Monday, 30 June 2014

Kirkwall to Rousay

After a morning of laundry, and wandering round Kirkwall Museum (which was very good) it was time to leave. The weather forecast promised us a gale on Wednesday, but light winds Monday and Tuesday, so we decided that heading for Rousay today made sense. There is a visitor mooring there, and a very good island tour in a minibus, so no worries about catching, or missing, scheduled buses!

We cast off at 1330, when the tides turned in our favour, and were soon sailing out into Kirkwall Bay. The winds were light, but usable for steerage way, and we ghosted along at 2 knots under full sail and the no.1 jib.

Julian through we would just retrace our track along the Eynhallow Sound, then turn towards the Wyre Sound, but I suggested we leave Gairsay to port and sail between that and the west side of Shapinsay, and he decided that was a better idea. I tried programming that route into the chart plotter, but could not make it work, but Julian did. He's better at working the chart plotter than I am!

We had a lovely gentle sail up past Gairsay and Sweyn Holm. Gentle, in that the wind was at most force 2, but it gave us steerage way through the fast tide between Gairsay and Shapinsay, and we touched 5 knots. It was a sideways sail, with the land sliding past the bow, and our track bore no relation to our heading. We could see odd shapes and swirls in the water's surface, but we were never pulled off our heading by the tide, and passed the drying skerries without worry.

Once passed Sweyn Holm the tide stopped helping us, and our speed dropped to 1.5 knots. We freed off the wind, and headed towards Eday, but were still only making 2 knots, and in the wrong direction, so we put the motor on and headed for the visitor mooring in the Wyre Sound off Rousay.

We could see yachts as we approached the ferry dock, so we wondered if the mooring would be taken, but it turns out that there are a number of local yachts on their own moorings, and the visitor one was available. We picked it up without any problems and after getting Robinetta tidied up I cooked. Sausages from the Kirkwall butcher, with tomato, potato, and broccoli. Yumm. We ate in the cockpit, in bright sunshine. It's not warm, but the breeze is gentle, and the sun is wonderful!


Popped in to Radio Orkney this morning to say hello and update my work password.
This is Andrew, one of the radio journalists here. The whole team are native Orcadians. What a great place to work.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

More sight seeing

We spent the morning looking around the Earl's and Bishop's palaces. The capital of Orkney used to be in Birsay but was moved to Kirkwall in the 16th century. We saw the ruins of the Earl's palace in Birsay yesterday. The Kirkwall one was built a generation later and is a magnificent town house with the turrets so typical of the Scottish baronial style. The Bishop's palace moved to Kirkwall first and was remodelled by the infamous Earl Patrick Stewart when he took it over so it had turrets too. The remaining tower, built to defend the bishop from the earls, makes a fine place to view the cathedral from.
It was 1pm once we left the palaces and the Sunday service was over so we could view the cathedral. It is a great piece of Romanesque architecture, and was partly built by stone masons who had built Durham Cathedral. At the time, it was part of the diocese of Trondheim and shares features in common with Norwegian churches of the period.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Settled in Kirkwall

There is a lot to do in and around Kirkwall, so after our long day to reach here we've settled down to stay for at least three nights. Our Orkney Explorer tickets include entry to the Broch of Gurness, so that was our first expedition. After our day cycling from Stromness we decided to use the bus from Kirkwall, so Julian looked up the times. We had hoped to get a cooked breakfast (we always get hungry after a fast day), but we were up late so after a quick shower and a cereal breakfast we headed for Evie on the half nine bus.

We got off where we saw a sign post to the Broch, and from there it was a forty minute walk on a quiet single track road through farmland with attractive cattle and interesting scenary. The sun did not shine for long, but the cloud was light and we enjoyed our bracing walk!

I was dreaming of lunch, and Julian mentioned second breakfast. There might be a cafe at the Broch, as there had been at Skara Brae, or if not we could have an early lunch at Evie...

There was no cafe at the Broch and the wind was very cold, but it was easy to see why the place as built; the stone provided a lot of wind shelter! We had a good look round, and found it well worth the visit, then asked the custodian if there was somewhere to eat at Evie.

No. Nothing closer than Kirkwall or Birsay.

In a car this would not be a problem, but the next bus from Evie was not until 1434... We had assumed we would fill the time with lunch, but it did not look as though that would happen.

Julian mentioned hitchhiking as we walked away from the site, and it seemed like a sensible idea in these conditions, so I approached a couple in the car park that we had seen looking round the Broch. Lovely people that they were they agreed to take us with them, and where did we want to go? They were on their way to see the Kitchener memorial, so we got a lift as far as Birsay. They dropped us right outside the Birsay Tearoom.

After ordering lunch Julian looked up the bus to get us back to Kirkwall. There was one at 1256 which gave us plenty of time to have our very satisfying lunch of soup and salad/toasted sandwich. Since it was the only bus from Birsay to Kirkwall of the day we decided not to miss it!

We spent the rest of the day looking round Kirkwall, before spending the evening in the Reel, listening to local musicians play. Scapa Special has a wonderful tag line.

A good end to a good day.

The Sun Came Out!

When we got up this morning it was sunny and almost warm! Kirkwall looks better today.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Eynhallow Sound to Kirkwall

If you read the pilot books for our East Coast, one would never venture into any of the Suffolk rivers. Pilot books tell the bad news so one can prepare. All the instructions for Orkney seem equally designed to dissuade anyone but the foolhardy. Our experience so far is that if you choose slack water, or the beginning or end of the favourable tide, the strong tides present no problem.

Strong over falls form in Eynhallow Sound but are worst on the ebb. One day off springs we knew we had to go in on the flood, as the ebb can run 7 knots in the wrong direction.

By the time we got to Costa Head our speed was increasing and we were reducing throttle to keep the speed down. We had favourable tide earlier than we anticipated, but then the Admiralty isn't perfect. I took the helm from Alison as we rounded into Eynhallow Sound and we turned the engine off. We were on a beam reach by now and late enough to miss the ebb. How much flood we would get from now on was how much there was; we could do little to change it.

As we came onto the beam reach everything calmed down. The waves vanished. Off the wind it was much warmer too. The small matter of the SOG hitting an unheard of 8 knots was merely interesting. Even that quickly reduced to a more reasonable 6 knots.

We steered the Clyde Cruising Club's recommended route as accurately as possible. It has a strong double dog leg around Aiker Ness which didn't seem to have any specific purpose. Before that is the Burgar Rost, which is supposed to only be a problem on the ebb. A little beyond that we did encounter some interesting eddies, one of which pushed us 40° off course, but only for a second. This photo show what might have happened if Alison's planning hadn't been so good.
From Orkney Image Library, 2007

Maintaining a steady 6 knots for an hour is not something we are used to. It eats miles. As we worked our way south the wind came on to a broad reach, a lovely point of sail and one that Robinetta loves. Steering accurately to miss all the skerries is tiring and after an hour I needed to rest and Alison took over again. Once we were past Gairsay and into Wide Firth the main things we needed to watch were ferries. Lots of ferries. None came close though.

We were both very tired. It was around 8 pm and we were up at 4 am. I went down to look at the way in to Kirkwall marina. Alison had done the passage planning and I realised I hadn't checked it at all.

As we got closer it seemed to me that Alison was steering for the wrong part of the harbour. I said "turn to port" and we had a "little discussion" about the harbour and whether we should get the main sail down outside or inside. Alison doesn't like going in to strange places with the sails up, which I understand. I don't like trying to get a sail tie on on the boom in a swell. This time we did it my way. Inside the harbour there was plenty of room to turn head to wind and drop the sails but little shelter from the north. We motored into the wind onto the visitors pontoon and made a total mess of getting the lines on. We were tired. As we sat in the cabin having our pot noodles we both decided the swell, even in the harbour, wasn't going to make a peaceful night.

After our 'meal' we wandered around the marina. The finger berths definitely had a calming effect on the swell and we picked an empty one to move to. As we were getting the lines off a local came along and asked if we were leaving. We said we wanted to move and he told us of another berth he knew had no permanent occupier and helped us with the lines both leaving and arriving at the new berth. It was much better!

People who know us may be surprised we eat pot noodles. We probably sit a long way towards foodie on the eating scale. On this trip we are both on the 5:2 diet and it is easier to have fast days on passage than in town. We have settled into a more-or-less fixed menu for fasting days. Breakfast is a small bowl of cereal or porridge - around 100 kcal. Lunch is two Ryvita with cottage cheese - around 100 kcal. Dinner is a pot noodle - 400 to 500 kcal. Pot noodles (or instant ramen) are pretty awful, but quick and filling. A fast day makes the following day into a feast, whatever it turns out to be.

Tonight is the most depressed I have felt on this trip. We haven't seen more than a few minutes of sunshine for a week or more and the NE wind is bitterly cold. The sail through Eynhallow Sound was wonderful. I need to remember that, not the cold.

Bay of Skaill to Eynhallow Sound

It is 11 nm from Skaill Bay to the entrance to Eynhallow Sound. Our reading of the Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas was that the ebb would still be strong until around 6 hours after high water Dover, which was 11:07 UTC. So leaving Skaill bay at noon meant we needed to keep our average speed down to less than 2 knots. The wind was pretty much on the nose and we beat gently up the coast watching the birdlife and looking at the cliffs. One of the landmarks is the Kitchener memorial. Kitchener died, along with over 640 sailors and officers when HMS Hampshire was sunk by the Imperial German Navy. Only Kitchener is named on the memorial and little mention is made of the rest.

We were so successful at procrastinating that by the time we got to Birsay Bay we thought we ought to get a move on. It was hard to tell what the wind and tide would be doing along the north side of Mainland - we might be able to to reach or we might need to tack - the tide might be weakly or strongly against us. As the ebb starts, a back eddy runs in Birsay Bay and we beat in to try to pick it up. We certainly got out of any south going tide but getting in was so difficult I put the engine on and we motored for one tack.

The north end of Birsay Bay is formed by the Brough of Birsay, a tidal island with "the remains of a busy complex of Pictish, Norse and later settlement". Our explorer tickets include entry. It is possible we should have tried anchoring here, instead of at Skaill and gone ashore to visit, but we didn't think of it when making our passage plan.

As we tacked out of the bay Alison spotted another ring of pot or net marker buoys. We couldn't tell if they were just crails or another net so we gybed round and went back outside them. I wanted to give the island a good offing as we had no idea what the conditions would be like on the other side where the onshore wind might kick up a nasty sea near the cliffs. So we tacked well out. On the helm I could see nothing now but sea and sky and it felt like I was sailing to Labrador or Iceland. In fact I had a nice line northward around the island.

Once I tacked again I could see we had cleared the island with a good margin and I could hold the course along the cliffs. The tide wasn't bad but doing the sums told us we had used up our dawdling allowance so we motor sailed to keep the speed up. There was a swell, but nothing to worry about.

The cliffs between Birsay and Costa Head have even more spectacular sea caves than those south of Birsay.

We got to Eynhallow Sound right on time.

Stromness to Bay of Skaill

The alarm went at 4 and I was up straight away. Julian was a bit slower, but he remembered we hadn't paid yet, so I wrote a cheque and took it to the honesty box. We had the engine on by 0425 and headed straight out of the marina. The wind was light, but enough for us to broad reach out through Hoy Sound at 5 knots. A bit of tide assist there!

Once we changed course along the coast we were down to 2 knots, and ended up putting the motor on for a while when our speed went down to half a knot! We weren't iin a hurry though, and as soon as there was more wind the engine went off again. We beat slowly along the coast, admiring the cliff scenary and the fishing birds, until our last tack brought us in to Skaill Bay on a really nice line.

There was a tiny float on the surface, with a line running off it. I saw it just before we ran over it and turned away immediately. I was not sure if we had crossed it or not, but Robinetta (under sail) never faltered and I headed out of the bay with Julian quickly getting the jib sorted out.

We needed to stop at the Bay of Skaill. It is the only anchorage we knew about on the west coast of Orkney Mainland, and unless we anchored and waited for several hours we would be much too early to enter Eynhallow Sound. There would be lots of tide against us, and overfalls.... We had to wait them out, and the Bay of Skaill was the place.

We dropped the sails and motored cautiously in, staying much closer to the south side of the bay than I'd planned. I found the float again, and cleared it, but it obviously marked one corner of a box enclosing the centre of the bay. There was another line further in, marked with a different and even smaller float but we avoided that and dropped the anchor.

We'd ended up closer to the south side of the bay than I wanted, and there was a little swell, but the anchor set well. Julian made porridge for breakfast, then we went back to bed for a couple of hours. When we woke up I looked astern, and saw a line of rocks that had not been there before, and were closer to us than I liked. It was only 1130, and we should really wait for at least another hour before leaving, but we were on a falling tide, and had to stay on this side of he bay because of the buoyed line.

We pulled in a little chain to take us further from the rocks, and had a cup of tea, but then decided to head out early, and sail slowly up to the entrance to Eynhallow sound. The buoy with its lines had drifted even closer to the south of the bay, and I had to avoid it again rather than just follow out track out, but by noon we were clear of the Bay of Skaill, and raising sail.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Houton Bay to Stromness

We had an excellent night's sleep in our cosy sheltered anchorage. Morning dawned with all sorts of plans. It was a nice sheltered bay to sail Worm in, we could go for a walk, we could get a bus in to Kirkwall.

Although the bay is sheltered the wind was still bitterly cold and none of the plans were very attractive. Alison did some mandolin practice and I did some penny whistle. I did a little work on my Open University assignment. We planned an alternative way to sail to Kirkwall. With an easterly wind, going out of the Hoy Sound and round would give us much calmer seas. Leaving via the Hoy Sound is not too difficult but is easiest done at the start of the ebb before the full force kicks in. This would be around 5 am and 5 pm for the next couple of days. Getting in to Kirkwall requires careful timing. The ebb can run 7 knots through Eynhallow Sound. After trying a few options we settled on an early departure on Friday morning and sailing as far as Skaill Bay, where Skara Brae is, resting for a few hours and picking the first of the flood in to Kirkwall. We had seen Skaill Bay from the shore and knew that other yachts had stopped there to visit the ruins.

Alison suggested we should leave Houton and head back to Stromness. This would let us buy milk. One of the only things on Robinetta we could not manage without is tea!

I wanted to leave under sail but I couldn't break out the anchor without engine assist so we left under motor with the mainsail up. We had a joyous broad reach the 5 nm back to Stromness. So much more pleasurable than the same wind yesterday!
We sailed all the way in, going from a broad reach up Hoy Sound to a beam reach into the bay and were close hauled by the time we were in the harbour. Two tacks brought us past the ro-ro quay and head to wind to drop the sails and motor slowly back to the same berth we had left yesterday morning.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Long Hope towards Upper Scapa

I had wanted to stay in Long Hope and head east around South Ronaldsay to Kirkwall on Thursday but it became increasingly clear that this was a bad idea. The east wind was freezing cold and blowing straight into Long Hope. It made going ashore to the pub unwise and made the mooring very uncomfortable. We realised we would have wind over tide on a very long fetch onshore wind around the east of the Orkneys.

We considered going to St Mary's tomorrow and then up to Upper Scapa where we could walk into Kirkwall.

But as the evening wore on we got less and less happy with our mooring. Alison suggested going to Upper Scapa tonight where there might be more protection from the east wind. I thought that was a great idea. We got going really quickly, sailing off the mooring at 1900 and beating out of Long Hope. Alison thought going back the way we came would be easier but I wanted to try to get between Fara and Flotta.

The wind was dead on the nose so we motored through and then tried to point at Upper Scapa. We could manage it in the gusts but in the lulls we were pointing more at the Barrel of Butter, a well marked isolated skerry in the middle of Scapa Flow. The wind went up and down and our speed with it. By 9 pm we were still more than 5 nm from Upper Scapa - I could see the steeple of St Magnus Catherdral - and down to 2.5 knots.

The Barrel of Butter
It was harder and harder to leave the Barrel of Butter to port so we left it to starboard and freed off the wind a bit. Once past, I looked at the chart and spotted that Houton Bay was less than 2 nm away. It is tiny but is sheltered from all directions, having an island almost plugging the entrance. It was an easy decision to make and once we turned west we realised what a good one it was. Our speed increased and broad reaching took the teeth out of the wind too and we felt instantly warmer.

Before long we were dropping the sails and heading in to the apparently wide entrance. It is actually very narrow under the water! The western side of the bay is the only sensible place to anchor, the centre and east being where the fishermen and the ferry to Hoy are. It slopes steeply so it can be quite hard to decide where to drop the hook. The anchor chain got stuck somewhere in the locker and we put out what we could. It is clean sand with some kelp and the old fishermans anchor set hard. Once we were knew we were holding I went down and found the problem. I thought it would be some links twisted and fouling the exit tube but the chain had got jammed in the frame of the locker. I pulled it free. We were about 2 hours after high water and it was really calm so we decided putting more chain out could wait until the morning. We would have ample time to let more out before HW.

Houton Bay doesn't have much to offer in facilities, but it is a very fine sheltered anchorage.

Stromness to Long Hope

After three days in Stromness it was time to move. We decided on a short trip, to remind us that we do not have to sail all day, and after checking on the tides and wind direction (NE) decided to head for Long Hope. We left the pontoon at 0900 and motored gently out past Stavros S Niarchos which arrived yesterday while we were out exploring on our hired bikes.

The weather was a bit cold and grey, but the wind was a steady force 3 and took us where we wanted to go. We only encountered one yacht, a catamaran in the channel between Hoy and Fara. There was a huge shed on a pontoon looked like it was on an uncharted jetty. As we got closer we could see it was a fish farm, and the catamaran made it plain which side to pass it, but I'm glad it was broad day light; we might have hit it in the dark!

I've been coasting a bit, letting Julian do all the planning, so today was the first day in a while I've laid in the course, and set the departure time. It all worked, which was good! I also helmed most of the way, with Julian being an exemplary crew. By the time we got to Long Hope at 1230 I was tired, so Julian took over the helm, and we picked up the mooring buoy under sail. A good end to an okay sail. I think I'm feeling a bit tired after yesterday's cycling!

The sun came out in the afternoon, and Julian did some woodwork in the cockpit, trying to make a new autopilot holder with waste wood we had rescued from a skip in Wick. Unfortunately it split after he had spent quite some time working on it. The auto-pilot adventure continues....

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

is the name given to the World Heritage site including the vast array of neolithic sites including Skara Brae, The Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe.

We hired bikes today to see as much as we could. It worked out perfectly. We cycled off towards Maeshowe having failed to contact them by phone to book. We stopped to look at the Unstan chambered cairn which gave Alison a chance to catch her breath, and see an “ordinary” chambered tomb before Maeshowe. It was well worth seeing in its own right though. Much lighter inside than it would have been when built, due to having been capped with a concrete arch with skylights set in.That was just as well since neither of us had brought a torch..I called Maeshowe again and this time I got through. They said they were full until 14:00 until I mentioned we were on bikes and then they said we could go on the first tour! It seems they have car park problems and we had picked the perfect transport mode.

The tour was great. The guide was really passionate and funny and knew his stuff. They told us we would be just in time for the 1pm free ranger tour of the Ring of Brodgar and we went off to that, stopping at the Stones of Stennis on the way. In between Stennis and the ring is the recently discovered Ness of Brodgar site but it is closed over until next month when the annual dig starts.

At the Ring of Brodgar car park we asked where we should have our picnic and ended up sitting by the lake. A fisherman got bored and came to chat, which used up all the time before the tour.

Again, the tour was excellent. Elaine Clarke, one of two World Heritage Site 'Rangers' does a splendid job of explaining what is known and what is unknown about the site. She is a genuine star.

On from the ring it was a longer and more hilly cycle to Skara Brae. Elaine had told us we would get there just as the last coach left, ideal! Tired and hot, we stopped for a cup of tea before visiting the exhibition, the reconstructed house and the site itself. We chatted with one of the wardens as we looked out into the bay. He said some people did anchor in the bay to visit. That would be nice.

We also went round the house, which was typical of an Edwardian gentleman's abode, with some additional interesting exhibits.

Then it was time to head home. I wanted to swing past the brewery, which in retrospect was a mistake. We had a long cycle up a shallow, tiring hill and the brewery was closed for the day when we got there. We had both had enough by the time we drifted back into Stromness. Too tired to go to the new quay to look at the tall ship which had come in.

We were in good time for our dinner booking at Hamnavoe. It was a disappointing, but not terrible meal.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Slowing Down

We have been gently pushing ourselves in the last week as getting to the Orkneys started to look possible. We have had lots of 12 hour passages and early starts. None of it has seemed too stressful (except perhaps Rattray Head) and we haven't ignored the land either, lots of nice chats with locals and other crews we met along the way and visits to some great little museums.

Now we are in Stromness. We got here around lunchtime after an uneventful motor through Scapa Flow. There are lots of sunken obstructions to be skirted and the tides are strong, even at neaps, but easily manageable. Alison hugged the coast as it was a little boring (not a word we have used much) in the centre of the channel on a dull and wet day. Stromness Marina is only manned for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening so we took a spare berth without talking to anyone. The cleats are staples here like they are at Suffolk Yacht Harbour so it was nice to have a Dutch sailor take our lines as we came in.

The gate code and wifi key are written on the inside of the gate and the heads are in the ro-ro terminal so it all works very well as an unmanned facility. We picked up some leaflets at the terminal and then went for a snooze. We want to stay in Orkney for a while and make the most of the visit. We will look for a weather window to leave once we have had our fill.

I spotted a folk event on in Kirkwall so we showered, met the harbour master and agreed to get fuel and pay in the morning and did some blogging before catching the bus.

We got some good views from the bus and arrived in Kirkwall with time to spare for the 10 pm performance. We had a little look at the outsides of St Magnus cathedral and the Bishop's and Earl's Palaces. The venue staff said the event would go on until 1 am but when I phoned to book a taxi the latest we could get was 11:30 pm. Oh well, we would get to see the first set.

The band are fine young musicians but their joint education at what is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland came across in their set, which was very sweet and controlled. I prefer a few more raw edges and a bit more energy. The bar area was full of people chatting loudly to hear themselves over the music and the band were not able to take control. It's possible that the second set got a bit more lively but we were not the first people to leave.

The taxi driver was an incomer to the isles, only having lived here for 30 years. He has digitised over 11,000 tracks from his vinyl collection and likes Led Zeppelin, The Carpenters and Metallica, amongst others. He and his wife are off to Vancouver next month to spend some time with their First Nation friends there. He spent his redundancy money on solar panels and gets up to £750 a quarter from the grid. People are amazing. We could see clearly in the Dim, even with thick cloud cover. We were in bed by midnight.

We have had a lie in this morning.and we need to decide if the weather is good enough to hire bikes to see Skara Brae.

The forecast is dull and showery all week. I might get up at 5 am tomorrow, it is the only time there is any sun in the forecast.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Across the Pentland Firth

Sometimes things just go to plan. Mostly that happens when you spend a long time getting the plan right!

Julian worked out how to get across to Orkney, and asked the Wick harbour master for his advice too. Malcolm Bremner was very happy to help, and while his timings were more-or-less as Julian expected he added little snippets of info that were not in the Clyde Cruising club instructions. Stay close (1/4 - 1/2 miles) to Noss head, then head directly NNW to Scirza Head, and run parallel to the coast to Duncansby Head about 1 to 1.5 miles off. This lets you take full advantage of the back-eddy that runs towards Duncansby head from the south when the flood is still running south farther out. His timing was a little earlier too - bang on HW Dover, not Duncansby Head slack. Most important was his instruction "don't be late". He also said "if you do as I say, you can wear your slippers, you won't get your feet wet".

We left Wick at 0445, passing the old lifeboat station the Wick Society now use as a store. There was just enough wind to help us, so we raised the sails but after a while it dropped to almost nothing. The tide was stronger against us than Julian had expected and we dropped to 2 knots at one point. The engine was running flat out to keep us up to 3.5 knots when we needed over 4 knots to make the tidal gate.

 It was 7 nm to Scirza Head where we expected to get some favourable tide. It seemed to take forever. Then we started to speed up. We hadn't reached the head yet and Julian was worried the tide had turned early. I reassured him it was the start of the back eddy. The speed increased and increased and we hit 7 knots at one point but were making 6 reliably and passed the 'castle' rock south of Duncansby Head at 0755, bang on time!

The journey across the Firth was unbelievably simple after that. Flat sea, no wind, and back down to 3 knots. We did indeed keep dry feet! We had sunshine though! Two thirds of the way across the tide started to run, and we were no longer pointing where we were going as our speed picked up to 5 knots.

Julian put the mifi on and we had internet all the way across. It allowed us to track the shipping on AIS and report our position to friends watching. (Maybe not on a Sunday morning).
We closed with the coast of South Ronaldsay to have a good look, and headed up into Scapa Flow doing 5 knots with the engine in tick over. It needed a rest from the full revs up to this point!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Lossiemouth to Wick

This is the day that decides whether we can make Orkney or not. If we can get to Wick today, then we are in striking distance of Orkney at neap tides. Otherwise it would not be sensible to try. We watched the weather carefully yesterday, and there were 6s in the forecast for Rattray Head and Duncansby Head "later". So long as they stayed in that part of the area we could go. We decided we should leave by 0830 to get out of Lossiemouth without problems. That should also get us to Wick before the forecast "later". The wind was coming from the NW as well, which meant no long fetch to build up the wave height. Robinetta can cope with a 6 without problems when well reefed down so long as the wave are small.

The morning forecast had lost the force 6 at Duncansby head, so the trip was on. We stowed the cabin, and got the bowsprit out and the jib bent on in harbour. (It's much easier that way!). A Selway Fisher came in at quarter past eight, having motored up from Findhorn, and the skipper said the waves were not too rough, and should calm down in a couple of hours. Even more encouraging! They helped pull Robinetta off her blown on berth, and we were away.

As we motored out of the harbour we saw Matt and his daughter Ellie on the outer breakwater. They had come to wave us off!

The first hour was a bit bouncy, but with plenty of wind to sail. We put a couple of rolls in the main, and used the no2 jib, which gave us a lovely sail straight across the Moray Firth. The wind went a bit lighter around noon and we shook out the reef, and we soon had the engine on to keep up the speed, but there was plenty to see; oils rigs of the Beatrice and Jacky oil fields, plus kittiwakes, herring gulls, guillimots, puffins, gannets.... There were some immature gulls whose species I could not determine that I christened RAF gulls, as they seemed to have roundels on their wings....

We heard Shetland Coastguard for the first time at 1610. They transmit at the same time as Thames, which felt oddly homely... They gave out the 1800 UTC forecast for our area; NW 4 or 5, occasionally 6 for a time. Not great, as we would not reach Wick until about 2030. Sure enough the engine was off and a reef back in only ten minutes later!

We carried on as fast as we safely could, which meant furling away the jib during squalls, and reefing the main all the way down by 1900. Twenty minutes later we dropped it in a hurry as the wind rose still more, and we were sailing on staysail and engine as we rounded up into Wick bay.

We were safely moored up in Wick marina by 2025, feeling rather pleased with ourselves. We'd got where we wanted to go, without endangering the boat or ourselves, and had a good time doing it. Confidence building stuff. It really helped that the seas did not have time to build as the wind was coming off the land; the squall that made us finally drop the main sail would have been nasty in any sort of a sea.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Boats make friends

Back in February Matt Hommel posted a message on the Westerly 22 Yahoo Group saying he had acquired and was rebuilding a Westcoaster. When we got to Banff I emailed him and we agreed to try and get together. It isn't often two of Denys Rayner's pre-Westerly designs get close together!

Matt came to see us at Lossiemouth and offered to take us to see the Westcoaster at his house in nearby Pluscarden. He had a good look around Robinetta and recognised many features the Westcoaster has in common.

Matt is a forester and expert in all things wood. He lives with his wife and family in a croft he rebuilt. It is a really special place and they are a lovely family. He doesn't have much sailing experience but is developing an obsession with wooden boats. Quite right too! Many of the features of the Westcoaster were unfamiliar to him and we were able to explain some of them.

The Westcoaster was Rayner's most successful design before the foundation of Westerly Marine and around 60 of them were made and sold by Beacon Boats. Matt's is number 48 and is in remarkably good condition for a 50 year-old plywood boat. The hull is sound and Matt is repairing many rotten parts in the superstructure. The mast, boom and gunter yard are good but the bowsprit was rotten and he has made a new one.

She is much smaller overall than Robinetta and truly transitional in design between the gaff / carvel Robinetta and the gunter / fibreglass W22.

The plywood construction forced a number of hard chines which Rayner disliked and were a factor in his becoming one of the early experimenters with fibreglass. For this reason or others, she also lacks Robinetta's excessive tumblehome and the too steep double camber of the W22's cabin. Perhaps Rayner wasn't trying so hard to squeeze a quart into a pint bottle with the Westcoaster and I think she is quite the prettiest of his designs that I have seen.

It was a real privilege to meet Matt and his family and see the wonderful home he has made for them. It is wonderful to see another of Rayner's early boats being made ready to sail again. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Banff to Lossiemouth

Was woken at 0130 and 0430 by the Aberdeen Coastguard on the radio. We'd forgotten to turn off. It made dragging myself out of bed to get out of the harbour by 0630 very difficult! We did it though, and Robinetta was out with 10' of water under the keel. Before long we were met by about four dolphins who said good morning and left.

Visibility was poor, there was no wind, the swell made the boom swing and grate against the horse until we tied it down really tightly. The auto-helm repairs that Julian had made last night did not hold...  it was a morning when staying in bed would have been wonderful. Only if we had we would not have been able to get out of Banff until the afternoon, which meant rather late arriving in Lossiemouth.

By ten nearly everything had changed. The swell had lessoned, and the sun was out, giving us amazing views of a wonderful coastline. We went close in to Cullen, and saw birds sitting on the water, so Julian tried fishing. No luck, but it was fun to try. The one thing that was still bad was the wind. There was none. We took the main sail down to protect it against UV, but left the stay sail up. There's always a chance it will draw....

We  motored close to the shore, taking pictures of the rock formations between Cullen and Portknockie. Amazing looking places; they made us want to come back with a twin keeled boat that could lay up in the harbours there.

The sun shine stayed with us all the way to Lossiemouth. When I called up the harbour master he asked how much Robinetta drew. Lossiemouth is listed as an all states of the tide harbour, and it was half tide, but it seems there have been problems. He was happy to let Robinetta in though, and she was soon tied up along side the visitor pontoon.

We got Worm out straight away. We wanted to scrape off the barnacles and put on another layer of Woodskin, and the ply would need time to dry out after it was washed. Julian did the cleaning, then I gave him the tin of Woodskin. Whoops, “Not for use below the water line”. We had to put something on though, and all we had available was the masonry paint Robinetta gets on her decks. Worm now has a white bottom...  I fully expect the masonry paint to peel off, but it will offer some protection in the meantime.

Gloria came in just before 5pm and moored up behind us. We last saw them rounding Rattray Head out of Peterhead. We moved Robinetta so there was space between us. The wind got up in the afternoon, and a Westerly called Carpe Diem came in at 1700. They had come down fron Wick, after a visit to the Orkneys. It was good to chat to them.

A Beneteau came in at 1880 seeking shelter. The wind has really got up!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Banff shares the Deveron bay with Macduff. We walked up to the petrol station in the evening and bought diesel and on the way back the light was amazing so we sat in the Battery Park taking pictures. The hills above Macduff reflected in the water on the sands. Wow

Tiller pilot repairs

On the way to Peterhead the post on the tiller the pilot sits on came off. It had been welded on. I tried to make a temporary mount for it from scrap but it failed on first test. I bought some M5 machine screws and after filing some flash out of the hole I got one to fit and tightened the nut over a washer to spread the load. We will test it on the way towards Lossiemouth tomorrow.

Fraserburgh to Banff

After a very comfortable night tied loosely against the quay at Fraserburgh we paid our £10 mooring fee at the Harbour office, and headed out of the harbour. We had prepared everything we could while moored, even getting the bowsprit out and the no.2 jib bent on. Julian tied the anchor up to the outside of bulwarks; we did not want it rolling around on the foredeck as it probably had yesterday!

We were in the outer harbour, with a small fishing boat coming up to overtake, when the engine overheat warning sounded. I immediately got Julian to haul up the stay sail while I turned off the engine. The staysail gave us steerage way, while Julian and I looked at each other, wondering what had gone wrong. The fishing boat went past, and Robinetta continued gently towards the harbour entrance, then Julian asked if I'd remembered to turn the engine cooling water inlet back on after I checked the filter was clear. He went down to check, and it turns out I hadn't. Panic over! The engine went back on, and we headed out of harbour under power.

There was a fair amount of swell, and there were times when Robinetta's prop did not bite the water properly, so she was slow under motor. The wind felt like it was on the nose, but Robinetta is a sailing boat, so we got the main sail up, still with a little bit of reef from yesterday, and with the smaller jib she was nicely balanced on the making tack.

Julian felt a bit under the weather, but I had a lovely sail along the coast to Gardenstown, until the wind went a bit light. We shook out the reef, but it continued to drop, so we ended up motor sailing, with Julian at the helm. Unfair that he ended up with the not so nice sail!

There were only occasional other boats, but we did see a dredger on its way somewhere; a most peculiar sight when the boat bit was invisible!

The way the cliffs give way to tiny bays, some with tiny settlements hiding in them, is really interesting, as is seeing the steeply bedded rocks, which are clearly visible from out to sea. There were a couple of obvious nesting colonies on the cliffs, and I saw guillemots, kittiwakes, herring gulls, and gannets flying and fishing all around.

By the time we reached Banff the wind had died away to almost nothing. I called the harbour master on the VHF when we were ready to enter, and he was there! (he's only part time in Banff, as he's also harbour master at Portsoy) He said to come in, and he would be on the pontoon to tell us where to tie up. Wonderful.

I was on  the foredeck as we entered harbour. A swell caught us as we turned towards the entrance, and for a moment, as I saw the narrow entrance sliding past, and the surf breaking on the beach to port my heart jumped. No problem really, Julian caught her perfectly and steered straight in, so we entered without any real excitement.

The harbour master was waiting as promised, and we were tied up on a good pontoon, with the right number of cleats, in minutes. Banff harbour is really pretty, and I'm very glad we came.
 We had a late lunch of reheated curry left over from the generous portions served us by the B.Raj in Fraserburgh. The Omnia stove top oven is really useful at times like this.