Bangor Marina berth holders and boatfolk adventurers, Peter & Christine Caswell, have been part of our community for years. But in 2020, despite all the challenges the year posed, they set sail to experience all that the boatfolk family have to offer. They have shared their story with us.
In 2018, we sailed into the Bristol Channel to explore the area and all that it had to offer. The weather that greeted us very much discouraged us from leaving and having spent a great time with the team at Portishead Marina, we chose to winter at Penarth Marina over in Cardiff Bay.
In 2019, we left Penarth with a view to exploring the West Coast and up into Scotland. We arrived at Bangor Marina, and "encouraged" by the weather explored the area. In October, we laid up the boat at Bangor Marina for the Winter.
We were intrigued to be sent a copy of the Dean & Reddyhoff newsletter in August 2019, being familiar with the Quay Marinas network, particularly Royal Quays and Conwy. We were most interested to learn of the impending combination of the two Marina Groups. We had a very high opinion of Quay Marinas. Their sympathetic friendliness to weather-bound boaters such as ourselves could not be overstated. The fact that they were staffed by "boaters" who actually understood the importance of "tidal gates", wind over tide and springs and neaps was a boon.
The Dean & Reddyhoff newsletter was well presented, plain English, innovative and caught our eye, particularly appealing to those cruising or "just messing about in boats". Our idea (we gave up plans years ago!) was to continue in 2020 with circumnavigating the UK, starting with an exploration of the West Coast of Scotland, continuing on to Newcastle and thence returning to Bangor, having explored the South Coast, seemed a possibility.
We awaited more details of the merger and chose to take up an annual contract with Bangor Marina from April 2020. Needless to say, 2020 duly arrived with the pandemic which prevented us travelling from our home in Lincolnshire to Bangor to continue with our sailing until August.
We were intrigued with the announcement of the combination, and quite honestly disconcerted with the tie-up to South Coast marinas.
Our experience over the years of visiting the South Coast was that it had become less for people messing about in boats and more for boaters that had money. Would a South Coast-apparent attitude to boaters (increased fees, harbour dues, short term "parking" charges) be applied?
We were hopeful this would not be the case and that the customer-friendly ethos we had experienced at Quay Marinas would continue to prevail. Kevin (Bangor Marina Manager) was of an ilk with his contemporaries at Penarth (Manager, Stuart) and Portishead (Berthing Master, Andy). Likewise at Bangor, Campbell (the vampire - renowned by us for night duty), Tommy and Euan, to name but a few, were as friendly and helpful as Hugh at Penarth Marina.
We left Bangor in August 2020, heading South, and stopped in Carlingford Laugh. On calling at our next port, Dublin, we were told "Ireland is in lockdown and you are breaking quarantine". The Isle of Man and Wales, also in lockdown, meant a swift return North to Bangor. No winds and motoring with delightful Irish seaweed around the prop at 3kn instead of 5, meant a very long journey back to Bangor Marina.
Kevin, Tommy, Euan and the team arranged for us to use the lifeboat slip. And so, at Midnight, we cleared the prop of weed at high water before leaving for Scotland. However, this clearly was not meant to be. North Easterly 3 to 4 winds quickly became North Westerly 4/5 plus 7 miles from Port Patrick. And so back to Bangor we went.
The next day we finally managed to voyage from Bangor to Port Patrick under a light drizzle (hence the Umbrella!), thereafter to Troon and the Crinan and on to the Caledonian canals. During our transit there was still plenty of wind brought by storms from the Atlantic. At one bridge, our erstwhile companions - much bigger than us - tied to the shore, would not let us a mere 28 1/2 feet tie alongside because of the strong winds.
We motored back for 3 miles into winds 20-28 kn and found shelter. The only instance we've experienced in many years of a lack of the spirit of the sea. Perhaps because we were on a lake?
Having left the Caledonian canal, rounding Peterhead, and sailing South to Newcastle, we were more than pleased to arrive at Royal Quays Marina.
We must commend the folk in North Shields, working with the main building in lockdown and the local area under government restriction. Innovative communication via rope and basket from the balcony (for booklet, tides etc) was fantastic.
Berthing master, Craig was more than helpful with locking procedures and directions to the facilities available. We actually decided to spend an extra day, prompted by the friendly and helpful atmosphere of the Marina.
We refuelled at Royal Quays and much to our surprise they volunteered the information that we still had some credit available in Bangor and this could be used to pay the bill. The wonders of modern technology! From the comfort of Royal Quays Marina, we then sailed South and towards the Solent.
We sailed out of the Harbour, on the ebb, to be presented almost immediately with gale warnings!
Since the winds were Westerly, off the land, we continued South towards Lindisfarne - a slog back into the Marina under engine being an unattractive proposition! Close inshore sailing with "handkerchief" sails was interesting in the strong winds but flat seas.
Scarborough, Grimsby, Wells Next the Sea (Tip: in the dark - avoid if possible!) and on down South. We sailed round the South Foreland on the second attempt and along the South Coast. Finally our chance to catch our breath in the Solent!
Andrew, Berthing Master at Deacons Marina, very kindly found us a berth and emailed clear instructions regarding arrival. That Hamble tide is wicked! He and Deacons Marina Manager, Rachael made us feel very welcome. So much so that we tarried and also met Michelle and Dino Mk 1 (as opposed to Dino Mk 2 at Haslar!).
We set out on a short trip to East Cowes Marina, to be warmly welcomed by Sue and Mike who kindly asked the mighty Mitch to help remove a stubborn engine water intake cover. Our intention to go for a play in the bay was thwarted by big black clouds and heavy rain so they graciously agreed that we could stay on for a bit.
Eventually, we were finally able to sail to Southampton Town Quay to meet our son and family. The crew at East Cowes also agreed that thereafter we could return in order to take stock of our position and consider the future. It was now October.
It had become very clear to us that our misgivings about the influence of the "South" in the merger were completely unfounded!
We said goodbye to East Cowes and headed West to Lymington where we dried out on the scrubbing grid in preparation for a Westerly exit through the Needles to visit Weymouth and/or Portland Marinas. Once there we could decide on the feasibility of rounding Land’s End and returning to Bangor. We changed our thoughts in the pouring rain and instead of heading West, we headed back East and took refuge in East Cowes in view of the impending strong winds (Easterly and North East 5-8 winds) and rain.
We discounted the possibility of leaving the boat for the winter in East Cowes and proceeded once again to Deacons Marina, where Rachael made room for us as she had promised and gave us details of the lift out and onshore facilities that were there.
There was a great deal of pressure on berthing at Deacons for the end of October so we decided we could sail around the Solent until lift out could be done. We left Deacons again and decided we had time to visit Haslar Marina in Portsmouth Harbour. It was here that we were met by Dino Mk 2, who took the trouble not only to find us a different berth, head to wind, in view of the impending strong winds and rain, but also showed us the way and helped us moor up the boat.
Marina Manager, Ben was very surprised to see his first visitors from Bangor and we were pleased to be photographed with him and his crew - mentioning that other Bangor visitors were extremely unlikely this year, just us two old "Bangors"!
Heavy rain, thunderstorms, and strong South Westerly winds set in. Only easing with the announcement that there would be a further lockdown from Thursday 5th November. I mentioned the need for the boat to be lifted ashore for the winter in view of 3 years in the water, and Assistant Manager, Colin suggested that we contact Gosport boatyard since Haslar hadn’t the facilities. However, Gosport did not respond. The run of strong wind warnings from the west 5-8 plus rain subsequent to our arrival in Gosport discouraged us from attempting the return to Deacons for lift out and so our son, who is a member of the Army Sailing Association, was able to arrange for winter berthing at Hornet Sailing Club.
Ben and the Haslar crew kindly agreed we could stay until we could move the boat across to Hornet, but delays in Hornet lift out meant we stayed longer than anticipated. As it happens, this gave us even better opportunity to get to know the team at Haslar, with whom we got on very well indeed.
We were blown away by everyone we met during our adventure around the boatfolk family of Marinas. From Kevin at Bangor, who unbeknown to us had telephoned the Port Patrick (Scotland) harbour to advise of our arrival, through to Ben at Haslar and all those in between. Their professionalism, friendliness and consideration was reflected by all those who worked with them and certainly conveyed to us well-formed teams.
Moreover, not only did Dino Mk 2 know Dino Mk1, but everybody seemed to know Kevin. Their efforts in sharing advice on local amenities, and enthusiastic suggestions as to places of interest, giving helpful information on sailing in the area and understanding the plight of the weather-bound sailor was impressive. We did not find that our involuntary stays were in any way boring!
In boatfolk’s dealings with the various COVID restrictions, we found that in each of the marinas the information and instructions were clearly and pleasantly expressed in simple courteous English, with all precautions taken. This encouraged people to take the extra care necessary and use the facilities correctly.
We genuinely feel that the name "boatfolk" aptly reflects the ethos of the group and we trust that with the easing of the lockdown restrictions many more of our fellow berth holders across the UK will take the opportunity which boatfolk are providing to spread their wings and explore further afield.
After all, if there are time or weather pressures, they can always park their boat for a week or two at a friendly marina along the way. We feel sure that, like us, they will be more than pleased with the consideration and flexibility that they will receive.
Peter & Christine Caswell