Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Tides, Rips and Overfalls....

From an earlier time- mizz stays'l and nbf = bliss
 After a lot of checking of tides and winds we began to move from the wonderfully sheltered safety of the anchorage. Night was less than an hour away but, as ever, with the winds probably picking up later the following day we wanted to get moving. Although we left at slack the wind over tide situation soon dragged our speed down and down regardless of what we did. Patience was the only answer and victory's were counted as increments of a tenth of a knot. Once properly underway and clear, speeds shot up and Cape Wrath looked to be on target for early the following morning. Not to be as winds eased of course but we rounded the corner about a mile offshore with a following tide in the early pm. A few miles down the coast the seas went flat, totally flat and our speeds, briefly, exceeded 9knots as we worked our way down to Loch Neddy, an anchorage we had, Bee assured me, last visited some 10 years earlier although I had absolutely no memory of it. Deep and long with a collection of local boats on buoys, a number of houses along one side, many hidden amongst the trees it was a welcome stop. But with another tidal gate to meet we had to leave early the next morning to round Stour Head and back into the familiar waters we've sailed so many times on our way south. Familiar perhaps but it won't stop interesting times with the tides.

The days followed their usual pattern, some progress, some delay but we were getting south. We sailed into Tobermory to find a huge gaffer anchored in the centre. 
Atlantic at Crinan

A super yacht of some sort and as we slid by the stern we saw it was Atlantic. Our offer to swap boats was met with a smile... I'm sure these boats are impressive but I can't get excited about them. They left well before us the following day heading, like us, down the Sound of Mull. We anchored off Kerrara, the island that protects Oban, to sit out a stiff SW before fighting our way down the Kerrara Sound toward Ardfan Point for the night where we were joined by another boat whilst across the way could be seen at least 7 masts using the usual, Puilladobhrain, anchorage. 

We joined a procession of boats, at the back of course, heading south through the Sound of Insh and then the Sound of Luing. We were early for the first and struggled but the tide had turned for the second and we swept on through. It brings you out at the eastern end of the Corryvreken, somewhere we have yet to traverse. The wind was fluky and soon after we raised the genny it increased dramatically to 30 knots and we had too much sail for comfort. The prospect of beating was overcome by simply turning, albeit against the tide and heading up to Crinan for a bit of shelter, where we again found ourselves anchored off Atlantic. Weeks afterwards we saw a fb post from a young woman we had last seen as a 10 year old in Bonaire on Lily Bolero and is now crewing aboard superyachts. But we didn't know that and so missed the chance to catch up with her. A shame.

We left with the tide the following day, a tad early as usual to get down toward Gigha. An ok day as we could sail once we got clear of the rips although the wind was, inevitably, from ahead.We opted to go on past the usual anchorage/mooring field at Ardminish for the little used anchorage off the overnight ferry mooring. 

Deserted when we arrived there, pretty good shelter and a warm friendliness from the ferry when it did eventually arrive for the night. Only a mile or so further south but quiet and empty.

Leaving the following day we had to buck the tide to make sure we were able to make good use of the tide out past Kintyre and across to Ireland. A number of other boats were out there too, most much quicker than us but we plodded on with very little (4 knots) wind from astern but bright sunshine. After a day of motoring we arrived off Carrickfergus as dusk arrived and anchored off the town, bizarrely buzzed by a drone as we did so. A passing fishing boat slowed down to our hail and explained the layout of the harbour for our morning fuel visit, even offering to take me in to check it out. Luckily I turned them down as motoring in the next morning we found ourselves in a tight area with little turning room and had to deal with it, reversing onto the occupied fuel dock. As we needed to fuel up and stock up we decided we'd stay a night but got two nights for the price of one as we paid up front. But we couldn't stay where we were but needed to move to the adjacent marina which necessitated more "to-ing and fro-ing" in order to turn around in a restricted space, to the consternation of those still aboard already moored boats. Ah the joys of long keels and bowsprits.

The marina was fine, the folks friendly and helpful, the town has, to us, a strange, slightly menacing air about it... union flags in abundance and large Loyalist murals on several walls.

The SW blow that came through caused a bit of a swell in the marina but as it began to ease we thought we'd head across the bay toward our usual anchorage off Bangor. Thick weather, foggy and still blowing 25knots  gave us a wet, hairy bash across, dodging incoming ships before we made it into sheltered water and peace and quiet.  

Old stays'l out of retirement

Another earlyish start but little wind, creeping through the sound between Copeland Island and the mainland, hoping the wind remained westerly as forecast. It didn't and when it came in SW we kept as tight as we could but all the time were getting further from the Irish coast and closer to the Welsh one. We persevered, the south running current helping our track but as we were now well across channel and the tide about to change I stupidly made the decision to ease sheets a little and head into Port Dinllaeen to wait out the tide. Well it didn't seem to be a good decision once we'd anchored but with the tide now running hard it would have been a bear to do anything other than wait. We watched a boat leave and butt into the tide without sail attempting to make their way west, the bow dipping and water cascading down the deck as they appeared to stand still for minutes at a time. When our turn came to leave hours later, the tide was with us but the wind over tide made life miserable and at one point we blundered into rips and over-falls forcing us to head almost north to clear it safely. 

We'd heard from the forecasts that severe weather was forecast for a couple of days time so wanted to get into decent shelter. For us that meant getting to Milford Haven and up the river when we could. However first we had to beat our way south, around St David's Head through a narrow part of the Irish Sea, at Springs with a head wind for much of the trip. It is at times like this I seriously wonder why we do this as the journey involved rips, ferries and juggling the tide to try and reach the right point at the right time. It became obvious that we were not going to make the entrance to Milford before the tide changed but perhaps an hour after. We approached the entrance and some 3 miles out the tide changed and the seas rapidly built up as the wind strength had also increased. Quite possibly one of the least enjoyable hour or so we have spent as the seas grew in confusion and height; 3 metres or more and we were thrown around, hanging on to the tiller and trying to maintain the course and not gybe . The rain fell, the vis. was poor and we hoped desperately that no ships were either entering or leaving when we were. In that respect we were lucky and as we slid between the cliffs and the rocks that split the entrance in half, the seas eased and we could look forward to shelter, a fire and a stiff drink. The anchorage, Dale Bay, had a few boats in, more on buoys but we easily found somewhere and settled for the rest of the day. However the forecast hadn't gone away so we opted to move up river where the wind should have less impact and motored the 12 miles or so up to anchor off the Carew River. We had a better time in terms of wind although the tide kept us on our toes. However back at Dale all had not gone well for a 15m yacht on a buoy that dragged its buoy before going ashore on rocks, ending up completely destroyed. Luckily no one was aboard but only the epirb alerting the CG to the fact that it was sinking.

We left from Dale for the last, we hoped, leg back. We'd indicated to Alex that we'd like to get back on the quay for the winter but throughout the summer we'd had little hope there might be space and had had no reply from Southdown either so we weren't really sure what we'd do. But as we made our way south and still in telephone contact a text arrived with a message saying we had a quay space! 

Winds were good and 20 hours after leaving Dale we rounded Lands End and made for the Helford for an overnight stop before getting up to Cawsand Bay to rendezvous with Nick and Nadja and an easy pilotage back up the river from where we had left almost 5 months and 4300 odd miles ago. Not without a cost it has to be said as we'd blown out one sail and ripped two others. The stays'l had simply split from UV and chafe wear forcing us to dig out the original stays'l from when we first had the boat and was luckily still serviceable although smaller than we were accustomed to. And our lovely new main has torn through my own stupidity when I wired a ratline to the main shroud and didn't cover the wire properly.
Penance - hand sewing the stays'l

And finally. Somewhere on this trip I read or perhaps re-read Helen Tew's story. In part it covers her crossing the Atlantic in a 27' boat at 89 accompanied by her son. But what gave me pause for thought and, as I battled the tides and headwinds of the Irish Sea, no end of encouragement was her tales of how she sailed with her dad as a child venturing as far as Iceland and covering much of the ground that we had on this trip. Well worth getting hold of.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Norway to Orkney

We cleared the Norwegian coast and settled down to make the best of the light winds forecast. The week it took to cover the 400 odd miles back to Shetland were almost drama free, slow and although I would sometimes look at the chart and cogitate about "pulling in" and waiting for a better wind, experience has shown us that keeping going is a better option. Even if that involves drifting gently. 

 Just two days out we were moving along comfortably in 5-10 knots with the big, light heads'l boomed out and pulling. We were below when a loud bang on the foredeck alerted us to trouble and we nipped aloft sharpish. The multi-coloured ""engine" had ripped, dumping the pole onto the capping rail. Bee ran forward and grabbed the foot of the sail ready to bring it down. Releasing the haly'd we could only watch in dismay as the sail, already split from tack to clew, 
gently ripped from one end t'other and we knew we would be moving a lot slower from now on. Our own fault as we had watched the wind strength increasing, topping 15 knots and more and we should have dropped it and reverted to the genny. Laziness. Of course we missed the NFB (new best friend) sail that now lay in shredded tatters in the forepeak but little could be done about it. 

We drifted, beat and, eventually, motored our way through the oilfield that lay on our route and a day or so from Shetland heard of impending gales for much of this northern area. From the SW of course but not yet. For the moment we had NW winds, picking up and getting us south. The choice was either sneak into BaltaSound from where we'd left or get further south. We chose south, discounted an anchorage on the north side of Fetlar in favour of what looked like decent shelter on the south of the island. It meant beating our way in for the final 4 miles before we settled on a spot that would provide the best shelter. In the end we were there several days and the SW wind backed more S giving us a rolly few nights alleviated somewhat by the reefed mizzen sheeted in to steady us. But it felt great to be back in Shetland and we gazed around happily.


The blow passed and we edged further south, a slightly iffy anchorage at Levenwick turned out to be a cracker, one of the best in terms of scenery and holding and would have been a great spot to sit out that blow. Now we were keen to get south, at least to make it around Cape Wrath and into "home" waters. If we only knew....

With the weather suggesting we might get head winds early in the morning we pushed off on the last of the favourable tide to get down to Grutness. Although it meant arriving in the dark we were fairly confident of getting a spot to anchor, if only because the only boats we'd seen had been fishing boats. So it proved as we snuck in using the radar to centralise ourselves. I say using the radar but it is almost tongue in cheek as it has for some years been playing up. We thought we'd cracked it when we improved the grounding but it was very temporary. By now it would only pick up a target less than a mile away and often only .5 mile away. Then we'd switch it off for 20 minutes or so and get nothing. Frustrating to say the least. We left early the following day and motor-sailed our way down to Fair Isle. Stiff 25k winds and a rapid tide had made for a long, cold morning and the thought of beating against a foul tide to Pierowall some 40+ miles away was ditched in favour of a day or two exploring this small community. First we had to get alongside as the only other boat was tied up in the middle restricting access to all but the smallest. However they shuffled up, telling us they were heading out in an hour or so for Pierowall! Wow - the joys of youth. They did leave and we watched them, from the comforts of the rain swept hillside struggle to get their main up before reefing as the waves bounced them around with seemingly greater force. 

The following a large Norwegian boat came in and we too had to shuffle further forward to create enough space for the soon to be returning ferry. On its return the ensuing scene reminded us graphically of Nain; local people coming down to the wharf to greet the ferry, collect items ordered or returning friends and family. Whilst the Good Shepherd is far smaller than any of the Labrador ships that supply the communities on that coast, the local reactions are mirrored.

Above the tiny Fair Isle Hbr

Both us and the Norwegians left the following morning on their homeward legs. We tried to get south around Fair Isle to give us a better wind angle but the fierce tide made it pointless so we turned, roared back up the way we'd come and turned westish toward  the northern end of Orkney. With the wind forward of the beam and the tides that race through these waters it could have been a bear of a trip but sometimes you get a bit of luck...the wind was freer than we thought and the tides were a positive influence. The vis was poor and once we'd gained the shelter of the islands the last few miles were calmer. The anchorage however looked a tad wind blown and I was easily persuaded by a figure waving from a dock inside the harbour. Pierowall is a small harbour that shelves soon after the pontoons, the wind was blowing straight in and the turning room tight...hmm. Bee was waiting patiently for me to decide which side we would tie to. Ideally it would be better to turn around but with the wind and space that was going to difficult so I opted to go straight in and go port side on. The wind had other ideas, blew us off and past and we had 10 minutes or so have waltzing around as we had to turn the boat in a narrow space without poking the 'sprit though the deckhouse of an idling fishing boat. The crews from the other yots crowded the small jetty to grab our lines as we finally made it alongside. The jetty looked small but was, we were assured, good and would cope with our weight and the forecasted blow. Seems the harbourmaster had seen us sailing up toward the anchorage/harbour and rung down to tell a local where we could tie up to. We were there a couple of nights, filling our diesel jugs from the local fish plant and having a wander around. Most of the other boats had left leaving just us and a small boat. He was bound for Estonia I think and was hoping for a wind reduction before he crossed the North Sea and into the Baltic; we were just trying to knock a few miles off. We left with little wind and motored down to Rapness, a small harbour that is also a ferry stop. We anchored far enough away we hoped for the ferry to come in and settled down to wait. A local fisherman came by and offered us someone else's buoy for the night, but confirmed that where we were would pose no problem for the ferry. And so it was.

The next few days were not enjoyable. We left soon after a strong NW, the seas had not died down and the trip was wet and uncomfortable and as wave after wave seemed to come aboard I opted for comfort and turned for Stromness. Bee felt it to be a mistake; we were out there and if we kept going etc. Plus we would have to get the tides right to exit Stromness. Despite the words written in the opening paragraph I remained deaf to it all I'm sad to say. The entrance was fine although the wind picked up to the low 30's as we approached Bay of Ireland to anchor. No matter. The water shallows to 4 metres or less and the shore is 200 metres away, the holding is good and the wind could blow - we were in. Now, of course, we had to get out.