“Unidentified yacht off the Firing Range Patrol vessel’s bow, please identify yourself and your destination”.
For the second time on the trip, we are intercepted by a Ministry Of Defence vessel. It seems that we have strayed a bit close to the Castlemartin Firing Range to the east of Milford Haven. We are not quite sure why we are unidentified, as the words Ruby Tuesday are blazoned in huge letters along the boom for all to see, but we think they might be too young to remember the Rolling Stones.
“Yacht Ruby Tuesday, heading for Milford Haven”, we say.
“No problem, but could you keep out of the firing area as it is active today, and we wouldn’t want any accidents, would we?”, they respond, friendly but firm. “Keep on a new course of 275° until you receive further instructions from us – that should be OK.”
They zoom off in the opposite direction. Feeling a bit like Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible, we comply with the instruction. One hour later, we are still on the same course, so we call the patrol boat on the VHF.
“Sorry, we forgot about you”, they reply. “Please alter your course to 330° and wait for us to call you again.”
Another hour passes, and we seem to be passing the entrance to Milford Haven. Thinking they might have forgotten us a second time, we call them again. This time there is no answer. We decide to head directly into Milford Haven. We are not arrested, so we assume they have all gone home. We hope they are not quite so forgetful when they are on active duty.
We had left Lundy early that morning, and had caught the tide that helped us on our way northwards. In the lee of the island it was calm to start with, but once we passed the headland the wind strengthened to 18 knots and the sea became quite rough. We reefed to reduce the sail area and wallowed our way through the waves coming on our beam. It was cold, so the First Mate went below decks while I put on my jacket and sat in the cockpit.
I am struck by the solitude. Lundy fades from view and we cannot yet see the south Wales coast. No other boat is in sight – we are alone and might be the only people in the world. Only a flock of black guillemots bobbing on the waves passes us. It is us and nature. It is tempting to think that we are at one, and yet we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our civilisation – Ruby Tuesday herself is the product of centuries of accumulated human knowledge and modern materials, and we are aided by the wonders of the electronic age. We are semi-sustainable in that we can last for several days on the provisions, water and energy we have on board, and can travel using the natural forces of wind and tides, but eventually we must return to our comfort zone to restock and repair if necessary.
Can mankind ever be truly sustainable? In a sense we have to – this planet is all we have, and if we can’t it may dispose of us. The evolutionary record shows that many species have disappeared because they have not been able to adapt to changing circumstances. And yet, other species have changed their environment irrevocably and created conditions for new species to evolve. We ourselves would not be here if various bacteria had not learnt how to produce oxygen as a waste product. We are now in the Anthropocene, a geological age in which the activities of humans have a marked influence on earth processes. A bobbing lobsterpot buoy off our starboard bow reminds me that even the seas we are sailing over have unseen particles of plastic detritus from our waste. What will be the outcome of our presence – new opportunities for evolution to thrive, or massive extinctions? We just don’t know.
We enter Milford Haven, and turn left into Dale Bay. An old friend from university days has a mooring buoy there and has offered it to us to tie up to as his own boat is having repairs done to it. We have its number and GPS coordinates and have no problems in locating it right under Dale Fort, a field studies centre. It is near the shore. We are a little concerned that it might be too shallow for our draft, but we calculate that we will have about 30 cm below the keel at low water, just enough in these calm conditions. We relax and enjoy the evening by cooking dinner and catching up on our reading.
In the morning, we cruise slowly up to Milford Marina, which has a lock gate that opens at 0900. On the way we pass giant oil tankers anchored near the petroleum storage terminal on the southern shore of the harbour. Once an oil refinery, the terminal, with its huge chimneys reaching into the sky, reminds us of a mosque and its minarets, a shrine to the excesses of the age of fossil fuel.
We have arranged to refuel and also meet an old friend at Milford Marina. Moira, another friend from university days, is an avid retired geologist and accompanied us on a sailing trip around Mull in 2016. It is good to see her again and we have lots of catching up to do. Over lunch on Ruby Tuesday, we talk about our offspring and mutual friends from long ago, and what they are all up to now. She is heavily involved in leading and supporting local geology groups around Malvern Wells, where she lives, and in fact has to be back the following day to meet the president of a nearby Geopark to help organise an outing for its members. We had thought that she might stay the night with us and perhaps sail around to Fishguard, but it isn’t possible. She’s a busy lady.
In the evening we do a big shop at the Tesco’s next to the marina and stock up for my sister and brother-in-law who are joining us in Fishguard for a week’s sailing.