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Voyage Report: HMS Gay Archer - Ellesmere Port to Watchet

By Matthew Easton

I hope you enjoy this interesting voyage report from Matthew Easton who sailed on the preserved Motor Torpedo Boat HMS GAY ARCHER on passage between Ellesmere Port and Watchet during the spring of 2006. Rather different from the usual passenger ship voyage reports which usually appear on Irish Sea Shipping! - [JHL]

It was at short notice that I was asked to help and take the Gay Archer from it's temporary berth at the Holiday Inn, Ellesmere Port to Watchet in Somerset.

The Gay Archer left its berth at 08:00 on Good Friday morning, and was ready to leave the Manchester Ship Canal at 4 hours to High Water Liverpool. 

The weather forecast said we should have favourable conditions for the passage South but it was still blowing Westerly Force 4 in the Irish Sea.

The plan was to get to Watchet in one go, weather and engines permitting! The Owner had fitted a "flux gate" compass, VHF and GPS for the trip. The steering was going to be by hand from the open bridge so we'd all brought lots of warm clothing with us! 

As a Liverpool Pilot the first part of the trip from Eastham to Point Lynas on Anglesey was very familiar to me - albeit never on a Motor Torpedo Boat! We left Eastham just after 09:00, leaving the Queen's Channel at 12:30 and arriving in the lee of Point Lynas (the North East headland on Anglesey) at 16:00.

Whilst in the lee of Lynas it was decided to top the fuel tanks up. This would also give us a chance to see how fuel had been used to date and then whether there was enough to get us to the destination.

The weather finally behaved itself and as forecasted the wind dropped away completely as we rounded to the North coast of Anglesey. This left a beautiful evening motoring close in to the coast.

Once passed Holyhead the passage was to take us past the South Stack, Bardsey Island and then towards Strumble Head near Fishguard. This was so we could use the Navigation Lights as a back up to the GPS. Back to basics navigation.

During the night we all wrapped up as the temperature dropped but despite this it was still a lovely night. In the hours of the morning the fuel tanks again were topped up and it been apparent we'd have to stop off and bunker somewhere. After a brief discussion Milford Haven was chosen as we'd arrive once it became light, making it easier to navigate. 

The rest of the night was uneventful, passing South Bishop Light and Skokholm Island before passing St Anne's Head (the entrance to Milford Haven) around 05:00. We tied up in Milford Marina just after 06:00 and commenced taking diesel but more importantly some much needed hot food!

There where plenty of ships alongside the various jetties in the Haven, most also frequent visitors to Liverpool and the Manchester Canal. There is also a large Dutch floating crane helping to construct a new LNG berth.

Not long after leaving Milford Haven it became apparent that the starboard engine was using a lot of oil and we'd ran out of any spare. Another stop somewhere was required.

Ilfracombe was the chosen place and after finding out there was a berth that can be used at any state of tide, a course was set.  

The faces of the people on the jetty once we arrived at Ilfracombe were priceless - it's not every day you see a Torpedo Boat arriving unannounced anywhere these days!

The final leg of the voyage from Ilfracombe to Watchet took 3 hours and was uneventful - although that stretch of coastline is very scenic.

Watchet Harbour was once used by commercial coasters but has been turned into a thriving marina - a bit of a squeeze for the Gay Archer though!

 The exterior of the Gay Archer has been fully restored, the owner hopes to finish the interior shortly. His intention is to open in the near future as a museum. All being well the Gay Archer should be on display at the Bristol Regatta at the end of July


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