SPBA

Information about our friendly boating association.

January 4, 2020
by spba2018
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URGENT Help Needed

We urgently need volunteers to prep and paint the main prow for the start of the new season. Any members who can offer their help with this work should contact our Bosun (Matt Bunney) on 07525188532. We need volunteers to complete the work during February.

Please put your name forward to Matt if you possibly can. The work is essential if we are to maintain our pontoon in future seasons.

All equipment will be provided.

September 19, 2019
by spba2018
1 Comment

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 15

“West of the Lizard is no place for a small boat come the end of August”, it says in the West Country Cruising Companion. So with that in mind I set off from Padstow in the early hours, bound round Land’s End to Newlyn. There was still some swell left over from the strong winds. In fact, as I worked my way out past Trevose Head, the seas were enormous.

Originally I had hoped to tackle Land’s End from St Ives, but the conditions didn’t permit, so I had to do the trip in one go. To shorten the journey somewhat I planned to take the inshore passage, but if it was going to be rough then I’d prefer to have more sea room to play with, especially in the onshore winds. But that would be a long trip indeed. On the outward journey, I’d had some rough treatment around here, and really wasn’t looking forward to the day. Apprehension was building as I worked my way south west, in fact, as I passed St Ives, I seriously thought about just taking the boat in and handing the keys to someone. After all, my journey was pretty much over, this was no longer about fun, just about getting home. At least I’d save on winter storage fees. But it sounded like a hassle so I just pressed on. As I rounded Pendeen Point, I found that the water wasn’t that rough and it was a blowing a happy Force 4.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

All the tension I’d felt on the way down started to melt away as it turned into quite a nice sail. I was still keen to get around and into shelter as quickly as possible, but the fear was fading away now. I took the inshore passage behind the Longships lighthouse.

Much better than last time.

At this point I was supposed to get a boost from the inshore counter current, but I didn’t seem to be getting any help at all, although I wasn’t fighting the tide either, so I just watched the coast go by as progress was steadily made. Eventually I had gotten past the most treacherous parts, and as I was sailing away from Gwennap Head, I looked astern and it seemed like the weather was closing in. It was as though the Gods had chosen mercy and allowed me a window of safe passage, and now it was closing up astern.

The sense of relief was enormous.

Soon enough I had made it all the way to Mousehole where I checked to see if I could anchor. There was too much swell for a comfortable night so I pressed on to Newlyn. It was pitch black as I approached and had to watch carefully for anchored yachts hidden against the town lights. I wasn’t planning on going into harbour, so I found a good spot to anchor, and promptly went to bed.

Newlyn at night.

The next day it was time to do battle with the Lizard once more. In the previous bout I’d been slapped around quite badly, but I felt a bit more prepared this time. The relatively easy passage around Land’s End had boosted my confidence somewhat. I clipped across Mount’s Bay in good time with favourable tide and wind, doing about 6 knots over the ground. It was a smashing day. The sun was shining, the sea was that brilliant colour that you only seem to get in Cornwall and there was wildlife everywhere. Part of me thought: when you’ve got this sort of thing on your doorstep, what’s the point in sailing hundreds of miles away?

Great day.

My Dad, a birdwatcher, had informed me that there was a rare bird in the area, an unusual visitor to these parts in the form of a Brown Booby (yeah, have fun with that). It had been seen around St Ives the day before and now apparently it was sighted at Kynance Cove, which I was very close to. There were tons of gannets about and some pretty big mixed feeding aggregations, with dolphins chipping in too and I even saw a sunfish, but no basking sharks.

Little sunfish.

I kept my eyes peeled for the booby, but it’s really difficult to use binoculars on a small boat when you’re getting bounced around, one hand on the helm and the other hand holding onto to something solid. But I did see a likely culprit in one feeding group, and snapped a couple of pictures.

Possible booby on the far right.

In the end, after lots of careful analysis, I think it was just a young gannet. I’m not too fussed about seeing rarities though, I’d rather just watch everything in action instead of stressing over an unusual visitor. The water around here was just brimming with wildlife.

Common dolphins.

I would have liked to linger a while, but had to get on. I had timed it to arrive off the point at slack water, but when it turned it’d be against me. I also set course to pass about 5 miles off, but as I got closer, the inshore route looked OK, and there were a couple of other boats passing much further in, seemingly without trouble. I decided to take a shortcut and pass closer to land.

Hard to port.

I was almost passed the point and into safety when the tide turned and started to flow against me. And it flowed hard. It built in speed very quickly and I soon had both engines on, the inboard and the outboard, the first time I’d done this. Fighting against it, I was less than a mile away from safety and had the boat pointed eastwards but was travelling northwards. The sea wasn’t especially rough, at least not yet but I could feel the overfalls building. After what seemed like forever, I made it through into clean water, immediately east of the point itself and suddenly the boat started going where she was pointing. Feeling a bit stressed out I decided to find a cove to drop the anchor and take a break. I was a bit disappointed in myself for letting a situation like that develop. I probably shouldn’t have changed course on a whim, I nearly didn’t make it round the point. But I ended up in a nice spot where I had a swim and some lunch, and waited for the tide to turn again in my favour.

Time to cool off.

It occurred to me that my experiences of rounding these exposed headlands have all been very different, and were never what I anticipated. I don’t know how much of this is down to pot-luck and the complexities of weather systems and tidal currents, or if it’s a sign of just how little I know. I’d like to have a better idea of what I’ll face in any given situation with regards to the weather. One thing I need to do is develop more knowledge of small scale weather systems; it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.

Mackerel sky = the weather is going to change. I think…

Later that afternoon I set off with the tide to find a place to stop, not just for the night but for the following night too, as a front was moving in. I decided to go into Gillan Creek instead of the Helford because it looked like it would afford more shelter and I could use the boat’s small size to tuck right in.

Up the creek.

It was quite close quarters finding a spot equidistant between the moorings but I ended up dropping hook off the picturesque little village of Flushing. I didn’t go ashore, just waited for the wind to blow through and then on the morning of Thursday 5th September 2019 I set off for the final passage of my journey, back to Plymouth.

Set course for Plymouth!

The forecast said it should have been a great day for sailing, but it was a little stronger than I was expecting. I certainly made good progress, but the wind kept shifting from a force 3 up to a force 6. Not gusting, but blowing for about 20 minutes and then changing. I kept reefing, and then finding myself doing 2 knots, then shaking out the reef and shortly thereafter getting blasted and heeling right over with the tiller in my armpit. And the direction kept swinging back and forth through about 40 degrees, so that I couldn’t just leave the tiller pilot to do the helming.

Looks good but was strangely difficult.

I suspect it was because the wind was blowing from over the land. It was actually quite frustrating, but I made very good time. In fact, it was the first long passage of the entire trip where I arrived before my ETA. I usually arrive significantly after. Last year the journey from Mevagissey to Plymouth had felt like a massive undertaking, but now I was doing a journey twice as long and it felt routine. Before long, I was rounding Rame Head and then Les came out to meet me just off Penlee Point to welcome me home and we sailed along together.

Thanks for the photo Les.
Looks like she was worth all the effort.

I went over to Bovisand and anchored in the sandy bay, where Ness and her friend swam out to the boat and joined me for a drink. It was in this spot back in 2014 that I saw a boat at anchor, when I was up on the coastal path, looking down on it from above, I think it’s what made me want to get a boat and learn how to sail. It was such an idyllic sight and having grown up in rural Scotland, only just moving to Plymouth that year, it’s the sort of thing that had always seemed unattainable, the quintessential life of privilege. I guess that means I’m a man of privilege now, but it’s pretty amazing that you can get an old 70’s fibreglass yacht for next to nothing and just go off and mess about in it. I talked with Bernie about this later on in the pub, and it’s great that you can still do this here. Apparently in most countries you need to be qualified before you can do that, but here they’ll let a dafty go out and do what they please. Long may it continue.

Surprisingly this doesn’t usually happen when I anchor.

Anyway Les showed up after a bit and scared them off, and then we had a few beers and waited for the tide to allow us back onto the moorings. It was a short trip back in, and it felt strange to be coming back in around Devil’s Point and then seeing Storehouse Pool open. Maybe it was just the beers. I came alongside the pontoon and met a few members who had come down to say hello. It was nice to have a few folk welcome me home, so thank you for that.

Welcome home.

I apologise if anyone had wanted to do so, but couldn’t because of the short notice, but my passage plans always seem to be somewhat elastic and I didn’t want to schedule a date I might miss. On that note, I’ve got to leave for Australia tomorrow and spend more money. I wonder if they’ve got Lidl down there….

September 13, 2019
by spba2018
2 Comments

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 14

After spending the first night at Wexford alongside peacefully (which I was dubious about on account of the vigorous partying I witnessed on arrival), the following evening I made acquaintances with some of the local youths who quizzed me about many things, including the Union Jack on the Red Ensign. Our discourse covered a range of topics, from how long it took me to get there to how much the boat cost, back to how long it took me to get there. They seemed innocuous enough but as some other tweens arrived I watched as they descended into pack animal behaviour before my very eyes, and they bounded off to the next object of interest. I suspected they might return after nightfall in search of mischief (earlier that afternoon I had returned to the boat to find unidentified brown liquid splattered over it, either the work of a seagull or a delinquent with a milkshake, but it washed off easily enough). With that in mind, I cast off and dropped anchor in the channel. In any account, I had to get away sharpish in the morning and this saved time putting all the fenders, fender boards and warps away.

Nice start to the day.

I had to make the crossing to Milford Haven on this particular day to due to a window in the weather, and as usual to avoid being caught out by winds too strong I ended up caught out by winds too light. Not far off the coast of Ireland I was becalmed and so once again I had to pass the hours accompanied by the steady drone of the engine.

Becalmed.

About halfway however the wind picked up a little and I was able to get the cruising chute up and started making pretty good progress until the tide turned against me. I couldn’t really work the tides on this trip as I had to make the crossing on this day, and it was going to be an all-day affair, so I’d have to just cope with whatever the tide was doing.

No spinnaker dramas this time.

I had hoped to make it all the way to Milford Haven, but as the sun was setting I decided to stop short and go back into the south haven of Skomer Island. It was dark when I arrived, and I had a fairly turbulent night in here. Most of the seabirds had gone, although there were some seals having a bit of a dust up. In the morning I got round to Milford Haven and anchored in the Dale anchorage. The winds were not conducive for crossing the Bristol Channel that day. I was watching the forecast like a hawk as I had to make as much progress towards Plymouth as I could, and there were several days of strong winds coming soon. In fact, if I didn’t leave before they arrived, I’d probably be stuck in Milford Haven for nearly a whole week, but then at least anchoring here is free. The forecast for the next day gave very light winds until late afternoon, then blowing steady until the morning when the strong stuff was arriving. I had hoped to leave first thing to cross the channel, but the wind was just too light and I didn’t want to go all the way up to the marina for diesel only to burn it all on the crossing. So I waited until the late afternoon before setting off for another night sail.

A few miles out and it’ll be dark soon.

It was pretty rough, and I was sceptical about how much I’d enjoy this crossing. I felt seasick, which was the first time this happened other than the first day out of Plymouth. I popped a couple of Stugeron. While inside the cabin at one point I was somehow flung into one of the side windows and later flew into the radio, hitting my lower back. Impressive considering it’s mounted on the ceiling. I was also having a hard time setting the tiller-pilot to keep on course without yawing all over the place, but at least there was plenty of wind. It got dark quickly, and the passing of time seemed to really slow down. All passages seem to take a long time, but this one was going exceptionally slowly, regardless of my speed. When I had night sailed to Dublin, I didn’t sleep, partly because I was still close to shore and there was lots of traffic, partly because it was my first time night sailing and it was unfamiliar, and mostly because I couldn’t have slept if I had tried. This time however, I was out of sight of land and there was no traffic on the horizon. The boat seemed to be steering herself ok and I was getting cold in the cockpit so I put some cushions on the cabin sole and lay down. It was remarkable how much better the motion was down here, with my head low, near the centre of the boat. Even though the boat was bucking around it didn’t feel like it. From my position I could look back out of the companionway, it was a clear night so I could see the Plough constellation and I could see the boat was staying on course, pretty cool! I set an alarm on my phone for 20 minutes and tried to get some shut-eye. Twenty very long minutes later it went off and I was still wide awake. I hauled myself up and scanned the horizon: nothing. Back down, I set the alarm again. This time, the minutes passed a little quicker. Again, there was nothing on the horizon. Although it was pitch black outside, something in the water caught my eye. It passed by and I dismissed it as the foam left behind after a breaking wave, but I saw it again a few minutes later. It turned out to be a dolphin swimming alongside the boat, or rather it was the phosphorescent wake it left behind as it shot through the water. It was really trippy; it didn’t sparkle like I expected, it looked more like the contrail left behind a jet. There were quite a few dolphins about and it was amazing seeing the bright trails left behind them as they zoomed around. They stayed with me all night and I think I could even hear them through the hull. And so on it went, lying down for 20 minutes at a time, then getting up to scan the horizon all around. I gradually got more tired and ended up in a permanent state of half-sleep misery. It made it hard to focus my bleary eyes on the horizon, but made a huge difference to the passage of time. The rest of the night passed as quickly as that first hour of darkness and before I knew it, dawn was breaking.

Dawn at last.

Although the groggy half-sleep had helped the night pass quickly, it was still pretty gruelling and I just wanted the journey to end. It had been really tempting at times to just turn off the alarm and fall fully asleep. This “20 minute sleep” schedule is how single handers cross oceans, but it is definitely not for me. During the night the wind had backed to the south west and I had adjusted the sails accordingly but it meant I was now on a close reach, and my track had ended up about 10 miles to leeward of my destination near Padstow. The wind was blowing much harder with the break of dawn and I put a reef in. I was really annoyed with myself for letting my track veer so far off course. I had anticipated that the ebb tide would push me back on course, but I think the boat was making too much leeway. I should have reefed earlier and probably also erred on the windward side. In the end it took me an extra 3 hours to claw my way upwind and eventually I just lowered the sails and used the engine.

Sod it! Get the engine on.

Eventually I made it into the lee of the cliffs at Port Quin Bay, and it was quite a relief. In this little spot, it was actually quite a nice day, the sun was shining, the swell was much reduced and the sea was a brilliant colour. I thought about a swim but I was knackered so just went to sleep. When I woke the sky was grey and the swell was coming round the corner. If I left immediately I could get into Padstow Harbour, but I decided to stay the night here. Turned out to be quite uncomfortable and I basically just had to lie there and wait until the next tide to get into Padstow. This was early the following morning and I had to wait until there was enough light as I didn’t want to motor into any of the many, many lobster pots around here. The swell was enormous and the short trip around the Mouls and into the Camel Estuary was arduous. I couldn’t help but think of the Maria Assumpta, a tall ship which had been wrecked here in the 90s. Seeing the size of the waves breaking on the cliffs, I was dubious about how safe the Doom Bar would be to cross, but it turned out to be fine and it was a relief to get into the buoyed channel.

Red sky in the morning…

Arriving at Padstow, the harbourmaster was apparently surprised to see me as there were some fishing boats already in harbour that were sheltering from the weather. I was very glad to join them. I hadn’t really wanted to come here again; I was hoping to not revisit anywhere on the return journey, but so far I had been to every place already. Ideally I would have gone into Clovelly Harbour and then down to St Ives, but these places just aren’t suitable in the current conditions. This whole stretch of coastline is pretty daunting actually, and Padstow is a fantastically welcome haven.

Berthed in the exact same spot as before.

Well, I was chuffed with myself for getting across the channel before the weather hit, but now I was stuck in harbour for a few days. I had been invited to wedding of a friend earlier in the year but unfortunately I already had my grand voyage all planned out so had to decline. But here I was, within reaching distance of the venue and with a day or two to spare. Ness was already driving to the wedding from Plymouth when it dawned on us that I could still attend, so she made a detour to pick me up and off we went. Obviously back in May I hadn’t stocked the boat with any wedding outfits, so I had to scrounge clothes (thanks Tony and Mike!), and while it was an eclectic outfit at least I wasn’t wearing flip flops…

Should have gone for the old sweater-over-the-shoulders routine.

The wedding felt a bit like a false finish to my journey in terms of a return to land life, but I was soon back in Padstow and found the boat just as I left her, albeit sporting a bit more guano splatter. We had an afternoon to look about Padstow, so we got pasties, popped into the lobster hatchery, had ice cream, and went for a walk along the beach.

It’s a miracle we survived.

The next big obstacle is getting around Land’s End, which I had hoped to tackle from St Ives but it wasn’t looking like it was on the cards…

September 4, 2019
by spba2018
1 Comment

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 13

Well, after sheltering from the bad weather in Strangford Lough it was time to move onwards. I had considered setting out at the end of the day and doing a night sail to Dublin, but at the last minute I chickened out of it and stayed put for the night. It was probably the right decision considering the conditions I encountered the next day, which turned out to be a very long one.

Crossing the bar.

I was a bit apprehensive about crossing the bar leaving the Lough, as with the speed of the ebb flow there can be some pretty epic overfalls, especially in contrary winds and ebb runs against the main tidal flow in the Irish Sea for the first few hours. So I timed it carefully to cross the bar at exactly low water. As I was approaching I could look ahead through the binoculars at what I thought were a bunch of fishing boats, but actually turned out to be standing waves sticking up above the horizon. I think they diminished a bit as I approached, and when I crossed, there was some fairly big rolling swell but it was no cause for concern. The wind was plenty strong and under full sail I was going quickly. There wasn’t much time to get out before the tide turned and started flooding back in.

Difficult conditions.

As soon as I was out in open water however, the wind faded and things got very difficult. I was faced with the remnants of the previous strong winds in terms of short, steep seas and combined with the current light winds, progress was painful. Every time I built some speed I’d just slam into the oncoming sea like a brick wall, stopping me dead. It was like trying to run up a sand dune. After 5 hours I had only made 11 miles, with more than 50 to do to get to Dublin. It also didn’t help that the wind was constantly shifting around, swinging back and forth through 180 degrees, and every 20 minutes or so I had to put a reef in due to the frequent squalls. Then the wind would die completely and i’d shake it back out. This went on for some time, and it was probably the most unsatisfying sailing experience I’ve had so far.

Luckily the squalls started to ease up.

By the early evening the wind had become more consistent in strength and direction and I started making steady progress southwards. I had to decide where to stop for the night, as I was nowhere near where I had planned to be. Seeing as I had considered doing a night sail the night before, and was a little disappointed I hadn’t, I took the opportunity to just keep going and do the night sail tonight. The big difference of course was that I wasn’t just starting; I had already been sailing since 9 am. But conditions had improved, the sea was getting flatter, the wind was going to keep blowing
until the morning and there was going to be a near-full moon.

Sad to see the sun go.

The frustrations of the day were soon forgotten as I got the auto-helm working, the sails were trimmed just right and the tide had turned back round in my favour. I made good progress directly south at about 6 knots. I didn’t feel tired at all, I think due to the heightened alertness of being my first night sail and I was having fun. The horizon had seemed empty in daylight but now in the darkness I could see all the navigation lights of various shipping much further out. I had a bit of a scary moment when a fishing trawler headed inshore came straight at me. It had been against the backdrop of lights on the horizon and it took a while to single it out and determine how far away it was and what direction it was travelling, and before I knew what was happening I could see the white water of the bow wave and the dark holes of the bridge windows. In some alarm, I turned on all the lights I had and fired up the engine to get out of the way. It was a pretty close call and I spent the next while pondering what I needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Night sailing.

The water was fairly shallow where I was and I was also a bit concerned about lobster pots. I had seen a few go by fairly close in the fading light, but now it was pitch black and I would have a hard time spotting them. I was happy when I saw the red glow on the moon rising behind the clouds, providing some light, but it soon disappeared behind the clouds and the sky was effectively moonless. I reasoned with myself that as I wasn’t using the engine, I’d have less chance of fouling any lines around the prop. It was pretty cold and I spent a bit of time inside the cabin, which I hadn’t really done much of so far while on the move. The auto-helm was performing well, and I would peer out every now and then to scan the horizon. I made what was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, partly because of the atmosphere and partly because I put in about 4 times too much powder cause I couldn’t see in the dark. I found I could stand in the companionway with only my head sticking out so I could see ahead. It was while doing this that I suddenly saw the dark shadow of a lobster float appear out of the gloom dead ahead. I didn’t have time to get to the tiller, disengage the auto-helm and steer around it so I just had to watch as it disappeared beneath the bow, bumping along the hull. I waited for the sudden jolt but instead felt relief as I watched it pass astern. After a few hours I could see the lit navigation markers ahead signifying the end was near (also I could see it on the chart plotter…). I had decided to anchor at Lambay Island and go in to Dublin in daylight. Approaching the island, I could see the high cliffs looming dark ahead, and relied heavily on the chart plotter to get me in the right spot for anchoring. With the hook dropped at 3.39 am, I wasted no time getting to bed. I was pretty beat, having been on the move for 18 hours. I only slept for about 4 hours as I wanted to catch the early morning wind and tide to get into Dublin.

Gannet colony on Lambay Island.

In the daylight, Lambay Island looked like quite a nice place, but I was underway as soon as I woke up. Anticipating an early arrival into Dublin, I was disappointed that I didn’t get there until 5 pm. The winds were not favourable and it just took forever getting there.

Dublin ahead.

I had to call up the port traffic control who directed me in after some very large ferries and it was a very miserable rainy day. I didn’t waste any time getting showered and then having a Guinness in the marina bar. I was running low on food and there were no shops nearby so I ordered a Dominos delivery (2 for 1) and feasted before passing out for the night.

An industrial welcome.

I didn’t have a particularly peaceful night as the port is very busy and the propeller noises of all the big ships really transmits through the hull. I’d hate to be a whale around here. I was awoken by an especially noisy ship and wasn’t too happy to see the towering bow of a massive cruise liner
bearing down on me.

Not how you want to wake up.

However it was just turning around in the channel with the assistance of some tug boats, but I couldn’t help but think of some videos I’d seen online of such manoeuvres going badly wrong. I wished the visitors pontoon wasn’t the one on the outside. Anyway, with some pizza for breakfast, it was off into the city for a look about. I did the usual things, visit the art gallery, walk about Trinity College, mostly just sat in a few pubs and enjoyed the Guinness, which really is noticeably better here. I don’t know it the weather affected my experience adversely, but I found the place to be a bit grim, although the pubs were brilliant. I did appreciate the contrast of the heavy industry with all the pretty little places I’d been to lately.

Close quarters in Dublin Port.

I could have stayed another night for free but I wanted to press on. Setting off into a force 6, I got blown across Dublin Bay at top speed with 2 reefs in. It wasn’t long before the wind died down and my visions of an epic coastal passage diminished.

Trying to get as much sail shape as possible in light winds.

I had to put the engine on and in the end only got as far as Wicklow, where I arrived in the dark and dropped the anchor for a short night rolling about. I wanted get going at 4 am to catch the tide but slept in late and only caught the second half of the tide. It was a pretty brutal morning with wind and rain and big seas and I had to motorsail upwind all the way. I only made 12 miles before pulling into Arklow as the tide turned against me.

Picturesque entrance to Arklow.

This stretch of coastline doesn’t afford much shelter for the frugal sailor who prefers to anchor but I took full advantage of Fairhaven’s shallow draft by tucking in behind the breakwater. No sooner had I made the anchor fast than I heard over the radio an updated forecast for strong south easterlies, which would blow right into the tiny sliver of shelter I had squeezed into. And by the time the tide turned in my favour for southwards travel, this would have blown through and I’d then be facing a calm. Perhaps due to my lack of sleep, I said “sod this” and motored into Arklow to splash out on a pontoon berth. In the end, this was a good decision as nearby to the pontoon there is both a maritime museum and an Aldi. What more could I possibly want?

Probably the best model ship I’ve ever seen made in brass and ivory.

I went off the to pub again, and mostly just enjoyed not being cooked up on the boat. At one point a yacht got caught up on one of the submerged mooring lines in the middle of the river and after a while, I was about to offer to get the wetsuit on and jump in when a local launch pulled up to help them. I’m glad I didn’t as I later found out this river is heavily polluted with raw sewage….

Resupplied.

The following day I could either catch the tide at 3am or 3.30pm so no surprises which I chose. After stocking up in Aldi (what supermarket doesn’t have UHT milk!?) and having a lazy day, I made ready to catch the tide south. There was a high pressure sitting over the country and the sun was blazing, also there was bugger all wind. I had hoped to catch a sea-breeze, but there was very little of that to be found so I motored south for 6 hours. The initial plan was to anchor off Rosslare for the night and then make the hop across Saint George’s Channel to Milford Haven the following day, but between the swell and the light winds forecast the next day, I changed my mind and headed for Wexford instead. I hadn’t planned on coming here, partly due to the entrance being covered with extensive shifting sandbanks. I had to do my planning on the fly and thanks to the internet I was able to download a digital map from the Wexford Harbour website that had the channel marker buoys detailed for navigation.

Thanks to Wexford Harbour!

As I approached the entrance the light was fading fast and going through here in darkness is not recommended for first timers, but I thought what-the-hell, I’ve made it this far. The digital map has information on the light sequences of the buoys but it was less than ideal figuring this out on the move. Thankfully there was just enough twilight in the western sky to provide a bit of silhouette to the buoys closest to me, but if I had been going the opposite way it would have been pitch black and much harder.

Entering the channel to Wexford Harbour.

I got alarmingly close to the exposed sandbanks at points, and the cries of the basking seals in the dark was eerie. There was quite a bit of cross tide at times and the navigation kept me on my toes. Eventually I made it all the way to the town without mishap. Coming in on the flood I had quite a bit of speed turning into the quayside. I had considered anchoring but the tide is strong here and didn’t want to get up at the turn to check the anchor. Also, mooring to the quayside is free so it’s a nobrainer really.

Alongside in Wexford.

Now that I’m here, I’ll just have to wait until the conditions are right for crossing to Wales. The forecast is for rather light, variable winds so I may have to just go over on the engine, which is never much fun.

September 3, 2019
by spba2018
1 Comment

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 12

The morning I left Raithlin Island, I did my neck in which made life for the next few days pretty miserable, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. The weather was looking decent for the next few days so that was a plus. I timed my departure from Rathlin Island to coincide with the period of slack low water in the channel between the island and the mainland, as the sea pours through here with some enthusiasm. When the tide started flowing, it would be pushing me the right way, southwards down the coast of Northern Ireland.

Leaving Raithlin Island.

The coastline along these parts is pretty spectacular, and the weather seems to match it, with constant shifts between clear skies, cloudy skies, rain and I’ve never seen more rainbows before. I had left Rathlin pretty late in the day so I only made it as far as Carnlough before dropping the anchor for the night.

Pulling into Carnlough Bay.

I caught the early tide the next morning and it turned out to be a fantastic day, the sun was shining and the wind was favourable so it was a great speedy sail down the coast. I wasn’t sure where I was going to stop, but heard that Donaghdee was a nice place, I needed some supplies, and the tide was soon going to turn against me so I stopped into the harbour here. The neck was causing me some grief, so I just popped down the shops and then just lay down and waited for the tide. The young un’s were tombstoning off the pier however, which stopped me getting my shut-eye so I motored off to Copeland Island and dropped the anchor so I could at least get 40 winks before the tide.

Donaghdee sporting the classic coastal colour scheme.

It was the same procedure in the afternoon riding the tide southwards, again unsure how far I’d get. I had considered sailing until late in the day and trying to get into Strangford Lough but in the end thought it unwise to try going in here for the first time during the dark, so I anchored off Ballyhalbert and had a brief and rolly night.

Entering the narrows of Strangford Lough.

In the morning, the weather was quite a bit worse than expected, with a heavy sky, even heavier rain and fairly big seas, but I had a tidal gate to meet so I headed off southwards again. After suffering a few hours in the cockpit, I was pleased to see the first of navigation buoys appearing out of the gloom marking the entrance to Strangford Lough. The tide runs through the Narrows here at a ferocious pace and once you’ve started in, there’s no going back. So it was that I went through here at about 10 knots with the wind helping to flatten the water at the entrance. I dropped anchor just on the other side of the Narrows at Audley’s Roads and was quite relieved, I’d had a bumpy morning and was soaking wet. I got some dry clothes on rustled up some breakfast, and went back to sleep. That day was spent inside the boat watching the rain. The next day was much better and I went for a nice sail about the lough. I can see why there are so many sailing clubs in here, the place is fantastic for flying the canvas. It’s sheltered, with flat water, plenty of little interesting islands which are pretty flat which allows for a good steady wind to blow through.

It was a good day sailing amongst the islands.

Some more foul weather blew through the next couple of days so I had to stay put in Lough. The first day my choice of anchorage was ok, but the next day the wind shifted and it got pretty bouncy so I motored about in the rain for a while trying to find somewhere to stay. Eventually I found a nice little spot to leeward of a forested island and the trees were a great windbreak, it was quite a relief getting in behind them. The weather was going to blow through the night and ease up the following day so I just had to wait until the right moment to leave, which seemed to be how I spent most of the week.

August 26, 2019
by spba2018
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Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 11

After a peaceful night at anchor in Kiloran Bay on Colonsay, I had a lazy morning waiting for the tide to turn in favour. When the time was right, I hoisted the main and sailed off the anchor. The tide gave me a good boost and it didn’t take long to get around the north end of Colonsay. The wind was supposed to swing around to allow me to then sail down the opposite side of Colonsay, but it never quite got all the way around. I was starting to tack, working my way to windward so I could stop at the main settlement on the island. But I’d also been here on holiday when I was a young lad, but I’d never been to Jura, so I scrapped the tacking and aimed for Jura instead. It was a fair distance off, but the wind and tide was in my favour, and I let the auto-helm do most of the work while I made some lunch.

Colonsay to Jura

It was a good day, and as I drew closer to Jura I could see some of the interesting geology the place is renowned for. There are tons of caves, and loads of raised beaches, which used to be at sea level, but are now considerably higher. I tacked my way into Loch Tarbert (yet another Tarbert…). This loch goes in quite far, almost all the way to the other side of the island, and there are quite a few rocks and islands to manoeuvre around. There are plenty of leading marks to help they wary navigator find his way.

Or you can just use a chart plotter.

I had thought about going all the way to the end, where I would get the benefit of the bilge keels in the drying “Top Pool”, but weighing up the weather, the tides, and what I actually wanted to do, I decided to stop halfway. The next day I went for a jaunt up the hills and admired the scenery.

Bad for sailing, good for walking.

There were, however, a ferocious number of clegs around. I made sure to cover up, and made it through without any of them finding their target, but they sure tried. Every time I stopped to catch my breath I could see them silently rising from the heather en masse to make their attack.

Better luck next time.

It certainly kept me going. As a younger man, I used to tackle hills by just going straight up. I don’t know if it’s cause I’m getting older, or it’s the experience of sailing, but I’ve started taking the edge off by zig-zagging my way uphill. This is the way you’re supposed to do it, and it makes a difference. It just take a lot longer.

Tacking on land.

At the top, I had a good view of the Paps of Jura (no I haven’t been at sea for too long, that’s what they’re called).

Misty Paps.

Once again, I had taken some soap and spare clothes with me so I could use some of Scotland’s finest freshwater and have another wilderness wash. Luckily there weren’t many clegs about, but the midges certainly made themselves known.

Time for another wilderness wash.
Anchored in Loch Tarbert.

The next day it was time to harness the wind and tide and get myself down to Islay. It was a good run going down the Sound of Islay; with the tide pushing me along I was making 9 knots for most of it. This was another great day’s sailing where I got to go along on every point of sail, finally tacking upwind to get into Islay Harbour. I had wanted to anchor, but it didn’t look very suitable and it was due to get pretty windy soon, so I took a berth on one the pontoons.

On the sail here I went past three whisky distillery’s in a row, each one of them I could have anchored in front of, but decided not to. Now I wished I had, as I made the trek along the road for a visit. I don’t have a particularly refined whisky palate, the stuff is so damn expensive I can’t afford to drink enough to figure out which one I like best. But you’re not a real man unless you have a favourite single malt, so with that in mind I went along to the Lagavulin distillery to see how much a bottle cost. £57 pounds for the standard one as it turns out. Bugger that. This is why I favour the second cheapest bottle out of Lidl (£14, but a *sniff* blended whisky). Turns out though, that the Lidl’s budget bottle won a “world’s best” award! Of course I mentioned none of this to the people in the distillery, but made sure to get myself one of the complimentary drams and retreat to the “reading room”.

Both the whisky and the reading room were better than expected – and totally free!

There were some interesting books to peruse while I nursed my dram of whisky as long as was reasonable. One book on Canna had a pretty good take on the prison/castle/thing that I had climbed up.

Yep – just like that it was.

It was a long walk back to the boat, but what a stunning day it was. It was going to be foul weather the next day, but it was hard to believe on a day like this. I had to remind myself of the adage “the calm before the storm”.

I only take photos of good weather.
Quaint little natural harbour.

Sure enough, the next day it was foul, so I spent most of it indoors, typing these blog posts and enjoying the shower. I was a bit concerned by the long term forecast as it looked like the foul weather was going to continue for 4 days, and I really didn’t want to spend that time tied up to a pontoon, as I’d rack up quite a bill. Luckily, the weather eased up for the morning of one of those days so I seized the opportunity and headed south for Rathlin Island, just off the northern coast of Northern Ireland. It was a fairly drab journey done mostly on the engine. There was some pretty impressive swell ruling through, and with the huge tidal currents to be found around here, I had to point the boat considerably further to the side of where I actually wanted to go.

The strange rocks of Rathlin Island.

Eventually I got round to the southern side of the island where the shelter was, admiring the scenery on the way. According to the almanac, there is a spot to anchor inside the outer breakwaters of the harbour here. When I arrived, I floated around a bit scratching my head in puzzlement as I tried to figure out where it was, cause there seemed to be a great big ferry in the way. It turns out, that the almanac either wasn’t updated very well, or they build new ferry terminals real quick in these parts. Either way, the spot I wanted to anchor in was occupied, so there was nothing for it but to take up another pontoon berth. I pondered how my bank balance was doing as I secured the warps. The main reason I had made the dash here was to avoid racking up bills in Islay, but here I was again on another pontoon, and it was even more expensive here! Well there wasn’t much for it, the weather was coming in, and I’d have to stay put for a couple of days.

Some pretty impressive cliffs around here.
And the tattie scones are square!

I spent my time here walking around the clifftops, having a few pints in the pub, and sheltering from the weather. I was treated to a pretty impressive aerial display by a pair of peregrine falcons, and looked for choughs, but didn’t find any. I also watched the ferocious overfalls that form around the island when the tide is running, and made sure to carefully work out when I would leave so as to not get caught in the whirlpool of Slough-na-more.

August 25, 2019
by spba2018
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Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 10

Once again, I was up pretty early to catch the tide. I wanted to sail down to the Isle of Coll, and the forecasted wind wasn’t particularly strong so I thought I’d use the tide as much as possible. I sailed off the anchor, threading my way between the other anchored boats, the occupants of most I think were still fast asleep. There wasn’t a lot of wind, but enough and I did about 2 knots quietly gliding through the harbour. Once I’d gotten around Rum it was a broad reach all the way to Coll and with the winds being light, I decided to hoist the cruising chute. This was only the second time I’d ever used it, but I managed to get it up and running without too much trouble. The conditions were perfect for it, I was making an average of about 3.5 knots and it is was easy going.

Before it all went wrong.

At one point some minke whales appeared quite close to the boat. This was the first time I’d seen them on the trip, and the first time I’d ever seen them up close. It was quite a surprise and also one of the few times I spoke to myself, exclaiming in words that aren’t suitable for print. I also saw a pair of dolphins racing through the water, clearly on a mission. I wondered what they were up to and scanned the area ahead of them and saw a couple of porpoises surfaced and reckoned the dolphins were going over to give them a hard time, which they are known to do. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful until I started to get close to Coll and was wondering about taking down the chute.

Approaching the north end of Coll.

I decided to keep it flying to get through a gap between the north end of Coll and some off-lying rocks, although this meant pointing the boat more downwind and it was a precise business trying to steer for the gap whilst also not pointing so far downwind that the mainsail’s wind shadow would collapse the chute. Once I made it through, I turned further into the wind and then the boat was rocketing along. Then the wind started to pick up. I wondered again about taking down the chute, but I was making good speed and some other yachts had converged behind me, all headed the same way. They were all much bigger and I quite liked being out in front, although I noted I was the only one flying a spinnaker. The gusts were increasing now and the boat was becoming difficult to control. In hindsight I should have already taken the chute down but instead pressed on, enjoying the speed. Very quickly though, the boat was heeling over alarmingly and virtually sailing sideways, so I decided to take it down in a hurry. Stupidly, I forgot to undo the little bit of string that held the excess halyard coil, and so when I let off the halyard, it jammed. Then I let off the tackline and that jammed too (cheap rope). Then I let off the sheet to try and pull the whole thing in, but ended up with the chute flying literally like a kite, way out on the end of the ropes.

Artist’s impression.

I grabbed the rigging knife and was about to cut the halyard because I just wanted the damn thing free so I could pull the spinnaker in, but I paused. If I cut the halyard, the whole thing would run through the block at the top of the mast, leaving me unable to fly the spinnaker again without another trip up the mast to thread it back through. I went up the mast in May before leaving Plymouth and I didn’t fancy going back up there again. Instead, I cut the string holding the coil, and managed to free up the tangle before the lot whipped through my hands. Now the spinnaker collapsed and started flapping about like a flag in a hurricane. I was surprised at how far away it was. Since it wasn’t filling, I could pull it in and bundle it down through the hatch. Suddenly everything was much calmer.

Easier to do this.
…than this!

As I was collecting myself, I noticed the other boats sailing right past me, and I felt somewhat embarrassed about the spectacle I had just treated them to, but it must have at least been good entertainment for them. After this mayhem, I unfurled the genoa and then it was a relatively straightforward sail to the anchorage off Arinagour in Loch Eatharna. The wind had picked up quite a bit by now and I was happy to be safely anchored.

Time for breakfast.

The next day I had breakfast surrounded by seals, typed up one of these blogs and decided to hire a bike to explore the island. Naturally, I wanted to get my money’s worth so I cycled just about everywhere. It was sweaty work on a hot day but I found a beach, which I had all to myself and went for a swim, which was fantastic.

Nice day for a swim.

I had been to Coll on holiday when I was a kid, and snippets of it were coming back to me, but mostly I just remembered the general look of the place. It’s like each of the Hebridean Islands has it’s own unique character which makes it different to the others. Coll is very low lying and rocky, with plenty of white sandy beaches.

One of the many beaches.

That evening I went to the ceilidh in the local town hall. It wasn’t what I was hoping for though, ended up being more like a school dance and whilst chatting to a few folk, I lost my voice pretty quickly. Having not spoken out loud a great deal lately, I think my vocal chords were surprised at being used in a noisy place.

Anchored in Loch Eatharna.

The weather was good the next day, but without much wind. Still, I wanted to move on so it was on with the engine and up with the anchor. As I was motoring my way south, I heard on the radio another yacht nearby was asking the coastguard for assistance as their engine had broken down and there was no wind for sailing. There was quite a bit of tide running and they were drifting at 2 knots, but a local powerboat heard the call and obliged them with a lift back to one of moorings. I imagine this is the situation I would have been in when I left Oban, if I hadn’t had the outboard engine to fall back on.

Windless day, “Dutchman’s Cap” on the right.

I was bound for the southern end of Mull, but I made a couple of stops on the way there. The first was a small group of islands called the Treshnish Isles. They are known for their seabirds and made a nice pit stop. I was surprised to see a few Puffins still here coming and going from their burrows, since I hadn’t seen many elsewhere. Some of them were starting to lose the colours in their bills as they change into their winter plumage after the breeding season. I could get pretty close to them, and there was also a family of Shags nesting right next to the path which didn’t seem fussed about me at all.

Anchored of Lunga.
Fading into winter colours.
These shags ain’t shy.

The tide was starting to run pretty strongly between the islands and it was a tough row back out to the mothership. Underway again, it wasn’t long before I made another stop, at Staffa Island. I’d never been here before, but it has to be one of the most famous of the Hebridean islands thanks to its weird looking basalt columns and Fingal’s Cave, famed for it’s acoustics. There was quite a bit of swell at the landing stage, as usual I suspect, and it is a very poor place to anchor so I didn’t go ashore for long. I had the place all to myself though, which meant I could go right into Fingal’s Cave and give it the old Pavarotti routine to test out the acoustics. Even with my hoarse vocal chords, the echoey sounds were impressive.

Clamshell Cave.
Fingal’s Cave.

Some wind had developed so I could sail the final leg of the journey towards the Ross of Mull. I was trying to decide where to spend the night. Initially I was going to stay on the north side, but the tide was in my favour for going through the Sound of Iona, or at least part of it. The tide runs pretty strongly through here and it requires some careful navigation right in the middle, so I compromised and went partly into the sound before turning off into a little spot called Bull Hole. It was pretty windy overnight and the following morning, and it was one of those grey miserable days when I awoke. It would have been nice to visit Iona, but the weather wasn’t really suitable for it, and I’m not that fussed about old religious buildings anyway so I set off for Colonsay. Upon exiting the Sound of Iona, there is a proliferation of treacherous half hidden rocks known as the Torran Rocks and looking at the charts, it’s the stuff of nightmares. I gave them all a wide berth and the wind was on the nose again, so it was a dull morning motoring through the greyness.

Torran Rocks.

Eventually I was clear of the rocks and pointed the right way for raising sail. It was pretty slow going though so I tried a bit of fishing with the paravane that Mick gave me (thanks again!) but just ended up catching seaweed.

Can’t eat that lot!

It was a really slow day. After what felt like an eternity, I was at last approaching Kiloran Bay on the north end of Colonsay and things started to pick up. A bit more wind developed, so I picked up some speed, and then a pod of bottlenose dolphins joined me.

Dolphins off the port bow!

Looking back, I noticed I had also hooked a fish! I think the dolphins were hunting mackerel, they seemed to be chasing something into the bay, and this is probably why I caught one. It made up for a pretty boring day. Once I had anchored, I watched the dolphins for a bit. They seemed to be herding the fish into a corner of the bay where some rocks formed a sort of bottleneck which must have concentrated the shoal. I chopped a couple of fillets from the mackerel for dinner, and very tasty they were too.

Thanks to Mick and the dolphins.
Delicious.

August 19, 2019
by spba2018
1 Comment

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 9 (part 2)

Having decided to not stay a second night in Loch na Culce, I fired up the engine and negotiated my way back out past the lurking menace of hidden rocks. My next destination was the small island of Soay, only 3 miles away. I stuck quite close in to the base of the mountains on my way there, and seeing as there was virtually no wind, there were no violent squalls to contend with. There was also no reason to raise sail so I motored the whole way. I spotted a couple of sea eagles perched on the rocks quite low down, and struggled to take a photo of them, not easy when you’re holding a phone to a pair of binoculars bouncing around on a little boat, so I won’t be winning any wildlife photography contests.

White-tailed eagle.

Soay is an interesting place, with another tricky entrance into the natural harbour over a small bar which dries at low spring tides. Helpfully there are some leading line makers to allow for the perfect entry. Safely inside, I dropped anchor and relaxed in the knowledge that the boat was safe in here.

Soay Harbour.

One reason I chose to come here was due to the derelict shark factory set up here in the 1940s by Gavin Maxwell, of aforementioned Ring of Bright Water fame. This guy has a reputation as a hero of wildlife, but apparently back in the day when he tried to turn the hunting of basking sharks into a commercial industry; the waters in this harbour used to turn red and the place stank with the corpses of festering sharks. It sounded pretty brutal, not least because basking sharks are supposed to be pretty hard to kill and he tried out all sorts of “techniques” including opening up on them with a WW2 machine gun. Fortunately for the sharks, the business failed and he moved away to go play with otters, but there is still some of the old equipment lying around to see, and the ruins of the former HQ. It was pretty strange picturing the place back when there was hustle and bustle, but it feels kind of eerie today. Apparently the bar across the entrance to the harbour was part of the reason the enterprise failed due to the restrictions on when boats could enter.

Ancient boiler.

I was surprised to hear some voices nearby, and at first I thought they were in my head, but then suddenly 4 gore-tex clad old ladies emerged from the bracken. Turns out they had come from one of the small “adventure” cruise ships that are based in the Hebrides, which I think only take 12 passengers and which was anchored on the other side of the island. We got to talking, and it turned out they had been out to St Kilda, where I used to work, and they were outraged by the large cruise ships that visit there, depositing boat loads of tourists onto the island. They didn’t seem to recognise the irony in that they were doing exactly the same thing, but on a much smaller, more exclusive and presumably much more expensive basis.

I was up early the next morning to catch the tide out over the harbour bar. My destination was the island of Canna, but I wanted to make a quick stop at an interesting archaeology site, called Rubh an Dunain, also known as the “Viking canal”. This is a small freshwater loch which is connected to the sea by a small man-made canal which is potentially very old indeed. If the tide had been all the way in, I could have just about rowed my dinghy all the way to the loch.

The “Viking” Canal.

As I was leaving here the wind was just starting to appear, so I decided to sail off the anchor. I ended up on the wrong tack, headed straight into the shore. The wind was very light, and tried tacking before I had much speed on, which failed, and instead of putting the engine on, I held course straight for the rocks ahead to build up enough speed to get through the tack and then sail away out of the bay. It was still a little early and I was a bit groggy, but the little hit of adrenaline got me going. I set course for Canna, but it was pretty slow going, and frustrating at times as the wind never really got going and I eventually resorted to using the engine. It was pretty grey throughout and the visibility was down to about 2 miles so I couldn’t admire the scenery. As I drew closer, it started to lift and I could see Canna ahead.

Making full use of autopilot.

Canna has a great anchorage in a nice natural harbour with good holding in sand, so as usual I ignored the mooring buoys. Just as I dropped the anchor the heavens opened up and I thought myself lucky as I retreated down below just in time. A couple of hours later it was suddenly nice and sunny so I went ashore for a look about. There is this pretty cool old castle type structure on a little rocky hill that may have been built as a sort of prison by some old noble guy back in the day for his wife, who he was very….protective of.

Canna Harbour.
The castle/prison thing.

The whole thing is starting to look pretty precarious perched up there and some of the masonry has clearly dislodged and rolled down the slope, and the path leading up to it is not for the faint hearted. I wondered if I should have gone up, when it was time to come back down.

The jailbird view.

The next day was sunny and windless so I went for a walk up in the hills. It’s steep, but the ground is easy to walk on due to all the grazing. There used to be a lot of rats on Canna, which had decimated the seabird population but a few years ago they brought in some experts from New Zealand to clear them all out (the rats, not the birds). One side effect of this was an explosion in the rabbit population, which now have to be controlled. But it makes for nice short grass which is pretty easy underfoot. The views from up top were of course stunning, especially on a day like this. There was a pair of Golden Eagles hanging around as well, I think they sent most of the day grounded seeing as there was very little wind.

Looking towards the Isle of Rum.
Golden Eagle (honest!).
The rare Goth Highland Cow.

In the evening I rowed over to the island of Sanday which forms the other half of the harbour, and strolled over to the cliffs to see if there were any puffins about. There were a few, but most had left the colony it seems. There were, however, plenty of Great Skuas aka Bonxies about, and I remember these guys well from my time on St Kilda. There must be no other animal in the UK more brazen than these birds. The defence of their territory is unrelenting, and if you wander anywhere near one, you are in for an onslaught of aerial terror. They are pretty big, and when they come tearing down from above in a steep dive like a stuka divebomber, you really feel like maybe we aren’t the top of the food chain after all. That being said, they generally don’t make contact, especially if you maintain eye contact with them on the final approach. Although I have been thumped pretty good in the past. Best just make sure you’re not stood near a cliff edge when they attack.

The Luftwaffe reincarnated.

All in all, it had been a pretty exceptional week, but it was time to put in some miles southwards. I would have liked to explore some of the other small isles of Muck, Eigg and Rum, but I thought I’d better give myself a big margin for error in case I end up getting weatherbound.

August 4, 2019
by spba2018
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Ian McNee’s Grand Adventure – Week 9 (part 1)

Sailing away from Arisaig there was a heatwave forecast, not that there was any indication of it where I was.

Heatwave indeed!

I was also expecting the winds to be fairly light so I hadn’t deflated and stowed the dinghy. I regretted this later. Passing back through the rocky channel I realised the winds were quite a bit stronger than forecast, but carried on under full sail nonetheless. I soon hove-to and put a reef in, and even then I was picking up more speed than I was happy with, having the dinghy in tow. The sea was steep as well and the dinghy began ploughing nose down into the waves and getting awash. I tried playing with the lengths of the two painters, but this wasn’t very successful and I was concerned about the integrity of the attachment points on the dinghy itself, so I hove-to again and deflated the dinghy, unceremoniously stuffing it into the cockpit; I didn’t fancy rolling it up to stow it on the foredeck in these conditions. With the dinghy safely onboard in an un-seamanlke manner, I was a bit more relaxed and carried on, but soon I had to put in another reef as it was starting to blow real hard. There was much alarmingly loud flapping of sails and I felt a bit overwhelmed but got things settled down and soon the worst of it passed, just as I was drawing level with Mallaig on my way north into the Sound of Sleat. I had decided that I would go up to Plockton, and that this would be my most northerly destination, then it would be time to turn back.

Pretty blustery passing Knoydart.

I sailed past Knoydart, which is an area I’ve always wanted to go explore, but never have, on account of it being really hard to get to. It’s the only part of the UK mainland that you can’t get to by car; i.e. it has roads, they are just not connected to the rest of the UK road network, you have to go by boat. I pondered this as I sailed right past.

I was unsure where to stay for the night, and had considered stopping at Sandaig, which is the setting of the book Ring of Bright Water, but when I arrived there it was still pretty early in the day, and with my September deadline in mind, I decided to press on and get as far that day as possible, especially as the tide was in my favour. I ended going right up into East Loch Alsh, passing a few mountains I had climbed in the past when working for the RSPB, looking for ring ouzels. I’d had decent wind for the 20+ miles from Arising to Loch Alsh, but when I arrived in the loch, I was in the wind shadow of the mountains, so I made pretty slow progress inching eastwards. It had been a long day, so I decided to crack open a lukewarm one.

Enjoying a light refreshment as she sails herself.

I decided I’d anchor in a little spot called Totaig, it sounded nice from the description in the Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions. On my way there, I started to feel itchy, which soon turned painful; my back started to really sting. Feeling around, wondering what the hell was going on, it seems a little flying red ant had somehow gotten down the back of my shirt and promptly went to town.

The culprit.

Happily, the stinging sensation didn’t last long, and I was soon back to looking at the scenery as I worked towards the end of the loch.

Inching through East Loch Alsh.

I picked my spot and dropped anchor. It had been a long day, but I had a quick row to the shore and a look around before I made some dinner, can’t remember what, and then turned in.

Anchored in Totaig, Eilean Donnan behind.

The next day I was determined to make Plockton so I set off, and there was a fair bit of wind to use. Around the mountains, it can be quite flaky, coming and going and some pretty severe squalls can come out of nowhere.

Dramatic scenery in the morning.

A further obstacle in Loch Alsh seems to be a wild proliferation of lobster pots everywhere, I’ve never seen so many in one place, it was like doing a slalom. But they are well marked. In fact, ever since getting around Land’s End, I haven’t seen a single one marked with a half-submerged invisible float, milk bottle or black buoy. I soon had to put a reef in as I made my way past Kyle. I had wanted to stop here for a shower, but the conditions didn’t favour anchoring so I just continued through the Skye Bridge, hoping there would be some in Plockton

Approaching Skye Bridge with a reef in.

I looked on the bridge fondly as I passed, remembering from past adventures when I was hitchhiking through here and slept under the bridge one night like a hobo. Anyway, once I was away from the mountains I could turn downwind and things were quite smooth from then on.

Goosewinging downwind up to Plockton.

At this time of year, all the guillemots have fledged off the cliffs; the male parents call the young ones into the water from below, which they obey by jumping off the cliff before they even have their adult plumage, so they can’t fly. After landing with a plop, they then go out to sea with their dads to learn how to fish. Now as I sailed along, I was seeing tons of these father-son bonding trips.

“Watch out for that boat son!”

I arrived in Plockton, and naturally, anchored up. I rowed ashore and looked around trying to find the spot where a photo was taken of me as a wee nipper. Finding the spot, I tried to recreate it, but I was balancing my phone on my bag, which was balanced on the dinghy, and it kept falling over and wasn’t easy.

Stylish, even then.
My, how I’ve grown.

Some bloke was looking at me in puzzlement as I struggled with the composition. I got chatting to him, he was a local, and we shot the shit for a while, but most importantly he told where to get a shower. Bizarrely, there is a gin bar which has a shower that sailors can use, for a small fee of £5.

Feeling refreshed, I had a beer, and then went for a look around. I can’t remember anything from my time here as a bairn, but I do recognise some landmarks from the classic 90s TV show Hamish Macbeth, although strangely the village of Plockton doesn’t seem to be capitalising on it like New Zealand with Lord of the Rings.

I had no real reason to stay in Plockton, and I started to get that feeling you get as a child when you climb too far up a tree and realise you’ve got somehow get back down. It’s a long way back to Plymouth. Plus, the heatwave was beginning, and I’d prefer to be out sailing where I can get a cooling breeze. So off I sailed, pulling up an inordinate amount of seaweed with the anchor, to the alarm of some Frenchies who had anchored nearby, presumably also being too tight to pay the morning fees.

Fantastic start to the day.

It was a fantastic start to the day, and the sailing was easy. It occurred to me that this was the first time I was retracing my steps (apart from when I was sailing very badly upwind), however I think on my southwards journey I’ll go almost the whole way without revisiting any place I stopped at on the way up, with a couple of exceptions perhaps, like Newlyn. Although maybe I’ll go to Penzance instead, cause they are rip-off merchants in Newlyn.

Once more under the bridge.

I almost managed to sail back through the Skye Bridge, but there wasn’t quite enough wind so it was on with the engine, just for the bottleneck. Once I was through there was enough wind again, in fact I soon had to put another reef in and then I had to pick my way through the minefield of lobster pots. Approaching the entrance to Kyle Rhea, the tide was starting to run, and I shot through here like nobody’s business.

Approaching the entrance to Kyle Rhea.

That night, I anchored up in Isleornsay and then the following day made my way back down through the Sound of Sleat.

Leaving Isleornay under sail.

Unfortunately the wind was not in my favour, nor the tide, and I had a hard time of it tacking back and forth across the sound, trying to find the most favourable angle of wind, which kept shifting about.

Tacking in the Sound of Sleat.

I refused to put the engine on and eventually made it round the point to head downwind on the other side of the peninsula, bound for the Cuillins. Only now, the wind disappeared, because of course it had. So it was on with the engine. Then it came back, then went. This went on for a while, but I managed to goosewing most of the way there.

Downwind to the Cuillins.

I was heading for Loch Scavaig, for a spectacular anchorage that I had seen before, years before I was into boats, when I was doing the RSPB job up in the mountains.

Loch Scavaig, the big mountain is where I looked for Ring Ouzels.

I remember looking down on this place from above and thinking how nice it would be to visit in a boat. And now here I was! As I drew closer however, the wind seemed to get funnelled in by the mountains and it was getting pretty strong. The anchorage itself is called Loch na Cuilce, and the admiralty chart isn’t a great deal of help here, although the pertinent rocks are marked on it. The chart in the CCC book is better, but I was still nervous about it, especially as the wind was pushing me along even with the sails down.

Yup, there’re rocks somewhere…

The most important thing is to stick close in to the islet on the final entrance as there are submerged rocks in the middle of what appears to be the entrance. I only had a rough idea of where they were, so I kept well over towards the islet.

Keeping tucked in.

I was dubious about the feasibility of this anchorage given the current conditions. The wind was blasting right in and there was a bit of swell running too, but there was another yacht already in there, and from watching it’s mast against the backdrop of mountains, it didn’t appear to be bouncing around much at all so I went for it. And as I got round the corner, I found the water to be pretty smooth and the wind wasn’t too bad, and forecast to only get better anyway. And what a dramatic place to anchor!

What a place indeed.

I promptly blew up the dinghy and went ashore, to have a look around, but mostly to take photos. The geography of this place is pretty unique; in amongst the mountains close to the sea loch there is a freshwater loch, and there is a very short little river through which drains into the sea.

The shortest river in Europe! (maybe?)
Looking into Loch na Cuilce.
Freshwater Loch Coruisk on the right.

It was still pretty windy and I thought I might get blown off a cliff trying to take more photos, so I retreated to the boat. There was a very unbothered deer browsing the shoreline.

This fella has a taste for seaweed.

By this time, the rocks in the entrance were showing in the falling tide, so I could get a good look at where they lay. A visiting yacht the following day would have probably paid good money for such a view, as will soon be demonstrated…

The rocks showing now.

The following morning the other yacht that was sharing the anchorage with me departed, and for a brief while I had the place to myself.

Fairhaven is truly dwarfed in here.

I wanted to get a bit of exercise so I got my hiking boots on and off I went up one the mountains. It was a bit more overcast than the day before and soon started to rain, but that didn’t bother me much, at least I wouldn’t overheat. There were a few deer on the way, which again either weren’t bothered by my presence, or were far enough upwind to not realise I was overdue for another shower.

Free range venison.

Before long, I got to the top, although the cloud cover was pretty low and I couldn’t see a whole lot. I could however make out the anchorage, and I could see another yacht arriving. They appeared to be heading straight for the middle of the entrance, which I thought a poor decision considering the presence of rocks, but I could see they had people on the bow and the rocks looked like they were showing; I could certainly see them from above.

Land ahoy!

But they didn’t alter course, and they went slowly, but seemingly deliberately, straight into the rocks. It was a pretty big boat, so maybe the messages didn’t get back to the helm in time. Whatever the reason, they went back out, then came back in successfully, and anchored, no damage done it appeared, at least that’s what they said when I spoke to them later.

…and touchdown.

I didn’t have much in the way of a packed lunch, just a tin of stuffed vine leaves from my favourite budget supermarket.

Lidl’s finest.

Unlike the day before, there was barely a breath of wind, and of all places, it was on top of this mountain that the midges finally appeared. I had been getting concerned that I wasn’t getting the full Scotland experience, after all I had barely even seen a midge since I entered Scottish waters and I was wondering what had happened to the country since I had been away. I wasn’t very well prepared for a day out in the mountains, but one thing I did have with me was a midge net.

Ah, my old friends.

By the time I had gotten back down I was pretty well soaked through, but still wanted to have a wash, in the loch. I had brought a towel and clean clothes etc. although it seemed a bit pointless using them seeing as I would just get soaked again anyway, but I took the opportunity to go for a dip and wash off the funk.

It’s a big bath, but a cold one.

Feeling invigorated, I headed back to the boat and rustled up some dinner. It was only about mid-afternoon, so I decided to move on instead of staying for a second night.

I’ll have to put the rest of the week in another blog post, as this has turned into a rather long one, but hopefully it will appease Jake who has been on at me for an update like an angry news editor.

Have mercy!