This week Jonty Pearce recounts the delight of sailing into a sunrise


Carol, known as the Indoor Dragon with her full acquiescence, is an owl. By which I mean that her internal clock mechanisms are set to a different datum from the rest of Wales. I do not mean trivial differences such as the end of BST – we are talking at least four time zones here. Not only is she genetically late, but her natural bedtime is 3am. This means that, unless I am to cope with a grumpy dragon who has been fed the wrong sort of coal all day, she needs to sleep in until 11.30am.

I am more of a lark. While I am able to stay up and carouse till the wee hours, my preferred bedtime is 11pm and my brain malfunctions if asked to perform after 9pm. However, come 8am and I am awake, mentally sparkling and refreshed, which is why I am tapping out this blog in bed while the ID gruntles beside me emitting occasional small gouts of flame and sooty gobbets of smoke.

It was the end of October, and the night before we had discussed setting off at 9am prompt to get through the tidal gate of Jack Sound, the portal to ‘The North’. I had my suspicions that this was a tad optimistic, and, indeed, the ID came to bed at silly o’clock having got immersed in her book. I had woken, dressed, and was fizzing to go at 8am but all I could get out of the ID was what I chose to take as a grunt of agreement that I should set off single-handed. And thus began one of my most enjoyable sails.

The night’s wind had dropped and a night-time cool shower had cleared the air so that the sun glistened on the lightly rippled water. The mere stirring zephyr of air gainsaid a description of flat calm, yet promised a sailor’s breeze once out of the anchorage’s shelter. Usefully, the tide’s ebb provided motive force so, disdaining the engine, and thoughtful of the sleeping Carol, I simply hauled up the anchor and let Aurial drift while unrolling the genoa. The whole Haven seemed held in suspended animation as I ghosted along with just enough steerage way to avoid the pot buoys. Ray the autopilot steered us as I hoisted the mainsail, and we emerged from the shelter of Thorn Island to catch the start of a useful wind blowing off West Angle bay. Aurial picked up her skirts, and the lovely gurgle of water passing merged with Carol’s burbling breathing from below, though she soon faded into the background as our speed gathered, a gentle heel and the start of the Atlantic swell leaving her sleep undisturbed.

I raised the mizzen and glorified in a seven knot reach across to St Ann’s Head. I was totally alone on the water – a lovely breeze on a fine, sunny, almost warm morning. Life was good. I enjoyed my second cup of coffee – breakfast would wait till the ID emerged to choose her morning fuel. Bearing away at the lighthouse to pass up Broad Sound inevitably took Aurial off her favourite point of sail and our speed dropped, the sails slatting as she tumbled on the confused sea. Ray helmed skilfully, and was steady enough for me to pull across the genoa so we could goosewing with an immediate improvement in motion and speed.

I looked back along the cliffs behind, admiring the low sun glinting through the mist of spray from the breaking swell on the rocks – almost like a net curtain failing to keep the morning sunrise off a sleeping child. Or dragon. Skokholm, capped by a ghostly moon, passed to port and we were in perfect time to catch the last of the north-going stream through the sound. Approaching the Blackstones, I wound in the main and mizzen sheets to gybe onto the transit towards Tuskar rock. The earlier peace of the morning sail had gone, replaced by the excitement of a speedy passage between encroaching rocks – I relieved Ray at the helm and kept Aurial tight on line through the swirls and eddies as the Crabstones swept quickly past to port. Walkers on the cliff path stopped and waved as I powered through, only to gybe less neatly after Tuskar rock. The flapping genoa was finally enough to rouse the sleeping dragon who emerged from her lair, bang on 11am. I headed west before rolling away the genoa and dropping the sails, and helmed us into North Haven for breakfast.

My solo morning sail had ended, but I had enjoyed the best of the day. For me, morning rules – the still peace of an early sunrise will always eclipse even a flamboyant sunset. Each to their own, but I remain a contented lark.

Jonty Pearce