Sunday, 28 May 2017

Rathlin Island to Belfast Lough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Port Ellen to Rathlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Maintenance and trying to sail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Gigha to Islay in the fog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Afternoon and evening on Gigha

Had a walk on Gigha after picking up Mary from Molly Cobbler on Worm. Julian and I took our towels with us, hoping for a shower at the Boat House, but unfortunately the building had been damaged by fire over the winter. The fire started in the shower annex and gutted it, but they managed to stop it getting to the dinning room and kitchen. They are rebuilding the showers, but it will be at least a month before they re-open.

Gigha smelt wonderful, fresh air and flowers, with tuneful bird song everywhere. Our walk took us past the art gallery and the hotel, then up a side road towards the ruined church and Ogham Stone. It began to rain gently as we passed the church's graveyard. Nothing remains of the church building except some low stone walls and an arch that looked as though it had been moved to a different wall. The graveyard was still in use, and there was a sign to commonwealth war graves.

Gigha's Ogham stone

We found our way to the Ogham stone, but only the wooden rail round it made it clear it was anything special. Lichen covered the Ogham lines almost completely. The rain got heavier as we headed back down hill towards the road. Julian did not have a coat with him, so we headed back to Robinetta. Worm's duck-board kept our feet dry, but her thwarts were wet and we all got rather damp on the way back to the boats.
3 Old Gaffers moored at Gigha
 An hour later I was back out in the persistent drizzle, rowing Worm to get Mary, and Neil from Naiad. They came aboard Robinetta for a drink then we all headed ashore to the Boat House Restaurant for a delicious dinner. Then it was another “taxi” trip in Worm to return everyone to their respective boats. The wind had got up, making the journey “out” (laden) easy, while not being too strong to row against coming back to the pontoon. However there was a general wish that the wind increase had happened earlier in the day so we could have sailed more.

Campbeltown to Gigha

Getting to Gigha means getting the tides right round the Mull of Kintyre, so we were off the pontoon, in company with Molly Cobbler, by 06:30. (We would have had a much later start from Sanday). Once Molly was clear of us on the pontoon we moved Worm astern from her overnight berth, and motored off into a flat sea.

We got the main and staysail up in the loch, but neither were drawing and the wind stayed light until we were round Davaar Island.

The Northern Light House Board ship, Pharos, was anchored off the causeway to Davaar, and we also saw a surfaced submarine in the distance, heading up the Clyde. Gannets, cormorants and guillemots were the most obvious birds, flying in formations of 3 to 20 birds, wheeling round as they searched for fish.

An hour after leaving Campbeltown we were able to turn the engine off and sail. Unfortunately our course soon changed and the wind came on the nose, but it also went light, and did not cause any problems, we just furled the jib, and turned the engine back on. The sail coincided with our breakfast porridge, and lasted a mere half hour, but at least we sailed a little!
Molly off the shore
We had been advised (that invaluable local knowledge) that with the forecast light winds it would be safe to hug the coast, and go inside the overfalls off the Mull of Kintyre, this saving the suggested 3nm offing for the headland. Unlike at Fair Head the shore is not “clean”. There are small shallow patches and reefs to avoid at the foot of the cliffs. With the aid of our chart plotter, and depth gauge to back it up we picked our course round, inside the waves topped with white horses that we could see on our port side.
The Mull
The most obvious reef was really quite small on the chart, and easily visible on the water. Just beyond it, in what was safe water according to the chart, was a very similar looking patch of disturbed water. It could have been more rocks, but was actually just some overfalls in miniature marking a back eddy, at most six inches high and no problem to go through. I kept a careful eye on the depth gauge, just in case, and there was 20m below the keel. A seal popped its head up for a look at us, making me afraid it was an uncharted rock, but only for a moment.
Fine by us, not so nice over there

The tide had been carrying us at nearly 7 knots, and the back eddy took us down to 3½ for about 10 minutes before we picked up the main tide again, but it was an interesting trip round the Mull. 
Close-up of the Mull
We could now see Fair Head, Rathlin, and Islay spread before us.

A large ketch had been following us round close in, but did not like the look of the water we had just been through. Rather than staying on the same track as us they swung wide, through the overfalls, which made them plunge in a very uncomfortable way.

Bright sunshine gave way to grey skies, and the sea was glassy smooth as we headed north towards Gigha. Islay began to disappear into the low cloud and then we had a few drops of rain when we were about 6nm short of our destination. Once it stopped we decided we may as well get the main sail down. It was doing nothing, and only our forward motion put any wind in it.

Approaching Gigha we began to realise how many little islands surround it. We went close to Cara, and Gigalum, then round the cardinal buoy and into Ardminish Bay to pick up a visitor mooring. We were safely tied up to it by 14:55 after a calm trip from Campbeltown. More sailing would have been better!

Monday, 22 May 2017

When in doubt

We had hoped to leave Campbeltown this afternoon, to anchor at Sanda Island, but got distracted. Peter who had been at the Campbeltown rally in Cuan Mist, set off back to Bangor at lunchtime. A couple of hours later Alison heard the lifeboat start up, and turned on the radio to listen to what was going on. It turned out that Cuan Mist had suffered from engine failure, and after sailing back to Campbeltown ended up being towed in to the dock by the RNLI. By the time Cuan Mist was safely tied up it had started to rain, and Sanda no longer felt attractive, so we decided to stay at Campbeltown another night.
Cuan Mist and the Campbeltown Lifeboat

What we might do

These are our our plans for the season. Of course we might end up doing different things if the weather gets in the way.

11-Apr 15-Apr Holyhead to Deganwy via Caernarfon
13-May 19-May Liverpool to Campbeltown
19-May 20-May Campbeltown Classics
21-May 28-May Campbeltown to Bangor via Gigha and Islay
21-Jun Bangor to Portaferry
22-Jun 25-Jun Portaferry Sails and Sounds
25-Jun Portaferry to Ardglass
05-Jul 06-Jul Ardglass to Dun Laoghaire
07-Jul 09-Jul Dun Laoghaire Regatta
02-Aug 03-Aug Dun Laoghaire to Peel
04-Aug 06-Aug Peel Traditional Boat Festival
07-Aug 13-Aug Peel towards Bristol

We don't have any real idea of what we will do after Peel except that we should be heading south. We will probably go down the west coast of Wales.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Campbeltown Classics

The Campbeltown Classics are a venerable event in the OGA calendar but have been struggling in recent years. There is really only one gaffer in regular attendance, the fine Swn-y-mor. Tantina II and Naiad are classic bermudans - Naiad is a year older than Robinetta. These three boats are the heart of the Scottish OGA. This year, other areas wanted to support the event and it fitted nicely into our idea of heading north for a bit to explore Gigha, Islay and Ratlhin which we have missed so far.

Our plan came together even better than I had thought it would as we were now effectively re-creating Robinetta’s first cruise on the 80th anniversary. She left the Mersey on the 13th May 1937 and sailed to the Isle of Man, anchoring off Douglas and then in East Tarbert Bay by the Mull of Galloway and then off Arran. We left on 13th May 2017 and sailed to Peel to wait out a gale and then to Portpatrick and Campbeltown. Close enough.

Not surprisingly we were the only East Coast members due to come. Molly Cobbler now sails with the North Wales area and Master Frank from Peel is nominally part of the Northern Ireland area so we one gaffer from each of four areas and a number of classic bermudans from Scotland and Northern Ireland too.

Friday was a fine evening and warm enough for drinks in the cockpit of Tantina II before a saunter up the road to the hotel for dinner. I sat with Warren and Jill from Swn-y-mor and got them to tell some of their tales of circumnavigation in her. Warren said his boyhood dream had been to visit the Marquesas and he knew he would never manage it except in his own boat. We had both read Robert Louis Stevenson’s account from 1888. He had been there a few years after the end of cannibalism. Warren said it was still a special place when he was there. He also had strong memories of sailing in the Mississippi. The US government has closed the river to recreational craft and provided a parallel waterway. So Swn-y-mor was one of the last yachts ever to use it.

We had a reasonably early night and a lazy Saturday morning. I did a little shopping which included a trip to the whisky shop. Campbeltown is one of the defined areas for Scotch and was once the ‘Whisky Capital of Scotland’. At it’s peak it had over 20 distilleries, although every story I read told a different number. Now it has three, two owned by Mitchells and one by a smaller company. The shop keeps a few barrels which they use for tastings and will fill bottles from while you watch. Luckily for me, someone had left one of them dripping and the sample jug was full, so they handed sips round to all in the shop. It worked - I bought a bottle!

All this made me a little late back to Robinetta where Alison told me to get a move on as we were going out for a parade of sail at noon. It was 11:50. We didn’t have much to do and were by no means the last boat out. The four gaffers and Gary Lyon’s Ocean Dove - a Maurice Griffiths ketch sailed up and down the loch for a couple of hours with OGA President Alistair Randall on the quay and the press photographer in a rib taking photos. We took some too.

We didn’t think there would be much wind but in the event we had a F3 gusting to F5 which made for a fun sail.

Master Frank

Master Frank

Ocean Dove

Molly Cobbler

In the evening we all went to the Sailing Club who provided a bar, dinner and a duo playing Scottish music to end a gentle and hugely enjoyable gathering.

There are other traditional boat events in Scotland, notably at Portsoy in the Moray Firth and at Tarbert in Loch Fyne. We just missed Portsoy in 2014 as we really wanted to get to Orkney. We came down from Stornaway in
2015 to the Tarbert event and really enjoyed it. Maybe the OGA isn’t needed as much in Scotland as on the East Coast.

Thanks to Neil and Gordon and the Campbeltown Sailing Club for organising a great weekend.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Portpatrick to Campbeltown

We got up at 06:30, to be away by 07:00 to take the last two hours of the tide north towards the Clyde. We left in company with Molly Cobbler, and stayed quite close together all the way to Campbeltown.

We put the main sail up as we left Portpatrick, and tried flying the no 1 Jib, but we kept the engine on. The wind we could feel was only a light land breeze, and soon failed us.The sea was flat calm so the tiller pilot went on, and we soon lowered the main as it was doing nothing.

Julian went below and cooked us kippers for breakfast, and we ate them in the cockpit revelling in the flat sea and bright sunshine. Unfortunately we needed the engine on full revs to keep up with Molly Cobbler and her 6hp outboard.

I told Julian that there was still some water in Worm after the trip from Peel, and he decided to rig the pump in her while I went below and washed up breakfast. He pulled Worm along side, relying on the tiller pilot to keep Robinetta on track. With his concentration on Worm he stopped watching Molly Cobbler, and Mary called up on the VHF. Could Julian to please keep a look out as she had had to take avoiding action twice!

We raised the Scottish courtesy flag, which we should have done for Portpatrick, but forgot since we arrived in the dark. It might have helped keep the starlings off the rigging there. Our course was 344ºT practically all the way from Portpatrick to Campbeltown. We saw three trawlers in formation close together, all with their trawls deployed. Luckily our course took us across their track ahead of them.
Ghoster up
Molly Cobbler off the Mull of Kintyre
Once we cleared the Mull of Galloway what little wind there was came from the port stern quarter. Julian decided to give our second hand spinnaker a try as a ghoster, and it did fly, giving good service and letting us come off full revs. After about an hour Julian gave in to temptation and raised the main as well. It filled, but did nothing to obviously help our progress and we were never tempted to turn off the engine.

Ghosting along    photo by Mary Gibbs

Mary raised sail too, and we got some good shots of Molly Cobbler against the Mull of Kintyre. The best part of the day for me was watching a skein of Gannets, flying between Sanda and Ailsa Craig. One flight of at least 20 birds came skimming along the sea towards us, then rose with a flash of bright white underwings as they lifted over Robinetta's stern. Gone in a moment, but it made a moment to treasure.

The wind died to nothing as we approached the entrance to Campbeltown, so we got the main and reaching sail down before heading for the marina in company with Molly Cobbler. We rafted up together on a wide finger berth after a lovely day on the water.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Lazy Day in Portpatrick

Relaxed day in Portpatrick with pidgeons and starlings crapping all over Robinetta. Julian took the opportunity to take some find bird pictures.

Just Robinetta and Molly Cobbler in until lunchtime, then a twister came in; three wooden boats! By 20:00 another 3 bermudans had arrived, all GRP and 35-40' long. Harbour wall felt full with two bermudans rafted and 1 with no ladder.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Peel to Portpatrick

Peel Castle
We spent a lazy morning in Peel waiting for the flap gate. We expected it to drop around 2pm but the Harbour Master said it would be more like 2:45 because the harbour was full of water after the rain.

We bent the main sail on and went up to the Co-op for croissants and pain chocolate for a late breakfast. I don't think I'm losing weight this trip!

Over the winter I bought a couple of corner reflectors to hoist at night or in fog. Robinetta is too small and too wooden to have much of a radar cross-section. Most reflectors are rubbish but at least the old fashioned corners at least work at both marine radar frequencies and having one each side of the mast should provide a corner to most radars. We didn't manage to fit them for the trip over from Liverpool.

We had time now and Alison wanted to check the peak halyard mast strops so I hauled her up the mast and she seized a new eye to the port aft shroud and ran light halyards to it and to the eye already on the front starboard shroud. We can also use these for courtesy flags and bunting.

A quick walk around the outside of the castle, fee paying at the Harbour Office and tea and a cake at the Manannan Centre and we were ready to leave. There were lots of boats waiting for the bridge lift. We got the call and pottered down, getting the bow sprit out and bending the No 1 jib on.

Outside, there was more wind than we had feared and we raised full sail and set course on a gentle broad reach. The wind filled and before long we were creaming along at 5 knots. Robinetta was loving it and so were we. We had a perfect sail until about 7pm.

As evening drew on the wind dropped. There was still enough to sail, but our arrival time had slipped from 11pm to 2am. That would be OK but the worst thing was that the wind was no longer strong enough to keep the boat stable against the swell. The sails banged about. These are the conditions when rigs are most easily damaged. We reluctantly took the main down and motored the rest of the way.
Sun setting over Northern Ireland
We did get the radar reflectors hoisted but several of the plastic corners fell off. I don't think they are meant to be assembled and disassembled often. We really want to keep them flat when we aren't using them.

We had good tidal assist for most of the trip and managed 6 knots SOG now and then even under engine and stay sail.

Dusk lasted a long time and there was still light in the west as we neared Portpatrick around midnight. We slipped into the inner harbour and past Molly Cobbler who had arrived a little earlier. Mary had left Whitehaven at 2:30 am and got Portpatrick about 7:30pm after waiting in East Tarbert Bay and anchored to wait for the tide around the Mull.

Portpatrick has an ingenious scheme of ropes anchored to the top and bottom of the wall with fenders free to run up and down them with the tide. You can tie a rope loop round and slide up and down with the fenders. Unfortunately they are not well maintained and we had to reinforce one of the mooring lines with our own ropes to be secure.

We crawled into bed around half-past midnight.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Storm Bound In Peel

After our long trip from Liverpool Julian and I were glad of a day or two in port, even if it was because we were storm bound. Unfortunately it rained, and rained, and rained, starting from about 5 in the morning on Monday. We had not put the cockpit cover on, and regretted it as the cabin began to leak. I crawled out of bed as soon as I was awake enough, got all dressed up in my oilies, and got the covers over.

Julian had connected shore power on Sunday evening, so I unwrapped the little electric heater, and the cabin began to dry out. I left Julian putting the cabin into day mode, and headed for the shore heads. Stupidly I took off my waterproof trousers before leaving Robinetta and regretted it immediately as the strong wind drove the rain and my trousers were soaked in a minute.

The door code the harbour master had given me, which worked yesterday, did not work this morning, and it would not work on the pontoon security gate either. However there was a phone, labelled 24hr Harbour master, so I used it and got the Douglas Harbour master, who gave me the new code.

There is a shed near the harbour, labelled HMS Chandlers, but the doors were closed, however walking along towards the pub where we ate last night I saw someone going through a door labelled Ship to Shore. It had looked like a false door, but was obviously in use, so I followed them in anRobinettad found a good commercial/fisherman's chandlers. They had a good selection of bilge pumps, and when I asked about sail mending I was given the contact details for a lady in Port Erin.

The next task of the day was pumping out the bilges and moping them as dry as possible so Julian could get a good look and decide if we needed a new pump or just a repair. The answer was a new pump, so he headed for the chandlers in the driving rain and bought one. They only had Rule brand ones, while the broken one was Whale, but Robinetta had a Rule when we bought her, and the screw holes only needed a little cleaning out to be perfectly usable. Fitting this new pump was much easier than the last one!

Julian then moved on to making a new tiller pilot mount, while I took the stern light apart. The electrical connection had looked a bit dodgy, and on opening it up I was amazed it had worked at all. After reconnecting the wires I made a grommet with self amalgamating tape to take the strain off the electrical connections.  They were both jobs we could do in the cabin, in the dry.

The rain gave way to drizzle as the afternoon wore on, and in the evening we headed to the Creek Inn to celebrate Julian's birthday without putting full waterproofs on first.

Tuesday saw us taking off the cockpit cover on a grey but dry morning, then taking the sail off and bagging it to take to Port Erin. The taxi took us though thick fog, but Port Erin itself was clear at sea level. Jenny at 7Wave soon had a patch sewn over the rip, and we caught a steam train to Douglas for the afternoon. The sky brightened up as we travelled and by the time we reached the terminus the weather was beautiful.

Port Erin in the murk
There was an amateur production of The Producers on at the Gaiety Theatre in the evening, so we bought tickets, and the box office looked after the sail for us while went to the museum and had a walk in the sunshine.

The bus back to Peel at 23:07 was surprisingly full. We ended the day back on Robinetta at Midnight, having successfully completed all the essential maintenance tasks needed before setting off again.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Liverpool to Peel

The Friday afternoon bus to Liverpool got us there at just gone ten. We walked to the Marina through the Albert dock and along the river walk. It had obviously been raining, but was dry now and surprisingly warm. Robinetta felt dry when we opened her up, a reminder that we had only been gone for four days. The Drainman pump had kept Worm from filling too; it is a very useful gadget and I'm glad we got it working again.

The first lock out next morning was at 11.30. We did not try to get in to that one, but were off the pontoon in time for the next lock cycle. I reversed Robinetta off the finger birth easily enough, but found it very difficult to get her alongside the pontoon in the lock. The lock basin feels square, very wide but short, and I was going too fast for my own comfort as we entered the lock. In the end Julian took over and easily brought us alongside.

We were out into the river by 12.10. The tide ran strongly against us and we crabbed out, but there was enough depth of water to let us straighten up and motor down river outside the channel. I tried calling Mersey Radio to report out movement, but they could not hear us clearly and told us to call again when we were clear of the marina. We raised the stay sail to help the engine fight the tide, and I got the bowsprit out and bent on the no 1 jib. It was a bit gusty, and we soon changed it for the no 2. Wind over tide made the river a little lumpy, but nothing that caused a problem, although when I went forward to retie a mast hoop that had come loose I had to hold on tight, and regretted not putting on a safety strap.

We turned into the wind by the Echo Arena building and got the main sail up, reefed, then called Mersey Radio again. They recorded us this time, but stated they could not see Robinetta. A few minutes later they called us and asked if we had a blue hull; they could now see us. They asked us to report again at buoy C22, and kept a good eye on us as we sailed, and motor-sailed slowly out along the Queen's Channel. It felt quite strange to hear the pilot boats reporting on our progress as they passed!
Liverpool from the Queen's Channel
We tried to keep just outside the channel, in what would have been the expected yacht behaviour at Harwich or Portsmouth, but received a call, telling us we had strayed outside the channel and to stay in it at all times. After that we did. Apparently the revetment (or training wall) is very close to the channel and they did not want us going onto it on a falling tide.

The tide stopped impeding us a couple of hours after we left the marina, and we sailed with the engine off a lot of the time. We had to put it on where the channel curved, because tacking across the channel did not seem like a good idea.

Once clear of the Queen's channel we said farewell to Mersey Radio, and set off on a heading of 300º magnetic towards the Calf of Man, 60 nautical miles away. Our lovely South Westerly wind held steady for a couple of hours, then dropped and backed to South Easterly. Not ideal as we were now on a run. By seven it had died away, leaving nothing but an uncomfortable swell. We fitted the tiller pilot, but it could not cope with the conditions, and the new mounting Julian had made at Holyhead failed. We would have to hand steer the compass course all the way.

With hand steering we would need to use shorter watches, two hours on, and two hours off. Staring at a compass for longer than that would be impossible. Since it would soon be getting dark we lowered and stowed the main once the wind failed. The swell was pushing the boom all over the place. So we lashed it down.

I had just settled down in the cabin at 23:10 when Julian called from the cockpit. Could I check that the bilge pump was working? Grumbling a little I did so, but he was right to check. The bilges were full enough that the float switch was right up, but the electric bilge pump was dead. I came up on deck, and worked the manual pump until it sucked dry. We did that at every watch change from then  on.

By Midnight the wind was back, from the west, at about force 3. I unrolled the jib, but our course was too close to the wind for the main, so it stayed down. The seas rolled Robinetta uncomfortably all night, and sleeping was almost impossible. Holding the course with nothing to aim at was also quite challenging. The moon rose behind us, and a few stars could be seen, but only over my shoulder. Ahead was dark, with nothing but lights from commercial boats, none of which were close enough to worry about, but kept a close eye on them.

Isle of Man from Robinetta
Julian took over the watch at 3 a.m, and by the time I “woke” next the sun was up, and I could see the Isle of Man, or at least its hills above the low cloud.
We were too late to get through the sound between the Calf of Man and the Isle of Man, so headed south past Chicken Rock. Once we were clear of the rocks, at about 09:00 we turned north-north- west, and Julian proposed getting the main sail up.

All sorts of things went wrong. Not all of them because we were tired. First the throat halyard was jammed under the topping lift. Then another two of the mast hoops came untied. Remembering how unpleasant tying on one had been in the Mersey I suggested leaving them, but Julian went forward and tied them on properly. Then Julian noticed the gaff outhaul was loose and he fixed it.

Turning head to wind again Julian tried raising the sail. For some reason, probably tiredness, he did not make off the peak halyard properly while tensioning the luff, and the gaff dropped down the sail. I heard a rip, and saw a small triangular tear in the sail, made by the out-haul tensioning bar.

Once the sail was up we had a lovely run up the coast to Peel in bright sun shine, the only downer being the persistent swell. We could see a dredger empting its hold just outside Peel harbour. It went forward, backward, and round in circles before heading back into the harbour to work again.
Peel Castle from the Sea
I asked Julian to check the marina call up channel, and he called up to say that we were supposed to call an hour before arrival. As we were about to round the breakwater we were more than a little late calling! The harbour master was good though, and told us that he could call us back once he had seen some boats out of the harbour. It was 12:20, and the flap gate had just opened.

Julian got the main down and as we circled round in the outer harbour, avoiding the dredger, the waiting buoy, and the shallows. There was no way we were leaving the shelter of the breakwater, flat water was very welcome after 24 hours of swell.

Five boats came out, then we were called in. The harbour master was waiting by the open bridge to tell us where to moor,  and we were safely tied up by 12:50. Once Robinetta was tidied up, and Worm pulled onto the pontoon, we got the bedding out and went to sleep.
Heading to the showers after our nap

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Happy Birthday Robinetta!

Robinetta was launched on the 10th May 1937 and on the 11th Rayner made a first abortive trip up the Mersey single handed. He was a little late leaving and ran out of water and turned back.

On May 14th 1937 she left the Mersey for the Clyde, arriving at William Fyne's Fairlie yard on the 18th.

Robinetta left Fairlie again last year and went round Ireland.

Last Saturday we got her back to the Mersey.

Back in 2012 Eddie Farren reached out to me. He said: "I discovered your Robinetta blog earlier this year whilst undertaking research into my family history. Since childhood (some 50 years ago) I have known that my grandfather was a partner in a boat building yard in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead. This years research has filled in many of the blanks in my knowledge. Your blog has been a great encouragement to me to see his craftsmanship is still fulfilling the role for which ie was intended some 75 years later."

 Last year Eddie sent me more details on the Enterprise Small Craft Company.

On Saturday before turning to cross the Mersey to the lock gates we got within 1,000 yards of the site of the boat yard.

 We were even closer on the bus on Friday evening. On the Rock Ferry bypass we got within 100 yards and actually saw the KFC which is now on the site. 

She is now in the Brunswick Dock 1.5 miles away from where she was built.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Conwy to Liverpool Passage Planning

Alison has described the trip but I wanted to make some notes about the planning.

We had originally wanted to do the trip from Holyhead to Liverpool as one cruise, stopping in Caernarfon and perhaps Beaumaris. In the end we stopped at Deganwy and I decided that in Robinetta we really need to do this trip at neaps.

The problem with a spring tide is that it happens around midnight and noon. The distance is around 40 nm so in a 3 knot boat you have to leave around midnight. I like night sailing and that's exactly what we did from Portaferry to the Isle of Man last autumn but a day time trip was more what we had in mind.

At neaps high water is around 8 am and 8 pm. This works well for Liverpool Marina which has a lock which operates HW± 2 hours and is manned between 5am and 10pm.

 So at neaps it is possible to leave Deganwy or Conwy marina when the flap gate is open for the morning HW and arrive at Liverpool for the evening HW.

The earlier one leaves the more tide there is to fight out of the river and up the side of the Great Orme but one might get the last of the flood east once round. Leaving around HW helps at first but then its a slog against the ebb along the North Wales coast.

There are two other decisions to make. The main one is the choice between the Queen's Channel and the Rock Channel. The Rock Channel is considered difficult and not to be attempted without local knowledge by all the cruising guides and almanacs but the Liverpool Sailing Club provides excellent pilotage notes for it. Their observations indicate more water than the charted depths claim and that was our experience in 2017 too.

The Rock Channel permits a shorter passage and one which allows better views of the coast and avoids a long leg sharing the channel with shipping. I think it should be the default for recreational boats coming from Anglesey. Departure via the Rock Channel is more challenging as it is done on a falling tide but still a good option as it allows more hours of favourable tide heading west than the Queen's Channel would.

The other decision to make is whether to go inside or outside the wind farms. I planned the route outside as this seemed safer but in the end we had a little north in the east wind and we just couldn't make headway in that direction so we went inside.

My conclusion is that it doesn't matter. The guides talk about the wind farms 'closing off' the North Wales coast but it isn't true. You can pretty much ignore the wind farms. There is plenty of water on either side of them and gaps between each one if you want to hug the coast and then head out to the Queen's Channel.

There are really no ports of refuge on this coast. It is really to be avoided completely in strong northerly winds. We had easterly winds, starting strong but promised to die and that's what we got.

Rhyl has a marina of sorts but again, access is only around high water and any passage will likely be there near low water.

There are anchorages in the Dee at Mostyn and Hilbre Island. The channel to Mostyn must be entered near Rhyl so the decision must be made quite early. Most boats will be too fast to need it. By the time one gets near Hilbre Island one has the flood and Liverpool feels achievable.

Once past the Dee one joins the sailing directions for the Rock Channel at the Hilbre No. 1 buoy. The directions skirt the East Hoyle Bank and the Great Burbo Bank. But the directions are for leaving on a falling tide and one is entering on the flood after half tide so there is likely to be at least a fathom of water over the banks. We snuck over the edges of both banks and we saw as much water on the green patches on the chart plotter as we did on the blue!

The view on the sea is completely different from the chart. The banks are totally submerged and the coast of New Brighton appears unencumbered. However one navigates the Great Burbo it is essential to obey the instructions through the Rock Gut. It does get quite shallow. Edge too far north and one could hit the submerged training wall but the tide will push one south towards the perch on the end of the concrete spit. For us, heading straight for the Brazil buoy seemed to work well.

We called Mersey VTS in the Rock Channel before entering the Gut. They were friendly and helpful and said there was one big ship coming in behind us.

Once in the Mersey the tide takes one in and there are small boat buoys and the Mersey Ferry to avoid but its a fine sight and at neaps the tide is less than 2 knots. Just have fun.

We got to the marina in the gloaming. The lock has a red/green light array which is the best guide to finding it. We treated the river as a traffic separation zone and crossed at right angles.

The lock has plenty of space outside it and out of the current to wait for the gates to open so there is no need to wait to cross the river. Inside there are pontoons either side to tie up and wait for the inner gates.

The marina buildings and exit are between the Coberg and Brunswick docks so turn left out of the lock and carry on along the wall until you see them. Find a spare berth as close to the bar as you can!

Fighting wind, tide, and a time table

After a week of watching the weather and hoping the wind on Saturday morning would drop from force 5-7 easterly to 4-5 south west  we were out of luck. The tides dictated that we needed to leave Deganwy by 07:30 to have a hope of reaching Liverpool and getting in to the marina on the evening tide, so we had to cope with a top end four gusting 6 from the east, on the bow for most of the way. The only relief was the wind was supposed to drop away to nothing by 16:00.

We got away from the berth at 07:35. Julian got out the bowsprit and bent on the no 2 jib as we motored down river against the last two hours of the rising tide. Being neaps the current was not desperately strong against us, and once I got the staysail up Robinetta was making a comfortable 3 knots over the ground.

Wind against tide raised a swell in the channel, but nothing too uncomfortable until we reached the safe water mark and turned towards Great Orme Head.

Once we changed heading Robinetta started crashing through the waves, and rolling, but we were making decent progress. With the engine on full revs and the staysail we made 3 knots, and once we unrolled the jib that went up to 4. The extra sail area also helped steady Robinetta but unfortunately the wind was too gusty to raise the main. Julian went below and cooked breakfast, and we ate in shifts.

We could see a sail training ship anchored in the lee of Great Orme Head. Having seen Royalist's blue hull and distinctive white masts and spars recently at the tall ships parade in London we thought it might be her at first, but it turned out to be Lord Nelson. There were plenty of sea birds around; we saw sheerwaters ( I think), gulls, fulmars, gannets, and cormorants/shags. Definitely the middle of the breeding season.

Unfortunately we could not stay on the same heading unless we wanted to go to the Isle of Man. We had to turn to follow the coast if we wanted to reach Liverpool. Heading directly into the waves on just engine was never going to work. We had to sail across the waves or they would stop Robinetta in her tracks. As soon as we tacked round leeway and tide direction conspired against us; we were sailing across the waves, not straight in to them, but we made at most 1.5 knots on the making tack. Our chart plotter gives a very simplistic arrival time, based on current speed. It was depressing when it suggested we would take 24 hours to make it to Liverpool!

We crawled across Llandudno Bay, our tacks taking us closer to the pier than we had planned when Julian laid in the course. It was not the weather for photography, very grey with the mountains hidden on the clouds. The gusts were easing though and we raised the main, with two reefs. We were not done with the engine, keeping it on to let Robinetta point much closer to the wind than she could without it.

I spotted a dolphin's back in the distance just after we passed Rhyl then a minute later caught another glimpse of black back and fin crossing our wake. Both sightings were too far away to distinguish the species but the size looked more bottle nose than common. It did not come to play alongside!

By 15:00 the waves were gentle swells, the full main was up, and we were using the no 1 jib. These were conditions that the Tiller Pilot George could cope with and we set him to work. We were still on engine though as we had to keep our speed up to have any hope of making the marina lock before it closer at 22:00. The tide was with us and the Chart plotter said we might make it... I tried calling the marina to arrange a berth, but there was nothing but an answering machine that smugly told me to call in office hours, or leave a message. Only problem was that it WAS their office hours, and they did not return my call even though I left my number.

By 16:00 the jib was rolled away, and the main was down. Crashing through the waves had changed to motoring through smooth seas at 5 knots, with the tide helping the engine and an arrival time at the lock of 21:30.

Mary Gibbs, who is a member of the Liverpool Sailing Club, had made sure we had a copy of their sailing directions for the Rock Channel, and we followed them carefully. The CA almanac says the Rock Channel is not recommended for visitors, but we decided the LSC instructions counted as local knowledge, and encountered no problems, with more depth of water than our charts predicted.

The drab day gave way to evening, and we turned on our running lights, even though the chart plotter was still in day mode. It just felt dark enough to want them.

Neither the Anglesey Pilot, or the CA had the frequency for calling Mersey Radio, although both said we needed to do it before entering the river. Maybe both assumed people would know that they would use the normal VTS channel, 12. Julian looked it up on his phone, and it was indeed 12.

I called up Mersey Radio at 20:00, telling them we were about to enter the river through the Rock Channel, and they warned me to keep a good look out as there were freighters moving.

I tried calling the marina lock, and got no answer. There was always the possibility of picking up a mooring buoy at Rock Ferry if we could not get into the marina, so we ignore the vacant moorings we spotted at New Brighton and continued up river. George went of duty and we hand steered to avoid the mooring buoys.
Liverpool from the Mersey

Eventually Julian did manage to raise the Marina Lock, so the lock keeper knew we wanted in. I had questions for him, were there pontoons, which side too etc, but his reception was terrible and he could not hear me. Luckily Mary Ellen, a boat based in the marina who was also locking in, could hear much better, and answered all my questions in a very helpful way. I got the bowsprit in while Julian helmed.

Julian had plotted the end of our route right by the marina, but it still took me a little while to find the entrance in the long dark quay wall. I found the lights in the end, and as I watched they went from green to red. Had we been too slow? It was 21:25, we should be fine. I grabbed the radio and called, to be told he had lowered the bridge to let pedestrians across, and we would be clear to enter again almost immediately.

Mary Ellen was still waiting for the lock in to the marina when we arrived, we must have delayed them horribly, but they were still friendly, and advised us to follow them as there was a free berth right next to them. Having someone to follow took all the worry out of entering a strange marina in the dark and finding a berth.

We tied up on the pontoon at 21:35. just over 14 hours after leaving Deganwy. Our route was 41nm in thoery, but all the slow tacks around the Great Orme added significantly, and we were both shattered.

A lovely lady called Corrine called from Windfire to ask if we needed help. She lent us her marina access card so we could go for a shower and a well deserved drink in the bar and get back afterwards. It had been a long day, and not the best sailing with the engine on all the way, but we had got Robinetta to Liverpool, 80 years to the week since she was launched at the Enterprise Small Craft Company, only 1.5 nm away over the Mersey at Rock Ferry, Birkenhead.