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Seafair Milford Haven - 2010

Account by John Perry

Another wonderful Seafair Sailing Festival, long may this continue!

There were some changes from last time. The increased number of entrants in the sail and oar fleet for 2010 meant that the fleet was divided into two groups, with two operating bases. Both bases were further downstream on the River Cleddau than Llangwm, the village where the sail and oar fleet had been based in 2008. Participants were given a choice for which of the two bases they would sail from and prior to the event HSC members exchanged many emails debating which to choose. Actually, I think either would have been fine, although there were differences. We eventually chose to sail from Pembrokeshire Adventure Centre, (PAC) which is a modern outdoors activities teaching establishment providing purpose built sailing facilities and the choice of either camping on the lawn outside or booking indoor accomodation. The alternative would have been Lawrenny, about two miles from PAC by boat but a good many miles by road. I am not sure exactly what facilities were provided at Lawreny, but I think it would have been as at Llangwm in 2008, i.e. camping accomodation only (unless you can find a local B+B), Portaloo style washing facilities and a marquee for the briefings and evening gatherings rather than the indoor lounge and dining area that we had at the PAC. Lawrenny is however an attractive little village, with a fine pub and I heard that the campsite that had been set up for the event provided a wonderful view across the estuary. My sketch map below includes the locations of both PAC and Lawrenny.

seafair map

Sketch map of the area

We took three boats to Seafair this year, the HSC club owned Wayfarer Meander, my home made boat and Herman's Drascombe 'Susie'. Herman acquired his Drascombe earlier this year and had been busy with repairs and improvements to get it ready for Seafair. With six HSC members attending, this gave us an ideal crew of two in each boat, more comfortable than cramming four into Meander as we did last time.

Pembrokeshire Adventure Centre

Pembrokeshire Adventure Centre

The photo of the PAC above shows the main building on the left and the boat and trailer parking area on the right. The camp site was set up behind and to the right of the photographer in this view and the accomodation buildings are behind the main building. The main hall of the PAC provides a lounge and dining area, this is on the first floor of the main building, and as you can see, there is a large balcony with views across the water. The slipway is a little way off, right at the end of the trees beyond the buildings in the photo. The slipway is not all that wide and we did at first think that it would be overcrowded with the size of the Seafair fleet. However, the PAC staff are very adept at using their four wheel drive tractor to whisk boats in and out of the water, they attached the trailers to the front of the tractor, not the rear. There was never any significant waiting to get afloat; it was more a case of the PAC staff waiting patiently while we messed about getting our boats ready. I would say that it was luxury to have your boat launched for you and as soon as you were afloat the tractor reversed back for the next boat, taking your trailer with it and leaving it back in the trailer park. Quite a change from having to drive off to find somewhere to park your car and trailer, then finding your boat stranded by the tide when you eventually get back to it.

A day by day diary of the event follows:

Friday 2nd July

Josephine and myself travelled to Pembrokeshire before the start of the event. We stayed at Manorbier YHA, doing a couple of walks in the rain, before going to the PAC to register our arrival on the first morning of the event. Apart from the staff, no one else had yet arrived and there was nothing on the programme until the evening, so we launched our boat and sailed down the estuary and a little way out to sea past St Annes Head, before returning to PAC with a stop for tea and ice creams at Dale. By the time we were back, the boat park was full of interesting boats to look at and the main hall in the PAC was full of the chatter of people renewing aquaintainces from previous Semaine du Golf and Seafair festivals. Photo below was taken in the main hall at PAC that evening. The projector was being set up for the PowerPoint presentations that accompagnied the welcome speeches by representatives of PAC, the Seafair organisation and the financial sponsor, Milford Haven Port Authority. 

The main hall on the first evening

The main hall at PAC on the first evening of the event

Saturday 3rd July

The program started in earnest with an early morning briefing so as to be ready for a nominally 8:45am start to sail to Pembroke, arriving in time for the lock gate to let us into the pond beside Pembroke castle. Many participants had yet to arrive at PAC, so they missed both the sail to Pembroke and the return sail, it is best to arrive on the first day if you can.

The sail down the Cleddau then through the gap in the bank at Pennar Mouth and up into Pembroke made a lovely start to the programme, with sunshine and a following wind up the final narrow twisty stretch into the town.

The fleet sailing up Pembroke river

Some of the fleet sailing up Pembroke river
The fleet moored below Pembroke castle

Moored below Pembroke castle

The photo above shows some of the boats moored in the pool below the castle, with the church and town centre behind and part of the walls of the massive castle just visible at the right of the picture. The crowd on the quayside includes the crews of the boats, together with holiday makers that happened to be passing through and people starting to gather for the live entertainment and dancing to be held in that big white marquee that had been set up on the quay side by the Seafair organisation.

The plan was for the boats to stay at Pembroke overnight and a bus was laid on to take the crews back to PAC then return them to the boats in the morning. Josephine and myself got following a party of tourists that were being shown around the town by a guide who gave an interesting talk, although a somewhat gruesome talk when it came to the details of the attrocities committed in the town by Oliver Cromwell and his opponents. As a result of this distraction we missed the bus back, but never mind, it was only a two mile walk, much less than the sailing distance.

Sunday 4th July

The morning briefing was not promising. The forecast was for wind and rain and all crews were advised to leave their boats at Pembroke castle until such time as it was deemed safe to sail them back to PAC. However, a bus would be laid on to take crews to Pembroke to give them the opportunity to check their boats were still safe on the moorings. The lock gate would open briefly at high water, but crews were advised not to pass through it. Aha I thought - as a responsible organisation they have to advise safety, but perhaps they are leaving a loop hole so that we can sail at our own risk should we choose to do so. Josephine and myself were on the bus to Pembroke, but once we got to our boat we made ready to cast off the mooring and so did three or four other boats in the fleet.  The moment the lock gate opened we let go the mooring and rowed rapidly towards the opening. One of the organisers in a launch warned us again not to go through the gate, but when he saw that we were gaining some momentum in that direction he gave us a grin and wished us a good sail. Once through the lock gate we ran up on a mud bank to hoist sail then set off tacking down the river. Three or four other boats that had also left the pool had passed us as we raised sail and they were now all ahead of us under power from outboard or inboard engines. There was a good breeze and once we had got clear of the first narrow twisty stretch we could sail full speed on a reach and we gradually caught up with, then overtook, all the boats that were under power - this did provoke a couple of them to raise sail for the run back up the Cleddau to PAC.  We were all back at PAC in good time for lunch.

By late afternoon the wind had eased and the sky cleared. The HSC party set off to Milford by car since Bill, one of the organisers of Seafair in 2008, had arranged a special party for the 2008 sail and oar crews, this to be held on board La Recouvrance in one of the Milford docks. La Recouvrance is a replica small French warship and although she was built in 1991-92 she is based on plans drawn up in 1817. She is a superb vessel, we have now seen her several times at both Seafair and Semaine du Golf, I took the photograph below at Semaine du Golf in 2009. Look at the length of the bowsprit in proportion to the rest of the vessel!
La Recouvrance

La Recouvrance, taken at Semaine du Golf, 2009

Bill's party went very well, a big thank you to Bill. It was good to meet up with some of the organisers from Llangwm in 2008 since we had a completely different group organising us at PAC in 2010. The photo below, taken by Richard F., gives an idea of the party.
Party on board La Recouvrance

Party on board La Recouvrance

Monday 5th July

This had been planned as a day free of organised sailing events, but since most of the sail and oar fleet were still locked up by the castle at Pembroke, a return convoy had to be arranged to bring them back to PAC. Meanwhile, Josephine and myself decided to use the day to explore the higher reaches of the Eastern Cleddau river. Although we did not realise it until later on, it turned out that our friend Aiden de la Mare had the same plan. Aiden was the Dinghy Cruising Association Coordinator for Devon and Cornwall before he moved house to the Isle of Wight and at about the same time Josephine and myself moved to Devon and so I took over Aiden's DCA post. Its not such a bad job, but if anyone else would like a turn they would be welcome to take over from me! Aiden sails a lovely 90 year old boat that makes an ideal cruising dinghy. It is fast and seaworthy with lots of dry stowage space for his cruising equipment, one of the nicest small craft at this festival I would say.  
Mill and Bridge at head of

Bridge and Mill at Blackpool, Eastern Cleddau

We had not realised that Aiden was at Seafair since he had been camping on board his boat somewhere up the Cleddau river rather than using the facilities at PAC, I think he appreciates peace and quiet. We passed him at anchor as we ran up the Eastern Cleddau above Landshipping, a pretty stretch of water with wooded banks a lot of the way. Aiden lifted his anchor and came with us for a bit, then he anchored again because he was not sure of the depth and did not want to get stuck. We pressed on reaching the bridge at Blackpool, photo above. This is the head of navigation, except perhaps for canoes that might get a few hundred yards further. On the right of the picture is a restored water mill that is open to the public, we visited it on a previous holiday, travelling by road.

The return trip was harder work since with the trees and shallow water we had to row against the tide that was still flooding, I was not sure about waiting for the ebb because of the risk of grounding, the shallowest parts being some way down from Blackpool. Eventually we got back to where Aiden was still anchored, enjoying the solitude. He kindly offered to start his outboard engine and give us a tow, we accepted - Photo below shows Aiden's boat towing our one. 
Aiden towing our boat on the Eastern CleddauAiden towing our boat on the Eastern Cleddau

After a mile or two of towing, the river widened and we pulled into the bank for tea with Aiden, after which we set sail for Lawrenny where there was an open air party planned for the evening on the village cricket ground - there's always a party to go to at Seafair, often a choice of parties. Photo below shows some of the people at the cricket ground, the evening sun casting long shadows over the smooth green.
Open air party at Lawrenny

Open air party at Lawrenny Cricket Ground

I am not sure, but I think it was this night that those of us camping at PAC were woken by a lot of activity going on at about 2am. In the morning we learnt that the fire brigade had been called since the nearby fish farm had caught on fire. This did seem odd - fish live in water, how does a fish farm catch fire? But sure enough, when we went afloat the next day we could see the charred remmnants of the shoreside buildings that were part of the fish farm and the surrounding trees were also scorched, it must have been quite a blaze.

Tuesday 6th July

Today was the day of the biggest party of the week. So far we had sailed only with the other sail and oar boats, but today both the sail and oar fleets and the larger yachts attending the festival were to gather in the Cleddau and the crews would go to a big lunch and afternoon party in a field at Coedcanlas, on the eastern shore, roughly opposite Llangwm. When we arrived, there were already dozens of yachts moored in the river and smaller craft pulled up on the bank, we preferred to anchor and hitch a lift to the shore so as to avoid stranding on the ebb.

Crews going ashore opposite bank to Langwm

Crews going ashore on the bank opposite to Llangwm

Once ashore, we gathered at an enormously long marquee that I think had been set up just for this party, altough since the weather was fine most people sat at tables outside, photo below.
Party above eastern shore of Cleddau

Party above eastern shore of Cleddau

Wednesday 7th July

The program was to explore the upper branches of the Cleddau, but with the weather having turned to a steady drizzle, quite a few people felt they had done enough sailing in the last few days and were happy to take a break ashore. A few boats did set off for the east or west branches of the Upper Cleddau and Jospehine and myself chose the west branch, the rest of the HSC contingent headed up the Carew river in Meander and Susie and visited Carew castle and mill at the head of that creek.

Carew mill

HSC club boat 'Meander' and Herman's boat 'Susie' at Carew Mill

Of the boats that chose the west Cledday, we were the only one to make it to the head of navigation at Havorfordwest, although we did pass a few others moored up for lunch a little way short of the town. We tied up by the town quay, near to a stone slipway. I suspect the quay is rarely used for mooring boats these days, the stonework was crumbling in places and there were no bollards to tie up to so we improvised with long lines to lamp posts etc.

We walked around the shops in the rain, then went up to the top of the town to look at the castle ruins and the museum. In the museum we happened to meet the Mayor of Havorfordwest dressed with full regalia, he was waiting to welcome a party of archaeologists that were visiting from London. The mayor was interested to hear that we had sailed to Havorfordwest, although the old photographs in the museum showed that the town was once a significant port I dont think many boats go there now.  We took a quick look round the museum then departed just before it became full of archaeologists.

Thursday 8th July

The program suggested we sail downriver to Angle and Dale, I think a free lunch and a pint was on offer at the pub at Angle. The weather had changed again, it was a fine day with a light breeze from the south west, so I thought this could be an opportunity to go and have a look at Skokholm, the island a few miles north west from the entrance to Milford Haven. Skokholm is a nature reserve so I was not sure that we would be allowed to land there, but at least we might be able to anchor for a while in some bay. To shorten the sailing distance from PAC, I decided to hitch our boat to the car and launch it at Angle rather than having a tractor assisted launch at PAC. This was a mistake since by the time we had driven down the small lanes then managed to get afloat from the beach at Angle, many of the boats that had sailed from PAC were already at Angle, their crews heading for the pub. Angle is a lovely quiet spot, but boat launching is from the beach rather than a slipway and is at the limit of what I would consider safe with our two wheel drive car and fairly heavy boat. I suspect that if two many people launched here it could mess up the beach and cause a parking problem.

Pembrokeshire is one area of coastline for which I have some proper nautical charts, so before we left for Skokholm I had a quick look at the tidal data on the charts and worked out that if the wind died or our mast fell down or whatever, the tide would turn south and bring us back to Milford Haven by the evening and we would then have some flood up the Haven to get back to Angle - excellent. The charts were in pristine condition, so I left them in the car to avoid them possibly getting damp or creased in the boat - perhaps another mistake! We sailed out of the Haven on a reach but half way to Skokholm the wind died away and left us drifting on the strong northgoing tide. For a while we carried on rowing towards Skokholm and we got within a few hundred yards of the island, but with no sign of the wind returning I decided to abandon the plan to anchor off the island and instead we rowed across the tide to the mainland shore and anchored in a small cove for lunch, then decided to drift a bit further along the coast until the tide turned. Unless the wind came back, we would rely on the tide to help us back to Milford Haven. I could not remember the exact time I had worked out that it would turn and regretted leaving the charts behind, but it is a fact that if the tide has been flowing in one direction for a few hours it will not be many more hours before it flows in a roughly opposite direction - a rock of certainty in a sea of uncertainties.

We were drifting northwards on a calm sea when we saw a ridgid inflateable boat speeding towards us from the south. As it approached we realised that it was an inshore lifeboat. I was a bit taken aback when it came alongside since I had not imagined that we were in trouble. Indeed, is it possible to be in trouble when you are becalmed in a sailing boat in reasonably settled weather and assuming that you don't have some medical problem or have run out of food and water and that your boat is not sinking or on fire? The lifeboat crew told us that the coast guard had received several reports of a sailing boat in difficulty and they asked who we were and where we had come from. When I told them that we were taking part in the Seafair event they said they would tow us back to Milford Haven. I tried to say that I didnt think that necessary but the way the lifeboat coxwain put it "we don't want to leave you here then have to come back to rescue you again in the middle of the night" there didnt seem to be a lot of choice, so we passed them the end of a line and they started the lengthy tow back to Milford Haven. I was a bit worried that we might be towed too fast, but they were very patient and kept to a tolerable speed, about 7 knots I think, and they slowed right down as we went through the tidal popple off St Annes Head. As we entered Milford haven, the lifeboat was in radio contact with the Seafair organisation. The lifeboat coxswain told us that the Seafair people had arranged hotel accomodation for us at Dale and that medical assistance would be on hand if needed when we landed there! I said that made no sense since the lifeboat needed to get back to the lifeboat house at Angle, not Dale, also Dale was miles and miles by land from where we had left our car and boat trailer. After more radio discussions between the lifeboat and the Seafair organisation it was agreed that the lifeboat would continue to Angle and drop the tow before returning to the lifeboat house. We recovered our boat onto the trailer at Angle and were then soon back at PAC. I can say that the lifeboat people were very cheerful and friendly throughout, perhaps they regarded it as a bit of a training exercise and we did make a donation that I hope would have covered their fuel. We were sorry to have put the Seafair people to rather a lot of extra trouble at a time when they had a whole lot of other boats to consider and so many parties to organise.

Friday 9th July

The program was to sail to Lawrenny for an extended lunch stop, then on up to Cresswell Quay for a party in the evening.  Photo shows one of the largest of the sail and oar fleet getting underway after lunch from the pontoons at Lawrenny. Bill, the chief organiser of the sail and oar fleet at Seafair in 2008, is at the helm and making sure that all goes to plan. 
Bill takes the helm leaving Lawrenny

Bill takes the helm leaving Lawrenny


Photo below shows Herman's Drascombe 'Susie' negotiating the final narrow stretch of river up to Cresswell Quay, Mark S. providing most of the propulsion. 
Herman and Mark in Cresswell River

Herman and Mark in the Cresswell River

To make a change from camping on shore at PAC, Josephine and myself decided to stay overnight at Cresswell using our boom tent. A couple of other small yachts also stayed overnight at Cresswell, one was Alastair's Paradox with Alastair cocooned inside.

Saturday 10th July

We made an early start from Cresswell so as to sail back to PAC in time for the morning briefing. This was the last day of Seafair and was to include a grand parade of sail. All the fleets, tall ships included (except that Recouvrance was already well on the way back to Brest), were to gather near the A447 suspension bridge that crosses the Cleddau just downstream from PAC, then all would proceed in reasonably close and orderly formation to Milford Haven where there would be an all afternoon party with live music, folk dancing etc. After that, the sail and oar fleets would return to PAC and Lawrenny for final evening parties and the customary farewell speeches.

The parade of sail was a bit delayed getting underway. I think the tall ships were late arriving so the smaller boats had to wait with the result that some of them got impatient and set off too early. Anyway, we all had a good sail down the river in a strengthening breeze, I took photos of a few of the boats as below. 

Parade of Sail Parade of Sail
Parade of Sail Parade of Sail


A selection of boats taking part in the Parade of Sail

I have not made much mention of it, but all the parties referred to above included live music. A succession of bands performed on the seafront on the final afternoon at Milford and the photos below show two that HSC members particularly liked:
The Vagrant Crew

The band 'The Vagrant Crew'


The Fiddlebox

The band 'Fiddlebox'

This has been quite a long write up, all I can add is a big thank you to the organisers and to Milford Haven Port Authority, we hope to be back another time.