Three Day Sails – Part III

Tuesday 4th October

The forecast for Tuesday had been revised down to S 4 or 5 occasionally 6 and I set off again at 1000ish with a similar plan to Monday. With a good sailing breeze from the south I could hold a course straight down the Firth of Lorne and began to think about a circumnavigation of Kerrera. I?ve never managed to sail all the way through Kerrera Sound (in either direction, in any boat) and the southerly would give me a sporting chance on taking the ?inside passage? back north.

Regular readers of this nonsense will know that I have only started single-handing this season and that my attitude to reefing has been strictly ?.. when you first think of it.? There was a subtle change in my priorities on this occasion and though I have given it some considerable consideration since, I?m still not sure why. Anyway, we hung on as the wind increased until the argument for a reef could be ignored no longer and I decided to heave-to to reduce sail. This worked well.

I hadn?t wanted to go east of Bach island since this would take us very close to the south coast of Kerrera, a lee shore on the day. The story of Classic Wave, wrecked on this very spot (albeit through engine failure) in similar conditions only a couple of weeks earlier was fresh in my mind. My intention was to pass west of Bach Island and continue south for perhaps a mile before tacking to head for the southern entrance to Kerrera Sound.

I must have sailed over this little patch of sea (to the west and north of Bach Island) at least a half-dozen times without noticing anything unusual. However, the bottom rises from over 120 to 20-odd metres in less than a quarter of a mile and I was now riding the spring ebb up this slope into the teeth of a F5. The waves weren?t particularly high (not much over a metre) but they were very close together and spectacularly steep on both faces. We continued to make some headway but were probably travelling considerably further in the vertical plane than the horizontal. Poor wee Silkie was taking a hammering and it didn?t take long for me to make up my mind. ?We sail for pleasure!? I quoted, again.

I pressed the pause button (this heaving-to is great!) briefly to think things through before bearing away on a broad reach NE. Immediate 7+ knot surfing set the scene for a rerr terr back up the Firth of Lorne. I even had the cheek to raise the whole main again in a brief lull when the speed dropped below 5 knots! What a blast!

The end result was that we arrived back at Dunstaffnage hours earlier than I had expected, at a very similar tidal height to our Sunday departure and with a very similar result. I reversed off and pootled round the moorings for 15 minutes before successfully negotiating the shoal at the second attempt.

Another great weekend! Learned loads again but still seem to have a long way to go before I can lay claim to even a modicum of sea sense.

Miles this trip 48
Miles this season 838 (s/h 213)

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Three Day Sails – Part II

Monday 3rd October

The forecast was SW backing S 4 or 5. It was Tuesday?s forecast however, S 4 or 5 occasionally 6 or 7 (I was slightly surprised they didn?t add the famous ?perhaps gale 8 later? just to be on the safe side) that made me decide to stick to day sailing. I set off at 1000ish in light winds with no more definite plan than to tack down the Firth of Lorne.

The wind increased steadily and we managed 5.5 knots hard on the wind before it was time to reef. I?d just got her settled again and the wind was continuing to build when the ?phone rang. It?s one of the more interesting ?features? of mobile ?phone technology that these absurdly incongruous conversations are possible. Kenny was sitting behind his desk and I had water on the side deck. Wonderful!

I tacked and reefed down again. Conditions were now moderately grim and we were making only 3.5 to 4 knots. The main sets well when reefed but the genoa does little more than resemble a sail when half of it is rolled away. I?d have given good money for a No.3 jib and an inner forestay.

Suddenly, I heard a ?Pff!.. Pff!? like a heads up call from the starboard quarter and first one and immediately a second dolphin surfaced right in front of Silkie?s bow as they shot diagonally past from right to left. Porpoises are an everyday sight in these waters but this was the first time I?d had dolphins come to play. After a couple of moments they did the same trick again from left to right and back again and again, presumably swimming figures of eight across our course. Next they split up and began crossing in opposite directions. They stayed for only a few minutes but I was absolutely entranced and suddenly the day appeared in a whole new light.

As they made their last pass the sun found some thinner cloud and if it didn?t exactly shine it was at least visible as a white disc. It too was right on the bow and illuminated our course as a shimmering silver highway on the sea. What can I say? You can?t buy this kind of stuff!

Ten minutes later and it was business as usual again. We were approaching the coast of Kerrera and a nasty-looking rain squall came sweeping up the Firth. I decided to heave-to and let it pass. I?ve only really practised this before on Silkie so I was interested to see how it would work in a decent blow. I put her about so that we pointed back out to open water ?and ?relax! I don?t know if we were properly hove-to since we lay almost beam on to the wind and fore-reached at just under a knot but the change in motion was remarkable and the wind seemed to have eased about 10 knots. I thought about playing with the sails to see if I could get her to point a little higher. In fact, it was so restful that I just went below out of the rain to put the kettle on and make lunch.

After the squall passed I came back up (I had been keeping watch throughout – honest!) to enjoy my lunch in the cockpit while bobbing gently about in a solid F5. I talked myself out of any more beating. I may not be any kind of a gentleman but I can sympathise with their reluctance to go to windward. A direct return to Dunstaffnage would have been a dead run so I brought the genoa over and bore away on as broad a reach as possible instead. This set us on a course for the Lismore coast where a gybe let us beam reach back across the top of the Firth of Lorne at over 6 knots.

Another great day on the water!

Three Day Sails – part 1

Another four day weekend. Didn’t bother rushing up on Friday evening since Saturday clearly wasn’t going to be a sailing day. Sure enough there was a whole gale of wind and I’ve never seen the Firth of Lorne look so nasty. Even the Isle of Mull ferry was heeling noticeably.

Sunday 2nd October

I’d arranged to meet Nick (webmaster of this parish) and his wife Kathy to give them the opportunity to experience the delights of a sail on Silkie, weather permitting, and they duly appeared at 1030ish. It’s always interesting when old salts come aboard for the first time and especially so if they are honest with their first impressions.

The first comment, immediately on putting a foot on the sidedeck, was on how tippy she is. Silkie and Fairwinds (Albin Vega) are both built narrow and deep but Silkie has a real “wine glass” hull with the consequent lack of form stability. I casually mentioned the three quarters of a tonne of ballast carried a metre below the waterline but I could see this wasn’t completely successful as a reassurance. It had started to rain so we went below for a cuppa and discussed Silkie’s compact and bijou interior. Making a cup of tea involved everyone aboard in musical chairs while kettle and mugs were retrieved from their lockers.

The rain stopped and it looked as if there might be a bit of a breeze so we made ready for sea and set off at low water springs precisely. I had been warned that it might happen on a very low tide but was still somewhat surprised when we gently ground to a halt off the SE corner of the pontoons. My first accidental grounding! It was only for the want of a centimetre or two and a little gentle manipulation of C of G allowed us to proceed.

Once out into the Firth I went forward to raise the main. I hauled it to the top but there was a fresh breeze blowing and we were going to be tacking. I can’t remember who mentioned it first but we were all thinking about a reef and it was tucked in before the main was allowed to draw. I unrolled the genny and it was Nick who said “I think that might be about enough” with four or five rolls left to go. Looking back I suspect that my crew were slightly nervous about how this apparently tippy wee boat was going to behave in the fresh conditions. Fair enough! Nick took the helm first and although we were probably slightly under-canvassed in the foresail department and could have pointed a shade higher perhaps, we were making 4.5 knots on the wind in reasonable comfort and not excessively heeled.

We decided to take a mooring in Oban Bay for lunch and Nick showed us how he got his yachtmaster ticket by picking up the buoy under sail, at the fourth pass! (Correction: third pass- Ed.) After lunch, we sailed off the mooring and almost immediately the VHF spoke and we heard the inevitable “All vessels navigating in and around Oban Bay, this is the car ferry Isle of Mull. We will shortly be entering Oban Bay via the North Channel.” The Isle of Mull was no problem but her buddy (was it Isle of Arran?) following behind was not so straightforward.

We were hugging the right side of the channel on port tack and needed to tack across to clear Maiden Island. This is a Narrow Channel and so “small vessels must not impede..” etc. but even if it hadn’t been so, tacking under the bows of a ro-ro ferry is not my idea of a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Nick was on the helm and his suggestion that we pinch up to slow down and let the ferry pass was eminently sensible until she inexplicably slowed right down to walking pace. Did they think they were being considerate or did they perhaps have a problem? We were left luffing closer and closer to Maiden Island and should probably have started the engine at this point. Right at the last moment we decided we could tack without causing consternation on the ferry bridge even although we were not yet level with her bow. We’d left it too late though and were caught in a windless hole under the steep windward side of the island. The genoa hung up on the baby stay and she wouldn’t come round. A quick application of iron tops’l saved the day and we filled away on starboard tack. Had the boathook been to hand we could probably have achieved the same result by pushing off!

Back out in the Firth of Lorne we headed north again on a glorious broad reach in F4/5 and some fine surfing was enjoyed. I was tempted to suggest shaking out the reef but we were certainly not under-canvassed and the speed was frequently in the high sixes. We rounded up to drop the main before turning to scud downwind into Dunstaffnage Bay. Nick sailed her through the moorings until the very last moment when I fired up the engine and took the helm to bring her back alongside.

A fine mixture of conditions for Nick and Kathy for their first sail in Silkie and I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. Nick made a couple of comments which were pleasing to an owner’s ear. The first was during lunch, I think, when he remarked that Silkie seemed much bigger to him than she had when he first stepped aboard. The second, during the afternoon surfing session (and repeated during the post-cruise drinking session) was that he thought she could handle pretty much any conditions with the appropriate canvas. What a nice man! Maybe I’ll follow Nick and Kathy on their “milk run” next year!