“Bolly” – Doral 330SE – Cardiff to Swansea Delivery – 18th March 2024

On Monday 18th March 2024 I skippered a delivery of “Bolly”, a Doral 33SE motor vessel from Penarth Marina to Swansea Marina. 

The weather in the preceding few days and week had been mixed with a lot of wind, which makes sea conditions unfavourable for passage making.

Before the weekend I noticed a lull in the wind and the forecast for Monday 18th was for Southerly or Southwesterly 3 to 5 becoming variable 3 or less for a time in the Bristol Channel, then increasing 6 at times later in the West. The tides were near perfect too, with a very small neap tide of 3.9m in Cardiff and 3.0 in Swansea. With High Water just after midday my passage plan was for a 1100 lockout and passage over the HW and arrive at Swansea by 1430. 

I arrived on board for 0900 and carried out engine checks and other checks prior to sailing. We fuelled up and locked out of Penarth at 1045 and locked through the barrage at the 1100 lock. The wind seemed much stronger from the outset and I thought we were too hopeful for variable wind this time of year. Routine traffic to Milford Coastguard followed, where I informed them that I had submitted my passage plan to them the evening prior to sailing.

Leaving the Outer Wrach cardinal we made easy headway past South Cardiff and on to Barry, leaving Welsh Water Barry West port lateral mark to port at 1145 with slight seas on the bow. By 1200 we were at Breaksea Point and Aberthaw Cooling Tower making 18 knots with ease.

18th March 2024 - "Bolly", Doral 330SE approaching Cardiff Barrage for an exit to the Bristol Channel
18th March 2024 - "Bolly", Doral 330SE skippered by Meuryn Hughes, approaching Nash Point on delivery from Cardiff to Swansea

As we ran towards Nash Point the swell came in, measuring about a metre to 1.5m and we pulled back firstly to 16 knots then to 13 knots to avoid any slamming of the vessel. It made for a more comfortable ride as well.

Rounding Nash Point and leaving East Nash easterly cardinal to port we encountered overfalls and confused water which was to be expected. On a heading of 315ºM we made for a point about four cables north east of Tuskar Rock, and on our port we could see breaking waves which covered and uncovered the rock.

We sighted Fairy buoy westerly cardinal just off Porthcawl a few minutes before 1300 and gave a good clearing bearing beyond Hutchwns Point as the overfalls were quite extensive around that area. Staying well outside the 10m contour made for easier navigating.

Kenfig easterly cardinal on our port signified a change of heading of 307ºM and clearing the Kenfig Patches with plenty of searoom. We made for Grounds easterly cardinal and then on to Swansea Outer Fairway starboard lateral by 1330. 

We altered course for the River Tawe dropping our speed to 15 knots then 10 knots on the approach. By now the wind had increased to a solid 5 and we locked in knowing that it would be a 6 within the hour. 

The Tawe lock in went without incident so too the lock through to Swansea Marina where I berthed the vessel for the client.

The client thoroughly enjoyed the experience of a longer passage and had learned a great deal from the experience.

The passage totalled 38.6 Nm and took 4 hours from berth to berth with a passage duration from Cardiff Barrage to Tawe lock of 2.5 hours as per my passage plan.

All in all a very enjoyable passage on a capable and seaworthy vessel.

Approaching Tawe Lock for Swansea Marina

Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island – First swim pilotage of 2023

The alarm went off at 05:00 and on a Saturday too! Ouch! Before I  could think too much about it I was up, breakfasted and on my way to Penarth Marina to meet the three swimmers who were going to swim from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island.

The preparation had begun a good few months beforehand with a shore meeting with Bryce in the warmth of a coffee shop, where the plan for the day was made. The idea was for me to passage from Cardiff barrage to Lavernock Point with the swimmers, and on arrival at the destination they would disembark, swim to shore and then begin the swim from the Point to Flatholm Island. The distance is not great; a mere 2.5 Nautical Miles in a straight line.

But this is the Bristol Channel, the second highest tidal range in the world, and packs a mighty punch with its huge tidal range and breathtaking currents.

Swimming the channel between the mainland and the island has to be done around neap tides,  when the moon and sun are 90º to the earth, and tides are less powerful. That said, it is still a very challenging exercise with meticulous planning and chartwork undertaken to make sure timings are exact. One error and the tide will take charge and the passage is over.

The weather was perfect. Considering the appalling weather the previous two days I was amazed that the swim was going to take place. The wind on the prvious Thursday was reaching F8 with relentless rain. This eased on the Friday but it was still challenging. The prediction was that the wind would ease to a F2 with gentle airs of around 4knots initially from the SSE veering to WSW in the morning before another Low Pressure would canter in during the afternoon and evening. 

The prediction proved to be accurate and on Saturday morning the sea was flat and smooth with only a breath of wind.

I met the swimmers at the marina at 0730 and I went through the safety briefing. Crew included one of the swimmers’ sons, Osian, and George, a BBC Cameraman who was there to film the swim for a TV programme about the island of Flatholm. A full boat.

We departed from the marina at 08:15 in order to be ready for a lock out from Cardiff Barrage for the 08:30 lock.

We locked out for 08:30 and proceeded south towards Lavernock Point which is approximately 2Nm from Cardiff Barrage. On arrival the three swimmers disembarked in 3m of water and swam ashore in order to begin their transit.

At 09:15 Bryce, Tom and Nick started their swim, on a heading of 140ºM utilising the last of the ebb to take us as far south and west of Flatholm Island so that the swimmers would be in an ideal position for when the tide turned and began to flood north. 

They settled in to a rhythm in a calm and benevolent sea. 

Within 30 minutes I set a new heading of 153ºM as the tide was now in slack, if there is ever such a thing in the Bristol Channel. 

This heading placed the swimmers a good 0.5Nm South west of Flatholm Island. 

Passaging to Flatholm Island but heading towards Steepholm Island!

At 10:15 the flood was beginning to show with the current now moving a full 90º in direction from the previous hour yet I still kept my heading south to get the swimmers in to the best position for their final approach to Flatholm. 

Tom did look up and ask “Are we going to Steepholm today?” as my heading put us straight in line with Flatholm’s sister island Steepholm Islnd which is further south and west. 

Bryce also was wondering which island was our destination!! 

We had to keep heading in that direction otherwise we would be too far north when the tide turned and they would miss Flatholm lsland completely.

At 10:30 I altered course with a heading of 042ºM running parallel to Flatholm. 

The three swimmers were on my starboard side, on the island side, so that I could gently usher them towards the chosen point for landing. 

Initially, when we met all those months ago, the landing point was to be the north side of the island, where the jetty is situated. 

I did a reconnaissance a month ago and was concerned about the tides around the headlands leading up to this area so we opted for landfall on the west facing beach. 

It was rugged and rocky with several reefs protruding out to sea, making landfall very challenging. They pressed ahead and overcame the challenging currents that are prevalent near to the island.

Finally, at approximately 11:00 hrs they made landfall on a rocky inlet which lent itself to a safe egress. A success! 

After much back slapping and congratulations they all swam back to the vessel and were disembarked a the north of the island by the jetty.

A superb swim,  a truly exceptional achievement.

After the swimmers disembarked on to the island for a birthday weekend I made my way back to Cardiff Barrage for a 12:45 lock in. 

The first swim pilotage of 2023 completed successfully. 

This was a truly memorable day.

This shows the swimmers' track from Lavernock Point to Flatholm Island
Congratulations to Tom, Nick and Bryce on a successful swim