Thursday, 19 July 2007

Not all who wander are lost.....

It’s been 3 months since we wrote up the web page and in that time we’ve covered, slowly, some 1200 odd miles and seen some of the varied coastline of our own country for the first time. In the early days of this trip, when libraries were more common, there seemed little point in writing as the journey felt somehow tenuous, as though it wasn’t real – possibly because everything was familiar

The drama started as we left Quayside at 6am, casually reversing out of the berth and into the river without checking we suddenly found ourselves confronted with a tug towing a ship up to the scrap metal yard and just made it across the river to avoid them before settling down to the trip. The days that followed saw us exploring the local anchorages, so familiar to everyone else in the yard and so foreign to us, before seizing the easterly wind and heading on down to Poole. Leaving the anchorage the next day and chancing our luck over a narrow and shallow piece of channel under power, Bee who happened to go below, shouted up that the engine temp. was very hot. Unfortunately this coincided with us running aground and me trying to reverse off. In fact I had just succeeded when she called and as her next shout was to warn of smoke coming from said engine she had no choice but to switch the engine off. So we promptly drifted back onto the mud and lay beam on to the channel, effectively blocking it….. Perhaps unwisely we opened the engine cover but eventually we established the smoke was, in fact, steam but as we blocking the channel used by a local ferry we contacted the HM and got ourselves towed out of the way. In the end the problem turned out to be a jubilee clip that had come adrift and shed the coolant. We repaired, refilled and headed into the harbour for the night. A very swish, varnished yacht lay near by and the owners came along to see us, remarking in passing that the boat was Bloodhound, owned previously by the Duke of E and we were welcome to look her over tomorrow. However the visit didn’t materialise and we left heading the following day for the West Country. 

We arrived at Dartmouth around 2am in a blow, with no large scale chart, hearts thumping and crashed through the narrow entrance and into comparative quiet. As it was still dark and we were unable to locate any visitor’s buoys we tied to a vacant MOD lump and slept for a few hours before heading upstream. Eventually we settled on a buoy opposite a viaduct where, over the next few days, we were entertained by the tourist steam engine bellowing photogenic clouds of steam through the trees as it made its twice daily journey.

From there onto the Yealm, Fowey and then Helford to meet up with Nige and Jude, fellow cruisers from our last trip. They live overlooking the Helford in an idyllic spot and the first night we rowed ashore we were greeted by a garden of wild primroses,bluebells,daffs and wonderful smells.

Toots came with us and spent the evening wandering around with a tail in the air with happiness. A gathering of their friends and family included us and the Sunday afternoon was taken with a boisterous game of football from which two stars emerged – Bee as the top scorer and Dyson, who at 70+ was a powerhouse of defending. Great afternoon. 

We also met up with Brad and Jo, Isaac and Ruby from Lilly B. and spent the evening chatting, drinking and catching up. A last job was to help bring N&J’s boat down from Gweek and onto their buoy opposite their house. The channel to and from Gweek is tortuous and shallow even at high springs and had me wondering how the place ever became so popular. Actually, like many of the “names” we visited, it surprised us by being much larger than we’d thought and, possibly because of that, we were under-awed by the whole place.

We’d also snuck a quick trip into Falmouth and up the Fal which was probably our favourite place. We stopped at the Marina at Falmouth and decided to go looking for Steve and Marilyn, last seen in Nova Scotia but every where we called had no knowledge of where they were although they claimed the name to be familiar. Finally calling at a swish yard and getting the same answer we were directed to a smaller, cheaper yard across the river. As we pedalled through the propped up boats we spotted Spray Venture and banged imperiously on the hull, raising a startled Marilyn to peer over the side to see us grinning and cavorting at having finally tracked them down. 

Onto the Scillies. Much has been said about the islands and everyone we spoke to enthused about them but they did little for us and although we stayed perhaps 10 days it felt as though we were filling in time. We had such interesting trips between islands as fog descends within minutes leaving you peering around listening for sounds that stir the heart and emotions – surf, engines or the bell on a buoy….. Curiously weeks later I was reading a sailing book written in the 1880’s and the author too felt they were over sold and hadn’t lived up to the hype.

We had a couple of longish journeys ahead: Scillies to Wales and Wales to Scotland. Longish in that they offer few places to hole up and the first one crosses the Bristol Channel. We opted for Milford Haven as it had an easy entrance and wasn’t too far east. MH was a revelation and once the industrial section had been left behind we found ourselves meandering along a wonderful river, between woods, rock, fields and sheep. True the tide runs hard but we had a number of great anchorages and to ourselves. MH also offers free pontoons at various points and we tied up to one a few miles in from the entrance readying ourselves for the push north but there is little to recommend this particular one as a swell works its way in and the boat can roll heavily. The journey north took us through the islands of Skomer and Skokholm where the tide rules and puffins abound and we anchored in a small bay to await the return of the favourable tide and then onto Fishguard for the night. The wind was light and variable the next day as we headed off for N Wales. Plans changed and changed again as the wind dropped, veered and the tide turned. A decision to round Anglesey was aborted as we realised the tidal gates would be all against us and we’d spend the next 3 days battling seas and then Bee spotted a little bay called Port Dinllaen and less than 15 miles from the southern entrance to the Menai Straits. Both Reeds and Libby Purves (whose book “One Summer’s Grace” we dip into for bits about the area we’re in) write Dinllaen off as an anchorage for poor holding but the Rocna we bought before we left has been everything we could have asked for. Little we did we know the big test was about to arrive. Cruising along into the last two miles before we turn Hannah was hit by a gathering wind as the pleasant Force 4 escalated to a 7 in minutes and that was protected by the adjacent headland. As we turned into the bay and thus into the wind we dropped the main and crept in under motor………….and crept………..and finally dropped the anchor. 40 metres plus of chain screamed out, the anchor bit and Hannah came up head to wind happily and we rejoiced in our good fortune. It blew hard that night but we remained in position and slept soundly. Well that’s not quite true ‘cos ahead lay the southern entrance to the Menai………and the wind was SW meaning we were heading into the entrance on a lee shore. The channel shifts and the buoy positions with it….was I nervous………too bleedin’ true I was. Should we go in under sail or motor (I chose motor- mistake as we rolled badly) and my nervousness was accelerated when I misread the buoy sequence and headed inside instead of outside of the first mark. But half an hour later we were in and in calmer water but the only two anchorages looked distinctly iffy and we opted for the marina by Caernarfon Castle. A fine choice as we were not only treated very well by the Berthing Master Mark but he has reams of very useful info on the entrance but also on the Menai Strait itself, the traversing of which depends a careful timing. Luckily a couple of local boats were heading to Conwy and offered to show us the way and the following day we all left in convoy………except we nearly didn’t as I completely misjudged the effect of the flood tide on the narrow entrance to the harbour and found that despite full revs and a tiller hard over it was quite obvious we were going to T-bone the wall on the other side……….how strange that  time stands still in these moments as, engine now going hard astern, we waited to see if we would avoid disaster – snapped bowsprit, boat pinned up against a wall before being swept into a  shallow area whilst the Monday morning loafers looked on………. But we did back off, we did get everything under a control and we did slide smoothly through the entrance under a visibly nervous berthing master. The trip up was uneventful after that until we cleared the two bridges the wind picked up and we were faced with a series of mast shaking gybes as we followed a snaking channel. By now all but one of our escorts had left us and we followed him across his favourite shortcut…the depths dropped and continued to drop and still our man ploughed on his gaze glued to his chart plotter, following his boats progress on the screen as we careered along behind him. He knew his stuff, knew our depth and led us safely, if a little worriedly (on our behalf) to the entrance of Conwy. The very smart marina had been primed for our arrival by a friend who also happens to be a policeman and so we closed the entrance and called them…. wind is gusting, entrance is narrow, marina is FULL of expensive, white plastic and there isn’t a lot of room to manoeuvre……..I chickened out and we headed upstream and picked up a municipal buoy where we remained for a week visiting Lindy and Mark and Lindy’s parents, David and Mary Ann before heading north for Scotland via the Isle of Man. 

Not much we can say about the latter other than our departure from Port Erin coincided with a growing wind that had us embayed and Hannah clawing her way out under heavily reefed main and straining engine, burying her bowsprit before aiming for the moon and all on board wondering what on earth we were doing…

We arrived at Loch Ryan after a frustrating trip, a theme that has been common actually as the engine hours will confirm. Loch Ryan has Stranraer at its head and we anchored for a few days before heading in. The Harbour Master turned out to be from Yorkshire and moved boats around to accommodate us. The harbour is being dredged to put in a pontoon for visiting yachts so we had to time our arrival and wait until the dredger had headed off to sea before entering. We stayed a few days as I wanted to head off to say final goodbyes to a friend who had died and say a quick hello to Pete, Sarah and Evan plus various other people I hadn’t seen for almost 30 years.

That was about a month ago and since then we have wandered around the west coast of Scotland, found somewhere to winter (Campbeltown on Kintyre) had a quick cruise around Arran and up the Kyle’s of Bute before heading around the Mull of Kintyre on up to Gigha.

From there an exhilarating sail up the Sound of Islay, between Islay and Jura, where our speeds under a reefed mizzen, stays’l and spitfire reached an exhilarating 9+knots thanks to 6 knots of tide. Progress was going well but a glance of our shoulder saw a rapidly moving cloud and as we approached the entrance to Loch Tarbert, on Jura we were hit by the squall which used the adjacent mountain to accelerate and hit us at a good 50 knots. Hannah heeled and kept on heeling as the bulwarks and then the bottom edge of the toe boards went under water until we clawed the mizzen down to bring some order to the boat. Made it into a bit of shelter and tested the Rocna again. Once the wind eased we worked our way up the Loch and into a pool of brown peaty water, surrounded by rocks for the night. Spent a few nights in the Loch but moved into the inner part after the second night for complete isolation – no houses no roads. We came back through the Islay sound and worked our way, over the next few days up past but not through the Gulf of Corryvrecken but through the Cuan Sound and onto Oban before heading up to Tobermory and onto The Small Isles.
Canna was our choice for a few nights, chatting to other cruisers who all seem to be from the Solent for some reason before heading up to Loch Harport on Skye. Quiet anchorage to ourselves really, although we were visited by a lovely Dutch gaff ketch some 80 feet long. Not sure what it is about skippers on these small ships but they rarely appear friendly or even able to acknowledge your presence although that wasn’t true of the crew. Ho hum. We decided to leave Gesto Bay on a sunny Monday morning and within seconds of Bee starting to haul the anchor she realised we had a problem as an anchor could be clearly seen dangling from our chain some 2 metres under the boat (we were anchored in 5 or 6 metres so we knew it wasn’t ours) There followed 2 hours of hard work as we laboured to raise a discarded mooring anchor complete with riser and bridle. We had lines attached to anchor, lines attached to chain and to our joy the shackles came undone with little effort. Finally with the unwanted anchor hanging, but secure, we set off to accost a local fishing boat across the Loch. “Would they like it otherwise we would dump it” Alarmed at the thought we may do so on their fishing ground they gently came alongside and removed the item and any other bits we no longer needed. We had intended to take it out to sea but I guess wherever we dumped it may have fouled someone’s fishing ground so it is probably ashore in a twee garden somewhere.

Whilst in Canna we were told by several boats about their experiences in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides. It was generally negative, too bleak, too many rocks etc. We obviously decided to go although the only charts we have are small scale and no use whatsoever in negotiating Loch entrances strewn 
with rocks. But the Pilot Books are and whilst they often lack lat and long it is possible, with care, to work your way into these places. And what places they are. So far we have only been here about a week but we are bowled over. Firstly it reminds us of Newfie but without the prospect of 8’ of ice in the winter and secondly we have the anchorages to ourselves. Not even a mooring buoy to encourage visitors and we love it. At the moment we’re in a small creek in Loch Stockinish on Harris. The entrance has a few rocks to dodge but absolutely nothing to worry about but the Loch opens up after you slide through a 27 metre gap. A few more houses around the Loch than the last few but already we keep looking at small crofts and musing……

But we have moved on again and are now in Stornoway and, like so many before us, bemused by the huge contrast with the rest of the Western Isles. Perhaps we should have realised that the appearance of an occasional street lamp in a sparsely populated hamlet meant we may soon come across more…but this place is a real town with every amenity you could wish for. That’s not meant to be derogatory either but it really bears no resemblance to the rest of the places we’ve visited. Has a great feel to the place, very friendly people who take delight in telling us the Hebridean Celtic Festival starts next week along with the Traditional Boat Gathering and assume we’ve arrived early for the latter………..although, true to form, we will have left before either starts.

I’ve already written about our anchor and can only reiterate it has been a brilliant investment and has never let us down yet irrespective of the bottom. It digs through weed and finds the mud below and even came up once with a small boulder lodged between its flukes. 
Whenever we have needed to reef the main I find myself gazing up at the sail, noting how well it sets and draws and say each time how glad I am we got a professional sail-maker to supply them. They have been a joy to work with and the deeper reefs and the spitfire jib give enormous satisfaction both in raising and it the way they work so well together. 

And finally… Bee is rowing ashore with Toots hanging over the bow dangling a front paw millimetres from the water. I’m on the shore and, as Bee is going off course, I call out for her to pull hard on her left oar….she does…and Toots finds the boat is no longer underneath her but the water is and she is deposited unceremoniously into very cold water……….from where resurfacing at high speed and without assistance she appears to propel herself from the depths back onto the dinghy……


Saturday, 3 February 2007

The Granddaddy of all refits...

And finally the update is done which can only mean we’re back in the cruising mode and about to head off. Or have already done so…

It has been a long 18 months, lots of work on Hannah, lots of paid work for Bee, less for me, but sat over the inevitable evening glass of wine (now home brewed) there is a feeling of satisfaction at the changes we have made - improvements all. Engine and gearbox sorted, doghouse built, new sails with the addition of a trys’l and small storm stays’l (NOT that we will ever need them….) and so on. Here’s a brief rundown on the efforts to date.
We came out of the water on Dec 4th 2005 and built a “Maine shelter” to protect us from the, forecasted, harsh winter. The building process was accompanied by much lip pursing and head shaking but in the end the shelter impressed all with its rigidity. Mind you they hadn’t seen the house our friend John built to house their boat in sunny Maine…………
One of its great assets was it enabled us to get on with work as it tended to hide us from passers by and although work progressed slowly we were moving forward. Of the many jobs we had to tackle the repairing of various bits of hull damage was fairly prominent. Long time readers will, perhaps, remember the stories of hitting lumps of French granite and being assaulted by a runaway iceberg. The latter was relatively easy as the damage was confined to the epoxy that had been used to fair the hull. 
 The granite damage proved a different problem as the cement we had used had set so hard it refused to crack with a lump hammer and bolster and eventually we gave up and decided it was sound enough. We ground it back to give a smoother finish and declared ourselves satisfied. The wonder of concrete hulls…. And the wonder of the use of the shower on Larus (Tim and Nancy’s boat) to rid ourselves of the inevitable cement dust that accompanies the grinding back of the hull. 
Their purchase of a flat couldn’t have come at a more timely moment either and they may never fully understand our appreciation.... Other tasks we came across were rot in the bridge-deck and the bottom of the mizzen and touches of rot in the main. All repaired with varying degrees of difficulty. “Stan” became the focus of our attention as we bombarded Paul with numerous changes we felt we needed – almost entirely to stiffen up and make it more storm proof. The re-launch day came and went without us and we settled for a more expensive sole launching later in the year. We contacted a supplier for Jotun paints, checked the colour on the internet and were suitably horrified when we opened the tins to confirm…going back to the internet we noticed a small notice which indicated that colours shown on screens, because of the limitations of computers, bear little resemblance to reality.
Well ok it wasn’t quite like that but certainly the gist. Reactions varied from “the contents of a babies nappy” to a “great colour to be seen at sea” with us firmly in the latter camp. By May, with the sun high, we needed to remove the cover as temperatures would easily rise to 30ْC and above and even the tomato plants Bee had elected to grow seemed to wilt under the heat.

  We completed the paint and bright work, cleaned up the engine, replaced, with Geoff’s help, the timing belt and re-fitted the engine. By late July we were back in the water and towed back to our berth. Engine was re-connected, prop shaft and a new flexible stern gland fitted and with new wiring we fired it up and did it run well. All that thanks to John of course.

Smaller jobs were completed and then we got a surprise visit from Martin and Roma (the previous owners and builders of Hannah)in “Apple” a steel Wylo, their latest build (and last they assure us) Lots of neat ideas and high workmanship and great to see both boats together. Still prefer Hannah though.
Actually we have had several visits whilst here. Ziggy and Lisa and then Stephen and Zella both visited, at different times, from the US and then my grandson Evan arrived towing his parents, Pete and Sarah, along to see the reprobates in the flesh. Quite a year!

By now we were almost, we thought, ready and then idly glancing through an oldish copy of Yachting Monthly I happened to see a photo of a similar boat to Hannah that had built a doghouse………………… YES just what we needed!!!…….much discussion with many different people, a pooling of ideas and then the break we needed when Alastair casually mentioned he’d love to give me a hand in the build. Alastair, besides featuring in a number of previous webpage’s of ours is also a dab hand with wood and his offer meant the difference between “Gawd what on earth is that” and ”It looks like it has always been there”
We measured, cogitated, re-measured and then ordered. I collected from the wood yard but was absolutely gob smacked at the size of the timbers and had a nervous chat with my mentor about the sizes – surely Noah couldn’t have had anything like these sizes? 

But we worked on steadily, me looking on, AD whittling away and slowly it came into being and, I have to say, is everything we could have wished for. The timbers are in keeping with the massive strength of Hannah and already we appreciate the difference as ventilation improves dramatically, the blessed Toots has somewhere to shelter and rain no longer means we have the hatch slammed shut.

The sails! Well this was a saga that could have been from hell. We’d bought the material, found and bought an industrial sewing machine and a copy of “The Sailmaker’s Apprentice” A local hall was available for hire (£6.00 ph) and a mental (you choose which way it’s meant..) calculation of 200 hours to cut and stitch seemed about right. The weeks turned into months and Bee’s reminder that we (I) hadn’t started was met with excuses. Finally we sat down to work out a strategy which quickly established that perhaps we should give ourselves a head start and get the main made. I phoned around to find a sail maker who would use our material. All I spoke to said “No” but many mentioned the name “James Lawrence” and so I rang. “Sure, No problem” After a couple of discussions with Mark Butler at JL we felt that perhaps we should just hand the whole job over and so drove over to Essex with our old sails. Watching the loft in action made us realise that we had been out of our depth here and the relief at handing the job over was palpable and enormous. Made more so when we told the sails we had asked for, 9 in total, would take 3 skilled people 3 – 4 weeks to complete…perhaps I needed to add a 0 to my calculation of 200 hours? Readers of earlier entries may remember our uncanny ability to find heavy weather whenever we’re “doing a long one”. It’s this ability that we focused on when we were discussing the sails with Mark and the reason we now have deeper reefs in both the main and mizzen and a trys’l and storm stays’l for those moments when the call of the sea is replaced with the call of the 9-5…………. As yet we have had little chance to try them out other than for a few hours but we’ll report in due course. 

Another change has been the saloon stove. Battered and worn, the old one had given great service but we’d set our heart on something with a little more control, something that would burn through the night if required and chose to fit a Morso Squirrel. It is a cracking stove, fulfils all our needs and with its glass front gives a wonderful glow. We toyed with the idea of a back burner and radiators but then found we’d need to install a pump and then we’d be into additional power requirements. (apparently the pump used by Reflex uses about 2 amps!). KISS....

A tale or two…. I’m in the engine compartment, clarting around and Bee is putting the kettle on. As you are possibly aware we have a Taylor’s Paraffin Cooker which is preheated before igniting. Bee was in this preheat process and turned to the fuel tank to pump up the pressure, turned back and was confronted by a small wall of flame. “I think you should come here” sayeth the dulcet toned one……….:”I think you should come here NOW” It was the slight emphasis on the last word that alerted me to the fact that something might be amiss………. We dumped a fire blanket over the flames, blasted it with an extinguisher and retreated up top. Gazing at the white fire blanket I could see a cherry glow and a gentle roaring sound and rushed down the companionway. Peeking under the blanket, holding my breath against the fumes I can see the fire is definitely not out. In one of those strange coincidences in life Bee had come back from Asda the night before and announced that the shop had fire extinguishers and, as ours were mostly out of date, perhaps we should get a new one. Oddly enough instead of prevaricating as I usually do we had gone in that morning and bought one. And, of course, it was this brand new extinguisher I’d grabbed and squirted over the blanket. This time I lifted the blanket and emptied the remains of the contents across the cooker…………. Well they do make a mess but more importantly they work very well.  Obviously we needed to replace that and buy more but timing is all it seems. The fault by the way can be traced to the eejit I employ to keep the cooker in fine fettle i.e. ME. I had allowed a locking nut to work loose (or more likely not done it up tight enough) which had allowed a fuel leakage and then the fire. Paraffin is a MUCH safer fuel than gas and has in no way altered our view of the cooker. Other than to make sure all necessary work is done properly and in good time. And then one day passing the rubbish bin, as usual full to overflowing, I spotted a wine box lying on top of the rest of discarded items. Ever curious I shook it and was rewarded with a carton at least half full….as a matter of academic interest I checked the sell by date and startled to see it was only the day previous. Of course we drank it – kept us going for several days.

We had a week away, ostensibly as a shakedown and or departure. Motored across to Newtown Creek and then endured a week of howling gales as low after low came scudding down the English Channel. At one time we suffered a whiteout as wave tops were blown clean off and when the wind backed to the SW we had a fine time…………. Except that it reminded us rather more than we wanted of the journey back from Greenland…………………

With the many nights we have spent at anchor over a variety of seabed’s you will appreciate how dear to our hearts a good anchor is. We’d used a 45lb CQR and a 56lb imitation CQR and whilst the heavier one was much better we were aware that in very strong blows, despite a long scope and a religious fervour when setting the damn thing, Hannah had a tendency to creep. By creep I mean that the wind and wave strength would combine to gradually move her across an anchorage, despite being, apparently, well dug in. It might only be 60 feet or less but it happened. It may be the effect of tide or wind changes but it happened. Where the anchorage is wide and loads of sea room it isn’t a problem but it is something else we have to concern ourselves with. Over the years we had become almost fanatical about our anchoring technique and would set and reset if we had doubts about the holding. Better to do it then than face a gale and a dragging hook. Then we read about an anchor that seemed too good to be true. Sets first time (another bone….) and just keeps digging in.  Intrigued we contacted the Kiwi company and did some more research and then decided to buy. 
This time we have gone larger still (33kg or 73lbs) and the short trial we had in Newtown has so far confirmed we made a good choice. It set first time on the 3 occasions we dropped it and set it that wonderful, heart warming way that forces the boat to swing immediately toward the anchor, irrespective of the way she is falling off. Yes, I know Newtown is a good holding and that the anchor is heavier than those we have used before but with our experience to set as the ROCNA did and for Hannah to sit without any creep, on a short scope, when the wind strength was so high is unprecedented. We look forward to trying it out on a variety of beds. Watch this space.