Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Christine Thain Award

 At the end of June Julian and I got an email from Richard, the organizer of the Portsoy Festival. It contained the following text

"Christine Thain Award

"As you may remember, at each festival an award is made in memory of a great supporter of the festival, Christine Thain. The award is for; just being the best boat at the festival in the eyes of the Maritime Co-Ordinator, i.e. me.

"This is not for the cleanest, oldest, shiniest, etc. etc boat, its purely for the boat that I thought was just a wee bit more special than all the others, for the story behind it, and its crew.

"You may not have noticed me, but I did go around and look at all the boats, and where possible chatted with the owners, albeit a bit more briefly than I’d hoped (that was going to be my job for Sunday).

"This year’s winner is the boat Robinetta. She’s a really pretty boat, and one that sails regularly and is very well loved and used. (This coming from someone who drives a 30 year old car every day, which is also well loved and very used). The crew write about the boat and their adventures and really promote the beauty and experiences of life with a  boat that has seen many a tide and port through its life.  I’ll be in touch with the owners to ship the award to them."

 We  received the award in the post today, and were totally bowled over. 

Thank you very much, Portsoy. We really enjoyed our time there and this clock makes a lovely memento.

Friday, 29 July 2022

Last day of the cruise


The anchorage gave us good shelter, and although I heard the anchor chain grating against the triced up bobstay a couple of times in the night Robinetta was rock solid on her anchor. We woke to bright sunshine, and a breeze that promised sailing once we were out of our sheltered bay. Since we were lying head to wind Julian raised the main sail while we were anchored, then went forward to haul up the chain. I let Worm back on her line (we have been keeping her moored alongside each night) and tidied up the cockpit while the engine warmed up. 

Three seals watched calmly as Robinetta moved closer to them. I steered a little to help keep the chain on the bow, and Julian asked me to go astern as he thought we had overrun the anchor. My burst of power did not seem to move us at all, but it may have helped free the anchor, as before we knew it we were sailing gently away. Julian finished getting the anchor on board, then laid out the chain on the deck to dry.

Approaching the 1st narrows

I turned off the engine without ever using it as we ran slowly down the loch, gybing gently with the twists and turns of the 2 sets of narrows before we turned north west into the outer loch.

The wind came onto the beam for a little, but mostly it stayed astern, funneled by the mountains surrounding us. We sailed quietly along, in flat water, at between 1½ and 2½ knots, reveling in the sunshine and scenery. Julian put the anchor away as it had dried in the sunshine, and as we were passing the fish farm he spotted a pod of common dolphins. They were very small (I thought they were harbour porpoises at first) and very playful, tail slapping and leaping totally out of the water in a way I am not used to. They entertained us for a good five minutes before heading back up the loch towards Corran. We heard a startled exclamation from a couple in a Canadian style canoe echoing over the water as they caught sight of them.

By 12:30 we were clear of the Loch Hourn entrance and heading across the Sound of Sleat. Outside the shelter of the Loch we could feel the full force of the South Easterly wind. A very pleasant force 3-4. We really wanted to be heading down the Sound, and at first we made good progress, but then the wind shifted a little and lost its easterly edge. We could no longer point towards Eigg, but only towards Armadale. Once the tide turned so it was no longer in our favour we could no longer even make Armadale. Then the forecast South Westerly kicked in and we were hardly making any progress towards Mallaig. It was time to turn the engine on and use it to help us head up wind. Luckily the sea state was still slight, so although Robinetta was butting into them, they were not stopping her.

 We dropped the main sail well clear of the harbour, then called on the radio to ask permission to enter. We got no reply so Julian phoned instead and was told to proceed unless we say three red lights. This was the first time we have tried transmitting on the old radio since we brought it back into action. We have been receiving the weather reports without problems so assumed it was working....

When I phoned the marina yesterday I had been told to put Robinetta on a pontoon berth when we arrived, and there, waiting to take our lines was John from Suzelle. The marina master then appeared, and pointed us at a different berth. After a hurried resetting of the fenders and lines we went in. It turned out that our prebooked mooring buoy was not available, so Robinetta would be left on a pontoon while we were away.

We were putting the sail covers on and chatting with John from Suzelle when we we were hailed by an unexpected visitor. Kate Phillips, an East Coast OGA member, was there sailing on their new boat, a Rival 38. She and her husband had been moored at Canna the night before, and were sailing in the area for three weeks. It was lovely to chat and exchange news over a glass of wine.

A much needed shower was the next thing on the agenda, and once clean we tried to find somewhere for dinner. The first three places we tried were full, and we ended up at the almost deserted Fish Market restaurant. This deserved to have more customers, and I thoroughly enjoyed my dover sole while Julian had mussels. Half a bottle of wine washed it down nicely before we headed back to Robinetta. The rain started to patter down on the cockpit cover as we got the bedding out, but we were dry inside (for the moment at least!).

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Loch Duich to Loch Hourn

We spent the night in Loch Hourn in 2015. In fact the cover photo of the 2015 collected log is of us anchored there. But we only got as far as the small islands on the north side of the entrance then. Loch Hourn carries on for some 5 miles through four sets of narrows. The Clyde Cruising Club describes it as ‘magnificent’ and they don’t use that adjective on every page!

But before that we had to retrace our steps to the entrance to Kyle Rhea and get through that set of narrows.

It was a lovely sunny morning but there was no wind. We got the anchor up and motored down Loch Duich. Alison kept us on the north side so we got close views of the castle at Elilean Donan.

It was high water and the anchorage at Totaig looked quite different. The seal colony was away - presumably having breakfast.

Into Loch Alsh, and through the narrows at Eilean Glas. So much easier under motor than under sail. So much more fun under sail than under motor.

 Alison spotted something had landed on the sail. A huge insect. We decided it must be a hornet.

The weather over Skye was so much nicer than the previous days. But a little hazy.

Heading into Kyle Rhea we turned the engine down to tick-over. We just had steerage way as the tide swept us through. The ferry passed from Skye to Glenelm well ahead of us so we kept an eye on it and it left Glenelm again as we neared. 

It was either speed up and get past it, or turn to let it go ahead. Usually the second option would be better but with the tide pushing us it was better to motor ahead.

Once past the ferry the Kyle starts to open up into the Sound of Sleat. This is where the currents get interesting. The pilot books say that with wind over tide bad overfalls happen. In the favourable conditions we had all we saw were lots of areas of disturbed or rotating water. Nothing scary but fun to navigate.

We fancied bacon sandwiches for lunch but today is a Thursday and should be a diet day. I suggested we do a ‘diet night’ instead and set our 600 calorie limit to run from 3pm to 3pm Friday. So we pottered down under engine to Isleornsay and anchored in the harbour. It was packed with yachts. One of them was a lovely gaff yawl.

Bacon cooked and sandwiches consumed, we got into Worm to go ashore. We’ve only been once before, back in 2002 on Alpha, the 1904 Bristol Pilot Cutter. I’d checked on the web and it looked like the Gaelic Whisky shop was still there and worth a visit.

We looked hard at the yawl as we passed and, she was flying an OGA pennant from the cross trees! But there was no-one around and the cover was on the wheel.

Ashore we chatted to someone and when we pointed to our yacht he said - “You were in Grimsby”. I hadn’t recognised him but it was one of the people from the Humber Cruising Club we’d chatted to there. He and his friend were planning to bring both their boats up. His friend has a house near Isleornsay and they were staying there. It was lovely to see him again.

We couldn’t see any sign indicating the Whisky shop but looking in windows we spotted it and went in an tasted all their own whiskies. They are blends, some mixtures of malt and grain and some pure-malt blends. Alison settled on the 12 year-old Poit Dhubh.

Then I had a small beer and Alison had a cappuccino from the pub and we sat outside looking over the harbour in the warm sun.

Heading back to Robinetta we spotted another gaff rigged boat had turned up. It was near Robinetta with people on board so we rowed over to say hello. I asked if it was a Norfolk Gypsy and I was right! They were locals from Kinlochhourn and when we said we were heading there, they made sure we knew how shallow the last narrows are. They weren’t OGA members. I said that was a pity because three boats together would be a rally!

Leaving Isleornsay we had wind. We sailed into Loch Hourn but lost it once inside and put the motor on. We dropped the sail - there was a bit more wind later but oh well …

I was feeling dopy and put my head down in the cockpit, completely missing the dolphins.

The scenery was spectacular, with Munros and tall Corbetts all around. We had the sun until the first set of narrows and then thick cloud. Part of me wanted to head back out into the sunshine, but most of me wanted to explore.

Each set of narrows is very different and they present no risk for a boat with a chart plotter and very little risk just following the pilot.

The fourth set is a different matter. By now, the loch is called Loch Hourn Beag and after the narrows it’s just called Loch Beag - just like the small lochs at the heads of Loch Glencoul and Loch Duich. The Clyde Cruising Club have explicit instructions but they are difficult to interpret ahead of time. I wouldn’t like to go through for the first time without a plotter or a local guide.

Above water the entrance looks quite wide. But the deepest water snakes from one side of the gap to the other and back. A slow approach is needed to allow very sharp turns to be made. That could be quite difficult with the tide running fast so entrance at slack water is a good idea. The least depths in the channel are charted about 0.5 m so a 1.5 m draft yacht needs at least a metre of tide so low water springs is probably out for most yachts. High water seemed shallow enough for us!

We got through without difficulties. Inside was a surprise. Lots of houses and moorings and moored boats. I hadn’t spotted that there is a single-track road from the A87 to here and the village of Kinlochhourn seems very popular.

We decided that it wasn’t the best place to anchor - too many moorings and a risk of katabatic winds. So we retraced our steps through the narrows, and back through the 3rd narrows to a recommended anchorage just to the north west of the 3rd narrows.

On the way I spotted a disturbance in the water. Was this what Gavin Maxwell saw as a 'Ring of Bright Water' just a few miles west at Sandaig?

 It interested a number of locals. A bird, and what we are pretty sure was an otter.

The anchorage was lovely. Not much room but very snug and with more sloping hills so less likely to give strong down-drafts. We thought we spotted an otter as our host. It was probably a small seal.

This was the kind of day we needed. Warm sunshine, good company, stunning scenery and just enough sailing.

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Into Loch Duich

Back of Cat Island
After a very peaceful night on the mooring we left under engine at half past eight. There was so little wind that it took us an hour to think about raising the stay sail, but the cloud base was higher than yesterday morning, with occasional glimpses of blue. Since we were close to the top of the tide we cut through behind Cat Island with its disused light house and stayed close inshore all the way to the Skye bridge, making use of the half knot of tide in our favour. Julian took photos and wrote up yesterday’s Blog, while I helmed.

By 10:15 we were under the Skye Bridge and heading into Loch Aish. It began to drizzle gently, but a little Easterly wind came with the rain so Julian unfurled the job and I turned off the engine. We discovered that there was enough wind to make headway, and decided the main sail should go up too. We did this under sail, as Julian’s practice yesterday taking the reef out of the sail had confirmed that such a thing was possible! The wind only lasted 20 minutes, so the jib was furled away and the engine went on again. A group of at least 3 harbour porpoises went past, ignoring Robinetta as is always the way of harbour porpoises!

Twenty minutes later we had a northerly breeze, so off went the engine and out came the jib. This time the wind took us up Loch Aish to the channel north of Glas Eilean before dying just by the Racoon Rock channel buoy. Back on went the engine! The next hour was spent alternately sailing slowly and motoring gently. Julian put his fishing line out, but we did not really want to catch anything so did not mind when the only mackerel to take a hook freed itself before we could haul it on board.

We got the main sail down just west of Eileen Donnan and nosed carefully into the east side of the Totaig anchorage where we dropped anchor in 6m. We only put out 16m of chain (on a rising tide!) but this was just a lunch stop and it held us nicely for the hour we were there.

Totaig was a perfect place to be. The view of Eileen Donnan and up Loch Long were incidental. What enthralled us were the seals hauled out on the island in the middle of Totaig Bay. Some were obviously very young, and we made sure Robinetta did not get too close. They looked at us, and we looked at them, but they were obviously relaxed about our presence, and made no moves.

After a bread and cheese lunch we raised anchor and headed to explore Loch Duich under sail. We had occasional glipses of blue sky above, while clouds wreathed the mountains at the head of the loch. Sailing at 1½ – 2 knots is not something to do on passage, but this afternoon we were just out for a sail. Julian got a good shot of a heron on the hunt, and there were several seals on the hunt making fish jump.

Eventually even that amount of wind failed, and the engine went on to take us to the head of Loch Duich where we anchored for the night in 5m in Rattigan Bay.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

We didn’t mean to go to Plockton

Not that we mind, ’tis a fine place.

We’d planned a 7am start to make the tidal gate at the north-east end of Skye. It made sense to listen to the 7:10 weather on the VHF and then we left.

I was down in the dumps. The un-remitting grey was sitting heavily on me. Yesterday I’d looked at the forecasts for the rest of the week using the Coastguard Wifi and today was the last day with any sailing breeze in the forecast.

Also, I’d caught up with work emails the previous day and, as expected, there were things not progressing I’d hoped. On the plus side, my team was doing a great job without me!

Out in the loch, the swell was coming straight in towards us. It was quite uncomfortable but not the sort that stops Robinetta dead. But there was wind and we could sail it, at least with the engine on. Unusually, it affected me and I felt a bit queasy. I can’t remember the last time I felt in danger of being seasick. It was cold and I thought making porridge would warm me up. It was a good decision.

But once outside, it became clear that there was wind to sail with, but it had a lot of west in it and the swell would be uncomfortable if we tried to make Duntulm. On the other hand, if we went down the Inner Sound, we could sail and the swell would be gently on the beam until we got in the lee of Rona and then it would be gone.

So we turned south. I put in a course for Loch Carron, just to get a feel for distance and ETA.

Of course after a while the wind died totally and we motored. It was freezing cold, even though I had my marino base layers and warm trousers and full oillies. I huddled into my jacket and put up with it. By now we had George on.

Over on Skye we could see what looked like heavy rain. Of course the weather was coming our way and we waited to see how heavy it would be and whether there would be wind under it.

When it came we could hardly tell it was raining at all. Basically, we were in the cloud, not under it. But visibility dropped to a few cables and the wind came. At least we were sailing.

Behind the rain a hole opened up and northern Skye got sunshine. It was touch and go whether we would be beyond the southern edge of it before it got to us, but we did get a little sun. Of course that meant no wind again so the engine went on.


George steered us down past Applecross to the edge of Loch Carron. The Inner Sound seemed to have very little wildlife. I’d spot a single gannet flying north. Then a few minutes later one guillemot on the water. Then nothing and a little while later a single cormorant. As we got south there were a few more guillemots and razor-bills but not the numbers we were used to in the Minch.

By the entrance to Loch Carron another band of rain brought more wind. Too much! George couldn’t cope so Alison took the helm. We cut the engine, unfurled the jib to provide some balance and found a course we could hold, it was driving us at 5 1/2 knots and the helm was a strain to hold, so I took it. It was taking us south and we wanted to head east into the loch. We could have managed a gybe but I decided to tack and put a reef in as we went round. Alison asked if I wanted the engine but I decided to try without.

To reef quickly on Robinetta it makes sense to drop the gaff to horizontal, to take the load off the saddle, and then loosen the throat halyard and make it off again at the new position. You can then haul the reef in until the luff tensions and make it off. The gaff will now be half-way up and just needs raising and you are done. This time, it worked a treat, although I reefed down more than I intended.

With a smaller mainsail the same wind was now nice and comfortable, taking us just where we wanted to go! Having something important to do made me feel much better.

Of course it didn’t last long. It dropped gradually away and back on went the engine. Alison went down below to write things up. After a while I noticed a breath of wind and put the jib back out and it set. Off went the engine and I started enjoying sailing in light airs. The sail was now too small so I wanted to shake out that reef. Normally we furl the jib, put the engine on, head into the wind and do everything as a team. But the conditions were now good for experimenting.

So I put her head into the wind and let off the roller furling line with everything else still up. The wind started to unroll the reef and the jib backed and we were hove-to. I’ve not tried hauling the main halyards in that state before but it works. You have to make sure the sail doesn’t get rubbed too hard on the lazy-jacks and backstay but in these light wind conditions it was OK. I dropped the gaff, hauled on the throat and pulled out the last of the reef and got the peak up. Then all I had to do was pull-in the furling line to tension the luff and tack the jib and we were back on a fine reach without any stress and no need for the engine.

I was enjoying myself.

With more sail I could still do around three knots. I decided I wanted something with chips and Plockton has always offered that. The last time we were there in 2015 there was also a lot of traditional music around. Alison said that if there was a visitors buoy available she would like that and we suddenly realised it’s years since we picked up a buoy in Robinetta!

Plocton Pier

We pottered up the loch until the wind died and then put the main away and motored into Plockton. There was a free visitors buoy on the inner trot near the main pier. Perfect.

We got into Worm and Alison rowed us ashore where we had fish and chips from the Fish & Chip shop. Posters told us there had been some music on Monday but none tonight. So we ate our haddock suppers by the boathouse and watched the dinghy racing in the bay.

We didn’t mean to go to Plockton. But it’s a fine place.

Plocton Regatta


Monday, 25 July 2022

Gairloch days

With a strong wind warning in force for Sunday we decided to stay in Gairloch. We walked round the bay and had a nose around in the Farm Shop before heading for the Mountain Coffee Shop in the “centre” of Gairloch. This is attached to an excellent bookshop and after our coffees we went in there and bought four books to while away the time in port. On the way back we bought food, then had lunch at the Gale Centre, a community enterprise cafe and shop. Both of us have EE phones, and there is no reception at the harbour, so I made a few phone calls while Julian did some language practice on Duolingo as we walked back. Julian had not quite finished his practice so I headed back to Robinetta.

There is a sign on the Harbour Master’s office, saying he was on holiday until the 1st August, which was a slight problem as I really wanted to get some diesel into our spare cans. However I overheard a couple of harbour users helping out a tourist wanting to know about going whale watching, so thought I should ask if they knew how I could get fuel. It turned out I was talking to exactly the right people; they had the authority to use the pump and sell fuel. We now have 15 litres in our cans. It will probably go straight into the tanks as soon as I get a moment.

It turned out that I never got to open my new book, as the skipper of Suzelle came to have a chat and we ended up spending most of the afternoon and evening with him and his partner. Julian helped him when a modern 34’ boat called Happy Daze came in and rafted up on him. We were just finishing up some cheese and biscuits with them on board Robinetta when Happy Daze’s skipper knocked on the cabin side. Another boat had come in and wanted to berth.

As we got the cockpit cover off to allow rafting we realised that we would have to come off the berth and let them inside. This was not a regular boat, but a sister ship to Suhaili, a wooden ketch with a non retractable bowsprit. Her young female skipper and crew were bringing her south from Ullapool where she had just had a new deck. We got her in to Robinetta’s berth, then Julian brought Robinetta back and rafted on the outside.

By 09:15 next morning they were gone. Not for them the worries about the force 5-7 North wind in the Minch that will keep us in port for another day!

Our second day passed much as the first, but it felt very cold in the north wind, with many showers and only a little sunshine.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Loch Ewe to Gairloch

The forecast for today suggested stronger winds in the afternoon, and rain. The stronger winds were only force 5, but from the south, so would head us after we rounded Rudha Reidh, and sailing in the rain is not much fun. We therefore decided not to linger in our anchorage at Camas Glas, aiming to be away by 8am.

The weather first thing was lovely, and Julian went forward to check the contents of the creel he had baited with mackerel guts last night. Crabs obviously loved it, because there were about 20 small ones scuttling about in the creel, plus something that looked like an eel. We had no need of more fish though, still having a mackerel each to eat for breakfast, so Julian released everything back into the loch.

Having anchored in 5m, with only 1 metre rise of tide to go, there was much less chain to haul up than on previous mornings, and Julian had it all on deck by 07:23. We motored past Bessie Ellen, watched by various members of her crew and guests, then as soon as we had sea room we turned back towards them to raise the mainsail. By 07:40 the engine went off as we sailed at 3½ knots on a very broad reach towards the Isle of Ewe. Julian went below to cook the mackerel while I helmed in bright sunshine. Breakfasting on pan fried mackerel with tomato while sailing in sunshine on a flat sea surrounded by dramatic scenery is a memory to treasure.

sailing out of Loch Ewe
Of course the wind did not last, and by the time we had finished eating at 08:00 we were virtually drifting along at 2 knots, so the jib was furled away again and the engine went on to take Robinetta out of Loch Ewe. The view to the west and south was a bit hazy, but we could pick out the Shiant Islands from the mass of Uist behind them, as well as Skye ahead of us. Julian used his phone to book us a table for dinner at The Old Inn in Gairloch, and got a confirmation email back, saying we needed to make our dinner choices by 6pm.

We got another bit of northerly breeze as we rounded Rubha Readh lighthouse, that lasted all of twenty minutes before dying away, then quarter of an hour later it came back, this time from the South West. It took an hour to build to a proper sailing wind, but by 12:22 we could turn the engine off again to reach along the coast towards the Isle of Lunga in the mouth of the Gairloch.

The view past Lunga was a bit grim, with Skye disappearing into the murk, and rain obviously on its way, but as we followed the coast round to pass north of Lunga we were still in sunshine. Unfortunately the wind was now straight ahead of us, and we decided to turn the engine on to try to reach the harbour at Flowerdale before the rain reached us. We did not quite make it, but we had had plenty of warning so had our waterproofs on.

The Flowerdale pontoon is run by the Highland Harbours, so our cruising pass covered the mooring fees. We were not sure we would be able to stay there though, as reports suggested that there is very little space left over for visitors. A trip boat went past us as we neared the harbour, and we waited until he had moored up before approaching. There was only one yacht on the pontoon, and it did look as though there were space for Robinetta (and Worm) behind. I looked at the trip boat skipper, and he moved to take our lines, as obvious an approval of our intentions as I could think of!

Once moored up I commented that we were glad to find a space, and he said the pontoon had been much quieter this summer. Last year up to 6 yachts had been rafted up along the short stretch of pontoon now taken by Robinetta and Suzelle. As it was still raining quite hard we pulled Worm up onto the pontoon and turned her upside down before going below and having a late lunch.

While we were putting the sail covers on a Drascombe coaster appeared round the breakwater, and Julian reached for the fenders to allow it to raft up on us. Instead it went to the end of the pontoon, and disgorged 5 adults, 2 children, and a dog. How they all fitted in a 17’ yacht is beyond me! As the party walked along the pontoon past us I heard a comment that Robinetta was a proper “Riddle of the Sands” boat, and we ended up having a fun discussion about that book.

On the pontoon with the cover on

Once the cockpit cover was on we went below to relax. Julian tried to get hold of the menu for the evening meal, and discovered that he had no phone or internet coverage. This was a surprise when we were in the middle of a settlement, but not really a problem as we were in easy walking distance of the Inn, and could do our pre-ordering of the meal at the place itself. Once we had chosen our dinner we set off on the Flowerdale waterfall walk, but the rain and general gloom meant we did not go as far as the waterfall before returning to Robinetta to change for dinner.

It rained off and on all evening, and we were glad to have the cockpit cover on overnight.