Archived posts from 2011 Meanderings
Meanderings will resume shortly!
Hello all. I’m currently in Shetland, holed up in Lerwick whilst the latest
Northerly gales blow through. The Tall Ships fleet has delayed sailing for
24 hours so we don’t throw our trainees / voyage crew straight out into the
worst conditions the north Atlantic summer can offer!
However, my stint as Captain of the Lord Nelson will shortly be over (on the
30th to be precise), and I shall wing my way back across Scotland frae
Aberdeen to rejoin my beloved Meander for 3 weeks. I am hoping to take in
some of the Outer Hebrides – Barra is somewhere I’d love to visit, and then
Skye and the Inner Sound, the Small Isles, the Knoydart peninsula etc., etc.
I will naturally be keeping this blog up to date as much as the lack of
internet access allows, with some guest appearances as crew of some new and
some old faces. I hope y’all will be able to follow me in my daring
exploits aboot the West.
Well, having left Lord Nelson in Aberdeen after a great couple of voyages as Old Man, I returned to Meander at Dunstaffnage on Saturday. Having got the train to Inverness, and the bus from there to Fort William and on to Oban, I met up with my parents, John and Lyn, who had driven up from Gosport, taking not much more time than it took me to cross Scotland!
We retrieved Meander from her mooring, and spent Saturday evening storing ship at Dunstaffnage Marina. After a late breakfast yesterday and some further preparations, we sailed shortly after 1100 bound for Tobermory. It was a good downwind sail all the way, bar the first bit when the poor vis led me to come too far downwind and we had to beat for a bit to find the entrance to the Sound of Mull! Lost? me? never! Unfortunately it was a pretty dreich day, and we were rather soggy by the time we reached Tobs. We did get there in good time for a gin and a well-earned beef stir-fry. Tobalamory is as pretty as ever, but it’s time to move on to less beaten tracks, hopefully with Barra as our goal for later in the week and a crew change.
Hello loyal followers!
We’ve been away from the normal trappings of what passes for civilisation these days, so this is the first opportunity to write since Tobalamory.
Today has been a beautiful day, which kind of makes up for the miserable wet past few days! There was at least some wind with the rain, however, and we have got some good sailing in since Tobs, having gone to Muck for the first night, then to Canna. That’s two of the Small Isles, the others being Rum and Eigg- which sound like ingredients to some sort of Christmassy dish. Muck was lovely- with a population of “around 38”, it is small and rural, but there is a hotel (looked closed so didn’t go in, but wasn’t!), a self-service crafty shop-shed thing, where you can buy fruit and veg, frozen meat (all local), and locally made things, mostly out of wool (local). There is also another shop/tea room/restaurant run by three elderly ladies, where you can get a wicked slice of home-made cake. Canna, despite, or perhaps because of it, being owned by the National Trust, had less to offer, although the natural harbour was fantastically sheltered. There are 3 churches, which I thought a bit de trop, a farm or two and a restaurant, which although it had a good menu, was closed when we wanted to go in and shelter from the pissing rain, possibly contributing to the local economy at the same time. The island does have a fascinating history, and is also geologically interesting for those whose props spin that way. To top it all, though, the sun came out just in time to give us some fantastic sunsets, and I’ll post some photos when I get back to my laptop eventually.
Today, unfortunately, there was nae wind, so we motored round the Point of Sleat on Skye to Armadale so we could top up on essential supplies like bread and tonic water!
Tomorrow: another quiet bay somewhere with a hotel for a meal ashore prior to changing crew.
Crew change day in Mallaig! We had a peaceful night at Isle Ornsay harbour last night, having picked up one of the moorings off the Duisdale Hotel. These are free to patrons, so we felt we had to visit the 4* hotel to get our money’s worth. This involved a shower with fluffy towels, and a fine bar meal. We avoided the formal restauranty bit, which was a mite expensive, but the bar menu was quite adequate! It had been a very wet day, so the chance to warm up in a real building was most welcome.
We slipped the mooring this morning at 0800 under sail, hoping for a good sail all the way to Mallaig, but it soon became evident that the wind was not favourable, so in the end I opted for a fast motor-sail down. Arriving at around 1000, we found that the new yacht pontoons, supposed to have been completed in May, were far from ready, so we found a grotty fishing boat to go alongside, and did just that. Mum and Dad’s bus to Oban left at 1205, so we had time to pack, shift to another berth then say our farewells. The rest of the day was fairly standard crew-change stuff: shopping, showering (this time after a swim in the local pool, ploughing through (eugh!) legions of children to get my lengths done), and doing a bit of maintenance. I was also visited by a French boat of about 50ft or so, who came alongside for a while whilst waiting for the tide to rise so they could go to a berth to dry out. They were alongside for long enough to ply me with wine, put me through my francophone paces and invite me for supper! by this stage my new crew, Greg and Mark, had fought their way off the M6 and as far as Glasgow before deciding to stay the night at a friend’s. I look forward to seeing them in the morning.
Welcome to my latest crew, Greg and Mark, who joined in Mallaig yesterday after a long and emotional drive from Bristol. I had already decided not to faff around in Mallaig getting fuel and water; the visitors’ pontoons which were supposed to be completed in May or June were still under construction, and so we had to suffice with a berth alongside a hulk of a fishing boat. The water hose was not long enough to reach the boat, and fuel had to be arranged separately with a 3rd party- all in all, a pain, so I embarked the lads and we set off back over to Armadale where I knew I could get bunkers. I had, however, reckoned without the turnaround day for the charter fleet, so we had to wait a few hours before our turn came. Still, we spent the time doing some sail handling training and tacking practice before picking up the mooring again where the staff brought fuel and water out to us. By the time this was achieved, there was no time to go elsewhere as originally planned, so we stayed put and went to the Ardvasar hotel for scran and a few wets.
This morning we needed to set off early to catch the tide through Kyle Rhea and get to Kyle of Lochalsh. with a N to NW’ly breeze, we tacked up the Sound of Sleat ( I say ‘we’- my crew retreated back to their bunks in the face of the cold Scottish morning, leaving me and George in charge on deck). The rain came in as we neared the kyle, and we caught the last of the tide through, now with a little mechanical assistance. We got to Kyle for a late lunch and an explore of the massive conurbation then a snooze and a shower. The forecast for tomorrow is fairly dismal, so we may stay here and go for a walk and a swim and stuff rather than battle the elements unnecessarily!
Ships and men rot in port! After spending 2 nights in the fleshpots of Kyle, it is time to move on. Yesterday was rather windy out in the Inner Sound, as we saw when we walked across the bridge to Kyleakin, so my decision to stay put was a good one. Unfortunately, Kyle is a pretty awful place to spend a couple of days: at least it is sheltered though, and you can get ashore easily. Today we’ll be heading north to Gairloch, which should be nice and sheltered for the Easterlies forecast for tonight. My initial plans have all had to be modified to stay in relatively sheltered waters because the weather is so unsettled- bang go any hopes of the Outer Hebrides! I’d still like to show Greg and Mark “remote” over the next few days, so we may be incommunicado for a bit.
Meander and her now nearly worked up crew left Kyle yesterday after 2 nights alongside- enough for anyone in Kyle- and passed beneath the Skye bridge destined for … somewhere. Gairloch was the original plan (about 25 miles upwind) with Portree and Acarseid Mhor on Rona also possibilities. As it turned out, we didn’t end up going to any of the above. I opted instead for the pleasant sailing option, setting all plain sail just west of the Kyle, and tacking out towards the bottom end of Raasay, dodging the little cluster of “-ay” Islands at the south end of the Inner Sound: Pabay, Sanday, Flodday etc. and then the Crowlin isles as we worked our way slowly north. Whilst doing this, I was on the lookout for a suitable anchorage that would have us snugged down for the night and a forecast of strong winds by a reasonable hour.
I identified two rocky bays just south of Applecross, both marked as anchorages on the chart: Poll Domhain and Poll Creadha. Poll Creadha got my final vote as it looked more sheltered from all quarters, so in we went, first having identified its entrance and picked out the well-defined leading marks, and the not so well-defined perches on the reefs either side. It turned out to be a rather nice spot, with a small settlement at its head, and several boats on permanent moorings. Having anchored at a respectful distance from the seal-covered rock in the empty part of the inlet, we had Hands to Bathe- although Mark’s dip was short due to a fear of seals, jellyfish and just about any other marine life. I managed three laps of the boat, however, and Greg two, before the call of the G&T became too strong, and we exited the water and put clothes on before the natives got too concerned, sat out and enjoyed a very peaceful evening, before retiring below for another chef’s special.
During the early hours of the morning, the wind had got up from the E to what must have been a near-gale, if not a full gale. I think as the early morning progressed, Meander must have ploughed a neat furrow before the anchor had firmly dug in, as we had definitely crossed the leading line before I was sure we weren’t moving! However, low water and veering more cable may also have contributed to our apparent movement. I am very glad, though, for my new, bigger anchor, and for the first time I have veered all the chain cable (40+m), and about half of the warp. We have spent most of the day tucked up down below, with the odd sortie for fresh air (ample supplies) and adjusting anchoring arrangements. Although the wind has now died, the visibility is rubbish and I’m waiting for the wind to pick up from somewhere else before long! I think we’ll be here a second night- which will mean for the boys, a second night with no bar to go to ashore, or any phone signal!
Well, yesterday seemed to be going so well, so something had to go wrong! After the wind had dropped, the boys decided to go ashore for a bit of exercise, whilst I stayed on board in case it got up again. I sent them with a radio (no phone signal, remember), so if the weather did deteriorate again I could get them back. However, the call of the local pub was too strong- despite it being 4 miles away- so they strayed out of range for the handheld VHF. Whilst they were enjoying the local ale, therefore, I was listening to the wind increasing again.
Finally, the radio chirped into action with a slightly tipsy report that they were on their way back. Then came another, saying that Greg had fallen and hurt his ankle, and couldn’t walk on it. Remember, no phone signal, me on my own at anchor in a rising gale, dinghy ashore…
The local doctor was called, and eventually it was decided that Greg should go to A&E to get it x-rayed. A&E in Inverness…! As he was getting his blue-light taxi to Inverness, Mark eventually managed to launch the dinghy (now high and dry as the tide had gone out) and did a marvellous row back to the boat in the very last of the daylight to rejoin me. This was just as well, because I would never have got the anchor up on my own- which turned out to have been very well dug in, exactly where we dropped it! This morning it was still blowing a hoolie (I had long given up the idea of getting any sleep during the night, what with wind howling, halyards doing their best to strip the varnish off the mast, the bow roller clunking, the rope I had tied to the cable to take the weight off the bobstay when we yawed creaking in the fairlead, and my head full of calamitous pictures of the ship pounding on the rocks half a cable from the stern if the anchor dragged (or the warp chafed through!)), but we had agreed, in the absence of effective comms, and of convenient public transport back to the anchorage, to meet Greg back in Kyle. So, with much strenuous effort on Mark’s part, and with the engine at half ahead to keep the head up to the wind and take some weight off the cable, we weighed, extracted ourselves from the anchorage and set off back to Kyle under power. The engine struggled against the gale and rising chop at times, particularly when passing the Crowlins in the entrance to Loch Carron, which was acting as a funnel for wind and sea, but it got us here eventually and safely, to pick up a now-hobbling Greg off the train. Not sure what we’ll do next- the forecast is set to remain rubbish for days yet, and we need to get back to Mallaig for Monday…
Today has been a fairly (very) lazy day after a good session last night at the Old Forge. For those who haven’t been paying attention, this is the remotest pub on the UK mainland, accessible by boat and foot only. It has also been one of the few goals of this “Summer’s” cruising that I have so far achieved!
We left Kyle again yesterday morning and motored through Kylerhea before setting sail and tacking down the sound of Sleat (having had to tack up it a week ago!). This was probably the best bit of sailing this week so far, and we originally had a destination of Arisaig in mind. However, I had not banked on having to tack back down, so by the time we were off Mallaig, it was time to find a haven for the night, so into Loch Nevis we popped. The Old Forge has it’s own moorings, so we picked one up, and headed ashore for a meal. And what a meal: the seafood platters were fantastic! The music started soon after, and conveniently next to me was a bodhran, so I felt I had to take part! It was a good craic, and whilst I was playing, Greg and Mark were fostering relations with the natives. We wove the dinghy back to Meander at around 0200, hence the lazy day today! We had hoped to head up the loch to Tarbet for the annual Games, but the weather was not all that amenable, and the anchorage prone to squalls in southerlies- not a good recipe for a stress-free afternoon. Instead, we lazed a bit more, then came ashore again, this time using the outboard and only 2 at a time in the dinghy, as a nasty little chop had built up on the loch. Unless the weather improves a lot tomorrow, it’ll be back to Mallaig tomorrow.
This morning I’m back in sunny Mallaig for another crew change. Greg and Mark escaped back to reality yesterday, in what must be the prototype supersonic VW Golf, and are now back in Bristol. I am now waiting for the arrival of Richard, star of the trip up as far as Bangor. Hopefully we won’t have a repeat of our week in Waterford!
I’d like to take this opportunity for another editorial apology on behalf of Steve Jobs and the Apple corporation. It appears that, according to autocorrect on this marvellous device, it’s and its (I just had to delete the second and retype it, as if to prove the point) are one and the same word, and my less-than-scrupulous proofreading of my last blog allowed an apostrophe to creep into a possessive ‘its’. I would like to apologise to my readers for any undue stress caused by this omission, and to myself for making me look like I doesn’t speke England good.
Anyway, I suppose you’d like to know what we got up to after the Old Forge? No? Tough! We had a quieter evening in the pub on the second night, with an early meal- not so much so we could behave and get a good night’s sleep, as so I could ensure we all got back to the boat in safety before darkness fell. The wind had kicked up a nasty chop which required some attention to avoid the dinghy upsetting. We did relays with only two in the boat at a time and the little outboard to propel us, and got a little damp, but stayed upright. Unfortunately Mark, in his Wafu fashion, had been attracting the local talent and was slightly miffed to have to shake them off to come home. After he had recovered from his little huff, we finished the evening by broaching the ship’s supplies of Jura and having a session of the well-known card game, S@&thead. I won.
We had another fairly unhurried morning yesterday, and shortly before departure Mark and I had a quick dip and swam round the boat, much to the amusement of the tourists on the shore, who seemed to be watching proceedings through binoculars. After getting some clothes back on, then, we slipped the mooring and set off back towards Mallaig. Unfortunately the breeze was not favourable for sailing, but we did get the main up for a bit of assistance on the hour-long trip. On arrival, we found the pontoons to be still unfinished, but only just- all the water hoses and electrics seem now to be in place, but another boat had been shooed off just before we arrived. So once again we rafted up outboard of the hulk “Serene” and lugged the bags and a still-hobbling Greg over three other vessels to get ashore!
As I write this, we are anchored for lunch off a white sandy beach on Iona. This is the second time I’ve been here, and although it is a very pretty island, I never feel like I want to go ashore here, in spite of, or perhaps because of its historical significance. Last night we were on a mooring on Loch Eartharna in Coll, after what was possibly the best sail of the season from Rum. More on that in a minute- first I must tell you about what has happened since Mallaig and Richard joining. We stayed in Mallaig for the night after he arrived, and had a nice meal ashore, then exracted ourselves from our berth at around 0900 on Tuesday morning. We managed to sail a lot of the way, although the wind was a little fickle, so some motorsailing was required. It was an exceedingly wet day, and I found to my disappointment that my 2 seasons’ use of my oilskin trousers was obviously too much for them, and they let in rather a lot of water. We sailed all the way in to the anchorage at Loch Scresort, and anchored under sail in the shallow water at the head of the loch. It proved initially to be as squally in westerlies as the pilot book warned, but the wind dropped later in the afternoon and took the rain with it. We had a paddle ashore in the dinghy (quite energetic) and walked round the shores of the loch to investigate the settlement there. Rum is a National Nature Reserve owned and run by Scottish Natural Heritage, and everything is set up for the staff and volunteers, but there is a small campsite with facilities for visitors, and a hostel in Kinloch Castle, an imposing Edwardian pile built by the former owners, which has a bar (furnished a la gentlemen’s club but a bit more tired). I made my customary contribution to the island’s economy by getting some cup-a-soups from the shop, then we retired from the midge-infested land for risotto on board.
The following morning, we sailed off the anchor again, only to lose the breeze about 10 minutes later, so motorsailed for a bit to get out of the lee of the island. Whilst doing so, we spotted a UK Border fascist agency vessel patrolling nearby, and before long their RIB was on its way to us. They approached close alongside, and one of the gentlemen operatives removed his helmet and to my astonishment, politely asked some questions. Interestingly, he identified himself as “Customs” rather than UKBA- a change in tack after being regularly vilified in the Yachtie press? Anyway, they obviously weren’t too interested in me, so despite my evident hostility, they declined to board and tear the boat apart. After their visit, the wind filled in from the right direction, we set all plain sail and had a cracking sail all the way to Coll.
Coll I have visited before, and once again it struck me as a very agreeable place, with friendly natives (mirrors and beads work wonders). The harbour is prone to swell, though, so at high water it gets a tad uncomfortable, even in calm weather. We left after morning swim and breakfast this morning in flat calm conditions, so motored all the way here. We will shortly weigh anchor and motor on now to our planned overnight anchorage around the corner of Mull at Ardalanish. Tomorrow the wind is forecast to pick up to 5-6 from the SE, so we will be in a good position then to sail back up the Firth of Lorn towards Oban.
We are now sitting sampling a pint of rather welcome ale at the Tigh an Truish inn, Clachan Seil. We sailed from Coll yesterday morning (I didn’t tell you that we had a rather good barbecue of local beef in Coll, cooked on a disposable BBQ on a fireproof base on the concrete deck! It was really welcome, particularly as I had had the BBQ for 2 weeks, waiting for the weather to use it. Unfortunately, yesterday was totally glassy flat climb, so there was nothing for it but motoring. We motored through the Treshnish Isles, then past Staffa and into the Sound of Iona. We anchored for lunch just north of the Cathedral off a lovely white sand beach. My next challenge was to find a safe anchorage for the night with a southerly in the forecast. My choice was Tinker’s Hole, just around the corner from Iona, tucked in the rocks of the SW corner of Mull. This was a wee bit exposed to the south, although it probably would have been fine. The other option was a bit further east along the south coast of Mull, tucked in a hole behind Ardalanish Point. This was a lot of fun to find in the rocks, and even more fun to pilot ourselves into. It was bigger than it felt, but to limit the boat’s swinging we laid out the kedge and moored fore and aft, allowing for some swing in the right direction when the wind went into the south. This was a very snug hole, surrounded by rocks, and felt very like the Channel Islands, with all the rocks thereabouts being pink granite. Once we were snugly anchored, it was time for hands to bathe- after failing two mornings running, I managed to persuade Richard to join me. Sort of. As I was splashing about in the warmer-than-expected water, he took a leap of faith, and was heard to cry “no, actually…” just before he hit the water. Before I knew it, he was out of the water again! I took advantage of the warm water and did four laps of the boat, and washed my hair, before climbing out and completing my ablutions on the foredeck (deserted anchorages not requiring any enforced modesty), then having a fresh water rinse under the almost-not-cold solar shower. The anchorage proved to be very sheltered, and after a well-earned meatball pasta, we turned in for a very peaceful night.
It was a relatively early start this morning- we got up at 0700 to recover the kedge, stow the dinghy, weigh and then feel our way back out through the rocks to sea, and to set some sail for the Firth of Lorn. It looked initially like it would be a good sail, with a F4 on the beam, but after a while the wind backed and dropped, and we had to motor for an hour to weather the south of Mull. After an hour’s motorsailing, we were able to bear away again, and with all plain sail set, we headed for the anchorage at Puilladobhran in Seil. We had a spanking few hour’s sailing, and then snuck in through more rocks to anchor in time for a late lunch. A brief snooze, a briefer swim, and then a row ashore and walk to the pub.
I am now waiting at Glasgow airport, having bid Richard a tearful farewell at security, as his flight was a couple of hours earlier than mine, and I wasn’t allowed to check my bag in for a further hour and a half. We had a fairly lively Friday night at Puilladobhran anchorage – shortly after I wrote the last entry, it started raining heavily, and the wind picked up further from the south, as had been forecast. We got a bit of a drenching whilst rowing back to the boat after visiting the pub, so I decided to light the stove. Unfortunately, I think it was a bit moody after being unused for so long, and with the help of the wind, managed to fill the cabin with smoke before it had got up a good draught. Eventually the air cleared, although the cabin still retains the whiff of coal smoke, and we were able to dry our stuff, and whilst getting fresh air under the spray hood, were treated with a lesson on how not to anchor by a 45ft charter yacht, which didn’t understand that the anchor and some cable ought to at least have touched the bottom before engaging half astern whilst veering the cable slowly under power. They managed to get the anchor holding somehow, but within easy swinging distance of another yacht. We suspect the singlehanded skipper of this one gave our charterers a piece of his mind, as about an hour later, they upped anchor and buggered off, I suspect to the unthreatening surroundings of a nice comfy marina! It continued to blow a bit overnight, but my trusty CQR held and we slept well. Yesterday morning we weighed after a leisurely start, and setting the staysail, made sedate progress up the Sound of Kerrera towards Oban, until the wind finally failed us and I started the engine for the last hour to Dunstaffnage. We got alongside in time for a lateish lunch, then started tidying, stowing and unbending sails etc. A snooze followed by a shower, then we repaired to the local restaurant, the Wide-Mouthed Frog, for a good final evening meal together. We returned on board for a dram and a few games of s£&thead, which Richard would like me to point out that he was generally giving me a good thrashing. My skills were obviously exhausted playing Greg and Mark the previous week. This morning after breakfast we landed our gear prior to taking Meander back round to her mooring and putt-putting back to the marina in the dinghy. Then it was time for trains, planes and automobiles to get back to our respective homes. So that’s the end of another spell of Meandering. Look out for more exciting installments at the end of September when I hope to take her through the Caledonian Canal to lay up for the winter at Findhorn…
Morning, all you Meander fans. This is a quick entry to reactivate all my sleeper cells and warn you that a short period of Meandering is imminent, as I and my plucky crew take her north-east through the Caledonian Canal to the Moray Firth, and thence to Findhorn, a mystical place where there lies a boatyard for winter lay-up, conveniently positioning her (maybe) for an assault on Orkney, Shetland and maybe Faeroes next year… Anyway, more updates will follow.
The crew, that is my usual self; Alec, the transatlantic hero; and Stuart, new to Meander but a bosun’s mate of high repute in the JST, arrived by various means of transport in Oban yesterday afternoon. Stuart and I had come via Findhorn, our eventual destination, to leave my jalopy and various essentials like the boat’s stands in preparation for hauling out, and we arrived in a square-wheeled bus. Alec had taken the luxury option of a train with round wheels and multiple tourists, and had arrived first. He therefore won the prize of doing the shopping, and we all met up at Tesco! We got to Dunstaffnage marina about 1700, then got the dinghy in the water. Alec and I went round to pick the boat up from the mooring, whilst Stu drew the short straw and guarded our kit and booked our table for the evening meal.
Having brought the boat round, finding a suitable berth alongside proved slightly tricky, especially as the rain had come back in by that stage, and having had a few trial runs and practised my bad language, we went for an interesting manoeuvre to bring us broadside on to a finger pontoon before swivelling round it and backing into the berth. Unconventional, but wholly intentional and it worked!
After some dampness experienced whilst prepping the boat for sea, we then repaired to the Wide Mouthed Frog for a well-deserved meal. This morning we sailed at 0900 for Corpach and the sea lock into the Caledonian canal. Unfortunately, a light wind from the head of Loch Linnhe prevented us from sailing any of the 30 miles, and our deadline of locking in before the end of the day meant we had to buck the tide: particularly interesting through the Corran Narrows where we struggled through the fastest stream at 0.8kts. We arrived at Corpach, just beyond Fort William, at about 1600, and anchored for a while to await the lock. Finally at 1715 we got the go-ahead, got underway and into the lock. We finally tied up in the canal basin at about 1800, my pockets considerably lighter after paying the transit fee!
Gosh what an exciting day! It started off fairly dreich this morning, and we donned our soggy oilies slightly reluctantly for an 0830 start up the first double-lock. Having got into the swing of locks, we carried on uphill to the notorious Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie. We had to wait a while for a fishing boat and a yacht (which was in more of a hurry than us) to go through the swing bridge then the first lock of the flight of 9. As we were sitting alongside minding our own business, a 30ft Westerly ketch, which had come through the sea lock singlehanded first thing in the morning, came steaming up the canal. At the point where most people would slow down when faced with a closed swing bridge and a pair of lock gates, this chap was observed to speed up. Then a bit more, and a panicked expression of realisation came across our singlehander’s face. He could not get his engine out of gear. I learnt several new Scottish words in the ensuing seconds before he took one of the three possible courses of action (the others being cutting the engine- good; or using the bridge to stop- bad) by putting the wheel hard to port, nearly making the turn but actually ending up grounding rather violently on the bank. He got his engine out of gear eventually, spoke some more Scottish, and then, when he decided he wasn’t holed (they built Westerlies solidly in the 70s), we got a line across the canal (for those who would like to know, Bell throwing lines of 1970s vintage can’t be repacked. Donations therefore for a new one gratefully received), attached it to his main halyard and hauled away on his masthead, whilst he jumped up and down on the side deck, and fairly quickly he bounced off into the centre of the canal. We got him alongside just in time for the bridge to open for us to go into the staircase. We were through by midday, and went alongside for some lunch, able to look back across the flight of locks to Corpach. 2 miles in 3 hours!
Progress improved after lunch, and we passed through a relatively boring stretch of canal before reaching the Gairlochy locks and locking through into Loch Lochy. All these locks and lochs may get confusing, but please bear with!
Once in Loch Lochy (having passed a fine example of one of Tom Colvin’s steel Chinese junk designs, for those who may or may not be interested), we were able to save a bit of diesel by setting the mainsail for the 8 miles up the loch. The wind has been picking up all day, with gales forecast for the next few days, so judging by our entry into the Laggan locks, stopping may become interesting! We are now alongside above the Laggan locks, with spaghetti bolognese on the stove, and the prospect of some live music in the barge/pub just up the bank from us. The best thing today, though, was hearing the lock-keeper at Laggan locks describe Meander as a “kind of little Tall Ship”! Superb.
Sorry there was no update last night- Fort Augustus, being the largest centre of population on the canal between Fort Bill and Inversneckie, has virtually no mobile signal! So, now I have to try and remember what we got up to over the last 48 hours…
I think I left you as we had passed through the Laggan locks, and we were about to have spag bol. Well, after that, the promise of some live music dragged us into a barge-pub just up the bank from us, and we had a few pints of ale and listened to a selection of the more depressing Scottish tunes- I think the band could only play in a minor key.
Yesterday dawned wet and windy, and we slipped our moorings at about 0900 to head down (literally- no more ‘up’ locks!) to Fort Augustus so Alec would be able to get his bus to get back to Aberdeen for work today. unfortunately much of the way was in canal rather than lochs, and even in Loch Oich there was no opportunity for sailing due to the shallow nature of the loch (it is used as a reservoir for a hydro-electric scheme, so depths vary and there is a tortuous buoyed channel). However, experimentation did prove that we could make 3.5kts under bare poles. It was on one of the narrower sections of canal that we met (having fortunately been pre-warned) the ‘Lord of the Glens’, which I suppose one could describe as ‘Caleymax’: i.e. the largest a vessel can be to fit in the locks- 150ft long. She is a rather smart cruise ship, and takes up an awful lot of room! We squeezed ourselves as far as I dared to the starboard side of the canal, still with 2.5m of depth, to keep out of her way. Unfortunately, the sounder did not detect whatever submerged object we scraped over with much bumping and a little consternation on my part. I can only assume it was a tree branch or root, but we passed over without much trouble- inspection in Findhorn will prove whether there was any damage to keel or rudder (unlikely, I think).
A bit more steaming brought us to the Fort Augustus series of 5 locks down to Loch Ness. This was negotiated swiftly and efficiently, and we went alongside the pontoons in the cut through to the Loch.
Alec quickly packed everything but his towel, and went off to find his bus, and Stu and I went for a walk in the rain to see if we could find any paraffin for the cabin lamps. We got wet in vain, so came home and lit the fire, avoiding too much of a kippering from Canada’s finest heating engineering. A pub meal followed, then a couple of drams on board and a few hands of that card game I keep losing. Today also dawned wet and windy, and we bent on the staysail in preparation for a lively sail up Loch Ness. After getting clear of the SW end of the loch, we were able to kill the engine and make 4.5 – 6 knots under staysail alone, with quite a sea building up as we got further up. There was a bit of a lull in the wind after we passed Urquhart Castle, so we set the main with 2 reefs to boost the speed a bit. After 30 mins, the wind picked up again, so down came the main again, and the last half-hour under staysail alone saw us doing 5-6 knots again. We handed sail before we ran out of loch, and went back into canal mode. It has to be said that stopping 11 tonnes of boat in a lock with a force 8 up the chuff takes some balls, liberal use of astern power, a fast hand on the stern line and a well-fendered quarter! We managed to negotiate the last flight of locks at Muirtown, and are now alongside the wall at Seaport marina (having spurned a finger berth – I’d had enough of tricky manoeuvres by this point!). We have had a stroll down to look at the sea-lock, and the Firth beyond; I have done my calculations, and it looks like we’ll be locking out around midday tomorrow to work round to Findhorn to arrive on the evening tide. I’m just hoping that the wind drops off slightly as it seems to be forecast to, so we don’t have too rough a time!
Watch this space- hopefully the next instalment will be from Findhorn.
Stuart and I are now relaxing in the pub in Findhorn after an exciting
passage from Clachnaharry sea lock. The forecast was for moderate to
strong winds from the SW, which I suppose is what we had this morning.
By the time we locked through the last two locks, shortly after
midday, it had increased to a force 7, I suppose, which made parking in
the lock interesting (although it won the compliments of the
lock-keeper, who must see a lot of interesting manoeuvres!). Once out
of the sea lock, we had wind and tide with us under the Kessock bridge
and out into the Inverness firth. We continued motorsailing (albeit
with no sail set!) to control our ETA at Findhorn- if we’d sailed, we
would have arrived too early to get in, with a high-water entry
essential. Pilotage out through the shoals was tricky, given the lack
of buoyage, but we made it out successfully into the Moray firth. The
famous dolphins obviously thought better than to poke their heads above
water, so we continued alone, and set the staysail, killing the engine
for a while and having a controlled downwind sail in a moderating
breeze. A squall loomed astern, and we speculated as to whether it was
coming our way or not. It quickly transpired that it was as winds
gusting well into a force 8 sent us surfing down the increasingly
building waves. The sudden surge in speed threatened to bring us to
Findhorn ahead of schedule, so the staysail had to come down again,
with the skipper braving the scary conditions and repeatedly bashing
his port elbow on the windlass as he wrestled the sail down. Our hero!
Anyway, sail down, engine back on and off we went. By 1730 we were
approaching Findhorn and trying to pick out the buoys- tricky in seas
higher than the buoys themselves. Find them we did however, and we
shaped up for the fairway buoy, whilst trying to pick out the rest. It
was exciting, to say the least, turning beam on to the seas to follow
the tortuous channel across the bar, but we eventually made it without
smashing ourselves to pieces on the sands, and soon found ourselves in
9m of water with flat seas in the estuary. We were met by Simon, the
boss of the boatyard, in his RIB, to direct us to our berth. It was a
downwind, downtide approach, so fairly emotional, but happily, the
engine went astern quite well and together with a couple of hastily
turned up lines, stopped us in the berth with no damage done. A
further 20 mins spent tying up and doubling up all lines were followed
by sighs of relief and a hug for the crew – the skipper felt he needed
one! A swift tidy up on board, then a beer, and then off to the pub.
Knackered. We spent yesterday preparing Meander for her lift-out,
getting the sails off and partially de-rigging her. The weather has
definitely turned autumnal now, and working outdoors yesterday and
today required full thermal gear. Yesterday afternoon we had a drive
into Inverness to find a suitable tarpaulin and other materials to
build a tent over her, and drove back in the pouring rain. In the
evening we lit the stove, which for the first time didn’t fill the
cabin with smoke whilst warming up. Instead, it got very hot, very
quickly, and the firebox and bottom of the flue started glowing cherry
red. It calmed down eventually, and the embers were still glowing this
morning when we got up.
Today was lift-out day, and we watched it done with another boat before
our turn came. We went into the hoist backwards, which meant gently
warping back from a mooring just off the slip. Not being used to
commercial yards, it felt very strange standing back and letting the
guys get on with it! The tide was already ebbing by the time we were
warping across into the hoist, so it was a bit of a race against time,
with Stuart and I having to rush forward as mobile ballast when we felt
the aft end of the keel touch the bottom during the final adjustments.
Eventually we were in and hauled up the beach, so it was time to have
a coffee whilst someone else did the pressure washing! I was a bit
more hands on when it came to parking her, as I’m using my own boat
stands. After lunch, we did the final preps for pulling the masts out,
then the multi-purpose Tonka toy came along with its crane attachment
to hoik them out. Meander is now in her winter berth overlooking the
entrance to Findhorn bay- tomorrow is tent-building and winterising day.
I am writing this post from Meander HQ in Alverstoke. The last day on board was spent winterising the boat – copious quantities of anti-freeze going in the engine, everything being battened down and the spars all going in the shed adjacent to her parking space, courtesy of Simon at the boatyard. Stuart and my last job was to build the tent over the boat, to give the decks and cockpit (hopefully) some protection from the winter weather. Unfortunately the best tarpaulin I could get in the time available was not quite as tough as I would have hoped, so I may be returning to tatters next time I go up to see the boat. All that afternoon we were working in rather dreich conditions and tightening the tarpaulin over the frame gave us a few unwanted cold showers. As a result we were rather cold and wet by 1830, when we finally finished work. Fortunately, I had managed to convince my friends Jock and Fiona in the village to let us crash at their cottage for the last night, so we were able to rock up for showers and warm up in front of the log stove before going to the pub for dinner.
The following morning saw us leaving Findhorn in the jalopy for the journey home, and back to something approaching reality.
Already I have been busy with winter work – I have the wheel and binnacle top at home for varnishing; I have now had 3 quotes for a new topsail and reef points in the staysail (for heavy weather); George is due for a dismantling so I can change the bearings and stop him rattling around so much. Moreover, however, I have been busy starting to declutter here at HQ in preparation for letting the flat and moving on board next spring!