(sadly this wifi link will not support downloading pictures – another time)
Another dawn reveille saw the skipper slip into his pre-departure Saga routine like a well-oiled machine …. “vertical …2,3 …. scratch … 2,3 …. light stove 2,3 (ensuring kettle is on it) … open eyes 2,3 … dress 2,3 …” and by 0430 Team A-Jay was heading out past the fish farm on the high tide, mainsail proudly erect.
The Northern Ireland coast line here is magical – I was in awe as we slipped past on a glassy sea pushed by an extra knot and a half as the tide briefly accelerated us round the headland. The cliffs are 400 metres high, tumbling lush green, bald in places exposing red grey rock; farmsteads and homes dot the base and a sea level road winds its way, the only real link with the towns. A few sheep defied gravity as they breakfasted and not even the inevitable lead grey canopy of cloud could spoil the picture. The sea, smooth as a mirror today and leaden like the sky, lay snugly at the gently sloping foot of the mountains though how terrifying this scene must be in a winter’s gale.
Groups of Guillemots idled on the sea and 15 nautical miles to the East the dark 1,000 foot high Mull of Kintyre floated, its base hidden by fog. Here and there a lost cloud clung forlornly to gullies in the cliffs and the North Channel was at peace, so very different from the mayhem and disaster of the trip from Port St. Mary. To the North, Rathlin Island and Islay were darkly visible as a fat red tanker headed briskly South freed from the shackles of the shipping lanes we were approaching.
As we closed the Mull, the top of which looked like broccoli florets in the gloom, Guillemots gave way to formation flying Gannets and jelly fish hung in the sea like discarded translucent shopping bags. Ray the Radar back from a lengthy furlough, reported no shipping at all in the shipping lanes as we crossed, but he picked up a yacht creeping close round the Mull; long and lean, she was soon far ahead of us.
Where yacht Islay came from I had no idea as I hadn’t seen her when I scanned the horizon, but there she was passing 2 cables to port, the Isle of Islay and Jura’s Paps in the background. To starboard a few houses and a wind farm did little to lighten the bleak flanks of Kintyre and the wind breathed its last and collapsed into the sea, as we headed into Ardminish Bay on Gigha’s East Side to join a dozen other yachts in the rain. We’d been at sea for 9 hours.
Saga Reveille procedure next morning included a peek at the Met Office forecast, as astonishingly I had MyFi access in this bay. Expecting winds from the South, Force 4 – 6, I was puzzled to have almost no wind from the East, North and West; it did rain though, so the forecast was partly right!
Heavy rain during the night had sluiced out A-Jay’s nooks and crannies and left a heavy, soggy dawn to see us off. Departing an hour before Dover HW we were off the Northern tip of pretty little Gigha an hour later, sharing space with seals and trawlers, watched all the while by the Paps of Jura that playfully pushed their tips through a thin translucent veil of cloud. Their less well endowed cousins to the East lay flat, squashed by dense heavy cloud.
You navigate the Sound of Gigha in the dark at your peril, for there are pot markers everywhere adding to the hazards posed by numerous rocks and reefs; the skipper had to be alert and strong tea helped. Some Heavenly Warrior had slashed open the grey canopy to the East, releasing a lagoon of light blue sky …. MORE PLEASE!!! In contrast the Paps to the West had lifted their skirts to cover their modesty as the sun briefly teased Team A-Jay.
A-Jay at 29 feet is a relative tiddler and despite leaving well before two other yachts, we were soon overhauled us for speed in a yacht is a function of water line length and no amount of power will conquer the laws of hydro dynamics. It also struck me that I had not seen a single motor boat cruising, though I guess they are designed to be supremely comfortable to sit in, so why bother going far? What I did see were many long lines of bubbles and ripples, which I soon discovered were made by seals – at least most were. Team A-Jay was traversing a submarine exercise area and a raised periscope also makes a long line of bubbles and ripples …..
Homesteads were few and far between on the Eastern shore (I couldn’t see much of the Western shore due to rain and mist) and I wondered what it must be like to live there in winter, far from anywhere. I suspect though that most of the inhabitants would be too busy working the land and tending animals for leisure; a tough life in a harsh but beautiful environment.
We passed the infamous, tantalising, deadly, Corryvreckan sandwiched between Jura and Scarba and five miles later we entered Croabh Harbour just before heavy rain settled in for the afternoon, 7 hours out from Gigha. As I wrote up the log I realised that I had used the chart much more than the GPS today, because there are so many features in the lochs that it is relatively easy to pick them out and it is satisfying fun that helps while away the hours.
Force 7 and heavy rain welcomed me to the World, but I expected nothing different. The forecast suggested more of the same for the next few days – oh well, all part of growing up and being British. Tomorrow we’ll definitely go, though the Willis Master Plan for the trip will be flexible.