Thursday, 8 August 2013

Stornoway and south...

Having cruised up the Hebrides as far as Stornoway, spent a very enjoyable evening with friends Andrea and Eve we were ready to begin the trek south. 

Stornoway Harbour
 Unfortunately the weather wasn't, as front after front came through delivering winds with a southerly element and things were not good aboard Hannah. No doubt our state of mind had much to do with it but the huge number of boats we saw everywhere – the majority under motor even when wind conditions were favourable and the constant noise from the vhf of “weekend warriors” filing passage plans with a beleaguered Coast Guard made us wonder what the hell has happened since we've been away. Changing times I guess. So ever slowly we worked our way south, trying to use places we had not stayed in on our last trip here. The overwhelming memory would be of the need to use the engine in order to make any progress at all which no doubt contributed to the awful feeling of despair that seemed to hang over us. But like most things enough progress is made to get you into another state of mind. 

  Eventually we made it across to Northern Ireland and anchored in Red Bay before moving onto Bangor. Although this was our second visit to this coast for some reason we hadn't been aware the last time of how attractive it is...possibly very foggy last time but we were impressed. Not so much with my navigation however as we entered Bangor, NI to buy fuel and I almost took us the wrong side of the green mark. Having spent the last 6 years on the other side of the water where the rule is: red right returning I could claim that it's easy to get confused....but then again I did hit the mud outside of Oriental by reversing the rule so I guess the common denominator is me. Still on this occasion a sharp reminder from Bee alerted me to the error of my ways and we avoided an ignominious grounding in front of a horde of urchins who mistook me for “Capt Jack” it seems.

We had hoped to meet up with friends Bob and Sue who live on the Isle of Man but we managed a few brief hours there before fleeing the next morning with a favourable wind. The entrance into Holyhead, our next stop, is beset by fierce tides and though we were pointing well to the east of the entrance our, track was taking firmly to the west. We cheated by running the engine and pinching up as close to the Skerries as we dared. The tidal rips and currents had us twisting and turning whilst we ran at 8 knots and I struggled to keep the boat pointing in the needed direction. All my attention was on the task and for Toots this was the perfect moment for her to wander up on deck and hop nonchalantly onto the capping rail to get a better view of the water rushing madly around the hull and the island getting closer.... A combination shriek/howl from me made sure she got down rapidly and we swept on toward the entrance and bed. We had thought we might be held up a few days here and a rare chance to see family and friends but the promise of favourable winds had us out of there. Not to be of course but by then I'd decided that we might has well go directly to Cornwall rather than Cork. Another dumb decision! 
 It took a couple of days to get as far as St Ives where we anchored, leaving us to wonder about the passage around the end of Cornwall. Reeds suggests that leaving 3 hours before HW Dover, whilst bucking the tide to begin with would give you a favourable tide all the way to the Helford. Well perhaps it does if you have a boat that can motor against a 2 knot tide and still do 5 knots but that ain't us. Not that it stopped us trying. In our (or my) defence I would say that the forecast(!) had indicated that this was our best window albeit a not very good one. In the end we ended up getting round in a wind over tide situation, a horrible, lumpy and dangerous sea and the certain knowledge that rounding this headland is best achieved by sailing to the Scillies or Ireland and approaching from there. Very scary and unpleasant was the agreed verdict.

Finally we sailed in to the Helford, found Nige and Jude enjoying a barbie on the beach with their family and tied up to his mooring buoy 20 + hours after we left St Ives. That night we were early to bed whereas the next night the males behaved like adolescents, drank far too much and didn't go to bed until well after 4am. Unlike adolescents however it seems the more mature body suffers for longer and should serve as a stiff reminder about excessive drinking.......

Onwards towards our final destination in the UK, or not... and into Plymouth Sound with Bee spotting a boat we knew – Bob and Adele happened to be cruising this neck of the woods and we found ourselves on the same patch of water and both heading for Saltash. We anchored and they lay alongside and a fine time was had by all. In fact we stayed together for a few days before they moved on and we picked up the buoys that Pete and Lucia had suggested we might use. We met Tim who seems to run the mooring association, got an engineer sorted to look at the engine, found a welder to sort out our chimney base and then two years after we last saw them Robin and Jaq arrived.....what can we say? The reunion was as alcoholic, boisterous and musical as ever and they remain as generous and helpful as they always have been. Before we drank too much they handed over a gift from Steve, one of the Portsmouth Virginia friends we made. Steve had produced what looks like an oil painting of the photo that sits at the top of our blog. Framed and with the details of when the pic was taken (by Robin or Jaq) it is remarkable, not least for the amount of effort he has taken. I'll try to photograph it....

They, R&J, are taking a break from Blackthorn and the mast issues that they have suffered from...Robin says he is going to write up the whole story but has been saying that for far too long so I suggest you write to his blog and urge him on! Wonderful friends.

So that's it. In the next day or so we will lie alongside, scrub off and paint. Once the engine is sorted we think we might take a quick trip to Southampton to catch up with more folks before turning the bow south and heading to the Canaries and Cabo Verde.

Observations from abroad: England is VERY small and the houses are so close together that it feels claustrophobic. The rolling hills are wonderful but we doubt we will ever settle here. The UK coastguard are simply very good and professional, their radio announcements clear, spoken slowly and a joy to hear. USCG please take note... lastly the RNLI really is an institution. On one day we heard the Padstow lifeboat called out 3 times and the naval airbase at Helston launched a helicopter twice in response to demands.