This trip around the top of Britain has given me both the best sail of my 50 year long sailing life and also the worst.
The best was the short three hour sail from Lerwick (or Lerrick as the locals call it) to Symbister on Whalsay Island.. The journey took us down the sound that runs between Shetland mainland and Bressay and then across to the island of Whalsay. The Force four south easterly was right on the beam. We had a fully reefed main and a completely rolled out genoa and the old girl was bowling along. The sun was shining the islands were well lit, the sea was a bright blue and some entertaining four foot waves were coming in off the Norwegian sea. The old Centaur was surfing down the waves that were coming at us on our starboard quarter and the GPS was kissing seven knots at times – but never less than five even when she was climbing out of a trough. I was enjoying myself and the boat felt as though she was too.
The worst was Friday night. The 150 miles from Scalloway on the west coast of Shetland to Loch Eribol on the North Coast of Scotland just a few miles short of Cape Wrath.
It started on Friday morning at 3am just as the light was arriving. Up here in Scotland in mid summer the days are long. In fact it never really gets dark. The sun just dips below the horizon in the north west and then rises again in the North east. The clouds in the northern part of the sky stay lit right through the night. When I left Scalloway jill stayed in bed while I fut-puttered out of the harbour. There was a trace of a south West breeze blowing on our nose but the weather man said the wind was going to move to the East and south and stay there at around 12 miles an hour – gusting 18 for the next three days.
So I motored for the first few hours and then sure enough around mid-day the wind shifted to the East and we were soon travelling along happily on a beam reach with everything flying. She was doing a rock steady five knots.
Then as the sun came down we picked up the flood tide coming along the western edge of Orkney and were doing 7. In retrospect I should have just ridden that tide all the way down to Stromness at the entrance to Scapa flow and turned in for the night well pleased with the 70 mile run.
But she was sailing so well and the sunset was wonderful to behold so I decided to carry on and aim for either Loch Eribol or even around cape Wrath and into Kinlochverbie.
In your dreams son.
The Easterly continued to build. I put a reef in the main and then just as it got dark I reduced it to two reefs. I still had half a genoa out and she was still going at a little above hull speed.
I was driving hard for the North Coast of Scotland. However the tide runs at up to six knots along that coast. The waves were big but smooth – then as it got as dark the tide turned against the wind and the waves started to get a bit steeper and the wind built even more. The crests were blowing off some of them
The sea became a lonely and intimidating place. I got jill up and she put the boat head to wind with the engine on so that I could drop the main.
It was a long frightening journey to the mast.
Jill went back to bed and I sailed on under a third of genoa .I have never sailed in an eight in any sort of boat but I can tell you that a third of a genoa was making the boat shift along at six knots – which is really over her hull speed.
The Raymarine was steering and keeping her on course. I confess there were times when I just hunkered down in the corner between the spray hood and the dodger and let the boat deal with it herself.
For as long as ten minutes at a time the only sentient being in the cockpit was the tillerpilot.
Occasionally a nasty wave would slam into the side of the boat so I put her on a fetch so that she was taking the waves on her port bow. This was slower but a much easier moton. As the light was coming up I was getting pretty tired. 26 hours of sailing.
At one time I remember checking on the GPS – Loch Ebirol was 50 miles away across the wind and across the waves. Stromness was only 18 miles away but that was up tide, up wind and up waves.
I would not say I was scared but I did start to go through the mission critical bits of this enterprise. If the forestay failed then the genoa would go – hopefully the baby stay would hold the mast up. The roller reefing line could part, the rudder could fail and you start thinking about how long before help arrived.
Jill stayed in her berth throughout. She said that she slept through a lot of the night.
and if the boat fairy had popped into life in the cockpit and offered jill and I free ticket out of there provided I promised never to sail again I would have taken the bait
It took forever for that final 50 miles to slowly erode from the GPS. I was dropping in and out of sleep and hallucinating. My vision was creating imaginary fences across the sea, birds on the edge of my eye turned into insects that hummed Jethro Tull tracks, small patches of breaking waves became ice gardens. These little weirdnesses lasted for just a second or so before I snapped awake again.
We arrived at what we thought was the entrance to Eribol but the somehow entered a much smaller harbour to the East. It is amazing how you can try to make the features of the wrong harbour fit the chart. Eventually we realised out mistake and headed three miles west.
We turned in through the wide entrance and headed for the famous Eribol Tombola ( a double sided beach that stretches out to an island) There was another yacht there so I gratefully dropped the hook had a whisky at three in the afternoon, tidied the boat up and crashed out.
We got up about seven in the evening for beans on toast and by 9.30 we were back in bed and slept like dead people until 6.30.
The sun was up and it was a an almost windless day so we walked the hills, took pictures of reflections, sat and enjoyed the feeling of solid earth under us. Then this afternoon we went for an uberslow drift around the Loch and reminded ourselves why sailing is such a great thing to do.
Tomorrow none of the forecast are calling for much above a force two so we are going to leaver Eribol with the ebb and then pick up the 6 knot tide that scoots around the dreaded Cape Wrath. Tommorrow night we will be on a pontoon in Kinlochverbie and have internet connection and I can post this blog.
Damn I nearly gave up sailing. Good job boat fairies are just a figment of my imagination – along with the fences, ice gardens and giant insects. Jethro Tull is real though.
The sunset before it all went tits up
Is that a fence or jethro Tull I see before me
the mountain that turned into a schooner bow
The Eribol Tombola
Eribol in the morning
Jill taking snaps of the entrance to Kinlochbervie