CATCHING UP – A SUMMARY OF 2017’S CRUISE (16 JUL 2018)
Now I’ve got the history of my site as up to date as I can – unfortunately most of my blogs covering my travels with Stu in New Zealand have been lost in the confusion – I can catch up with my last two seasons’ sailing in Meander. I’m afraid the posts will not be as detailed, particularly for last year as I made few notes, but at least we can right up to date.
Fortunately last year I started making my log on Meander into more of a narrative and less of a navigational record, as the pages looked very thin after a passage where most of the navigation was done by Mk1 eyeball and there was no string of hourly positions and meteorological records, which in any case make for very dull reading. It does mean that I have a reasonable basis for getting my blog up to date however!
Last year was the second year that I had really struggled to get any crew for my summer cruise. Other than a short week with Eli Pacey, who was on leave from the Brixham trawler Leader, also operating on the West Coast, I was therefore entirely on my own for much of the summer. In 2016 I had had similar troubles and had resorted to using Crewfinder, a website for matching crews to boats. I found one chap who was moderately experienced and made for a pleasant companion, and a second who turned out to be a complete disaster. The cruise did not take me very far as I was ill-prepared for going it on my own, and the sailing was limited to going north to the Minch and back again. I did have the opportunity to stop at Gairloch for a few days and attended the annual gathering, run by the family of friends of mine, and I helped out with some of the setting up and breaking down the site, as well as tending the bar at the Saturday night hop!
By contrast, 2017 was a far more positive experience, as I made no plans beforehand which were going to rely on my getting a crew (much of this requirement, by the way, is due to insurers’ insistence on a maximum of 18 hours on passage singlehanded, so if I want to go further afield, I need someone with me – there are other factors as well, which I may well bring to light in the next few weeks), and was better prepared mentally for sailing singlehanded.
The ships’ programmes meant that I was away until quite late in the spring last year – I spent a couple of months in Tenacious in Australia and New Zealand, and did not get back until the first half of June. There was a frantic week or so of work getting Meander ready for sea, ably assisted by my shore support team, my parents Lyn and John. Once she was back in the water, I gave myself a short period to gather myself, and also went for a fun daysail in Leader whilst she was operating out of Oban, then on 22 June I finally slipped my mooring at Kilmelford (where Meander had successfully spent her first winter, having been forced to shift from Barcaldine after the boatyard was bought up and closed at relatively short notice by Scottish Sea Farms (thanks!)) and my first day was spent getting her out through the Cuan Sound. This is a a narrow passage between the south end of Seil (where I now make my home, of course) and Luing. You have to time it to go through with the tide, and at the height of the ebb it gets quite exciting, with a rock in the middle splitting the flow, but also introducing a step in the water level. At its greatest, the water level either side of this rock can vary by as much as 8 inches. I spent my first evening convivially alongside Leader on a mooring off Oban, moving off to a separate mooring as the wind picked up over the course of the evening.
The following morning, I sailed off the mooring then out into the Firth of Lorn, bound for Tobermory. With the tides running fairly strongly up and down the Firth, I motorsailed across as far as the mouth of the Sound of Mull, then stopped the engine and had a really good sail up the Sound to Tobermory. In common with many sounds and lochs in this part of the world, the wind is either right behind you or right on the nose. This day it was the latter, but I managed to tack the entire length of the Sound successfully, and picked up a mooring in Tobermory Bay at 1730 that evening.
I spent a day in the pleasant surroundings of Tobermory – whether this was due to weather or just inclination, my log does not state – and then on the morning of the 25th I slipped and set off for the short sail across to loch Drumbuie for a change of scene. This is a very well-enclosed loch hidden behind an island in Loch Sunart, and provides sheltered anchorage whatever the wind direction. There are usually a number of other yachts with the same idea, so you are rarely alone, but it is a large enough stretch of water that you do not feel crowded. As it was blowing the top end of a force 5, I opted to remain just under staysail and mizzen for this short sail, and maintained a speed of 5 knots or more the whole way! One thing I was able to do with more time on my own was not to feel impelled to entertain my crew, and could spend more time playing with various sail configurations and manoeuvring under them to see what happened!
The following day the wind had seemingly dropped to light airs, so although I set the main and mizzen soon after clearing Drumbuie under power, there was little benefit to be gained from them, and I motored out round Ardnamurchan and up towards the Sound of Sleat. On the way there was much discussion between the crew over where to stop for the night, but the skipper decided to make for Sandaig (Camusfearna in Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water trilogy), which is a very pleasant anchorage in the right conditions. This would put me closer to Kylerhea for the morning tide, and avoid too early a start to get up through to Plockton the following day. As luck would have it, I was even given 45 minutes of wind at the end of the day to have a short sail before coming to anchor in Sandaig.
I weighed again at 0600 the following morning (27 June) in order to catch the tide up through Kyle Rhea, another of those tidal gates which can sloosh you through at 10 knots or more. This first part of the passage was again under power with a lack of useable wind. I stopped for a couple of hours at Kyle of Lochalsh so I could top up on provisions, gas, water and also have a shower. This was a good strategy, as Kyle isn’t really a very exciting place to stay the night, and the pontoons can be quite bouncy in a blow, with little shelter from anything in the south, but is a good place for taking stores, with most facilities on hand. This year I was without a fridge on board, as my aged compressor had finally rusted through in its evidently damp and rather unsuitable home in the lazarette, so had been removed, and I was reliant on getting ice every 2-3 days to keep the coolbox cold. Actually this wasn’t as bad as it sounds, with a 1kg bag only costing £1 and lasting a couple of days, but it did focus the mind on getting to a shop regularly.
I left Kyle after an early lunch, and the wind was evidently a bit more lively by this time, as my log records setting a reefed main with the mizzen and staysail for the 3 hour sail round to Plockton.
I met up that evening with a friend for dinner ashore in the Plockton Inn (they do a fantastic seafood platter), and after perhaps a glass of wine too many I struggled to recover the outboard and dinghy. Thus the head of the outboard got a quick dunking (with no long-term ill-effects, it seems – the thing is at least 30 years old and just keeps going), and I managed to lose co-ordination whilst hoisting the dinghy and dropped it onto the top of a guardrail stanchion, leaving a rather pronounced dent / hole in the plywood shell. This then had to be filled with epoxy the following morning so I wouldn’t suffer any delays in using it at a later date (and also stop any fresh water getting into the wood). The wind increased during the sail up to Torridon, and I remember having quite an arduous beat into the loch, finding my first anchorage at Diabaig to promise no shelter whatsoever, so having to go further up the loch to Shieldaig, where life was much easier and I passed a reasonably restful night.
With the Gairloch Gathering once again just around the corner, I left the next morning in a NE’ly F5-6, setting a close-reefed main and reefed mizzen to motorsail up to Gairloch. Conditions were very unpleasant out in the north end of the Inner Sound and the Minch, and I had to tack out to around 6 nm off the mainland shore before I could tack back in and lay the entrance to the Loch. I just made it in one tack and got alongside on the pontoon in Gairloch harbour at 1500, rafting up against a smaller Hallberg Rassey, who were very obliging and were planning to leave the following morning. This they did, and I slipped happily into their berth, nice and secure for the weekend’s activities down the road at the Gathering. Jock and Fiona and Fiona’s family were very welcoming as usual, and I helped out where I could with the running of the event and manned the bar once again at the hop, with Tidelines providing some excellent tunes. During that evening Eli managed to find her way to Gairloch from Oban and join me, finding me amongst the crowds at the hop.
We set off on the 3 July and tacked our way out of Loch Gairloch and headed over around the north end of Rona before bearing away down its west coast to end up at the secluded (but busy) anchorage at Acarseid Mhor. Next day we motorsailed most of the way up to the Shiant Islands, a birder’s paradise sat squarely between the north end of Skye and Harris. We anchored and one of the few spots shallow enough, and spent an enjoyable evening watching puffins, guillemots and gannets doing their thing, whilst the seals sang on the rocks and the naturalists performed miracles of poor boat-handling getting from one island, Eilean Mhiure (where we were anchored) back to their base on Garbh Eilean.
From the Shiants we had a motor in flat calm to Stornoway, where Eli unfortunately had to leave me again so she could get the ferry back to the mainland and make her way back to work in Brixham. This then left me on my ownsome for the rest of my cruise, and with a decision to make as to where to go next. After discussions with my insurer about a singlehanded passage from Stornoway to Orkney came to no decision quickly enough, I opted to hop across the Minch to Kinlochbervie (KLB) and do the distance in two passages. I had a reasonable sail for much of the day, but the wind died mid-afternoon, so I had to motor the last 3 hours into KLB, arriving just in time for a beer. There I had the pleasure of staying two nights to sit out a gale, and there isn’t much to do…
Leaving in the afternoon of the 9th into the residual swell, I motored north until we were off Cape Wrath, where sufficient wind had come up from the west for me to kill the engine and sail. Bearing away, I managed to remain under sail with the topsail and ghoster set until midnight when the tide turned against me and I had to start the engine again to push on. I remained under power for the rest of the distance, and entered Hoy Sound with the tide at 0630, getting alongside in Stromness marina at 0730.
This was my first visit to Orkney in Meander, and I spent a couple of days in Stromness, enjoying the pleasant village and recovering from my first ever solo night passage! Whilst here I took a bus tour to go and see Skara Brae and the adjacent Skaill House, as well as the stone circle at the Ring of Brodgar. Both sights were very interesting, and Skara Brae, although packed with tourists, is fascinating and very well-presented.
I fancied doing a bit of walking whilst in Orkney as well as seeing some of the other, less visited, archaeological sites. Therefore I decided that my next stop would be the island of Rousay, to the NE of Mainland. One of the key features of sailing in Orkney is the tides, with tidal “Roosts”, or races, being the order of the day. My 0630 departure from Stromness therefore had to be timed to get the tide out of the Sound of Hoy at the least dangerous time. Once clear and heading north I set plain sail but kept the engine running until I was able to bear away round Brough Head. I only had about 45 minutes of sailing unfortunately before entering the Eynhallow Sound and having to hand all sail and motor once again. After a bit of eyeball pilotage round into the Wyre Sound I was able to pick up a (free!) visitors’ mooring off the
Rousay landing at 1145. Armed with my Orkney walking guide, I paddled ashore that afternoon and set off along the road to find a neolithic chambered cairn and broch at Midhowe. The chambered cairn was an amazing piece of neolithic stonework over which a shed has been built to protect it from the elements. You are able to walk around the cairn and admire the workmanship, as well as over it on a catwalk, to look down into the exposed interior chambers. Fascinating.
Then less than 100 yards away is the much more recent Broch, constructed between 200 BC and 200 AD, which is one of the best preserved Brochs anywhere in Scotland. I then walked back to the landing along the shore for much of the way, and came across a current archaeological dig site which was explained to me by some of the student archaeologists as I walked through the site.
The next day was a fine day but with no wind, so I motored all the way from Rousay across the Westray Sound and up to Pierowall. Having made an 0730 departure I was there by 1130 and had time once again to explore ashore, walking the not-inconsiderable length of the village around the wide, shallow bay. It was here in Pierowall that I once again met the beautifully restored yacht Binker, with Jamie and Penny Robinson (former owners of the equally beautiful gaff cutter Eda Frandsen). I had met them briefly in Stromness, but here was able to spend more time getting to know them, and they very kindly entertained me to supper on board. After many years of running Eda as a charter business, they had bought and restored Binker at their home in Doune, on the Knoydart peninsula, to spend time doing something rather unusual for them – sailing for their own pleasure!
On the 14th I set off again heading for Kirkwall, and had a mixed passage of motoring and sailing, depending on what the tide was doing to me, and after a night in the marina there, set off the following morning for the passage to Wick. Typically it was blowing a southerly force 4-5, so once out of the String, with a reefed main staysail and full mizzen set, I had to head up and start the engine to be able to make ground to the south. Before long however a very obvious front came over and the wind shifted in an instant to the west. It steadily increased and I ended up putting the second reef in the main at around 1800. Two hours more saw us in the approaches to Wick, and we were all fast alongside by 2045.
I stayed a couple of days in Wick, waiting for a favourable forecast and regrouping for the next stage. I was surprised to find that I quite liked the town, and it has a very interesting heritage centre which kept me out of mischief for a few hours.
On the 18th I set off into the Moray Firth, bound initially for Burghead. After the first few hours under engine, I finally got a useable breeze and set sail. We were making such good progress at one point that we would get to Burghead too early so I had to hand the jib and mizzen to slow down. After the lunchtime forecast I decided to make my destination Inverness, as the forecast for the next few days was not encouraging to get to the Caledonian canal. So I bore away and made sail again, making excellent progress, with an ETA of 2000 at Inverness. At 1715 we were off the entrance to the Cromarty Firth when the wind just switched off. Therefore I started the engine and motored the rest of the way, getting through the Chanonry narrows at 1815, and ending up alongside in Inverness marina (which is rather expensive) at 1945. I locked into the Canal system the following morning and stopped in the “Seaport marina” in the Muirtown basin for a few days to await the arrival of my crew, Richard Murray. Whilst I awaited his arrival on the 21st, I left the boat for a couple of days, getting the bus to Forres to go and see my friend Jock (last seen at the Gairloch gathering) at his home in Dallas (Morayshire, not Texas), which was a very pleasant break.
We transited the canal with Richard’s help over 3 days on the 22nd – 24th July, which all went smoothly and in quite pleasant weather. He then left me again at Corpach, and I locked out at 0830 on the 25th and motored / motorsailed down Loch Linnhe, deciding to use the fair tide through the Cuan Sound that same day and getting back to Kilmelford at 1945 after covering a total distance of 698nm since leaving just over a month previously.