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...

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