During the first day of June 2010 I set sail in 'Equinox' my 24ft 6' Cornish Crabber from Chichester Marina and headed West down the Solent on a once in a lifetime adventure. Three and a half months later I completed my challenge; having sailed solo around the entire UK; visiting the Scillies, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and the Hebrides; going with huge trepidation over the top via Cape Wrath - the 'big right turn', before the next 'big right turn' heading south, at John o'Groats. This blog is my diary, written most evenings as I took stock of the day's progress; often with a huge lump of Cheddar cheese in hand and a pint of Speckled Hen to keep it company. Sometimes I was almost in tears; tiredness and frustration having taken its toll. Other nights exhuberant after breathtakingly beautiful passages along our stunning coastline with favourable following winds. It describes the ups and downs; the tears and laughter; the extraordinary kindness shown by complete strangers who offered a tired sailor in their midst refuge, solace, warmth and company; their generosity often humbling. My hormones were, I'm sure, in a mess making me perhaps rather vulnerble; as just six months earlier I'd endured the surgical removal of a cancerous prostate gland; laprascopically - a six hour procedure that left me physically weaker than before. You can read the background to the illness and the reasons for the challenge - to raise awareness of this terribe disease; that could have so easily have killed me elsewhere on this blog.

I am indebted to many; and recorded their names elsewhere; but as I reflect on the voyage many months later, I have not fully sung the praise of Cornish Crabbers, the builders of my sturdy little yacht and Roger Dongray the yacht's brilliant designer who drew upon a hull shape that had developed over hundreds of years by men who worked and fished at sea and whose very life depended on their vessel's seaworthiness. It's long keel, sail configuration and weight distribution in seemingly monsterous seas; quite incredible for a yacht so small. A Crabber 24 is not the swiftest yacht to be had for her size, for sure. But what she lacks in that respect she makes up for by her abilty to take heavy weather and harsh conditions in her stride. Built solidly without compromise, Equinox delivered me safely home after a voyage of well over 2500 miles in some of the most hostile and dangerously tidal waters you can find anywhere in Europe. In Wales, for example, the RNLI were phoned by an experienced commercial fisherman watching Equinox from his harbourside office; reporting to them, that a yacht was struggling in heavy seas and a F7 a mile outside the harbour entrance. By the time the lifeboat had been launched, I was tucked up in Aberystwyth marina; a little bruised and battered it has to be said, but safe and sound; I never even saw the lifeboat!

I've recently set up the blog so that readers can cover numerous diary entries in one go. To access earlier diary entries just click on the link 'Older Posts' at the foot of each page. Only a few clicks are needed to get to the entries at the beginning of the voyage and my preparation beforehand.

I hope you enjoy reading it; and if you do, or have done, please be kind enough to leave me a message. For which, in anticipation, I thank you.
The voyage also raised over £10,000 for the Prostate Cancer Charity - not my main goal but those who donated on my 'Just Giving ' page made a huge contribution too; as I was notified by email of each donation as it was made; each raising my spirits immeasurably. My main goal was to encourage 2500 men to get PSA tested - one for each mile sailed; and I beleive that goal was achieved too. And finally, I would also like to thank the growing number of men who have, both during and after the voyage ended, taken a PSA test, as a result of the publicty the voyage attracted; been diagnosed with the disease and taken the time and trouble to email me.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Equinox - Sea trial -Tuesday 22nd March 2011

Fully restored to her prime, Equinox sits back on her berth in Chichester Marina looking splendid after a day's sailing. The Gammon Iron, Autohelm, Thru-hull Speed Sensor, Cutlass Bearing and Rev-counter replaced or repaired and the cost of it all partly forgotten; as yesterday I took her out for her first sea trial in glorious spring weather. I must have put 30 full days of labour into varnishing, antifouling,scrubbing and polishing; the last vestiges of detritus from the round Britain voyage removed from her bilges and intimate crevices.The smell of fresh varnish and Flash all pervasive; everything gleams and for the time being, is sweet smelling. Chichester Harbour with an exceptionally high tide, all but empty of other vessels, was utterly perfect. An hour spend going round in circles at slack water in order to re-calibrate the wind direction and water speed sensors, and the autohelm's internal compass worth every second, as it all works and interfaces as it should. A bonus is I now have accurate sea water temperature readings again having lost it early in the voyage; and when you leap over the side most mornings for a dip, it's nice to know how far up into your body your shocked testicles are going to ascend first!
Her new antifoul makes an amazing difference; in just over 9 knots of wind without the topsail we scudded along on a reach at between 4.8 - 5.1knots SOG; an impressive difference. How wonderful to have the sun on your back, a half pint mug of builder's tea in hand and Equinox balanced and heeling gently, the crystal clear cold water creaming down her sides, her taught sails. wrinkle free, doing their duty to perfection and the Solent largely to yourself. Finding the time to once again dream and plan future passages, reassured by your efforts over the winter, to make good and mend; efforts that have renewed your confidence in Equinox's strength and ability to take you safely to new shores.  Southern Ireland is a must this year, with some company for parts of the passage, to share the chores, the exhilaration and the fun.


Thursday, 9 December 2010


Is this the final Word............?

Equinox was lifted and pressure washed last week and sits on the quayside looking surprising clean and prim. I was amazed how clean her hull was as she rose up out of the water on the crane's straps.  I immediately spotted a small length of very familiar looking blue fishing net wrapped tightly around the prop shaft as it exits the cutlass bearing  - the 'Norfolk Incident' The vibrations experienced when motoring during the final stages of the voyage may well be due to this rather than a tired Cutlass Bearing. The bearing, I believe,  needs water to keep it cool and lubricated; perhaps this nylon was preventing water circulating properly. It was easy to unwind it from around the shaft to begin with but then it got tighter and tighter. Eventually I resorted to a knife and ended up with about half a meter of the stuff in bits; some looked as thought they had either been squeezed or partially melted. The Gammon Iron should have been rebuilt by now but Chris at CB Marine has slipped a disc; no doubt in agony, poor chap. Warren Butler has in hand the replacement tachometer. The one fitted to Equinox had a cracked glass and misted up. Of note, it had only three wires coming from it; easy to fit and, of course, no longer made. It's visually identical replacement from the same manufacturer, has a staggering 26 wires; and no accompanying instructions. Someone please tell me this is progress.
Tomorrow night I've been invited to join a regular gathering at Chichester Yacht Club as a guest speaker/ entertainer. Of great concern is that everyone in the audience will be far more qualified that moi; having done little if anything formal, by way of recognised courses. Gina, my wife has one more qualification than me - having done a Competent Crew; and she shows me up!  Stupidity and a little bit of courage, fortified by liberal and frequent doses of Speckled Hen are not recognised as qualifications by the RYA which, is a pity really, as I might have made Yachtmaster.

As the wise sage said when giving advice on how best to present your Christmas wines. 'Open the bottle and let it breathe. If it it's not breathing, don't hesitate, give it mouth to mouth...........!
  

Monday, 25 October 2010

One very bent Gammon Iron - note the torn weld


This damage was done from a single wave - Equniox wanted to ride over the wave - the anchor, deeply imbedded in mud, didn't want to let her! Something had to give!

I had wrongly called this a Cranse Iron earlier. The Cranse Iron is a casting that's located on or near the outward end of the bowsprit.  It usually has three or four rings or eyes welded on it which, the bobstay, the two whiskers and sometimes the jib (if its furling) are attached.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Dry Land

The first few days home have been hectic; not helped by going down with a foul cold. It seems I've got back just in time; the lawns and cars white with heavy frost most mornings.
   I'm finding it quite hard to adjust. While sailing, I used to get up, eat, sail all day, anchor, eat again and go to bed and worry about how and where to go next, while I drifted off to sleep; deliberating the options! A life dictated by wind and tide.
   For days I barely spoke a word; other than in clipped tones to the Coastguard; filing a Passage Plan or to tell them I'd reached my destination. A simple life, uncomplicated, delicious and rewarding; in that it was task and goal orientated.
How different shore life is;

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Two Crabbers - coming home


Equinox safely into the lock with Peter Moore's Crabber just as the lock gate closes behind us.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

East Head - Chichester Marina - 16th October

Peter Moore, and I spoke a few times yesterday as I sailed past Brighton; he was keen to sail his Crabber out to meet me; I should have smelt a rat; but didn't! We left it that we would communicate on Ch8 around 11am. At 10:30 I called him up and his response was odd. Forced to come clean he'd organised a small flotilla of yachts to come out and meet me; his Crabber arriving 'Fully Dressed'. I was very touched at the effort he's gone to; and for the other owners who took the trouble and made the effort. Thank you all..... but hate a fuss!
    Accompanying me as far as Itchenor the yachts peeled off to take advantage of a glorious sunny and quite windy day -20 knots at one point on our way to the marina; leaving just us two Crabbers to make their way home.
Chichester Harbour looks stunning, yachts racing, sailing clubs and schools still competing for space; a busy place with lots to see. The surrounding countryside with a touch of Autumn colour; is very special; more so today, as I drink it all in. Lots of new boats too. It seems a lifetime ago that I sailed the opposite way full of foreboding. I think I return a better sailor; certainly my respect for the power of the sea is heightened; but what really came home was that when I got into difficulties or needed to enter a strange harbour at night; all I did was reach for the key and Mr Yanmar would burst into comforting life; taking me where my limited skills and canvas alone stood no chance. Quite how our sailing ancestors managed to do the same thing with rigs, not that different from mine, leaves me in awe. The pictures in hundreds of pubs around our coast bear testament to our fishing heritage with harbours so packed with boats you could walk right across them without getting your feet wet; 1380 in Wick's tiny harbour alone coming and going every day during the Herring season. 28 lives lost in one storm in a day; appalling statistics repeated down the East Coast in port after port; most fishermen couldn't even swim.
   Yes, parts of the voyage have been tough. Yes, there were days I was in tears with tiredness and frustration, as hour after hour we both took a pounding; when water tanks burst; when I got very frightened at the sheer scale and immensity of the seas and their latent power to destroy; days spent in port, storm bound and days when you're cold wet and lonely, the coast lost in the mist and you're scared. On those days you feel fragile. But I can say; not once did I ever feel like quitting; it never crossed my mind. I often doubted my sanity being so inexperienced a navigator and quite why my wife let me loose to undertake such a selfish lifetime ambition is beyond me. But the bad days were made bearable by the good ones; the sun on your back, the sea birds, whales, dolphins and our incredible, rugged and rich coastline; they quickly restore resilience and faith in one's ability. You bank those memories; cashing them when you have a bad one. It all balances out in the end.
   Then of course, there's the RNLI. I should have made a note of the number of times I saw them out; heard them or the Coastguard coordinating another rescue on the VHF. I witnessed first hand, broken boats being brought in, pumps working overtime, keels torn off, engine breakdowns and fires, mast failures and the irresponsible who simply ran out of fuel. Twenty events or more, I'm sure. And then there's the Coasguard, I spoke to all of them around our coast. Filing passage plans and radioing them at journey's end. Thank you for being there for your weather advice, your reasurrance.
    Chichester Lock hove into view and with it a huge Union Jack waving; a banner saying welcome home and a group of family and friends to cheer me home. A tear or two shed. Flossie and Neilo, had driven down from Chester that morning. Incredible! David and Avril, Angela and David, Peter and Ian and of course Gina, my wife; more tears, champagne balloons and welcomes; the sun shining; such huge relief. I've done it!
   Then down to the local at 7pm for more welcomes; two of my children driving out of London join us.

Just About Perfect!

I'm home.

Eastbourne - East Head - 15th October

Hang in there NE wind please; were my final thoughts as I drifted off to sleep in Sovereign Marina; would they be kind and give me run to Chichester or turn sour on me; in which case it's Brighton tomorrow night.
The met at 5.25am said NE backing N, 3 to 4 with 5's later. We're on for Chichester!  I conrnflaked in the lock; waiting for the half-hourly opening; joined by a small armada of fishing boats heading out to enjoy a day in the sun; which promptly burst out from behind a cloud as we rounded Beachy Head; the wind very fluky and strengthening all the time; the coastline ahead of me looked stunning and with few obstacles an easy and relatively carefree passage. I chose to head directly for the Looe Channel at Selsey Bill which meant sailing some way off shore; first having to skirt a huge rig on legs off Newhaven.  The wind picked up as we passed Littlehampton and the temperature dropped markedly; indeed I got quite chilly. Winter's around the corner. Selsey Bill takes for ever to appear; despite being able to see the Isle of White in the background, at last it rises out of the sea.... the home straight. Eyes watering in the wind and unsure whether to put a reef in we entered Bracklesham Bay; Hayling Yacht Club soon became visible and a stream of yachts were pouring out of  Chichester Harbour; the Friday night rush hour. At 6:30pm I entered the harbour; eighteen weeks and 5 days after leaving. Mooring at East Head, as I did the first night, was a joy; the heating on, my last Speckled Hen or two and a massive fry up soon had me warm.
Time for sums.
I've sailed 2299.1 miles with about 4 more to do - to the marina.
Average speed for the entire voyage is 4.1 knots
My wonderful Yanmar engine has drunk 327 litres of fuel.
My slowest passage was from Wells Next The Sea to Sea Palling  - Average 2.4 knots
My fastest from Stangster to Wick; average speed 9.2knots!
Fastest moment under sail without engine - Duncansby Race between the Isle of Stroma and Scotland - near John O'Groats - 13.4 knots
Deepest water 188 meters before the transponder couldn't reach the bottom and get a return echo.
The lowest depth recorded while sailing was .3 meter under the keel, Thames Estuary!  Ooops!
I dread to think how many Speckled Hens, sausages, rashers of bacon and helpings of fish and chips have been consumed.
Damages and breakages:
One Raymarine ST2000 autohelm - burnt out
One Tachometer - glass broken but still works
One blown Jib, repaired
One cranse Iron, badly bend and buckled - will need replacing.
A few scratches on the hull at the bow from riding over the anchor chain
The Cutlass Bearing will need to be replaced as it's noisy.
2 Plastimo water tanks

I think I've got off quite lightly.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Dover - Eastbourne - 14th October

A bad start to the day, I overslept! I heard half the shipping forecast at 5.27am but fell asleep before it ended, missing the bit that mattered; but thankfully a ferry exiting rekindled the fire at 7am, amid much cursing! I blame Peter and Sandra Moore who, very specially, took the trouble to drive all the way to Dover last night and forced me to join them for dinner ashore; depriving me of my usual bread and dripping fare.
    Given clearance, the west exit was offered and accepted; a wrinkly mainsail hoisted still showing creases from yesterday's reefing; while in the lee of the huge harbour walls; with 48 miles ahead of me.
    Bless the wind; it's still blowing strongly from the NE, so we stormed off, staying a mile or two from the shore; white cliffs and all. Barely two miles covered before the Range Police came up in a powerful launch and proffered route guidance across an active range; I think I understood the instructions shouted over the noise of  his engine; but not too sure. We'll see!
   7-8Knots SOG is a rare treat in a smooth sea, so thoroughly enjoyed eating up the first 20 odd miles before passing the Nuclear Power Station located right on the shore at Dungeness; at which point, a stronger gusting wind and accompanying weather helm dictated a reef which, no sooner executed, than for a second time a visit from the Range Police launch, keen to shuffle me further south; and given little choice with a 'Follow Me' set of instructions; but done very politely indeed.
   The tide turned against us as we passed Hastings and Bexhill and our speed dropped accordingly.
Eastbourne boasts a London Dockland's like landscape, high rise very new and modern blocks surround a vast marina complex accessed through two locks that open and close every half hour. They put Chichester's single lock to shame.
   Berthed, I made my way to the Marina to sign in; returning to Equinox William Lawrence, a fellow Crabber owner, who'd  made contact much earlier in the voyage greeted me on the pontoon. A colleague of Chris Eden, my surgeon; generously suggested we meet up at the yacht Club and go into Eastbourne to eat; leaving on Equinox a bottle of wine as a welcome present. Joining us for a scrumptious Italian meal in a town that reminded me of Leamington Spa - with wide avenues and huge white Georgian buildings and boasting the most lavish hotel I've ever seen - The Grand; was Liz, William's wife, also medical. A more delightful evening or couple to enjoy it with, would be hard to envisage; their generosity to a complete stranger bewildering; point blank refusing to let me pay my share; a totally unexpected and humbling experience.    
   Crabber owners are, it seems, a very special breed indeed; they have a 22 called Grace; kept in France; which reminds me, I should have mentioned that berthed next to me in Dover, was a retired P&O officer with a stunningly beautiful racing yacht. A chum of his, also moored in Dover Marina, has a Crabber 22 which he sailed to the Caribbean and cruised for 4 years extensively -  makes my little sorty rather pitiful, doesm't it?
  Tomorrow it's Brighton or Chichester; one easy the other a challenge. The decision will have to wait until the wind has let me into its secret in the morning.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ramsgate - Dover - 13th October.

The great winds forecasted for last night never materialised and today's 11-14knot wind from the East, perfect for the shortest passage of the entire voyage by far - only 18nm to Dover; my next port, Eastbourne, was just too far to go without risking a lot of engine use and my cutlass bearing is grumbling and getting increasingly noisy, so have been using the engine, as sparingly as possible.
Ramsgate has a fine waterfront and interesting harbour; with a Dunkirk litle ship moored against the quay. Good selection of restaurants too. I opted for Thai and had a wonderful meal. Trying to pay my mooring fees this morning was a challenge; the phone wasn't answered, the marina office empty; and I have no idea what the rates are; so resorted to putting a card under the door.
  We've now made the last 'Big Right Turn'; unless you include turning into Chichester Harbour.
Dover Marina's a good launch pad too for tomorrow's run; althought the wind seems to be failing me and is now barely a breeze, as I update this.

Shotley - Ramsgate - 13th October

The Thames Estuary, looking at the charts over the years, has always seemed a daunting place; wrecks, huge wind farms, dozens of sand banks that are constantly on the move and shipping feeding up and down the busy channels that fan out from London and the Thames. Common sense dictates you go around the whole lot, stay far out at sea and only cut back in when clear of all the hazards. The trouble with doing that today would be that Equinox would be on a dead run; and that’s the one place you don’t sail a Crabber in heavy seas and with strong winds forecasted - rolling our hip joints out! It would also mean I’d have to stay on the helm constantly compensating for wind and waves - fully focused for four hours at the end of six hours sailing; and in a half gale!
   The alternative is to cut through the channels; dodging the sandbanks and remain pretty much on track with a far more considerate broad reach all the way. A broad reach will also give the Jib and Staysail a workout; unlike on a run where they both flap annoyingly; back-winded by the mainsail. Decision made!
   Locking out of the marina at 7:45am, an hour before low water, with six hours of favourable tide in front of us, the omens looked good. I’d missed breakfast, as I had the biggest fish and chips ever at Shotley Clubhouse – a 10oz haddock fillet in batter is a vision! Marmite and cheese and tomato sandwiches made will, I hope, reamin tit free and eaten on the go.
  A glorious morning the sun shining; wind from the NE and Equinox on a heading of 178 degrees with Ramsgate the target 60 miles away. The tricky bits of this passage are well into it, by which time the tide would have added a few more meters of water over the hazzards.
  Hour by hour the wind picked up as did the sea; arriving in Ramsgate it was gusting over 22knots and I was under triple reefed mainsail alone.
  I gave up trying to count ships. At one point there were 16 in view; most on the move but some anchored! A minnow surrounded by Pike!
  A few hairy moments as parts of the passage were not as generously endowed with water as I’d calculated; but you get used to the 3 meter shallow depth alarm once it’s been beeping at you for minutes on end; and I was on a rising tide; so persised with the chosen course!
  Arriving at Ramsgate the wind had got up to 24-27knots at 6pm; making berthing a bit of a trial; but I’m getting quite confident at handling Equinox in close confines; the lock keeper tells me it will reach 37 knots later on tonight!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Aberdaron - An incredible picture taken by Andrew de Salis back in July!!


Taken about 9:30pm from the terrace of a pub overlooking the islands that guard the entrance to Aberdaron Bay. Equinox is at Anchor with the moon above. Pembrokshire is perfect. Thanks Andrew for taking and forwarding it. Double Click on the picture to super size it!  It's worth it!

Lowestoft - Shotley Marina, Harwich - 11th October

Another early start; it's still barely light, but I've six hours of tide and a NE wind going my way! Clearance given by Lowestoft Harbour Control and three green lights at the marina entrance; we're off, a 40NM sail ahead of me with two reefs in the mainsail. Newcombe Sand extends for miles south of Lowestoft, so sailed along its outside edge before reaching deeper water near Southwold, which I shot past at 6-8 knots and then on to Aldeburgh where there's a Ridge on the seaward side of you - all you hear is the roar as the surf breaks 2-300 yards on your port side and somewhat unnerving, but insde the ridge we enjoyed much calmer conditions; then as the roar subsides we round Orforness Lighthouse; and there unexpectantly beating towards me, were three yachts under mainsail and engine; all taking a real battering as they beat into the weather; the wind now gusting 6-7. I don't envy them one bit.  So surprised was I to see someone else out in such conditions, I didn't spot five small yellow weed covered floats until I was upon them; with two being towed on one side and three on the other, I'd picked up about 40 feet of rope with small bits of very old weed covered net and dangley bits hanging off. I turned into the wind; but didn't dare start the engine; hoping I'd drift away from it; instead a length of line and one float went around my stern. I got hold of it with the boat hook but could not lift it more than a few inches out of  the water - the floats acting like sea anchors; the wind was still blowing me downwind sideways at 1-2 knots. So decided after weighing up the options, to lower the mainsail, the only sail I was using, don my topclimber harness over a wetsuit and using the backstay as well as a safety harness, as a backup, climb over the side and leaning backwards, cut through the line. Thank you Flossie & Neilo for your Christmas present; your green teflon coated razor sharp knife. It only took a few seconds to cut the line; but I got a soaking all the same! As soon it was cut, I drifted clear of the rest. Pay attention Simon, you numbnut!   
    Mainsail up once again, we completed the last 6 miles at 7 knots+ the wind gusting to 24knots before gybing into the huge container Port of Felixstowe and calmer conditions. Entering Shotley Marina; with only a few minutes wait before it was Freeflow through the lock, was very fortunate!
   There's F8 blowing around Dover; so not sure whether Ramsgate - 40NM away is on the cards tomorrow.
I hope so as we're making good progress, but at what cost?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sea Palling - Lowestoft - 10th October

It's 5am I'm very cold, still feeling sick and hungry having not eaten since yesterday's breakfast; but knew we had to push on as I would have wind and tide, for once,with me and the delights of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Marina in Lowestoft within 25 miles; a safe haven and glorious sleep. Going forward to retrieve the anchor; the hand cranked windlass was just about coping. Intermittently, waves broke over the bow as I slowly wound in the 20 meters put down. Just as I thought the anchor was about to break out, a wave lifted the bow accompanied by a huge graunch, louder by far than anything heard before, tore the chain off the windlass. I thought I'd broken it, but instead after the water drained away I could see a badly buckled  anchor rest and Gammon Iron – the sturdy stainless steel bracket badly twisted and a three inch weld torn apart – not good. Rushing back to get some rope I tied the anchor on as best I could, before motoring out from behind the reef. Once under sail, I put on the Raymarine autohelm only to find that it wouldn’t hold a course and made a sorry noise from within. Today’s not going well!
Fortunately I carry a spare. Then somehow the gaff managed to get on the wrong side of the Back Stay so had to drop the whole rig to sort it out. Someone on the shore must have been watching this and called the Coastguard; as no sooner had I got things sorted, over the radio came Yarmouth Coastguard, asking to talk to the yacht with tan sails off Waxham. I said I was fine but was so tired I forgot my manners and failed to thank him and who ever phoned who were just trying to help.
   Dawn was spectacular. I slowly warmed up, the sailing wonderful as we thundered down the coast at over 7 knots. Lowestoft in 4 hours the sun shining all the way! What a joy not to have the engine running, after yesterday.
   Now I’m here, I can’t sleep, it’s too hot! So made a better job of my jury rig that holds the anchor to the Bowsprit; it should hold, but it does mean no more anchoring for the rest of the voyage!
   Shotley Marina tomorrow - Harwich.  A long haul but if the wind holds; do'able...just.
Please no more breakages though............ I can't afford it!

Wells Next the Sea - Sea Palling - 9th October

A desperately grey and gusty day found me pinned to the pontoon by the wind; with few if any other boats on the move: other than two hardy folk out on lasers, having a ball. A fishing boat full of jolly anglers left at 6am and were back looking very pale and dejected by 7am!
   Today was going to be a tough one. The target a man made series of reefs at a place called Sea Palling; mentioned nowhere including Reeds and my pilot books. The reefs show on Google Earth; so they must be there. I managed to back off the pontoon and was swept out on a spring tide around an obstacle course of buoys. Wells bar is horrid; breaking waves on shallow banks are very uncomfortable and with the tide now on the nose; along with the wind, it took me ages to clear. It rather forget the next 5 hours of uncomfortable motoring; but eventually I rounded the nose of Norfolk; enough to first hoist the mainsail, that added half a knot, then the staysail and finally the jib, as the wind came good – being directly from the East. But just as the wind came good so the tide turned foul for the second time; now heading North with me heading South! Motor sailing in lumpy sea is wet business and I arrived thoroughly cold, damp and tired just as it started to get dark. The only highlight was a tiny little green tit that blipped into the cockpit, after blipping around the stern railing and seagull engine for 20 seconds looking for a perch. Eventually it landed in the cockpit, warily looked at me with one black shiny eye, before pooing on my marmite sandwich that I'd onlys just retreived from the fridge. Off it went without even a sorry! Sandwich over the side!
   The gap between the fifth and sixth reef is marked with cardinals but once through you only have a couple of meters of depth to play with. I picked my spot, dropped the anchor and as it bit quickly realised I was not going to get any sleep; Equinox being thrown all over the place as she tugged this way and that on her anchor. An anchor snubber helped take the worst out of the jolts; but not by much. I felt sick too, as soon as I went below, so listened to music and hung on in the cockpit drinking the warm remains of a thermos of coffee. The hours dragged by; the spring tide making the reefs almost redundant; incoming swell passing over it; covering me with foam. What a battering we both took. By 5am I’d had enough. Time to get on the move and make the best of the flood tide.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Wells Next the Sea - A rest day declared - 8th October

Gusting 20 knots as the Spring tide takes the sea into the harbour car park at 8am. A rest day declared by the crew; who've stopped talking to one another. The first wash for three days was heavenly, a leisurely breakfast and a wander around town while Mr Miele did his best with my near-walking laundry.
Time to catch up on blog, emails and family phone calls and air bedding and yet-to-be-worn clothes that feel damp and cold.
Wells is delightful, an eclectic mix of seaside fun done the Norfolk way; sort of reserved and subdued! The Harbour Office have waived berthing fees; which is brilliant.
Lowestoft looks to be too far for one run; a suggestion has been a place called  Sea Palling; apparently there are man made reefs one can duck inside of and anchor for the night; as I'm done with night flights for the time being! All depends on the wind, of course; so keeping all options open.

Spurn Head - Wells Next the Sea - Norfolk - 7th October

A Pilot’s Launch woke me at dawn, as it thundered off to engage some incoming vessel; it’s wake rattling everything in the boat; including my teeth! Cornflaking was out of the question; the milk would have curdled; so had some orange juice instead. Dressed up in thermals as well as the full Musto Ocean Kit; I went to do battle with the anchor windlass. It was such hard work , that I put Equinox into gear motored up the chain. Eureka, easy peasy! I’d already hoisted the main so shot out of the river at 6 knots having first obtained clearance from Humber VTR; nice and helpful they were too; asking that I give them a final shout as I passed Rosse Spit and out of their control.

   Miles of dreadfully boring coast followed; but at least progress was brisk; just mile upon mile of empty beaches with the odd fairground betwixt; the water barely 9 meters deep miles from shore, with patches of well marked shallows interspersed. A call to Wells Next the Sea’s Harbour Master said if he was there he’d come out and accompany me in. Very reassuring indeed, as it has a reputation for changing often and meandering; a healthy warning in Reeds too. I’d decided to keep to the west of the big Wind Farm at Cleethorpes. I shouldn’t have done. Not only did the boat get covered by millions of little flies; from where they came from is a mystery; but I think the 80+ turbines may have something to do with it; as I was in their lee. They must, I assume have been blown from the continent. My chosen route meant crossing Burnham Flats and the Woolpack; shallows that guard the centre of the Wash. Rough! Just as I motor sailed into the first of them, the tide turned foul; unexpected and along with it, the wind rose to 17Knots from 8-9. King John lost his Jewels there; I nearly lost my stomach! The seas heaped up in the shallow water and simply Equinox could not punch her way through, so had to veer off South for two hours motoring; where I picked up a favourable east setting tide; as expected. Good progress re-established with ten miles to go the phone went; the Harbour Master wouldn’t be there and it would be dark when I arrived! Not good!
   The channel in to Wells is well marked for daytime use. For night entry, some buoys flash some don’t. So the meandering curves in between, got me very confused. Not helped one little bit by a launch going out to the wind farm with a massive array of lights pointing into my eyes to light up the way out for him; but totally blinding me on my way in. Bustard! Once past, he left me with no night vision at all.
   Picture this – I had one hand holding my Garmin GPS Plotter , the other holding a 3million candlepower torch and my foot on the helm; standing on the cockpit seat; the depth alarm jangling every time I strayed; with a cross tide to contend with. I’ve checked, it’s not on the Day Skipper’s syllabus or recommended! Inevitably I got lost and ended up weaving my way among moored yachts; before finding the channel again, and at last, the pontoon; invisible under the harbour wall with the town’s lights; as they did in Scarborough, blinding me. Turning to face the exit as instructed I tried to come alongside; not easy in a brisk current on your own with a growing band of onlookers drinking on a Barque and on the Quay! Eventually I managed it, without hitting anything, and with some decorum, jumped off and tied on. Sweaty to say the least! I may take a second heart pill tonight!
    Stripping of my oilies and changing into drinking trousers , I was off for a well deserved pint of Adnams; within minutes. Well, I’m in Norfolk after all! A bowl of Crab soup and Haddock and chips went down without touching the sides. Then onto the 100 year old Dutch sailing barque, The Albatross, for another pint of local brew; as it’s moored next to me. Completely pooped, went straight to bed; too tired yet again to do anything other than brush teeth.
   As I drift off I realise, my sleeping bag feels damp, as do my pillows. In fact, everything is!
My spirit’s up though.

Day off tomorrow to recover after some good progress made.
Lowestoft needs planing carefully; my next port of call.

Scarborough - Spurn Head, Humber - 6th September

A dull grey morning with drizzle accompanies the noisy seagulls that have, overnight, regurgitated their stomach contents and emptied their bowels on the pontoon. Neat packages of bones many with plastic film suggest refuse raiding; dropping off my rubbish and keys, on tiptoes to avoid these smelly landmines keeps me focused.

  A call to Port Control for permission to leave and I’m off; a run of 58 miles to Spurn Head on the cards. Pushing tide for the first three hours was a struggle despite engine and sail doing their very best to break 4knots; the sea knocking way off; just as you're on the cusp of progress; Filey Brigg, the headland and target, remains mist shrouded and distant. Once passed, Falmborough Head appears as the next waypoint, a rough old spot if ever there was one. Today was no different; very rough; but the tide suddenly came good and within a minute we were averaging 6 knots and trying to helm through dozens of pots strategically placed and largely submerged in the current and standing waves, to catch you out. Two did and I went over the top of them; engine by now off! It was 13:30 as I just missed the last one; accompanied by two fishing vessels that came out of the mist to wave and wonder; returning to Scarborough.
   The next 5 hours of sailing was a joy; great progress without Mr Yanmar warbling in the background. The coastline desperately dull; the wind by some miracle of fortune from the SSW, against all predications.
  One extraordinary event took place. A huge Black Backed Seagull came and flew with me. I could have stretched out and touched it, so close it came. It stayed for minutes; sometimes off the stern, then in the billow of the mainsail then in front of the mast using the draft from the staysail and jib. Effortless progress and total mastery of flight as its head turned this way and that hunting, accompanied by a slight watery dribble from its beak. Such a pristine example of evolution would be hard to envisage. A winged angel had paid me a visit.
   I’m quite sure a thousand fishermen have seen the same thing; for me however as a lonely sailor, it was very special.
  Spurn Head came into view just as the watery sun gave up and sank. Darkness followed alarmingly quickly. Although the land ends; there’s a huge submerged bank to avoid before you can tuck up in the curl; behind the Pilot’s Jetty and moored RNLI Lifeboat. 3 hours later I at last dropped the anchor after battling the formidable ebb tide and entry race; I’d missed my tide slot! Had I arrived an hour earlier; all would have been well. As it was I dropped the anchor with the engine still running, in gear and holding course on the autohelm; but going backwards slowly; in five meters of water, I scoped out 20 meters of chain! It would be embarrassing to drag anchor in the Humber Pilots Powerful launches; worse the Lifeboat! Cutting the engine the chain went forward into the depths at an alarming angle. The Boat Speed still reading 3 knots; as it dug in.
   Tired but thrilled, I set about supper. The Full Monty cooked;  a chilled Speckled or two already consumed, as I watched things brown; before sitting down. The next minute my world went mad. Some passing tanker or vessel set me rocking on my beam ends. Diving for my glass that shot across the table meant I missed the plate and glass. Both ended up on my bed, fortunately separately. The food back on the plate the beer lost; all sponged up with no stains as I’m scotchguarded - it’s worth every penny.
  Sleep interrupted by the same event twice. Not a spot I’d recommend; but a fantastic launch pad for tomorrow......

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Scarborough - 5th October

Looking at the next three passages last night left me concerned that I'll need to top up with fuel before leaving Scarborough; as to make any progress, the engine has been used quite a bit over the last three days and the tank abut half full. Showered and shaved by 7am and talking to a fisherman fixing a duff engine, I learnt that to reach the entrance to the Humber, anchoring at Spurn Head, I need to leave here two hours before low water and I'd missed that already. Decision made; a day in Scarborough; time to sort out fuel; mail a birthday card to my mother, stock up on food and stretch my legs.
Scarborough's marina is fine, the town, not so; especially the seafront which is assaulted constantly by the, not nice, smell of crab and shellfish packers that line the old harbour; and do they pong! It rather spoilt my night too; not knowing what it was until daylight. Returning to Equinox after a coffee and brisk walk, I noticed when turning on the instruments that my wind direction was frozen. Something looked amiss up top throught the binoculars. My Topclimber was dug out of the forepeek locker and in minutes was up removing with disdain a huge clump of seagull poo that had jammed the whole affiar. A horrid job as it was full of very smelly bleached white tiny fish bones that rained down oveer my prsitine deck; another job!
Fuel is issued in plastic drums here and it took an age to heave them both back and fill Equinox's tanks; another smelly sweaty job; but satisfying! A full tank is like an insurance policy; reassuring but hopefully not called upon!
The water tank's full as is the fridge; weariness from yesterday's epic long forgotten; I'll be gone by 0645 tomorrow. The coast, I've been warned, is dismal, so hope there's some wildlife to keep me entertained.
Force 4's to 5's yet again from the dreaded SE, so the engine's going to get another work out by the look of things.

Blythe - Scarborough - 5th September

Set off with Hartlepool in mind but the lack of swell and a wind that veered to the SW made Scarborough possible; arriving long after dark at 21:30, I was exhausted. Paul and Ruth are safely moored in Hartlepool and have negotiated a secure spot for their beautiful yacht for the winter; their summer long cruise over. Saying our goodbyes on Ch8 is not ideal, but I'm sure they understand.
I'm not sure I can do many more night passages; far too many close calls with lobster pots including one with a huge stick and black plastic flags than ran along the entire length of the boat; I though I was being attacked by birds; as they flapped by; all absolutely invisible at night until you're almost on top of them.
Scarborough's entrance, minus the lights that should be there, that are broken, is rather daunting as the water's not deep at low tide; you seem very close to the shiny wet beach and amusement arcades and bright lights that hamper your night vision before the entrance is visible. The night keeper gave clear instructions; an easy berth proffered on a pontoon covered with seagulls that complained noisily at being moved on. As I was heating my beef pies, donated by the RNYC, a huge juvenile gull flew into a stay with a twang and flopped into the sea; it seemed OK - well it was swimming with it's wings folded correctly. I'll report it when I go to the marina office in the morning.
Hull maybe tomorrow?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Blythe - Water in the fuel - 3rd October

An attempt to sail to Hartlepool came to nothing today. I set off at 8am in pouring rain with little wind and what there was; again straight on the nose.  Despite this, as I got about two miles out to sea, the wind picked up nicely and some good progress made on my first tack. Out of sight of land in murky conditions, I tacked back in towards the coast; soon realizing as the coast came back into view, that I'd failed to make it past the headland light house for what should have been a long productive leg, so started the engine to help me get me past it.  Closing in on light house, the waves got more complex and the wind started gusting to 14 knots; when a larger steeper wave caught me broadside; making Equinox roll horribly, the engine for the first time ever coughed and spluttered for ten seconds before running again smoothly. This unnerved me as I had a 30 mile sail ahead of me and a lock to contend with at the other end; so having covered only about 6 miles, decided to go back to Blythe and find out why it had hiccoughed.  Undoing the grub screw at the bottom of the main fuel filter I filled half a paper cup with water before fuel appeared! Where it had come from is a mystery; as I put in the fuel an additive that is supposed to keep water in suspension, so that it gets burnt by the engine? I’ll investigate it further after I’ve dried out and had some lunch!
Later:
The filter had some more water in it; a tablespoon; so reassembled the unit and assume it has been an accumulation over the entire voyage, as the filter was not changed when I serviced the engine in Wick. 
Ended up in the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club for supper again tonight with Ruth and Paul; as they'd decided not to venture south in the pouring rain and accompanying wind warning. Surprised to see me back after my short voyage; they welcomed a very damp me with a steaming cup of coffee! 
The same delicious Beef Pie meal as last night - it was that good and at £3.00. Well...! 
The Club members make visiting yachtsman really welcome, the bar on the lightship cosy and deliciously warm after a cold damp boat, the showers powerful; the beer good. The entrance to the harbour is easy, the visitor's berths perfect with shore power and water to hand; the nearby coastline dramatic. Who would have guessed it? I, for one would never had put the NE coastline on my list of cruising 'must do's' - but it certainly is: I'm sure I'll be back.
    

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Blyth - 1st October

Decision made; there's a small window before the next strong wind warning. Fueling up, as a precaution, we headed for the entrance; past the speedboat, sunk on it's mooring; just its vertical bow sticking above the water; to be greeted by incoming rather daunting breaking rollers. Less than .6 of a meter under the keel as we surged over and through them; like riding a rollercoaster. Once clear of the entrance the sea was desperately confused and uncomfortable. A 15 mile motor, with the wind right on the nose, is not a fun way to spend the day; but the window before the next blast hits Blythe, so small, that sailing was out of the question. Arriving around 2pm and surfing through the entrance was  relief. The yacht club is on the old Calshott Spit lighthouse - a solid oak, teak construction built in 1890 with ceilings low enough for the massive bolts holding it together to catch you painfully. I'll only do it twice! 

Amble - day 2 - 1st Octobber

Compelled to remain on board all day as the wind howled around the marina, accompanied by near horizontal rain that battered Equinox until 19:30; when it suddenly and unexpectantly stilled. With renewed enthusiasm, I hope to be on the move again tomorrow; but around us the isobars are so tightly grouped that the predicted short break in the grim weather could change the current forecast beyond all recognition. As always, I'll take a view first thing in the morning.
   Ruth, Paul and I decided to take a stroll up to the Pizza place, hoping to find a table; finding it booked solid until 9pm; though it worth the wait, so went for a drink nearby. The meal, nearly as good as last night's, was followed by a visit to the local Karaoke pub. In my wildest dreams I've never seen such horrific mutants try and keep up with the machine. Being out of tune, is one thing; not keeping in time another; but when you're 60 dressed like a teenager and can't read the screen without glasses as thick as the bottom of Coke bottles, that made them look like owls; then surely it's time to surrender to Father Time. Not one bit of it, they all had hair died so black that they looked like Goths; amateur tattoos of Dennis the Menace on exposed bits of dimpled flesh, that I'd have long ago wrapped up in something long-sleeved -  ideally a body bag. Those Italian Salami you see hanging in shops, grey with mold, came to mind. Sadly, these harpies queued up to massacre tune after tune; my pint of beer being left half consumed on the bar; so awful the vision, I just had to leave. Never, I repeat never, have I done that before! Had Churchill had them at his disposal the war would have ended in 1942. Our Minister of Defence, should scrap the Typhoon fighter, the Aircraft Carrier order and the Trident submarine replacements;  I've just found all we'll ever need.  Fly them to Afganistan, put them on a loudspeaker and Osama would come out of his cave pleading to be taken into custody.
Ruth and Paul had sensibly gone ahead to shop at one of those late night Tesco places. I'll sleep well tonight as long as Amble's version of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video doesn't feature in my dreams; if indeed I'm capable of falling asleep, being so traumatised. It would help if all the local dogs would stop howling too!
........................No, I 've just realised it's not dogs; they're at it again, slaughtering 'My Way'
Sorry Frank!
 

Friday, 1 October 2010

Eyemouth to Amble - 30th September

Some days are good; some bad. Today was bliss. Dozens of Seals spied, with Gannets diving among them, clear blue skies and sunshine. I think, the first since mid August!
   Leaving Eyemouth at about 8:30 a fantastic 12-13k SW wind bowled us along almost due south - and homeward bound. First came Berwick on Tweed, then the stunningly beautiful and unspoilt Berwick Bay, Holy Island, Bamburgh Castle, Farne Islands and into a herd of seals out at sea hunting; so many shiny black heads bobbing, that they were impossible to count; Gannets whirling in their hundreds diving and feasting on the fish forced to the surface. As you drew close to one, it suddenly panicked and with a splash disappeared; to bob up a few minutes later and join the dozen shiny back cue balls staring at you. Past the derelict but beautiful ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle bathed in sunshine; glorious green pastures and endless golden sandy beaches and wave lashed rocky outcrops, the backdrop. For the last ten miles the wind eased to 5knots and swung back to the dreaded SE; the old iron topsail called for, yet again; but nothing could wipe the smile of my face. Paul and Ruth in Mettlesome moored across the pontoon, had kept me company all day too; all agreeing it was a memorable one.
Amble is a perfect spot for a day or two; out of the predicted gales. A crowded marina fed by the River Coquet keeps the water iron red after rain; and have they had some! Within hours of arriving first more torrential rain arrived and through the night the wind rose too. It's now gusting 20-27 knots; the surrounding yachts halyards 'tinging' urgently; the rain off and on giving me no excuse not to crack on with the novel.
A short walk ashore last night found me in Zucci; a restuarant with a wood fired Pizza oven. I watched mine first made then cooked over a Peroni or two; for all of the 60 seconds it took to cook! I kid you not. So delicious was it, I'm compelled to go back tonight and check it wasn't a fluke.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Eyemouth - 29th September

I rather regret not going to Amble today. Easy to say that with hindsight though. The wind never arrived as expected; the sea conditions remaining not too bad. On the plus side, an angel at the Fisherman's Mission, saw my laundry, took it home, tumbled dried and ironed it- creases in my underpants, no less. I felt rather guilty putting it into a bag to take back to Equinox; so beautifully folded, it seemed an insult to disturb the symmetry; but it's raining stair rods; so had to. The expected wind has now arrived; a low pressure coming up from the Irish Sea and passing the Firth of Forth tonight. Tomorrow should be on.
   I've got cabin fever now for sure; if I hadn't got some day trading to keep me amused and a bit to add to the novel ....'Everyone has one in them'..., so prized mine out with a crowbar; I'd be chewing the mattress otherwise. Truthfully, I'm actually thoroughly enjoying writing it, but doubt it will ever see the light of day.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Eyemouth - 28th September

Waiting for the Harbour Master to arrive this morning; towel over my shoulder and wash bag tucked under my arm, I got chatting to the Ice Man – he supplies ice to the trawlers, to keep the fish fresh. Times are hard; and if I understand him correctly, it’s the same along most of the North Sea coast. Eyemouth, as have most of the Scottish Ports given up fishing for white fish; the Spanish doing that for us! Here if you go into port with more than your quota the fisheries officer puts you over his knee! The Spanish don’t give a damn and catch everything. So absurd is the situation that a boat here inadvertently last week caught codling; which they had to tip back into the sea – most dead or dying – around 100 boxes! So instead they fish for prawns; and to pay the bills have to fish aggressively; and guess what, they’re fishing them to oblivion and it’s getting harder and harder to find them; so have to fish further and further away. And what eats prawns – the very fish that we’re not allowed to catch because they’re illegally also getting fished to oblivion by the Spanish. Who said the EEC have a finger on the pulse? All our fishing vessels are fitted with satellite tracking technology so big brother is watching them wherever they fish or land their catch; constantly they’re under the microscope..... and the Spanish?

    Showered and feeling much better and loaded with a month’s worth of laundry, set off into town to find a laundrette; ending up at the Fisherman’s Mission, where, bless them, they let me use theirs. The wash done, I loaded it into the tumble drier, which hummed noisily and smelt hot! Nothing revolving, as expected; and it wouldn’t work with no load in either; so it wasn’t overfilled. I now have, rather embarrassingly all my smalls and laundry hanging off radiators all over the Mission. Need’s must!
   The wind’s still from the SE and due to gust to 29 knots overnight, so here I stay for a day or two.
Next stop will hopefully be Amble; back in Northumberland...England.

Arbroath to Eyemouth - 26th - 27th September

Sunday saw me wave farewell to my Dutch friends who have run out of time. They plan on sailing to Lowestoft then motor across if the wind stays from the east to Holland; 48 hours on the go. A great bunch of guys who made the most of every port! I watched the Grand Prix with Paul off the Southerly yacht, Mettlesome, at a quayside pub. Then Anthony, who I met in Fishguard, with his chum Giles, called in on their way to Huntly for some Salmon fishing. A wonderful rest day; some moules and Pizza finishing it off. The moules came back to haunt me yesterday as Ruth and Paul and Mettlesome and I planned to set sail for Eyemouth a rather daunting 56 mile sail across the Firth of Forth with poor visiability, with the wind turning foul to blow as a SE’ly, as the day progressed. It did!
   The North Sea is a troubled place; messy. Not the long rolling predictable swell of the West Coast; as such, it’s very tiring and by the time I reached Eyemouth with a horrendous looking entrance; waves crashing on rocks either side of the harbour entrance; I was dog tired. Once inside though ti's all peace and calm. A sad place though that's seen better days with the demise of fishing. Bless Paul and Ruth, their much larger yacht had made better time and not only helped me in; but had put a pie in their oven for me; so joined them for a fun evening before calling it a day at 10pm, cream crackered.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Arbroath - Day 2 - September 23rd

Arriving yesterday I thought there was rather more water in the boat than I'd experienced before, and long after I'd written up the blog, discovered the bloody water tank had either developed a leak or had burst again. Sponging the last of the water out of all the starboard lockers was a chore before inspecting the tank; angrily finding two holes close together almost immediately. Using Aquaseal a wonderful wadder repair kit, I sealed both holes and left the glue to cure for 12 hours. Reattaching it this morning and watching it fill spotted at least three more leaks; so gave up. A really bad design means that in rough seas creases in the polythene bladder flex to the point a hole develops; and as the space for the tank is not the same shape as the tank so it's impossible not to have creases; and have I tried to smoothe them out! This is the second tank that's burst on the voyage and third I've replaced since buying the boat. I don't intend to replace it at £67 a time. When I get back to Chichester I'll have a stainless steel tank made to fit the space; which is what should have been fitted in the first place.
   It's cold and blustery today and the boat damp from both the rain that blew in during yesterday's sail and the burst tank, so decided yet again to empty the boat's contents out into the cockpit, where it had a chance to dry out.
A curry tonight; was both expensive and not particularly good; I'm getting restless already. I hope the wind drops over night; but doubt it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Stonehaven to Arbroath - 23rd September

An early start as Stentor wanted to reach Eyemouth, an ambitious voyage as the forecast is poor, so my teeth were brushed by 0530; as I was moored against her! After she'd left, with many a 'Bon Voyage' I tied Equinox to some rusty chains and the vertical harbour wall steps and had a bit of a wait for the Harbour Master who arrived at 07:30. Paying my dues, he confirmed Arbroath would be my best bet as the wind is scheduled to gust to 8 or 9 'later'. At least it was from the NE so made the most of it and with tide's help was soon rattling along in calm seas at 6knots. A few miles later the rain turned from drizzle to torrential and with it, the wind rocketed  to F5- F6 and gusting F7! Fortunately, the sea hadn't had a chance to pick up so flew along under jib and heavily reefed main. About 15 miles into the 34 mile voyage, I needed to put the last and final reef in - I've never used it before; but had prepared points to tie in as there are no fixed reefing lines. As I lowered the gaff, after first topping up, I looked up and saw the beads that are attached to the jaws of the gaff and go round the mast to stop it from parting company with it; had come undone! That's another first! I pondered for some minutes how to tackle this problem; eventually turning into wind, dropped the main and struggled to stand up while tieing them back on; in the mounting sea. Finally done, I tied in the  reef points and turned to run the last 18 odd miles to Arbroath. 
   Rain... it just poured! With it visibility dropped to a few hundred yards and the drops so large, they actually hurt! Then I noticed a large bulge forming in the reefed part of the sail above the boom - it was rain water collecting by the bucket load in the furls! Another first! I then had to furl the jib as the wind went more northerly and it was in danger of splitting, as it cracked back, like a pistol shot, when the wind caught it from the wind shadow behind the main. Still flying along at over 6 knots with just a tiny mainsail was rather exhilarating; but the seas were getting very daunting and we started to surf rather dangerously, so decided to gibe and run off a bit, to avoid getting broached. Two more jibes and we made it .... in one piece. Perfect timing too, as I followed a fishing boat into the harbour; which saved me the anguish of arriving at a new port! Out of the wind at last..... Phew!
Arbroath marina is perfect. A guy was waiting to take my lines; handed keys, and all done and dusted in five minutes. The Dutch guys were there ahead of me having seen F9 on their wind display! Much waving and clapping! We'll be here for a day or two, I think.
It took ten minutes to get the worst of the water out of the cabin. The wooden floor flaoting about again on half an inch of rain water. 32 pumps on the bilge pump - a record! What a day..........!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Peterhead to Stonehaven - 21st September

I filled up with fuel at Peterhead before setting off, as today was by all measures going to be a tough one. I'm not sure where I'll be able to get some more fuel in the minor harbours on the schedule, so thought it prudent. I didn't know quite how tough it was going ot be until I poked my nose out of the harbour. Poor old Equinox got thrown all over the place; while avoiding lobster pot risers that the tide had dragged under too! A mile or so out  conditions improved a little so with just Jib and Staysail set to lift her over the swells I made good progress with the helpful tide; but it was rough, uncomfortable and the spray wet! The coastline, with shallower water than I'd experienced for weeks, mainly consists of golden coloured sand dunes, a portion of which, Donald Trump wants to buy, or perhaps has, to develop a huge golf course complex and thousands of homes. Aberdeen hove into view through the murk, the stream of helicopters passing overhead to and from Dyce to the oil rigs coming thick and fast; then with the wind suddenly dropping finally hoisted the main with two reefs; before sailing through a flotilla of rig service vessels moored outside the harbour; and tacking out in 10m water close to the town's waterfront.
   Tacking back out the wind just died leaving me with the grim options of 5 knots of wind a growing tide and both right on the nose together with a cross chop mixed wiith a SE swell offering a horrid gyrating movement; especially without the sails to steady her!
   I finally made to Stonehaven at 6:30 mooring up three abreast to two yachts that had both left Peterhead too!
 Stonehaven is a wonderful place. A sort of Scotland's equivalent to Padstow. The sea front rich with a choice of restuarants, bars and hotels. Starving hungry and tired I made my way to the first one, who produced a fine Tomothy Taylor and fish n'chips! Perfect, I'd say; Perfect!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Whitehills to Peterhead - 19th Septemeber

You have to give it to the Scottish, they know how to make you feel welcome. Whitehills Marina was no exception. The harbour master went out of his way to be helpful. The facilities there are excellent and the tightly packed boats in marina, as snug as a bug in a rug. Topping up the tank with water after a wonderful hot shower, I was off; Peterhead the destination. The wind SSE just made it possible to make progress under sail and with help from the tide, ate up the miles; although Stentor a beautiful Colin Archer designed yacht; heading for Peterhead too, shot past me, like I was standing still. I learnt later they had the Iron Topsail running. They'd been at Whitehills too. The wind picked up and became more easterly as we approached Rattray Head, the next ‘Big Right Turn’ so a tack back into the shore near Fraserburgh seemed sensible as the sea was getting more than a bit lumpy. Coming through the tack, I heard a strange ripping noise from the bow area; thinking it was just the sails catching on the forestay. Once the boat was settled on the new tack and under autohelm, I went forward to investigate; spotting the problem instantly; once I’d stuck my head round the staysail. Three sets of reinforcing had gone around the clew on the jib. The sail under huge tension ran the imminent risk of self destructing. One reinforcing panel's stitches must have gone, overloading the next and then the next, leaving just the one nearest the clew intact. Quickly turning to run with the wind, with the jib out of the worst of the wind behind the mainsail, to take as much pressure as possible off it, I furled it; then sailed under staysail and main only. Slow progress and little reward for the next two hours as the tide turned foul; finally giving in and started the engine. 5 hours of very uncomfortable motoring followed; the wind picking up to 14-16 knots.  
    There’s not much of a race around Rattray Head but the sea certainly picked up and gave us bashing as both wind, sea and tide were against us; and no fun at all with clumps of spray rocketing back and thudding into the canopy making 4 knots is tiring; and it was the same all the way to Peterhead, a welcome respite. There to usher me in a berth were the Dutch crew off Stentor who’d been there for hours - they could  have probably have grown beards waiting!
   I think they felt rather sorry for me and invited me on board their stately home, for roast chicken, no less and served with a delicious fried vegetables, ginger, garlic, wine and rice dish! Two wonderful glasses of a 40 percent proof 6 year old drink called Cosenwyn; put me right instantly – Stentor is skippered by a Doctor who has sailed right around the UK via Belgium, France, the Channel Islands and Ireland and through the Caledonian Canal, being joined by chums - doctors and anaesthetists - that’s who’s on her now. Their fishing tackle was something else, God knows how they caught two mackerel on 6 inch long day-glow rubber baby octopuses – probably the Venturi Effect! (in joke)
   To Robert Janssen, Arno Timmermans, Jan Van de Ven and Bart Rudemaker; here’s to wind in your sails and the sun on your upturned cheeks for the remainder of your voyage; and thank you for a wonderful evening and many laughs.
  A sail maker has been found; the jib ready for collection around midday. Next stop Arbroath; if the wind would come from any direction than the SE! The daunting Moray Firth behind me.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Wick to Whitehills and Isaballe for company - 16th September

A sound nights sleep withourt a gale howling thorugh the rigging left me refreshed and raring to go. A quick cornflake and a chance to say goodbye to Malcolm Bremner; and I was off; with Whitehills marina right across the Moray Firth, next to Buckie, the destination. A 58nm mile run on a broad reach, I thought. When barely out of the Bay, a shout from behind startled me and turrnig was shocked to see Malcolm and two crew on Isabella Fortuna. I simply couldn't believe it and very moved indeed by this extraordinary generous gesture. A treasured memory and the highlight of the voyage so far.  With fog horn blaring they turned and went back after keeping me company for fifteen minutes. I waived until they were out of sight. Quite iincredible!

Here she is under full sail

For those interested in the History Of The Isabella Fortuna
Built by James Weir, Arbroath, the Isabella was launched on the 15th September 1890. With an overall length of 45 feet, 13 feet 9 inches beam and a draught of 6 feet the vessel was intended for line and drift-net fishing. She was powered by two big lug sails, a jib and five oars. For 86 years generations of the same Smith family fished with the vessel from Arbroath.
In 1919 a 15hp Kelvin engine was fitted but by 1928 greater power was needed for the seine-net fishing and a Kelvin K2 44hp engine was installed. This was upgraded in 1932 when a Kelvin K3 66hp engine was fitted and this engine continues to power the boat today - an extraordinary petrol/diesel engine. At that same time the name was changed to Fortuna. When in 1976 the Smith family retired from the sea Hobson Rankin, an enthusiastic restorer, bought the vessel and began a 4-year restoration project. In 1980 the Fortuna became the Isabella Fortuna incorporating once more the original name.
In 1997 the Wick Society bought the Isabella Fortuna from Hobson Rankin and Michael May for £6000.00. Mr Rankin donated his share of the vessel to the Wick Society to assist them in using the vessel to promote the rich heritage of Wick's fishing industry.
Since that date enthusiastic volunteers have been engaged on a continuous programme of renewal and restoration. (A pictorial record of the vessel and the restoration is available from The Wick Society.) Major reconstruction, renewal and overhaul have been necessary to keep the boat seaworthy. The Wick Society acknowledges with gratitude the countless hours given by volunteers and skilled tradesmen in bringing the vessel to life. We also thank local businesses for the generous donations of money and materials that have made the restoration possible.The Isabella Fortuna is normally berthed in Wick Harbour but during the winter she is housed in the old Lifeboat Shed on the South shore of Wick Bay. This enables maintenance to continue throughout the year.
With a voluntary crew the vessel visits ports for festivals and other sea-based events and promotes the aims and purposes of The Wick Society
Peterhead tomorrow around the next big 'right turn'!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Wick - And still the wind blows. - Sept 16th

A degree or two colder today, the wind still gusts to 30 knots and more. Carelessly, during a fine spell, I left the hatch open, while assisting the Harbour Master, by rowing a line across the harbour in the tender, so a yacht that was bought in completely awash by the RNLI, a week or so ago, could be pulled across the harbour and first lifted then transported back to the owner's home. The boat had only just been put into the water after a seven month refit. Sadly it was not fully tested before embarking into a North Sea gale; water coming through an anchor hawse pipe and up through the sink's waste outlet; and probably one or two other places too! A very close call! Water had unsurprisingly got into the alternator, electrics and engine preventing the 66 year old solo sailor from leaving under his own steam. While I was over there lending a hand here and there, to take the mast down, then positioning the yacht, a classic baby Nickolson, on the transporter, a squall left Equinox's insides drenched as far forward as the galley table on which, sat my laptop! Somehow it lives to tell the story, thanks to the boat's heating system drying it out which, I left running for an hour, doing the trick.
   What makes Wick special is that half a dozen locals  - all men of the sea, engineers, fishermen and the like, responded to the call;  willingly helping the owner get things ship shape on the boat and transporter before it set off, despite it blowing a gale along with an accompanying short sharp shower every 15 minutes or so. Where else would that happen, I wonder?
   Some had already taken his soaking kit home, washed and dried it and fed him and generally made his utterly miserable experience bearable, while for a week he sorted out his belongings and equipment, as best he could.
They rally round the needy here in Wick; the whole experience has been rather humbling. Their generous gift of time and expertise was, for Michael, the owner of the boat, a blessing.
  I'm going to be sorry to say good bye to them all.
I'm ashamed to say, I've just finished eating another organic fillet steak donated by Andrew and it, just like yesterday's one, stunningly good. I don't think I've ever tasted better.
  Down to earth tomorrow - beans on toast, probably!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Wick - Keeping my head down - 14th &15th September

We remain at Wick and for the 4th day are being buffeted rudely by gusts; If anything they're harder today with gale force 9 winds forecasted later. There's an autumnal feel to the wind too! Little ventures out of the harbour or marina.
   A couple on a nearby yacht left yesterday hoping to reach Inverness, but were back within 30 minutes saying conditions were very uncomfortable. We joined up in Weatherspoons last night to commiserate; a slight headache this morning makes me think we're rather good at it!
Friday is looking possible but Saturday more so; but wet and miserable.
   A short walk into town this morning found me at Wick's Heritage Centre; a real must visit, if you're ever near. Wick used to have well over a 1000 herring boats here - fishing for the silver darlings. Along with the boats came all the trades needed to support them, the crews, and of course, the fish that were generally salted in barrels or smoked. The museum conveys the rise and fall of this entire infrastructure; once they had been fished to near extinction. At one point over 800 gallons of whiskey was consumed here a week! A fascinating three hours was spent there; before a very mundane trip to the shops and some grit that managed  to get blown in my left eye.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Wick to Wick - Beaten! - 13th September

Andrew Morgan, the owner of 'Mudlark' the Mk1 Crabber arrived at 8am bearing organic sausages and fillet steaks. A very generous gesture. We set off in our respective boats and as soon as we both got into the middle of Wick Bay and close to Proudfoot Rocks it became clear it was going to be a tough ol'day. Beating East and as close to the wind as possible, with just the jib and two reefs in the mainsail, progress was slow and uncomfortably lumpy. Buckie the target. Before I had a chance to straighten up the rig after reefing, I caught my knuckle on the hatch which bleed profusely and as the first aid kit is buried in a forward locker, decided to stay at the helm and just dribble; so didn't tie in the reefing pennants as I'd didn't like the idea of blood on the sails; as it was, the cockpit was liberally sprinkled with spots which I hosed off later. A call on the prearranged Channel 8 from Andrew indicated he was turning back. A chance for a quick wave, before he tacked and was gone.  I carried on a mile or two further and then tacked back; again as close to the wind as possible. Wind and wave took me straight back into Wick Bay, so decided I was not going anywhere South and called it a day! This SE wind is set for a day or two with F8 storms tonight.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Wick - A Rest Day - 12th September

It being Sunday, the F1 circus at Monza and Wick Marina equipped with wifi, made it easy to pronounce this a day of rest! And I was tired yesterdaywhen I arrived here, so need to play catch-up.
   A leisurely shower in the marina facility followed by a walk through a silent river side town to a supermarket, between bouts of rain enabled me to stock up. Milk goes off very quickly at sea, it seems – curdled, despite being kept well chilled! Andrew Morgan, the owner of the Mk1Crabber came for coffee and we’ve agreed the two yachts will set off at 8am tomorrow; he accompanying me for as long as his livestock will allow; he’s an organic beef, sheep and oats farmer, by the way. I think Buckie is my first choice destination; 48 miles away across the Moray Firth. Alternatively I could hug the coast and go for Nairn or Lossiemouth; the weather being the decider; and it looks as though it will be a F5/6 and 7 at times! Breezy; so will make the call once I’m out there; as the Moray Firth and North Sea are new to me; added to which, last week’s storms sent waves over the harbour entrance lighthouse; and its got to be 20ft high, so it can cut up rough here!
 I did enjoy the racing along with scrambled eggs on toast! Odd choice, but It's what I felt like!

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Big Right Turn - Wick - 11 Spetember

After a rather grim meal ashore in Thurso, I spent the evening on Equinox catching up on blogwork and tide tables! The ‘Big Right Turn’ to Wick being the preferred passage.
    Waking early, I double checked the weather and then my late-at-night tidal sums and GPS settings, as a precaution against 5 pints of Guinness getting in the calculator; then just as I was about to radio harbour patrol for permission to leave, than in through the narrow entrance into the tiny 200 metre square middle harbour, came a tanker that was 80 meters long, which squeezed through the entrance with about 3 meters spare. How they managed to swing the behemoth around and moor it, remains a mystery! Bow thrusters and some other wizardry, I assume. What had been crystal clear water was churned into a muddy mix that the seagulls loved! Seabed critters being swept up to the surface in the maelstrom, I’d guess.
    Freed to go, I had a glorious sail past Dunnet Head, picking up speed as the tide built. Sadly from Dunnet onwards the wind died to a mere 7 knots but conversely my speed increased minute by minute, until finailly, we were squeezed between Stroma and Groats; like a pip between two fingers. 10.3knots of tide and 3 knots of boat speed – 13.3 knots!! Quite the most extraordinary experience, as the sea was almost calm except for the swirls and mini whirlpools that spun us 40 degrees this way and that! Stroma an empty island with lots of derelict crofts; their black windows looking like empty eye sockets in human skulls. John o’ Groats flew past, with barely time to take a picture before Duncannby Head was reached - The ‘Big Right Turn!’ Feeling emotional and still trying to take in the significance of this major milestone of the voyage in that, for the first time, I was pointing south, the sea state went from dead calm to being very unpleasant and without the wind in the rig to stabilise things, exceedingly tiring, as Equinox was throw all over the place. Discretion being the better part of pain, I remained sitting and braced; the only sensible option. Slowing to 5 knots it took 30 minutes to get through the race; and as it died, so a NE swell took over and still with no wind an equally uncomfortable proposition. With no other choice, the engine was called for, and reluctantly motored all the way to Wick, some 12 miles away. A rather disappointing way to pass such a milestone! All the same, I’m overjoyed; I’m heading for home.
    Wick harbour is terrific. The Inner harbour a really pleasant surprise. Generously equipped with pontoons and large gaps between the fingers for yachts of any size to moor; and all of it looking brand new; which it pretty well is. I moored 100 meters away from to a Mark ! Cornish Crabber in original condition; which left after I arrived on a fishing trip. A delightful chap owned her, who came over to say hello, before he went – well all Crabber Owners are! I could not help but note, that no sooner had I arrived than a nice breeze picked up; but heavy rain is expected with it!
    As I made Equinox fast, a boat owner came up the pontoon an introduced himself. I hadn’t radioed ahead, as looking at Reeds and another harbour guide; I’d assumed that the marina office was closed. Not one bit of it! Norman Macloud first generously lent me his spare pontoon keys; which he jumped in his car to fetch and was then incredibly helpful with directions etc. He also called the Harbour Master to let him know that I was here. Unprompted kindness is always humbling.
    30 minutes later, with shore power connected and everything ship shape the Harbour Master came and said hello too; with a map of al things that matter to a visitor. Malcolm Bremmer, an interesting man who first kindly offered to waive harbour dues and then arranged for a 25 litre drum of diesel as a contribution! I’m overcome how kind people are here in Wick.
    It’s 7pm, the rain has been and gone, the marina bathed in a wonderful sunset. Jim Bruce has just arrived on my pontoon with the fuel; and helped me top up Equinox’s tank. A fascinating man, who sadly had to leave to meet his wife, who’d just been to see ‘Calendar Girls’; I could have talked to him for hours.
    With a hen in hand – it’s better than a bird by the bush, as I sit in the cockpit taking things in, I can’t help but notice that the harbour wall is lined with immaculate well kept fishing vessels; two from the Isle of Man, who have found Wick women irresistible; so I’m led to believe!. All very different from most fishing ports I’ve been to that look rather tired and down at heel. I’ve also noticed that there isn’t any rubbish floating around; a pristine harbour – a rarity. Even the seagulls wear dinner jackets!
    To all yachtsmen reading this blog; put Wick in your ‘Must Visit’ list; it’s a gem.
I’m eating in tonight. Sausages and Hens! The sausages I bought a week ago and if not eaten tonight will mutiny! I should have eaten then last night and been spared a grim fibrous steak and oil soaked limp onion rings.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Loch Tongue to Scrabster, Thurso - 10th September

Joy of Joys Loch Tongue is stunning, Sticking my head topsides for a first glimpse of my whereabouts was a thrill. In every direction beaches, beautiful hills and some wonderful islands at the sea entrance of the loch keeping all the weather out. The wind played fair again today and before cornflaking was up and away to make best use of the tide. I thought I could make Wick.
Not a chance, as I was to discover!
I made it as far as Thurso, but it was hard work. By 9am the wind was gusting 20Knots and with two reefs in the sea became dreadfully rough. My anchor became dislodged and threatened to crash through the hull, so had to turn and run with the wind, while I put things to right. I then decided to put into a Sandside Bay, right next to Dounreay, the nuclear power place, to have a rest and take stock – it was that rough! When nearly there the wind went for SE to SW within minutes and the going became a lot easier, especially as I'd furled the jib and staysail, while the wind was making its mind up where to blow from! Once underway under double reefed main the wind became stronger and stronger again topping 24+Knots. Wick was now out of the question and I was getting very tired, so changed course for Scrabster a busy harbour adjacent to Thurso.
   Typically, no sooner had I sought refuge, after radioing ahead and with help from the Duty Officer to tie on a harbour wall 20ft above my head, than wind died . Never mind, time for a shower in the deserted yacht club and eat in a harbour side pub.
I'll sleep for England tonight!
 Next stop Wick or beyond, the wind is supposed to drop back tomorrow.

Stornoway - Cape Wrath - Loch Tongue - 9th September

Stornoway harbour at the top of a Spring Tide was not a pretty sight this morning. The fishing Vessels that left as dawn broke, deposited an oily sheen that joined cans, bottles, polystyrene and all manner of rubbish that had accumulated since the last spring tide.  Smelly Too!
A huge day lay ahead – Cape Wrath!
The wind played fair and every aspect of, what I had expected to be traumatic, was easy going. Cape Wrath tame, although the race was exciting and we hit 11 knots SOG in it – 5 being the tide. All the crud that had accumulated on Equinox’s topsides and hull that had gathered in Stornaway, was washed off, by very steep waves which we ploughed through rather than ride - A boat wash! So quickly had we made the passage that I decided to press on to Loch Tongue with a huge tide pushing me; arriving at 21:30 I crept into 6 meters and moored in complete darkness. A rather daunting 14.5 hours sailing.... but I’d sailed 78 miles and terribly pleased to have slain the BIG ONE! A bowl of soup and I fell asleep listening to the news and spilling a whiskey in my lap. A bit of a shock when I woke up at 4:30am freezing cold, damp and still slumped over the table; I thought my bladder had turned into a distillery! Peeing Famous Grouse; now that would be a show stopper!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Cabin Fever - 7th September

Another F7/8 day with gusts funnelling down to even this remote end of the harbour. Not a single fishing Vessel has ventured out the harbour, so feel reasonably confident my decision to stay put is right!

  A silly mistake yesterday with the battery master switch found me with both batteries completely flat; and I don't recommend starting a diesel engine; swinging it by hand. After numerous attempts, with sweat beading on my forehead, the engine finally rattled into high speed life..... BUT, with the starting handle remaining firmly stuck on it's cam, spinning like a scythe. Had it come off.... well it's probably best not to dwell on it! More to the point, I had to climb right over the top of the engine to get out of the cabin and into the cockpit to turn the engine off, as the key and Fuel cut off Toggle are located at the aft end of the cockpit. Leaping like someone possessed, I made it out of the cabin, but then realised I would be defeating the object by turning the engine off; so left it running for a couple of minutes at low revs to warm it up and put enough oomph into the batteries, to start the engine conventionally.
   Success! The engine is purring away in the background and all is well again with the world!
I'm getting or, have got, Cabin fever and really hope tomorrow's weather improves. But sadly, I think Thursday looks safer.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Stornoway.... still - September 6th

Everything closes here on Sunday including Tesco, except bizarrely for the filling station, that I got the diesel from – the one that sells guns and groceries – the shelves emptying quickly with a lengthy queue forming for the one till staffed. Earlier in the day I’d arranged to meet Edward Sharples at Tesco, so finding it empty, went to the garage. The queue too long and off-putting to bother with a shop.
  Edward had invited me to dinner at the most incredible Garynahine lodge - www.garynahine.com/index.htm together with his sister Sarah Sharples, they and a like-minded group of friends had taken for a week to fish for salmon on the entire 4 miles of one of the shortest salmon rivers in Scotland – The Blackwater. The river holds sea trout and wild brown trout too. The party of eleven have two afternoons’s ‘walked up’ Grouse and Snipe shooting and they can take a rifle to a deer too; if they choose. The vast lodge was beautifully furnished could sleep 24 and seemed to be like a Tardis, seemingly with rooms for everything! The estate, although very remote, is only 30 minutes drive on empty roads from Stornoway. Not a soul could see in any direction – just hills, lochs and the beautiful river lost in a complete wilderness.
   A fabulously cooked roast dinner, good craic and a staggering quantity of wine, ice cold sloe gin and beer was consumed, while playing pool and singing around the piano. The party ending around 4am this morning. And how the young can party! I was the oldest there by30+ years and just about holding my own... but only just!
  Conrflaked by 9am I accompanied Sarah and Edward to Beat 1 on the river – close to the lodge and watched Sarah catch her first ever fish on a fly – a beautiful half pound brown trout having lost two more minutes earlier; one of which may have been a small salmon or perhaps a sea trout. What ever it was, it followed her fly before turning; so quickly covering it again, had it on for a few brief seconds, before it took off!
   What an extraordinary first hour’s fishing in a pool less than 500 yards from the tidal Loch the river flows into. A little too bright perhaps and a non compliant easterly gale, that reputedly means don’t bother, didn’t seem to be hampering matters one little bit. It looks good for the rest of the week; especially if they have some rain, as the river is low!
   Sadly it’s not looking good for me...It could be Wednesday before I can get away. I’m back on the boat having stocked up with provisions and unashamedly looking forward to an early night.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Stornaway - Sept 4th

I woke up late and went straight back to sleep again while listening to the 9am news feeling dreadful. I think I became very dehydrated yesterday and didn’t drink enough before going to bed; and what I did consume, was beer! Around 10am and finally kicking my way out of my sleeping bag, wandered along the harbour wall, noticing that the leaves on the trees in the nearby castle grounds both looked autumnal and were dropping steadily in time with each breath of wind. Wash bag, towel and laundry in hand, I’m off to a deserted community centre to have the most powerful shower of the voyage. My head hurting from the pressure and not helped by a bit of carelessly acquired sunburn yesterday – It’s getting thin up there! Refreshed with all my laundry done in the biggest washing machine and drier I’ve ever seen; so big that it took my double sleeping bag and three weeks washing in one load! Leaving with a smile on my face, as I read the instructions on the drier. ‘No shoes, trainers, boots, balls or pets’. So left both out!

  Back on board a full Ulster Fry seemed appropriate and just as I was finishing the washing up; with fuel on my mind, I spotted a man walking along the harbour wall with a jerry can. So unashamedly asked him if he was fetching fuel to which he replied yes, then whether I could join him, as both my spares were empty. Jumping into his car, we were there and back within ten minutes. It saved me a long, awkward and tiring walk with two 25 litre containers; the garage being the best part of a mile away. The first garage I’ve been to with chained up rifles and guns for sale in a rack behind the till! I had earlier, while breakfast fried, considered a taxi having googled a local firm’s number on my PDA; but ringing them thought the £7 quoted more than a bit rich.
   As we drove through town, I could not help but notice two huge white cruise ships had arrived which goes some way to explain why the town seems to be heaving. One moored on the main quay the other at anchor just outside, with bright orange launches going too and fro! Why here? Perhaps it’s Harris Tweed from the island?
  That’s it. All my jobs are done, including giving the engine the once over and the tender which, I think may have gone down a tad, a pump of fresh Hebridean air and a closer look at the three towing eyes. Sadly they have suffered a bit from yesterday’s trauma, but should just about last until I get home.
  By 4pm the sky has clouded over and there’s a chill to the wind that’s suddenly got up. Two grey seals are following each fishing boat that comes in and greedily get their raised noses within inches of their sterns and props. And there was me thinking Rupert in Port Ellen was unique!
   Later on a few beers in O’Neil’s before walking a few yards to an almost empty Chinese restaurant. Huge dishes, which I could see being cooked from raw ingredients through a glass kitchen door were both well cooked, spicy and delicious. I felt like treating myself as I’ve become so bored with my own cooking, especially the rather dull and monotonous stew eaten for the last three nights! It’s a bit limiting having only two rings and a grill. I do miss our Aga, but having one on board would take a knot or two off and give us a bit of a list!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Sky to Stornoway - Outer Hebrides - 3rd September

A disrupted night’s sleep made Talisker Bay one to forget. For reasons I cannot fathom, the anchor refused to bite. I laid out 4 times depth of water in chain, but still it kept dragging, the alarm waking me every couple of hours, telling me I had moved 20 meters. The steady breeze would have blown me straight out of the bay and out in to the ocean with no risk to life or limb for hours, if not days; but it’s not, by a long chalk, an ideal scenario for a good night’s sleep! The incoming swell may have been a contributory factor, building up from nowhere around 2am and eventually the reason to give up at 4:30 having motored to a different spot three times, to try again. Coarse Sand ....maybe - the anchor leaving a deep furrow on the seabed, as it skated along the surface? I’ll never know, as I gave up, taking advantage of a surprisingly warm and enthusiastic breeze to set sail in the dark, and worryingly, on an empty stomach to Stornoway, on Lewis – a 55 mile journey, as the crow barks; but 76 by boat!
   I do enjoy night sailing and today's sail was no different. Indeed watching the the sun come up and feel its warmth on your back while helming is one of life's great pleasures. Add a freshly brewed steaming hot cup of tea and breathtaking views all around and you have to pinch yourself and ask whether life can get any better?
 Perfect, that is, until, still on a broad reach I rounded the headland called Neist Point, one of many on Sky, where, I think, a Katabatic wind coming off the hills, nearly broached me. Suddenly, over seconds building to 28 knots! So strong was it that it blew my tender off the top of a wave overturning it and at the same time, pulled the foresail sheets off their winches. The inflatable tender dug in and acted like a sea anchor and quite why it didn't rip all the towing eyes off, I’ll never know. I’ve never experienced anything like it; but lesson learnt, keep away from headlands! It took twenty minutes to untie the four sheets which had shaken themselves into a ‘right bugger’s muddle’ (A nautical term’) right and empty the tender and generally regain my composure. In a right sweat after all this pre-breakfast effort and again sailing sweetly on a reach in an empty sea in a delicious breeze with the sun beating down, stripped, cooled down, coffeed and cornflaked.
   As happened yesterday, the wind died around 11am and I had to motorsail for hours until a mile south of the Shiant Islands, off Lewis when, just as it did yesterday, it dutifully returned to flush me on my way to Stornoway; arriving just before 7pm. A long day indeed! Although seals, dolphins and sea birds kept me company as did the stunning coastline. Calling up the Harbour Master earlier, I had been advised to call on Ch12 when close. Clear instructions were given, when I did, and I was met on the hammerhead by the Harbour Controller in a high visibility jacket who took my lines and made me welcome. He then took me in his car for a quick ride around Stornoway, showing me shops, banks, his office and all the stuff you might need after being at sea and arriving in a strange port. Perfect and thank you. In addition he left me with a welcome pack, with super map and local guide together with credit card entry key and a spare, just in case, all in a folder. How different to the Isle of Man! I must have looked a sight, unwashed and unshaven, windblown and burnt. But here I am about as far north as you can go in the Outer Hebrides.... I need to say it again, Outer Hebrides! I find it hard to believe I’m here. So many dragons’ slayed, so many doubts, fears and misgivings cast aside. I think I should be feeling rather proud of myself, but I’m not really thinking straight. The Caledonian Canal shortcut option long forgotten. When was that choice made? Was it yesterday? The day before? I’ve no idea it’s all become a beautiful blur of raw nature at it’s unspoilt best. I feel very privileged and thank you God for sparing me from Cancer and for giving me the chance to experience this incredible journey.
   Its 9pm the last of the stew is heating up on the stove, the few remaining hens will keep it company. I will hardly taste it, just too tired to care. I need the calories and then I need sleep badly.

I’ll leave washing and cleaning up for tomorrow..........the energy to just brush my teeth.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Tobermory to Talisker Bay - Isle of Skye - 2nd September

Tobermory looks splendid in the early dawn. Eating breakfast standing up in the cockpit while marvelling at the waterfront houses and shops, boldly painted in a plethora of eclectic colours. A film set!
   With the topsail hoisted, I motored gently out of the bay. Entranced, yet again, by a small otter that made a brief appearance as did a pod of porpoises within minutes of turning into the Sound of Mull; the tide then whisking me towards the Hebridean Sea, where it joins the Sound. A chilly early morning northerly breeze combined with briskly sailing into it's eye, at 7 knots, made the decision to wrap up well, wise! It is September after all...
   What's the point in Ardnurmurchan? The Point is mentioned every morning on the weather forecast and marks both a change to Stornoway Coastguard from Clyde Coastguard and a different weather, more often than not, for all that's north of it. And dammit, no sooner had I taken a photo of the lighthouse at THE point, than the glorious wind died, as though ordered! But,enthused by my progress so far, as I was now nearly half way to Mallaig, my original destination; and it being just after 11am, decided that it was no longer ambitious enough, so calling up Stornoway Coastguard, after studying the charts, changed my passage plan to go to Talisker Bay on Skye. This route took me via the Isle of Muck, Eigg and Rhum and up the West coast of Skye. An unexpected bonus as my Godfather, once the Laird of Eigg, spoke of it fondly and he was a man I admired beyond most. A pleasure to sail past and to pay my respects.
Indeed,as if he had commanded it, I could see a wind induced ripple on the surface ahead and just as we closed on Muck, a close neighbour to Eigg, it returned, with spades and a glorious sail between the islands, across to the Isle of Soay and then along the precipitous coast of Skye was revelled in. More otters, dolphins, seals and gannets diving from incredible heights were spied and just two other yachts; again heading in the opposite direction! The seas, other than the odd fishing boats, empty!
   Having just tucked into some more of my stew, I can reflect on the last few days sailing and feel we’re making the best use of this fabulous spell of fine weather. If it continues tomorrow, it’s across The Little Minch to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis on the Outer Hebrides, after which, it’s across the North Minch to Kinlochbervie and then........ Cape Wrath!