Test pic for Dave

Test pic for Dave

We float! A blog is reborn

After a bit of a break (last season was rubbish) I’ve decided to re-start the blog.

Went up to Balvicar last Friday, where Silkie spent the stormy season in the yard, to get ready to launch. Sadly, Silkie has been much under-maintained this winter and a great deal needed to be done to achieve even the minimum necessary before launch. I declared us ready on Monday evening and hoped to go in after Shard the following day.

It was not to be however and I was first in on Wednesday, just after lunch, and the rest of the day was spent bending on sails and re-connecting the mast electrics etc.

After a last minute disappointment over a mooring at Balvicar I’d had a scramble to find an affordable summer berth before finally striking a deal for a mooring in Dunstaffnage Bay. Our shakedown cruise was to be the 19 miles between the two.

I’d hoped to have two crew for this sail but both had found flimsy pretexts to bow out and so I was single-handed again. The 0600 forecast was W/SW 3/4 inc 5-7 v NW4 in N later, oc R/Dr, M/G oc P, M oc R in N and the visibility was indeed decidedly poor although there was not much wind in evidence yet. Dropped the mooring at 0950 and motor-sailed through Cuan where I saw the only other yacht of the day motoring W to E against the start of the flood. It was a bit choppy as we emerged but not enough wind for the sea state so we continued motor-sailing and were immediately joined by two large dolphins.

They stayed with us around Easdale and up past the northern tip of Seil, about 6 miles and well over an hour, providing the most astonishing show almost the whole way. As well as the usual rushing at the boat from all angles and just scraping in front of the bow or under the keel, they made amazing synchronised leaps easily six feet clear of the water dozens of times. One did a huge back somersault right in front of the bow while crossing from starboard to port. On one occasion I thought they had left and I started to do a 360 degree scan (conscious that I hadn’t been keeping as good a lookout as I ought – oops) and as I looked back the two burst clear of the water, no more than ten feet astern, from opposite quarters and one leapt clean over the other. They flanked us, upside down, for a while but I’m afraid I’m unable to tell male from female. They spent several minutes keeping pace in formation alongside the cockpit with their heads out of the water and it was impossible to escape the conclusion that they were checking me out. No pictures unfortunately – a tale not worth the telling.

The current wisdom is that such behaviour by these beautiful, powerful and undoubtedly intelligent mammals is the result of boredom but I find it hard to believe that such an extravagant display is purely the product of ennui. At the very least they appear to display an admirable joie de vivre for all of their adult lives and I can’t help wondering who made the right evolutionary decision when I see them scrutinising me with that cheeky grin.

We parted company south of Kerrera and I suspect they became distracted by a fishing boat which appeared to be sorting it’s catch to judge by the cloud of gulls in attendance. The wind had picked up and we were sailing now. It was no more than a point or two off a dead run at any time and we sailed under a conservative, single-reefed main alone but it was enough to give  four or five knots in the freshening breeze, with a clean bottom. We tied up to a Dunstaffnage pontoon (mooring yet to be inspected) at 1410. Not too shabby for 17′ on the waterline.

Miles this trip 19
Miles this season 19


Saturday 19th August

DaveS had said that he would probably head for Oronsay today and this seemed like a good idea since a NW wind was forecast for a couple of days.

Sailed off the mooring just before 1200 though I had to give a quick burst of engine to avoid the adjacent mooring buoy. She takes a fair few seconds to gather steerage way and if I misjudge the ideal moment to drop the mooring and we don’t head off in quite the right direction there are several close obstructions in the firing line.

Sailed down to Cuan without hitting anything (!) and rolled away the genoa after Cleit rock to motor-sail the west reach. Started to sail again in light airs once through and headed SW. Tried to raise Avilion on the VHF without success and resorted to the mobile. Dave and Callum were just about to go ashore on Eileach an Naoimh and were still headed for Oronsay.

Continued to sail slowly until the wind died altogether at Garbh Eileach and motored down to Eileach an Naoimh to see if Avilion’s shore party had yet returned. They hadn’t and I was just about to drop the anchor when they appeared from the old landing place. The inflatable sped over to Avilion and they put out fenders for me to raft up. This was to set a precedent for the weekend.

It was 1600 by the time a beer had been consumed in Avilion’s cockpit and since there was no wind and 20 miles to go I’d have to get a move on if I was to reach Oronsay before dark o’clock. It was quite a while before Avilion followed me out and I discovered later that they were having windlass problems.

On the horizon

They still beat me to Kiloran Bay of course and had the hook set, fenders out and dinner in the oven by the time I arrived in the failing light at 2100. I was nervous about the entrance since it was my first time and I wasn’t sure I had identified the boathouse, to be kept on 270 degrees. All went well, though I certainly appreciated the large G&T with which I was welcomed. The wine, whisky and rum which followed the dread FBs also went down a treat.

Sunday 20th August

Kiloran Bay has several large lumps of rock set in white sand and crystal clear water and looked spectacular in the morning sun. It is open to the south though (hence the sand) and only suitable as an anchorage in the right weather.

We weren’t long up before a sail appeared over the NE arm of the bay. Jim was solo and engineless on his F27 trimaran Starlight and had had to anchor overnight in Loch Staosnaig on Colonsay. In a pretty display of seamanship he joined the raft under sail (at the second pass) with nary a bump.

The raft

Over a communal fry-up it was decided to catch the start of the ebb south through the Sound of Islay at 1600 so we went ashore to explore the Priory, an early Christian monastery with interesting carvings, cloisters and niches complete with real human remains. Back at the beach, the boathouse had been converted into an amazing dwelling with the original arched boat entrance, which occupied one wall of the living room, forming a huge window looking out over the bay to the Paps of Jura.

As the smallest boat, I left first at about 1500 while Jim’s modified outboard electronics were still being dissected in Avilion’s cockpit. I attempted to leave under sail and nearly rammed Starlight’s stern in the process.

It was a straight-line reach from the raft to the Rubha a’Mhail light on Islay however the wind was from the SW and there wasn’t quite enough of it to keep Silkie entirely settled in the swell which rolled in from the same direction.

There was probably up to 5 knots of tide flowing through the Sound at the narrower bits and I mostly sailed though with occasional use of engine when the wind disappeared and we found ourselves reversing (in the right direction) at several knots.

The rest of the fleet hove into view as we emerged from the Sound along with a fourth boat and a race developed (which Avilion won) when it became apparent that all were headed for the Craighouse mooring buoys The stranger probably thought that he came second (and was pleased to get the last buoy) but we had intended to raft up again anyway.

Jim’s arrival was delayed by having to lash his inflatable between Starlight’s hulls and use it’s outboard to complete the last few miles, so Callum and I were landed as an advance party to ensure that a meal would be available for all. This was more or less achieved though the hotel staff were not quite as obliging as might have been hoped.

Monday 21st August

The wind picked up through the night and I didn’t sleep very well. The following morning there was still a gusty 20-odd knots and I was apprehensive about the 30 miles back to Balvicar. I haven’t been as confident about single-handing this year as I was last year, as is probably obvious from the mileage recorded in this blog and I hadn’t been entirely at ease on the first two days of this trip.

Nevertheless I was making preparations to go when the wind suddenly stopped, resulting in me worrying about whether I had enough petrol to get up the Sound of Jura before the tide turned at the top end! There was a gentle breeze as I left at 1015 and the first hour or so was spent alternately motoring and sailing as I tried to balance my limited fuel with the need to get past Corryvreckan before the start of the ebb.

Eventually the wind filled in from NNW and we had a superb close reach under full sail with the wind forward of the port beam. We were soon caught by Avilion.

Being overhauled by Avilion

Starlight had obviously had a much later start but her speed was impressive. She was abeam half an hour after first becoming identifiable astern and half an hour later she was a dot on the horizon ahead. She was probably twice as fast through the water as wee Silkie who was going well enough in spite of her dirty bottom.

Having been overhauled by Starlight

It seemed to get gustier as we approached the north end of the sound and I put in a prophylactic reef but it wasn’t required and came out again fairly quickly.

Sailing up the sheltered sounds was wonderful. Luing, Torsa and Seil played tunes with the breeze which went up and down between 5 and 15 knots from moment to moment. Silkie is top fun in these conditions. When hit by such a puff she heels to 25 or 30 degrees, the helm loads up (as they say in the yachtie mags) and she accelerates with a stately vigour. As the gust eases, she rises up again, decelerates gradually and the tiller becomes finger-light once more. Probably all boats are equally entertaining but Silkie is my own delight.

Sailed into Balvicar Bay and motored onto the mooring.

A great sail, a great weekend and a significant restoration of my single-handing confidence. Thanks to Dave and Jim for the photos.

Miles this trip 87
Miles this season 392 (s/h 159)

Hurley Appreciation Society Annual Muster 2006

Arranged to meet Ian and his son Iain in the T’n’T on Friday night . Bumped into DaveS who was rostering his climbing club’s annual sail-and-climb weekend in the bar there. Avilion and Starlight, an F27 trimaran, were taking nine crew to Mull on Saturday for a wee daunder.

Ian and Iain

Miles this trip 47
Miles this season 305 (s/h 72)

Silkie’s crew had arrived earlier than expected so we just had the one before going down to the mooring.

Saturday 5th August 2006

Woke for the 0520 forecast and reset the alarm for an early start to catch slack water at Cuan and make the most of the flood up the Firth of Lorne. Didn’t manage to wake for the second alarm so we motor-sailed through about an hour into the flood in poor visibility. An interesting popple at the western entrance gave an idea of what conditions might be like with  a fresh breeze over tide at springs.

Continued motoring around the south of Easdale before finding just enough breeze to sail. We were in no hurry. Visibility was still poor; it’s not very often that Silkie is steered to a compass course in these waters but there was no land in sight for quite a while. The wind was fluky as we cut close to Duart and gusty (on the beam) as we crossed Craignure Bay. The tide was still flooding and we managed to sail into Loch Aline.

Once inside, the wind picked up, funneling through the entrance and we went barreling down the loch to anchor in front of the reef on the north shore. A light snack afloat was followed by a pint in the Lochaline Social Club and a superb dinner at the White House. On the return down the loch we saw the climbers’ boats hanging off a single hook in front of the sand jetty but the crew were in the Lochaline Hotel by this time and so we didn’t meet up with them that evening.

Sunday 6th August

Motored down the loch at tennish and spoke Avilion on the way. Dave had forgotten his trousers again. There was a fresh breeze from the NW in the Sound of Mull so we poled out the genoa and hurtled off at hull speed. Winds were lighter in the Firth of Lorne and we eventually resorted to motor-sailing.

Ian went below for a nap at this point. I’m not sure what it says about my abilities as a skipper but when I announced some time later that we could sail again young Iain called his dad on deck without further ceremony. There was a fair old swell rolling in from the SW and we beat into it between Insh and Seil before firing up the Yamaha again to motor-sail through Easdale Sound.

Our timing was perfect for the start of the ebb at Cuan and we were able to sail through between ‘the lurking mischief on the right, or the open destruction on the left’ with no problem that constant attention to helm and sails could not overcome. So I was feeling pretty smug as we came into Seil Sound. The sea was flat, the sun came out, there was a gentle breeze astern and the crew were relaxing in the cockpit.

The tide was against us now and the crew were facing a five hour drive home so I was keeping close in to the Seil shore to minimize both the distance and the effect of the current. I had just formed the thought “This is exactly the sort of time you make a stupid mistake, I’d better check the chart” when at the same moment Ian glanced at the echo sounder to see it read 0.0 and thought ‘Bloomin’ thing’s telling lies again.’ There was a nasty bang and we ground to a halt.

Oops, or words to that effect. Silkie slewed round through 90 degrees to point into the shore. The tide was falling (although in my confusion I announced that it was rising) and it would be 12 hours before it would be as high again. We furled the genoa, released the mainsheet and started the engine and I gave it full reverse as Ian swung from the port shrouds. I think we floated briefly again but the main pushed us back on.

We dropped the main on deck and Ian stripped off,  prepared to jump in to try to push her off but this didn’t seem like such a good idea since we’re none of us as young as we once were. We tried full reverse again with Iain on the tiller while his dad and I both swung off the shrouds, heaving ourselves back and forth to get a pendulum effect going. Fortunately Silkie’s hull form is amenable to this and she finally floated clear.

I said a little prayer to Neptune (or something like that) and blessed Silkie’s encapsulated keel.

We were only going slowly; we both thought 2.8 knots SOG when we talked it over afterwards.

We should have dropped the main immediately. It seems obvious now that although it was doing nothing while we were aground (with the wind forward of the port beam and the main right out to starboard) as soon as we floated the first time, the bow blew off so that the main filled and pushed us back on. A backed genoa might have helped especially if we’d tried to heel her the other way, to leeward, which we probably should have done.

We’d run aground on a small (nay, tiny) detached drying bit just south of Rubha na Gaolthe (N26 16.735 W5 35.960) the easternmost point of the southern half of Seil Island, which is exactly the sort of little chart feature I’d thought that I might have overlooked. This is also stupidly close in just after high water neaps when the tidal range here is just over a metre.

Although only moving at 2.8 knots, 2 tonnes still represents a fair amount of energy to be dissipated but at least we only slid up onto some rocks rather than running straight into one. I’m hopeful that there will be little more than cosmetic damage to forefoot and keel and don’t plan to haul out before the end of the season. Silkie had a lump out of this area when I bought her and so some of it is epoxy already.

For some reason, I was never really seriously concerned throughout (ignorance is bliss they say) and took some kind of perverse enjoyment from the experience.

Anyway, although his initial reaction was to want to call the Coastguard, young Iain says he still wants to go sailing again (although he wasn’t specific about who he’d want to sail with the next time) so I suppose all’s well that ends well.

Fairwinds Takes Her Departure

Sunday 30th July – Tuesday 1st August

Several short day sails were spent adjusting my new DIY stand-up genoa sheet blocks

On one, I’d planned to circumnavigate Shuna but chickened out when I realised that one of the legs would involve short-tacking into F5.

A first was achieved when I managed to complete another sail without using the engine at all though I’d warmed it up both before leaving and before returning, just in case.

Wednesday 2nd August

Happy Birthday to me.

Nick and Kathy had had the use of a friend’s private pontoon in Clachan Sound (while I was on their mooring!) to complete Fairwinds’ provisioning and Nick hailed me on 16 to say that they were ready to cast off.

I’d planned to sail with them for a bit but conditions were just too good for them. A beautiful hour running downwind in F4 would probably have required 4 hours tacking back into F4/5 and a knot of foul tide. So I bobbed around outside Balvicar Bay instead and took pictures as they cruised serenely past with just the new genoa up.


Heading South


Leaving Balvicar  Bay

Back in a year

Sensibly, having gone to Craobh for diesel they decided that that was quite far enough for their first leg and that a moment to attempt to relax, recuperate and assimilate was the seamanlike course of action. The longest journey begins with a single step.

Bon Voyage.

Miles this trip 23
Miles this season 258 (s/h 72)

The Cruise That Wasn't – Part I

This was to have been the start of Silkie’s summer cruise but various problems meant that I would have to make do with three shorter periods afloat rather than a full fortnight.

Saturday 22nd July

Arrived in the middle of the afternoon and set off immediately to catch the end of the flood through Cuan. This was my first time as skipper (solo too) and I was a trifle trepid.

For any readers not familiar with the area this is one of several industrial-strength tidal gates to be found within a ten mile radius. Spring rate in both directions is 7 knots; the 110 degree bend in the middle is adorned by the famous Cleit Rock and it’s deadlier but unnamed brethren less than a cable to the north which lurk just under the surface; the west reach is about a cable wide and winds are fluky; eddies and overfalls abound in the wrong conditions. Of course if you’re sensible (read feart) none of this need be a problem.

Frank Cowper’s description is a belter. “I have never had such an awful piece of steering. The helm was always in movement, sometimes very slightly, and the vessel’s head would remain in mid-channel. Then there would come a more violent rush, or the surging eddies would catch her stem, and away the old craft would sheer direct for the lurking mischief on the right, or the open destruction on the left.”

Tide tables and pilots were checked to within an inch of their lives and the passage was untroubled.

I’d had plans to head south for Loch Tarbert, Jura but the forecast F4 was conspicuous by it’s absence and I drifted north to Puilladobhrain instead, going south of Easdale.

Enjoyed a little VHF confusion on the way. After speaking Fairwinds on 77 (Nick hailed first on 16) another vessel hailed Silkie, as I thought, on 77 and a dialogue developed about anchoring at Puilladobhrain. Turned out it was Selkie and her pals who were also bound there.

I had to set the anchor twice. Despite the gentle conditions earlier a bit of a puff came through and the bow began to blow off before I had reached the intended spot the first time around. I allowed myself to think ‘Ach, it’ll be alright’ (at my age you’d think I’d know that this is never the case) and heaved the anchor over. Sure enough Silkie ended up about 10′ in front of another boat whose crew were ashore fortunately and so I was able to repeat the process without the benefit of any glowering.

Met Nick and Kathy for dinner in the T’n’T.

Sunday 23rd July

A late start since Cuan wouldn’t open before 1700ish. Tacked down to Easdale in a decent southerly breeze but fired up the engine to go through the Sound and managed to pass 30m south of the correct beacon this time (see Learning Curve) Continued motor-sailing through Cuan but silenced the beast to ghost back up to Balvicar.

Miles this trip 27
Miles this season 235 (s/h 49)

Barnacle Power

Saturday 8th July

Went up to the boat in the early afternoon. There was a fresh breeze blowing directly into the bay so I fired up the engine and cast off. Opened the throttle and.. nothing.. not half a knot. There was just enough power to bring her head through the wind and pick up the mooring again.

A quick glance into the well told all and I pulled the engine up into the cockpit. The Venerable Yamaha had been attempting to produce forward motion with a ball of barnacles in place of a propeller and a couple of hours were required to return the bottom half of the outboard to more efficient proportions. The hull’s a bit hairy too. Either the water’s richer in Balvicar or my ‘I’ll take the cheapest please’ anti-foul isn’t up to the job.

Sunday 9th July

Sailed off the mooring at lunchtime (no wind earlier) and started short-tacking down the Sounds of Seil and Shuna. I was strangely out of sorts however and not enjoying the sail so I turned round and returned to the mooring after a couple of hours. A crisis of confidence perhaps.

Miles this trip 7
Miles this season 208 (s/h 22)