Saturday 8th May 2010
Rhu Marina 0.0nm Total: 543.1nm
Crew change day, Malcolm is flying back to Cornwall on the plane that Peter is coming up on. Malcolm and I walked into Rhu and up to the Royal Northern Yacht Club yet despite meeting a number of members we were unable to gain entry. We walked back to a recently refurbished Rosslea Hall Hotel resplendent in contemporary red and black and enjoyed a tea and coffee on the terrace while they prepared for a confirmation party, expecting 50 guests.
We popped into Rhu Church and back to Valhalla to pick up Malcolm’s bags as Garry and Debbie were kindly driving him to the airport. Peter arrived at 16.00 and stowed his gear. We had tea with Garry and Debbie before adjourning to Bay View, 115 East Clyde Street for a G&T in the garden followed by dinner. We returned to Valhalla dined and sated.
Sunday 9th May 2010
Rhu Marina – Loch Long, Arrochar and Return 40.0nm Total: 583.1nm
We woke a little after 08.00 and after tea and coffee set to our porridge with raisins. Garry and Debbie came down just after 10.00 bearing a buffet luncheon. We slipped our moorings, calling the marine office on Ch80 to say we would be returning that evening and we had not forgotten the bill!
The winds were light SE 1 or 2 we hoisted the main and as we edged out into the Firth of Clyde unrolled the genoa. Tacking we fought our way past Kilcreggan and into Loch Long where we were able to ease sheets and bear away onto a run. Garry and Debbie were looking at a house they had seen house hunting on shore; new to look at them again from seaward. Passing Ardentinny we kept to the left hand bank opposite Coulport under the ever watchful eye of the Police launches. Coulport is the Navy’s re-armament facility for Nuclear Submarines and security is always high.
Loch Goil opened up on our port side and at a distance we saw Carrick Castle. The breathtaking natural view of beautiful Scottish hills was again disturbed by Finnant Oil terminals, a legacy of the last world war. As we reached the loch head the familiar sight of Arrochar Parish Church where Garry and Debbie were married only 2 years ago.
Having clicked 20nm on the log we turned around at 14.30 and retraced our steps back to Rhu marina arriving there at 19.15. We left Valhalla tied alongside in her marina berth with sail cover and wheel covers on and adjourned to the Ardencaple Hotel for a Sunday roast. Peter and I lingered a while as Garry and Debbie went home to prepare for Debbie’s interview the next day. I pushed Peter back along the road to the marina; we had a hot chocolate and retired for the evening.
Monday 10th May 2010
Rhu Marina 0.0nm Total: 583.1nm
Another leisurely start to the day, waiting for our crew (Cathy) to arrive. After the obligatory porridge and raisins we went up to the chandler with our list of requirements. Despite not finding a waterproof switch I did acquire a 25mm A4 hose clip and a pint of milk. Next door the marine electronics experts furnished us with a waterproof switch and advice on our ST60 wind instruments. Peter downloaded my pictures onto my laptop of the trip so far. I fitted the hose clip to the toilet.
Cathy arrived bearing chocolates and after a brief cup of tea we hoisted her up the mast with a borrowed new ST60 wind instrument to see if we could get it to work; unfortunately our problem was not overcome and we returned the instrument to the electronics experts with further advice to check the cable.
After Cathy stowed her gear we left and adjourned to the Ardencaple pub for dinner and the New York chicken. We watched Sky News on the pubs plasma screen concerning the election results and the negotiations between Conservative David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. We talked about politics and the pros and cons of the voting system before heading back to Valhalla and sleep.
Peter phoned Debbie to find out she was successful in her job hunt.
Tuesday 11th May 2010
Rhu Marina to Caladh Harbour 22.7nm Total: 605.8nm
We met Garry at the Co-Op at 09.30 having rushed there without having breakfast; a mistake we were later to pay for at the check-out. Luckily we had Peter’s credit card and £89.00, later Debbie drove us back to the marina. Settling the marina bill including 36 litres of diesel and 4 nights berthing (£22.50) totalling £125.00 we slipped our lines at 11.15.
Hoisting the main and unfurling the genoa we sailed down the Firth of Clyde towards the island of Bute. We headed towards the town of Dunoon; from where our ships mugs came from, before bearing away in a fresh Northerly wind F4 towards the BFC (Big Fucking Chimney) and the town of Wemyss Bay. Sheeting in our sails we left Rothesay to port and entered the East Kyle. The RFA Orangeleaf was alongside the NATO refuelling berth in Loch Striven showing on our AIS (Automatic Identification System). Further up the loch were 6 ships painted in blue and cream, mothballed during the current economic climate.
Rolling away the genoa and sheeting in the main hard we started the engine to make progress up the East Kyle to the ferry crossing, the most expensive in Scotland for the distance travelled taking only 45 seconds to make the crossing. Then through the narrows, a buoyed channel, at the top of the Kyles. The wind was so cold we decided to end our journey this day early and found a sublime anchorage at Caladh harbour sheltered by an island covered in trees of all types and descriptions; an arboretum island.
16.30 we picked up a local mooring and started dinner – spaghetti bolognaise. By 21.00 we were all washed up and ready for bed.
Wednesday 12th May 2010
Caladh Harbour to Ardrishaig 21.7nm Total: 627.5nm
Garry, Peter and I woke to a calm but cool morning. After porridge and raisins we slipped our mooring in the beautiful harbour of Caladh and with the full main and genoa we left our moorings under sail as to not disturb the peace and tranquillity of our surroundings.
A light SW 2 propelled us around the northern uninhabited port of Bute into West Kyle. We sheeted in a beam of Ruba Ban as the breeze freshened into a SW 3 increasing our speed to 5 knots through the water. The wind was cold and biting necessitating 2 fleeces (Henri Lloyd), salopettes and jacket topped off with fleece buff and thinsulate woolly hat. As we rounded Ardlamount Point we entered into Loch Fyne easing sheets onto a run; by 12.45 the wind had dropped back to F 2 SW and the sun came out to warm our chilled bones.
Throughout the afternoon the wind eased further until by 15.30 we were becalmed. I started the engine and we proceeded into Ardrishaig harbour at the beginning of the Crinan Canal and straight into the sea lock operated by staff from British Waterways. Rising about 12’ up we popped out into brilliant sunshine and after waiting for the swing bridge to open we went into the Ardrishaig Basin and found a berth alongside the inner wall.
We took advantage of the excellent shower facilities, central heated, and headed into the town on a reconnoiter mission to find choices for dinner. Retiring with a chicken to roast, potatoes and vegetables. We dined in style and retired contemplating the canal ahead.
Thursday 13th May 2010
Ardrishaig to Crinan Canal (Lock 9) 4.0nm Total: 631.5nm
We had the most leisurely of starts to the day; tea at 09.00 followed by first breakfast, bacon, egg and baked beans on toast. At 11.00 we persuaded Peter to have a shower having checked out the facilities for disabled access. The wooden bench would serve well under the shower and he could use his wheelchair to change in. We took the wheelchair out of the starboard side locker and assembled it on the canal side. I wheeled him over the swing bridge and into the shower.
We waited until noon to be given instructions by Jamie the British Waterways lockkeeper in the operation of lock gates. He had just finished his degree in fluid dynamics and was an expert in the field of canals. Garry and Cath opened the lock gates, I helmed Valhalla into the lock while Peter positioned himself on the bow to handle lines. The gentle rain fell wetting everything, there was nowhere to hide and nowhere to run to but with the right foul weather gear on we could at least endure.
Transiting locks is not a speedy operation; it takes about 20 minutes to do a single lock and up to an hour to do a set of locks or flight. We plodded along at 4 knots between locks handing out rich tea biscuits to lockkeepers who operated the swing bridges.
After the first few locks we were getting into the swing of things. Garry would run ahead to open the lock gates; Peter and I would slip our lines and motor out of the last lock. As we entered the lock Cath would take our lines fore and aft dropping them over hooks and returning the ends back on board, by now Garry would be closing the first lock gate behind us followed by Cath on the other side making sure the sluice gates were now closed. Garry ran forward to half open the sluice gate on the same side Valhalla was moored to, this sent the flow of incoming water across the lock to bounce off the wall and push Valhalla against her wall. The second sluice gate was then opened sending in a torrent of water, as the turbulence settled the first sluice was opened fully followed by the second. As the water rose and equalised Peter and I shortened lines trying to keep the boat square to the wall. Once the levels inside and out were level it was possible to prise open the gates by leaning against the long beams. They moved slowly at first but once the momentum of 3 tons of lock gate were underway it was not too difficult to keep moving. Peter and I would wait until the gap was wide enough to fit Valhalla through and then slip our lines preparing them for the next time.
By 17.00 we arrived at the entrance to lock 9 at the highest point of Crinan canal just as the lockkeeper came to close the lock for the night. He had a regime of closing the upper gates and lower ones with the sluice open on the lower gates. This was to prevent flooding of the farm lane during the night. For dinner we had beef stew from tins, put on board in case of emergency, now enjoyed 4 miles inland.
Friday 14th May 2010
Crinan Canal – Oban 28.4nm Total: 659.9nm
Knowing the lockkeeper would return with the handle at 09.00 we rose earlier for breakfast, porridge and raisins, only to be disturbed by a French yacht with 8 crew coming up through lock 9 at 08.45. Action stations! Engine on, oilskins on and slip lines. The French yacht was separated from their friends who we had seen yesterday coming up the flight.
Going down locks proved a much easier task than the ascent. There was much less turbulence in the lock as the water drained and in 1 hour we had traversed 4 locks. By 11.30 we had arrived at the Crinan Basin and the sea lock and were back at sea, or at least the Sound of Jura. We stopped at the Crinian Boat Yard alongside their pontoon made up of square plastic blocks that moved violently the moment you stepped on them. We bought a pint of milk and used the facilities in the toilet block.
Lying alongside we enjoyed an early lunch of cheese and crackers, pâté and humus. We slipped at 12.45 hoisting the main and motor sailed out into the sound. We were all talking about the fearsome reputation of the Gulf of Corryvreckan and how dangerous it would be to go there on the half flood tide; anyway the Lynn of Lorne would be the most direct route to Oban in any event. As the gulf just past the beam the wind fell and the genoa clew dropped inboard under a sagging sail. We were still achieving 5.5 knots, 4 knots of which were from the tide race.
We looked out towards the Gulf of Corryvreckan with its thin white line indicating the standing wave. After a very brief discussion with the crew I made the executive decision ‘when in Rome’ and we altered course to port 100o, rolled away the genoa and motored with the main sheeted in hard. The whirlpool phenomenon of the Gulf of Correwreckram is caused not by a high tidal range; it’s only about 3m, but by a combination of the funnelling effect of the islands of Islay and Mull, the narrow gap between Mull and Scarba and the uneven bottom of the ground between them. Tidal flow can reach speeds of up to 16 knots and create a standing wave of 4m; whirlpools are created that could take a small boat to the bottom. A mannequin with lifejacket and depth gauge was put into a whirlpool, it was recovered 2 miles away having been taken down 600 ft – a long time to hold your breathe.
We hit the standing wave doing about 4 knots through the water and 8 knots over the ground. Valhalla pitched and tossed, digging her bow into the green water and flicking it up in the air and down the decks; bouncing up and down you could clearly see the water ‘boiling’ and swirling violently. I had to ‘gun’ the engine to maximum revs just to keep sufficient way on to give me directional control. The buffeting lasted no more than half an hour while we covered 5 miles and then we were clear. Bearing away into the Firth of Lorne we unfurled the genoa and eased the main passing Eilach An Naoimh to starboard coming onto a dead run.
We entered the Kerrera Sound from the south just as the Caledonian McBraye ferry transmitted on Ch16 that she was leaving Oban. Moments later we could hear 5 blasts of the ships whistle indicating that another vessel was ‘too close for comfort’ and a few seconds later a more urgent 5 blasts told us that the ferry was still very concerned that the other vessels intentions were not clear! About 10 minutes later we passed the same ferry near the entrance to Kerrera Sound abeam of Sgeirean Dubha Lighthouse giving her a wide berth, by now she was steaming along at 15.5 knots.
On entering Oban we wanted an alongside berth close to the railway station so that we could pick up another crew member, Garry’s wife Debbie. We found space on the north side of North Pier just seaward of a sunken fishing boat and adjacent to 3 classic vessels including the tall ship ‘Stockholm’ and schooner ‘ Spirit of Fairbridge’. Ashore we delighted in finding an excellent fish and chip shop and set in the cockpit of Valhalla eating our dinner much to the amusement of the tourists passing by. Debbie joined our happy band just after 21.30 with hampers full of food and after putting the kettle on for hot chocolate and Baileys we left our alongside berth for a mooring 100m offshore.
Saturday 15th May 2010
Oban – Corpach Basin, Caledonian Canal 34.5nm Total: 694.4nm
Now with Debbie the dietician on board making a crew of 5 porridge and raisins was the order of the day for breakfast. Having regard to the tidal flow and need to be in Corpach before 16.30, a distance of some 35 miles away, we let go our moorings at 10.00 to buck a decreasing ebb tide heading northwards back into the Lynn of Lorne.
Our course took us inside Lismore Island and Shuna Island sailing on a dead run with main and genoa goose-winged. We sailed up Loch Linnhe with our sails out stretched to gain every possible speed, by lunchtime the tide changed, giving us a very desirable lift and although for a time we were sailing on the lee we made the narrow channel through the Corran Narrows. The SW wind freshened to F5 and we made good progress through the upper reaches of Loch Linnhe, the thickening clouds however soon produced rain causing us to don our foul weather gear once again.
By 15.30 we had passed Fort William in the rain and picked up the port hand lateral buoys that were to take us safely around Eilean Na Creich. Corpach Sea Lock outer lock gates were open and we proceeded straight in, we went in starboard side too and had long polypropylene ropes handed down to us from about 15’ above. We shared the lock with the ‘Molly Bain’ a sleek modern power cruiser designed by the same man who built one of Ellen McCarthy’s boats. The ‘Molly Bain’ built in 2008 was on passage from Dublin to Norway crewed by a posse of Irish gentlemen.
Through the lock and into Corpach basin we were allocated a berth alongside an old fleet auxiliary ‘Dunster’ but later offered a berth on the quay having mentioned my disabled crew, 1 wheelchair user and 2 blind. Shona’s train was on time and Cathy met her at the station while Valhalla was being tied up alongside. The station is only a few yards from the basin and I met them both at the level crossing.
We put the kettle on for tea but Garry and Debbie decided to catch the next train home; they had chores to complete at home to put their flat on the market and no doubt they thought 6 on board would be a little cramped. Cath, Shona and I walked into Corpach and did a small shop for dinner; pork loin chops with new potatoes and veg followed by trifle. Chatting over a couple of bottles of wine we retired later than expected as we knew the ‘double locks’ would open promptly at 09.00 tomorrow.
Sunday 16th May 2010
Corpach Basin – Loch Oich, Great Glen Water Park 17nm Total: 711.4nm
Rising at 08.00 to a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, fried bread and beans we slipped our lines at 09.00 to enter the double locks along with our friends on the ‘Molly Bain’ and a Nauticoat 44. Just under a mile along the canal from the double locks is ‘Neptune’s Staircase’ a flight of 8 locks rising and took just under 2 hours to complete. The locks on the Caledonian canal are all operated by staff from British Waterways Scotland and help was on hand to take lines. Hundreds of sightseers were also evident and you felt like a goldfish living in a bowl.
At the top of the flight we paused only momentarily to use the facilities so that we might keep up with our new neighbours to pass through the Moy and Gairlochy swing bridges and the lock at Gairlochy together. Upon entering Loch Long we set our genoa and turned off the engine to enjoy the stunning scenery of snow topped mountains, including Ben Nevis, and tree covered valleys; this also allowed our impatient neighbours to part company as they sped down the loch to the next locks.
We arrived at Laggan Locks a couple of hours later, sharing the lock with a large and colourful barge ‘Fingle’ skippered by Martin a stress-free and laidback skipper. Putting the engine back on to cover the mile or so through the linking canal to Laggan swing bridge we entered Loch Oich in search of food and an overnight mooring. The shop had just closed so we double back to the Great Glen Water Park going alongside their pontoon. Having walked ashore through homogenous wooden lodges, just like chicken coups for humans on holiday, we read without inspiration the menu in the restaurant converted from a 1970’s sauna bath complete with oilcloth table cloths. Returning to Valhalla the decision was made we could get a better meal from a can onboard – and we did.
Monday 17th May 2010
Loch Oich – Fort Augustus 7.1nm Total: 718.5nm
A very leisurely start to the day with a fried breakfast and two rounds of tea and coffee we did not slip our moorings until after 11.00. Some of the morning was spent repairing the ships toilet seat, a casualty of having a paraplegic crew member (Peter) who uses the toilet for most of his upper body support. Unfortunately the hinges, made of plastic, were not strong enough despite being supplemented by additional plastic side brackets in Helensburgh.
Setting just the genoa we sailed eastwards through Loch Oich observing the buoyed channel in the middle portion; abeam of Invergarry Castle we saw the barge ‘Fingle’ at anchor while his guests were trying their hand at canoeing. The very light southerly wind of about F1 allowed us to sail into a wooden quay, rolling the genoa away as we approached. We walked the short distance through the woods to the fenced off Invergarry Castle, took pictures and returned.
After a midday cuppa we set sail again passing the Aberchalder swing bridge just starting the engine in case we lost way. Rolling the genoa away just in time to enter Cullochy Lock the lockkeeper thought we were going to sail in. Now with the engine on we passed through the lock at Kytra and proceeded on towards Fort Augustus stopping just short of the lock flight at a pontoon by the shower and toilet facilities. Helpful BW staff provided a plastic chair to assist Peter with his showering arrangements while I fixed the brakes on his wheelchair.
We ate in the ‘Bothy’, a tourist pub at the bottom of the flight near the swing bridge. Despite being recommended by a local (from eastern Europe) the food was only average and the restaurant was a conservatory extension erected in the car park with no particular view. Fort Augustus is much smaller than I had envisaged but pretty, quiet and peaceful; dominated by the flight of locks and the former fort.
Tuesday 18th May 2010
Fort Augustus – Urquart Bay, Loch Ness 14.3nm Total: 732.8nm
To descend the flight at 08.30 we rose early and first breakfasted. The morning was still and perfectly calm, Valhalla left a perfect shadow in the completely still water and the sun shone! The flight down to the waiting pontoon at the bottom took just over an hour and we stopped there for a late second breakfast and to go to the canal visitor centre where I bought a polo shirt to mark my visit. We slipped around 11.30 and having gained some sea room at the head of Loch Ness we raised the main and unfurled the genoa, the very slightest breeze from the south sent us on our way at just under 2 knots. We basked in the warm sunshine, reading, sunbathing, writing up my journal and fixing the leach line in the genoa where the rivet had broken, replacing it with a nut and bolt.
5 hours later we passed Urquart Castle and picked up the only visitors mooring in Urquart Bay. After flaking away the sails and putting on the covers, I blew up the new 2.7m SEAGO dingy (only the second time since I bought it off Cas) lowering the 2-2hp outboard onto the transom. I was very surprised and delighted that it started first pull, especially as I had not used it for over 2 years. Shona and I were set on a mission to find suitable vegetables for our lamb dinner and we set off towards the private harbour at full speed. Thinking the buoyed channel was only for much larger craft we hit the bottom with the propeller breaking the sheer pin, and now under oar I discovered we were floating in only a few inches of water. In great shame we rowed into the harbour. I asked the assembled yachties for a pair of pliers or toolkit but the reply was all the same ‘charter boat’, one did lend me a poor copy of a Leatherman but it would not answer to solve my problem of removing the old broken pin.
We walked up the road A82 and the two miles into Drumnadrochit looking at the exterior exploits of the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition. Further on at Patterson’s village shop and greengrocers, only carrots were on sale all the other vegetables having been bought earlier in the day. Walking back along the road with 5 carrots I felt a little disheartened but it was a beautiful evening and the Highland cattle in the fields seemed friendly. Back at the dingy I rowed out of the harbour then we both sat on the centre thwart taking an oar each rowing the mile or so back to Valhalla.
While Cathy peeled and chopped our prized carrots, Peter and I fixed the outboard. The lamb was good and the vegetables sublime. We retired early.
Wednesday 19th May 2010
Urquart Bay – Clancharry Basin, Inverness 13.3nm Total: 746.1nm
With only a short days sail we were not underway until 10.30. Setting the genoa only with a light SW 2 abaft the beam. We saw a couple of pleasure boats, not particularly full of tourists pass us by, travelling SW towards Fort William; followed by a powerful rib ripping into the peace with its throbbing engine noise.
Loch Ness has much less character than both Loch Lochy and Loch Oich, steep sided slopes covered in commercial forests of scots pine and larch on the north bank is the A86 with the constant drone of cars hurtling by at speed facilitating peoples busy lives. Whilst still naturally beautiful I wonder if the legend of the Loch Ness monster is just a tourist gimmick to increase visitor numbers to what is otherwise a less interesting part of Scotland.
As we reached the head of the loch at Bona Ferry, we all took pictures of the Aldourie Castle which looked just like a fairy castle complete with princesses. We followed the lateral channel markers into Loch Dochfour passing the weir that separates the River Ness from the Caledonian Canal. We were overtaken by the Jacobite Queen, a pleasure ferry and the large orange rib who proceeded to occupy the transit pontoon in order to disgorge his party of businessmen who were out on a jolly in the name of leadership and bonding training. The Jacobite Queen on the other hand had gone straight into the Dochfour lock causing us to wait 10 minutes for the lock to reset. We chatted to the rib driver who was from Helston, I discovered the 1 ½ hour journey from Fort Augustus a distance of 22 miles used about 60 litres of fuel; a far cry from our 1 ½ litres an hour!
Motoring up the last leg of the Caledonian Canal we passed under 2 sets of power cables with a reported safe clearance of 35m, I am not entirely certain of Valhalla’s air height, but at only 10m long I don’t believe our mast would be much above 15m, so plenty of clearance. But always a concern as you look up skywards. Next we approached the Tomnahurich swing bridge and tying up to the waiting pontoon it was evident that the bridge keeper was not yet returned from his lunch. As we prepared our lunch he arrived and opened the bridge so we put lunch on hold and proceeded to the other side hoping to stop for a while to enjoy our repast, as we secured the next pontoon a call came over the radio for us from the bridge keeper saying that he had informed the Muirtown flight of our imminent arrival and that they had set the locks for us to transit. Lunch would have to wait!
At 14.00 we entered the first of 3 locks in the flight, sending Cath ashore to handle the warps and talk to tourists, by the second lock sandwiches had been dispensed to the crew and we ate on the hoof. The flight took 40 minutes to complete and the lock keeper told us we could have 40 minutes in the Muirtown Basin before the next ‘Works Lock’ would have to close for the evening to allow the swing bridge to be used for the train commuter traffic. We tied up alongside and hurried down to the Co-Op to provision the boat for the next few days.
Returning at 15.40 we called the lockkeeper at the Works Lock on VHF Ch74 to request passage which was granted. He asked us if we had seen a French yacht which also wanted to go into the outer canal reach, but we hadn’t seen him. We waited a further 5 minutes whiles he was called repeatedly on the radio and the lock gates were closed behind us. As the sluice gates were opened the water in the lock fell about a foot down, we heard the Frenchman calling, only to be told that he was late and that he could try again at 08.30 tomorrow.
I think secretly we were pleased as it meant we could have the transit jetty all to ourselves for the night. The shower facilities at the sea lock Clanchaharry were excellent and particularly good for disabled access but no shaver socket for my beard trimmer or 240v supply to charge my laptop. For dinner we enjoyed chicken stir-fry with rice followed by fruit salad marred by a particularly old remnant of cassis long past its drink by date. Clean, fresh and fed we retired early for the journey tomorrow; the lockkeeper would let us through the sea lock at 08.30 allowing us to use the last of the ebb to send us through the Inverness Firth.
Thursday 20th May 2010
Inverness – Buckie 51.4nm Total: 797.5nm
We rose at 07.30 to prepare for our departure of the Caledonian Canal and back to the open sea. Porridge and Raisins. The lockkeeper arrived in a white van around 08.15 and by 08.25 the gates were open; tying up inside the lock we made the last bin run and filled a 2lt bottle with water from the standpipe. The lockkeeper gave us a steer as to the local knowledge exiting the lock and finding deep water in the Inverness Firth, ‘steer for the five houses in front of the trees until the red blob on the bridge is abeam, then aim for the centre of the bridge’.
The sun shone and the sea was calm, the last of the ebb sped us on our way under the Kessock Bridge adding 2.5 knots to ours speed. From the bridge we picked up the buoyed channel, although the Inverness Firth is not a deep port. The sea lock only operates 4 hours either side of high water during office hours. By 10.00 we had passed the lighthouse on Chanonry Point and were abeam of Fort George. With the engine on and motor sailing I could see the red flags flying on the small arms range. I checked the VHF only to find we were still listening on Ch74, the Canal Ch, and switched it to Ch16, hoping for silence. As soon as we were clear of the butts the ripple of automatic fire pierced the peace but the firing only lasted 5 minutes before that too was silent.
The coastline took on a very different character, much flatter and featureless, long thin headlands stretching out to sea where the depth of water was very much reduced. We passed by RAF Kinloss and Lossimouth observing Tornados flying above us at speed, circling and returning to base. Around 17.00 we passed a coaster ‘Scott Carrier’ not underway a couple of miles off Buckie Harbour, we had picked him up on AIS 6 miles earlier.
As we approached the harbour a loud single toot of a ships whistle alerted us to the possibility of a shipping movement. We called the Buckie Pitols on Ch16, only to be advised they were working on Ch12. Having established contact with Buckie Harbour we were told to wait while the ship ‘Jonas’ left the harbour, there being only a few feet either side of the hull and the harbour wall. Later we were directed into basin dock No. 2 where we tied up starboard side to with long lines to a concrete wall with vertical ladder. The smell of decaying fish was everywhere. Buckie was once a thriving fishing / commercial port but now the money had gone out of the town, we saw only one fishing boat although new facilities for ship repair. ‘Scott Carrier’ came in behind us and loaded with low grade ‘blown down’ timber destined for a power plant in Wales.
Buckie still exports soya and sugar beet along with high grade timber for Norway of all places where there is great demand for Scottish quality building lumber along. We checked into the harbour office and paid our dues £14.45 and wandered around the harbour and town; you can’t fake decay like this and it was evident everywhere. Chinese chicken and noodles, followed by sticky toffee pudding washed down with a glass or two of red and then off to bed.
Friday 21st May 2010
Buckie – Roseharty 30.4nm Total: 827.9nm
Up at 08.00, kettle on, slipping our lines just before 08.30, a quick call to the harbour master to check that it was all clear to leave Buckie Harbour and we were underway. The weather was fine and warm and showed promise for the rest of the day; shorts weather? Too soon haze blocked the sun and a light sea mist covered the coast. Not a breathe of wind so we motored at 2100 revs, our cruising speed of 5 knots leaving the sail cover on the main.
Seals were basking on ‘Middle Muck’ and the inquisitive ones looked up as we passed. Later on in the day we saw dolphins, they came over to dive under Valhalla’s bow, sadly just as soon as they had come they were gone. There was not a ripple on the water, a dead calm. Roseharty had only a minor entry in the Reeds Almanac, none at all on our Imfay chart, and showed no promise with drying heights only on the chart plotter but an entry in the local authority of Moray and Aberdeenshire directory of NE Council harbours showed an outer harbour wall with sufficient depth of water at all states of the tide.
We decided to have a cautious look at the harbour just after low water at Frazerburgh, which does not really welcome yachites, as our alternative port. Roseharty’s ‘west pier’ harbour wall extends 200m NNE with rocks about 10m to the lee of the wall. We approached at slow speed from the west keeping about a cable offshore until the west pier was open of the rocks which revealed one of the smallest harbours I have ever seen. A dry run indicated that the only suitable AB was right at the end of the pier by a rusting inset wall ladder; with all our fenders dressed down the port side we reversed back alongside the end of the wall with long lines fore and aft to allow for the rise and fall of the tide.
Valhalla lay surprisingly well alongside with her bow pointing slightly inwards brushing against the wall occasionally in the surge. Ashore was a peaceful small village with Spar shop and a couple of pubs. Fishermen were putting the finishing touches to their boats sat on blocks on the village green; they were to be lifted in next week; but it was early yet only being the 21st of May. They would fish for mackerel and haul creels for lobster.
We spent a delightful afternoon and evening in Roseharty; I took calls from the office from my sister who was standing in for me doing the company payroll and made several calls to my bank – speaking to someone in India going through several security questions I did not have the answers to. We ate on board enjoying the mince from the spar conjured expertly into an appetising chilli con carne. Then to bed.
Saturday 22nd May 2010
Roseharty – Peterhead 25.9nm Total: 853.8nm
I rose early at about 07.00 to walk ashore and take some pictures of this idyllic spot; meeting a local ex-fisherman now working on the rigs, he showed me a picture of his fishing boat. We slipped at 08.25 motoring into a flat sea with slight breeze and haze. We needed to time our departure so that the strong tidal stream flowing around Rattray Head would send us on our way with a useful tidal lift.
We saw dolphins, again all too briefly. Heading SE having passed Frazerburgh we were able to set main and genoa goose-winged. The sight of a wrecked fishing boat of considerable size on ‘The Skerry’ reminded us that even in these modern times the fishing industry is a hazardous one and that the sea is still in charge. Approaching Peterhead we called the harbour on Ch14 for clearance to enter. The harbour is host to a large fishing fleet and ships that service the oil industry. We transited the Peterhead Bay to the marina and tied up at 13.30, the marina office was closed and a key is required to enter and exit the complex.
We waited till 16.30 on the assurance of the berth holders that ‘Jim’ would reappear shortly; eventually we found a mobile number for him and he came in from his son’s birthday barbeque; not only to give us a key but also supplied us with diesel and access to the disabled toilet. He is the only member of staff, with a part time relief man who is currently off sick, he works 14 hours a day and gets one weekend off a month. We interrupted him on his weekend off!
We walked from the marina up the steep hill, pushing Peter in his wheelchair, into town about 2 miles away and had a reasonable meal in the Peterhead Wetherspoons. Walking back to the boat the visibility closed in and the harbour fog signal echoed around the bay.
Sunday 23rd May 2010
Peterhead 0.0nm Total: 853.8nm
Ahead of schedule we decided to take a day off in Peterhead. The girls went into town to do the shopping while Peter and I did jobs around the boat. I removed the water filter and breather pipes to clean them only to find replacing the brackets an altogether different prospect to removing them. Situated in the sugar scoop stern with only a small access through a hatch at the end of the aft cabin, you needed to be Houdini with longer arms to achieve the task; much swearing and bruises later we completed the 5 minute job that had taken all afternoon.
We spent time trying to master the laptop, in particular to upload pictures of our travels to Google’s Picsa and then post them on our Google Maps website chronicling our journey so far. I find computers utterly frustrating and this day was no exception; as part of the boat’s inventory it is the least useful. I bought it to keep in touch by e-mail, to keep a journal and view the internet, primarily for weather. I found the £199 Nasa Navtex which receives and retains text of both Shipping and Inshore Coastal Forecast did the job particularly well and is easy to use; I would rather have that than a laptop that only lasts 2 hours per charge.
For Sunday dinner the girls bought a roast chicken which we enjoyed with roast potatoes, stuffing, carrots, broccoli and cabbage. We downed ¾ of a bottle of gin and one of tonic and polished off the last of the Pimms. All in all a great end to an otherwise frustrating day.
Monday 24th May 2010
Peterhead – Stonehaven 34.9nm Total: 888.7nm
To catch a favourable tide we left the marina soon after 08.00 calling Peterhead harbour on Ch14 to gain transit permission to leave the port. A northerly wind had been whistling through the rigging since first light and heavy bouts of rain battered the deck. We dressed accordingly:- thermals, salopettes, boots, 2 fleeces, jacket, buff and woolly hat. The girls took stugeron as a preventative measure and we battened down the hatches stowing the valuables, cameras, mobiles and laptop. The fog signal was still sounding as we reached the harbour entrance and black clouds threatened. Then it brightened and the ferocity of the wind abated to reveal a benevolent N5 with associated slight sea, hoisting the main and unfurling the genoa we made a respectable 6.5 knots topped up with a favourable tide of 1.5 knots culminated in an impressive 8 knots over the ground.
Dodging the darkest clouds and trying to keep Valhalla under the glimpses of blue sky we passed Aberdeen on a dead run, goose-winged, throwing up a fine bow wave. By 14.00 we were handing sails and putting out fenders for our imminent arrival in Stonehaven. We tied up to the outer wall of the harbour with the assistance of the helpful harbour master who gave us the keys to the showers. The overnight charge is a reasonable £15.00.
We stepped ashore in the most picturesque harbour visiting the community museum in the former toll booth with exhibits on law and order, fishing, net making and an interesting dvd about Hogmanay ‘Fireballing’. Cath bought fish and chips from the ‘Carron Fishbar’ birthplace of the world’s famous deep fried mars bar and yes we had to try it but it was vile.
Tuesday 25th May 2010
Stonehaven – Arbroath 27.8nm Total: 916.5nm
To get the best possible tidal help we slipped our moorings alongside the outer wall of Stonehaven harbour at 07.05 clutching the last remnants of my first cup of tea for the day. The weather showed much promise; blue skies, bright sunshine and a gentle NW 2. We made sail raising the main and unfurling the genoa but left the engine on to recharge the battery; we had let it fall down to 11.9v last night.
The wind freshened to NW3 and an hour after leaving Stonehaven the engine was silenced and the gear placed in reverse so as to lock the propeller form turning. The journey to Arbroath is less than 30 miles but we wanted to arrive just after HW to make certain we could enter the tricky harbour and get into the inner harbour through the lock gates. By 11.00 the wind had backed around to S or SSE about F2 so I rolled away the genoa and started the engine once again. From a distance offshore, about 4 miles, the town was clear to see and with binoculars I could make out the signal station and the harbour wall, painted white each side of the entrance. To gain safe entry we would have to line up the two white poles with a sectored light on each and follow in on the transit.
Despite the charted rocks on the chart plotter so close to Valhalla’s track and the numerous creel pot markers just outside the harbour, we safely entered Arbroath harbour and finding the lock gates open went into the marina tying up alongside a hammerhead pontoon. Checking in with the HM we walked into town in search of gas but to no avail.
We decided to look around the town for the afternoon rendezvousing at 18.00 back onboard. We visited a fishmonger, home of the ‘Arbroath Smokie’ a hot oak smoked haddock for which the town is famous. We walked up the high street to the camping shop to ask about gas but without success. We passed the impressive ruins of Arbroath Abbey built in a local red sandstone and headed back towards the harbour, arriving at the signal station museum just before 17.00. The curator was just locking up but allowed us entry to view the exhibit of the ‘Bell Rock’ lighthouse while she closed up and enjoyed a cigarette outside in the courtyard. The Bell Rock Lighthouse was the first offshore lighthouse to be built in the UK, designed by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson, 198 years ago, standing the test of time using granite at the base interlocked with dovetail joints and changing to sandstone further up the column. Stevenson wanted to use granite throughout but they could not cut sufficient in time.
We had a beer in the Old Harbour Restaurant and returned aboard to have showers and get ready for the evening. Dinner in the Old Brewhouse was a real treat and I enjoyed the delights of a hot buttered Arbroath Smokie in the eponymous town followed by another Scottish favourite ‘Cloutie Dumpling’ a bread and suet pudding filled with boiled fruit. Perhaps the best meal ashore since Knockderry House Hotel in Loch Long.
Wednesday 26th May 2010
Arbroath – Port Edgar 57.1nm Total: 973.6nm
Our gas problems were thankfully sorted by a neighbouring yachties Trevor and Rebecca Martin who live on their Moody 33 Mk1 ‘Dignity Too of Edinburgh’ who keep four spare 907 camping gas bottles. I paid them £20.00 they would not accept more and we were back in business. We slipped our moorings after a breakfast of toasted cinnamon bagels just after the lock gates opened at 10.00 and motored out of the harbour making sure to keep an eye on the back transit and when clear of the last rocks we hoisted the main. Our course took us out towards the Bell Rock Lighthouse but we altered our track southwards and were never nearer than 4 miles away.
A light SE2 meant that it was lunchtime before we could set the genoa on a course of 230O just north of Fife Ness. We were in the Firth of Fourth but still had 40 miles to sail to reach Port Edgar, it took all afternoon and early evening to get there. A number of very large ships come in and out of the Firth of Fourth; tankers, cruise liners and tugs, one towing a massive barge with steel structure – probably for the oil industry. From a distance we could see Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat, the Castle, the port of Leith and Britannia moored alongside what is now Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre.
The Fourth Bridge and the Fourth Road Bridge grew in stature as we approached until they towered above us; with less than 5 miles to run it began to rain heavily, we had been watching the black clouds hoping to miss them. Wednesday night is race night and we dogged the racers under the bridges and into the marina at Port Edgar – it was 20.50 when we finally tied up alongside – cold, wet and tired.
A Pasta and everything left in the fridge stir-fry answered the needs of a hungry crew and the recently serviced Webasto diesel heating system returned our comfort levels. By 22.00 we had eaten and were ready for bed.