Storm Francis at the end of August causes Jonty Pearce to amend his cruising plans with friends

Storm Francis was certainly an unwelcome guest during two weeks of August cruising.

Throughout the ‘thou shalt not sail’ period of lockdown, perfect sailing conditions prevailed.

The sun shone brightly, the wind merely gently ruffled the sea’s wavelets, and the temperature was a delight.

Shorts and suncream were the order of the day, and in our minds eye we gazed at distant horizons and dreamed.

Once Aurial’s engine was fixed after it’s core plug failure we planned our long-anticipated summer cruise for the last 2 weeks of August.

This slots in neatly between the plum and pear crops of our orchard.

With friends coming aboard for the first four days we considered and prepared for our options.

Church Rock at Broad Haven, Bosherston.

Church Rock at Broad Haven, Bosherston. during quiet weather. Credit: Jonty Pearce

What we hadn’t bargained for was an uninvited guest to arrive just as we got aboard.

Within 24 hours Storm Francis had made his presence known – buffeting the boat, singing in the rigging, and drenching us with cold showers.

Not sociable behaviour, and not conducive to a gentle Pimms-sipping sail.

However, my outlook on life is like my blood group – B positive.

And so Storm Francis merely gave us the opportunity to indulge in windy Pembrokeshire Coast Path cliff walks (but not too close to the edge) and beach expeditions to revel in the roaring surf and flying spray.

The extreme wind and aggressive waves encountered in Bosherston’s Broad Haven really brought home to me the different conditions that can be encountered in any anchorage.

As I stood on the sand staring out at the white water engulfing the not inconsiderable Church Rock, I recalled a tranquil moonlit photograph taken of the same scene while at anchor some years before.

The boat was still, and the sea was flat – a peaceful, calm, and restful place.

Now, looking at the release of Storm Francis’ powerful anger on the same situation, it seemed that I was in a parallel universe.

The spot where we must have dropped the hook was exactly where breakers reflected from the cliff met incoming combers.

They, formed high waterspouts of tumbling spray and surge; incoming waves were breaking over Church Rock’s roof and lashing its steeple with ungodly gusto.

Any idea of shelter was ludicrous, and the idea of even entering the bay in a boat during Storm Francis would be suicidal idiocy.

Continues below…

I took my pictures, and, with a last admiring glance at the awesome display by Storm Francis, followed our friends back up the path alongside the Lilyponds.

Here, we seemed to have crossed a hidden threshold into a windless fairy land; the comparison between the roaring buffeting shore and the still, calm lakes was unreal.

We managed just one sail up the river for a quiet night at anchor before the rain returned and our guests had to return home.

After yet another two nights tucked up in the marina while high winds passed we bravely ventured out to Dale.

A glance seawards as we scampered past Milford Haven’s guarding headlands reinforced the wisdom of staying in the shelter of the Haven.

Neap tides permitted low tide access to The Griffin pontoon; we pulled up the keel and settled down for the night after a barbecue ashore with a good friend.

All seemed peaceful in the morning until the wind swung more easterly than expected and climbed to Force 7, right up our stern.

As Aurial plunged up and down alongside the pontoon it was clear that her mooring lines and cleats were at risk.

So we beat a hasty retreat to a sheltered spot to lick our wounds before returning to the complete shelter of our Neyland Yacht Haven berth and an early return from our holiday.

August strikes again…