Just back from a long weekend aboard Silkie with an old mate, Paul. It’s twenty years since we shared a flat and it appears that he’s done more than a bit of sailing in the intervening period (though not for a few years) including a Round Britain, a couple of St. Kildas and even a few trips in a Hurley 22.
We set off for Easdale from Dunstaffnage on Friday morning in brilliant sunshine and headed across the Firth of Lorne on port tack in light winds to get a slant to take us south. After a couple of miles at less than three knots we tacked and at that moment the wind woke up. We accelerated out of the tack a point or so free with the log in the high fives and tore off down the Firth. Paul’s grin alone was worth the price of admission. Just as suddenly, we lost the wind completely an hour or so later just north of Bach Island. The kettle went on and we bobbed about while we drank a cuppa, before giving in and firing up the trusty two-stroke.
This was my first visit to Easdale and although it would be low water (revealing the hazards I hoped) a careful study of the pilot was called for. “..Of the beacons which formerly marked rocks in the sound, one, inside the south side of the south east entrance, has collapsed completely, and one in the middle of the north west entrance is reduced to a stump..” We were entering by the north west entrance. “..Take care not to cut the corner, but when you have identified the beacon approach with the south point of Insh Island astern, to pass about 30 metres south of the beacon..” I asked Paul to read it through too (on the basis that it’s always good to have someone else to share the blame if it all goes pear-shaped) but what neither of us realised was that the beacon referred to in the second quote is not either of the two in the first quote but is a third beacon, on Seil, not mentioned elsewhere in the text.
So, with Paul rock-spotting on the foredeck and me with one eye on the sounder, we trickled cautiously into Easdale Sound a carefully judged 30 metres outside the channel! Paul saw plenty of rocks to port and to starboard but I never saw less than 1.5m under the keel and we congratulated ourselves on our pilotage as we dropped anchor by the slate wharf. [As an aside, all this was conducted under the watchful gaze of the skipper of the only other vessel anchored, who was sunning himself on his foredeck. You know who you are, and so do we and if ever we can do you a good turn..]
We blew up the dinghy and went ashore on Easdale. The grand tour doesn’t take ower long and we had a pint in The Puffer (that’s another one ticked off the list) before returning to the dinghy. The tiny ferry was just coming alongside in the tiny harbour and the ferryman hailed us “Are you Silkie?” Expecting at the very least some gruff words of praise from this ancient mariner in recognition of our seamanship we coyly owned that we were. “You were bloody lucky” quoth he and he patiently explained to us the error of our ways while lamenting the fact that he was probably talking himself out of a salvage fee when we took our departure. We mumbled our thanks and returned aboard.
The wind had returned and so we weighed anchor (the holding is not good in the Sound) and picked up the mooring instead. We had arranged to meet a well-known west-coast webmaster with wife in the Oyster Brewery and so after a quick snack we rowed ashore to Seil this time and enjoyed a few pints of their excellent Ferryman’s (!) Ale (two ticks on the list in one day). We enjoyed a nightcap or six after returning aboard and were vigorously rocked to sleep in the north westerly swell when we finally turned in at yon time.
I rowed ashore to Easdale in the morning to make my donation to the Community Trust for the use of the mooring and bumped into it’s Chairman, Donald Melville (a sailor and known to all apparently, as Melon) who was happy to relieve me of my contribution.
The forecast was for N/NW F4/5 maybe 6 later and the same, but more, for Sunday. We decided to head for Loch Aline, reasoning that it should be a good sail back up the Firth of Lorne although the Sound of Mull might be a hard beat and if it did pick up on Sunday at least it would be blowing us homeward. We set off in sunshine again and poled out the genoa as we ran up the Firth in a fresh south westerly. As we approached Lady’s Rock there was a lull and the genoa started to look unhappy so I went forward and had a struggle to get the pole off. Paul later claimed that we were making sternway momentarily. By the time I regained the cockpit Paul was already hauling in sheets as fast as he could and we were hard on the wind in a north westerly F4.
With a reef in the main and full genoa we were making good speed through the water (though not quite as fast as I would have expected – more of this later) and had made such good time running that the ebb was still against us and we were achieving less than three knots over the ground. We just managed to stay clear of the worst of the swirly bits between Lady’s Rock and Mull and the tide turned shortly after.
The sun was long gone now and the wind was really picking up. We took a few rolls out of the genoa. With wind and tide opposed we were starting to labour in the short seas. We were over-pressed, making a lot of leeway and should have taken in the second reef but we didn’t have enough drive as it was. This is of course the classic dilemma of the small boat; how long can you continue to carry the sail you need to make progress to windward in a rising wind and sea? The smaller you are, the sooner comes the point where the forces can’t be balanced but it was more than that – Something Was Not Right.
Paul said later (he’s a great one for saying later) that we should have hove-to and thought things through and with the benefit of hindsight this would indeed have been an excellent course of action. We might well have sussed the problem – have you? As it was, we struggled on, exchanging meaningful glances and probably making good less than a knot in the direction of our destination until I finally said,
“Well, what do you think?”
“You’re the skipper” replied the mate.
“We sail for pleasure!” I quoted. “Bear away.”
The next couple of minutes did not go entirely to plan. We were, for a moment or two, just a teensy bit out of control and it was left to the ship to look after her crew (rather than the other way around) which she did admirably. Modesty forbids (and my lawyers caution against) the revealing here of the full facts. The brain in crisis mode is too busy dealing with events to have much spare capacity for recording them anyway and this too makes revealing the full facts difficult.
When we got ourselves sorted out (good teamwork here BTW if you read this Number One) we went hurtling along on what Paul later described as a “screaming reach” and the fact that our hearts were in our mouths was probably the only thing that stopped this being literally true. We were still over-pressed but well under control again (I think!) and setting a new all-time speed record. There wasn’t a lot of attention to spare for reading instruments but the GPS recorded 7.1 knots and I saw 7.6 on the log.
Lady’s Rock came up again in what seemed like minutes having spent well over an hour slogging away from it in the opposite direction and it was Paul who suggested dropping the main. This seemed like an excellent idea given that we were about to go through against the current for the second time in only a couple of hours and with the wind also against the tide on this occasion the overfalls did not disappoint. I was glad it was closer to neaps than springs. We lurched through under genoa and continued scudding at over five knots all the way into Oban Bay. The sun came out again and we broke my normal dry sailing rule with a well deserved beer.
As we headed south past Oban we passed a humungous billionaire’s toy at anchor and almost filling the channel. This (I later discovered here) turned out to be the 90m Lurssen-built Air, possibly on her way to her new owner.
As we circled in Little Horseshoe Bay, Kerrera the VHF crackled.
“Yacht preparing to anchor in Little Horseshoe Bay this is Balchis [spelling guessed] over.”
The skipper and crew of Balchis had set off for a walk to Gylen Castle and were on a ridge above us with a handheld VHF and some timely advice about the position of their anchor. We eventually anchored in less water than we needed for the expected fall of tide but when Balchis left (they were only awaiting sufficient water for Loch Feochan) we re-anchored and settled down for the night. Much fat was chewed regarding the day’s events but The Problem remained undiagnosed.
The plan was to nip down to Puilldobhrain for lunch (a pint in the T’n’T) and head over to Loch Spelve for the night. Paul has sailed through this area several times but has never had the time to explore it and since we hadn’t managed Tiree (the original plan) I thought we might as well plough as many of the “inside” anchorages as possible.
We were followed in to Puilldobhrain by a salty-looking ketch and her skipper hailed us in an American accent while we tested our holding,
“Where’s a good place to anchor in here?”
“Anywhere you like,” we replied “the depth is constant and the holding good.”
“What about the path?”
“Land where the weed is cleared and follow the shoreline. You’ll see the signs.”
As she passed we saw her stern; Patience Boston Ma.
We listened to the 1320 forecast, N/NW F5/6 for Monday, and strong wind warnings too (never been quite sure how that works) and cancelled Loch Spelve.
We blew up the dinghy and were ashore just moments before the crew of Patience and so we walked over the hill in company to the T’n’T where we shared a few with her skipper, Hugh Dundee and his crew of the moment, John Andrews. Hugh regaled us with tales of his 32 day Atlantic crossing in Patience, a 30′ Cape Dory, and his earlier two and a half year circumnavigation. We returned aboard with him for a wee goldie. It’s one of the little-known advantages of sailing a 22 footer that we are always being invited aboard others’ vessels but rarely is a reciprocal invitation taken up!
The day dawned wet, windy and grey but as we motored out of the anchorage the wind dropped away. It seemed obvious that this was only a temporary lull and we decided to reef the main as we raised it. Paul struggled with this in the left-over sea slopping around. He couldn’t get a good shape in the sail and as he tried to tension the halyard I noticed the boom jump up an inch or so on the gooseneck track. We decided to continue back up to Little Horseshoe Bay and put in for repairs.
Once in shelter the problem was obvious. The leech line cheek block was too far forward on the boom and wasn’t putting enough tension on the foot of the sail. It was clear that I had done no better when reefing on the Saturday (it shames me to admit that I hadn’t noticed) and we had been trying to go upwind in F5/6 with a bag for a mainsail. We made the necessary adjustments and between us managed to sweat up the reefing line to give a beautiful flat main at the second reef point. However it seems unlikely that I would be able to get as much tension on if single-handed and I will need to re-think Silkie’s reefing arrangements.
Once out into the Firth of Lorne again we enjoyed a boisterous F5 reach back up to Dunstaffnage and ran into the bay before rounding up to drop sail. The final entertainment of the weekend was provided by our neighbour leaving in his newly acquired and massively built Banjer 37 motor sailer as we enjoyed a post-cruise beer in the cockpit. With 100hp on tap it was as well that he didn’t use full throttle before discovering that he still had a stern line on or we (and everyone else on the pontoon) might have enjoyed another cruise!
Thanks for the weekend Paul. I still haven’t managed to reproduce the harbour stow you put on the mainsail. You’ll have to come again so I can take notes next time!
Miles this trip 56
Miles this season 260 (s/h 93)