Sunday, 20 July 2014

Tidying up

We spent the day doing laundry, deciding what to pack for the Netherlands and drying things. We dried lots of things. All the sails went up, on the mooring and billowing in the light breeze. They came down again and the foresails were bagged and stowed.

Loch Craignish and Ardfern are absolutely beautiful. Today we could actually see them. We checked the bus times and the train times and when the chores were done we chilled in the sunshine in the cockpit.

After dinner we went to the Galley of Lorne again for one drink and to use the wifi. The barman tried hard to remember what our 'usual' was. The trouble is we keep having different things!

I like Ardfern.

Tomorrow we head south to join Kajan for the Dutch OGA 10th birthday cruise. We won't be back on Robinetta for about a month.

The Galley of Lorne Inn

It didn't take long last night for the urge to go ashore to win. We rowed to the pontoon and wandered, dripping, up to the Galley of Lorne hotel with 20 minutes to spare before last orders for dinner. Perfect timing as the band was due on shortly too.

The Galley of Lorne is brilliant. Good food (if a little fussily presented), great beer, free wifi, and, the night we were there, great music. The band were called Stillwater and performed a mixture of Blues and more general covers including Neil Young, the Band, Emelda May and Kirstie McColl.

We got back to the boat around 1:30 am.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


Day came and yesterday's strong winds were but a distant memory. We had had a really quiet night and this morning was calm and pleasant.

We had a lazy morning showering and having breakfast at the shop and cafe at Tayvallich and catching up with the blog, etc.

The Navionics charts on my tablet suggested an evening trip to Ardfern would catch the tide and we contemplated a walk on the Taynish peninsular but the clouds came down and neither of us really fancied it.

Back on board Alison used Reeds to check my tidal estimate and came up with a much earlier departure time so we got ready and went. There was not a breath of wind. Half way down Loch Sween it started raining. From then on we got anything from light drizzle to heavy rain all the way without a breath of wind.

Near the MacCormaic islands and again by Carsaig Bay we saw porpoises, just for a moment.

We both wanted to take a look at the entrance to the Crinan Canal, me because I'd only seen it leaving on Bonify last year and Alison because she hadn't seen it before. It was also a place Robinetta had been twice before, back in 1938. As we got near, the clouds came lower and lower until the visibility was about 100 m. We went into full fog mode with double lookout, life jackets and 4s blasts on the horn every 2 minutes. We never saw or heard another boat.

The ground level cloud persisted all the way up Loch Craignish. It is at times like these that we really know how lucky we are to have GPS. There was never a moment of concern over the course, even though each time Alison took here eyes off the plotter we went wildly off track.

It cleared a little as we got to Ardfern. We found the buoy we had been allocated quite easily and picked it up. We were absolutely sodden.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Strong Winds

I woke around 06:30 to an uncomfortable pitching sensation. As we sleep across the boat this meant we were rolling. On deck we could see a long, low swell, perhaps 10 m between crests and 50 cm high coming into the bay between Goat Island and the mainland of Jura. Most of the boats looked quite steady, but a few were rolling like us. We put the bed away and went around securing things. Worm's spars and oars came down off the cabin roof and inside. Back below and lying lengthways on the benches it was much more comfortable.

The wind was supposed to get up early this morning, but not too strongly and we had planned to stay at Craighouse until the afternoon flood tide and then head for Carsaig Bay to anchor, a nice short evening trip of 15 nm, leaving about 10 nm for Saturday to get to Ardfern. This morning we wanted showers and a visit to the distillery. We hadn't planned much after that but we knew we could hire bikes or go for a walk or stay on Robinetta and do some writing. Alison has more to do on Eastcoaster.

At 08:10 we got the forecast from Belfast Coastguard. NE 4 or 5 going E 5 to 7 going SE 4 or 5. Saturday's forecast was SE 4 or 5 becoming variable 3 or 4. We should stay here tonight. But the swell was really uncomfortable.

At 09:00 we got into Worm to row across. It wasn't easy and we scratched some paint on Robinetta but once in Worm the swell was so gentle that Alison found the trip simple. Once on the pontoon we pulled Worm up on top to stop the swell banging her against it.

First stop was the shop. We wanted milk and morning rolls. We got the milk but the only bread was defrosted sliced loaf. Next stop was the hotel for showers. At reception we were told they weren't offering showers to boaters while the shower block was being rebuilt. Things were not going well.

We walked along to the public toilets on the old pier. A really old stone building with barn doors and only cold water but the toilets themselves were new and clean. From the pier we could watch the boats rocking on the moorings. They were lying to the wind, which was north-easterly but the swell was refracting through the small islands and coming in abeam. The yachts with long keels were rolling much more than the fin keelers and catamarans.

A catamaran at anchor raised sail and left. As she left the bay she pitched quite a bit.

It was nearly 09:30 so we walked up the hill a bit to see if there would be a view but there wasn't. We went into the distillery shop and I found a pack of three sample sized Jura malts but they were not allowed to sell them to me until 10am. We sat on their benches and looked out at the view and chatted with a couple who were waiting for the distillery tour.

Although we had slept well we were tired from bracing against the rolling and not in the mood for Jura's mountains and we discussed leaving early. I said we would be beating up the loch against the tide and gaffers don't do that. At 10:00 we bought the whisky and rowed back to the boat. Getting on wasn't as difficult as I had feared but on board it was very uncomfortable.

Alison suggested we try and get to Tayvallich. We were there years ago on Ariel of Hamble and we knew it was really sheltered. It was about 20 miles away and it would be 25 from there to Ardfern but the last 6 miles up Loch Sween to Tayvallich should be sheltered.

At 11:00 we bent on the No 2 jib and left. It was quite bouncy on the way out but the wind was moderate. In deeper water the swell wasn't so bad but the tide was stronger than I had hoped.

When we first started sailing Robinetta we always declared a skipper. In general we took it in turns and now and then we sparked badly. The worst was usually when I was skipper and Alison wanted things her way. Over time we both became better sailors, better skippers and better crew and now we hardly ever bother to ask who is skipper. This morning we were both irritable and the conditions were challenging and we were not perfectly in tune with each other. I said "I think we need a skipper today. Will you be skipper because I don't really want you as crew." After 30 years we can be honest with each other. Alison thought about this and agreed. That was one less storm we would have to deal with.

On engine and staysail alone we were being swept south so at noon we put up the main with two rolls on the boom and let the jib out. We were sailing well so we turned the engine off. That was better but we still felt in danger of the wind pushing us towards the small islands on starboard tack and the tide pushing us down onto some rocks on port. In fact, on starboard tack we were just stemming the tide.

At 12:30 I said "on the next starboard tack we will put the engine on to stem the tide and motor sail". Alison agreed and finally we were on track. Things went much better now. We were only making 2 knots SOG but we were getting where we needed to be. We had also cleared the Jura shore and were in deep, hazard free water.

An hour later the wind started getting up and so did the seas. At 13:45 we reefed to the first hoop and put away the jib and the iron topsail. Fifteen minutes later I untied the first hoop and we put in all the reef we could. Ten minutes later we dropped the main entirely and put the engine back on. The next two hours were difficult. The wind was very strong and the largest waves were enough to knock us off course. Then the new stainless steel shackle for the port back stay went flying. I grabbed the two ropes and held on while ferreting in the locker for a piece of line and got it all tied back on and useful. Small boats are so convenient. Only tiny amounts of water came into the cockpit and it felt quite safe. It was just very hard work.

As we neared the mainland coast the sun came out and the sea calmed down. We knew this should happen as we now had an off-shore wind and the fetch was getting shorter, but it was nice to have it happen in practice. Quite a bit of our speed was from the staysail and the wind backed a little, pushing us towards the MacCormaig islands. I hated the idea of being pushed leeward back into the heavier seas and asked Alison to tack more towards the shore, I said it didn't matter if we got pushed south now because the tide would turn but west was bad. She agreed and we went about a mile eastwards before turning back towards the track. We looked at each other and said "this is fun". Then a fishing boat passed us at about 15 knots into Loch Sween and Alison said "I've got engine envy."

We didn't know what the entrance to Loch Sween would be like. There was a danger the wind would funnel down the loch and be on the nose at the entrance and this could put up the sea too. Or we might get in the lee of the hills and have a more gentle time.

It wasn't like either of those. The sea was now really gentle, but the wind was if anything still building. As we got inside the loch proper by the castle I said "We have a sailing breeze, we should be able to just sail, I want to put the main back up." Alison said "Have you felt the gusts in the staysail? You can try it as long as you are prepared to drop it again." Well. We got the main up about 50 cm when the gust came and nearly pushed us over. We put it back down.

As we motor-reached up the loch the wind seemed to get ever stronger. It was still coming over the hills and letting us use the staysail. Even more importantly, it was across the loch so the waves couldn't build.

The foot ferry from Jura passed us, this time it was my turn to get engine envy.

Half way up the loch I saw something in the water ahead. Big rocks right on the track. Alison had missed them when laying the course. I was glad we were near low water and they were very visible.

We dropped the staysail outside the entrance to Tayvallich. It sits on the western shore just where a large island divides the loch in two. There is a small anchorage in the outer bay and then a narrow entrance blocked in the middle by a reef. Inside is a small village, a large caravan site and many moorings, including three visitors moorings. A more sheltered spot is hard to imagine. The echo sounder had not been on and went back into its 'stuck' mode. Oh well, the Garmin and Navionics charts were fairly accurate and Alison's memory was good too. We got in quite safely.

We went exploring and found one free visitors mooring. We picked it up easily and tidied the boat. I noticed the echo sounder was working again. We could tell there was some wind and a little swell coming in but Robinetta was not rocking or pitching at all, just swinging gently. We had made a good choice; less than a cable away there was a strong force 7 blowing.

The inn at Tayvalich serves fine food but Alison had planned to cook tagliatelle carbonara and that was just what we wanted. I can't remember seeing Alison drink a bottle of cider so quickly and I had an excellent bitter from our cellar.

I looked at tomorrow's tides. We could leave at 4 am and pick up the 6 am flood to Ardfern, or we could leave at 4 pm and pick up the evening one. Or we could leave at 5 am on Sunday and still be in Ardfern for lunch.

We listened to the forecast. E veering SE 5-6, decreasing 3-4 and becoming variable later. Saturday night's was variable becoming SW 3-4.

We won't go in the morning! Tomorrow afternoon we can decide whether to go then or on Sunday morning.

We settled down for a quiet evening.

That's the second time we have broken our rule about going out with F7 in the forecast. This time it is possible we should have stayed in Jura and booked into a hotel or B&B. We really did get the F7 but we went to a better place and it all worked out. Once we sorted out who was skipper we worked well together and had fun. As usual Robinetta did us proud but if we are going to make a habit of this we need to be able to reef the main more deeply and possibly have a trysail.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sound of Islay

Plan A for today had been to go anti-clockwise around Islay to Port Ellen. It is much shorter clockwise and after reading Reeds I was happy to go through the Sound of Islay. But I realised if we did that, we would have to leave Port Ellen the next morning. There wasn't much point. Plan C was to go through the sound to Lowlandman's Bay, a sheltered anchorage if the blow came early. Then we would be in easy reach of Ardfern.

We set off to get to the sound mid-ebb. As we left Colonsay another yacht came in to take the berth. We had met a visitor on Colonsay who was staying in a cottage and could see the pier. He had asked if there was a timetable for yachts to use the berth, since every time one left another arrived. "Just co-incidence" we told him!

Our tide working went perfectly to plan and we hit 8 knots through the narrows past two distilleries.

On the other side we got brilliant sun and a light breeze.

Alison took a look at the Welcome Anchorages book and asked why I had chosen Lowlandman's Bay rather than Craighouse were there were visitor's moorings, showers, a hotel and the Jura distillery. I said "let's do that then". Plan D. We now had no agenda and determined to sail without engine.

Alison remembered that I wanted to take some pictures of Robinetta sailing and this was the perfect time for me to get into Worm with a camera. After the photo shoot we rendezvoused perfectly. Alison said it was the first time she had ever single handed Robinetta.

We got to within a mile of Craighouse and the wind died completely so reluctantly we turned the engine on.

Alison's parents looked at our photos in June and asked if we were always wrapped up for winter. Well not today.

There were lots of yachts moored but still about 3 of the 16 new moorings available.

We had a lovely easy row ashore and a drink in the beer garden of the hotel. The view was stunning. I can't help thinking that every view looks a little better if it has Robinetta in it.

After a light meal at the hotel we noted the opening hours of the distillery and shop and went back for a peaceful evening aboard.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Enjoying Colonsay

After our disturbed night all I wanted to do was sleep in, but Julian had more energy and after breakfast we headed for The Pantry, the local cafe which has free wi-fi, so we could publish our blog posts. It was warm and dry when we got there, but driving rain kept us there for longer than we expected.

It soon cleared, and we went for a walk along roads and tracks towards Colonsay House to see the gardens which are only open on Wednesday. Just before we reached the driveway Julian asked if I minded walking a bit further, to see the Atlantic facing Kiloran Bay. Turns out that Trip Advisor has it rated as one of the best 25 beaches in the world. It is rather gorgeous!

Colonsay House gardens were pleasant rather than spectacular and overgrown in some areas, most notably the “wilderness” area which is becoming a great exploration zone. Finding the paths could be a challenge.

We walked about six miles and came back to Robinetta for an afternoon snack before heading out again to the brewery and bookshop. There was a craft fair to look at too, and a book sale in aid of the RNLI. Julian found a copy of Claud Worth's 'Yacht Navigation' including design details of the famous Tern IV and his log of a 33 day circumnavigation from Bursledon via Rockall and Orkney in Tern III.

Wednesday is local fish night at the Pantry, so we had booked the first sitting at 1830. Julian had Colonsay Oysters “The best oysters he's eaten” and my local prawn cocktail had warm shell on prawns to dip in sauce. The main courses were excellent too!

After that it was time for music at the Colonsay village hall, with Iain Thomson a singer/songwriter from Mull, perfectly backed up by the whistles, drum, uilleann pipes and mandolin of Marc Duff.

It's all go on Colonsay on Wednesday!

A bouncy night

Mooring up to the pier at Colonsay was lovely and calm until 2030 when the swell started to get up. We were so sheltered from the wind that we could not feel it, and we had hoped to lie with loose lines like at Frazerburgh, but Robinetta was moving too much as the swell came through the gaps in the boards we were tied against and the centre line tied on to the rope down the ladder was taking all the strain. Julian had tied it to the grab rails, and I could see them moving, stressing the screws that went through the deck and into the batons beneath. We retied the line to the shrouds and winch which gave the line more freedom to move on the ladder rope.

We had to tighten the bow line to stop the swell pushing Robinetta's stern against the boards, which meant we had to be up and down all night adjusting lines. Julian fixed a loop of shock cord on the bow line to buffer the snatching as she rolled. We got to bed at 2300, and took it in turns to get dressed and go out into the rain to check the lines every hour. Low water was at 0308 and we decided that checking at 0200, then not again until half five should be fine.

It was difficult to sleep with Robinetta rocking, but after Julian did his last check at 0200 I did manage to drop off, only to be woken by the sound of Worm knocking against the cabin. She was supposed to be tied fore and aft, but something must have happened. I scuttled up on deck to look (not bothering to dress) and saw that the line that kept her stern in had vanished. Finding another line and fixing it would take time, so I ducked back down and put on my hoodie and oily jacket.

Up into the dark wet night again I felt around, and discovered that we still had Worm's stern line. This is her main sheet, and runs on a horse across the stern while sailing. The shackle that holds the block on the main sheet must have worn through the thin line of the horse, and this is what had parted. I pulled Worm round, and ran the sheet through her quarter knee and retied her stern to Robinetta.

Down in the nice warm cabin again I undressed my top and dried my legs before checking the time. 0340. Uhg.

I did not want to wake up next time I should be checking Robinetta's lines; Julian was moving to do it for me before I could think about asking. Being part of a team is great!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Seafarer 3 fettling

Our echo sounder has a rotating armature. It got stuck a couple of weeks ago but worked after a tap or two. This afternoon it was stuck again, obstinately so.

After dinner I took it apart. The plastic case and bezel are very brittle but inside it looks like new. The O ring seal must be excellent.The back comes off by undoing four captive screws.Inside, these connect to four posts which also unscrew. There are also two additional screws. The PCB is then held on only by the two knobs.

The knobs come off by popping the pale grey covers off and undoing a nut. They have their own O rings which just pull off.

I knew it must be either the armature motor or the armature itself. The armature did seem stiff so I sprayed it with WD40 to clean it. After working it round a few times it seemed to spin OK so I tried turning it on. Bingo!

I put it back together again and reinstalled it and it works perfectly.

The knobs are interesting. They have a brass compression fitting so you fit them and do the nut up and then you can adjust the pointer on the knob to the right place before tightening. A really nice design.

A small celebration

To celebrate Robinetta's circumnavigation we had a small celebration in the cockpit. A bottle of Cava, smoked salmon and cream cheese. Yum.


We came towards Colonsay from the north to avoid the great race. This let us motor sail along the south coast past lovely beaches and little bays.

As we closed on the harbour we discussed options. Did we want to anchor or go against the pier? I turned the echo sounder on and the armature stuck obstinately at 5 o'clock. I tapped it. I took it down from the wall and shook it. No joy. We were coming in in daylight near low water and the waters are crystal clear so we could manage.

As we got nearer we could see that there were two ladders and that portion of the pier was fully boarded. Not bad. Alison helmed in and got worried. She could see a mark separating us from the rocks and was worried about depth. Tired and nervous are not the best states to make decisions so I took over. Being a team is great,  usually one of us is fresh enough for the tricky bits.

I turned her on a penny and closed with the pier and stopped. We hung on to the ladder while Alison scrambled up with bow and stern lines. I tied a bight of a jib sheet to the ladder and spotted there was a long rope tied near the top and bottom. Ideal for a running midship line.

Tied up I went to look and turned the lines into bowlines at the top we could adjust from aboard.

Settled, we went for a walk. Great toilets. A sign saying the brewery shop would be open tomorrow. A poster saying there was a gig on at the community hall tomorrow.

I think I'm going to like it here.

A Milestone Day

We slid out of our tight berth at 0630 this morning to make the most of the helpful tide down Kerrera sound. Julian was much more awake than me and got the bowsprit out before going down to cook breakfast while I helmed Robinetta under motor through some lovely scenery. Kerrara Sound is the first “familiar” coast to me since we passed Southwold, as I sailed here about six years ago on Prospero. It's all new to Julian though, and the bright morning helped him appreciate it; high cloud that cleared slowly to reveal blue sky ahead, but when we looked back north the it seemed to be raining. The first other yacht we'd seen moving that morning motored past and shouted out to ask were we were heading. When we replied Colinsay they gave us the thumbs up.

We got the main up after clearing Kerrera, but the wind was light, and pretty much on the nose, so had to tack too far off the best line for the extra speed to be useful. We headed towards Mull for a while, but tacked back towards mainland before getting too close to Dubh Sgeir. It was time for the motor to do back on if we wanted to reach Colinsay before midnight.

Julian had set a course that led west of Inch and the Garvellachs, but when I reminded him we'd planned to go through the Sound of Inch he changed course, and helmed us through a lovely bit of coastal scenery. Easdale and Ellenbech looked really attractive, and a yacht headed down the Sound of Luing, where the tides looked too strong for us!

Around half nine this morning, at the southern end of the Sound of Insh we passed two significant milestones. Robinetta crossed tracks with her cruise north in 1938, so has now completed her circumnavigation, having taken 76 years, 1 month, and 5 days to do it. We had hoped to cross tracks further north, at Isle Ornsay, but staying two weeks in Orkney made the timetable a bit tight to go round the top and down. The other milestone was having travelled 1000 nautical miles on our journey this year. It was sheer coincidence that had both happen at about the same time and place.

As we changed course to go outside the Garvellachs the wind came abeam enough to try sailing again, but we only managed it for quarter of an hour before deciding that getting to our destination before nine tonight would be a good idea. The engine went on again.

Colonsay appeared as a low line on the horizon, and we headed slowly towards it.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Back on the Whale Road again

It took over 40 hours to get from Loch Lochy to Loch Linnhe. I was pretty stir crazy by last night. This morning the lock keepers were very cooperative. We locked throughout to the basin shortly after 8 am but found the fuel dock occupied by a boat waiting to go up Neptune's Staircase. We tied up on the quay. Mary Lou was in the sea lock so we went and bade farewell. We showered and walked the boat to the fuel and got both tanks and both cans filled. The sea lock was ready for us so we went straight in and paid for the fuel and returned our key for the toilets and were out by 9:50.
It felt great to be out. The Anglo-Saxons and the Norse called the sea the 'Whale Road', anyone who cruises comes to realise that the sea connects places, rather than separating them. Canals connect places too, but they feel more like byways than highways to me.

It was a shame that there wasn't any wind as we motored past Fort William, Ben Nevis hiding under clouds on the skyline.

After a while a breath came up and we put the sails up but it fell away again and we dropped the main. We didn't want it up and doing nothing through the Corran narrows.

As predicted it clouded over and started to drizzle. By the time we had the narrows in sight we could hardly make out the ferry going back and forth. The ferry here is one of the few remaining ones between two parts of the mainland.

The speed over the ground increased as we entered the narrows, bang on noon. 5 knots, 6, 7, 8, 9, 9.1, 9.2!

It momentarily touched 9.3.

On the other side the sea was surprisingly confused. We got twisted and turned by rip and there were lots of small whirlpools. It made me realise how wise we were to have crossed the Pentland Firth at slack water neaps.

Two yachts passed us running north under sail. We couldn't believe they thought they could get through against 5-6 knots of tide. We saw one later, having turned back. Maybe the other one did make it.

The wind has got up but it was on the nose. The forecast was F5-F7 but xcweather showed F4 with gusts to F6 for our area and the strongest gusts were from the west so we should have been in the lee of Ardnamurchan and Morvern. That was my rationale for leaving port with a 7 in the forecast...

It stayed obstinately southerly.

We motored on and the rain got heavier and heavier. There was more than enough wind to sail but not much room for long tacks and we would have made slow or no progress. We did one hour shifts on the tiller and stayed below when off-shift. There was almost nothing to look at. We had planned smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches for lunch but plumped for soup to warm up.

The next navigation hazard was the rocks at Port Appin. Visibility had improved and the port looked lovely. We could feel the tide pulling us back towards the rocks and we needed to point about 40 degrees off course. At one point we hit 0.8 knots. Gradually, we climbed back up to 2.5 knots and established the course along the eastern side of Lismore.

The rain had stopped but the wind seemed to be strengthening and really slowing us down. I decided we needed to use the sails as the engine was struggling head on to the wind. I tacked to keep the staysail filled and tried using the jib as well. The lee helm was bad.

At 17:45 we put the mainsail up deeply reefed. The ensign got caught. We have been flying it from the gaff tied to the top batten. Before we spotted the problem it pulled the Velcro out of the batten pocket and the batten slid into the loch.

Now we made better progress. The wind was backing and veering all the time and we shifted to whichever tack we could make progress on. As we got past Eileen Dubh (there seem to be a lot of black islands) we could see blue sky ahead! My spirits lifted. We now has the full width of Loch Linnhe available and could come off the wind a little. Before long we could turn the engine off. We kept it on gently. Then a patch of sun hit us.

The transformation was amazing. From slogging under motor through the pouring rain into a strong headwind we were now reaching through the sunshine. We could finally see, and enjoy the scenery.

We turned the corner towards Oban and Alison reminded me how narrow the channel is between Kerrera and Maiden Island. I couldn't see any gap but then a Calmac ferry came out through it. Nice ferry, good ferry.

Although the wind was still strong the sailing was now so nice that I didn't want it to stop. As we got near Oban I cut the engine and just sailed. All too soon it was time to drop the sails and find a berth.

It is West Highland Yachting Week and the fleet had just raced up from Craobh, leaving little space in either Dunstaffnige or Oban. There were only two free finger berths in the whole marina and they had reserved signs on them. There did seem to be a couple of available visitors moorings. We were about to take one when one of the racing yachts offered to help us raft to them between two fingers. We just fitted, fenders interleaved.

We headed to the bar/restaurant and had a really fine meal and then went back to the boat to plan tomorrow.

The weather didn't do what I'd hoped and give us a westerly we could use. It was stronger than was pleasant. It was a also perfectly safe. If we had stayed in Corpach it would have been a wet and wasted day. Now we are 30 nm forwards and we even had a nice sail and a nicer meal than we could find in Corpach. And better beer too!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Frustrating day

We were up early and through Gairlochy on the first lock down of the day at 0830. By 1015 we were at the top of Neptunes staircase, and there we stayed. The first lock down had just finished, and then the first lock up started. We were told that the next lock down would be at 1300, then 1330. Julian decided to have a beer.

At 1310 a Moody came down, having just cleared Gairlochy. They could not find anywhere to moor up, but since we expected to be going soon we came off our berth and rafted up outside them.

Then the lock master walked along, and said the next lock down would be at 1430, to wait for a boat coming from Gairlochy. There was no point going before, since the sea lock could not open until 1600, and the Corpach Basin was full...

The family in the moody were lovely, and chatting to them made the wait easier. I took the two children for a little row in Worm, which they enjoyed.

We finally got into the lock at 1420, and were down the flight by 1600. It really felt too late to be heading out to sea after a tiring and frustrating day, so we moored up on the pontoon at the bottom of the lock, and walked down to Corpach to chat to the lock keeper.

One of the boats that came down Neptune's ladder with us was locking out, at 1715; not something I'd have wanted to do then, but it would have been great to get out at lunchtime.

The lock keeper was friendly, and advised us to call up at 0800, before we leave our pontoon, if we do he'll wait the lock down into the basin for us. He also told us where the nearest shop was, so we went there. On the way back we stopped  to chat with Jurgen on Mary Lou, who had talked his way into the "full" Copach Basin. He gave us tea, and whisky, and we had a chat about future plans.

We are going to try to get to Islay before we have to leave Robinetta a week on Monday. The weather is not looking too good, but we have our hopes!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Fort Augustus to Gairlochy

Yesterday's blue skies were a memory when we woke up this morning to a grey overcast. The light SW breeze promised to be on the nose all day, but there would be few opportunities for sailing until we got to Loch Lochy, and things could have changed by then. We were away from the pontoon by half eight and soon through the lock at Kytra.

The stretch after Kytra was half canal and half lochan. It seemed very remote and wild after Fort Augustus, and would have been pretty with some sun on the hills. Julian decided to get the bowsprit out, just in case we could sail in Loch Oich, and after that he got the sail cover off and decided to lift the boom out of the crutches.

I was steering, and finding it very easy, so when he asked me to free up the main sheet when was not sliding through the blocks properly I did not think twice, just turned round to pull it through. Suddenly there was a nasty scraping noise! Robinetta's bowsprit was pointing into the bank, and the bow was not moving forward any more.

We weren't going fast and had just scraped over the rocks at the side of the navigation, but when I put the engine into reverse she did not come free. Julian sprang into action immediately, taking off his shoes and trousers and putting on his oldest shorts, then sliding down into the water to push her off. She came free almost instantly, leaving him on the bank.

We were only about half a mile from the lock at Cullochy, but walking there with bare feet would have been painful, so I got the oars into Worm, then let her off towards the bank where Julian caught her. He tried to paddle back to Robinetta, but kneeling up in Worm meant be caught the wind too much, and was pushed back (paddling with oars is not easy!) Worm had the rowlocks in though, and he was soon back aboard and changing back into his dry clothes.

I don't think we damaged anything, but we won't know for sure until Robinetta comes out of the water in the autumn. Hopefully we just left some anti-foul on a rock...

We got though the Cullochy lock and moored up at the first pontoon after the swing bridge. A cup of tea was needed! We had planned to stop there any way to have a look at the historic Bridge of Oich, a double cantilever bridge over the river next to the canal. As we walked up to it Julian said "Thomas Telford", but it was actually by James Dredge, a brewer from Bath, who constructed about 50 bridges of this type between 1836-54. It carried road traffic until 1932, but now has a sign saying not more than 50 people on the bridge at once.

Refreshed by our walk we headed back to the canal and motored on though Loch Oich. Although the Loch looks a decent size on the chart (for sailing a small boat anyway) it is actually quite shallow, and the channel is carefully marked.
Some marks are buoys and some are posts on rocks. There are several small islands. One had a beautiful pair of birds on a tree.

There are two pontoons along the western shore. One at the Glengarry Castle Hotel and one at the Well of the seven heads. We planned to stop at the first one for lunch and walk to the ruins of Invergarry Castle. We nearly missed it, as I was eyeing up a sailing boat cast up on the shore. She still had her mast, rigging, and sails on, but on closer inspection must have been there for a couple of years.

I don't think the pontoon gets used often, but it was in good condition, and the castle ruins were well worth a look. Too dangerous to go inside, but very picturesque.

We went through the swing bridge at Laggan, then moored up on the pontoons to fill our water tanks. There are not many convenient places to do it on the canal, and I can't remember when we last filled them. It certainly took a long time!

After that it was into Laggan Lock, for our first "downhill" lock of the trip. Surprisingly easy compared to uphill! We were alone in the lock, with nothing happening, then another boat appeared, then two more. Laggan is a flight with two chambers, but the bottom one was left open and we dropped the whole distance in one chamber.

The other three boats passed us before we were out of Ceann Loch, and they drew steadily ahead as we motored down Loch Lochy. I could not see the end of the loch for cloud, and what little wind there was, was dead on the nose. We did not even try to sail, and after a while it started to rain. The clouds looked very atmospheric, and Julian read out bits about the Lord of the Loch (which seems to be a Kelpie) but 9 miles of motoring is inevitably dull.

It was difficult to see the exit from the loch into Gairlochy, but it was well buoyed, so navigation was not really a problem, and we soon reached the Gairlochy locks. The gate was open, but there was no one visible so I went below to call them up. Before I could they were calling me, "Boat approaching Gairlochy top lock". Turns out we had missed the last lock of the day. It was only 1715, and we thought they worked until 1800 in the summer.... Next lock through will be at 0830 tomorrow.

We moored up on a pontoon, to spend a wet evening planning what we do when we leave the canal.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A convivial evening

When we got back to Robinetta we saw a different boat on the quay opposite. A large gaffer cutter flying a Norwegan flag had arrived, and we went across to say Hi. Dvina is an interesting boat, built in Russia a few years ago in wood, and now owned by a wooden boat restorer. They are on a years cruise to the Cap Verde Islands.

Dvina's crew told us that they had found a hotel with live music, and did we want to come along too? Off course we said yes, and joined them for a convivial evening with a local band. There was not supposed to be any dancing (the hotel parlour was not really big enough) but I said Julian and I could show them how to dance “Strip the Willow” and before I knew it I had a longways set of six couples to show. A huge squeeze, but great fun!

A very short passage

Today we made our shortest passage. We woke up on the pontoon at Fort Augustus nearest Loch Ness and we are now on the first pontoon above the flight of five locks. We think the distance is about four cables. It took all morning.

We got up lazily and showered, making use of our licence holder's key. The showers are very well designed and engineered but somewhat poorly conceived. They make the classic shower design error that your hand is under the head as you turn it on so you ineviatably get a cold spray. Worse, it is a single rotating knob from off to cold to warm to hot, so you get more cold before it gets warm. Once running, though they are excellent, powerful with very good range and resolution on the heat control. There is nowhere to sit and no guaranteed dry spot on the floor so I was glad I went in shorts and bare feet.

The motor boat who kindly moved to let us in last night was moving to get water so we chatted and I helped with the lines. A couple with pre-teen children it was their first boating experience. They were having a great time and I don't think it will be their last.

Back on board Alison got the dip stick out and found that as expected, we needed diesel. She went off with the 10l can while I cooked breakfast. The bacon was done and I'd just turned the black pudding when Alison and the lock keeper turned up and we had to be off smartly. We stowed the diesel and turned the stove off and retrieved Worm from her private berth behind the pontoon. We tied her on the side and got lines and fenders ready and were off.

There were eight boats in the lock, two motor boats in front, including our new friends, two identical Moody 28s, who rafted together, another boat I don't recall, a Bavaria 39, an Invicta 26 and Robinetta. We rafted on the Invicta 26. She is called Mustang and the owners keep her at Seaport Marina. I took the stern line and the took the bow line and we walked both boats through the five locks. Mustang's crew had been cooking too when the lock keeper turned up and they ended up with very hard fried eggs!

Behind us they locked through two huge catamarans. They were just one lock behind us so they do 'pipeline' the locks when busy.

Past the locks the next pontoons were very full but we found a short spot just right for us and a Norwegian took our bow line making coming to very easy. Their boat is an ex-fishing boat built in 1940. There are only two sailing boats on the west side of the canal and they are both old wooden ones. All the boats on the east side are GRP. Accidental segregation!

Alison went of to look for morning rolls to augment our breakfast, as I finished the black pudding and cooked the eggs I heard them say on the VHF the Laggan lock keepers were on their lunch break! So we never did get breakfast, it mutated into lunch. The morning rolls were mass produced CostCutter ones. OK, but not morning rolls.

After all that I needed a pint so we headed to the Lock Inn. Unfortunately if you want to take drinks outside they serve you in plastic skiffs. I had a pint of their own branded bitter and Alison had Pimms again. The Pimms came with so much fruit Alison is counting it as one of her portions.

We drank on the lock verge and looked at the boats in the next lock through. One of them was unusual, a schooner catamaran with a wooden foremast and carbon fibre mainmast.

We wandered up past the Boatshed restaurant and took some pictures looking up the loch. We don't think the view is as good as from Dores.
I looked on Tripadvisor and we decided we didn't like the posher places in town so we looked at the Boatshed, the Bothy and the Lock and decided we liked the Lock, the bar maid said they had loads of room and we should just turn up, so we will stay here tonight and move on tomorrow.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

An evening sail on Loch Ness

After our lovely day relaxing at Dores we decided to up anchor and sail down to Foyers so we could see the waterfalls there tomorrow, and take a look at Urquhart Castle on the way. Foyers is exposed to NE winds, but the wind was forecast to die away to nothing, then turn SW, so mooring to the quay at Foyers seemed like a good idea.

Julian pulled the anchor up at 1715. One fluke was covered in grey mud, but the rest was clean; had that one fluke held us the whole time? We were running down the loch towards Urquhart on foresails with minutes of raising the anchor, but it was slow, so we hoisted the main and reached at the edge of a run, into Urquhart bay.
We went well in, trying to see where the river came out, and spotted it at last. Not a big river by any means! We gybed round then reached along the shore close hauled towards the castle. For the first time I could feel the strength of the wind, and it was far more than the 3-5 knots in the forecast. A motor boat appeared round the corner, very close to the castle and potentially on a collision heading, but they changed course to stay close in and gave us plenty of sea room and a friendly wave.

We got some lovely views of the castle as we passed it and it fell away behind us, and I turned back onto the very broad reach that should take us across to Foyers. The small waves on the water were beginning to built into following seas (or should that be lochs?), and Worm rode along on a wave behind us. Every now and then the wave would break with a whoosh that sounded like a dolphin blowing, or was it a monster thinking of taking our Worm?

When we reached Foyers the anchorage and quay did not look friendly. Far from dying with the evening our light NE breeze was now a solid force 3-4 and the boats already on their moorings and against the quay were bucking uncomfortably. We got the main down and headed in, but after a closer look decided we did not fancy staying. We could not tell how long it would be before the wind died down, and at the moment the waves were building and reflecting back from the south side of the bay.

The main went back up, and we headed for the next anchorage, at Invermoriston. It was on the north side, so should be more sheltered. The wind was still increasing behind us, so when Julian took the helm he decided it was better to broad reach than accidentally gybe (no argument here)! He unfurled the jib to balance the boat better, but 40 minutes later we got it back in and reefed the main. We were doing over 5 knots, even reefed, and the steering was much easier.

The wind was funnelling down Loch Ness and Invermoriston looked bleak, and without shelter. Although marked as an anchorage there was no obvious shallow area to set the anchor. Julian and I looked at each other, and said, “Fort Augustus.”

45 minutes later I was back on the helm and we had reached the south side of Loch Ness again, under some cliffs. It was time to gybe again, and we were all set, with the main hauled in, when I put the tiller over. We went round on our residual way, but no wind came to fill the sails and they hug limp. We had to put the engine on and motor back to the centre of the Loch before we found the wind again. It was still with us, but much lighter than it had been. We turned the engine off, and after a while our 2 knots went up to 4 again. We could have let the reef out, but we were almost at Fort Augustus, and it was nearly 2200.

We reached Fort Augustus just as the chart plotter decided it was night time and changed its display, which makes it difficult to read. The Caledonian Canal Skippers guide says not to travel at night, but we did not have much choice! We got the sails down and motored into the canal entrance, looking for a place to moor up. The pontoons were not full exactly, but the boats were well spaced, making it impossible to fit a boat between them. Even a small one like Robinetta!

We turned round when we reached the bridge, thinking we'd have to raft up on someone, but a nice family in a hired motor boat noticed us, and moved their boat along so we could slip in behind. We moored up at 2230, after an unexpectedly exciting sail down Loch Ness.  

Sailing Worm

Iain Oughtred's plans for the Mouse Pram include an optional centreboard case and gunter rig. Worm is primarily our tender and wasting luggage space for an occasional sail would have been silly. Iain also provides a plan for a leeboard so I built that, the rudder, tiller and spars. Alison made a polytarp sail for the gunter rig. It didn't work well. The polytarp was too flimsy and the yard would never sit right.

One year at Woodbridge John Banton (Tabnab) had a small lug sail for sale and I bought it. I didn't know if the gunter mast would be long enough. I would need to build a longer mast to use the sail as a standing lug but the old one is OK in a balanced lug configuration. I built a new boom and yard. We tried it out at Woodbridge and it is much nicer.  We carry the rig often but never use it. I had a lot of problems making the tiller but now I have a nice larch one. I set the rig up in Stromness and replaced the bits we had forgotten or lost but it was too cold to tempt me out. Today was perfect.
We rigged the boat moored to Robinetta. It is quite easy. Setting off upwind she went well.
Tacking with the leeboard takes some getting used to and I needed to find a good sitting position. I started sitting across the centre thwart which is good for balancing the boat but difficult to move. After a while I sat forward on the thwart which is much easier. If there is enough way on you put the tiller over and when she tacks you lift the leeboard across behind you onto the new leeward side. The leeboard is heavy. It is made of very buoyant plywood and we added a lot of lead to make it neutral I think I need to make a lighter one out of denser wood. It is too easy to let go of the tiller and it has a tendency to swing around parallel to the transom. I will try a rope arrangement to keep it within 50 degrees of the centre line. I thought for a while that the sheet needed arranging differently to avoid getting tangled with the leeboard but as I got used to it that problem disappeared. When going slowly the rudder doesn't do much. A deeper one might be needed, possibly a lifting one.

The leeboard is held on by a line to a small cleat on the thwart. This kept coming loose. I need to improve it.

After a while it was clear that the next obvious manoeuvre was to gybe. I got the leeboard on board and went for it. It worked like a dream, easier than going about. The wind dropped for a while and then came back and I tacked back to Robinetta.

I came head to wind alongside and Alison caught the painter and tied me on. All the time I was out Worm felt really steady and truly in her element. A few adjustments to the rudder, tiller and leeboard fixing will make a lovely little sailing machine.


We woke to bright sunshine, and the merest breath of wind. The view down the Loch is spectacular. Dores looked inviting so we rowed over after breakfast for a walk around. I had a coffee at the Dores Inn, then we rowed back to Robinetta.

The wind was slightly stronger when we got back, so we rigged Worm for sailing, and Julian had a lovely sail round Dores Bay. A lady called Jane came paddling by in a canoe, and we invited her aboard and chatted for a while. She's a local, and had watched Worm sailing and wished it was tomorrow when their new Laser dinghy is due.

Lunch beckoned, and the coffee at the Inn had been very good, so we rowed over again and ate lunch in their garden. Gorgeous! Then I wrote up yesterday on the blog while Julian went for a walk and fetched lovely ice creams from the Black Isle Ice-cream company. After that it was back to Robinetta.

When we anchored here last night we could not get a good reading from the echo sounder and so stayed well out. We've 20 metres of chain out, and held well all night, but the echo sounder is more co-operative this afternoon, and I know we are in 45'. We could (and should) let more chain out, but we're holding well and the winds are forecast to stay light, so we haven't.....We watched a big barge Ros Crana come into the bay. It motored confidently in, getting closer and closer to the beach, then stopped. They left after a while, leaving Robinetta in sole possession of the anchorage again.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Loch Ness

We wanted to eat out. The restaurant at Dochgarroch doesn't open on Wednesdays. Sally of Hamble's crew liked the Dores Inn so I called. Fully booked. The lock keeper at Dochgarroch suggested the Clansman, I said "but how do you get to it?" He said "there is a harbour." So I phoned and booked a table. When we got to the loch some wind came up so we got the bowsprit out and ran for a bit.

Sure enough there was a harbour. A tiny one with a motor boat in it but enough room for us. We got the main up and tacked back to it. A lovely sail. A bigger tour boat went in and filled the harbour. Alison thought there was still room. We got the sails down and motored in. There was just room at one end.
We had 2 feet under the keel. There were dire warning signs all over
We decided that the signs were just to avoid liability. The harbour was not at all sheltered and Robinetta was moving uncomfortably. We didn't like it as an overnight stop.

We had a fine meal and went back and manoeuvred carefully out and motored back up the loch to Dores and anchored.

Into the Caledonian Canal

Called up Clachnaharry Sea Lock at 0805, and was told to leave Inverness Marina and come along for an 0830 lock in. We got there at 0825 and the gates were still closed against us, but they opened a couple of minutes later and we were in.

We were alone in the lock, with Worm on a very short lead behind. The lock keeper advised us that he should charge for the dingy since we could not get her aboard (he didn't) and advised us to moor her along side in the locks.

Julian had time to cook breakfast before we were let loose in the canal at 0920, then we motored slowly to the bridge at Muirtown and moored up just before it. The marina here (which we did not go in) is conveniently close to a retail park, where there is a branch of GO Outdoors. We had reserved 10 litres of cooking alchohol and after picking it up we were treated to watch Drakenharaldharfagre, the largest replica Viking boat in existence, moor up just behind us.

We invited one of the crew aboard as he wandered past, and he told us that they had lost their mast on passage between Norway and Shetland. We had heard about a lost mast as a navigational warning while we were in Orkney, but not known it was from a Viking boat!

We headed up the Muirtown flight of locks at 1105 in company with 4 other boats, all Swedish, but not travelling together. Getting into the first lock was a bit fraught as my rope throwing kept failing, but a we progressed up the series Julian stayed ashore with the lines and I took them in as needed from the stern, which worked well.

After clearing the locks we moored up at Caley Marina to go to the chandlers for spare shackles and rope to replace the reaching sail outhaul. A friendly Dane called Jurgen took our lines for us, then shared a beer as we ate lunch. He's hoping to go to Orkney, but lost his forestay and has been waiting at Caley Marina for five days for their riggers to get back from holiday...

Drakenharaldharfagre powered past as we watched. We're unlikey to see her again as she is on her way to Liverpool and needs to be through the canal in two days.

After that we had to wait a couple of minutes (such a hardship!) for the bridge to open for us at Tomnahurich, but the lock was open and waiting at Dochgarroch. We were not alone here. John Sargeant was on an old (ex-fishing?) boat with a film crew and did a mini interview witth me as we moored up. The production crew asked if we would be willing to sign waivers for the footage to be used. We agreed but they did not turn up with the paperwork, so I don't think we'll be in the programme!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


Robinetta is now in Inverness Marina. She gets a day off while the crew are busy shopping, doing laundry, editing Eastcoaster, completing and submitting an OU assignment, and possibly making a trip up the mast to fix some wayward serving.

Tarbat Ness to Inverness

It was a day of variable weather as a succession of fronts passed over us, or we passed under them. Some of them were classic warm fronts with the wind backing in front of them and veering behind. Sometimes the wind shifts let us sail our course, sometimes they headed us. We needed what wind there was to make time to get to the tidal gate at the Chanonry narrows so we went further south than the track
One of the intermediate stops we had thought about was Cromarty. We really wanted to get straight to Inverness but it didn't sound very inviting anyway. According to visitmyharbour they charge flat rate £20+ which is expensive for a small boat like Robinetta and have no facilities. They don't make enough money to afford to dredge and their own website says they are acting as though they were in administration. Other 'features' are the heavy oil industry works in the firth. As we passed by, the latter was the main visible feature. By now, the wind was slight and on the nose so we furled the jib and centred the main.

South of Cromarty Firth the ness that Fort George stands on comes out to form an end to the Moray Firth. The sun was getting lower and we just caught it on the fort. Five minutes later it was in shadow. It was a huge barracks, full of troops to maintain the authority of the Hanoverian monarchy. The channel here is buoyed to mark the Riff Bank. We could see that we had already missed slack water and the tide was running out. One day after neaps we were not too worried, but glad we were still at the start of the ebb. As we turned south we got a favourable westerly wind and gained a knot by setting the jib. At the point the tide was pushing quite hard west and getting round we dropped to less than 3 knots, I looked carefully at the chart to try to find a way to sail - it would be a long trip under motor only against that tide. It looked like we could turn into the bay between Fortrose and Avoch and then get some wind crossing back south again later. As we cleared Chanonry Point the wind came in from the south west and gave us 4.4 knots all the way along the bay!

It was full gloaming by now and the sunset over Fortrose was stunning. There were about ten yachts on the Chanonry Sailing Club moorings. It looks like a lovely place to keep a boat. At the other end of the bay a single yacht was at anchor outside Avoch. It looks like a great place to anchor to wait for the Caledonian Canal sea locks. From Avoch onwards we needed to be careful. The Inverness Firth is shoal except in the channel and it was getting moderately dark. The half moon and the remains of the sun made things quite clear. That time when the lights on the buoys are clearly visible but there is still light to see by is really helpful in a strange place. We turned on the port and starboard running lights and our anchor light - our 'steaming' light configuration and put on life jackets. The last thing we needed was to step off the boat and miss the pontoon in the dark, but if it happened, I wanted all the chances we could have.
Out of the bay the wind dropped and we stowed the main and the jib and brought in the bowsprit. We were going much more slowly now but making progress towards the Kessock Bridge. We needed to do a dog-leg to avoid a shoal and got confused by red and green lights which we eventually decided were on the bridge. The red aircraft warning lights on the top of the bridge didn't help either as they made strong reflections on the water. Ignoring the distractions we turned where Mr Garmin told us to and then made for the green on the south shore. From there it was OK to head towards the central span of the bridge.

Under the bridge the channel markers for the River Ness were clear. The Clyde Cruising Club recommend giving the first red a 50 m offing and that worked well to get us into the river. The Marina opened on our port beam before we knew it was there. In fact it isn't there on our plotter - it only opened in 2008. It is on the Navionics charts on the tablet though.

Alison did a grand job piloting onto a free berth and we tied up and turned in.