best of times and….

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


jill snaps



This is about Dylan Winter's Blog, Sailing around Britain.

47 Responses to “best of times and….”

  1. 21 July, 2014 at 6:27 pmKeith says:

    Breath taking to read – glad you all are ok. A tribute to the inspections and prep conducted before hand. The lovely red sail is truly beautiful – red always sets up an image for success I’d say.

  2. 21 July, 2014 at 6:28 pmKeith says:

    Breathtaking of course.

  3. 21 July, 2014 at 6:55 pmNigel says:

    Just glad you are safe. Well done!

  4. 21 July, 2014 at 8:26 pmDave says:

    Glad you are all OK, I, and I’m sure thousands of others, were just starting to get worried.

  5. 21 July, 2014 at 9:55 pmGary Baker says:

    You know something changed when you have to hold your glasses on with a toque.
    Been checking your site and was getting ready to send out the search parties. You chose well when you got that Centaur. Glad everything is well with both of you.
    From your friends in Canada

  6. 21 July, 2014 at 9:55 pmPaul Mullings says:

    Good work D…..another hand would have made life easier, but when did you ever take the easy way ;)

  7. 21 July, 2014 at 10:29 pmroger ball says:

    Bit ‘o’ Tull, spot on!!
    Good to hear you and Jill are safe but what else would you be in a Centaur.

  8. 21 July, 2014 at 11:09 pmTony Corcoran says:

    Well done! Thank you for the images and description. It sounds like an “experience” and like all such, better recounted than experienced.

  9. 21 July, 2014 at 11:19 pmRobert Wilson says:

    Well done, great read. Phew, some trip.
    Not far from Outer Loch Broom and Gruinard Bay now. Don’t forget my invitation for some R&R. The winds are forecast very light for the next few days so you should have a quiet, if not tiresome “donk” around the headlands.
    Would love to see you both,

  10. 22 July, 2014 at 12:57 amSean O'Brien says:

    Well done. And a cracking good read!

  11. 22 July, 2014 at 1:02 amPeter Van Sickle says:

    I’ve been eagerly awaiting for your report. I hoped you were out having a great upon the wide sea. I’m glad you and Jill made it to port safely. Great to have a reliable boat under you. Best wishes for the rest of your journeys.


  12. 22 July, 2014 at 6:12 amseajet says:

    Good to hear you’re all OK; I always say fatigue is THE enemy; it’s not rocks, big waves or fog that gets people, it’s fatigue.

    The autopilot deserves a tot of WD40 too !

  13. 22 July, 2014 at 10:09 amwillie cameron says:

    fantastic post dyan you are an inspiration to the sailing comunity,congrats on your quest.
    regards willie cameron

  14. 22 July, 2014 at 10:33 amBilly the Cat, Tollesbury. says:

    Ha, the joys of the north Atlantic, you are now a member of the club I fear. lol.

  15. 22 July, 2014 at 10:57 amPaul says:

    Wow, what a ride. Sounds like you certainly did the right thing in buying the Centaur… You have both been a bit out of your comfort zones for a bit now – How is Jill holding up to all this? Anyway Glad to hear you are safe and well now. So what is the plan – are you going to keep going hard, or are you going to go home for a bit?

  16. 22 July, 2014 at 11:14 amdylan winter says:

    sailing until the end of this month

    then dump her ashore in oban for eight weeks

    then some autumn sailing after the midges have gone


  17. 22 July, 2014 at 11:37 amPaul Norton says:

    Great post Dylan.

    In your position, I would be VERY reluctant indeed to sell Harmony after the way she looked after you both.

    Glad your safe.

  18. 22 July, 2014 at 2:40 pmJames says:

    Congratulations, and good to hear your both safe & sound and back on terra firma. The Fishermans mission in Klb does probably one of the best fty-ups you are ever likely to get anywhere the world over. I would be inclined to agree with Paul Norton regarding Harmony, we all know only too well boats like her are hard to find. Stay Safe, James.

  19. 22 July, 2014 at 3:12 pmoldfatgit says:

    Well done both of you. Yes you may have been out of your comfort zone, but now your comfort zone is a little larger. The Centaur, of course, took it in her stride, but you now know that you can take a bit of pushing yourself, if necessary.

    Good luck and fair winds,


  20. 22 July, 2014 at 10:10 pmMick says:

    Hi Dylan, glad you and Jill are both Safe. Sounds like 26 hrs you will never forget.
    Well done but, don’t do it again lol

  21. 22 July, 2014 at 10:25 pmAquaplaneBob says:

    Centaurs are good boats and will look after you if you look after them at least half right.

    Good write up, it got me going.

    To appreciate the good bits, you need to survive the scary bits, bland sailing is,,,,, bland.

  22. 23 July, 2014 at 2:27 amWarren says:

    You experience reminded me of the storms I got to sail in as a teenager, surprising how they fad from memory. I’m sure this will too, eventually. I always had a solid boat under me like you had. I think it makes all the difference.
    Jills apparent confidence in your ability is a testament to your seamanship although you might not have felt that way at a time.
    I’m reminded of Eric Hiscock writing he almost never went thru a gale, he would go the other way! But he did that somehow with non of the modern weather aids we have now….not that they were much good for you.
    Congratulation on surviving your passage.

  23. 23 July, 2014 at 5:10 amHugh says:

    The video of sailing with third genoa only looks great, sorry it was unsettling at the time, maybe with time you will feel better about it. I’m envious.

  24. 23 July, 2014 at 9:55 amjhr says:

    Excellent stuff.

    If I recall correctly, the Eribol Estate belonged to Alan Clark, the Tory MP and son of Kenneth Clark. Watch out for the ghost of a lecherous right wing philanderer disturbing your sleep …. :)

  25. 23 July, 2014 at 9:58 amkeith lewis says:

    Well done to you skipper and your crew, and not forgetting the Centaur the brilliant ‘ickle ship’ Harmony!
    It sounds as if all emotions were tested and you came through well. Of course in hindsight it will be a great story to relate of your brilliant adventure, but I can imagine very testing at the time!
    May your excellent adventure continue with more peaceful waters, although you now can cope well with anything other!

  26. 23 July, 2014 at 4:26 pmSpike says:

    Jolly well done you two. We’re off on a rare holiday, look forward to being home for your return.Meadow duties handed over to E.

  27. 23 July, 2014 at 5:23 pmLarry says:

    Dylan, great, just great. You inspire us all as you tell it how it is and show it’s OK to be scared witless (yet stay calm too!). None of that “there I was laughing at my maker in the maelstrom” tosh. Good on you. I like the bit about the journey to the mast too. Ten feet may as well be 10 miles when it’s like that. Do you wear a short life line? I have taken to having one that won’t let me actually get over the side at times like this Could I ask your opinion of your GPS and which one it is?

  28. 23 July, 2014 at 7:07 pmdylan winter says:

    surely all philanderers are right wing

    or maybe all right wingers are philanderers


  29. 23 July, 2014 at 11:36 pmGlenn Webster says:

    Well done guys, I know what you mean about yacht fairies!! Nice to hear your safe! And I’m sure you will keep it that way. I’ve been following your footsteps a bit lately, went from ramsgate round to the Swale and in faversham creek all the way up to faversham where I am now! On Friday off to Tollesbury. Once you get the KTL bug there is no stopping us…….

  30. 23 July, 2014 at 11:50 pmChris Reynolds says:

    Heartfelt congratulations Dylan, just don’t do it again……for a while.

    Best Wishes,

  31. 24 July, 2014 at 9:00 amPaul Mullings says:

    I have the same unit and one of the upgraded Etrex 10 models…it’s slightly smaller and utilises the Russian Glonass satellites so it logs on really quickly and is not so susceptible to drop outs. Excellent low cost units both of which I endorse. The newer machine has a USB connection unlike the original that only has a serial port now pretty much missing from PC’s and Laptops.

  32. 24 July, 2014 at 7:15 pmGill says:

    OMG! Thank goodness it had a happy ending! I love the thought of boat fairies! Do keep safe!

  33. 25 July, 2014 at 9:45 pmJustin C, by the sea. says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve never been out in an 8 either, and you paint a very frightening picture of it. Having Stromness so near yet so far, and your destination 50 miles away and knowing it’s going to be 10 hours more of ‘this’, ugh, I would be praying for a boat fairy, and I’m an atheist.

    What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. You’ve definitely learned stuff about both yourself and the boat, you’ll make the right decision next time.

    I look forward to seeing more of your videos.

  34. 28 July, 2014 at 2:25 pmRichard says:

    It’s very interesting to me to read about your most recent adventures with the Westerly Centaur since I may very well be buying one (a fixer upper) in the next couple of weeks here in Panama.

  35. 28 July, 2014 at 10:03 pmdylan winter says:

    it is a good solid boat = with great accommodation and she sails better than her reputation.

  36. 29 July, 2014 at 1:53 pmrichard le sauteur says:

    I have been following your blogs/videos with great enjoyment from the Mirror offshore to Katie L ( good looking boat) to “Harmony”— thank you– there are very few videos of actual amateur sailing which recreate the atmosphere of ” messing around in boats”. I felt for you both during your sail back to Cape Wrath, wnich has a bad reputation for rough weather and strong currents. I had a similar situation in my twenties in an old boat without an engine– since when I have been cowardly enough to try to avoid such weather if possible( I am now 83). I was single handed and terrified- I think it is the sense of being alone far from assistance which is the worst.

  37. 30 July, 2014 at 1:44 amdylan winter says:

    Cheers R,

    I am a coward and would rather sit in port reading a book while the wind howls than go out and break myself or the boat. I felt bad for Jill. If I go sailing with mates and we drown then that is our fault. They came because they love sailing… but she is in the boat because she loves me. However, the next day the sun came out and we went for a super slow sail and a couple of old scallop divers gave her half a dozen scallops because they liked her.n We have had some cracking days since so the experience is fading into the past. It was a good lesson to quit when you are ahead. The top of Scotland is no place to go taking stupid risks.


  38. 30 July, 2014 at 6:29 amBob says:

    A good read and brings back some memory’s. One thing when you go through that it gives you a lot of confidence in the boat which makes it a lot better if you get court out again. A good tip if it looks like you are in for a slog to make some soup and put in a Thermos, great comfort food when you wish you were some were else.

    Cheers Bob

  39. 30 July, 2014 at 8:28 amdylan winter says:

    I think that the weakest point is usually the crew – I am sure that with three blokes on board getting proper rest then it would have been no more than a boisterous night sail. However, a tough night after a 3 am start the morning before was, in retrospect, pretty stoopid

  40. 1 August, 2014 at 12:37 pmSandy Garrity says:

    Cracking bit of coast and Jethro Tull are still touring, get to see them if you can.

  41. 1 August, 2014 at 1:06 pmdylan winter says:

    I agree about the North coast of Scotland – it is a splendid slice of Britain

    – and Ian Anderson is a musical genius

  42. 11 August, 2014 at 6:01 pmBubba the Pirate says:

    I have to admit I’ve been ‘thick as a brick’ while sailing but of my own doing rather than lack of sleep. Now that I’m sailing on the big lake, I don’t do that anymore.

    Todd Townsend
    s/v Bella
    Muskegon, Mi until Spring.

  43. 12 August, 2014 at 2:51 amSimon says:

    A ship in a harbour is very safe….but its not what ships are designed for! Good work Dylan.

  44. 14 August, 2014 at 9:49 pmRoger Rooke says:

    A great read Dylan, and a memorable experience for you and Jill. No wonder sailors always have a yarn to tell.

  45. 24 March, 2015 at 6:01 pmJeffrey Burden says:

    Hey, no one mentioned that you have a wife who was’t screaming and just took it in her stride and went to sleep. Credit to her.and like everyone said, you did a good job. As you was discribing it all it was as if I was there. Thank goodness I wasn’t Jeff. Lincolnshire. ex-Mirror Offshore.

  46. 24 March, 2015 at 8:17 pmdylan winter says:

    goodness gracious man – how did you wind up back at that old blog post

    what have you got now?


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