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 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!

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Tobermory - Mull - 1st September

A decision to make a very early start to both reach Tobermory before it gets too dark and to get as far away as I can from the tempting entrance to the Caledonian Canal was made over a cup of Ovaltine late last night after hearing the weather forecast!
  You’ve guessed it, Cape Wrath it is! So sneaking out of the bay at 6:45 I had a challenging weave between islands most of which, I’ve never heard of; along with isolated shallow hazards for most of the day before reaching the far end of the Sound of Mull. Again, even though the weather was not too good there were plenty of yachts out and about, mostly motoring; just as they were yesterday and the bulk of them were heading south and going flat out too! Is fuel free up here?
  Between Scarba and Luing another sea otter made an appearance, about 150 yards away, but well within binocular range. This one was about a mile from the nearest land - he must have a Gold ASA Duke of Edinburgh’s swimming badge, stitched on his trunks, by his mum. The sea was about 30 meters deep and on reappearing after a prolonged dive that took well over a minute, hardly took a breath before starting to chew on what looked like a live lamprey to me; with a look on his face as if he was chewing a lemon made of biltong! Just like yesterday - though not on his belly this time. I hate Lampreys. God must have had a hangover the day he made lampreys, wasps and slugs! All utterly pointless, as indeed are midges; a number of which bit me last night around my ears. How they itch! Here's why....A few years back, I turned on my torch to change a fly while night fishing for Sea Trout on the River Taw and there was a lamprey not five feet from me in the eddy created by my wadders! Who needs laxatives! I'll have bad dreams again tonight, having jogged my memory of this awful event .
   So here I am in Tobermory, moored on a visitors buoy with a waterfall pouring into the bay not 200 yards from me and the famous multi coloured houses on the sea front to feast on, with my second hen in hand! The time is 19:45 and all is good with the world, although I’ve sadly had to run the engine for over half of the day, as the wind was sulking! Still 32 miles covered and much of it north.
   Pretty much the same weather is forecasted tomorrow with Mallaig the target; round about the same distance to cover as today. Cape Wrath is getting closer!