Shetlands – 1998
Ramsey - Craighouse, Jura - Loch Na Droma Buidhe - Loch Shieldaig (Loch Gairloch) - Rhiconich (Loch Inchard) - Stromness (Orkneys) - Scalloway (Shetlands) - Whitehall Harbour, Stronsay (Orkneys) - Ellwick (Shapinsay) - Kirk SOund (Mainland, Orkneys) - Wick - Helmsdale - Longman Inverness - Fort Augustus - Corpach - Dunstaffnage - Loch Aline - Loch Eatharna, Coll - Scalasaig, Colonsay - Aros Bay, Islay - Lagavulin, Islay - Torrisdale bay - Carrickfergus - Ramsey.
Boat: Anquette, Westerly
Centaur, 26ft bilge keel sloop.
Skipper: Dave Le Geyt
Crew: Paul Robinson
Which is the quickest route through the
highlands & islands to Cape Wrath ?
1. OFFSHORE - passing south of Islay, west of Skerryvore, west of Tiree, west of Skye, total mileage @381 miles.
2. MIDDLE - through Sound of Islay, Gunna Sound (between Coll and Tiree), east of Canna, west of Skye @372 miles.
3. INNER - northward through the Sound of Luing, Sound of Mull, Sound of Sleat, Kyleakin and east of Skye @381 miles
There are significant tidal gates on each route,
so your choice will be largely determined by wind direction and whether
you wish to make a non stop passage northward. E.g. the Offshore
route may require a significant detour to find an overnight anchorage -
but has more open water where more use can be made of the boat's
self-steering system and pilotage is less demanding than say the Inshore
route with its numerous narrow sounds for the navigator.
After quite a few weeks preparation departure day finally arrived (boat craned in on Wednesday and mast re-fitted). Only problem fresh/strong headwinds.
Met up with some workmates, Chris and Derek, in the Trafalgar. In the morning slipped out of the harbour. Forecast still for fresh/strong NW winds. Didn't feel great after the "evening session" and resolved to be more focused on the trip. Spent the day in Ramsey Bay sorting out problems, engine over heating (as per least year's refit), and adjusting the position of the foot of the mainsail along the boom. Rigged up the windvane, and considered how it worked. Sat on a visitors mooring (now re-laid on the N side of the pier - previously on the S side), and watched Wild Goose sail into Ramsey. The wind had been much lighter all day than forecast, so on the evening high water I decided to make a start. If conditions deteriorated I would find an alternative to progressing up the North Channel - or even run back if necessary. Slipped from the mooring, and sailed up the Point Of Ayre under the control of the windvane. From the point, motored to windward with mainsail raised.
The wind came up, and we switched to sailing, with the wind angle we got quite close to the Rhinns just west of the Mull of Galloway light with a couple of ships close to the west. By now I was feeling like crap (overwork, tiredness and not fully recovered from previous evenings pints & chips), Paul though, coping well with the conditions and in positive frame of mind. In his own words he was expecting 6/10 days of hell. He was psychologically prepared because once he had volunteered for the trip I made great effort on a daily basis to paint a really grim picture of what conditions would be like; namely non-stop (even though islands and anchorages might be conveniently at hand - depending on the route taken), sailing in bad but favourable winds - as mileage toward objective more important than "pleasant sailing", and in cold wet windy conditions - which had encouraged him to invest in "yachting" waterproofs and warm army clothing.
From near the Rhinns we resumed motoring to windward which was quite unpleasant in the conditions. I wasn't sure yet whether we would be rounding the Mull of Kintyre or diverting to Cambeltown. Fortunately, we were tide wise not far off the Mull of Kintyre with a now moderate (mainly) to fresh NW, so I elected to continue.
From SW of the Mull, we could resume sailing, Craighouse, Jura having been selected as an overnight stop. Gradually the sea flattened, and I started to feel my stomach settling.
Sailed up to Na Cùiltean reef, about 1.5 miles short of Loch Na Mile, to discover the motor up to its old tricks (lack of cooling water) - but eventually it was operable. Entered Craighouse (Loch na Mile) between the perch on the northern end of Liath Sgeir and the southern side of Eilean nan Gabhar (Goat Island). Picked up an HIE mooring. A couple of other windvane equipped yachts in the anchorage.
There are about 200 people who live on Jura, and 5,000 red deer. George Orwell lived in a croft on the northern tip of the island whilst he wrote "1984", between 1946 -1948.
Being as it was neaps, with the prospect of continuing headwinds, I elected on the route via the Sound of Luing. First we headed up the Sound of Jura, sailing when possible in the light wind. The Correvreckan in benign mood. A number of yachts a few miles ahead. The tide in the Sound of Jura turns north later than in the Sound of Luing, but when it became necessary the engine was called into action to ensure that we didn't loose the north going tide through the Sound of Luing. Took a number of photos as we passed through the ever narrowing channel.
Having skirted round a few pot buoys and left the Bono red lateral to port, we made for the Firth Of Lorne.
From a previous trip I knew that we wouldn't be able to get a fair tide through both the Firth Of Lorne and the Sound Of Mull. Fortunately, we kept a fair tide through the two narrows, i.e. between Duart Castle on the East side of Mull, and Lady's Rock lighthouse lying off the SW tip of Lismore Island, and then where the reef off Mull extends half way across the channel to the Glas Eileanan light. So we started the leg toward Tobermory (still a few yachts about - all heading east). I didn't fancy Tobermory as a stop. Been there before, sometimes not any moorings available, and the wind blowing into the place - could do with a night's rest without the boat rolling. According to the chart and pilot books Loch na Droma Buidhe seemed appropriate. Rather than take a longer detour, decided to take the "short cut" between the western end of the Movern peninsula and the Big and Little Skirt Rocks. Two presumably local yachts shot past very close to the Skirts, Tobermory bound, which confirmed my identification.
Just outside Loch na Droma Buidhe the motor over heated, I sailed in whilst Paul quickly got the anchor ready. A likelihood of the NW becoming W'ly. A number of yachts anchored in the SW corner with riding lights on, I figured on the northern side of the loch - currently completely sheltered from the wind. Discovered that the echo sounder was not giving any depths - so used my judgement, with shoals in the anchorage choose to anchor fairly close to yachts already present in the anchorage.
Had a choice, NW winds forecast (again). So either, pass Rhum and head to windward to make Skye with an overnight stop - most likely to be Port Na Long, or head up the Sound of Sleat and pass through the Kyle Rhea if the tide favourable (anchoring if necessary to await a favourable tide and wasting half a day of potential progress).
Weighing up the pros and cons I decided we stood to gain more if we pulled off the latter, with the added benefit of potentially gaining more ground northward - but with some concern re the engine and the potential speed of tide in the Kyle Rhea passage. To quote from the pilot:
" Tidal streams in Kyle Rhea run at up to 8 knots and possibly more on occasions, with eddies along both sides during the second half of the flood (north-going) tide the stream sets onto rocks on the west side of the channel.
At the south entrance to the kyle a southerly wind and ebb set up dangerous overfalls. An eddy forms in Bernera Bay southeast of the south entrance on the south-going tide. The stream runs at its fastest in the south entrance to the kyle."
Off the Point of Ardnamurchan we found a light breeze, just sufficient to lay close-hauled for the Sound of Sleat. Got good views of the Point of Ardnamurchan (at close range) and the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rhum. The first time I had sailed on the "anchorage sides" of Muck and Eigg. A yacht passed southward bound and we exchanged greetings - I would lay odds that he traversed Kyle Rhea earlier in the day. Very pleasant sailing. In the Sound of Sleat put the cassette player in the cockpit as we had the right combination of conditions, no rain, engine off, and light wind (i.e. no spray flying).
The Sound of Sleat looks like a cul de sac until close to the Kyle (had seen a twin masted junk rig yacht tacking southward - gybing downwind).
Reached 12 knots (over the ground) in the narrowest part of the Kyle. Soon out into Loch Alsh, with the turn to port revealing the new road bridge (around 2 years old) spanning the Kyle Akin (and not on my charts).
A few other differences to the chart; the yellow buoyed area to be avoided just to SE of Linne Crowlin (according to the chart) no longer marked. The boat sailing again, as we bore away up the Inner Sound. Paul a little confused over the judgement of distance. The Sound approximately 5 miles wide but the land conspiring to make it look much less broad. The day's destination looking increasingly like Loch Gairloch, or more specifically a loch within the loch, namely Loch Shieldaig - which I had used previously.
As far as the days destination was concerned, we could really only reach Loch Torridon or Loch Gairloch by nightfall. Loch Torridon not great - unlit (if late) and a few rocks around inside the anchorages. The day's destination looking increasingly like Loch Gairloch, or more specifically a loch within the loch, namely Loch Shieldaig - which I had used previously.
To add interest we found that the engine cooling was not operating correctly. So this meant that I needed to sail right up to the Gairloch's leading light sitting which is perched on its own little islet (Glas Eilean) in the middle of the loch, then sail part way toward Loch Shieldaig. Dropped sail, and started the engine only for the final approach to the anchorage.
The next day heralded fresh/strong winds - so decided on a day off. Paul walked (though not far enough!) in the direction of Badachro for supplies. However, he did meet a woman whose late husband had been a captain on deep sea ships, who was later to run him into town to purchase diesel and food. Meanwhile I turned my attention to the cooling system.
Got up early as now the pattern, at around 0400 hrs, and set sail. The wind light, considered sailing through Caolas Beag, the channel inside of Longa Island and Rubha Bàn, the headland forming the northern extent of Loch Gairloch, but decided against.
Not a great deal to look at during the day cause after passing Loch Ewe we had two large bays to cross (around 25 miles) to reach Stoerhead. To leeward we could make out Priest island and Tanera Mor. At one point we turned the motor off and resumed sailing under the control of the windvane. Plenty of puffins around, Skuas making an appearance.
Progress was quite good. We were abreast of Loch Inchard an hour or so before the forecast, I decided to press on for Cape Wrath and run back to Loch Inchard if the forecast was unfavourable. In the event this is what we did. I hand steered the boat into Loch Inchard under mainsail - when using the headsail would have been a lot easier (and would have allowed Paul to steer - as there wouldn't have been the fear of an accidental gybe). As the depth sounder was out of action, I selected the anchoring spot by placing the boat in line between the two streams marked on the chart, just north of Achlyness, which gave a depth of around 7.5 metres. Had some food and turned in.
I got up at 0400 hrs, cleaned the bilge, and half an hour later called Paul. At the entrance to the loch we found that the swell had died down. A sailing wind - though light. Eventually I put the motor on so that we wouldn't miss the benefit of the east going tide off Cape Wrath.
Three choices; direct for the Shetlands with around 140 miles to Scalloway, to Stromness in the Orkneys, or Scrabster (an all weather harbour). Stromness was selected - though not the simplest option. Being spring tides we had to reach Hoy Sound at slack water in order to effect a safe entry as the flood attains 8.5 knots. The boat plodding along nicely under motor but would it overheat ? If we failed to reach Hoy Sound we would be in risk of being swept through the Pentland Firth at night during springs. My escape route - but only if the engine kept going, would be to head NW - hopefully beating the tide bound for the Firth. Saw a Skua attack a gull, started seeing Arctic Terns.
Something that was consistent was the drizzle, which cut visibility right down just as we neared the waypoint a couple of miles to seaward of Hoy Sound. Could make out a ferry heading south toward the Sound. We reached the Sound just at the start of the flood. The ferry headed over to Hoy then continued southward - probably having been engaged in taking people on a cruise round the Orkneys.
As we headed through the channel a large fishing boat was making its way outward. In the narrows the GPS reported speed over the ground as over 10 knots. Once the Ness was abeam I pointed the boats bows into the slack water in the lee of the approach to Stromness. Behind quite an impressive scene, the green heights of Hoy with scattered houses on the lower heights.
Dropped anchor amidst the moorings off the RoRo terminal, then went ashore. After chips with mincemeat, and a stroll round the town, I rang MarineCall. For £4 I learnt that winds would be light over the weekend, with fresh/strong NW'lies arriving for Monday/Tuesday. So, tomorrow the Shetlands !
Needed diesel so went over to the harbour office. The harbour master looked like an ex-fisherman, a mate sitting in the office passing him over a cigarette. They took dues for the stay £9.54 for four nights charge - only one needed. The harbour master phoned to see where the fuel attendant was, then said he'd be at the pump around 1100 hrs. We had a stroll round the town, and had something to eat. Still quite a long time to wait. A fisherman came over and offered to drive us up to the garage. So instead of £8.50, the diesel cost £22 - but we could get away earlier - at slack water Hoy Sound.
Initially under power. Headed north a little way off the coast which has not been surveyed in detail. For under an hour we were able to sail in a WSW 2/3, but it had died away necessitating the use of the engine in order to be clear of Noup Head before the tide changed.
After the evening meal started the watches. I turned in at 2000 hrs for 2 hours though I wasn't tired enough to sleep. Back on watch, I counted eight sets of lights around me, most of which were green over white indicating trawlers. At 0105 hrs I had dolphins around the boat for 10 minutes.
Once past the shipping and with dawn approaching it was time for Paul's second watch, whilst I caught more kip. A low long swell running but in no way menacing.
By 0550 hrs the wind had gone into the north, but only around force 1. During Paul's second period off watch the island of Foula hove into view.
Either Vaila Sound, or Scalloway the most appropriate ports of call, and taking all factors into account, Scalloway was selected. Woke Paul for the last few hours. Gradually wore round toward the east and Fugla Ness, a light house off Hamnavoe.
With Fugla Ness to starboard and the Steggies reef to port, with the swell breaking over it, we headed north eastward up South Channel toward Green Holm. Passed between this islet, and the smaller Merry Holm and on more or less the same heading to the green lateral off Trondra Ness.
Some small RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) milling about. I had been considering anchoring in the bight to eastward of Scalloway's castle. We headed round the Ness of Westshore initially just to check out whether there were any facilities in that area. I had somewhere read about a "marina" - though sometimes these are very small, able to hold just a few local boats. What we found was a long pontoon off Scalloway Boating club, just south of the local marina. The pontoon was virtually empty except for two or three small open boats - not one visiting yacht. Whilst we were getting fenders and warps ready a chap came out onto the pontoon and called us over and then called out to us to hurry up ! Despite the shock of someone trying to rush us (I always take my own time), this chap proved very welcoming and helpful. Looking back on the event, I guess at the time he had probably left the bar unattended to come down and give us a hand ! As advised, we moored on the landward side of the pontoon - which would be more sheltered from the wake of any large ship which might be entering or leaving the commercial quays opposite.
We spent a few days in Scalloway, where the boat was safe whilst we explored the islands by public transport and hired car. In fact we were quite fortunate to be in Scalloway, there were plenty of visiting Scandinavian yachts in Lerwick - but when the expected strong winds arrived they blew straight into Lerwick harbour. Paul even managed to save a Norwegian girl from a swim, after she had misjudged the distance back to the large Colin archer style boat she was crewing on - which was being held someway off the quay by the wind. We managed to watch the World Cup final on TV, where much to my surprise the French Team beat the Brazilians, and on another day go to an Ian Brown gig to hear the tracks off his new Unfinished Monkey Business album. Squeezed in a visit to Sumburgh lighthouse (available to lease though very damp inside - the wall paper not seeming to want to remain stuck to the walls) with plenty of puffins and seals around. I hoped perhaps to spot a Killer Whale which are seen close to the headland every once in a while ! We even got to look round Scalloway Castle, the keys to which are held at the local hotel and lent out to visitors. Not forgetting, a good look over Jarlshof with its collection of bronze age, iron age, Viking and medieval buildings.
Scalloway cost £8 for 4 nights or rather (4 x 2 x £1 for the showers). Pretty reasonable, and better shelter than Lerwick. We even got presented with a Scalloway club pennant - so we really got value for money !
Set off early at 0315 hrs. Not long after leaving Fugla Ness astern, a school of dolphins joined the boat for a while, two of them jumping clear of the water. Wouldn't have minded a stop overnight at Fair Isle, but a likelihood of northerlies in the near future. So set a course for the Orkneys.
Headed toward the North Sound, but not too concerned about making for any particular anchorage at this stage. I would let the tide or forecast decide. Perhaps Pierowall Harbour , Westray, or Linklet Bay on the east side of North Ronaldsay, or an anchorage off Sanday?
A very light southerly wind, dry and bright. Not the weather I would have bet on getting "both ways", but very welcome. Usual puffins, gannets, gulls and guillemots. Later on, nearing the Orkneys a grey coloured Arctic Skua (as opposed to the brown coloured Great Skua).
At 1700 hrs we were about 6 miles NE of North Ronaldsay. Tide due to turn west in the next few hours. Pointless going out of our way for Pierowall. Forecast nor perfect for Pierowall. Forecast nor perfect for Linklet or Otterswick but okay for Whitehall Harbour on Stronsay. The pilot book mentioned fuel - does this mean diesel and/or petrol I wondered ?
After passing Start Point, another yacht appeared from the north, a large ketch around 50 ft in length, which gradually overhauled us. Quite clearly it was bound for Whitehall. By the time we got near Papa Sound, the lights on the buoys were on - which helped in their identification. Followed the buoyed channel to the harbour. Checked out the depth of water in the berth ahead of the ketch - not that much water at the ladder, so retreated and dropped anchor mid way between the pier heads, leaving enough room for the ferry to manoeuvre. One of the fishing boats on the more sheltered West pier had a keep box tied alongside - to discourage anyone from berthing alongside no doubt. Unreasonable practice I believe - provided that any yacht left outside is not left unattended. One day the tables may be reversed and that fisherman may won't to go alongside a vessel which is similarly giving out a "not welcome alongside signal". With the offshore wind and the apparently sandy bottom all seemed okay for the night. Hopefully a run ashore in the morning would provide diesel.
In need of topping up water and diesel we rowed ashore and landed at the root of the west pier. Walked up to the post office, then to the head of the pier to try to catch the attention of a fisherman busy working in the hold of his fishing boat. We couldn't get his attention. As we walked back down the pier we met the harbour master (more in the apparel of a retired farmer). Early closing Friday afternoon but he would see the owner of Kelp Stores to see whether they would sell us some diesel. The pumps housed in an outbuilding, the pumps of the old style with a bulb on top indicating when the pump was ready to dispense. A welcome change to get 40 litres of diesel for £8.50 rather than the £22 - £25 we had been forced to pay for 30 litres on two occasions.
Just opposite to Kelp Stores, at the root of Whitehall Pier, the small harbour masters office, the size of a potting shed. The harbour master collected the dues of £9.56 for four nights berthing (anywhere in the Orkneys). He was pleased to have collected the money because this shows Kirkwall that he is doing his job (and presumably justifying the payment of a retainer). His day obviously not overtaxing as the harbour office also where he does a spot of model making. Three boats, power and sail, in the harbour office window set into a modelled sea. These boats made from kits, however his next (currently at keel and bulkhead stage) being built from scratch and I believe a model of his father's boat.
Next door to the harbour office, a building showing a notice "Showers £1.50", and if memory serves, also mention of a laundrette.
Took a walk along the foreshore to get a closer glimpse of the ferro cement ship, apparently built in France in the 1930's to serve as a coal bunker for the herring fleet. Stronsay having been busy in the curing of the herring. Back on the boat the "cooing" which I had presumed to be pigeons or doves living in/around the pier turned out to be seals lying on a spit off the Point of the Graand, the SW tip of Papa Stronsay.
The wind now blowing into the harbour - a good time to move on. The other two yachts moored on the inner side of Whitehall Pier left around midday. We waited until 1630 hrs, as I intended passing east about Shapinsay. A dolphin passed on its way SSE as we headed northward toward the outer green buoy of Papa Sound. Before altering course we switched to sailing under headsail alone.
Whilst passing between the Holms of Spurness and Little Lunga (*** check) through Spurness Sound, a ferry from Eday passed on its way NE'ward. Altered course to pass between Veness, the SE point of Eday and the North cardinal marking Eday Gruna. Had to miss out part of the forecast - as need to ensure that we passed the North cardinal safely as the south going tide was setting on to it.
Closing with Ness of Ork the mainsail was raised as the wind had dropped a little. Sailed close round The Fit and the SE of Shapinsay - enjoying views of the natural arch. Tacked up the short stretch of Shapinsay Sound, which was no great effort as the tide had just turned west. Sailed into Elwick anchorage, dropped the sails then turned the motor on and set the anchor close to moored fishing boats. Anchored in a line between the pier and a wreck on the eastern shore of the bay. Rowed ashore to get a 3 day forecast. An interesting pub located in a former gatehouse, next to the harbour.
On the strength of the forecast decided to spare some time next day for a visit to Kirkwall, with the possibility of shifting to Kirk Sound in the afternoon/evening.
As the wind was blowing into the Kirkwall anchorage, decided to take the ferry across. Rowed ashore just in time to catch the 1030 ferry. Loads of boats on moorings west of Lerwick, pitching heavily. One Norwegian boat in the harbour (with steel piles on the harbour walls) which we'd seen in Lerwick (the one from which a female crew member we had earlier saved from a fall into the harbour).
Had breakfast in town, and had a walk round the shops. Visited the museum which had few nautical exhibits, but was otherwise good (pressure pads and security cameras installed). Took the 1415 hrs ferry back to Shapinsay, and rowed back to Anquette to consider the options. Wind NW 4/5 (according to forecast - a few hours later NW 5/7). Raised anchor and slipped out under headsail alone.
Made good progress through Shapinsay Sound to Mull Head, where the seas got bigger. Passed outside of Horse of Copinsay and then Copinsay (the later significantly large to partially blanket the wind and seas for a little while), before hardening up a little for Rose Ness. Fairly flew along, still averaging 5/6 knots on the log.
Having just passed distinctive Rose Ness with its lighthouse and nearby beacon with cross top mark, the headsail was furled so that we could motor toward Kirk Sound. Noticed an Italian flag on Lamb Holm, which confirmed the presence of the Italian POW chapel. Most of the fish farms up close to the barrier so able to motor right into the sandy bay to anchor in 3m, good water clarity revealing a sandy bottom.
Set off around 0600 hrs in a calm. Headed SE on account of the E going tide through the Pentland Firth. Paul quite happy to be on the helm due to the number of birds and seals around. Fin sightings turned out to be dolphins (which remained aloof) rather than anything larger (i.e. whales). Gradually altered course southward as the tide was due to weaken.
Nearing the latitude of Duncansby Head a light breeze from SE - but not sufficient for sailing. Two ships passed close by Pentland Skerries, one heading south appeared to be on a converging course with a pilot vessel.
Having passed Wick (not far enough for the days mileage, and too far from Inverness Firth) we were able to turn the motor off and continue under sail in the now moderate onshore breeze. Had been considering either Lybster or Helmsdale - the latter probably too far to reach before insufficient water in the approaches.
A little while later, I noticed that I had wrongly noted down the HW and LW times for Aberdeen the previous night ! I have no idea what pages of the Almanac I had been looking at! High water would be much later in the day - no wonder we hadn't been drawn as expected toward Pentland Skerries ! Had now decided to stop at Lybster on account of the freshening onshore breeze, however ...
Off Cloth Ness light Paul reported that the boat had lost all speed and the tiller wasn't doing anything - a quick glance astern confirmed my fears - the evidence a pot buoy. Once the sails had been removed, the pot ropes grabbed with a boat hook I could cut us free of our unintended mooring with a sharp knife. However, there remained rope and pot buoys wrapped tightly round the propeller and shaft.
I knew that Wick was 7 miles back and the only harbour that could be approached under sail - though the pilot book suggested that entry into the outer basin couldn't be made in an E'ly wind.
Off South Head, we dropped the mainsail. I continued slowly under headsail whilst Paul put fenders out on port and starboard. I called up Wick Harbour Control on Channel 14 but got no response. A few minutes later tried Wick Harbour Control on channel 16 (reportedly watched when a vessel is expected). Fearing a possible radio fault I gave details of our situation and location, stated that I was going to either enter the outer basin or river harbour under sail and would have fenders, warps and anchor ready.
Getting close to North Head, Pentland Coast Guard responded. Then I had to dash back and forth between tiller and radio. I repeated my intention and said that I was requesting information as to the best harbour to sail into. They said "Switch to Channel 14 for advice from Wick Harbour Control". At this point I gave up radio communications as we were now right outside the harbour. With 200 yards to go I asked Paul to unlash the anchor and get 10 metres of chain ready. Paul sat on the anchor and chain to make sure that they didn't go over the side. Could see someone in a fluorescent jacket at the head of South Pier, but they weren't making any signs (as to which harbour to use). Altered course for the narrow entrance to the Outer Harbour - suspecting the high ground might blanket the wind, I unrolled more headsail when 50 yards off - which gave us enough to drive/drift through the entrance. A coast guard/harbour official ashore threw a line across which I attached to Anquette's stern, and with the addition of a bow line Anquette was brought alongside.
After unsuccessfully attempting to free the pot rope by revolving the shaft, a launch tried to tow us alongside, but there was insufficient power from its outboard, so it took a tow rope from the bow - to take us into the Inner Harbour. The tow was dropped early as the wind was moving Anquette at 5 knots, men ashore handling bow and stern lines we travelled a couple of hundred yards down to berth ahead of a tug. Stayed up till 0300 hrs to ensure that they were set correctly.
£23.50 demanded for harbour dues ! I asked whether this was just for one night and how it was calculated. "For the week". "Is there a charge for 1 day ?". "Yes £8.81". Flabbergasted, at expensive berth for two days - especially if I had accepted the £23.50 charge without query - just to tie alongside a quay. The woman at the harbour did phone a diver, who turned up after piloting a ship out of the river harbour, and cleared the rope and two buoys wrapped round the propshaft. £15 reasonable for the job.
Just one other visitor, a large German yacht about 40ft in length, and one small local yacht berthed between fishing boats.
Waited for the 1201 forecast before getting underway. Paul had been shopping earlier, and had bought an enormous bag of bacon for the incredible price of £3 from a Chinese take-away - having been unable to find any kind of grocery or corner shop. Initially motored seaward (avoiding the only pot to be seen that day!). After some motoring to recharge the batteries, unfurled the genoa which gave 4 knots, and when the wind faltered once or twice, raised the mainsail. Despite the "Wickster's pessimism" of the wind freshening I decided to pass by Lybster and make for Helmsdale as it would give a reasonable length passage to the Inverness fairway buoy and with a good chance of catching the tide up to Inverness. Kept an eye on the clouds and sea.
Around 3.5 miles off Helmsdale the wind failed, so rolled the genoa and resorted to power. Only when closer in did Helmsdale reveal itself, a couple of dayboats off the harbour, and then three fishing boats making their way seaward. Indicating access to be around HW+/- 2.5 hours at neaps. The green buoy close to the harbour, and the leading marks clearly visible. Inside found a Westerly Vulcan "Skerryvaig" along the quay - which had a concrete upper part and steel upright girders below - requiring a fender board. Skerryvaig kindly allowed us to go alongside.
£10.34 collected by the harbour master who never left the comfort of the driving seat of his car. "Safe to drink" water on the quay was the colour of tea. "Naturally coloured by the hills" as he told a French woman and her family needing water to take back to their camper van. Later, a couple of Italian camper vans also set up shop on the quayside. I bet they don't pay anything but use exactly the same facilities - the quay itself !
Ashore the village neat and tidy. Two mini-supermarkets, a couple of pubs, a butcher, small off-licence/grocers, a restaurant, a "Time Span" visitor's centre. Two bridges and a fancy clock tower.
No facilities at the harbour, or at least none advised by the harbour master.
Just one or two puffins seen all day. Although gulls and guillemots numerous.
Forecast: S'ly F3/4 expected - but initially calm.
Slipped at 0715 hrs with 1.1 metres on the depth board - had checked earlier whether the sea in the approach was relatively flat. Already 3 fishing boats had returned to port after their night of fishing. From the Ness which had a light house with red stripes (á la Point of Ayre) and the Jaguars flying overhead, sunny spells started to appear.
This leg remarkable only for the constant rain - but Paul was on watch (being his last day at sea before having to seek out speedier transport southward in order to return to work- or so he thought !). From the Ness which had a white light (*** missing section find rough journal notes !).
Paul reported a fin, in time I caught sight of it, sickle shaped fin on a long black body, too long for a dolphin. Likely candidate a Minke whale, possibly two of them. Unfortunately, it was 50/100m off and when I slowed down and altered course a little it disappeared - presumably sounding.
Tanker ahead bound for Cromarty Firth, yacht tacking back and forth.
Nearing the Riff Bank, more fins spotted. This time Bottle-nosed dolphins. One swam back and forth across the bow a few times whilst swimming on its side - of which I took a few photos.
Having passed the Riff Bank passed between Fort George and Chanonry Point into Inverness Firth. As it was low water and the firth is shallow, initially made toward the Munlochy fairway buoy, near which a tanker lay at anchor, then past Petty Bank red lateral and past Meikle Mee green lateral. Good timing as the tide still slack under Kessock Bridge as we swung round into the River Ness. Tied up in one of the vacant finger berths in the Longman Small Boat Basin. Some of the boats looked grubby. Took note of the keypad number before passing through an electronic gate into a timber yard. Nearby an Inverness Harbour Trust building. Just one chap around, who parted confusingly saying "I'll tell them you are around but you haven't seen me". Went into Inverness for a few pints, followed by cheese burgers from a chip shop.
Back onboard Anquette, we watched the pilots turn up and head out to meet the tanker. On their return I asked about harbour dues. "We haven't seen you - okay ?". Fair enough I guess - though we would have welcomed showers and diesel - if they had been available.
Slipped around 0815 hrs and headed into Inverness Firth, two dolphins encountered before entering the sea lock. Lock keeper was helpful, collected the dues of @ £104 including £2.50 deposit for a toilet block shower key, and handed over A Caledonian Canal Skipper's Guide. He radioed ahead to say that we were on passage to the west coast - planning to cross in 2/3 days.
To quote from the Skipper's Guide: "The Caledonian canal is 60 miles in length of which 22 miles is man made, the remainder being formed by natural fresh water lochs. There are 29 locks and 10 swing bridges along the waterway, all of which are operated by British Waterway's staff."
The British waterways staff were really helpful, always opening locks or bridges just as we arrived, and taking our lines to mooring points. I steered through the initial canal section and handed over to Paul once we reached Loch Ness. With the force 5/6 breeze funnelled through the mountains surrounding the loch there were waves sufficiently tall and appropriately placed to slow Anquette in her tracks. It was obvious that we wouldn't make Fort Augustus in time for the last locking of the day. We plodded on, and gradually once past Urquhart Bay progress improved. From the bay a yacht (short while later to be identified as French) sailed out and started tacking up wind. Around 35/40 ft in length with crew on the rail it was making roughly the same rate of progress as Anquette to windward. Crossing very close and requiring me to alter course twice on the way up to Fort Augustus. We passed another yacht tacking toward Fort Augustus - however as a smaller boat our progress would have been really slow - perhaps 2.5 knots made good, and the loch is 20 miles long - still felt guilty at not sailing !
At Fort Augustus found pontoons along the northern side of the canalised section leading up to the locks. Tied up alongside a dilapidated hire Centaur - evidently not in use this season. It was in poor condition. Rubbing strakes broken, chunks out of its stern quarter, scratched sides, no sails, cracks long the coach roof under the windows (from people jumping aboard perhaps) and very dirty. We walked up to have a look at the five locks to be done the next day and paid a visit to a fish and chip shop. Plenty of restaurants and pubs around - but we were far to grubby.
Got up in time for the 0800 hrs locking - it started late. The motor boats went in first then the yachts. We went in on starboard aft - and a Canadian Canoe tied up alongside. Its user didn't ask if he could come alongside nor whether he could stand in our cockpit. I put fenders between Anquette and the canoe and asked him to go shore side and take our warps at each lock !
All the other boats (hire boats) were walked through using warps from each lock to the next - probably because their warp throwing and handling skills would not have been up to scratch). I motored from each to the next and we threw warps up to our line handler.
We were through this particular series of locks by around 0930 hrs, and made our way along the canalised section, and through another lock and double bridge into Loch Oich. Much narrower than Loch Ness, with navigational marks to be followed, and much more attractive than the previous lock. At Gairlochy the first lock was ready for us and the bridge opened, the next lock wasn't used (remaining open throughout). Now we followed a canalised section with various weirs allowing the surplus water to be diverted.
We arrived at Neptune's staircase alone - no other yachts or motor boats having continued this far. We passed uneventfully through the eight locks with a fair number of spectators watching, videos running and cameras capturing the action. The lock keeper advised that we would have to wait till 0800 hrs before passing through the Corpach Locks. This suited me fine - would save searching for an overnight anchorage - and we still might get that shower.
We motored down to Corpach, just a local motor boat and an English yacht moored up to an empty pontoon and walked down to Corpach Basin. Loos and showers (though the latter not mentioned as available in the Skipper's Guide). We walked to the petrol station -diesel not available. So, after collecting gear from the boat, showered then walked back up to Banavie, locating the Moorings Hotel and Restaurant. Had local seafood (prawns, smoked mackerel, fish in vinaigrette), followed by fillet steak accompanied by a bottle of Bordeaux Rouge, gateau, cheese and armagnac, followed by a measure of Lagavulin.
Got up around 0730 hrs and in time to reach the few yards to the first of the Corpach locks at 0800 hrs. No sign of any activity as advised by a passer-by out exercising his two dogs. So went alongside one of the rough stone quays just outside the lochs and sent Paul to call in at the lock keeper - who was surprised that there was a yacht ready to pass through so early (presumably figured on yachts overnighting at Banavie and passing through Neptune's Staircase on the morning of intended exit from the canal.
Still, we passed through the second lock taking us out into the northern end of Loch Linnhe at 0900 hrs. Two requirements for the day - Paul needed to catch a train to London and Anquette needed diesel. Oban seemed prime choice for both - except would be exposed to the forecast fresh NW backing SW. Increasingly I came round to focusing on Dunstaffnage although this would involve a walk for diesel.
Though NW should have been a beam reach, winds tend to blow either up or down a loch, so not surprised to find a headwind in Loch Linnhe. I had forgotten the previous evening to work out the times of favourable tides in the Corran Narrows. So once past the green buoy off Fort William I looked up the tides - favourable and enough fair tide to take us through the Corran Narrows. Paul back on the helm, motoring to windward. I had now decided on Dunstaffnage, looking at the chart, a passage down the east side of Lismore seemed feasible. As it would be spring tide low water the dangerous rocks would be visible. Passed Eilean Balnagowan after trying sailing for 1hr 5mins, under power with mainsail sheeted in - though it had to be spilled in the frequent gusts. Also rain on and off.
To make things easier, we dropped the mainsail before altering course for the passage between Eilean nan Caorach and Shuna Island, then past close Sgeir Bhuidhe. We unrolled the genoa and turned the engine off and set course for the green lateral off Appin Rocks. A gaff cutter behind us motor-sailing but which switched to sailing by unrolling its two headsails, as we paused momentarily to raise the mainsail. We crept up to windward of the buoy, whilst they passed on the wrong side of the buoy. We passed west of Branra Rock then east of Eilean Dubh - the cutter now well ahead.
We passed close to Rubha Fion - áird, I checked the chart to ensure that we weren't too close to any offlying dangers. The wind came up squally and became strong at times, I had to relieve Paul at the helm. During which I lost concentration on the navigation. Nearing the channel between the island and the shore, and catching the cutter in the process, I noticed a lifeboat pass at speed to east of the island - which surprized me as there were reefs on that side. Ahead I could see a lateral, and a large town Oban sized - and looking like Oban, in fact it was Oban ! We had overshot our turning off point for Dunstaffnage during the squall. Tacked, and started on the 2.5 miles to Dunstaffnage. The wind eased so gave the helm back to Paul.
With the binoculars I could see the lifeboat and a RIB alongside a yacht - earlier seen heading east under genoa alone. Mentioned to Paul that the yacht had probably struck a 0.9 metre rock off Rubha Garbh-áird. As we sailed passed the fish farms (lifeboat now past us on its way back to Oban) the yacht was being escorted by RIB into Dunstaffnage. I ran wing and wing up to Eilean Mor, then broad reached into the bay. Lots of yachts inside. Rolled the genoa, and dropped main, then motored through the numerous moorings to check out the marina. A chap called out to us "Are you looking for a berth ?". We were soon getting fenders and warps ready. A few minutes later we were heading for a finger berth, I threw my stern line to a handler - but it hadn't been cleated off. Quick action avoided any problems and we were soon secure. In the next berth a Vancouver (I want one !). Paul packed, and after enquiring at the bar we walked to the Dunbeg bus stop to catch a 1730 bus to Oban. Paul purchased his tickets for trains to London at @1745 hrs, with departure due at 1810 hrs. So the day's sail and timings on the whole had turned out very well! Paul had decided yesterday evening to sail in favour of sitting around at Corpach railway halt for hours waiting for an afternoon train. And so to the next phase of the trip. Single-handing, a few new anchorages to be looked for, and a route to be thought out.
Paul made a good contribution to this trip. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in keenness. I'd rather 'keen and green' than 'experienced but unmotivated' - any day. He left feeling sure that he'd crew again sometime in the future. Without Paul, the passage to Shetland would have been difficult at the least, and the transit of the canal tricky - due to the dearth of ladders in the locks.
Back at the yacht haven a number of staff confirmed that the 'assisted yacht' had indeed struck the suspected rock, but had survived relatively unscathed. An ambulance had been down to the marina. Hopefully, the crew just needed treatment for shock rather than anything more serious.
So two lessons from the day. Guard against complacency, and always devote time to the navigation - shorten sail or heave to if necessary to be certain of position and track being made good.
By the time I had got 50 litres of fuel and paid for the mooring, the morning was gone. The marina manager provided me with up to date local forecast.
Sat 0700 hrs to Sun 0700 hrs
SW 3/4 Sat morning and afternoon, backing S 4/5
Sun 0700 hrs to 0700 Monday
S 5/6 Sunday morning, veering and decreasing SW 3/4 during the afternoon and evening, further veering and decreasing SW to WSW 2/3 overnight into Monday morning
In view of the forecast and the late hour, decided on claiming another anchorage somewhere near Mull. Loch Aline seemed suitable and close enough to sail all the way even if tacking involved. Got a passer-by to help with the ropes and reversed out of the berth.
Managed to get all the fenders and warps in, main raised, windvane engaged before leaving Dunstaffnage Bay. Good chance to try out the windvane in a moderate force 4 quite satisfied that a slightly larger yacht was not gaining on us.
Took a long tack out toward Creag Island - off which I had to tack to allow a MFV towing a derrick on a barge to pass. Then took shorter tacks along the east side of Lismore island until able to sail between Lady's Rock and Eilean Musdile.
As I bore away the wind (apparent and real) died away and I sailed/drifted toward the channel between Glas Eileanan and Rubha an Ridire. All other vessels (including Challenge Multiple Sclerosis - last seen in Arklow Harbour the previous year) under power and so kept clear of us. Surprised to see two seals porpoising with their bodies clear of the water - used the binoculars to confirm this was the case - the first time I have seen this. Tried gybing downwind under mainsail, windvane just able to cope. The steering oar picked up a bunch of seaweed - luckily the sheer pin held. As I entered Loch Aline along the west shore, I could clearly see a dangerous rock on Bolorkle Reef, exposed by the low spring tide. Followed the buoyage then once amongst the moorings dropped the main, and set the anchor. Kept clear of the top of a mast showing above the water, a yacht sunk at her moorings. Later on whilst cooking a meal a large yacht came in and appeared to drop anchor over Anquette's. They dropped back quite close and eventually I told them that there was a chance that they had laid their anchor over mine.
However, 1/2 hr later they were still there. Their anchor had fouled, probably a mooring. We were too close for my comfort so I decided to shift berth. Pulling in cable took me close to their boat, and then slightly ahead - however I was also stuck fast to the bottom.
Before anyone had rowed ashore (just before 1.00 p.m. my cut off time for rowing across the loch - the other fouled yacht had a tender with outboard but were waiting for dry weather), a boat carrying a party of divers appeared and was hailed by Seewolf II. They soon had them clear, then came alongside Anquette, and two divers went down and freed the anchor using an air bag to lift it to the surface. Both anchors had fouled on a heavy ground chain for the local moorings. Seewolf had paid £20, so I did the same.
Didn't fancy anchoring in the same spot, so brought fenders in, stowed the anchor and cleared out. had originally planned to head south down the Sound of Mull then either through the Sound of Luing or Sound of Islay, however since the tide was running NW up the Sound of Mull, this would be the way I would go.
Eventually the drizzle stopped. Plodded along under power as no wind. Plenty of yachts out and about - the weekend crowd returning to their moorings. Passed close to Calve Island, Rubha nan Gall and Ardmore Points. Started towards Caliach Point, sun out (for a while but getting overcast again), and would let the forecast determine where I would go. Southerly 2/3 expected. Didn't have the most detailed chart for the west side of Mull and I couldn't reach the better anchorages before dark. The alternative, Loch Eatharna on Coll. So started a ferry glide across. The Jersey registered fishing boat J235 (Kerloch the name I believe) was heading SSW inside of me then cut across my stern and continued past but this time on my starboard side. Had they noticed Anquette's name and port of registry ? At the same time I passed a seal, head out of the water, almost motionless - wondered if it were sick or dead as I couldn't discern any movement.
With north going tide it was a ferry glide across but the tide would be slackening by the time I had crossed to Coll's coast. One or two puffins, some razorbills, and particularly near Coll - loads of guillemots.
A RIB crossing behind on a parallel course which then zipped along the coast. I stuck a waypoint in, due east of the green lateral marking the rocks off the north side of the entrance to Loch Eatharna. Once near dropped the main and altered course in, a yacht had entered slightly earlier, and behind me a lifeboat.
A few minutes later when I was near the jetty the lifeboat, proceeded by two small day boats, headed inside of the loch's island, Eilean Eatharna, and through the narrow pass to it's NW, then across to the pier. After a minute or two the lifeboat shot off at speed. It's wake sending all the yachts in the loch rolling. An exercise rather than an incident - don't think it would have passed east of the island any later in the day as it was approaching dusk.
Things calmed during the night as the tide fell and the wind lightened a little. Not too much point slipping early as there would be a run of foul tide. So grabbed some more kip after the shipping forecast.
Slipped at 0830 hrs, and once clear of the Bogha Mor green lateral, headed south. Passed close to Lunga and Bac Mor (Dutchmans Cap), then headed west of Iona. Puffins and guillemots around, under power as wind southerly force 1.
When west of Torran Rocks headed SSE having decided to go south about Colonsay - this would give me the option of Scalasaig, West Loch Tarbet on Jura or perhaps Port Askaig - I would let the forecast decide. The mist came down like fog for 5 minutes then lifted.
The sun came out for a while. A couple of gannets about, and three Arctic Terns. At 1630 I decided that there was enough wind to sail, about a force 2 from the SW. Raised 3/4 main and full genoa and set up the windvane. Soon had full mainsail out. The mist was rolling in again. Sometimes obscuring everything, sometimes showing glimpses of one island or another.
Kept a close eye on the course as we skirted round Bogha Chubaidth, passing fishing pots on the way round. A fishing boat SE of Oronsay - alternately hidden and revealed by the mist. As we bore away to head east there was insufficient wind for sailing, so turned the motor on. By SE of Oronsay (with the tide) could make out other fishing boats. One yacht anchored off Oronsay - just a little exposed should a moderate southerly (as forecast) blow up. Altered course on account of a trawler - four others in the vicinity.
Plodding up the coast identified Loch Staosnaig. With two yellow special marks (only one on the chart) - does this give a leading line for the power cable, or, indicate that a second cable has been laid ? The loch really just an open bay - fringed with rocks. The mist closed in on the loch - I had already decided to check out Scalasaig where there was reported to be two HIE berths against a wave screen on the north side of the pier. Slowed the boat, dropped main and got fenders and warps ready. A fishing boat headed in behind me. Couldn't see any yacht masts through the binoculars - headed in.
Found a private Nelson (Grey Bear) taking up both berth1 and berth 2 (which were rather small) with very slack warps - she was lying at 45 degrees to the wave screen and moving around in the wind. Manoeuvred around 3 - 4 times until I was close enough alongside to gently put the warps onboard and step onto her. Put on springs and shorelines. Grey Bear unlocked and open - but no one onboard.
Whilst writing the journal at 2215 hrs a large Caledonia Macbrayne ferry came alongside the pier. People had materialised 1/4 hr beforehand. The ferry was only docked for 15/20 minutes. Later on, @ 2330/2345 hrs four fishing boats came in, three on the north side of the pier and one on the south side.
Slipped at 0830 hrs, after a short walk ashore. Not yet sure as to the day's destination but keen to claim at least one new anchorage - Lowlandmans Bay on Islay a possibility. An hour and a quarter later I lent over the stern and loosened the nut on the steering oar pivot - the wood having swelled up during 3 weeks. Raised sail and got the windvane set up. 3 - 4 knots in a smooth/slight sea. Going to windward SSW - just right to be on the windward side to the entrance to the Sound of Islay.
Wind a bit fickle in the lee of Islay, so hand steered - leaving the windvane in situ (i.e. oar in the water). Had to put a few tacks in near Port Askaig, but otherwise just kept in the main channel. A small seal swam on the surface to within 10 feet of the boat - but I wasn't quick enough with the camera.
Wind flukey in the vicinity of the Black Rock green lateral, back under windvane but had to keep an eye on the course. Tide still going south for a couple of hours - wind light - ideal conditions for one of the anchorages near Ardmore Point on the SE of Islay. Decided on Aros Bay, the cleanest of Glas Uig and Port Mor. Dropped sail and cautiously motored the last mile or so - double-checking the pilotage. Dropped anchor in the mouth of the bay. Anchoring temporarily would provide time for a brew up and allow me to consider plans for the next day. Tide in the North Channel going east tomorrow mid morning. Lowlandmans Bay would be back-tracking and adding onto tomorrow's mileage. Forecast giving westerly moderate - good for a hop over to Northern Ireland. Started thinking about Lagavulin - detailed pilotage notes even if no detailed chart of the approach. Close to the North Channel, a new anchorage, and just as close to Northern Ireland as Port Ellen or Kilnaughton Bay. Quickly raised the anchor at 1445 hrs and headed out, mindful of the drying reefing off the southern side of the bay - not really shown on the chart - which indicates a depth of 1.6 metres ! Two seals watching on. Since careful pilotage would be required for Lagavulin didn't bother raising any sail - wind light and flukey anyway. Made for east of Ardmore Islands then set a waypoint to seaward of Iomallach (2 metres) the key to the approach to Lagavulin. Plenty of guillemots, a handful of Razorbills and terns, a couple of gannets - no puffins seen. Didn't bother with further position plots - just carefully followed the pilotage. First tuned west and kept Carraig Fhada lighthouse (located beyond Port Ellen) in line with the north side of Texa Island. Then when "ULIN" (of Lagavulin) between Dunbeg castle and land to the north turned onto 330°M to approach the distillery chimney. Then once the most northerly of the two entrance beacons could be seen - I put that in-line with the distillery chimney. Cautiously motored the last 100 yards. Luckily a large catamaran was slipping from a mooring just as I entered the anchorage. Passed a line through the buoy, whilst nearby on the other mooring lay an American aluminium cutter. First aluminium American boat I've seen. Spotted a heron flying to and landing on one of the rocks fringing the anchorage - first one seen for quite a while.
Islay is fertile and with 500 farms is intensively cultivated even though much of the landmass is trackless peat bog providing the water that is the essential and subtle ingredient for the distilleries sited here. Islay is renowned for its malt whisky-making which dates back to the 1770's. Someone calculated back in the 1980's that the industry's earnings now represent some £1 million a year for each distillery worker on the island !
It has a long and rich history. For some 300 years it was part of the Scots Kingdom of Dalriada until with the rest of the Western Isles it fell under Norse rule from about 850 to 1150. Then a sea battle off Islay in which Somerled, king of Argyll, defaete3d his brother-in-law Godred, Norse King of the Isles, led to the Norwegians being driven out of the southern Hebrides. Somerled settled in Islay and founded the Clan Donald, named for his grandson Donald of Islay, which became immensely powerful. It was Donald's great grandson, John, who took the title Lord of the Isles. He ruled the Hebrides from Islay with strong autonomy, making treaties with England, France and Ireland.
There are still reminders of this period in Islay's history. Lagavulin Bay is overlooked by the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle, a twelfth century stronghold of the Lord of the Isles, and the bay itself was where the war-galleys of the Macdonalds anchored.
Got up at 0745 hrs for a 0800 hrs departure. Slid back the hatch to find the American yacht was heading seaward. Fortunately it had ceased raining (at least for a while) - which makes the prospect of starting the day's sail so much more cheery. A seal within the anchorage.
Stuck in a waypoint, so that I'd know when I was clear of the dangers off the SE of Islay. A couple of fishing boats about. When at the waypoint, set up the windvane's oar, then raised the mainsail, unfurled some of the genoa and set the boat sailing under the windvane.
Quite gusty so some variation about the 160°M, but 5/6 knots of boat speed. Mull of Kintyre hidden. Rain and drizzle, visibility varying. Not much to do, just sit and rest in the cockpit and look out for shipping. Nothing around.
Approaching the Mull checked position - had just strayed into the NW going shipping lane. Hand steered for a while until out of the lane.
Gradually the skies cleared some, could make out a yacht under sail close into the coast approaching the Mull lighthouse. Wind down a notch so put up the rest of the mainsail. Wind light at the Mull and right aft so, sheeted in the main and rolled the genoa and steered closer to the shore under power - having decided to pass inside of Sanda and see whether Carradale Bay could be laid or if not Campbeltown the likely destination. Actually two yachts ahead and closer in. One with no sail raised right in close to the shore. Resumed sailing when the wind returned - soon freshened. Boat getting to be too much of a handful for wing and wing. Windvane can't steer the boat under mainsail alone, whilst Autohelm's response not quick enough - so hand steering necessary. As the wind didn't seem to have plans to abate, I dropped the mainsail, so that I could resume under genoa and windvane - thus relieving me of hand steering and allowing more time on chart work and pilotage. Re-considering my possible destinations, Brodick Bay on Arran perhaps - but noted for fierce squalls in westerlies - in which direction the wind had already veered.
Passed round Macosh red lateral, hardened up for Arranman Barrels red lateral. Looking at the wind direction I should be able to lay north.
Quite gusty but the windvane able to cope, quite wet passing Island Daavar - seemed to be going slowly but still making 4 knots over the ground. Had a brew up and kept an eye out for fishing boats and pot buoys. A Banjer motorsailer crossed ahead under genoa and engine, crew sealed in with a cockpit cover ! By around Kilchousland Bay could unroll more headsail to regain a little speed as the wind had dropped a few knots.
Saddell Bay looked interesting but only described in the pilot book as a temporary anchorage. Wind flukey now we were in close to the coast. So, put the radio on as the forecast was due soon, and hand steered. Irish Sea W4/5, Malin NW 4 occ 5. As soon as the forecast had been given, rolled genoa, disengaged and raised steering oar, and put the engine on, anchor made ready. Dropped anchor in Torrisdale Bay the wind still being westerly, in company with Aisling Of Clyde - a smart looking fractionally rigged yacht with a fully enclosing cockpit cover. A Cornish Shrimper tucked away on a mooring off a stream running out through the western edge of the bay.
Birds seen today, guillemots, one puffin only (judging from the rapid wing beats) and a few gannets.
Sole Lundy Fasnet Irish Sea W v NW 5 occ 6 at first
Malin Hebrides Bailey N 4/5 occ 6 in Malin & Hebrides
Reasonable shelter in Torrsidale Bay, the wind had veered overnight from west to north west. Would have a gentle start in the lee of the coast with more moderate seas once out in the North Channel. If I averaged 4 knots then the tide would turn west several hours before I would each Belfast Lough and thus with wind over tide things could get rough.
Slipped at 0820 hrs. Wind light and flukey as we headed south, once or twice put the engine on if the speed fell to 2 knots. By about 1300 hrs a NW 4 had filled in, initially under genoa and windvane alone, decided to raise a reefed mainsail just to lift boat speed a little, at 4 knots would be a 2200/2230 hrs arrival, if I could sail faster I would arrive in daylight - which would be convenient as I had discovered that the chart for Belfast Lough didn't appear to be onboard.
Sailing conditions good for 5/6 knots - until things freshened - sometimes reaching 7/8 knots, got soaked by a wave - so forced below to put on a new shirt and also waterproofs. Boat speed now too high for the windvane - with the attraction of getting in before dark I decided to hand steer, kept initially to east of the direct track to Bangor on account of the expected strong west going tides later on when nearing the coast. Between 5°30'W and 5°40'W would suit. Could quickly make any ground to westward by hardening up, and adjusting course later to allow for position and tidal movement.
Trawlers around and ferries. Began to see Island Magee to starboard and then the Copeland Islands to the east, so position fine. For now I had two ferries exiting Belfast Lough, both heading on a reciprocal course. Neither appearing to have altered course early, so hardened up to pass clear of the first ferry, then the high speed catamaran was getting very close, eventually it decided to pass on my portside. The seas steepened when they met the cat's wake.
Had decided to go to Carrickfergus, this would allow me to prepare fenders and warps in the lee of the land. Sailed up to the first tanker berth, then rolled the genoa and dropped the main, followed by the fenders. In hindsight I could have done this later - as it took an hour to motor up to Carrickfergus. Local yachts and dinghies racing in the Lough, and behind an incoming tanker meeting a pilot/tug off the tanker berth. A white board with very faded writing on a jetty wall sailed "Danger ..." something or other illegible followed, looking around I could see the sea bubbling away about 100 metres to starboard - a discharge of some description.
Closing with the marina, I discovered that the old Carnlough harbour is being re-utilised in an extension of the marina, and ashore the background has changed, with smarter buildings and even a large McDonalds sign very prominent. Found a convenient berth and went alongside first time, then walked to the marina office, to be directed to a very short finger berth, which I got alongside okay.
Forecast for Friday NW 4/5 gusting 30 knots - sounding much like today's weather.
One annoying thing that I have found is that at marinas and pay phones in hotels, supermarkets etc ... all the 0891 numbers have been barred - sometimes you just can't get your hands on the a useful 3 day forecast.
Slipped at 0500 hrs. Not yet proper daylight, cool, and me tired. I should have gone to Church Bay anchorage in the Copeland Islands to ensure a good night's rest.
To be honest I'm not keen on Carrickfergus. Bangor Marina is slicker, better organised and doesn't feel line you are cooped up in a prison - why can't Carrickfergus give a gate number ? Ashore there are plenty of flags draped from houses indicating the occupants allegiance. Walls are painted with UVF, PAF emblems etc, some parts have painted kerbstones, bins etc painted red, white and blue. And the occasional armoured Landrover will be seen. Police still wearing flag jackets, radio and armed. Steel shutters on shop fronts and wire guards fitted across shop windows. Not a place to really end a good trip in. Other than the atmosphere of the place - the local chandlers were very helpful - fixing a broken hatch latch at no charge, and everyone else was helpful and polite. And yet though there is said to be "peace" - it sometimes seems very little removed from the opposite. The Orange Order having recently killed four children (unintentionally or otherwise) in an arson attack. (Editors note: in 2003 the same streets no longer showed painted kerb stones nor the buildings murals).
On Friday evening I had to put up with the owners of Wind Gypsy a large Westerly (possible an Ocean Master) hosing down the boat with a power washer at 2200 hrs - so I had to wait to top up the diesel and water tanks. Afterwards they said that I hoped that I didn't mind. I tried to turn in. But they started running their engine at 2300 hours (the exhaust a few feeft from Anquette's port side). After half an hour I was loosing my cool. Got dressed, walked alongside and called out the boat's name - no one bothered respond so I knocked on the deck. "Hello what do you want ?" from inside. "Do you have to charge your engine or whatever at this time ? I am trying to sleep, I leave at 0400 hrs". "Oh sorry". Most marinas have rules restricting the charging of engines between the hours of 0700 - 1900 hrs.
I was tired the next morning. Plodded over toward Donaghadee Sound. Seas lumpy. Fishing boat heading west through the Sound. Exchanged greetings as he exited. Punched the west going tide - it wasn't too strong being neaps. Then followed my usual tactic of heading ESE during the foul tide. Avoids encountering head-on the foul tide bound past Mull of Galloway and up the North Channel which would be encountered if the direct track were followed from the initial departure point off the Irish coast. Sea flattening and wind getting lighter. Under power and genoa initially.
Finally I rolled the headsail in as it was calm. Around low tide shaped up for the current direct track to the Point of Ayre heading into the strongest east going tide. Quite warm inside the boat (for the Irish Sea at least). Had a scare when I heard a large clonking and the engine speed died down dramatically. Couldn't detect anything round the propeller/shaft with the boat hook. So had a look at the engine. Tightened the alternator belt, and topped up the engine oil which was very low. When the engine was cool I re-started it and it seemed to be okay.
Rest of the crossing to the Point of Ayre fairly uneventful, with just one ship and a trawler crossing ahead at a safe distance. Had covered this stretch under genoa and some mainsail to assist the motor (just in case further trouble would be experienced), but when the wind failed the genoa had to be rolled.
A slow steady plod against the tide into Ramsey Bay, a yacht on a visitor's mooring near the pier, some cabin/dayboats out. Felt some satisfaction from having completing the cruise sucessfully - but already wondering what next year's annual cruise objective would be. It's good to have an objective - provides a reason to go sailing as often as I do.
Tied up on the east quay, and left a recorded message for a bridge swing. 1,039.60 miles sailed, during which Paul played a valuable part. Someone keen is more useful than someone experienced but who has no stamina, or someone with an over hyped belief in their sailing abilities offshore. Hopefully, Paul will be able to crew again in the future. Discovered that Paul had enjoyed this trip - beforehand he thought that this would be his last sailing trip but on departure this belief had been reversed. Maybe this was because there was never an occasion for crossed words or maybe because it was pleasure from the sheer volume of marine life, namely puffins, guillemots, gannets, cormorants, Atlantic White-sided dolphins, Bottle-nosed dolphins, Common and Grey seals, Minke Whales etc ... One disappointing note is that once back in the North Channel no more aquatic mammal sightings and just a handful of guillemots and gannets seen. A depressing thought from my perspective is the amount of radio active pollution. As the notice in Whitehall Stronsay, Orkneys indicated. No shellfish to be landed. No doubt Dounreay the culprit. According to one source, an Irish Sea lobster has been measured as 42 times over the European safe level of radio activity.