Log of Robinetta 1938, by Lieut. D A Rayner, R.N.V.R

Robinetta has been fully described in last year's Journal and her lines have also appeared, so that there is little to say except, perhaps, to re-state her dimensions, viz., L.O.A., 22ft. 6in., L.W.L., 18ft. 4 in., extreme beam, 8 ft. 1 in., draught normal, 3 ft. 10in., S.A., 317 sq. ft.
No alterations to her have been made for this her second season except that the engine, a 4 h.p. single cylinder has been induced to function - albeit inconsistently - and a storm try-sail is now included in her sail locker. This is a diagonal cut sail roped all round, made of heavy Egyptian cotton and of 59 sq. ft. area.
Messrs. Silvers wintered her and fitted her out, and I cannot speak too highly of the efficiency of this concern - it is indeed pleasant to find a 4-tonner receiving the same consideration that is given to a craft ten times her size.
On Saturday, June 4th, we arrived at Silvers at 10.45 in a mizzle of rain – it mizzled all day. We had travelled up overnight and as usual at bank holiday times the trains had ceased to keep their time tables, so that we had missed our connection from Glasgow - most of our sleep – our breakfast – and were then distinctly damp, both physically and mentally.
However, matters looked a bit brighter when we got aboard again – the first time I had seen the ship since last season. We soon started unpacking the wooden cases in which the food had been sent up and the numerous other parcels of sails, instruments, & co., which had been posted on from time to time.
Silvers had rigged her but had not bent on the sails, so after cleaning up below we bent on the mainsail and had everything ready for sea by 17.00. We then took the dinghy ashore to Silvers, towing the new collapsible which I had made during the winter, following a violent attack of covetousness as a result of meeting Bittern's folding dinghy last season and owing to the fact that my bank balance would not let me buy one ready-made.
Returning aboard, we dismantled and stowed the collapsible and slipped the mooring at 17.15.
My wife, much to her chagrin, was unable to accompany me for this holiday, and as it might prove impossible for her to go cruising next year I had decided to take the ship home as, unless assured of my wife's company next season, I felt that Robinetta should then commence her duties as nursemaid to the young and accompany us to some snug anchorage where a nearby cottage may well provide more restful sleeping accommodation than the single cabin of a 4½-tonner inhabited by two grown-ups and one small boy.
My crew this year proved quite the best that I had ever shipped. The frightful bugbear of seasickness was entirely absent after the first few hours – fortunately so, because with the heavy weather we experienced the lot of such a subject would have been impossible – not only for himself but for the others as well. They were amazingly keen on going places and seeing things, and so the doubtful pleasures of the beach were rarely tasted. They worked incredibly hard and the ship was always kept as clean and smart as if she were swinging round her mooring - in short, this cruise would have begun and ended in Clyde waters if it hadn't been for Taudevin and Simcoe – R.N.V.R. Sub-Lieutenant and second mate respectively. Both were, if need had arisen, quite capable of navigating the ship anywhere and as Toady very soon proved himself as excellent substitute cook my own lot was a very happy one with no worries other than those of my own making and the fastly-moving calendar, although this latter gave me plenty to think about during the first week.
The fortnight's holiday, which we had talked about all winter and imagined as a fairly elastic sixteen days, was finally cut down to a bare thirteen working days, as with the ship in Scotland, and no opportunity of making a personal inspection before we arrived, it seemed hopeless to expect to start much before the end of daylight on the Saturday, while the end of the period received a more drastic cut as Taudevin having to be back in Liverpool on Friday night and Simcoe wishing the same, it seemed best for myself and the ship to be there too. Reference to the tide tables – I would have to go into dock to collect the big dinghy which was to be sent south by rail - showed that we must be at Alfred Dock Gates not later than 15.00 and no earlier than 11.00 on Friday, 17th June.
The cruise resolved itself, therefore, into a game of chess with the weather and although it might appear that we threw away our castles, knights, bishops, and half our pawns by going so far north in the prevalent weather conditions, old Aeolus more than made up for his misdemeanours in previous years by blowing us round the course so well that one dare hardly grumble that he blew too hard, thus forcing us to forgo night sailing in enclosed waters and therefore striking Stornaway from the itinerary. However, the necessity for a port each night led us into harbours which otherwise would have remained unvisited, so that we perhaps saw more than we would have done in more gentle weather, while the speed which we were able to maintain made night sailing unnecessary after turning the ship's head to the south or we would have certainly arrived back before out time.
Leaving Silvers' anchorage we kept the engine ticking over to help us beat through the narrows and on past Rhu against the tide. The wind was inclined to be flaky – very fresh in the puffs, but dying away at times. Once clear of Rhu Bay we stopped the engine, but as we got too far over towards Gourock and lost the true wind in the lee of the hills, we started Miss Adams again to help us down to Clock Point, where we met the true southerly wind. It was still raining hard and bitterly cold, and the Clyde, after days of strong southerlies, was giving its best imitation of the Mersey River. Now that the ebb had set in, and the seas were very much larger than I had expected and as it was my first time afloat for the season I felt some way below my best form. Toady was also a bit squeamish, especially after we found that the oil level cock in the bottom of the engine had been left on and most of the sump was in the bilge and had to be removed at once by bucketing water into the ship and pumping out with the bilge pump. It was while engaged in this pursuit that an extra large wave jumped one of the oil containers out of the Rippingille stove and as it was alight at the time we went to fire stations with pyrene and water buckets – but no harm was done. It was my fault for forgetting to lash the stoves in place. The hurry to get away is my only excuse. We then had paraffin and pyrene added to the odour of hot oil and were very sorry for ourselves.
The ship, however, managed the rough stuff very well. Although we pressed her rather a bit at times. I was in a hurry to get to the Burnt Isles, as we all needed a good sleep and as I knew the crew were good, I left the full main on after we had shifted jibs off Dunoon.
We had Toward Point abeam in the dusk at 22.45, but it was quite dark by the time we reached Ardmaleish buoy at 23.45. It was still raining and blowing quite hard with the wind drawing into the East Kyle giving us a dead run.
We had Colintrive abeam at 00.30 on Sunday morning and had to lower the peak for a squall at the same time. Going through the unlighted south channel was a bit hair-raising with its double dog-leg and only ½-cable channel, but we found out way all right with the aid of the Powerlight torch – a very useful gadget – and anchored in the Bay just south of the Buttock of Bute at 00.50. We had left dinner until arrival, and so we did not turn in until 02.00, dog tired, 20 miles from Rosneath in 7 hours 35 minutes.
The next day, June 5th, was sunny with big cumulus clouds but very cold. We left at 10.50, allowing ourselves two hours to catch the first of the flood at Ardlamont, and had a pleasant beat to Tighuabruaich with the wind as usual heading us again as we turned the corner to beat down Kerry Kyle. Crew employed thoroughly cleaning out bilges, but as we were unable to purchase any oil at Rosneath yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, we were without the assistance of Sweet Fanny until we could get to Ardrishaig. So when the wind cheated us and died half way down the Kyle we had no alternative but to wait, slamming about in fickle airs. However, we got a light breeze from S.S.W. At 14.03 and finally struggled round the corner at 15.30 with the breeze dying away again, but a falling glass and very heavy thunder clouds over the Cantyre hills promise wind and plenty of it. It came at 16.35 in the shape of a fierce squall and a still worse one at 16.40 accompanied by torrential rain. The big Bermuda sloop with whom we were in company when the squall came took in main and staysail and set a trysail, and the green yawl took in main and jib. Both went into West Loch Tarbert while we under staysail and four rolled main made a very fast passage up to Ardrishaig with a squally south wind pushing us along in fine style, but the rain which had come with the second squall was very persistent and came along with us. Locked into Ardrishaig at 19.05 and went into the Sea Lock and secured. A walk after dinner and a call at the Lorne Hotel on the canal bank ended the day. 23 miles from Burnt Isles in 8 hours 15 minutes.
June 6th brought a howling gale from the southward with the glass dropping like a plummet. The seas dashed right across the harbour wall making a fine if rather dismal sight. Bought some engine oil as soon as we could find anyone to supply us and left under bare poles, as we could blow through the canal quite fast enough without recourse to Fanny. Had great difficulty in the locks, as Fanny only goes one way and so could not help us stop. We had, therefore, to make very sure of the stern line going out smartly, as with the following gale we were travelling some 2-3 knots.
All went well until we started to go down hill and all the lock keepers most helpful, but we met one who refused to let Simmy attend to the stern fast – the merchant service know a lot more about surging warps round bollards than that particular gentleman who tied us up tight round a square shanked pin. The new Italian hemp warp parted in the nip and we went down the lock to make a nasty mess of our port side – very annoying as Silvers had made the ship look lovely.
Tied up in the canal for lunch under the trees and afterwards the sun came out. I don't think I have ever been so cold as we were in the morning of this day. We were now more sheltered from the wind, so motored on to Crinan without incident and tied up in the Sea Lock at 16.15.
After dinner climbed the hill behind Crinan with hand bearing compass and chart to prospect Scarba Sound and identify islands. A magnificent wild sight with a watery sun and clouds racing across the hills of Scarba, while in the path of the sun, smoke blue rocky islands were set in a windlashed golden green sea. Coming upon it suddenly as we climbed the last rocky slope, it was a sight which we will never forget – one of the wildest views imaginable and quite impossible to describe, but an enchanting glimpse of the “promised land” that we have heard so much about. I feel that I shall have trouble with the crew should I deem it unsafe to sail to-morrow.
Weather forecast deplorable. Southerly gale in operation and likely to stay. Turned in at 22.30, 9 miles from Ardrishaig.
Tuesday 7th June. Bar down 3½ tenths since Sunday, mid-day. It blew very hard indeed during the night and was still doing so when we turned to at 06.00. Before breakfast we exercised storm trysail drill and lashed the main boom securely down to the transom. After giving everything below a hard weather stow we locked out at 08.45. It was then just low water and I reckoned that by the time we reached Dorus Mor the tide would be running well to the northward. We had a little difficulty with the keeper of the Sea Lock, as he was not at all certain that he ought to let so small a ship out on such a wild day, but after assuring him that we would come back if it was too bad he let us go.
Set the trysail and storm job as soon as we were clear of the lock, but kept the engine going as I feared being becalmed behind some rock and being swept on to something or into a tide rip going some way we did not intend. Once clear of Loch Crinan we felt the full force of the wind which gave us a fine exhilarating sail across the entrance to Loch Craignish, the ship travelling very nicely over the short beam sea despite her scant 86 sq. ft. of sail area, 50 in the trysail and 36 in the jib. Brilliant sun and storm-blown cumulus clouds.
We were up to the famed Dorus Mor at 09.10 and found a most curious and rather frightening tidal race in possession on the fairway. Curling in a big concave semi-circle right across the clear water was a line of breakers some ½-cable wide. Within this band the water was a seething mass of leaping white crests. We saw it too late to turn back, and barely had time to shut the main hatch and sit down in the cockpit holding on tightly before she took the first wall of water like a hunter. As we reached the pinnacle and I saw how short the distance was to the next breaking crest the thought crossed my mind that she might pitchpole end for end but she came up beautifully. It was a very bad time while it lasted and although it seemed an age it can barely have been more than three minutes before we were clear and with eased sheets wore off again with the short but regular seas astern of us on our course for Ardluing Buoy.
Scarba Sound proved quite uneventful. Except that we gave her the staysail as soon as we were clear of the squalls which had been churning the water along the Scarba side of the sound. At 10.35 we had Pladda Lighthouse abeam and being clear of tide rips we gratefully cut off Miss Adams supply of drink. The 10.30 weather forecast gave southerly gale still in operation, but I am inclined to doubt it. I always reckon that force 8 will blow the tops off the waves and although nearly every wave was breaking, some quite heavily, the white water was playful rather than vicious. I had never seen such waves from a sailing vessel. To us accustomed to the short stuff round Liverpool bay these big fellows seemed amazing – the next day we should have thought them short – but to us they appeared reasonably long and as they gave the ship no trouble they were great fun to watch.
At noon as I sit in the cabin writing up this log – it is far too cold outside for anyone who hasn't got to be there - I can see the waves running up astern of us. The tops appear to break about a foot above Toady's head as he sits at the tiller – I am just waiting for one to climb down his back, Quite frankly, had I seen these seas from the beach nothing would have induced me to leave Crinan, but now we are here I am glad we came because the ship just takes no notice of them but goes on making her 5 knots.
We had Lady Rock abeam at 13.05 and hauled our wind for the reach up the Sound of Mull. The wind is coming more squally as we get into the land and much harder in the puffs. We are also getting a number of vicious rain squalls which bounce off the water and knock down what little sea there is in here. The ship, I am pleased to note, goes well under her present rig even close hauled. Over on the Morven shore to the east of Loch Aline are two large waterfalls coming over the edge of the cliffs – the wind is blowing them to pieces and carrying the spray away like steam back over the land.
The day gradually clouded over and the showers drew together into driving rain so fiercely blown at us that one could not bear to look windward for more than a few seconds at a time and visibility decreased considerably. In these conditions we made acquaintance with a rock awash topped by a beacon in the form of a Gaelic cross with positively attacked us. After a hectic altercation between myself on watch and the two assistant navigators below , who said there wasn't such a beacon in the Sound of Mull and never had been – and a lot more - the mystery was cleared up by the beacon altering course slightly and disclosing itself as H.M.Submarine L.23 in cruising trim. Previously bows on and looking for all the world like a rock awash with beacon on top.
At 16.15, when just short of Doirlinn narrows entrance to Tobermory, we experienced a succession of extremely heavy squalls which necessitated dropping the stay sail, but even so reduced they nearly laid us on our beam ends – with no more canvas than a small sailing dinghy would normally carry. I didn't know it could blow so hard. Afterwards we found that Cowper mentions that wooded slope as a dangerous spot – it is.
We entered the narrows entrance at 16.20 – 42 miles from Crinan in 7 hours 35 minutes. Bar up 3 tenths since 04.30 this morning.
Got all sail off her and motored into and round Tobermory harbour, having a look at the place and finally picking up a mooring off the old jetty at 17.10.
It rained all evening and although we were sheltered it was only too obvious that it was still blowing hard.
With Ardnamurchan before us and the open passage to Skye beyond, I decided to wait until the 10.30 weather forecast before sailing on Wednesday, June 8th. The glass was up another tenth and the weather bitterly cold and overcast but no rain. Weather forecast gave strong southerly winds and omitted to mention gales. First I said “No” - but changed my mind at once and said “Yes.” So out we went at 10.45 under storm trysail and storm jib – plenty fast enough without the staysail – just to look at it, we said. Found it wasn't so bad and the seas nice and long and unlikely to hurt so small a ship.
By 13.05 we had Ardnamurchan just were we wanted it, i.e. bearing E, distant 1 mile, but not before we had been through a bit of absolute hell. I take the blame for it because I was busy trying to hold a saucepan of soup on the stove and did not notice how far to leeward and how close to the land the breaking crests of the seas were throwing the ship. In other words, I hadn't allowed enough for leeway in the course which had been set to keep us clear of the land by 1 mile. The result was that although some ½ mile off the land when I came on deck to see what all the motion was about, I found that the seas were definitely being affected by the backwash off the cliffs. The seas were very bad indeed, and as there was nothing to do but get out as quickly as possible, we gave her the staysail and started the engine also. I don't think that even at the worse we were ever much inside the ½ mile line and the ship responded magnificently, but of course it had been blowing hard from the south for nearly a fortnight and with the long drift from the Irish Coast the true sea was very big indeed.
From Ardnamurchan we ran before a very big sea without any vice in it for the Sound of Sleat, altering course to avoid the Maxwell banks on which the sea is said to break heavily – we'd had enough for one day. We estimated the sea at 180 ft. between crests and some 10 to 12 ft. high.
About 14.00 after a heavy shower the sun came out and wind eased off considerably, so that at 14.50 we got the main on her with three rolls in it and at 16.30 when off Loch Nan Ceall, we gave her the full main. Entering the sound it blew up a bit and we were really carrying far too much sail, but it was such good fun with the seas dead astern and the bow wave roaring out each side that we told her to carry it, besides, we had an appreciable tide against us and we had our average to keep up.
We had Isle Ornsay Lighthouse abeam at 19.15 and a short quick beat in smooth water took us to the south end of the anchorage. Anchored off the jetty and watched our anchor bite the sand of Skye in 2 fathoms. 42 miles from Tobermory in 8 hours, 55 minutes.
To-morrow we must start back. In this unsettled weather we are mad to come up here. It is all right running in this boisterous weather, but if we have to beat all the way to Liverpool we shall be very tired by the time we get there. This depression should be travelling East, but it is going North at the moment, so that there seems little chance of getting in the western semi-circle and getting a fair wind home.
On Thursday, 9th June, we turned to at 06.00, a brilliant sunny morning, but still so cold that after an hour at the helm one is glad to get below. We always seem to be making tea or soup to keep us warm. Sailed at 08.50 three rolled main and staysail. A very hard wind blowing from the S.W. giving us a beat to Mallaig, which we intend to make for lunch. Short sea outside and consider that she could just carry the No.2 jib which we gave her as soon as were were clear of the the lighthouse and had the most exhilarating sail of our lives. The ship over-pressed in the puffs but getting along in fine style. A number of heavy rain showers in the morning and the wind easing slightly towards noon. Arrived Mallaig and secured alongside at 13.45, but first had a look into Lock Nevis which is very beautiful, some day I will spend months up here. This coast is one of the few places which has exceeded my expectations. Generally one hears so much about a place that when you do get there it disappoints, but this is far finer than I had imagined – in spite of the weather. Shopped and had lunch and then out again at 15.15 for either Loch Scresort in Rum or Eiln Castle in Eigg, preferably the latter, but if we are going to be a long time getting there and can lay the former I may stand over to it – Rum looks a thrilling place.
The wind eased off, however, and the sea decreased, so we settled down to beat to Eiln Castle. In Mallaig a skipper of a drifter said it would come westerly to-morrow possibly north-west. I don't know how he knew. I missed the weather forecast this morning as there was so much noise of rushing waters that I could not hear what the fellow said. Gave her full main at 15.40. Wind was disappointing us and going very soft in patches, so called on Miss Adams at 18.00, but she had indigestion in an oil pipe and it was 19.10 before I got it clear. With engine going we beat on, getting into Eiln Castle at 20.45 and letting go ahead of Dido of Eigg. Our lightest day so far. 9 miles from Isle of Ornsay to Mallaig and 12 miles from Mallaig to Eiln Castle in total sailing time of 10 hours 25 minutes.
On Friday, 10th June, we turned to and to out infinite delight found a light N.W. breeze in the anchorage – which is very sheltered from winds with west in them. The weather forecast the previous night had intimated at moderate to strong westerlies, but it had seemed too good to be true.
After a hurried breakfast we slipped out at 07.50 by the channel between Eiln Castle and Eigg and setting all plain sail left the shelter of Eigg before the halyards were coiled on their pins. But we had reckoned without the lee which Eigg had been giving us and outside we found a huge sea and more wind than we could manage even with the ship 3 points free. I did not fancy sending the crew on to the foredeck to shift jibs until it either was absolutely necessary for safety or until we reached such shelter as the small island of Muck might give us, bearing in mind that its eastern shore is very foul and cannot be approached too closely. Accordingly we contented ourselves with turning in three rolls in the main – this being of course, accomplished without leaving the cockpit – and drove her across to Muck, where we found sufficient lee to get the jibs shifted. Even so, I had some anxious moments while the crew were up forward. She was much easier with the No 2, and we had a magnificent reach to Ardnamurchan, making a fraction under 5½ knots over a very big sea which we estimated at 150 ft. between crests and 12 ft. high. Even when quite close to Ardnamurchan we lost sight of the high hills completely as we slid down into the troughs, but standing on the cabin top by the mast I could generally keep the waterline of the cliffs in sight.
At 10.10 we altered course for the run down the Sound of Mull. And what a run it was! We gave her the full main and the No.1 jib at 12.05, then, because the skipper thought the wind was easier we took in the No.1 and staysail and set Genoa but she just could not carry that and the crew told the skipper that they had told him so and it would have served him right if they had left him to get it down single-handed.
We gybed her at Green Island and again at Grey Island and had Duart Castle close abeam at 15.44. Having forced a passage through the Sound against the tide of 27 miles in 5 hours, 34 minutes.
We had to drop the peak for a squall just after passing Duart and reef her two rolls in the main when we brought her on the wind for the reach down the Lynn of Lorne. The wind, however, showed a tendency to come out of the South on its way up Loch Linnhe and in a big steep sea we were soon close hauled until abreast of Sheep Isle, when, after a sudden increase in wind, during which Robinetta went to windward faster than she has ever done in her life, the wind suddenly lifted and left us flapping in a wicked sea. We started Fanny but stopped her again ten minutes later when the wind came up again and continued on our course to Pladda lighthouse.
I had very much wished to try Cuan Sound, but with the big sea inclined to break and with the wind trying to be funny I did not intend to get on a lee shore, and as I could not clearly make out the entrance I had no alternative but to stand on for Scarba Sound, which we entered at 18.20 and had a quick run through to Crinan, finding the Dorus Mor very quiet, and secured in the Sea Lock at 20.10. We tied up in the basin for the night as we must clean out the fresh water tanks and refill them owing to the presence of an unknown sediment in the water and I do not fancy ferrying buckets of water in the collapsible.
Exchanged visits with Leonora, R.N.Y.C., and turned in at 23.30. Weather forecast promises us moderate N.W. Winds. 66 miles from Eigg in 12 hours, 20 minutes. Robinetta's best time so far over a moderate distance.
Turned to at 06.30, Saturday, June 11th, to find the sky overcast and a light westerly wind. Not at all the sort of weather which we had been promised. However, it looked as if we should be able to lay down the Sound of Jura, which we must do, as owing to our having to deal with the tanks we shall have six hour's contrary tide – and a pretty strong one too.
Cleaned out and refilled the tanks (20 gallons) after breakfast and locked out in company with Leonora – a sister ship to Jolie Brise and a very fine one at that – her owner Mr. MacLaren, was mate of the famous Loch Etive when in his twenties – and his ship reflects it. Leonora was bound for Oban so we soon parted wishing each other to lay the course comfortably and no more, or it would have been foul for the other – Leonora won, however, as we could barely lay down the Sound and as the wind was very light we called Miss Adams to the rescue and ran her for six hours to help the sails. Wind slowly headed us but stopped engine when the tide turned and continued beating down the Sound. Visibility decreasing, glass falling, wind backing and freshening – not very attractive. At 16.00, drizzle is so thick that we have to hug the Jura side, going about as soon as we lose the land, as if we once lose track of our position it will be almost impossible to recover it except by a fluke, and I want to know exactly as I definitely do not like the look of things. Had to turn in three rolls and shift to No.2 jib at 16.10, wind against tide making a nasty popple. Wind suddenly died at 17.15 and we drifted into rotten tide rip off Dunans Head, so started Fanny to help us out of it until 17.30, when the wind came westerly and we were able to dispense with her. Barometer steadying up a bit but visibility still very bad. We can, however, lay down the Sound Keeping close to the Jura shore. At 18.57, we had Rudha Na Traile, the south-east point of Jura, close abeam to starboard and set a compass course to fetch the Islay shore to the north and west of Kintour Bay, which I hoped to try to find, as I thought it preferable to attempting Port Ellen in this thick mist as that harbour must be approached for some miles on a line of bearing as there are a number of off-lying rocks.
Soon after losing sight of Jura we picked up McArthur Head Lighthouse through a clearing in the mist, looking for all the world like a toy set in a dark brown hill side. The mist continued to clear away and slowly opened up the land on either side of the head – what a desolate place it is – miles and miles with no sign of man except the absurdly diminutive white walls and houses of the lighthouse keepers.
We made Kintour Bay at 19.50, but found quite a swell inside evidently running through from the Sound of Islay. So as we had noticed a small pool on the north side sheltered by two jagged reefs, we crept in under engine and found moderately still water in 2 fathoms and the clearest I have ever seen. A really lovely anchorage and sheltered from winds from E.S.E to N.N.W. through south and west.
Weather forecast advised us that an unforecast and shallow depression had crossed southern Scotland thus accounting for the unexpected weather experienced on this day. 30 miles from Crinan in 9 hours, 20 minutes.
On Sunday morning, June 12th, as we had no need to be off Rathlin Island until 19.00, we got up early at 05.30 and after breakfast had a magnificent scramble in bright sunshine over the hills returning aboard at 10.00. The wind was blowing freshly from the N.W. and we had rolled rather badly during the night. We had to motor out at 10.20, as with the head wind and the passage into our nook being not much more than 50 ft, wide, it was impossible to sail out. Set full main, staysail and No.2 jib as soon as we were outside and had the most delightful sail to Rathlin Island. A short N.W. sea on top of the immense Atlantic swell from the westward made the sailing of the ship sufficiently thrilling to prove amusement both to the helmsman and to those off duty. Swell estimated at some 200 ft. in length, judged by a Coast Lincs steamer which passed less than a cable away and was not so long overall as the distance between crests.
Our speed over the ground upset all my tide predictions – I had allowed an average speed of 3½ knots to make Rathlin about half an hour before low water. We were, however, doing a good 5 and so arrived three hours before our time and had to stem a 4-knot tide for this time round the corner. I had been so frightened by reports of the dreadful seas that are to be found off the Mull of Cantyre (sic) that in giving it the widest possible berth I sailed straight into the race off Rathlin Island which exists on the ebb and which is presumably less known because fewer people go that way.
The seas were shortened considerably by the 4-knot counter tide and were now only some 50 ft. between crests with every wave breaking – I don't know how high they were and I'm not guessing – my usual method of adjusting my eyes at the mast until the waves are in line being quite impractical in that sea. We were carrying the full main when we sailed into it and as rounding to, to reef, was quite out of the question unless absolutely necessary, we carried on. The course was almost a dead run and sailing most exciting as the main waves followed the westerly swell but every now and then a pinnacle of water would arrive form the N.W. due to the cross sea running with the wind. These hung over us, threatening to poop us badly, but they never caught us although they succeeded in rolling the main boom under for a couple of feet or so. Not a bad effort on their part, as a glance at Robinetta's sail plan will show. At 16.00 we had to wait ten minutes before we could get a smooth sufficiently long to enable Simmy to hand over the tiller to me. Even against the fierce tide we made up over the land, fixes by sextant angle and bearing of Altacarry Lighthouse gave us 2 miles from 15.20 to 16.20 and with a freshening breeze a further two miles in the next 40 minutes. After that we began to climb out of the race and at 18.15 we had Benmore Head abeam to starboard distant 4 miles and the tide turning in our favour and seas once more normal.
The wind came more northerly and bitterly cold as we ran down the Irish coast making for the first 45 minutes 11 knots over the ground with 5-6 knots from the tide.
Entering Larne at 22.12, the last two hours bitterly cold and the sky overcast. Rounding to, to anchor in Larne, we were surprised to find out how hard it was blowing.
Weather forecast gives moderate N.W. winds for to-morrow, evidently due to an anticyclone stationary over South Ireland. If we can slide from the western semi-circle of the past big depression on to the advancing North-east edge of an anti-cyclone we may carry this fair wind all the way home – but I hope it gets warmer. 53 miles from Kintour Bay in 11 hours, 52 minutes.
We are all quite certain that we should have lost control of Pearl to-day off Rathlin Island as we think she would have been quite unmanageable. Should we, having arrived too soon, have hove to until the tide turned! Or should we have reduced sail early on and allowed the ship to make no more than the estimated 3½ knots? If the latter, then the wind might have dropped. If the former, then we should have been carried a long way down the North Coast of Ireland by the ebb, admitted of course, that we should have gone for a point midway between Rathlin and the Mull, but it is easy to be wise afterwards. Anyway, Suilven seems to have met very similar conditions in this spot last year, so we are in good company.
The next morning, Monday, June 13th, we were under weigh under engine and all plain sail at 05.40, the wind considerably lighter than of late and the weather warmer. Kept the engine going until the tide should turn in our favour at 06.25, as we have to average 6½ knots over the ground if we are to make Strangford before the tide turns. We had Muck Island abeam at 06.25 and with the fair wind and tide stopped the engine. The wind at first was inclined to be slack, but at 06.45 it freshened and gave us a fine run to Mew Island and on to Skulmartin. Plenty of sun and a short steep following sea. But soon after bringing up North Rock Beacon on the beam the wind eased up again until by noon we were hardly making more than 3 knots through the water, but it was definitely warmer and was almost pleasurable to sit in the cockpit without an oilskin. The tide was now slackening and our chances of catching the last of the flood up to Strangford seemed very dim and were finally crushed altogether when the wind died completely when we were just short of Strangford entrance, so we called on the faithful Miss Adams and chugged on at 4 knots against the tide to Ardglass, the water oily calm over the still running northerly swell. Secured alongside in Ardglass harbour at 15.10. We went for a most enjoyable walk and returned to chat with the crews of the fishing vessels, most of them from the East Coast of Scotland. Fine ships indeed, and most courteous men. Funny how all the trawlermen we have met both here and at Mallaig express approval of our bluff bows. Much talk of the sea and ships and then to bed early as we have another early start to-morrow. Practically no wind all afternoon but weather forecast says moderate N.W. and anticyclone still stationary. We devoutly hope so, as after all this high speed sailing we should find a true anticyclone very dull. 47 miles from Larne in 9 hours, 30 minutes.
Turned to at 05.00 on Tuesday, 14th June, and after securing fresh herring from a nearby trawler we slipped and proceeded to sea under engine in a flat calm at 05.30. An inbound trawler said that about five miles out there was enough breeze to fill our mainsail. Magnificent morning but mist all round horizon and Isle of Man invisible. Set course E.S.E. as I want to pick up the land 4 miles north of Port Erin and turn south should it be misty on arrival. The Isle of Man is a devil of a place for fog especially the south corner.
We found a moderate northerly swell outside and at 06.45 a nice but distinctly cool breeze came out of the north enabling us to stop the engine. The wind soon backed N.W. and settled down by degrees to a hard sailing breeze putting up a lumpy sea from N.W. on top of the northerly swell. The sky clouded over and low clouds about 500 ft. hid the sun, but we are travelling very fast and that is what matters most. We picked up the Isle of Man at 08.15, but as it was truncated by low cloud it made a fix difficult until noon, when we obtained a reasonably accurate station pointer fix confirming our dead reckoning. I had brought her up ½-point to the eastward when we stopped the engine at 06.45, to allow for leeway. We entered a bad bit of sea off Bradda Head, which we had abeam at 12.50, but as the sea always is rotten off this bit of land when it is blowing freshly from the N.W., it was no more than we expected but unpleasant. We entered Port Erin Bay, but finding considerable sea in the anchorage we decided to go inside and dry out on our legs – I not having previously had an opportunity of trying these. We got all sail off her and started the engine, but Miss Adams, I regret to say, lost her compression and stopped so that we had to enter like proper sailors after all, which we did under staysail at 13.00. Dropped the kedge astern and secured the bow to the inner wall and shipped legs.
After lunch we performed a major operation on Miss Adams, removing her head and playing about with her guts, but could find nothing wrong, so replaced everything and discovered that out of sheer terror of what we would do next she ran perfectly. Toady then performed minor operation on the skipper's toe and removed a large Irish thorn with the aid of the navigational dividers.
After all these surgical doings and the sun having come out, we climbed up Bradda Head, and Toady and Simmy climbed down seven hundred odd feet of cliff face looking for bird's nests. The skipper, who objects to heights and violent exercise, found a path a few hundred yards further along and walked down – the cad! Returning aboard at 19.20 and were roused from our dinner by gentleman outside who said: “Did we know that water was running out of the boat.” I told him as politely as I could that it came out through the sink as we preferred to put our garbage overboard rather than have it in the bilges. Funny people, these Islanders. The harbour master asked me to go up to his office and give him particulars of the ship. When it came to putting down where we had come from he just laughed and said we hadn't on a day like that – so I left it blank in his book. We wanted to go back and see what he had filled in for himself, we could not think of an easier place to have come from. 34 miles from Ardglass in 7 hours, 30 minutes.
Had to turn to at 03.30 on Wednesday, June 15th, if we were not to take the ground again. Hauled off, unshipped legs and proceeded under power while we got all plain sail on her. A nasty cold blustering morning with a fresh N.W. wind. I intended to keep the engine going, as I wanted to go through Calf Sound never having been that way before but Miss Adams became careless about her drinking water and had to be stopped before she got too hot so once again she forced us to be proper sailors. However, we had a grand fair wind – rather more than we wanted – so we went through the sound easily enough. It would be a rotten place to be blanketed and I was glad when we were through. The wind increased considerably as we cleared the land and shortly after 05.00 we had to shift jibs and put three rolls in the mainsail. For a while it blew up very freshly and there was a really wicked short sea, one of which curled over and landed on the after deck – the first and only one to catch us in four hundred odd miles of heavy running. Further away from the land and as we got clear of the area where the west-going tide was running into the north-westerly swell the seas became kinder, though they were breaking all round us. However, after breakfast, the wind eased slightly and she could just carry the full main. The sun came out and warmed what had been an incredibly cold morning and the wind eased off a bit more so that she could just manage the Genoa. We had a magnificent sail until about 14 miles from Point Lynus Lighthouse, when the wind eased up still more and continued to do so. The seas stopped hissing astern of us and we just ambled along on our course of S.E. for Penmon Lighthouse at the entrance to Puffin Sound. At 13.40 we picked up the lighthouse on the bowsprit end and Toady and I played with Fanny's cooling arrangements.
I had always considered the pump to be a doubtful starter, it being of the plunger type worked off an eccentric, and now it would never start again as it had sheared off one bolt of the pump body. Disconnecting the plunger, we tried to fix a means whereby we could pour water into her from a can, but having insufficient length of rubber hose this proved impossible, so we had to write her off until we could buy some more hose.
In a dying wind we had Penmon Lighthouse abeam at 16.20, and then began the long fight up the Menai Straits against the tide. We had Beaumaris abeam at 19.10 but it took us one hour and ten minutes to complete the one mile to Glyn Garth, where is situated the famous Gazelle Hotel and in which yachtsman's resort the skipper had promised to dine the crew in gratitude for a successful attack on Skye.
We took the opportunity of smooth water to lash the bunch of Scotch heather to the masthead. A rather attractive custom saying that any local yacht to round Ardnamurchan may wear the heather at her masthead for the remainder of the season.
By running the engine for ten minutes every half hour and by towing in the collapsible – a very poor sport – we finally arrived and anchored at 20.20. The dinner, our first meal ashore, was very good and we finally returned aboard at 23.00. 53 miles from Port Erin in 16 hours, 40 minutes.
On Thursday, June 16th, we were billed for a late start, mainly because it was not worth getting to Ormes Head before the evening low water at 19.00, and partly because I wanted to go ashore for some rubber hose for the engine and to see Dickie's Yard about wintering. The morning proved to be our first real taste of summer – a hot sun and cloudless sky, but a cool wind by noon dispelled the illusion. We bought the hose and fitted up a makeshift arrangement with the pump body jointed to the cylinder head, with a watertight washer made from two strips taken from Toady's coat with a layer of marine glue in between – very efficient. At the other end of the hose we fitted the large petrol funnel so by pouring water through her we can now motor if required.
Sailed at 13.30 full main and Genoa, but had to get the latter down off Beaumaris as the wind was quite fresh for a time. However, it clouded over at 16.00 and by the time we had cleared the straits the wind was N.W. and light, while an old northerly swell threw the ship around a good deal. Frankly, it wasn't a very nice sail. Little wind and only just making over the tide until it turned at 19.15, but by them we were past the Great Orme and so in a most favourable position for making Mostyn before midnight. After dinner the N.W. wind grew very tired, at which we could hardly grumble as he had blown us all the way from Eigg, so in light airs which soon died to a flat calm we started Fanny at 21.45 and pouring libations into her open mouth proceeded under power to the Dee buoy and up the river to find an anchorage free from the swell behind Mostyn breakwater, where we let go at 23.58. 38 miles from Glyn Garth in 10 hours, 28 minutes.
We had to be up early on Friday, June 17th, so that we could leave Mostyn two hours before low water, as there is a shoal patch outside the anchorage. Turned to at 05.20 and under weigh twenty minutes later. The flat calm still persisted, so we could do nothing but motor down the Mostyn channel, up Welshman's Gut to Hilbre Island and down Hilbre Swatchway to H.E.1 black – no short cuts across the banks at dead low water so that the flood would carry us nicely along to the Mersey River. Here we stopped the engine and optimistically tried to sail, but the northerly swell made it a thankless task and when the infinitesimal wind died again and the engine had been given its daily overhaul we resorted to Fanny and gave the ship a harbour stow while we motored serenely up the channel in real summer weather.
At 11.07 we had the Rip Rap buoy close abeam to starboard, and Robinetta crossed her outward bound course of a year and one month ago with 921 miles astern of her in thirty two days of cruising and having visited no less than thirty-three ports, only three of which – Port Erin, Garth, and Mostyn – I had been into before.
We entered the big Alfred Lock, so very different to those at Crinan, at 11.35, with 2 hours 25 minutes to spare on our allotted time and being lucky with the bridges secured alongside H.M.S. Irwell in Morpeth Dock at 13.00, lying to the lower boon. 25 miles in 5 hours, 55 minutes.
An exhaustive spring clean was interrupted at 14.00, by the arrival of the big dinghy from Rosneath. As we had only written to Silvers from Port Erin on the Tuesday night, the dispatch with which it arrived was rather amazing. We finished cleaning by 16.15 and had the most luxurious bathe aboard Irwell and so home, with a host of new memories, our only regret that we hadn't tried for Stornaway on the previous Thursday, but who could have foretold with certainly either that the wind would shift to north-west on the Friday or that it would remain for so long in that quarter?
We had two bad losses. The first discovered as we left Kintour Bay, Islay, when we found that the instrument box of the harpoon log was empty – the log itself having somehow or other been left at Silvers when they put the gear aboard. This was very annoying as it might have made matters very difficult. The second one, of lesser importance, occurred at Ardrishaig where the boathook-cum-spinnaker boom disappeared in mysterious circumstances; it had a fitting on the hook end for securing to the mast and was very useful. Without it we had to use an oar – which is a rotten thing to makeshift with, but fortunately, only needed to do so twice on the run from Ardglass to Port Erin for a few fours and from Puffin Island to a position somewhere off Rhyl, where we became becalmed.
The collapsible dinghy has been invaluable. Had we attempted to tow the other we should have undoubtedly lost it even crossing the Lynn of Lorne on the way north, or else we should have had to put back and had the thing sent home and continued without a tender – a miserable business. It is made of tempered Masonite, the hinges and square transom being of number 0 flax. Without the oars if cost less than £5 to make. It is 7 ft. 6 in, long and stows nicely on the foredeck. If anyone is interested I should be glad to give them particulars.
The little ship has very definitely proved herself and the confidence we now feel in her puts many pounds on her value to me. How long it will be before we again go real cruising together heaven alone knows, but for the next few seasons she must be content to train the future cabin boy during my all too short holiday.


No comments: