Thursday, 8 June 2017

West, west

We left the sanctuary of Millbrook on a fine spring evening for somewhere else. Within 400 metres I had managed to run aground twice but a flooding tide (and more attention) had us off and away to Cawsand where we anchored for a couple of nights, sorting things out and gearing ourselves up mentally for another summer of wandering.

A hectic day's sailing to Falmouth followed with decent speeds and exhilarating sailing which were made to feel pedestrian by several cats that came by us at double digit speeds....With very strong winds coming in over the next few days we remained at anchor in the harbour but headed off eventually for a non stop trip to Ireland. The first part involved too much motoring but we needed to be clear of Cape Cornwall, the circular tides and the shipping lanes before we could drift in comparative peace until the winds came in. The slow trip across was notable only for the fact that the self-steerer would only work in strong winds leaving us with hours of hand steering when the winds fell all to frequently light. But dawn arrived on the last day and we pulled gratefully into Schull (Skull) Harbour for a couple of days. It's a big, natural harbour but affords good shelter with excellent holding. We needed it of course as we sat out another 30knot plus blow.

Over the next few weeks we worked our way northwards; Valentia, Smerwick, Cashla and then a triumphant entry, through a stunningly green sea, into Clifden with the most spectacular accompaniment of leaping dolphins we have ever had. Even the local fishing boat crew stopped what they were doing to snap pics and watch several of the mammals exuberantly leap clear of the water by a couple of metres. There is no doubt in our mind that dolphins, detecting a boat in their “patch” will immediately come racing across the gap toward us then play in the bow wave, dive under the boat and seem to relish the chance to interact with us. I have no idea how many times we have seen dolphins over the last 17 years but they never cease to captivate and entertain.

We spent a week pottering around the Killery area, some days in Little Killery of which we wrote about enthusiastically on our first visit there some years back and then into Ballynakill. Although the two only a few miles apart they are very different with the latter having a feeling of openness and light. The bay we anchored in had reasonable depths – 5-6 metres, excellent holding and great views. The beat out the following day to Inishboffin took a lot of tacks as the channel is narrow, rocks available for chance encounters if you're not paying attention but on a sunny day it all made for a great day's sailing. A quick wander across to Cleggen the following day produced the first (only we hope) failure of the trip. As we turned the engine off after anchoring Bee thought she had pressed one of the buttons out of sequence and started it again to be sure all was ok........ Whilst the engine ran for some reason we now had no electrics at all and thrown by the failure seemingly connected to the engine controls that is where we concentrated our reasoning and fault finding. By the end of the day we'd only established that it was nothing to do with that but seemed to be coming from the Vetus 3 way switch. We went to bed in darkness knowing we'd have to sort it the next day. And eventually we did by checking the connections to the batteries and finding the negative lead connecting starter to house had come off! Just before we had left Millbrook we'd bought a pair of s/h winches from a guy up in Scotland who turned to be a Marine Electrician. We sent him a text asking if he care to advise us on what he though the problem might be and soon after we sorted it out came his suggestion that it might either be the Vetus or a faulty connection at the battery. We might well get John to undertake sorting out the nightmare that our electrics have become over the years!

Our time in Ireland was coming to an end; we needed to get up into Scotland to catch up with a terminally ill cruising friend and we left Cleggen bound for Rhu. We'd managed to get the self-steer working, although mods are planned for the winter. We rounded Bloody Foreland and made good speeds toward the narrow gap that separates Ireland and Scotland. We were hopeful of making it through in one hit but as time was running out on the favourable tide we opted to slide into White Bay at the top of Lough Foyle. As we approached we had misgivings about its suitability but in the end it was a welcome stop. Good shelter and holding gave us an undisturbed night before heading on down to Raithlin Island where we anchored to await the change of tide. We had a choice of anchorages on the other side; about 20 mile away lay Sanda, the useful passage stop when rounding the Mull of Kintyre, Campbeltown or further on to Arran. We'd let the tide and wind dictate. Sanda was passed as we still had hours of favourable tide to go and we swept up to the easy entrance of Campbeltown, dropping anchor in the early evening.

The following morning came in still and foggy but we wanted to get a move on and so motored out of the bay and into more fog. A yacht passed us as we drifted, tooting its fog horn and minutes later we resorted again to the engine to make progress. But the fog passed, a breeze of sorts came in and we sailed slowly northwards. A “PAN PAN” on the vhf alerted us to a possible issue and the CG reported an overdue small aircraft. Reports started coming back from yotties that various bits of wreckage had been seen and then a body. All this just a few miles north of where we were. We slid into Loch Ranza for the night, staggered at the number of yots on mooring buoys (we joined them), watched a brigantine from Holland anchor at the head of the lock and then we left early the following day.

All in all we were about a week around Rhu, managing to see Mike and Eilean, in good spirits despite his illness before saying our farewells with a promise to drop in on the way back. We'd had a day or two away when we were in Rhu, managing an exhilarating sail down to Lamlash on Arran one evening and then motored back the following day. This time we opted for Rosneath before another early start with no clear idea of where we might end up. It began easily enough with a breeze that carried us south under main, genny and tops'l. The wind began to pick up but nothing to worry about and we carried on. When we began to get 20 knots I realised we'd still got the top up and we needed to get it down sharpish. Luckily we were on starb'd tack and the main blankets it when we drop. Nevertheless it proved to be a handful, at one point the 5 metre yard hanging horizontally as we struggled to contain it. All this time the boat kept thundering on, a line looped over the tiller to keep us straight.

A lumpy, probably over canvassed, beat along the eastern side of Arran was endured as the wind direction indicated we'd have a fast sail to Campbeltown......but no as we cleared the light (just) the wind fell away if not the seas and we were forced to motor clear of the ugly patch of water we'd got into. The wind which had been west of south now came round to north of west giving us another on the nose flog to Camp. Looking at the tidal charts and the current wind direction it seemed logical to abandon that course and turn instead to Sanda which was not only an easier sail but the current would soon be turning in that direction. With a fading wind we motor sailed the last 6 or so miles as the current, overfall's and eddies around the Mull can be interesting. We slid into the anchorage, despite a counter eddy which wanted us on nearby rocks, safely about 10pm joining the other boat silently at anchor. By morning they had gone and as we left we were soon joined by half a dozen more boats making the journey around. What wind there was was on the nose creating a wind over tide situation luckily not at its worse as we were still early in the cycle but off the SW corner the overfall's, standing waves and general unpleasantness built up as we crashed through at 8k+. The favourable tide we managed to carry all the way to Gigha although the wind was down 7 or 8 knots. Gigha which is normally packed with visiting boats had 7 and more spare visitor buoys than occupied. Perhaps it is still too early.

Across the sound the following day and into the Sound of Jura, sweeping tides and whisky distillery's – with the engine on tickover the speed frequently exceeded 8 or even 9 knots and when the wind picked up we dumped the engine for the genny and “beat” our way pleasurable up the sound. Rarely have we managed such tack angles as the current showed 30 degrees difference between actual and perceived. As we rounded the top and shaped up to enter West Loch Tarbet a solitary Swedish yot was heading south through the Sound under power against the tide. Slowly. No headsail set to make use of the 15k of favourable wind just a serious amount of fuel to be consumed. We've witnessed numerous boats intent on getting wherever, no sails set but engine and auto pilot engaged as they plough into steep waves. Each to their own of course but...

Finally we entered what was to be our home for a few days as a stiff NW came through. We anchored outside the inner harbour as we'd preferred the outlook to that of the inner when we were last here. Tucked away in a corner of the inner could be seen a small yacht, the crew returning in the dinghy as we dropped anchor. A few hours later another visitor arrived, Silver Shoes out of Rhode Island no less, also bound for the inner where, it has to be said, the depths are easier to manage at 4 metres or so than the 10-15metres we have beneath us.

The rain fell, the wind blew and we remained snug and warm, startled from our sleepy state by the sound of voices....4 guys in kayaks were drifting around the boat! We'd seen them outside a bothy on the southern shore of Islay as we'd made our approach to the Sound. They'd paddled though it and spent the night camped out at a large house on the shore of Glenbatrick Bay about half a mile from where we currently are, before continuing past us and into the inner loch where another bothy awaits them.

Finally. For a number of days, perhaps weeks, we could hear a particular squeaking noise whenever we ran the engine. Although we checked, listened and tested the tightness of various possible offenders it remained elusive.... The engine showed no sign of anything untoward so our searches became a little half hearted. And then we found it. Turned out to be a squeaky toy belonging to Toots – the vibration from the engine activates the squeak it seems. Ah the joys.

West Loch Tarbert
55 57N 005 56W

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Bluebells and mudbanks...

Winter eases away (not that it has been a hard one), the days lengthen, boat work gets squared away and thoughts turn to the summer and possible destinations. We seem to have spent time and money on making things better/more comfortable although little would be obvious to a casual glance but enough to give me a degree of enthusiasm that seems to have been missing for a year or so. Time will tell...
As I mentioned a post or two back in the absence of sailing we've taken to wandering around the local hills.... well to be honest I've walked, usually with Bee, whilst she runs on alternate days having got back into running after a 25 year break. Just about every winter we've tied up some-place it has been on the cards but this time it all came right. If there is a drawback it would be that Cornwall has many things going for it but flat surfaces are not one of them and consequently every run is either up or down. As are the walks of course but somehow it seems less intimidating, to me, to crawl slowly up rather than run for 2 hours or thereabouts. 

BUT off into the trees, along the wooded trails a whole new world opens up and particularly at this time of year when the bluebells come into bloom and whole areas of woodland are brought to life with swathes of blue. Today we wandered the trail with bags and a small axe as the trails are littered with felled trees and the wood left to rot back into the ground. Nothing wrong with that but some, we felt, could benefit us and the stove. Luckily we'd sorted the route to end up laden but with a downhill stroll to the boat, watched closely by small gatherings of deer. Down below and across the fields the creek lay exposed, the water a trickle. 

Like this the channel can be easily distinguished and I use the opportunity to try and memorise it. Of course once the tide turns and the narrow channel is swamped everything is different and much less obvious. Years ago as a young squaddie in Kiel I used to sail around the Danish Islands...Fyn, Aeroskobing and there the channels would have withies, sort of brooms, with the handles pushed into the mud, with the "brush" made from twigs and either the bound end pointed up or down depending on whether they were a port or starb'd mark. It would be great if they had them here but as a big spring tide here is almost 6 metres rather 6 centimetres I guess the issues are a little different. We'll see how we get on next week when we hope to leave.

Years ago we took the perceived wisdom of good binoculars were a waste of money as the chances were they'd be dropped over the side or ruined by sea water and bought a cheap pair. When we returned in '05 we dumped them as they were crap and shopped around for a decent pair. The best we could afford were a pair of 7x50 Bushnells with a compass. The difference was remarkable as they didn't fog, seemed easy to use and the compass was a definite plus. However. We're not the most careful of sailors and on one lumpy day I watched in horror as the "gogs", stupidly left lying in the doghouse, were thrown by a particularly lumpy section and dropped 2 metres plus into the saloon. Result: the distance measuring thingy inside was on its side and the focus/eyepiece slightly bent. The distance bit was no loss as we'd never used or understood it but the focus needed two hands to make any adjustment. But we got used to it and continued to use them on a daily basis whilst cruising. When we got back to the UK this time, flush with a state pension, I thought we might treat ourselves and did a bit of research, stumbling across the fact that Bushnell offer a life time warranty. I read it again and then looked at the binos - no eyecups, battered, with all the issues I've mentioned previously but thought I might write explaining the situation and find out what a repair might cost. By return came an email stating I needed to print the attachment, then complete and return the item to the UK address shown, only then could they be returned to Germany and an assessment made. We did as instructed and the weeks went by. Three I think before we had an email informing us that Bushnell were repairing the item FREE OF CHARGE and we would be notified when the item was returned. And we were, by phone...."Did they need my card number for the return postage" I asked but absolutely not. So here we are with a pair of refurbished Bushnells, new eyepieces, focus restored etc some 12 years after we had made the original purchase even though we had no supporting purchase receipt. Not only are cheap binos a waste of money in terms of usefulness and quality but getting the degree of service we did coupled to the quality make the company a real winner for us. 


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Newfoundland to Australia NON STOP...

Not so much an update from us but after a long wait the account of Trevor Robertson's journey from Newfoundland to Australia has been written up and posted. Create some space, settle down and read an entertaining write up of a great trip. Remarkable.

Click here to read..

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Stick in the muds.............

How quickly the months slide by and I search around for excuses. Little point in blaming the Christmas/holidays as we neither celebrate Christmas in any form and, it may be argued, we’re permanently on holiday. Whatever, nowt has been written but we have continued with our life afloat. Here’s where we currently are.
How we spend most of the day....
As we had had such a successful winter “refit” we opted to get back into the water rather than spend the time on the hard and we duly recruited Nick, on a sister-ship to Hannah and from the quay we were heading for, to act as pilot on the unmarked channel. I’d been down at the quay the night before to check out the berth and was a little taken aback to see a 60’ fishing boat coming in and tying up. The space didn’t look big enough to take them and us but Daz, the quay owner, assured me everyone would jiggle around to ensure a space. A few hours before we were due to launch I nipped down to check that space and found it too tight especially as we’d just re-fitted the self-steerer. Back to the boat, removed the s/s and on the only tide Nathan could launch us on we splashed at 6pm as darkness settled in. Luckily Nick brought along his gps and his track in and out which made things a little easier……well apart from we always use “North up” and Nick uses “Course up” which threw me as I hadn’t bothered to check. We crept slowly through the channel, Bee and Nick eyeballing the numerous mooring buoys and occasional yacht whilst I tried to stay within the parameters of the convoluted gps track. Funny how the same berth spot looks different at night from daylight…. I opted for discretion and tied up to the fishing boat for the night as I didn’t fancy trying to finagle my way into a gap slightly longer than we are. In the end it may not have been my soundest idea as , although the bottom was mud about 60cm (2’) thick, the ground below was hard shingle with a slope away from the quay wall/fishing boat.

Hillyard, sea-mist and calm water.
All this knowledge was, of course, still in the future and we had Nick and Nadja on for a drink whilst the tide ebbed rapidly. In our defence I would say we’re not usually so lax when we’re in this type of situation but we were this time as we sat chatting and drinking the keel touched the gravel and Hannah began the slow slide. The keel went out, the masts came in. And in. By the time we cottoned on the damage was done and we had no chance of getting the boat upright. The starb’d nav. box crept ever closer to the hull of the fishing boat until it rested against the solid oak planking. Still we slipped and the only way of saving the box from destruction was to rapidly undo the lany’ds on the main stb'd shrouds and allow them  to swing freely. The mast is keel stepped of course and gaffers tend not be set up so tightly that the temporary “loss” of the shrouds causes chaos. Anyway with that done we could do nothing but slink below and perch on the sea-berth at a very uncomfortable 30 degree angle. Not until the early hours of the morning would we be able to climb into bed without the prospect of sliding ignominiously out. Not a good start. The following morning we were up ready to move but with the wind howling. Various folks were roused from their beds by Daz to ensure no damage was done and in a lull afforded by the wind shadow from the Mill we squeezed into the berth. Still tight but hoisting the anchor inboard and judicious adjustment of warps saw everyone at ease. The quay is part of a B&B and the website covers the rebuilding of the mill. It originally dated from the late 1500's is

The big lugger that features in some of the quay shots is called Grayhound and their site can be found here. The section on the actual build is excellent.

One of the many jobs we have been meaning to tackle for several years is the installation of a cabin heater using the engine coolant. We had tried it once before (on the previous engine) using the heater from a mini but it was never really successful and when one of the fittings broke off on the engine block some years back we pulled the whole thing out. However the experience of cruising in Labrador and the frequency that lack of wind can push us into motoring meant it came back up the agenda. Rather than search the scrap yards for a unit that might or might not give us a working unit we bought a new one from a car heater specialist. We talked to the local Yanmar dealer for advice, bought a kit to enable the tight space to be negotiated and finally got the whole unit in and working. Except it leaks a little so we will remove the ptfe tape we used and use a compound to get a proper seal. Running the engine for 20 minutes or so gave us a decent amount of heat from the unit which should make life a little less uncomfortable. Other tasks have been more mundane; painting the rigging etc but all have been helped by the wonderful mild weather we’ve been experiencing.

Although we’re in a well sheltered creek we are only about 2 miles from the English Channel via the lanes or Public Footpaths on the Rame Peninsula. The lanes, so typical of Cornwall are narrow. Very narrow in places and steep but steady walking gets you over the hill and onto Whitsand Bay. With that comes the chance to pick up the South Coast Way, part of which winds its way through a collection of single storey buildings that are, in some ways, reminiscent of the outposts of Labrador.
 They perch on the cliff side, are one or two bedroom dwellings built of wood with wonderful sea views. However, being English, they’re called chalets, can cost anything from £150,000 to £250,000 and many, of course, have neat squares of lawn. The majority are empty as they seem to be holiday lets. Curiosity pushed us into checking some on the internet. Not cheap when a two week spell in August would cost around £4400..... We didn’t book. But the walks are pretty neat, some along the beach, some following the coast, some further inland and wandering along narrow, muddy Public Footpaths. The beauty, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is we’re into solitude and our own company within 15 minutes of leaving the boat. Not sure what we’ll do with all this fitness when we head out again.

Books, as ever, play a big part in our lives. I’ve just reread John Rowland’s account of his trips to Labrador, Baffin and Ungava for the Grenfell Mission. It’s a remarkable story; trips north delivering small sailing boats for the Mission use, a time when navigation was very different; when charts were far more scarce and the detail often very suspect. All this over 100 years ago and with far more “primitive” equipment yet carrying out voyages that ranged much further than we ever have and most yotties who venture to Labrador. If you get the chance it is well worth a read partly because despite the advances in equipment and electronics it is still a testing journey. What counts here, as always has done, is the individuals ability to deal with situations. The book is:North to Adventure by John T Rowland. Long out of print I think but occasionally libraries sell off copies which is where ours came from. Another book that is easier to find and worth reading is Paul Heiney's One Wild Song, his account of his trip down to the Beagle Channel and back - except it is more than that as he comes to terms with the death, by suicide, of his son.