Thursday 20th May and I was still in Eyemouth. We had heavy rain for 24 hrs. In reality I haven’t had that much rain (so far). I’ve sometimes seen it over land but stayed dry at sea! Anyway, I set up my rather splendid cockpit tent. The tent must have cost the previous owners a pretty penny or two! I’ve only used it once before but on both occasions it has been most welcome. The following day it dried off quickly and the boats outside of me had left – the wind was northerly and they were heading south. The Westerly that had been outside of me was newly acquired but in need of some TLC! They only had old halyards as mooring warps which have little stretch and they had no line ashore. I leant them some of mine!
Entrance into my next port, Arbroath, was ‘interesting’! The advice is not to attempt it in strong onshore wind and swell. The day had started with light winds and, approaching port, it was only a F4 onshore but the swell was building. Thalmia surfed into the harbour with my hand gripping the tiller firmly, straining my muscles and steeling my nerves! A sharp turn to starboard around a pier where I saw someone taking photos of me – I think they were willing me to fail! Like a roller coaster ride, though, it’s fun if it’s safe!
In Arbroath I met Aoelian, a boat I had already met in Ramsgate and Lowestoft and Wells-next-the Sea. Phil and Steve took my lines. I later returned the favour in Peterhead! They had been stalled by a gearbox failure and were waiting for a delivery. Very useful that Steve was a very competent marine motor mechanic!
I stayed in Arbroath for a couple of days waiting for better sailing conditions. A chance to try the local specialty – Arbroath Smokies – smoked haddock – delicious! Then with Phil and Steve I took a train ride to Stonehaven. This is a lovely little harbour that mostly dries out and requires settled conditions to take advantage of it.
On 25th May I left the inner harbour at Arbroath and rafted outside the lifeboat. This time without an attendant crisis – the lifeboat was out of its station while some work was being done there. This allowed a departure the next day at 03:45! It was already getting light. This day however proved to be my most gruelling so far. The northerly wind had backed somewhat but I faced a F5-F6, close hauled with lots of swell and breaking waves. I sailed some of the time with 3 reefs in the main sail and a small amount of genoa as this was faster than motoring but motor sailed a fair bit to be able to point higher. It took over 14 hours to cover what should have been 63NM but became 73NM with all the tacking! In a coastal passage of this length you will of course get 6 hrs of foul tide. This came in the middle of the passage and it was really disheartening to fight that current in those conditions. Stonehaven was along this stretch but was not an option in these conditions. I also passed Aberdeen but they do not welcome leisure sailors so I laboured on. It was such a relief to enter the relatively vast harbour at Peterhead with calm water and loads of space to set lines and fenders and then to have a choice of a number of berths to use. A hearty meal from a freeze dried pack, a beer and chat with Ruth before a well earned sleep!
The next day had to be a rest day! Aeolian came in to Peterhead. They had set off later from the inner harbour in Arbroath and had met the foul tide and foul conditions earlier in the passage. They had managed to persuade Aberdeen to find them a space alongside a wall in one of the big docks.
After the ordeal of the last passage the trip to Whitehills was a breeze! A mixture of sailing and motoring in lighter ENE winds. And then, on arrival, I was greeted by the harbourmaster standing on the pier taking many photos of me entering. Bertie was a true gentleman – he also took my lines and later helped me turn the boat around to make my exit easier as it was a very tight spot in the quite cramped inner harbour. Then, to top it all, he waived my berthing fee because I was on a charity challenge! That money has now gone into the Rainbow fund. Whitehills is a lovely fishing village which has kept its friendly and attractive character even though the fishing has in large part been replaced by leisure.
I made a short stopover in Lossiemouth, again meeting up with the crew of Aeolian who took a leaf out of Bertie’s book and took my photo from the harbour entrance! Thalmia has never been photographed so much!
The last 2 days from Whitehills to Inverness I have sailed (or mostly motored) in dense fog. As little as 50m at one point but generally about 200m! This is only possible for me by having an AIS transponder, transmitting my position, direction and speed and displaying other vessels on my chart plotter, which will also control the steering of my boat to a destination, backed up by an iPad and iPhone both with electronic charts showing my position and direction of travel. This replaces my non existent crew (!) and leaves me free to use my eyes to watch for any vessels not using an AIS transponder and the dreaded crab/lobster pot buoys!
What I haven’t mentioned enough is the wonderfully varied and abundant sea birds. The puffins and terns around the Farne Islands were amazing and so plentiful. Now it was the gannets swooping gracefully so close to the water or diving like arrows to catch fish. And the masses of guillemots who sit in groups on the water and at the last minute duck dive under the water when Thalmia gets close to them. And there were so many more that sadly I couldn’t identify but could admire.
Inverness is where I am writing this update. 6 weeks to here was my plan and that’s what I’ve achieved! It is a milestone …. and a turning point as I plan to enter the Caledonian canal later this week. Ruth is joining me for this part of the voyage and I’m hoping for calm waters as we pass along the canals and through Loch Dochfour, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy en route to Fort William. We’ve missed each other a lot and it will be so good to have her company even though it is only for one week before I return to sailing solo!
Oh! And I’m now wearing shorts and a tee shirt! It’s summer!