The weather forecasters were spot on and the wind started blasting at Whitehills from just the wrong direction. They tucked me away at the back of the inner harbour where – where I felt safe and snug and warm. One of the benefits of a small boat is that marinas nearly always have a cosy corner for a little one
The sun still shone but the forecasts meant that even the bigger boats started running for cover.
And if you have ever thought that you might one day like to own and sail a cat the size of a tennis court – then maybe its time to think again. I am not sure that I have enough friends or fenders to pass safely in and out of harbours.
Very nicely done though.
Shortly after the cat rolled in the weather really closed in started to lay it on a bit thick. But there is a cosy feel about being stormbound – for the first hur or two before boredom sets in
Whitehills did get a bit of a pasting with the wind blowing hard from the North – and kept going long after the clouds had been blown away. For half a day it started extensively serious sand shifting operations and even standing up ashore became a bit of a challenge –
while waiting for it to simmer down even further I took a few runs on the roads on the folder.
It is a wonderful stretch of coast with lots of bays and cliffs – ideal for rock pooling and sublime places for wild swimming in westuits.
Whitehills is pretty typical of the villages all along this coast – narrow streets of low houses designed to accommodate inland clansmen turned fishermen cleared off the mountains and glens to make way for lowland scottish capitalists and their widely despised flocks of sheep.
they have been fishing from whitehills since the 1700s – and once had a fleet of 160 four man beach launched long lining boats – which were small enough to be manhandled up beyond the reach of northerly gales and pounding surf. But the once good coastal fishing could never take the pressure and within a few decades the whole area was all but completely fished out.
The remaining fishermen needed bigger boats to allow them work further out to sea – so in 1900 or so they built a harbour big enough to accommodate 50 foot fifies. But they overfished the whole of Northern north sea and the men needed even bigger boats – too big for Whitehills tight little harbour – – so the big boats clustered at neighbouring twin harbours of Banff and Macduff leading to the inevitable incursion of pontoons with lekkie and running water for softy plastic yachtsmen – like me.
Between bike rides and drinking with fellow storm bound sailors I spent a day or two aboard Katie safely tucked away in the inner harbour all but oblivious to the weather just the other side of the wall. Weird things happen inside your head when idle on a boat – you start to see how many dishes you can cook on one ring and watch with quiet fascination as jelly fishes blob ponderously past – or you observe terrible toll the tough scottish weather is having on your wooden neighbour – or start thinking about your toolkit.
Eventually the weather settled a little so I untied the docklines and carefully tickered my way through the maze of the whitehills entrance and Katie and I ventured out along this remarkable bit of coast.
First back east to Macduff – one of the few remaining proper fishing ports along this coast – although the boats here do spend too long ashore because many are now too big for their quotas. The 1100 seater kirk in Macduff. has a retrofit incongrueously Italianate look to it. The twin town of Banff is just across the River Devoran and used to have a fine fishing fleet – but the harbour has succumbed to the tidal wave of yachtsmans plastic toys – good for me – not that brilliant for the local economy though.
Turning back west the alternating layers of hard and even harder volcanically baked sedimentary rock stick out to the north like spines on a stickleback. A simply wonderful place for an edge sailor or canoeist to indulge in a bit of recreational rock dodging.
It was still mid summer so the days started at around four and the lasted until close to midnight giving me almost two complete tides to play with. It is shame that most of the real yachtsmen rush down the Moray – all but ignoring its beautiful rock strewn low rainfall finges in their hurry to get to the Caledonian canal which is the gateway to the glories of the Scottish west coast.
Damn I love this bit of coast – East anglian climate with scottish geography – what could be better? And a treat for me as an east coaster – a sunset over the sea – which is something a I seldom see.
The next day I left whitehills and headed off down the short hop to Portsoy – home of Scotlands best traditional boat festival –
It was wonderful to be underway and Katie was moving along beautifully under the fresh breeze which had shifted around to the north west. I was feeling pretty pleased about things when Reaper and her escort of two preserved fishing boats from Ainster came storming past – also heading for portsoy and due to arrive hours ahead of us.
But before we got there the fog started rolling in – Portsoy had scheduled a parade of boats as an opener for the proceedings – but visibility was down to no more than a couple of hundred yards.
Few ashore could see or even seemed to care that much about what was going on just 200 yards outside the harbour walls.
Skiff racing is now part of every scottish coastal boat festival – four sweep St Isles skiffs – – 22 foot long and light enough to be carried up a beach. They are fairly similar in shape to the coastal workhorses of the past two centuries. Apart from the fishing They could take a tonne of freight or a dozen passengers, a cow, or a pony or six sheep. They would also have been used for pulling larger vessels in and out of harbour .
200 of them are now being actively raced – there is hardly a village along this coast that does not run a few crews. These clinker ply, ian oughtred designed stitch and glue marvels are available as CNC cut kits which can be epoxied together in 20 days by four well organised and reasonably competent old blokes working in a warm shed and armed with little more than cable ties, stanley knives, yoghurt pots and lolly sticks.
The races are split into many Mc Categories ranging from rediculously long distances covered by for four fit young men to short out and backs for four keen ladies of a certain age – but in this weather, with crews well coddled against the haa it is hard to tell which is which.
You have to to admire the scots who never let lousy weather get in between them and a good shindig. While the excellent band belted out the classics the rowing went on all afternoon out of site in the ever worsening weather.
That night it blew a real good one but we were hard aground in the harbour so katie squatted stolidly on portsoys sandy bottom
by the next morning the front had blown through and all was peace and quiet once more