought up the rear on several occasions earlier in the week, I was delighted to find that for the third time in succession I back to inhabiting the other end of the fleet.

An overall assessment of the week is that we had a thoroughly enjoyable week despite the weather, which did its best to dampen the event, literally so for much of the week. We were very hospitably entertained by the host club, and we enjoyed challenging sailing, good scenery, and very convivial company.