Sunday, 3 November 2019

Iceland............Finally



Faeroes.

A quick look at the long term forecast was enough to persuade us that we either left with what we had or waited indefinitely for who knows what. So we slipped our lines from Eidi and on 28th June headed out for Iceland. Progress was slow and lumpy, so much so that the early hours I felt I'd had enough - a feeling that hits me from time to time, usually during long passages so this was a tad early. By the following day we were drifting and we tightened the mizzen rigging (using our chain hoist to get the tension)in flat seas and sunshine. By the next day the forecasted winds had kicked in and we pushed north of our rhumb line to try and stay above the low and take advantage of better winds as it went through. We ploughed on under double reefed main and stays'l making reasonable if lumpy progress as the high 30's wind was too far forward for any comfort and eventually we hove to to allow the wind and seas to calm down rather than bashing away. The AIS gave us warning of approaching fishing boats with two projected to come close. Despite several calls on different channels to each of the vessels we had no response leading us to conclude the 80m ships steaming to their fishing grounds at 10k have crews who opt to bank sleep rather keep watch which is a bit unfortunate on the rest of us. But the next ship we called, responded and updated the weather for us, kindly calling back later to suggest we might want to try and head north rather than remain hove to and drift south as that way we would miss the 5 metre seas the front was generating. A kind gesture and we duly set off, hand steering, in order to put more miles between us and the seas. It was whilst we were hove to we bent the first of three bolts on “Stan” the self-steerer. We managed to get the paddle assembly aboard despite the seas (and its weight) where we stowed it below until we could spare the time to repair it the next day. By then both winds and seas had dropped and with a new bolt in place we were able to get everything back together. Not for long as over the next 2 days we bent a bolt a day – something was obviously wrong but we couldn't for the moment see what it was. Unlike the genny which chose a brief increase in wind speed to rip just below a panel close to the peak reinforcement. A bummer as we really needed a lightweight sail in the bulk of the winds we were getting. By now it was late Monday and my mind kept switching between jacking it in and continuing....Bee was philosophical on the surface but deeply gutted that we might not make it but with her quiet support and strength I eventually came round and we persevered. Well persevered is a stretch really as the lack of wind and some kind of circular current seem to keep us trapped in one area for almost a day. In the end we had little option but to motor for several hours to try and clear its influence. As it happened it was a good decision.

We'd downloaded PW before we left and although 4 days old it still bore some resemblance to what we were getting. Based on that we opted to keep sailing south of west in the hope that the winds would become SW which they finally did on Wed 31st. Around 8am that day Bee could clearly see the Icelandic peaks some 50nm away and gradually we closed the coast . Naturally the current was against us and our request to arrive for clearance at a small fishing village whilst not declined was not greeted with enthusiasm and we continued on to Neskaupstadur arriving around 11pm in daylight. We tied up in the fishing harbour, customs were waiting and within the hour we were cleared in.

We liked the town and Iceland too what little we had seen of it. People are friendly but not “in your face”; A fisherman/engineer answered my questions patiently, said he might be able to help sort out the steerer and came down later that evening to look at it. He thought the bearings were too loose, the bolt in question needed to be a size up and we needed to check the alignment.... Not only that but he gave us the use of his washing machine...

The next day we took the self-steerer off, changed some of the bearings and tightened up the bolts that hold them. It was while putting it back together I realised I had stupidly put one of the tufnel blocks on back to front and that was causing the misalignment! Idiot!!! Anyway we sorted everything out, checked it whilst in harbour and it all seemed smooth – the proof would be in the sea trial when we moved on. Before we did that we thought we might move down to the town dock which is more convenient for the town as the katabatic winds were hitting 40k and dragging us (and the jetty we were on) about. Once that calmed we headed down, made a hash of coming alongside and shearing another of “Stan's” bolts in the process. And then a truck pulled up and someone came running over to us....surely not to move us on..No just letting us know we had front row seats for a music concert that night. The music in question turned out to be Viking Metal and luckily for us this was the fourth gig they'd played that day, the audience was very small and 20 minutes later they were packing up and heading home. Never have been a fan of heavy metal and the brief hearing we had a Viking Metal has not changed our minds so we think we had a lucky escape.

Phil and Linda called the following day just as we were clearing off the dock wanting to know where we were and we made arrangements to meet up in a few days in Husavik where they currently were. The winds would be better and stronger further north of us so we motored up the coast to an open bay to anchor. This is an incredible country for back-drops and despite the slight roll we had through the night the anchorage at Horstroend was very impressive. An hour or so of motoring the following morning had us into the wind belt and we were on our way. The absolute joy was the fact that the attention we had given Stan had paid off and we were able to relax and not fret about hand steering. As with most headlands the currents can be difficult in a wind over tide situation so we'd planned on staying at least 5 miles off and thus we found ourselves back in the Arctic Circle, albeit briefly. It was here that we watched the sunset at 1:30am only to rise again 76 minutes later with little change in the daylight in-between. Rounding the headland, heading south, passing islands alive with puffins and into Husavik which claims to be THE Whale watching centre of Iceland as it may well be. 

Certainly there is no shortage of boats for punters to climb aboard to see the whales as we found out when we approached the harbour with cruises returning or heading out at speed. But we found a berth and Phil let us know he'd found a local with a Sailrite who could repair the sail. Roderick is Swiss but has opted to live and work in Iceland and he made short work of the repair that very evening after he'd finished his stint on one of the sailing whale boats. We were back in business. Husavik has a remarkable backdrop - snow covered mountains seem to surround us.

Hannah and Windora left Husavik within an hour of each other. It is a good place to stop; electric and water included in the 2000isk (about £13) a night fee, supermarkets, running trails and, as ever, the most amazing backdrop of snow covered mountains dropping to the sea. 

Flatley
But we were heading across the bay to an island called Flatley with, perhaps a dozen summer houses, church and a community hall but who knows how many thousands of puffins and terns. At each of the landing points on the island a bin with sticks about a metre long for visitors to carry as they wander around the island. They're really needed if you venture into tern territory as the birds will attack anyone they see as an intruder by diving at the highest point – your head unless you're carrying a stick pointing vertically above the head to give them something else to aim for. Our object was to see puffins and we didn't have to go far. Windora had anchored in the pool with a line ashore and we tied to them. Astern the shore was, perhaps, 10 metres away and there were hundreds of puffins stretched along the shore watching us watching them. 


A stroll through the houses and onto the cliffs revealed birds everywhere and we spent ages snapping pics as they sat or launched themselves into space away from us. A nearby island Grimsay, has a huge puffin colony too but the birds don't react to humans in the same way- simply ignoring them for the most part. We assume that with Grimsay being uninhabited the puffins don't see humans as predators whereas here they're closer to human habitation and their need to have puffins as part of their diet.


We moved out of the harbour and onto a convenient quay and both boats left for harbours further west after a day or so. Windora with its powerful engine and 4 blade prop easily leaving us behind as we plugged on in lightish winds to make our way over a headland before the NW winds came in. It was a pity really as the combination of a potential head wind and trying to remain in company meant we missed out on some neat places. As it was we anchored for the night in a bay that on the chart seemed to have scant potential but was very good and apart from a few local skiffs we had to ourselves. The following day we beat down to Isafjorour where we thought Windora might be. The entrance was interesting with the local airfield alongside it and the channel open to the wind but once through we had a large enclosed bay before us and a sharp right hand turn took us down toward the town. The only boats in view were local and it turned out that all the cruising boats, including Windora, had congregated on the docks. Needless to say we opted to anchor where we could lie in comfort and light the wood stove without possibly annoying the neighbours.

By the following day almost everyone had left for Greenland a destination we had in mind but were now unsure of. The ice in Scoresby showed little evidence of moving and the option would be to head further south and it then became a “do we go just so we can say we went” type of discussion……but there was also, for me, the thought do I really want to cross the Denmark Strait twice to simply gain those bragging rights. Undecided to the very end but we checked out. Or tried to. Whereas the other boats US, OZ NZ had been able to check out via the police station we needed to complete a form online and email it and still not sure why. Anyway by the time we left we had little of the favourable tide left, a head wind and a feeling that this wasn’t a good idea. Not a good start. After several hours of tacking we managed to clear the headland, found the wind had veered more to the NW and picked up which put heading directly W to GL firmly off the itinerary. We called the coastguard to let them know our change of plan, they didn’t think we would need to check back in as we hadn’t left territorial waters and only intended to stay another two weeks in Iceland.

We headed down the west coast with a destination in mind and a decent breeze.
As night fell winds were gusty but ok but with a headland to round we were torn between staying as close as we dare and standing off to avoid the dangerous squalls that can be generated by the downdrafts. In the end we chose a middle path and suffered for it as the winds picked up dramatically leaving us scrambling to reduce sail. Once past all calmed down and became enjoyable. By now we were about 10 miles north of Reykjavik but our destination lay 15 mile up a fjord that ran NE-SW but promised excellent anchorages. We’d never intended to go to Reykjavik but did pass a town (Akranes) with a bay with potential before we turned for the fjord. Of course with fjords and mountains it is almost a given that whatever the wind the terrain will cause it to funnel and, in our experience, always towards you. So it was and what may have looked like a decent sail turned into a war of attrition as we beat our way up this narrowing stretch of water. We had one possible anchorage earmarked that was half way up but we could see as we drew closer it was a non starter; a second one we came across that was much better but by then only a few miles from the destination so kept going by now having to motor tack as the tide was now ebbing adding its influence to the 30k gust coming off the snow covered mountains. Time passes of course and we were finally able to make our way into a sheltered bay where we anchored around midnight exhausted. The following day we moved a few miles to a much more sheltered cove, Hvammsey, where eider ducks were bred. Not much evidence of them but we could see on the shore one of the famed Icelandic “hot pots”. 


We launched the dinghy and rowed over to find a 2 metre diameter circle of stones overflowing with water provided via a hose pipe. Within the circle for several boulders for the bathers to sit on and we decided we’d give it a go, keeping the towels close for when we beat a hasty retreat from the cool water. How wrong could we get? The water was more than warm it was hot and getting too close to the end of the hose proved very uncomfortable. Steam could be seen coming from a nearby patch of ground (bit of a giveaway really) and several pieces of wood in that area were charred. 


We sat there gazing across to Hannah with yet another backdrop of dramatic mountains around us and marveled at our good fortune.

A few days later we beat our way back down (see what I mean?) and anchored off? the town we’d past on the way up. Launched the dinghy and rowed in with the diesel jugs to find some fuel. We tied up and asked a couple of chatting guys where we could get fuel and were ushered into a pick up and driven 200 metres to a nearby garage before being driven back to the pontoon. Such kindness.

One of the benefits of cruising Iceland is the ability to use our UK sim as although not part of the EU it is included when it comes to charges and we were able to readily access weather info. It seemed no matter where we where we always had access to a phone signal and Iceland probably has one of the best signal coverage we have experienced anywhere. Of course the population lives along the coasts, well west, north and east coasts with little if any along the south so logically that's where the towers would be but we never failed to be impressed. Anyway armed with latest forecast and updated before we drew clear of the land we felt we had a plan that would see us riding the grips from Iceland down to St Kilda a 600nm journey toward the SE. Part of the problem was the 40 mile chain of rocks and shoals that stretch just west of south from the headland we were now passing. The grids lay to the west of them and our track took us slowly on a diverging course to the point that we ran out of wind, drifting and ever more unhappy with our lot. We struggled on, making then losing ground but slowly making toward St Kilda. It was always going to be a gamble as the anchorages are on opposite sides of the island and not protected from all directions so not an ideal end to a week long trip. As it happened we got to 105nm from the island when the winds switched to the east, picked up and we decided to keep heading south and take advantage of a beam wind. To windward lay the Outer Hebs, mainland Scotland with Ireland further south….our choices looked limitless but a persistent and stiff easterly kept us firmly offshore but first we had to steer clear of Rockall Bank where depths rose from 2000+metres to 200 metres and the sea would react accordingly. We plugged on, passed the bank with a few miles to spare, drifted then picked up a favourable wind out of the west. By now we were some 30 nm off Donegal and pushed on thinking we’d get to Baltimore before resting up and then heading back. And we might well have done had not MetEirann come up with an approaching front that would generate SW50k and further strong winds behind it. Initially we thought we’d head into Ventry Harbour but snuck through the Blaskets and made a beeline for Valentia. We’d used both anchorages before but in a SW wind the Valentia anchorages offers a heavily tree covered hilly surround and we knew the holding was good and there we went and stayed whilst it blew. At anchor all was calm, the clouds racing across the sky the only indication that something was happening outside. As it went through the wind veered a little to the WNW and a swell could be felt rolling Hannah as we lay at anchor. We moved across to anchor, just, in the lee of Beginish Island the trip across demonstrating just how strong the winds had been blowing as wind speeds exceeded 30k and we rounded up in spray before motoring in as close as we dare to the beach. A good length of chain deployed and we were well dug in albeit with our stern a little closer that we wanted but comfortable. The winds continued to blow and we were happy in the knowledge we chosen to come in to shelter rather than pushing on further offshore.

Leaving was a tad difficult as the NW wind can make the entrance uncomfortable to get out particularly in a wind over tide situation. We were lucky in that the wind was only 10-12k but even so with a foul prop we struggled to exit the narrow entrance and the minutes passed as slow progress was made. Once clear we had a further few miles of motor sailing to clear the headland before we could turn on a more southerly course. Good progress was made, perhaps the best since we had left Iceland some 18 days or so ago and we discussed keeping going over pulling into Baltimore and exploring the surrounding area. In the end we decided to keep going, the winds were reasonable and mostly in our favour with the possibility a stiff southerlies in a day or so. Pushing on, we aimed for a point that would take us south of the Scillies and thus give us a better slant for the Lizard. The tides would still be an issue but not as much as the ebb closer to the mainland might be and we duly rounded the Scillies and altered course for the Lizard. We closed the headland and to our surprise and joy we actually managed to get the timing right for the flood and were carried north and onto Falmouth. Not without incident of course as the weather worsened and we ended up pushed further off the sheltered coast and among the anchored ships in heavy rain at night.

We spent a week or so in the Falmouth area, meeting up, by chance, with friends from way back before taking a favourable if light wind back up to the Plymouth area. Cawsand for the night then up to the Lyner before hauling out at Southdown to get the weed and barnacle offer hull and prop. Constrained as we are by draft we either had to rush through things in 5 days to make the next springs to each our berth or wait till the end of the month and chose the latter allowing us to get more done. We arrived back at the quay around 7am but found our new berth and when settled it was nose down as the bottom was obviously hard in places. Once the water had gone Bee went into the mud to try to clear enough to get us level whilst I got a last coat on the deck. To no avail as the tilt was still uncomfortable but able to take advantage of Nick and Nadja’s absence we were able to use their berth and spent days clearing rocks, cement and lumps of metal to make a cleaner berth. 


 It was an awful job; thick, gloopy and very smelly mud that clung like a demented tentacle to legs and footwear, Bee, who gets tunnel vision when working, was deaf to my whimpering entreaties that I really was stuck and barely spared a glance in case her manic attempts to clear the rocks should be slowed down by a millisecond. It took about 30 minutes for her to accept that my struggles were getting nowhere and she reluctantly abandoned digging out rocks to digging out my trapped left leg immediately returning to her more important work once she’d cleared enough mud for me to be able to haul my leg free. I guess she chose to wear my trousers the following day as her fee for the rescue. That and the fact her own clothing was still soaking from the previous days attempt to hose the mud off before we dared wash them. Bee, who is an indefatigable worker is also, unfortunately, prone to covering herself in whatever she happens to be using; anti-foul; Stockholm tar and in this case the mud. At one point I thought she was using the waders I’d borrowed but it was just my trousers now covered from ankle to waist in mud. Along with her arms, face, hair….well you get the picture.

On the next set of springs we moved back into our berth but found we still suffered from a tilt and spent another day or so digging around the hull in an effort to make a decent flat spot to sit. But it is much better than when we first arrived and the slant is bearable.

So that’s it and we ‘ll be here for the winter. Several storms have already come through the last over the w/e and hitting almost 50k where we are. No doubt more to come.

Some memories comes to mind…..we’re on our way south somewhere on the trip from Iceland. The forecast is for increasing winds sometime overnight and we decide to reef before nightfall. It only blowing 20 odd knots with a bit of sea running but we rather get it done in daylight. I go forward to lower the main and find the throat jammed….nothing I do makes any difference and we realise that the block that controls the topsail outhaul has fouled the throat halyard and jammed it. With no way of lowering the main Bee opts to climb the mast hoops whilst I keep the tension on the tops’l halyard. Her journey up was slow and controlled as she balanced speed against a pitching, rolling gait but once the two lines were separated she was down the hoops faster than I’ve ever seen it done, harness off and the job completed before the night fell. Good job done. You might wonder why it is Bee gets all these difficult jobs and the answer is simple enough. She takes the view that if she falls and goes overboard then she believes I have enough skill to get her back whereas the other way round would see me lost as she doesn’t feel confident enough in her ability. Hmm long term readers may well remember that when I fell overboard Bee did in fact get me back…….twice!

The Lampre fish that attached themselves to the hull for several days cleaning us of whatever delicacy they'd decided we had and watching the gannets trying to work out a diving angle that would get them a meal whilst avoiding the self steering rudder.

And the two birds that arrived separately, blown from a far shore by stiff winds. One made it aboard where it remained for several days refusing any food but trying to rest before attempting to fly away....it looped round and came back on then tried again and landed, exhausted in the water. The look on its face and the panic thrashing of its wings as it tried desperately to reach the safety of the boat was heart breaking and somehow we managed to stop the boat and rescue it with our net. Sadly we're not sure either bird survived...

  

Millbrook



Thursday, 11 July 2019

Gordon..............


Yes, yes I know you thought we'd popped our clogs or something its been so long but there you go. Has much happened? Well we covered a good few miles between the mainland and the outer Hebs as we waited for the winds to shift from the north for more than 10 minutes so here’s a recap.
Faroe
At one point we felt we had a chance to get up to Shetland but 20 miles off Cape Wrath with the rain falling, our self steerer not working properly I’d had enough and persuaded Bee we should head back, sort out the steerer and wait for a better window. Thus we found ourselves back in the wonderful Loch Laxford, great protection and holding and no sea swell. There we stayed for 4 days as the winds blew from the west. Eventually, of course, they didn’t and a quick glimpse at Passage Weather suggested we could make it across to the Hebs for yet another wander around. Leaving Laxford was done in style; 6k+ and fine sailing but within a few miles the wind had died and seas became very confused needing the motor to make any progress and keep fillings in teeth. But then the breeze filled in from the NE and we were on our way. For 30 or so minutes we bowled along happily doing 5k rejoicing in our fortune….10 minutes later the winds were 35k and we were not so smug. Speeds and wind picked up - we hit 9.9k and the wind topped at 41.4k and by now we were down to a double reefed main and white knuckles as we struggled to keep the boat on track. One particularly nasty wave had me thrown backwards across the cockpit landing heavily on my back as we charged along. In reality we could have done with dumping the main in favour of the try'sl or something but the size of the waves coupled with nearby working fishing boats meant heaving to would have been a wet and possibly difficult situation. And of course we only had 25 mile to go, less to gain a little bit of shelter. The bay I’d earmarked as a possible anchorage came in view; a mass of white water and the little protection we had gained disappeared as we sailed across it. The next choice, Loch Grimshader, was open to the east and we hadn’t been in there for 15 years so couldn’t remember how sheltered it was so Stornoway it was for the second time. Isn’t that a great feeling when you finally gain shelter and realise that the madness is over. Until the next time anyway.

The next few weeks we spent exploring more Antares charted areas, relaxing whilst keeping a watch on the weather. We ended up back in Stornoway a couple of more times anchoring in Glumlaig and Sandwick Bay depending on the wind direction. From the former it is difficult to get ashore but from Sandwick, Bee was able to go for a run and we caught up with the only other boat at anchor in the harbour. 
Phil and Lynda, Windora
Kiwi’s Phil and Lynda on Windora dropped in to chat briefly, discuss future plans etc. We spoken briefly by phone and they mentioned they'd cruised Falklands and South Georgia but seemed a little lukewarm in their response about how they found it. You can see why here Seems they and another boat, Diomedea, were heading in roughly the same direction as we were so there might be some shared anchorages ahead. Having said that both boats are bigger than us so there was/is no chance we’d keep pace. Windora in particular grabbed our attention with its inside steering, comfortable pilot house, ketch rig and very solidly built….ah the joys of not standing outside whilst the rains swamp you. Both boats left the following day for the Faeroe's whilst we hung on another day thinking the swells would still be running off the Point of Ness. 
Of course when we left the winds switched to the E and we had to beat our way clear only to have them die as we got closer to the Point. All night we drifted with Ness clearly in view. And much of the next too if I remember correctly. A breeze filled in and we were able to make some northing although the currents pushed us between Rona and the smaller island to its west. That night we drifted off those islands but far enough away not to have concerns about them. The winds finally came back and we began to make better progress. Progress was slow and I hand steered whilst Bee kept an eye on the bird life. A quiet gannet sat in the water next to what looked like a net caught her attention and we swung round to investigate. We needed the motor to make the approach and still the gannet didn't move or show concern. We stopped alongside and realised the bird's beak had become entangled in what was an old green floating rope, the type commonly used by fishermen. We used the big net we keep on board to pick Toots out of the water should she fall in and gently lifted the bird up to deck level. It came aboard slightly alarmed but dragging its trap with it. We carefully cut away the bulk of it then removed as much as was visible from its beak. It sat quietly watching me with an unblinking eye, its beak close to my face as the rope was removed. Bee lowered the net back into the water, the gannet swam free then stopped to check its feathers hadn't been too messed about with before flying off. Hopefully we'd got all the rope free and "Gordon" as we took to calling him/her survives for years to come. There are some advantages to drifting slowly....

We had toyed with the idea of heading direct to Jan Mayan but whilst the winds south of the Faeroe's were vaguely favourable they were definitely not to the north so Faeroe's it was. Things were going ok until 20 miles or so from the southern tip when we ran into the fast south west moving current. Despite sailing NE we were being relentlessly shoved NW toward a turbulent piece of rock strewn water. By now were motoring in an effort to make progress but even so our speed dropped, at times, to less than 3knots. Into Vagur we crept to tie up on the dock and clear customs.
Red throated diver
A couple of things had happened whilst we were sailing up - the nut holding the main gaff saddle had dropped off whilst the main was up causing some alarm. It was an easy remedy once we’d dropped the main but the second issue was a problem with the ironwork holding the mizzen throat block to the mast. It had come loose and the only way to reach it was by ladder. Asking around on the wharf the guy I’m talking to called someone else over and he asked what length I needed. 10 metres…he reeled in shock  but said whilst there wasn’t a ladder that size he could supply me with a forklift and platform to get the job done! He turned out to be one of the ship yard managers and also one of the skippers of the ketch Johanna. A lucky break.

We left there for Tvoroyri a short distance up the coast. The tide was favourable but the wind wasn’t and as the town was relatively close to one of the notorious races and rips that flow between islands we kept close into the shore and thus out of the main stream. The last 8 miles was a long beat, 20 tacks as we worked our way into the harbour. The HM called asking our intentions, seemed relieved we would be anchoring and we joined a Spanish boat at the head of the bay. The Spanish boat had left Stornoway with us but soon left us far behind.
Midvaag

Although Tvoroyri had a festival on the next day we headed out to make the best use of the wind to get up to Midvaag, one of our favourite Faeroese anchorages. The route takes you right through this race/rip I mentioned earlier. Well the winds were about 10k out of the west and the race ran NW so not ideal but not the worst… much of the time it was ok, not brilliant but we were motor sailing across a lumpy wind over tide sea. A couple of times we caught a taste of what it could be like when the bowsprit was buried in a standing wave, the stem lifted a shed load of water onto the deck and we watched in horror as what looked like a 2’ high wave came down the deck at us! All this while being pushed through the water at almost 9k….. Windora and the Spanish boat were at anchor when we arrived. In an evening chat aboard Windora it turned out they had made the trip up from Stowaway to the Faeroes in 35 hours; Angel, the Spanish sailor a similar time (although he had to motor) whereas we had taken 4.5 days….
 
Vestmanna

A few days later we said g’bye to Angel and we motored up to Ventamanna with Windora and later joined by Diomedea. From there to Eidi where we now are, the other two left for Iceland this morning in a short weather window.











Faroe

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Loons.....

Cawsand
We'd earmarked a point in the tide cycle when we hoped to leave, based on nothing more than it gave us a safe margin to leave the quay without carving a groove across the mud and so we pottered out on the morning tide on March 23rd
Only down as far as Cawsand of course, to take stock and shake ourselves free of the land and make sure most things are working as they should, lines haven't been wrapped or worse and generally we're happy with what is our lot. For the most part we were but for some reason the new Garmin GPS suddenly decided to delete all the routes and waypoints I'd entered. A call to Garmin had them agreeing they replace the unit and we had them send it onto our friends on the Helford. The unit was meant to be dispatched that evening so we knew we'd be able to collect it in a couple of days and be on our way....hmm. For a variety of reasons nothing happened for another week which had us muttering and moving about as the one wind we didn't want on the Helford but did want to get across to Ireland was East. Still things pass, units arrive and the “old” unit returned.

We left from Falmouth thinking we might anchor off Mullion but with a good wind and favourable tide we thought we'd carry on to the Scillies but decided to push on to Baltimore, SW Ireland as we knew it's a relatively straight forward entrance. The trip across gave us an uninspiring start, 10c and grey with 20knots or so from the south-east. We closed the coast as the weather worsened a little, the wind veered a touch to the south, pitch black, raining and misty with a rolling swell driving us into the entrance. In daylight this is an easy enough approach albeit narrow with rocks either side. As we closed, the land couldn't be distinguished from either sea or sky, the swell made things a tad difficult but at least radar gave an indication of where to aim. With our speed too high for comfort but needing the main for stability Bee scandalised the peak to de-power the rig – it had some effect but not really enough as the sail was dragging on the shroud and wouldn't come down enough. Still we weren't out of control just a little excited and we slid through the gap and motored across to drop anchor a little after midnight some 38 hours after leaving. 
Stbd hand mark of course...
Onwards we went, hiding from stiff SE's in Glenleam Bay, Valentia as we couldn't be bothered to push ourselves to get past Smerwick some 30 miles away and get to a better anchorage. It blew pretty well for the 4 days we were there and whilst it wasn't the greatest of shelter the holding is excellent but after the 4 days we were ready to move and headed out via the Blasketts with a huge number of seals lying around on the beach before anchoring in Smerwick for a few hours to allow for a daylight entry into Cashla, our next destination. We seem to spend most of our time in Cashla asleep as the 4 days in Valentia had allowed little sleep and the wind strengths were such that we opted, dumbly, not to run the fire relying on the oil lamp and hot water bottles for heat. Unlike Toots of course who, because the wind generator was pumping out the amps, had the benefit of her electric blanket for much of the time....

A couple of days later having moved further north we had to round Slyne Head. In the past we have gone outside as the wind has been too stiff for the inside route but this time we had a chance to go through Joyces Passage.... Now it has to be said that Pilot Books are pretty similar in their “you're doomed , doomed” approach to passages and the Irish are no exception. But. We sailed into what looked like a dead end, quite small and congested certainly to a long-keeled gaffer with the turning circle of a tram. Rocks and small islands seemed to overlap, the water surface was agitated and despite the waypoints I'd entered it all looked a tad confusing. Approaching the last wp before we needed to gybe through 120 degrees I glimpsed a tiny gap in the rocks that was in the right general direction for where we had to go but obviously couldn't be the exit, realised it could only be the exit as there was nowt else and consequently ended up gybing a little late. Bee, ever the voice of comfort, remarked laconically “ we're not going to make this gybe before the rocks...”  despite the lateness but helped by the preps we'd made before going in we did make it and we slid through the gap. The water the other side was smooth, mostly clean and it was this coupled to the knowledge that although very narrow it is also very short and the wind was only 15knots or so made it seem worthwhile. We exited grinning like a pair of idiots, happy to have made it. Yes we had the engine on in case we needed a bit of help but the feeling of crash gybing our way into the gap was intoxicating for sure! 


Could it get any better we wondered, it did of course as we sailed into Little Killary and heard the magical call of Loons! If you have never had the opportunity of sharing a mist shrouded anchorage with these haunting calls echoing through the fog, well white sandy beaches and palm trees just cannot compete. That image; that call remain the absolute pinnacle for us.

After LK we were ready to get north and into Scotland. The weather window gave us good S's to start with but would back to the SE and increase after a couple of days. Optimistically we decided we'd try for Jura but 45nm from the destination the wind did back, upped to 25k giving us a very uncomfortable beat to end with. We kept going until it backed further whereon we altered course and headed further north even, at one point, thinking we might head straight for Stornoway before common sense and a complete absence of wind had us heading into Loch Dunvegan on Skye. We'd heard about Antares Charts a couple of years back and having invested a tenner we thought this might be a good opportunity to try them out, which is how we came to be creeping around the back of small rock outcrops to anchor is complete security to the west of Dunvegan Castle
 
looking, Bee says, like a 60's council block...
We'd only just finished laying the anchor and started to tidy up when a seal tour boat came alongside and asked if we were staying long and wondering how the hell we had managed to get in without hitting the reef that lay about 100 metres ahead of us! It's true there is a reef up ahead but there is also a way past it but we had, in any case, come in via the back door. Look the charts up – actually they're more like chartlets – as they're certainly useful and fill in some gaps that C-Map has.

If Dunvegan had a downside, for us, it was the lack of mobile phone signal and even rowing ashore while I went looking and Bee went for run didn't produce one, well not our provider anyway. Luckily the ticket seller at the castle loaned us her phone and we were able to track Storm Hannah's probable route, realising that our departure from the SW corner of Ireland and our decision not to go up the Irish Sea had saved us from a pasting. Whilst those areas were showing as bright red and purple we had benign greens and we duly headed out from our sanctuary at 5am for somewhere in the Hebs. As we were only going to be there overnight we opted for Loch Eport about 15nm from the headland we had just rounded. The winds were great giving us a comfortable, quick sail across The Minch. Eport is another phone free area but a great anchorage and not long after we arrived the winds picked up blowing 25-30 from the south for the rest of the day. No trees, of course, around here but good mud made sure we remained where we'd laid.

Back over to Skye and the mainland, visiting old anchorages and new as we circumnavigated the island. We toyed with the idea (and checked out) two places we intend to use one day. Soay and Scavaig. Soay because we would pass by and have a look and Scavaig because it was there we had hoped to anchor for the night. In the end the constant weather refrain of F6 and gusting had me questioning the sanity of anchoring among the rocks with the Cullins running down into the anchorage which has a reputation for violent squalls and headed down to Rhum for the night. Sailed round the southern tip of Skye and into Loch Nevis with the intention of anchoring in Tarbet Bay but despite the chart indicating mud all we found was rocks and after several attempts gave up and motored back out and across to Oronsay for the night. By now we were in a HP zone and very little wind so took the tide north and through the Kyle of Lochalsh garnering a very friendly wave from the crew on the ferry that crosses the narrow and rapidly moving stretch of water. Once clear of the bridge that connects Skye to the mainland to sailed or drifted for several hours before motoring the few miles north to Poll Creidah for the night. This was another of Antares charts that made it all that much easier as the southern route between the rocks is convoluted, with poles indicating where you need to be. But worth the effort as we had a quiet night, the local boats lying quietly to their buoys and the seals basking on the exposed rocks until late. The northern exit is straightforward and we left early the following day bound for the gap between Rona and Raasay and onto the Hebrides. With a favourable wind and tide we slid through the rips around Eilean Trodday knowing it to be a place to avoid if things were against you and crossed over toward Scalpay. As we closed the coast we shaped a new course for a small anchorage to the south of the island called Plocrapool; somewhat similar in make up to the Poll Creidah we'd left that morning. The sea grew lumpier but eased as we gained the shelter of the out lying islands until we slid into what could almost be a Labradorian outpost. 
 
Hebridean Light
A few houses; a few small skiffs and silence other than the sound of our chain rattling across the roller. Even a touch of drizzle to welcome us and heavier rain through the night. The big difference of course was weather forecasts and the long term has the winds shifting to the north. Another early start and we motored quietly along the nearby coast on a glassy sea with the mist coming and going for much of the trip. The Labrador memory was exaggerated by this mist and drizzle, the shape of the land and the absence of traffic. True we had nav aids in the shape of lighthouses and initially, around Scalpay, the odd buoy but until Stornoway showed up we could easily imagine we were back there. Which isn't to say we're not happy to be in these islands because we are.

Stornoway

Monday, 31 December 2018

...of shoes and ships and sealing wax...


Aline heads out for her rebuild...

After a lot of waiting the converted fishing boat was finally hauled away to another yard. The boat, Aline, had arrived an hour or so before we had about 2 years previously (and was currently occupying the space we were earmarked to slide into) but had been steadily going down hill as the owners were selling a house to release funds for the rebuild. I'm not a great fan of this kind of project as there are more than enough boats around that someone has already spent shed loads of time and money on before deciding to sell but that's just me.

The big news, for us, is we finally got the mizzen back up about 2 months or so after it came down, after working slowly through the tasks needed to bring it to readiness. One of the chainplates had been bent in the fall and needed working on. My "straighten this out" request turned out to be a bit of a nightmare as, to me, what needed straightening was obvious; the top portion was bent at 45 degrees whilst the lower portion had clearly manufactured bends.....  Returning to collect it from the workshop I was handed a completely straight bar of metal.... Not often I lose it but this was certainly one of the times. Once the dust settled down I started to think I should have been far more explicit in my instructions. Ah well,we got there in the end.

Scraping away the wood stain on the mast revealed a couple of horizontal lines than gave me some concern but chatting to several folks around us produced a consensus that there was little to worry about, one an ex-surveyor, one boat builder and one with with several boat builds to his name. So we oiled and tarred, leathered the rigging eyes, tested the radar several times before bolting it to its bracket, attached the VHF aerial and cable and organised the whole thing so that lifting the mast into place would be quick and easy.

Mast lowering...
 The day came and Matt arrived in a fancy fork lift, capable of lifting up to 10 metres. Up went the mast and slowly lowered to where it sits on the bridge deck. I was so busy closely watching it approach the small hole it sits over that I failed to notice the mast had rotated 90 degrees and was warned by Bee it was going pear shaped. Easily turned of course and the lanyards were quickly rove through the pre-tallowed holes in the deadeyes. We'd already set up the mizzen stays'l haly'd and attached a line through both capping rails and back to the throat haly'd to act as temporary shrouds whilst we set everything up. All went well other than I'd lashed a block to an aft shroud and the leathered eyes were slightly askew. Matt drove off, returning with a cage on the forks and I found myself, with Nick the banks-man, hoisted up in the cage to move the block and settle the eyes properly on the hounds. Since then we've tightened up the lanyards several times and will do so regularly before we head off again next year.
Bee keeping me on the straight and narrow..

Or that should have been it except that during one of the lanyard tightenings I noticed that the stbd aft eye had slipped off the hounds and needed re-seating, then whilst working out how we might do this I realised that the sequence of attaching the shrouds was wrong as we normally install them Stbd F; Port F; Stbd Aft; Port Aft. it also solved the question as to why I’d lashed the block to the wrong shroud - I hadn’t but the port shrouds has “swapped” places so to speak. Now I needed to loosen off 3 of the 4 shrouds in order to move things and that could only safely be done by getting the forklift back. Duly done and I was hoisted back up in the cage, the top of the mast loosely lashed to the cage then Bee quickly slacked off the 3 lanyards. The re-seat was easy enough but the two port ones took a bit of pulling and shifting causing the mast to move alarmingly judging by the gasps coming from Bee. Prior to this we'd discovered the radome had finally given up the ghost (as our good friend Philip had suggested it would) but by one of those chances that sometimes occur I happened to look on eBay and found a Furuno dispaly and radome for sale in the next village and decided to change the complete thing. It was "easy" enough to get a ladder up against the mizzen and remove the old 'dome but installing the new one seemed more of an issue and we left it until the shrouds were sorted and then installed from the safety of the cage. Seems to be working just fine but we won’t really know until we get a bit more space around us. Still all was eventually done and we quickly tightened everything back up before using the forklift to get me to the top of an adjacent boat to free off a halyard stuck inside a mast. Result.
Looking dandy..
Interestingly (to us anyway) many of the ideas that came to us in the immediate aftermath of the mast falling down have not been implemented; moving the gps antenna; bottlescrews rather than lanyards for the hrouds, a tabernacle and probably the galvanised steel rail rather than line between the shrouds. The common theme to the shelving was everything we had had worked without issue until the shroud parted and we should concentrate on keeping the shrouds whole rather than changing stuff. Part of me still thinks the rail might be a good idea but haven't yet been able to devise a clean, cheap solution. But we have done a thorough check of "hard to see" shackles etc. The hardest to reach was the block and shackle that takes the jib haly'd. Because it sits at the top of the main we use it when we need to get hoisted up the mast....changing the shackle and 3 chain links was needed as they had worn. Removing the shackle whilst sat in the chair suspended below it was only accomplished by judicious use of the tops'l halyard and a safety harness. Once firmly secured it was relatively easy to slowly slack off the jib haly'd and once sure that everything was holding, to remove the shackle and chain links and replace. Whilst up there we also thought we might as well replace some of the bolts holding the ironwork to the mast - another task that required careful thought before blithely removing bolts.
One of the things that keeps coming back to me is the issue of deploying the Jordan Series Drogue (JSD) that we have…well not so much the deployment but how we might prevent the bridle fouling the self-steerer and causing severe damage to either that or the hull. Or both of course. Reading Trevor R's accounts on his deployments and then looking at the relative closeness of his self-steerer to his transom plus our experimentation with a 20’ bridle suggests a yaw of 15 degrees would be enough for the bridle to connect with the steerer framework so something needed to be done. After much puzzling, sketching, muttering and thought it seems the best option would be to just remove the entire unit (self-steerer) in the event of a blow. However the weight of this unit is such that we would seriously struggle to do that even using the mizzen boom to lift it as we found out - leaning against the wall on a static hull was problematic enough without trying to balance on our tiny aft deck whilst hove to…. So we have reverted to a two part operation, removing the paddle mechanism and then if needed the framework although both require some mods to make this possible. Hopefully we’ll get these completed over the next few weeks.
Millbrook is a small village. The Rame Peninsula is on the road to nowhere really but within a mile of where we are have gathered a number of sailors who might easily come under a Cruising Royalty heading.....Nick Skeates has fetched up on a beach round the corner from here - he of Wylo fame, famous for wandering the oceans on a shoe string; Chris Rees lives in the village and besides being a prominent boat builder (Spirit; Grayhound) and more he’s got some pretty neat voyages to his credit; Pete Hill - he of junk rig fame, Badger, Oryx and more is currently on the hard not far from here sorting out a mono hull he bought in Florida earlier this year and Trevor Robertson arrived a few months ago and we managed to get him a berth here. 
Ironbark
He only wanted it for 10 days to catch up with his mates but was happy to pay the going rate. Daz, who owns the quay and knew Trev by reputation, said he'd swap the berth for a talk. Well attended of course - not many times you're going to get the chance to hear someone talk about over-wintering at either end of the world for a total of 3 times. True to form he left at the end of his 10 days and went directly to Porto Santa leaving after 3 days to dodge the tail end of some hurricane and finally arrived in Cap Verdes to await an early window to get to Trinni. I’m sure there are several others around who might easily qualify but all of those mentioned have been cruising a long time in low key boats and all, for the most part, are quiet almost shy characters.


Millbrook

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

and then there was one.....part 2


The obvious first issue was to get the mast further away from the doghouse and minimise any damage. Easier said of course as whilst there was little wind, perhaps 4-8k there was a swell running of a metre or more which caused the mast to move up and down with some limb-snapping force. The mast was pivoting on the fairlead about 2 metres up from the heel with a similar amount in the water and the bulk suspended between the two. We managed after a lot of effort to slide the mast further out, hampered by shrouds, sheer poles, rigging etc and once clear of the 'house we were able to start on the next stage. It might be worth pointing out that when we'd hove to we'd done so under stays'l alone and on starb'd tack so the tiller was roped over to port. Also we habitually sail with the mizzen tied over to port as a) it gives easier access for us to the hatch and b)the mizzen sheet doesn't foul the wind vane. When the mast fell the tiller was thus out of the way the windvane was also spared as the mast fell to starb'd.
On deck. finally.
It became clear that we were not going to achieve much with the rigging in place and Bee grabbed the Felco wire cutters we'd had on board, unused, for the last 18 years. Nevertheless cutting though the wire, bright shiny steel, took two people considerable effort to do so. Cutting the running rigging a doddle of course but we still needed to separate the spars and sail from the mast if we were to manoeuvre the mast onto the deck. Each move had to be planned, spars had to be lashed to the boat before releasing for obvious reasons and once we had undone the bolts to split up the mast and spars we could do nothing about the latter trying to bash holes in the hull as we fought to get the mast on board using the main throat haly'd and tackles to get it to a position where we could safely lay it along the deck and turn our attention to the other danger. Obviously much lighter it nevertheless proved to be difficult as the sail was now soaked and holding water and the spars had managed to get between the self steerer rudder and the main rudder whilst the other end kept thumping up against the hull. Again the throat haly'd came into play and slowly, slowly we managed to get it aboard and on deck.
 
What was I thinking? We moved it further aft..

Now it all needed lashing down; the mast was moved to where we thought it would do least damage (wrongly as it happened as it protruded to far forward and the lumpy seas we were to encounter meant it would be periodically lifted and dropped, hard, onto the deck by waves coming aboard). Because the radome, blocks and vhf aerial would be in the way we needed to remove those items and get the shrouds off the mast too. Given the radome had been under water for several hours we had little hesitation with cutting the cables to it and the vhf. The sail locker was utilised for all the detritus we'd gathered, the sails being lashed securely on deck, solar panels removed and finally some 10 hours after it all began we realised we'd done as much as we could. We were exhausted of course and whilst we were about 60nm off the Icelandic coast neither of us had any hesitation about what we should do: sail south. No question at all – Iceland was close but we couldn't be sure how much damage we had sustained although we were pretty sure the hull was intact, the engine ran smoothly so no prop damage but repairs might be lengthy plus we had Toots to consider...and we know that area can be inhospitable later in the season, so we began to reverse our miles. Soon after the wind picked up and we marvelled at our luck – that it had been calm and not a gale; that we'd hove to on that tack not the other; that we'd bought those bolt croppers all those years back. I also cursed my stupidity at putting most of our comms on the mizzen, vhf, gps, radar, solar panels. As it happened whilst one panel was intermittently underwater we subsequently washed the circuit board with fresh water and both are still working, albeit with no where to site them. The gps still works and it will have a new home when repairs begin. The vhf uses the same aerial type as the ais so Bee switches cable ends depending upon which we need – a splitter is needed! The radome? Who knows at this stage. Perhaps the biggest casualties have been the very expensive doghouse extension we had made in the winter which used the mizzen as part of its structure and consequently was ripped apart when the mast fell and the simple rope safety rail that stretched between main and mizzen shrouds about a metre above deck and provided a very real mental and physical boost as we moved up and down the deck. The missing mast too as it had been used without thought as something to grab hold of or cling onto when things were lumpy. Now the cockpit seems very vulnerable, well no the cockpit is the same of course but we are very vulnerable. In an effort to make us feel a tad safer we ran a line from the mizzen horse to the doghouse, across the top and back down to the horse. It helped support the old cover we had but whilst it worked when we were sat down, moving across it involved either a limbo dance or going over the top. 
Water pipes instead of a mast..

Neither made you feel particularly safe and using the winches meant it would either catch your eyes or your neck so not the most user friendly change we had to make. We ended up propping the old cover up with water hose pipes that were not needed from our safety lines - not the most attractive of set ups but it worked to some extent and we were the only people who could see it of course.

Our hopes of getting back to Scotland in one go came to nowt as the wind pushed us ever further east and we were caught up in the currents around the Faeroes. A call to Torshavn Radio about forthcoming long term weather determined we should stop there and sit out the two days of light wind and stiff SW that were to follow. Explaining our situation and whether we needed to check in again was met with a request to hold on whilst he checked with customs and the very welcome answer that No as far as they were concerned we were still cleared. More good info followed on the currents and we turned and raced toward the very fjord, Ventsmanna, we had exited some days previously. Now of course surrounded by very thick fog we approached blind, radarless, but with the track of our way though the dogleg. Nothing was visible until breakers could be seen dimly some 50 metres away but, just as it did on the southern entrance , the fog began to clear as we entered the fjord proper and we made our rapid progress down toward the town and anchorage.
Troll's finger

After a couple of days rest and sorting out of various bits we made our way down to Miovagar and made our departure from there. We left about 1am on Mon July 16 with the hope of getting away from the coast and currents. Didn't really work like that of course but we plugged on under engine when the wind failed us before deciding to drift for the night. As luck would have it the tide changed soon after we stopped and we found ourselves heading north at well over 2 knots but little can be done in such a situation and tides do change. Eventually we closed the mainland even though the wind was now heading us and the tide had, once again albeit several days later, turned against us. We made it into Laxford July 19 around 5pm which it has to be said is not our favourite Loch but on this occasion it served perfectly: landlocked; good holding; not too deep and beautifully quiet.

The journey south along the mainland followed the usual; tidal gates, headwinds; some of the usual anchorages but a few we had either not used for yeas or had never used before until we made down to that old standby - Gigha. We've taken to using the southern most anchorage off the ferry overnight terminal as it is quiet and few, if any, boats use it. But this time, after checking the forecast we knew we needed to leave almost immediately if we were to stay ahead of the fronts heading our way. So we left within a few hours and sailed against a foul tide but with a favourable wind along the west coast of the Mull of Kintyre bound for Bangor where we eventually arrived around 5am the following morning. 
After several false starts we left Bangor around 10 on Aug 6th in the company of several boats from the nearby marina including a 50' Pilot Cutter. The day, wet, murky with a stiff headwind proved entertaining as we tacked with the cutter although they favoured long boards and we don't. Nevertheless as the day wore we began to think about where we might stop. The obvious place was Strangford Lough but it isn't ideal as a passage stop as it beset by very strong tides so timing is all and the anchorages are a long way up so we're not really that taken with the idea. We called up the cutter as they seem to have an alternative plan and they did - they were heading direct to Falmouth and we thought "You're on!" All that night and the following day we sailed south although we both had different tactics - they favoured getting closer to the Irish coast whereas we kept plugging on down the centre until we got south of Dublin and closed on Arklow. We then moved across to slide down inside the Arklow Bank and gradually the cutter caught up with us. By nightfall we were almost side by side, worryingly so at times and we were glad when whatever had caused their meanderings was sorted out and they squared away and were comfortably about 1/2 mile off us. I went down to rest only to be called up by a frantic Bee - the genny had collapsed and was flogging. At first she thought the sheet had come off the winch but it was worse than that. The heads'll are pulled out to the end of the bowsprit on a leathered ring called a traveller. You simply pull on a line and out the sail goes...well the line had broken and once we dropped the sail we hove to and set about roving a fresh line. In order to do this Bee has to don oilie trousers and a safety harness before grabbing the new line and sliding along the 3 metre bowsprit, running the line through shackle and onto the sheave and then back on board. Of course whilst this is happening the boat is rising and falling with the waves which were somewhere between 1-2 metres and the big waves would see her up to her knees in cold water... We came out of the hove to and hoisted the genny except it jammed and we realised the line had jammed in the sheave. Sail down, heave to and sort out the line and try again. It jams once more and this time we change the line and this time were successful and we can finally get moving again. All this had happened SE of Tusker Light, in pitch black and drizzle, where, again, tides are a major influence and again with rates in excess of 2 or 3 knots we had lost a fair bit of ground in the 2 hours spent trying to sort this out. The cutter, of course, had long gone.

Because we wanted to get back we opted to keep the full main up which was great for speed BUT it did mean we couldn't get the self-steerer to cope and ended up hand steering for most of the 77 hour journey from Bangor to the Helford. A brief stop over to see mates Nigel and Jude before a final amazing day back to Cawsand - sunshine, full main, genny and tops'l. 

Well for the moment we're back on the quay at Millbrook but not sure for how long. We've started work on the boat - the rigging is with a rigger to be replaced. We think the problem was caused by the guy who did the rigging years ago wrapped electrical tape around the wire before he served it and water got trapped leading to rust which is what actually caused the mast to fall. But many of the changes I thought of implementing: bottle-screws and tabernacle, have been shelved as we thought it through and discussed it with various people, particularly the tabernacle where the consensus was the reason we had so little damage was because the mast wasn't held captive and had it been we might also have ripped up the bridge deck the mast sits on. But also as Bee said - we've had that rigging 16 years and whilst the mast rocked back and forth it had never let us down until that moment so we just need to be more aware.

And we will be. A shame it happened as we really felt we were having our best season for a long time. The self doubt  and lack of confidence I've been feeling over the last few years seems to have quietened down and Iceland was a stepping stone to Scoresby Sound (Greenland) which we had hopes of catching sight of at least but they will both be there next year if we decide to go. 

Two other things have happened since we arrived. We'd drained the water from the radome when we'd removed it from the mast then shoved it below before rinsing it with fresh water a few days later. Once here we opened it up again, leaving it open to the elements, rain, mist, sunshine and wind for 10 days before tentatively plugging a spare cable in and firing up the radar and finding it worked....

And then we decided we'd take the mizzen off the boat and check it over. It took four of us to lift it up and off the boat and me 'n Bee kept looking at each other wondering how on earth had we lifted it - never would have managed it without that throat halyard for sure.

Millbrook