The day before had been abandoned as there had been a Force 6 strong wind warning from the Met Office. Tuesday, and as always, the day began with weather checking… the force six had been downgraded to “Variable, mainly north or north east Force 3 or 4”.
The problem was no longer the wind…. the problem was now what time we could enter the lock at the marina on the River Mersey in Liverpool.
High Water in Liverpool was scheduled for 21.54 hrs… ie nearly 10pm and we could not get in until the first lock opening which was 7.45pm… so we had to time a sail of some 50 miles very carefully.
We departed Conwy Marina at 11am ( and a very good, pleasant marina I might add …. apart from a single swan, who when not given food, would attack our fender covers with great force, pecking through the fabric !).
Our initial route took us along the red buoys marking the meandering channel out into Conwy Bay between Great Orme Head to the right, and the Menai Straits and Anglesey to the left. The wind had got up … from the North East and a reasonable 10 to 15 knots…. so up went the sails and Poli Poli at 7 knots moved swiftly out to sea on a close reach.
However, a close or even distant inspection of the sea area known as Liverpool Bay… along the North Wales coast and the Wirral… wow what a congested sailing area this turned out to be. There are large wind farms set out in huge blocks of sea area… great squares or rectangles taken over…. so moving in a straight line was going to be extremely difficult.
Some wind farms were in working order, others were still under construction and to be avoided at all costs…. as both large and small work boats buzzed about from turbine to turbine whilst larger supply vessels ploughed fast routes in the lanes between. Not only wind turbines …. but also gas and oil drilling rigs set up in marked out areas… also to be avoided.
As we had to turn from our northerly sailing tack… to go north east… which now meant we would be head to wind… so no sailing…. and with all our constant changes of course to avoid the congested areas…. down came the sails.
Our aim was to make for what is known as the Q1 buoy…. which marks the start of the Queen’s Channel…. leading you in with all the big commercial shipping into the River Mersey and hence to the heart of the port of Liverpool. Once you reach the Q1 buoy you have to stick very strictly with some 30 plus buoys and ensure that you keep out of the way of the big ships and ferries entering or departing Liverpool.
We finally reached the Q1 buoy at 5.25pm … after some 6 hours of negotiating the oil, gas, and wind turbine fields along the north coast of Wales and the Wirral. Any vessel…. however large or small is then required to report in via VHF radio, to VTS…. the Port Authority which manages and regulates the traffic through the Queen’s Channel into Liverpool. It is the same when sailing into the centre of London on the River Thames. The Port of London Authority monitors every single vessel. So we did so and contacted Liverpool VTS on VHF Channel 12.
From the Q1 buoy to Liverpool Marina the distance is 15 n.miles. High Water at the Marina was timed for 10pm… it is now 6pm… so we are in a flood tide which will increase in speed as we get closer to Liverpool. We have to cover the 15 or so miles in about two hours.
As we progressed along the Queen’s Channel sticking to the right hand side… following the green starboard buoys… the wind increased and it became very grey…. gloomy grey. We were passed by various big ships and a huge Stena Line Mersey ferry from Belfast. The latter called us up on the radio and informed us that he would pass us on our port side. The Captain even got our boat name right. Other vessels calling us up lapsed into the old jokey “Roli Poly” routine…. ha ha we thought. A tanker went by, followed by the 30 knot Isle of Man black and white huge catamaran, a general cargo ship and an ocean going tug….pilot boats whizzed the other way, going out to meet inbound ships and to guide them safely into Liverpool.
Whilst the Queen’s Channel is enormously wide…. greens to the right and reds far over to the left…. when lots of ships are going in opposite directions there have to be very strict rules… ours was simply not to impede commercial shipping. Our progress was monitored as we motored inbound…we overheard radio transmissions between Liverpool VTS and various ships… mentioning our name and requesting care whilst passing “the small sailing yacht Poli Poli who is at position C16” ….. all the bouys are named or numbered as you pass downstream. We felt “looked after”…. thank you Liverpool VTS.
We passed Seaforth ( the new bright red Liverpool docks ), and Bootle on our left, New Brighton and the Wirral on our right… just a bit grey and gloomy… about 7.15pm. We admired the three iconic buildings on our left…. the Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port Authority Building with a mini St. Paul’s dome on top!
The tidal stream was now at its fiercest… sailors will know the rule of twelfths… the 123 count up to mid tide and then the 321 to high tide… tidal streams run at their fastest in the two hours either side of mid tide. We were in the second 3…. so the flood was now really sweeping us downstream. Each buoy we passed, sat an an angle with a tidal tail indicating the strength of the Mersey flood tide.
We passed Pier Head ( “Ferry across the Mersey”), Albert Dock, the Echo Arena and the BT Conference Centre…. we were getting close. The marina is but a mile from the Liver Building. In this tide, how do you turn to get across the river to the other side… where the marina entrance and lock is? We were on the right hand side of a very large, swiftly flowing major river.
I spied three motor boats lining up on the far side of the muddy brown Mersey. That gave me a clue as to where the exact entrance was. Secondly, I had noted from homework that you made the turn at a certain cardinal buoy… the Pluckington Bank westerly cardinal.
This we did on full power…. coming head to tide… showing minimum boat profile to the incoming rushing tide…. and quickly crossed at an angle… almost “ferry gliding” as it is known… until we reached a position immediately behind the three motor boats.
Three green lights came on, our keel came up, and with some considerable relief we entered the lock…. and rafted up against a fishing boat to one side full of amiable, friendly and very helpful Liverpudlians. One even offered me a fresh mackerel from his day’s catch. Many Liverpool/Everton type jokes…. and the fishing boat then led us to a lovely side on berth close to the facilities.
A very crowded Liverpool Marina…. you can spy Poli Poli centre left with dark blue hull on outside long berth.
At 8.15pm we were safely moored up. We raced to the Yacht Club only to find that they stopped serving food at 8pm! So a pint and two bags of crisps each was our ration. Later back on the boat, Mike served up gourmet style beans on toast. We were fast asleep in our cabins by 11pm. Dreaming of windfarms and big, big ships!
Total distance: Conwy to Liverpool 55.6 n.miles.
Distance from Eastbourne: 1,076.7 n.miles.
The Liver Building taken on the next day in Liverpool…. our rest day, Wednesday 11th July, 2018.