Thursday, 31 July 2014

Video of sailing around Bass Rock yesterday

Flush with our triumph from yesterday's sailing from Port Edgar, Edinburgh to the picturesque harbour of Eyemouth, the crew of the good ship Alexandria thought the World needed to see proof of their exploits, so there is a link to a video I have just posted.

The conditions were reasonably challenging with a strong following sea which had a marked swell. The boat loves to surf, although this demands extra vigilance from the helmsman (Mark W who performed magnificently), especially when combined with strong winds which started at around 20 knots and at their peak exceeded 30 with one gust of 35 knots. Punchy stuff. We started under full gennaker,  which is the very large sail, and reefed it at 27 knots apparent and then reefed the main sail at 29 knots. Both sails had been eased and centred respectively beforehand, so it was not as reckless as it might appear. Nonetheless, the boat was under a lot of load as were its crew, and both performed amazingly. We were certainly attentive to swell, wind, surfing and gusts, but it was great fun. We were the only boat out the whole day, often travelling at around 9 or 10 knots through the water, and for a brief period recorded 12 knots. For those of you who don't understand the speed, think of a fast car and add a zero to our speed, so the image of 100 or 120 mph on a roadof changing   terrain should spring to mind. Even when we reefed both sails, we were still pushing along at nearly 8knots with no tide under us to speak of. 

The entrance into Eyemouth is quite challenging with a narrow set of leading daymarks which become clear at the last moment, and one has to sail down the line, missing a very close reef, and into a canyon created by the two vast harbour walls. We were, as we work the tides, at low water. Then, into the inner harbour after permission to enter. A very pretty harbour indeed.

I was struck as always with how friendly people were, even when firmly acquainting me with the unfairness of sundry Scottish military defeats. Clearly ahead of the referendum, their minds are filled with the inequities of the fourteenth century, rather than the future powers of Scotland. My thoughts were rather more prosaic and were connected with getting AC power to the boat! 

So, bass rock is (according to Wikipedia):

 "a steep-sided volcanic rock, 107 metres (351 ft) at its highest point, and is home to a large colony of gannets. The rock is currently uninhabited, but historically has been settled by an early Christian hermit, and later was the site of an important castle, which was, after the Commonwealth, used as a prison. The island was in the ownership of the Lauder family for almost six centuries, and now belongs to Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple. The Bass Rock Lighthouse was constructed on the rock in 1902, and the remains of a chapel are located there." 

It's also huge, dramatic and awe inspiring and there is a vast colony of gannets circling around and plunging and dive bombing the fish below. 

And so, Matthew, Mark W and I are off to have lunch at anchor in Lindisfarne this morning about four hours down the coast, then onto Amble where they leave and where Ian and Jonty are welcomed aboard.

PS. We have just past Berwick and hence the administrative border and are now back in England. The photo shows Mark W pointing the way, and Matthew saluting as our Scottish saltire is taken down.

More photos. Edinburgh to Eyemouth, Scotland

Bass Rock with its vast population of sea birds

St Abbs head where, counterintuitively, if one passes close inshore, one is spared the tidal maelstrom

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Edinburgh to Eyemouth, Scotland

This blog entry is composed from the beautiful harbour of Eyemouth which has everything one could possibly want. Quaint shops, photogenic harbour, working fishing boats that don't spill diesel all over you, mains electricity, and a performing seal in the harbour that begs for fish. Very cool, except for no phone signal at all and no wifi. In writing this blog I feel a little like an Arctic explorer who writes his message but does not know if it will get through.

So, here goes. 

Today was a fantastic day. We left Port Edgar near Edinburgh after a very swelly night where I was concerned that we might sustain pontoon damage, but in the event no damage was sustained following the deployment if a few inelegant but effective warps. We departed at 0800, passing under the Forth bridge with its 5 million rivets holding it together, (photo of Matthew and Mark attached) as planned and immediately took advantage of the tide with us and the fresh WSW wind behind us. We sailed the entire day, a short one at 52nm, and passed out of the Forth earlier than expected as our speed increased, as did the wind. By the time we were out of the Forth, we had a sustained 27 knot wind and reefed the full gennaker, then reefed the main sail. Alexandria loves to surf and by the time we reached Bass rock with its huge population of sea birds, we were surfing at around 12 knots, before a rather swelly wave pattern. Wind gusts if up to 34 knots made for a focused sail!

We reached Eyemouth at 1500, which was very good going indeed, and were directed to moor against an old and beautiful Dutch yacht called 'Swaen' Nice people on board who did not seem overly concerned with us rafting up against them for the night. A short period of congratulation on our passage and a glass of something chilled, and we then ate in a super restaurant in Eyemouth.

Tomorrow we intend to travel southward to Lindisfarne, which is just over the border in England, then anchor, and afterwards continue onto Amble where Ian and Jonty arrive to meet us, and sadly Matthew and Mark W depart early the next morning. 

We are all rather tired as the day has been very full on, though very enjoyable.

I hope the blog gets through.

Edinburgh, Forth bridge

If you recall, we had wanted to spend an extra day diverting to the Forth bridge, Edinburgh. We left at 060o after the Arbroath Marina staff had opened the lock gates specially for us rather than delaying us until their scheduled 1400 lock out. Mark W and I dutifully slipped at 0700, dodged the creel pots scattered across the entrance, then we had a delicious sail with the the genoa reefed in a 25 knot wind. We sped along and forgot the windless motoring done so recently. We averaged 7 knots SOG for around three hours while the wind rose and blew about 40 degrees off the nose.

But then, as we rounded Fife ness to enter the Forth we were forced to motor into the light headwind. However, what we did not know at that time was the amount of time spent  motoring in a benign sea, about half an hour, compared with the horrible remainder of today's passage. We eventually spent about five hours motoring up the Forth to go under the famous Forth bridge. It is absolutely vast. Photo attached. 
The  bridge was exceptional, and worth the time and considerable discomfort. 

Matthew has joined us which makes me very happy. Having arrived at Port Edgar after a five hour thrashing, we were shaken not stirred, and Matthew arrived a short while later. We ate locally at a small bistro in the very pretty town which had an amazing view of the bridge,  then returned to the boat.

Tomorrow, we intend to leave from Port Edgar to Eyemouth, only about 60 nm.,  and hope that the wind behind us and abeam of us will be as kind to us, as the cold 30 knots headwind was challenging today. 

Arbroath to Port Edgar edinburgh

Two witty and erudite informative posts, crafted in the small hours are missing. Vaporised into the ether. Has anyone got them?

We are at the Forth bridge . One photo attached. Deeply unpleasant passage here, 25 knots, on the nose, large waves down the whole of the Forth into Edinburgh, so five hours of crashing  and thrashing around.

Today, we are off to Eyemouth and have been joined by Matthew who arrived fresh as a daisy yesterday evening while Mark W and I looked no doubt past our sell by date! I am hopeful that with wind and tide behind us, we should have the opposite of yesterday's horrible slog, although we did have three hours of quite fast sailing close on the fresh wind as we came round the coast from Arbroath where we had stayed to Fifeness lighthouse.

So, let's try this blog entry. Is there anybody out there...?

Monday, 28 July 2014

And now some messages for our friends abroad...

WSH INR 2.1. All well. Thank you.

Ian, please see my text re AMBLE.

Jonty, please see my text re joining. 

Arbroath, and some new changes to the schedule, to Edinburgh.

Mark W and I slipped at 0700 this morning from Peterhead, and went out to sea. Not a breath of wind. The sails were all rigged, nothing, we changed course when it made a tremulous appearance (bang on the nose, of course) but it went away again. Nothing. We fiddled, exhorted, indulged, aspired and perspired, but no, the wind did not want to come out to play. So, as we had a defined schedule to make the Arbroath locking in time at HW plus or minus 3 hours, we motored, and enjoyed the strong springs (today) current which took us towards Arbroath. Fun, but not sailing. Even if we did have our sail up trying to convince others that we were in fact doing so! But there was no one else, as they were not sailing either. In fact, one of the notable observations of sailing beyond the South coast, is that there are so few yachts around. I understand that a circumnavigation will take you into some of the more worrisome places which will deter the majority, but I am still surprised how almost every day the number of yachts we see add up to a very few indeed. Mark W saw his first pair of dolphins...indeed they might have been a pair of small whales given their size. 

So, we arrived at Arbroath which has a very unfriendly approach, quite in contrast to its friendly staff. Firstly, the entrance is difficult to see from afar, secondly, it is protected by around fifty (yes, 50), creel pots strewn across the approaches to the harbour so that getting through them is a major accomplishment in itself requiring binoculars, many dodges, major concentration and multiple cups of tea. Thirdly, when one gains permission to enter the harbour approach, it is a narrow one where predatory rocks and reefs are waiting to snare those whom the creel pots have not yet got. Then comes the tight 90 degree turn around a blind corner, and then just for good measure another. Then, just when you think it must be over, a third one, this time sufficiently visible that the temptation is to cut the corner...right over the reef which guards the entrance to the inner harbour. When, we were in, I was aware that what felt like the entire town had assembled to see us come in. There were people in deck chairs, people sitting on the harbour walls, people stopping their cars to look. Not I suspect with any thought of relief that a stranger's boat had safely triumphed over the obstacles, but it crossed my mind that it was with a ghoulish sense of excitement, waiting for the next catastrophe! Anyway, more friendly people, more enthusiastic admirers for the boat which excites attention and compliments wherever we go, and another friendly harbourmaster ready to take our lines, if needed.

As soon as we arrived, a very efficient exchange of information occurred relating to keys, laundry, places to eat etc., and the time of the next lock out TOMORROW AFTERNOON!!! No, I said with stubborn logic, we needed to lock out tomorrow morning at high water plus three hours ie 0800 as indicated, as we had places to go, people to see. If we would not be able to leave in the morning, we needed to exit the harbour immediately and keep sailing. Through the night to our certain doom. Probably stuck on a lobster pot. A moment of quiet reflection occurred concluding with the harbourmaster agreeing to open the gates specially for us at 0700 so we could continue our progress. Thank you, so much.

So, what is the big excitement? Well, I thought today that we needed to spend another of the days I had banked as a provision for bad weather. So the revised schedule, is that we will leave Arbroath tomorrow (at 0700, thank you again) and sail down to Edinburgh so that we can pass under the Forth bridge. Alexandria raised Tower Bridge in London last year, to celebrate her first birthday, so I thought it would be fun to do so while in Scottish waters. Although without the traffic chaos and congestion that openingTower bridge causes.

We have a berth tomorrow night at Port Edgar where we will be joined by Matthew, to which I am looking forward, then the three of us will move onto to Eyemouth, where we have a berth in another difficult harbour. Then on to Lindisfarne and Holy island, just to please Matthew, and on to Amble assuming they can fit us in.

Lots of exciting places  to stimulate us over the next few days. 

In the meantime, here is Mark, elegantly clad in this season's latest offering, but without his usual stylish Panama hat.

Fraserburgh to Peterhead

This post replaces one lost last night when I fell asleep over it, so must have deleted it!

In brief,  Vincent and Leslie, who had been a long time on the boat left by taxi for Aberdeen airport at 0800 and their luggage was hauled out the side of Fraserburgh's very dirty quayside where we had spent the night in a 'hanging' mooring against the wall. I shall miss their company, friendship, expertise and humour.

I was then on my own, so did a variety of jobs, and went to see the very friendly Fraserburgh harbourmaster to pay my £10. Fraserburgh is a working fishing port, so inevitably is less well scrubbed than say Lymington, but it was a safe refuge for which we were very thankful.

I then slipped, with great care as I was solo, from my mooring and headed out to see at 1200, caught the strong tide past Rattray head lighthouse and thence to Peterhead, doing around 8knots. There were a lot of shipping movements at Peterhead, and I had to wait for permission to enter and then arrive at the marina, where I was met by the harbourmaster, again very friendly, who took my lines. Alexandria is a large boat to handle on my own, so I was thankful. Then, having learned that there would be no fuel tomorrow, I slipped again and manoeuvred over to the fuel pontoon and back to my berth again, all solo and this time without any help with lines. Preparation is the real key to solo docking large boats in tight marinas, and it was quite rewarding to do it without crushing anyone else!

I was very happy to meet Mark W who arrived at 1900 and who will be with me for the next few days, and we sought out somewhere to eat in Peterhead, and ended up at Wetherspoons. The meal filled a gap, but we had a very enjoyable evening.
Today, refuelled, re watered, re crewed and re energised, we are off to Arbroath which us 65 nm down the coast in our new direction...South. ETA 1900, before access is prevented HW+\- 3 hours.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Orkney to Fraserburgh via the Pentland Firth in thick fog

What a day! Today was always going to be a long one, but it has been especially tiring even so. We left Stromness marina this morning at 0600, as planned , but in thick fog, as feared. We navigated on radar and fog watch. While the automatic fog horn was blasting out its warning, which was cold, tiring and intense. I had hoped we would escape the fog when we entered the Pentland Firth tidal race, but expected we would not. We did not, and we were duly enveloped by the amazing tides at exactly the right time as planned. However, I took the island route which required tighter navigation but meant we were in less danger of being mown down by a big ship if I had elected to go through Scapa a Flow. There is much less tidal data around for this route and I was surprised just how powerful the race was. We were mostly travelling at around 10 knots SOG, and at one point I recorded 12.4 knots, ie 6 knots of tide! Photo attached. 

Travelling in fog is always tense, notwithstanding good chart plotters, radar and AIS. However, going through one of the most famous tidal races in the world, in fog and at 12 knots is a unique experience. We were duly disgorged, still in fog, and we rounded the Scottich mainland coast and headed South for the first time in the circumnavigation. We had intended to sail all the way across the Moray Firth which is a 60 mile passage of open sea, and call in at Peterhead late this evening. However, the wind from the South was strong at around 20 to 28 knots and was whipping up the South going tide into large waves. Although the fog had gone, the effect of strong winds on the nose, completely open sea, and wind over tide large waves, all meant that it was a very tiring day. The boat was fine, our nerves were not! 

Although I had intended to go to Peterhead, I was very concerned that the strong wind would whip up the dangerous over falls off Ratray Head through which we needed to pass. In addition, because we had sped through the Pentland a Firth faster than expected and we were no longer stopping at Wick, we would be arriving too early, just in time to be fed into the overfills, which was not an attractive proposition.

Accordingly, I called Fraserburgh on the VHF and asked to come in for the night into their harbour. The fishing port is a working port and so inevitably not as well scrubbed as a marina might be, but the people are very friendly and helpful...and we took advantage of a stop three to five hours earlier than had we continued to Peterhead. We are on a 'hanging mooring' attached to the quayside, among the trawlers and spilt disel fuel in the water. But we are thankful to the port for the refuge they gave us and one other, and for the night's sleep it allows.

Tomorrow, both Vincent and Leslie will leave me and I shall be alone until Mark W arrives around 1800. Having said goodbye to Vincent and Mark W, I intend to take some much needed sleep tomorrow, get provisions and refuel, then work out if I can safely move the boat on my own to Peterhead and meet Mark W there.

Watch this space...

Friday, 25 July 2014

Tomorrow. Orkney to Peterhead.

A quick update for tomorrow, 26th July. 

A change in crew capacity necessitates some changes. Vincent, Leslie and I will depart the Orkneys tomorrow 0600, subject to fog, and pass through the Pentland Firth tidal race at an optimal time, then pass Wick where we were intending to stay. However, we shall push on into the night to Peterhead, arriving at Peterhead Marina all being well at around 2300 26jul14, a 17 hour crossing of the Moray Firth. This will allow Leslie to leave from Peterhead on schedule and Vincent to leave a day early, both leaving the boat at 0800 Sunday, 27jul14. I will not continue alone, rather, I shall rest and await the arrival of Mark W who will join me at Peterhead marina on Sunday afternoon.

The big risk tomorrow will be fog patches, turning into fog banks. Although we have radar, AIS etc, we may need to delay our departure from the Orkneys by up to three hours, beyond which our tidal gate on the Pentalnd Furth will have closed and we will divert to Wick. Peterhead are expecting us up to 0300 a.m. Sunday. Wick are a default and are expecting us up to 1800 tomorrow. Let's hope for fog patches rather than fog banks.

Today we had a day of R&R, and travelled to see Scara Brae the remains of a 4500 year old Neolithic village, older than the pyramids of Giza, and the nearby manor house, both of which were fascinating. Highly recommended. Then back to the boat to do passage planning, admin etc., and a very good meal at the Stromness hotel. It is Stromness week where the locals let there hair down and have fun. Our taxi driver was very enthusiastic at the prospects of three legged racing men bedecked in orange and pink  ballerina outfits. We declined to create more excitement by entering the event, representing England.

I am hugely grateful to both Vincent and Leslie for the massive investment they have made in this circumnavigation, as both of them will have been on board for over 10 days, a massive and generous commitment of expertise and friendship, especially given their extensive workloads and commitments. Thank you. 

Scrabster to Stromness, Orkney Islands, northernmost part of ourcircumnavigation

Well, we made it!

Yesterday we arrived in the Orkney Islands after an exceptional day's sailing. The Orkneys are the northernmost part of our circumnavigation of Britain and retain their own distinct character. Courtesy and charm being two of them. Yesterday, we had warm weather and were sailing in shorts for part of the day which we have not been able to do very often. We had  20 to 25 knots of wind sometimes close hauled at around 35 to 40 degrees off the bow, and sailed fast, often around 7 knots through the water, notwithstanding that the sea state was slight to moderate at times. We were extremely careful to get out tidal planning right and cross check it repeatedly as we crossed the Pentland Firth, and it went pretty much to plan. The tide was with us yesterday leaving Scrabster at 1400 and took us West then deposited us at the mouth of the Hoy Sound on schedule at 1745,  and we mostly covered the last part at around 8 knots SOG. Then into the Race and we were sucked in with water speed at around 7 knots, plus 4 knots (neaps plus 3 days) of tide. SOG was 11.2 knots, and we were careful to keep our speed down as much as possible given the tricky navigation. Then, a quick handbrake turn into the marina and we popped out from the Race and decelerated from 11 to 7 knots in about 30 seconds! Great fun!

You can watch a short video of sailing in the spectacular Orkneys by clicking here

Stromness lies in a lower lying part of one of the 74 mostly small Orkney Islands and seems only visited by the more adventurous, which is a pity. Fantastic high red stained cliffs, deep blue seas, birds, seals, ferries and trawlers all make an interesting and exciting approach...and that's without the added excitement of the Pentland Firth.

We are safely berthed in Stromness marina and had a very good meal yesterday in a completely full French restaurant where Vincent blagged his, then our, way in. Good man!

We are ahead of schedule, and have decided today to spend a day extra here in Orkney. Scapa Flow and a Neolithic village being an obvious draw.

We are seriously North at very nearly 59 degrees latitude, and on much the same latitude as Helsinki and Stockholm, and a world away from London. I am slightly shocked at how far we have come and realise that our passages from tomorrow onwards will all be South, but we still have a long way to go.
We have travelled 1355 miles and the chart below shows where we have so far been, with the red triangle at the top proving that we are actually here in the Orkneys, not in a pub somewhere in Salcombe. We have around 600 miles to go before our adventure ends.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from yesterday.

Vincent, eating his ration of fruit to prevent scurvy. More grand scenery in the background.

Les, looking masterful at the helm as he steers us into the Sound of Hoy, Mozart, Palestrina and Beethoven have all been playing today... and recordings of Radley choir hymns.

The Old Man of Hoy is one of the tallest rock stacks in the world at 450 feet high and was climbed about 40 years ago, live on BBC TV.

The striking scenery of the Orkney Approaches with the Old Man of Hoy and the ferry quite close as we sail by.

Life on board - from David

This is David. 

I was going from Mediterranean sailing to join up with Martin in Ireland. In the bag went oilskins, boots, gloves and warm socks. Vincent was already waiting on board and had stocked up. I was delighted to see that we were in no danger of running out of important supplies such as cakes, biscuits and chocolate. 

Alexandria is sister ship to my own catamaran so I had enormous confidence in her abilities and was looking forward to returning to the Western Isles. Each of us had our own cabin and there was plenty of storage space and room to stretch out. The forecast was good and on the first day we set out to make the crossing from Ireland to Scotland. We were fortunate with the weather. If I was really picky a bit more wind from the right direction might have been good. However motoring in calm seas and fine weather is nothing to complain about. Martin drove us and the boat on with little rest but we made fantastic progress in the 5 days I was on board. The Scottish Islands are stunning and in good weather must easily be among the best sailing areas in the world. Not only is the scenery fantastic but there are plenty of anchorages and harbours and very few other boats. There are wonderful walks once on shore and every stop had somewhere where we could get a good meal. The only disappointment was the white bread and grated cheese for lunch on Canna, complimented by my first, and probably last, can of Irn Bru. We did meet the local rabbit catcher although he came from Hampshire, and we learned little about the 18 residents of the island as the man running the cafe said he didn’t get involved. It must be a lonely life. Elsewhere the food was substantial with little choice for anyone following a calorie controlled diet. When I did order a salad it came loaded with salad dressing and the waitress seemed surprised that I didn’t want a side order of chips. 

It was a pleasure being on the boat with Martin and Vincent. We certainly covered a wide range of topics in our conversations. And many thanks to Martin for doing all the hard work with navigating and planning. I will keep following the blog and Martin and all the crew a safe and satisfying journey. Good luck and best wishes


The truth about life as Scurvy Crew

This is Vincent. 

We woke this morning in the small harbour of Scrabster.  Little did I know then of the daunting task ahead.  I joined Martin on board exactly eight days ago.  We have faced torrential drizzle, storm force sunshine, killer dolphin pods and squadrons of murderous puffins yet nothing had prepared me for being asked to write a guest blog.

Where to start? Do I tell you the truth about life as scurvy crew under Captain Soons? Do you want to know about the bonds of friendship forged with others Shanghai'd somewhere along the Scottish coast?  Or do you want to hear recommendations as to the places, too numerous to tell, where we have received such warm welcome and hospitality along the way?

The highlight of today must be that for the vast majority of the journey we were under sail.  The excitement could be tasted.  There is a totally different feeling when the engines go off and you stay at 6 or 7 knots just because the wind is in the sails.  You don't bounce around less but the bounce seems somehow to reflect nature rather than to be in competition with it.  It is not quiet but it is quieter and the noise is a whoosh of water more than a whir of motor.  Within fifteen minutes of pulling out of Scrabster we were under full sail.  They only came down when we were head to wind through the Straits of Hoy into Stromness at six o'clock this evening.

Of course the great thing about being under sail is that in theory those under power cede you right of way.  Martin did have to call this chap up to ask him if his intentions were honourable and fortunately they were as he was about ten times our size.

No such niceties were necessary when later the Scrabster to Stromness ferry passed us next to the Old Man of Hoy - which somehow started off Martin and Les singing the theme tune of Z-Cars.  I haven't yet dared seek explanation.

Having yesterday undertaken a long stretch from Kinlochbervie to Scrabster with a pause in the very beautiful Loch Eriboll we had a slow start today.  Not leaving until 2pm gave us the chance to replenish gas and stores and see something of Thurso.  We all agreed it is the Northernmost town on mainland Britain.  As I check this on the map I am reminded of another observation we have shared - that wherever you go across the country the place names have new and interesting connotations.  Within spitting distance of Thurso I have just spotted Brora!  I like the clothes, I never realised it was a place. 

And so another day draws to a close.  As usual it is late at night.  The skipper is double and treble checking his plans.  We tease him for his thoroughness but we are all very glad of it.  A sumptuous meal has been eaten and a big thank you must got to Maggie, Neil and Sarah at the Hamnavoe Restaurant, who were full but found room to squeeze the three of us in and then gave us what may well have been the best supper of the trip so far. 

Tomorrow is, as they say, another day.  We will no doubt have to fight off the killer whales and pirates once again but at least your blog will return to its usual erudition.  Anything else I can do before I turn in Skip?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

All safe in Scrabster, very north of mainland Scotland

We intended to sail from Kinlochbervie on the mainland of Scotland, round the 'corner' of Cape Wrath and then straight to Stromness in the Orkney Islands, a distance of around 72 miles. The latest obtained forecast was for a gentle breeze from the SW which would help us, and the sea was slight to moderate. Though such a passage would be a long one, complicated by the necessity to reach the Pentland Firth tidal gate at a certain time, it all looked very benign.

We woke at 0530 ish, and left our berth at 0600 but had a nagging sense of worry because we could nor get a download of the shipping or inland shipping forecast and the DSC VHF calls to Stornaway coastguard were not answered. In short we had no reliable forecast. It transpired that Stornaway CG had declared an emergency as they had no comms, so we were eventually handled by Aberdeen coastguard instead.

Anyway, sailing being sailing, the forecast was completely different from reality. It quickly became apparent that the wind direction was not SE or S and so helpful, but instead was North while we were travelling North, then switched to East as soon as we turned Cape Wrath and headed East. At this point, the forecast slight sea state was actually, an angry moderate to rough sea, and the gentle breeze was really 25 to 30 knots of wind over tide. The effect was horrible, the boat surged forward off a wave then fell onto the next one, so someone for example in the saloon would be rising and falling by 6 or 7 feet every 5 seconds, for several hours. Extremely tiring, very frustrating. Sea sickness just around the corner.

Being a cautious sailor, I had identified two places of refuge, just in case. After discussion, we agreed that the sea state was much worse than forecast, the wind much higher, the forecast itself was not and could not be updated because of Stornaway's comms problems, and so we did not know if the conditions would get even worse. This was all on a famously bad stretch of long open sea where there is no safe refuge if you get it wrong. Finally, we were concerned that if, as we must, we met the tidal gateway on time, itself now a challenge as we were rapidly using up the extra contingency time embedded in the passage plan, the strong Easterly wind blowing over a very fast Pentland Firth tidal stream travelling  East would create a huge tumultuous sea near the Orkneys that would be impassible, and we would have to retreat to Scrabster, but then the tide would be against us. A grim scenario.

So, having rounded Cape Wrath, a feat in itself, we turned for Loch Eriboll, the only major inlet after Cape Wrath and had an idyllic and quiet lunch at anchor in stunning scenery. Then we left at 1400, to go back into the maelstrom, this time aiming for Scrabster and hugging the rocky coastline to gain some shelter where possible. The strategy worked well and after a reasonably comfortable passage if five more hours we are safely on a 'hanging' mooring , attached to the quayside in the fishing dock  of Scrabster. Very pleasant, and the friendly harbour people will check our lines through the night to ensure that we are not hanging as the tide falls or drifting as it rises. A good night sleep beckons.

Tomorrow, we shall try the Pentland firth race to go over to Stromness, Orkneys which is only 24 miles away, the most northerly part of our circumnavigation, hopefully leaving at 1400 to coincide with another tidal factor...subject to fog. 

The Orkney Islands?

Just woken up 0517. We have a long day ahead of us and, subject to final checks, will leave Kinlochbervie which is the furthest North safe refuge in Scotland before rounding Cape Wrath which is just 14 nm away. Then, subject to visibility etc., we hope to turn East at last and go straight to Stromness, Orkneys, but must get our tidal gate in the Pentland Firth tidal race right or abort. We expect the passage to be around 13 hours, leaving 0600. 

Places of refuge are Loch Eriboll, and Scrabster, both at the very top side of Scotland, but we hope to be in the Orkneys this evening, the most Northerly part of our circumnavigation.

Much to do...

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Les: Reflections on Still Water

As quite a young man I realised that there were two practical activities which made me feel more vividly alive. As the years have flashed by, conducting fine music and sailing a fine yacht have continued to have that power over me and for me. Both can be demanding; both have the power to make me feel I have truly lived a day of my life rather than simply watching it go by.

And here I am, back on board Alexandria in Gairloch, what seems like just a few hours (it's really about thirty hours) after conducting two performances of Mark Browse's deeply moving and beautifully scored opera 'Margaret of Antioch'. Baton to boat, Sussex village to Scottish Highlands, bows to bowlines, in a day.

I am speechless at the beauty of the Highlands, where, to my loss, I have set neither foot nor course for thirty years. Driving from Inverness airport to Gairloch, so breathtaking was the afternoon sun-path on the loch, seen through a stand of tall pines, that I had to stop the car and simply gawp. A kind young Scot, seeing the stationary car in an unlikely spot, pulled up in case help was needed. Blessings upon him.

Alongside the pier the blue fishing boat sits above its reflection, one mast up, one mast down.

I reach Gairloch like a small child full of glee and delight, and step into sunshine still hot enough to sting at 6:00 in the evening; I step into a place of my dreams - a small working harbour, with one or two houses built to gaze timelessly upon the harbour and the loch, and just two places on a pontoon for visiting yachts; and I step into a silence so total that it shocks me and I have stop walking and breathe it in - a generous, nourishing silence which without waiting to be asked instantly begins to nourish and refresh my soul. 

And here, moored alongside the pontoon, proud and gleaming clean, with bonhomie and chilled Sauvignon blanc in the cockpit, basks Alexandria, waiting for our next call upon her.

And so to The Minches, this network of broad and narrow channels between the islands and the sea-lochs, guarded by velvet green slopes in the foreground, dotted with low islets and the sudden teeth of isolated rocks, and the misted grey peaks behind, rising abruptly, august and awe-inspiring, layer behind layer like the vision of a terrestrial stage-designer, touching and breaking through the clouds.

Today The Minches are kind. We put to sea bound towards Kinlochbervie, and The Minches are kind. In fact, everybody is kind, and Martin and Vincent do all the work while I have a holiday and make tea and then make tea and then make more tea. Caledonian MacBrayne steams his tireless trail out of Ullapool and passes us two miles ahead. Vincent thinks he has seen a submarine and Martin takes off almost all his clothes before disappearing into the starboard engine compartment. All is well.

And now comes the cry of "Dolphins! A large school of dolphins off to starboard." I must go.

Message for WSH.

Lauren, many thanks. Recd and understood. Thanks and best M

Leaving Loch Gairloch, Scotland this morning

Alexandria at anchor on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye.

Anchored in Loch Harport, mountains, mist and midges are extra. 
Yesterday was a day without wind, white wine or wifi. In fact, there was no weather at all to speak of, just quite chilly stillness through which we motored on one engine for the entire day. One would think it would be dull and frustrating as we are supposed to be sailing round Britain, but in fact it was supremely relaxing. David and Vincent slept for bits of the day, I even had a nap, and the stonkingly  beautiful scenery just slipped by for the whole day. It was like being in the middle of a commercial shoot for the Hebrides tourist authority, if such a quango exists, where the sort of image one sees on biscuit tins and shortcake lids was around us the entire day. But without the bagpipes, fortunately.  There were several dolphins, large numbers of sea birds having a laugh, sitting just ahead of us to make it look like we are about to go over a fishing net and be snared for ever more. Sadly no whales. Or submarines yet.We did encounter a large orange fishing buoy which we gave a wide berth and then discovered it was untethered and its long 30 foot line was about to be wrapped around our props, but quick thinking from David stopped the engine just in time and we drifted over it. A quick (DSC) VHF call to Stornaway coastguard, our current guardians, to report the presence of the untethered buoy, resulted in a 'all ships alert' complete with Mayday beeping alerts, a few minutes later to warn the world of the grave danger to shipping. We felt very grown up. They must have felt a bit bored.

Our R&R diversion the day before had taken us to the  fleshpots of the island of Canna, population 18 plus an impressive catalogue of wildlife. So yesterday, we left Loch Harport, Skye, (photo attached) and around the amazing and wild mountainous western coast of Skye and into Loch Gairloch for the night, which is back on the Scottish mainland. We are seriously north! Communications are becoming problematic both signal and for travelling. Les joined us at Loch Gairloch for his second coming, and David will leave in the same hire car that Les brought with him. We have enjoyed his company, and I have valued his technical skills. During the day, I set about doing some boaty jobs. One was to find the source of a leak which kept causing the accumulator to lose pressure in the cold water system, and then the water pump would activate every 30 seconds under Vincent's otherwise sleeping head. An adjustment to the pump has made it much less sensitive, and having searched the boat in every crevice, of which there are many, there seems to be no leak. Then, as we were motoring on just one engine across the glassy sea, I took the oil levels in the starboard engine, and found little oil in the sump and no oil in the transmission. Serviced before we came, and no leaks. We had spare oil on board so I added a small quantity to the transmission system mindful of the DO NOT OVERFILL BEYOND THE MAX MARK warning. No movement in the oil level, so I added another 100 ml. No movement, then another, no movement. We waited for a few minutes to let it settle, and since there was still no increase, I added a further amount.  Grossly overfilled!! Aaargh! Now I heeded to get it out. We took a short length of tube off the dehumidifier and repeatedly dipped the tube into the oil in the transmission sump, then with my finger over the end quickly took the oil out one small dose at a time into a waiting container. It was a long and messy process, as was the cleanup, but fortunately the sea was utterly glassy and it allowed me to stand or crouch for long periods of time in the engine bay doing my engine maintenance. Of course, if the book had said how much to add between min and max, I would have seen an hour more of the splendid Skye scenery.

So, last night we were on the end of a quite small pontoon, where the harbourmaster stayed behind rather than going home to welcome us and take our lines. Really friendly. We have had AC power, which is becoming a luxury as we now have to take care of ourselves, we have topped up with 450 litres of fresh water, we have oil for the engines which Les brought with him, and we have food. We also have a good forecast to go further north to Kinlochbervie tonight,  the last  possible port before we reach Cape Wrath and turn East at the top of Scotland, possibly tomorrow. 

So, it's official, the circumnavigation of mainland Britain has become greater, and is now the circumnavigation of Britain, which includes the top bit rather than the Caledonian canal.

So, chaps, we're going over the top!

Monday, 21 July 2014

And now some messages for our friends abroad...

WSH INR 2.0. All well 

Les. All change. Loch Gairloch, Gairloch. Better commas, urgent water, better shelter. Default is Skye by bridge if necessary. 

And now some messages for our friends abroad...

WSH INR 2.0. All well 

Les. All change. Loch Gairloch, Gairloch. Better commas, urgent water, better shelter. Default is Skye by bridge if necessary. 

More of island of Canna

Tender ride to Canna bay

Another stunning view from Canna

Rush hour on the Canna motorway...

Island of Canna and on to Loch Harport Skye

Canna is a very small island in the Hebrides, dwarfed by its nearest neighbour Rhum which is slightly larger than 'very small! It has a population of 18 and is home to sea eagles, otters, dolphins and many other species of sea birds. We think we saw an eagle which was quite distinctive, and definitely saw a group of three buzzards. Dolphins outside the harbour and seals are now expected in these parts, though none the less memorable.

We had a sufficiently filling meal of white bread, cheddar cheese and Iron Bru, these being the only choices in the only 'cafe', on the only island and we were the only visitors  apart from two other yachts whom we met and who were moored like us in the bay. We took a long walk through very muddy, woodland on grass paths which looked like they had not been trodden for a long time, but then with 18 inhabitants and very few yachties, maybe that was correct. There were three churches on the island, however, one beautifully kept and welcoming. After a short time decontaminating shoes, we left after three hours on the island, bound for the temptations of loch Harport, on the western coast of Skye. After about half an hour, a huge shout from Vincent identified a whale slightly to our stern which had come up to breathe, but sadly so fleeting was the encounter that only he saw it. These waters really are teeming with sea life. 

We sailed up the West coast of Skye which is very mountainous and simply stupendous, and arrived in Loch Harport, Isle of Skye, a deep loch surrounded by huge mountains erupting from the sea on every side. Impressive stuff! Our anchorage was about 20m in front of the excellent Old Inn, where we had a good meal and met some interesting sailing folk. One asked me if the name of this blog was similar to keepturning, and I replied that I had read and admired that blog written by a fellow circumnavigator who was going the other way round. Since my fellow diner knew him and Dylan was in the Orkneys, he gave me Dylan's mobile. A quick text led to an amusing conversation with the great man himself and an assurance that we would try and meet somewhere as we closed on each other over the next few days. Imagine the media sensation of keepturning left meeting keepturningright! It might even make the local paper!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday. Change to schedule esp. re CREW CHANGE

So, we were set to tackle the Kyle Rhea narrows this morning and were ready to leave and enter them at HW Dover + I hour 40 when the tide turns North.

However, we are making such good progress, I want to  'spend' some of the time we have banked, albeit that we have a potentially difficult and troublesome sector ahead of us as we go ever Northwards and round Cape Wrath at the furthest NW part of Scotland, then on to the Orkneys. Spending a day enjoying ourselves might be reckless, but here is the plan.

It is right now quite foggy, very wet and chilly, and we have just left Isle Orsay aided by radar. We have decided NOT to continue another 65 miles to Loch Ewe as planned by this evening and another 60 odd tomorrow to effect. Crew change with David and Leslie tomorrow evening.

Instead we are retracing our track, expecting the weather to improve, a forecast SW or S wind to come, and we shall pass down the East coast of Skye, past Eigg, past the mountains of the Isle of Rhum, and onto the small island of Canna, ETA 1330. Lunch, walking, eagles, shags, puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, basking sharks and seals are all promised. I am reading up on them as we approach, as my working knowledge of birds is limited to pheasants and partridges during the season... (Please don't post comments!).

From Canna, we intend to make for Loch Harport, Skye, where the malt is distilled, although it will be closed when we arrive to sleep tonight, likely at anchor. 

Tomorrow will be a 50nm passage from Skye to LOCH EWE where we expect to meet Les, Aultbea Hotel is the only building around and crucially connected with a road for his hire car to park, then David will leave us the following morning in the same hire car. 

Our default in case of a problem is to stay on Skye for the handover, which of course is now connected to the mainland by a 23m high bridge. What could possibly go wrong?

Island of Eigg

Spontaneous lunch at anchor in the bay of Island of Eigg. Crystal clear water and large numbers of large jellyfish.

Tobermory, Mull to Isle Ornsay via Ardnamurchan point and island of Eigg.

In brief, Tobermory, Mull half hour fuel stop to Ardnamurchan Point passed without incident, despite the  tidal gateway's reputation. Glassy sea and passed very close inshore. Photo attached. 

No wind of any type for the whole day, presaging the change to rainy weather and evidenced by falling pressure. Motored the whole way on one engine at 6 or 7 knots, then stopped off in the Isle of Eigg for anchored lunch. Heavenly.

Spectacular, separate photo to follow. Dolphins, an otter, seals in the harbour, utter stillness, four other yachts, all serious players from their rig. This is getting to be frontier territory!

No wind at all, so followed on with a motor to Isle Ornsay. Intended to pick  up a swinging buoy in the bay as arranged, but the directions were 'find a  buoy with writing on it, don't know the colour, or location, somewhere near the hotel, don't know which way the hotel is facing, what it looks like, can't see [the conspicuous sight of Alexandria in the bay outside what we think is the hotel, skipper on the phone probably looking unappreciative] because our informant is not near a window'. Sense of humour failure, especially with rocks all around and 1.5m under the keel. Found the buoy, no thanks to instructions, and it was now raining heavily.  Scottish rain which they call 'soft weather'. 15 minutes constructing bridles, picking up the (very well maintained) buoy, then launching the tender, all meant we were very wet. Into the tender and motored about half a mile to the hotel, but we could not land it on the beach. Vincent, in shorts still, who already had immersed his feet and deck shoes in seawater, heroically stepped out into the water, and pulled us up a way, with huge thanks from David and I. We arrived on the beach, slippery, seaweed, life jackets on, full foul weather gear and found the elegant restaurant. Imagine the scene. WET WET WET! Smart diners inside. So, I announced our arrival and claimed our table, and nobody bothered in the slightest as we, some shoeless, in shorts, all looking as if we had been ship wrecked and might have swum, sat down to eat. Wonderful, as was the food. The return tender ride was quick, still light up here at 2300, and much drier, but we put the boat into full wet weather mode. Shower room redefined temporarily as a wet room for oilies and wet clothes, AC dehumidifier on laundry mode drying it all out, and heating ready to go on, though not needed, Everything worked well, and we had a good uninterrupted sleep secure to the swinging mooring, and put on the AC generator for the first time at about 6 this morning as the batteries were, not surprisingly, getting too low to start the main engines.

More to follow re a change to our schedule, later this morning.

 David and Vincent, celebrating our safe rounding of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Loch Aline to Tobermory, Mull

Good morning. For those of you who spent a restless night worrying if the mainsail would continue its state of disobedience and mutiny from yesterday, rest assured that all is well. No more problems, indeed no more wind. 

We left Loch Aline today under one engine with a fair tide that whisked us up the sound of Mull between mountains, hills and last castles and into Tobermory, Island of a Mull, for refuelling. The harbour is lovely, photo attached. Spit the Balamorey backdrop. We will be rounding the famously challenging Ardnamurchan Point in half an hour which is not expected to be difficult given the sea state and assuming we do so, we shall have the right to wear a sprig of heather on the bows to signify that we have completed the challenge. We are flying a Scottish house flag (please don't post comments) from our port spreader as a nod to our Scottish friends who currently remain part of the United Kingdom so no courtesy flag on our senior starboard spreader is yet necessary. There is quite a lot of confusion and presumption about what to do it seems. The sprig of heather will be much more interesting, however.  

We have decided to divert very slightly to the island of Eigg for lunch at anchor, then on to Isle Ornsay, Skye. We are making cracking progress and having great fun. We could do with a but more wind than at present having had too much yesterday! David very generously bought large amounts of food as we may be on our own quite soon where AC power, fuel and water let alone fresh fruit and tea are all at a premium. 

More later. 

Gigha, Hebrides to Loch Aline, Scotland

Following on from my earlier post today about the problems at the very beginning of the day, the rest of the day went well. Although we were unable to reach Tobermory because of the delay, we opted instead for a lovely and rather small marina in Loch Aline on the other side of the Sound of Mull , ie the mainland. The passage was another 55nm, curtailed by stopping 12nm short of Tobermory, and featured high winds and good sailing, and a little motoring. The scenery is breathtaking and two photos are attached sailing up the Sound of Mull with castles, rocks, islands, lighthouses etc. providing a fascinating sea scape against the backdrop of distant mountains. The effect of changing sunlight and clouds on these is spectacular, and out of the considerable beauty we have seen so far on this circumnavigation, this has to be one of the high points.

Tomorrow, we intend to slip from Loch Aline around 0700, call in at Tobermory harbour on Mull for fuel, then off to go round Ardnamurchan point. This is a significant tidal gateway and its heavy seas and dangerous conditions have created some fame. Once one has rounded Ardnamurchan point, where several flows of sea all converge, the boat earns the right to wear a sprig of heather on its bows. If we are succesful tomorrow, we shall of course have two sprigs. 

We are aiming to spend tomorrow evening at anchor in Isle Ornsay while we wait for the next tidal gateway Kyle Leakin the following day.

Supper was at the rather small Loch Aline hotel, where  we were one of the very few customers, and we enjoyed the walk of around a mile admiring more scenery along the way.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Life on board...waiting for the next ambush

David, looking relaxed at the helm. Check out the fresh fruit despatched to crew to prevent scurvy!

The grudge match. Man versus main sail.

Sailing, is a very levelling experience. It seems to work on the basis of mean reversion, allowing very good days to be tempered by very bad ones, but the good staying still slightly ahead,  sometimes having been polished in one's mind to allow the bad days to be edited out or forgotten. Which explains why people still buy boats. 

Sailing long distances is also a humbling experience because just when you are used to the idea of thrashing around the sea on an heroic scale week after week without check, just when you become convinced that you really do know what you are doing and you've got in all licked, something will kick you hard in the shins. It won't be something heroic you can explain away to future grandchildren but it will be something pedestrian, dull and completely unworthy of your otherwise great achievements...and the unimportance of that will make its effect exquisitely horrible to recall. You will not be defeated by something heroic at all, but something simple you learn when you first learn to sail. This morning was one of those humbling occasions designed to bring you down to earth.

I had slept really badly. Blogs, logs, tide tables, passage planning and a very welcome text from Australia at 1.40am all conspired to keep me up until around 2am. After about an hour's sleep the expected wind hit and I was woken to hear the rubber tender, which was secured at its bow and stern with its motor still attached and which had been unusually left in that state overnight, being turned into a demented animal straining and tearing at its ropes seeking its freedom. A visit on deck at 3am followed, situation to be monitored but it was not able to be rectified on my own. More crashing and thrashing followed until at 4am I got up to try and raise it from its position and prevent any impact damage to the motor. So, barefoot and not dressed for polite society, with no life jacket and in clear defiance of the culture of safety I propagate, I found myself struggling with the demented tender pitching and crashing while standing on the transom with waves sloshing round my feet. Entirely stupid, entirely ineffective. Fortunately, David had woken and come out to check what was going on and was surprised to see me at 4am doing tender taming, but together we managed to exorcise the bad spirits which had taken over our previously faithful tender.

Back to bed, and with not much sleep having been had, I later woke up at 0730 and prepared for our departure for Tobermory. A careful passage plan, difficult adverse tides, and a long 12 hour day was promised, but with a fresh and productive Easterly wind blowing  over a slight sea state. A difficult job, but nothing to trouble us 'pros' or so we thought!!

Within a few minutes of slipping from our mooring in a 20 to 25 knot wind, gusting 30 knots, we were raising the main, sensibly putting in a double reef, just in case. It's a very tall mast with a huge amount of reefing lines all flying around the place, and it and I have an awkward relationship. We have history, and it's not been good in the past, but we have patched up our differences, in short I expect the main sail and I to work efficiently together but with no love lost. 

So, up goes the main sail, up the very tall 19m mast and immediately it was clear that our d├ętente had been suspended. The second reefing line was jammed in an inexplicable mess at coachroof level and needed manual intervention from me to unjam it. The coachroof is an area of very exposed slippery surface protecting the occupants from any danger or being up on the coachroof. It is about 12 feet above the quite choppy sea and requires some inner resolve  to go up there. So, a problem with the second reefing line. Oh dear! Up I go onto the coachroof to sort it out. Then we hoist the sail again for the second time. Success! But then we discover that one of the cars has been missed out and so the sail has to come down again. Damn! Up I go onto the coachroof again and take off and redo the halyard attached to the head of the sail. Up goes the sail again for a third time. Perfection...a deeply reefed main, perfect until the strong 27 knots of wind subside within minutes as forecast. So the main sail is eased and the second reef is allowed out and the sail is allowed to get larger, and more belligerent. Up goes the main now ( fourth time) with only one reef. But look! One of the spreaders is now caught behind the stays as the roach of the sail can get trapped when on first reef, but only if you are unlucky. By now we know that we are unlucky and the battle between sail and man is not going man's way. Down comes the main a little to free it and up it goes again for the fifth time. Not free, so down it comes again and up again, sixth time. By now, the wind has whipped up again to around 30 knots and we need to put in the second reef again. But there is now yet another problem. The sail needs to be taken down head to wind or it won't go into its lazy jack collection system, but this wind is allied with the sail in an unholy grudge match and is waiting to catch us out. It does so, and pushes the large main sail down and out of its lazy jacks allowing acres of sail to cascade around and what looks like kilometres of cord to fly around. The reefing lines, seeing the fun which the main sail and the wind has had with us, join in too and in the high wind thrash around and knot multiple Gordian creations at high level just out of reach. 'S##%^{}!' I articulate to the heavens. Up I go onto the coachroof yet again to sort it out, third time lucky. Surely we have now all been punished enough? And so up the main goes yet again, seventh time, but one final taunt is in store. The reefing lines are now in the wrong place, we are all looking exhausted, we have not yet had our breakfast and have been continuously shouting at each other to make ourselves heard over the wind and thrashing sails positioned as we are in various odd parts of the boat. In the excitement, a clutch is left undone making the main sail go up and look like a massive white sack of potatoes. Down it comes, an expletive from my seldom used Anglo Saxon repertoire, a pause for collection and an intent to start from the beginning, atone for all my multiple sins, and success, it all goes up like clockwork.  What could possibly have gone wrong?!

The genoa of course is not, and has never been, part of this malicious pact, and goes up and down, reefing and unreefing serenely without a fuss.

The rest of the day has been spent with high winds, reefing and unreefing the sails, achieving very good speeds, but then suffering as the tide goes against us (now we have wasted an hour being humbled by the Enemy, we are in the wrong place to work the tide, and the Sound of Liung is ahead of us waiting to have its fun. Ho hum!

We are not going to make Tobermory today, this being the first casualty in the whole circumnavigation to date, so will run for Loch Aline instead. We also need fuel so will collect it tomorrow morning as we pass Tobermory. As I sit doing my blog, 32 knots of truculent and unpredictable wind are pushing us along at 6.6 SOG knots on two reefed sails after the tide is taking about a knot.  The Scottish Islands are whizzing past in all their glory. It's about to rain. We have just entered a submarine exercise area which often like to stalk yachts causing much confusion to the depth gauge readings as they do so. What could possibly go wrong???

The circumnavigation resumes, Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland to Gigha,Hebrides

Alexandria is back in action. I am very pleased to say that I have been joined by Vincent and David who joined Alexandria yesterday evening at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. Vincent is an experienced Alexandria crony and friend, and David has done a succesful circumnavigation of his own, so we are a strong crew to start off the second half of our circumnavigation. We arrived at Carrickfergus late yesterday evening and, after a decent meal at the Wind Rose restaurant followed by sundry conversations about boats, design of boats and the foibles of boats, we went to bed late and woke up early. 0530 in the morning is not a time that makes the heart skip with joy, but it was the agreed start to a long passage today when we knew tides would be against us at times, and where there was a possibility of little or no wind. We were right on all counts.

We slipped at 0610 and bade farewell to Carrickfergus marina, Belfast who were so good at looking after us and safeguarding Alexandria during our period of R&R. Our destination was the most southerly of the Hebridean Islands, Gigha, a small island of 163 people which is owned by the community.  We motored out from Carrickfergus into the quiet and serene Belfast Lough. No wind of any description, just serenity and calm, punctured slightly by the purring of our engine and the whistling of our kettle. The tide was with us and we intended to make full use if it, so we hugged the Northern Ireland shore where the favourable current was strongest until around 0900 when the tide turned slack, when we moved offshore to avoid the developing stronger foul tide.   Although we minimised the adverse tide, one cannot escape totally some certainties like death, taxes, and turning tides.  Rounding the Mull of Kyntyre is a well described and potentially worrisome procedure necessitating careful planning, and we closed on the spectacular Kyntyre coast to around 2nm and rounded it at slack tide before a foul tide of 3 knots turned against us, and not a breath of wind at any time. The sea state was glassy, although rather beautiful in its own way. Having suffered the inescapable adverse tide for a while, we then moved inshore, quite close to the coast to benefit from the developing contra tide which was going our way, and captured some of this to speed us onwards. There was quite a lot of replotting required to maximise our tidal strategy, but it was worthwhile. The late afternoon found us in the Sound of Gigha with a good tide in our favour and slightly ahead of schedule. 

The Sound of Gigha is one of those places where it would be easier to blindly trust in Admiralty charts and sonar readings, and expect that all would be well. However, the topography of the sea is so varied that there are rocks and pinnacles erupting from the sea bed at frequent and unexpected points along the Sound, and only a fool would plot a course without careful scrutiny. We spent some time refining and replotting our course up the Sound to avoid such dangers but were rewarded by the sight of Ardminish bay and the island of Gigha stretched out before us, and we duly picked up a mooring buoy for the night at 1730. 

The island is blissful. Rocky, verdant, a pleasing outcrop of small promontories and reefs giving way to a bay where a post office, shop, restaurant and hotel all nestle. Indeed the sun was out and now that we were moored, we felt its warming effects really for the first time in the day. One of us suggested a swim, and since the water was a very cold 17degrees, it was said as a joke. However, the water was so inviting and the surroundings so beautiful, that Vincent thought he would go in, and I followed. Vincent jumped in, and I more tentatively entered via the swim ladder. I am not sure who was the braver or the more foolish, but either way we both had a very short swim in extremely cold water. One could feel the icy grip of the water crushing against you, as breathing became more difficult, the pulse raced and skin became super sensitive. I guess this was the first stage of cold water shock. The air temperature was only 18 degrees, but the boat was in full sunlight so felt really hot when we emerged from the freezing sea. Both of us in turn hobbled slightly painfully up the swim ladder and used the cockpit shower to warm up, neither ladder nor shower having ever been used for that purpose before! I could not quite believe that I, who feels the cold much more recently, had done such a daft thing...but it felt very good indeed!

Having warmed up and sunned ourselves briefly in the evening sun, the three of us boarded the tender and cast off across the turquoise, completely clear sea towards the jetty reaching out to us from a brilliant white sandy beach. Heaven.

Dinner was at the Gigha hotel, much recommended, marina fees paid in the honesty box to theisland's  cooperative trust, conversation with all and sundry, including a delightful couple whom we had moored close to, and with whom we spent a really enjoyable post supper drink. Sailing is a wonderfully friendly activity which encourages interaction and conversation in unlikely places. Our return in the tender to Alexandria at 2230 was in failing light, but we are sufficiently far north that we could still easily see where we were going. A wonderful evening.

Having debated whether we should pause a short while in the Hebrides tomorrow, we agreed that the weather was lulling us into a false sense of security and we should make sail while the sun shone. Since we still had a number of difficult pinch points to get through, the Sound of Luing, Mull, The great Race, Skye, Ardnamurchan point to mention a few, we decided we would push on to Tobermory in the morning. (Cue the Bal-a-mor-ey theme tune, and separate memories of the Wombles!). Tobermory is the principal town on the island of Mull, and is famous for its brightly coloured houses which frame the picturesque harbour. the wind is due to be Easterly and we have a strong wind warning, but let's see...

A very short and extremely cold swim in the Hebrides, 17 degrees!