Friday, 18 July 2014
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...