Sailing on a millpond

I never really enjoyed sailing as a child. My father was enthusiastic and had his own dinghy. There was nothing he liked better than a full sail propelling his boat across the water – except for having it becalmed due to a complete lack of wind. The latter enabled him to lie back and have a relaxing nap as the dinghy remained motionless. Well, that’s how I remember it anyway, with me getting bored waiting for something to happen. If the conditions looked exciting, Dad would invariably declare the water “too rough” to go out.

Needless to say, he didn’t often persuade me to go with him. These memories were flying around in my head when I found out that the Volvo Ocean Race was going to call at Cardiff. The 9th stage of this round the world challenge would see the yachts cross the Atlantic from Newport, Rhode Island. They would remain in Cardiff for several days where a race village would be set up, with entertainment, family attractions and lots of sailing and ocean themed exhibits.

I thought the race village sounded good for a family visit, although Dad was likely to appreciate it the most. However, on checking the details, I realised  it would involve quite a bit of walking which might be a bit much for someone now in his nineties. When the time arrived, S and F weren’t that keen either, so I set off on my own to check it out, feeling slightly guilty about leaving Dad behind.

I’ve got to say the race village really lived up to the hype. The first thing I noticed was a slightly less challenging yacht race happening in the bay. There were also watersport taster sessions for children, as well as a climbing wall and a rather high zip wire. The latter is something F later admitted she really would have enjoyed. My other senses were consumed with the sound of live reggae from the stage and the smell of tapas and burgers from the food vans.


After dithering a while watching the band, I made my way to the big dome, where films were being shown about the race and highlighting the amount of plastic dumped in the oceans. Indeed, one of the yachts was named “Turn The Tide On Plastic”, further publicising this depressing fact. A whale completely made out of plastic bottles was exhibited to hammer home the point. Close by, a submersive experience had been constructed with the aid of mirrors, giving the impression of being in the ocean surrounded by fish life, until the plastic waste comes and diminishes their numbers.


Teams and sponsors all had stands promoting themselves and selling merchandise. The highlights for sailing enthusiasts were the 7 competing yachts lined up in Queen Alexandra Dock. VIPs were given a guided tour of each boat, but sadly I just wasn’t important enough for this.


All the wandering around on a warm afternoon required a visit to the ice cream stand for well deserved refreshment while watching the band.

Just after leaving, I came across the STS Lord Nelson docked in Roath Basin. The Lord Nelson is a full size sailing ship, built to give disabled people the chance to sail – another thing my Dad would have loved to see.


The following afternoon, stage 10 of the Volvo Ocean Race was due to start, when the yachts would be heading in the direction of Gothenburg in Sweden. The race village and the barrage were bound to be packed, but I knew of a little park on Penarth Head with great views up and down the Bristol Channel. I had discovered this on an impromptu walk along a section of the Wales Coast Path and remembered there was on street parking nearby. This seemed to be an ideal location to watch the start of the race, and one that Dad could get to also. He jumped at the chance to go, so we headed off in the car to Penarth. When we arrived, it appeared one or two other people had the same idea.


I found a place to put Dad’s deck chair where he had a good view of the boats. By the start time of 4pm, not much seemed to be happening, apart from a little dog getting very excited whenever another canine came near. Its frightfully posh owner was ever so politely asking it to be quiet, but I don’t think the little chap could hear her above the sound of his own bark. A twitter feed informed us that the start had been delayed 30 minutes due to the lack of wind. This explained why the yachts weren’t moving.


The race organisers were convinced that when the tide started to go out, the boats would be pushed along by the current. Luckily, the Severn Estuary has the 2nd highest tidal range in the world, which should mean that the water can sweep floating objects along at speed – in theory. 45 minutes later, we were wondering why the race hadn’t started. A quick social media check informed us it had, but despite this, 2 yachts hadn’t yet crossed the start line! The other 5 were moving ever so slowly towards Penarth.  Once another 15 minutes had passed, the boats finally appeared to pick up the tidal current, and moved steadily out to sea. Once they’d rounded Lavernock Point, they disappeared from view.

Dad had thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon. The lack of a racing spectacle didn’t bother him at all. Conditions were just as he liked them when he used to sail his dinghy on a millpond!




Cardiff is the capital of Wales, 150 miles west of London, UK


The nearest airport is Cardiff (12 miles). The airport has a direct bus link to Cardiff Bay. The bay also has a train station

Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race is a round the world yacht race that began at Alicante, Spain in October 2017. The 11th and final stage will finish at The Hague, Netherlands towards the end of June 2018. Click here for more information on the race


Click on the links for my other blogs on Cardiff Bay and Penarth. For visitor information on Cardiff, click here

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