Sunday, 25 June 2017


We had planned to head for Ardglass at the end of the ebb so we could have a go on the Curragh but it was not to be.

Alison got a call from her sister - their father was poorly. We quickly found a plane to Edinburgh and arranged for Alison to get onto it.

That left me to get Robinetta to Ardglass. We were rafted to Joe Pennington's Master Frank and Joe wanted to leave at 1pm so I got the boat ready. I assumed he knew what the tides were doing so I decided to leave with him.

I should have waited until nearer high water. With full sail and full throttle i managed nearly 1/2 knot over the ground and any loss of concentration and we drifted back towards the remains of the SeaGen.

It was gusty and I would have reefed more but the steering was too complicated in the whirlpools to play with ropes. Then I inadvertently let go of the stay sail sheet and the stay sail wrapped itself round the forestay. Just in time to have my picture taken.

It seemed like ages but it was only about an hour, then the tide slackened and I could turn the engine off, put george in charge of the steering and sort the sails out. Suddenly I was in control and enjoying myself.

George did most of the steering from then on and it was easy going out of the narrows and along the coast to Ardglass. I got the jib out for a while and had a cracking sail. Then the wind strengthened and I put the jib away again.
Leaving Strangford by Peter Farrer

Turning in to Ardglass put the wind on the nose so I dropped the main. It came down quite nicely and I put one tie on and cut the revs and sorted out ropes and fenders with george steering nicely.

I got into a berth without problems and tied up and checked in. I was in a big berth and they needed it so I moved to a smaller one. I had help getting in and it was easy.

I spent the rest of the day getting Worm on the foredeck and sorting Robinetta to be left for a week.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Race Day

This is a quick post as a place-holder until I can write something a bit more interesting with pictures.

It was quite windy when we left the pontoon but we put just enough of a reef in to balance the no 2 jib. The race started a bit late which meant we got into a good position for the start. Robinetta was in her element - enough wind to make her go and we made some good tacking decisions and kept up with the leaders right through the inner narrows. We were leading the pack of gaffers as we got to the first mark.

Unfortunately we didn't see it.

By the time we realised we had to go a long way back and round it and ended up at the back of the pack.

The next mark was upwind and we struggled to beat towards it. Alison said to go north of the post marking the Limestone Rock but that took us away from the mark and we tacked back too soon and put ourselves aground.

By the time we got off most boats were nearing or through the narrows so we retired and sailed gently back.

Robinetta has never felt so fast. Now she needs a competent crew.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

An Early Start

Sometimes passage planning and weather forecasts conspire together. When heading south from Belfast Lough the first tidal gate is at Donaghadee Sound. Going between Copeland Island and the mainland shortens the journey, and keeps you away from the overfalls outside the Islands. In order for Robinetta to be certain to catch the tide up to Portaferry from the entrance to Strangford Lough we needed to get through Donaghadee Sound at the first possible opportunity, which was at either three in the morning, or closer to four in the afternoon. Taking the afternoon gate would get us into Portaferry with the last of the evening light, which would have been perfect BUT, by Thursday afternoon the wind was forecast to be from the south west and on the nose, while in the morning it was a north-westerly.

We got Robinetta and Worm ready to leave on Wednesday evening, then went to bed with the alarm set for 00:30. We were away from our berth before 01:00, and got the sails up as soon as possible. The wind was light, but usable, and we motor sailed, with only brief spells without the engine, all the way to Orlock Head where the wind went very light.

Motoring through Donaghadee Sound in the dark, with the chart plotter on and the buoys clearly lit was simplicity itself and the rest of the journey was similarly uneventful. We put the tiller pilot on, and got the main sail down since it was doing nothing. Dawn happened with a grey sky and no fanfare, then there was a little drizzle, but as we passed North Rock and headed to pass inside South Rock the wind came back and I tried flying the jib.

Routen wheel in the distance
Julian came up from resting his eyes below and got the main up, and we sailed the rest of the way to the Strangford entrance where the wind headed us and the engine had to go back on.

Routen Wheel
We took the narrow channel north of Bar Pladdy and were whisked through at 7 knots, despite the headwind and with the engine barely above tick over. We could see the Routen Wheel whirlpool and changed course to avoid it, so ended up going the Strangford side of the tidal generator. The tide washing against it made an impressive wave.

We were now on the wrong side of the narrows to Portaferry, so had to point Robinetta's bow at 90 to the narrows in order to ferry glide across the tidal stream to reach the marina.

Tidal generator "bow" wave

By 08:50 we were safely tied up on a visitors berth. It had been a cold trip, but it was only truly dark the first couple of hours, and getting to our destination early was no hardship!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Rathlin Island to Belfast Lough

The waters around the island are the most complicated we know of. The location of tide rips and overfalls changes frequently as the direction and strength of the various tidal vectors change. Some hazards exist only when the wind is in a certain direction.The charts mention an amphidromic point near Port Ellen on Islay where there is never any rise or fall of tide. Nevertheless, the tidal streams are strong there. Ratlhin sees tides coming in from the Atlantic and ebbing out from the North Channel, the Clyde and the Sound of Jura. The shape of the island - like a boomerang - is perfect for creating back eddies. The skerries create vortices and the sea bed is uneven. From Torr Point just east of the island and the Mull of Kintyre it is just 13 miles and all the water in the Clyde and the North Channel and half the Irish Sea has to pass through it.

Alison had planned this morning’s departure from Rathlin Island carefully. If we left too early we would be punching tide, perhaps faster than we could sail or motor. Too late and there would be horrible tide rips between Fair Head and the east end of Rathlin. But get it right and we would have six hours of favourable tide and calm water all the way!

Alison decided we could leave between 6:30 and 7:30 and we got away at 7:10. We raised sail near the wreck of the Drake, torpedoed in 1915. The wind had turned north-west yesterday lunchtime, pretty much when expected to. This morning’s forecast had it at F5 and decreasing. We put in one reef and the set the No 2 jib and sailed happily down the east side of Church Bay.
Leaving Church Bay
At the end of the island we could see a line of disturbed water forming off the mainland. It was probably Slough-na-mara - one of the British Isles three named whirlpools. Alison didn’t think it should be there yet but it was easy to avoid and we gybed north around the end of the island. We picked up speed - up to 7.5 knots but with the wind now behind us it felt gentle and I was nervous about accidental gybes so we turned round to shake the reef out so we could set the preventer.

Alison said “I think that tide rip is catching us up.” Our speed was growing though and everything seemed OK. But then we saw disturbed seas building to the north, and then to the south and east. The tide rip was forming around us!

We started bouncing around and the wind wasn’t helping much so we turned the engine on and tried to make for Fair Head - the rips don’t actually get to the shore and we hoped to get out of them that way. But the tide was too strong and even at full throttle towards the shore our track was still parallel to it. Further to the east it looked better so we gave up trying to fight the tide and added the wind and engine speed to it to try to out-run the rip.

Of course these are the times one is too busy to take photographs!

The sea state really wasn’t that bad - the wave height was only about 1m and the wind was with the tide so while it was disturbed Robinetta was handling it well. Our speed over the ground got up to 10.5 knots and gradually the seas calmed down and we were out of the rough part. We kept on a very broad reach with all the sails drawing.

Now we were in flat water we went even faster. We turned off the engine. Alison went down to start the breakfast and while she was down the SOG climbed to 11 knots and once or twice, in the gusts to over 12 knots! At that speed even 20 knots of wind was only driving the sails at 8 knots and 7-8 knots of tide really flatten the swell so it was really easy sailing. We swapped places and I finished the cooking - fried new potatoes, haggis, bacon, egg and tomatoes. We took turns to helm and eat.

The express train carried on all the way past Cushenden Bay and then gradually started easing, the speed dropping to 8 and then 7 knots over the ground. We passed the half-way point at Glenarm at 10:27, having averaged about 7 knots for more than 3 hours.

After that the wind died again. That wasn’t really in the forecast but has been happening to us a lot. There was a good chance we could get into Belfast Lough with the tide, as long as we keep the speed up, so we put the engine on past the Maidens rocks, the isle of Muck and the Gobbins.
West Maiden Rock

We had good 3G coverage all the way so I checked on the web for marina prices at both Bangor and Carrickfergus. Bangor weren’t answering the phone but Carrickfergus did and were cheaper and happy to have us.

Past the Gobbins the wind kicked in again and we knew we had time to get to the Lough. Even if the tide turned on us we knew the streams inside the Lough to Carrickfergus would be weak enough to motor against. We turned the engine off and sailed gently round the corner into the Lough.

We had one more dead patch of wind but then it came in strongly again and we sailed happily at 4 knots towards Carrickfergus. 
Carrickfergus Castle

The bay is shallow and the dredged channel into the marina is narrow so we dropped the main a fair way out, taking the opportunity of smooth water to get a nice flake into the sail as it came down. Then I got the bowsprit in and we motored gently into the marina.

Robinetta’s 80th anniversary spring cruise was over. Counting the trip from Holyhead to Liverpool via Caerarfon and Deganwy we have done about 400 nm so far this year and visited Wales, England, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland.

Tomorrow we fly home for three weeks. Then, weather permitting, we will go back to Portaferry for their early summer festival.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Port Ellen to Rathlin

We left the pontoon at Port Ellen at 06:45, trying to make the most of the wind and tide. We needed to reach Rathlin about high water Belfast to avoid the overfalls off Bull Rock, and the tide would be running South East, with a South East wind. That actually meant that rather than steering 180º for Rathlin we should head on a compass course on 210º, which would let us sail. That was the theory, and it did work in practice, at least as long as there was wind.

When we left Port Ellen we got the sails up before clearing the reefs that protect the entrance. Almost as soon as we were clear of Ceann nan Sgeirean we went onto our heading of 210º, only varying slightly to clear Otter Gander rock. The main sail was not really drawing, and the sea was flat, so the tiller pilot went on duty.

By 08:20 we had Rubha Nan Leacan, the South western point of Islay, behind us, the jib was set, and we were doing 4.7 knots. Julian realised we were actually sailing rather well, and throttled back the engine, then set it to idle. Robinetta's speed did not drop, so the engine went off, and we had a lovely hour of sailing before the wind died.

When the wind died the swell became noticeable, and just centring the main did not stop it flogging. We lashed the boom to the back stay, then eventually lowered the sail after an hour when it became clear that the wind was not coming back.

The tiller pilot did its best to keep us on track, but by 11:30 we were in an area where the tide kept varying. There were areas of flat water, that looked like upwellings, and places were the sea looked confused, with no wave pattern, but small sharp points instead. The tiller pilot, with its simplistic knowledge of where was the bow was pointing, needed constant adjustment. Hand steering felt much simpler, so I took over.

The overfalls off Bull Point are only there around 2 hours before high water, and we had planned to avoid them, by arriving an hour later than that. However we could see an area where the confused sea's amplitude approached that of overfalls as we approached Bull Point. Julian was helming, and he decided that heading out into calmer waters felt safer than trying to slip close inshore with the way the tide was running.

I saw a small fin in the water, and thought “harbour porpoise”, then I caught another glimpse, of a larger fin, and decided it was a dolphin of some sort. It seemed to be heading away from Bull Point, just where we wanted to go. A third glimpse of fin was the last I saw of it. We did not have to go far off the direct course, the overfalls extended 3 cables, rather than three miles, and then we turned towards Church Bay.
Cooraghy Bay
Bull Rock is very photogenic, but the poor visibility meant no photograph could do it justice. The same went for the chalk cliffs and caves in Cooraghy Bay, but actually being there was spectacular. We saw Guillemots, razorbills, and puffins, plus a variety of gulls, and a seal.

Julian had been afraid that the tide would be against us in Church Bay, but if it was it was so weak that we did not notice. We were safely moored up on a pontoon in the harbour by 13:30, but then moved onto a different one at the request of the harbour master. Julian said he felt quite out of practice at mooring alongside a pontoon rather than in a finger berth, so I happily let him helm for both!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Maintenance and trying to sail

We woke to a very foggy morning. Worse than we had at Gigha and perhaps as bad as at Baltimore last year. I had work to do on Robinetta before we did anything else so I didn’t mind too much.

Yesterday we lifted the cockpit floor and saw a noticeable trickle of water coming from the anti-siphon box. I disconnected the hoses from each end and brought it up. It is basically a U-bend  with a large water reservoir. It is made of high temperature tolerant plastic. I filled it with water from the pontoon hose and it didn’t show any sign of leaking so I put everything back together, adding an extra hose clamp where I could.

While disconnecting things I had noticed that the raw water overflow was lying flat over the U-bend box. It is supposed to be up high so it only spills water into the bilges when there is too much pressure. One of the hose clips holding it onto the engine had a very rusty screw. Nigel Calder mentions that hose clips are often made of good quality stainless steel and then fitted with poor grade stainless screws. This was the perfect example. I replaced the hose clip and moved the top of the unit into the space above the engine. We should get a little less water in the bilges now.

The other problem we had yesterday and also a few days earlier was the VHF radio going haywire. It just kept cycling channels as though someone was pressing the arrow keys all the time. I had disconnected the data link from the chart plotter in case it was noisy but it didn’t make any difference. Then I discovered I had left the wiring diagram at home and we didn’t have the radio handbook with us.

Today I downloaded the handbook and worked out that the green & yellow wires were the data input ones which let me work out which wires from the junction box were the right ones. After some experimentation I got it all hooked up again with time and position being sent from the chart plotter to the radio. Of course the radio channel cycling problem had fixed itself.

By now the fog had started to clear. I thought it would be nice to go for a sail and suggested a sail to the anchorage at the Ardbeg distillery. We could go ashore in Worm for either a whisky tasting or tea and cake. We all wanted some sailing as we seem to have been either stuck in port or motoring since Portpatrick.

Robinetta went out first and we got the sails up in the outer harbour and Molly Cobbler caught up with us as we got near the channel marker at the entrance to the bay. It was quite windy and the sea was really bouncy. Robinetta was OK but Molly Cobbler was bucking like a bronco. Mary turned back. Alison was helming and struggling so I took over and got outside the bay where it was calmer. We headed east towards the distilleries. The wind was strong and it was a lovely sail.
Molly Cobbler braving the swell
It soon became clear that there was a strong tide against us and pushing us towards rocks. We tacked out to get some sea room and found ourselves going back along our track. The tide was even stronger than we thought. We were not going to be at Lagavulin or Ardbeg in time for a tasting but it was still nice to be sailing.

Then the wind died completely. The swell made the rigging clatter like mad. Paradise had turned into Purgatory in an instant.

Reluctantly we turned back. The wind came back and then died again. We got back into the marina and tied up in a different berth (the marina was filling up). Not the best sail but at least we tried. This flaky wind is starting to get to me.

Gigha to Islay in the fog

Preparing Naiad to sail
We woke to a damp, foggy, and windless morning. I watched as Neil prepared Naiad to head north. He came off his mooring at 08:00, to head for Loch Feochan where he keeps her. They disappeared into the fog before even clearing the bay.

Julian picked up the creel he had laid last night. The three crabs inside were too small to eat, so he let them go, then decided to mend the creel which had been damaged when catching a large dogfish last summer. Meanwhile I put on full oilskins before getting in Worm to row ashore for milk.

After a late breakfast of porridge with full cream Gigha milk we decided to head for Islay despite the fog. Mary stayed put until later in the day when she hoped the visibility would be better.

Julian raised the reaching sail, and we sailed off the buoy, (with the engine on in case). Unfortunately I needed the engine in gear to keep steerage way almost immediately. A single handed yachtsman came off his mooring ahead of me and the ferry was ready to leave. I went to full revs to clear the ferry's path while Julian went forward to tack the reaching sail. We tried using it as we headed north, close in to the shore, but did not manage to make it fly again.

The North East coast of Gigha is a wonderful place and was atmospheric in the fog. We stayed inside the outermost skerries, rounding the north end in Gigha inside An Dubh-Sgeir. We then edged into West Tarbert Bay, hoping for a back eddy to help against the tide, which was now against us. No eddy appeared, so we headed along the bay at just under 3 knots. The bay itself was well worth the visit, with a lovely sandy beach at one point, and the mist drifting through some atmospheric rocks.

We then put the tiller pilot to work, laying in a course of 248ºT to take us in a straight line across the foggy Sound to Port Ellen, Islay. There was nothing to aim at, and over 15nm to go.

Gigha faded slowly into the greyness, while Jura and Islay were only occasionally visible. Julian tried flying the reaching sail again, but it moved us forward at less than a knot, so he took it down again. When he came back into the cockpit to sit down he managed to tear the “back” that we use to make the seats comfortable, which meant another half an hour with needle and thread.

We cleaned the cockpit sole and took it up to have a look at the bilges. Robinetta has been pumping more than expected given the flat seas and no stress on the garboards from the mast. The engine muffler box seemed to be leaking, so we will need to have a look at that.

A slight wind came up at about 15:30 so we tried flying the jib, which filled nicely. When we saw a mixed flock of sea birds, gannets and guillemots together, I suggested that we might as well try fishing. Julian got out the mackerel line while I turned the engine off. Blessed peace! We were going at less than a knot, a perfect speed for fishing, and all of a sudden blue sky appeared overhead. Bliss.

Julian ran out the whole line, but unfortunately the end came undone, and the whole lot went overboard. Hopefully the heavy sinker on the end took it straight down to the bottom and kept it there, so it will not damage any wildlife. We headed slowly towards Islay for 15 more minutes, listening to the sea birds calling all around us and followed by an inquisitive guillemot, but then the sun disappeared and the wind faded to nothing. George started wondering which direction to steer us, so it was back on with the engine, and up to 3.5 knots again.

The fog lifted enough for us to see Islay properly as we approached to within 2 miles of the coast. The entrance to Port Ellen is totally obscured by a set off reefs, and I was very glad of the chart plotter to help us navigate in. There was quite a strong current at the entrance to the bay, and however much I told George to steer round nothing happened. Because of that I took the helm.

Julian went forward to stow the reaching sail and bring down the jib. Suddenly the radio started beeping oddly. I snuck down for a look, and it seemed to be changing channels at random, and would not stay on 16, where it should. When I came up again Robinetta had turned herself though 180º and was heading out of the bay again. Julian called back to the cockpit to ask what was going on, and when I told him asked if I had power cycled the radio. NO. He did that and the problem seemed to clear, then 10 minutes later it was doing it again.

Gig practice at Port Ellen
We were glad to get into Port Ellen and tie up on a pontoon at 18:00. With the engine to look at, and the radio to fix we will probably stay put tomorrow. Found the showers with some difficulty, cooked dinner on board for the first time in a while. A walk round the bay along the village street, followed by a dram of local whisky in the pub completed a full day.