Waiting in Inverness

I like Inverness. You can’t see it from the Marina, you can’t get there in the dinghy and on first visit, you probably won’t find the shops you need. But you can get your comb-over sorted and enjoy a modest lunch for the total price of a good bottle of hair restorer. Mind you, it’s a good stiff walk from boat to town, so you won’t be able to carry much more than a case of the good stuff. Then a return trip will be required for food and other essentials.

I don’t mind as it burns calories and forces one to focus on exactly why you have walked 1.5 miles to town with a rucksack. Today required two trips to town as the skipper forgot the single most important item …. despite a written reminder and knotted handkerchief.

Electrical gremlins have hit Team A-Jay, like Japanese knot weed hits a garden – the hand held VHF battery is wobbling and the 240v mains charger has failed, as had any hope of a local fix. This failure was further evidence that bits begin to need replacing as a boat reaches its first decade, though such intense use as A-Jay had recently endured no doubt hastened the failure rate.

Rain had been a constant companion here; little rain, medium rain and big rain, but it didn’t stop the skipper turning the boat round like the fox on the glacier mint, to scrub both sides and fettle various bits and bobs. Today, Wednesday 29th July, began well with a bullish but weak brightness doing battle with rain clouds from the Firth and promising much. It was all talk though, as rain showers got the better of almost every skirmish such that I began to wonder whether a nice, gentle High had forever been lost to mankind.

Many boats have come and gone already and Team A-Jay has as usual generated several conversations with passing crews, mostly Scandinavian, which is always a pleasure. Boaty stuff, like; “how’s your windvane?”, “nice little boat”, “is this weather normal?”, or “have you really been to all those places alone?” The last one can be tricky as you are either Billy no Mates, or you are an irascible curmudgeon…. Let’s just say the truth might lie somewhere between.

Age can play havoc with hearing, all the more so if life has included lots of bangs and bombs. For example, Goldfrapp, whom I have mentioned before and whose singing the dolphins and I love, appears to me to be in love with a Christmas Tree, which obviously is not what she is singing about. This disability can result in many parallel but completely unlinked conversations over the years with friends and loved ones …. “Fry up or porridge? Yes didn’t it rain last night!! Fruit or plain porridge? Fried for me please ..!!!” And so on ….

Kessock Bridge is visible from here and if the wind is not singing in the rigging, traffic provides an alternative serenade – that is unless ex Clipper yachts from Advenuresoffshore.com happen to be in port. If so, your evening will be enlivened instead by the lovely sound of the laughter of youth, a wonderful end to an evening.

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Wind turbine vanes

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SAM 7s (windvanes actually)

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Wind turbine carcase

The carcases of yet to be constructed wind generators lie on the dockside. They are remarkable for their sheer size – you can park a truck in the body and a single blade is the size of an aircraft wing. Heaven knows when they will be erected as it would require an army for each, but I suspect this part of the world will be ablaze next time I visit.

Yanni now joins the party each morning and evening, to pour juice into the batteries and keep my fridge cool. I find his tone very soothing so began to ponder the return route between yawns. I have decided that my membership of the SAS expired a while ago, to be replaced by full membership of the Saga Lout Club, which is short hand for explaining that, like water, the easiest way now has strong appeal. I have therefore decided that if I am granted that elusive High, Team A-Jay will head down the Emerald Isle’s West coast. If not, we will return down the East, leaving the West for a future challenge. I still wish to put in some long challenging legs though.

Anyway, right now I have to find my tie for the forthcoming wedding of my lovely niece on Saturday ….. so toot toot!

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By ajay290

24th July Inverness

The skipper wanted to ‘sprong’ out but it was completely unnecessary; just a tug on the bow line and gentle reverse was all that was necessary to prise A-Jay from the pontoon.

Lief in his svelte Swedish lady led us out but soon fell behind as the physics of too few horsepower, heavy boat and wind on the nose took its toll. The RAF kindly scrambled several fighters to see us off and soon Team A-Jay’s geriatrics settled down to coffee and books in the run up to elevenses.

It was critical that we arrived at the 2 choke points into Inverness, the Chanonry narrows and Kessock Bridge with the tide but we had a reasonable time window and hoped Lief, following behind, would manage – he did, in his unflappable laid back way.

The coastline was low lying and in places slices of sedimentary rock layers were sandwiched between harder metamorphic. Time and the elements had blasted caves out of these softer sedimentary layers, the sight of which had the Second Mate in raptures. Far out to sea the pencil thin red racing machine that had also left with us, powered back and forth on long tacks, lee gun’l awash despite the light wind.

Long sandy beaches lined our route, the sun joined us and far ahead Meccano like oil installations squatted in the Cromarty Firth and the last of the snow streaked the mountains, like a fading comb-over. Margo puttered past, no visible sign of human life aboard followed by a neat Halberg Rassey, whose skipper’s thoughts also seemed focused on elevenses. Astern Lief seemed to be going backwards.

Crossing North of the Riff Bank and then on to Chanonry, the depth hovered scarily between 3.5 and 8 metres, which felt wrong in the middle of what appeared to be a typical bottomless Firth.

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Fort George

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Kessock Bridge

At Chanonry a crowd had gathered excitedly to watch feeding dolphins and a little later, Team A-Jay popped out from under the Kessock Road Bridge at 8 knots and swung hard to port for Inverness Marina, where the skipper became geographically embarrassed, missing the marina completely.

Lief arrived later in the middle of a rain storm and we joined him and Rose aboard their trim Swedish lady that evening, to help them consume the mackerel they had caught. Outside the rain came down and the wind keened in the rigging, but neither could drown the sound of laughter from the cosy warm cabin. We bid them farewell next morning.

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Swedish wanderers Lief and Rose

Why is it that sausages ALWAYS lie in the pan burnt side down, toast lands marmalade side over and, no matter how hard I try, plugging in the tablet charger always fails first time. Pondering such matters as the breakfast cooked, prior to introducing the Second Mate to the delights of crispy bacon with a dash of marmalade, the skipper realised that several other ‘doh’ moments could be added to the list.

Indeed, this list seemed to grow almost daily at times; showering 400 metres from the boat and discovering no towel and heading out to buy bread and milk, returning instead with Practical Boat Owner; I could go on. The second mate muttered something about age, which the skipper took as a compliment.

It was a long hike to Tesco and back, which set the skipper thinking, as he eyed the river. Perhaps a trip to town in the dinghy would be an idea… except for the rapids. Picture upturned dinghy, pack of softies floating upstream, whilst the skipper dived frantically to retrieve the hair restorer from the river bed.

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A-Jay in Inverness Marina

The second mate jumped ship today, much to his relief no doubt though Team A-Jay will miss his presence. A-Jay will remain at her ease for a week or so, whilst the skipper attends the wedding of his niece. In the meantime the skipper has work to do to ensure the boat is ready for a ‘Royal’ visit after the wedding.

By ajay290

Whitehills Stopover

Oil Rig Moray Firth

Oil Rig Moray Firth

 

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A-Jay Whitehills

A-Jay Whitehills

Various grandiose activities dissolved into somulant inactivity on Saga Admin day. The skipper promoted the Second Mate to doby wallah first class whilst he foraged in the local stores for essentials. Rain after lunch provided all the excuse necessary for the crew to remain at anchor, building strength for an evening assault on the quayside fish restaurant.

Moray Firth Plots

Moray Firth Plots

Whitehills Inner Marina

Whitehills Inner Marina

Whitehills Outer Marina

Whitehills Outer Marina

As the second mate explored his green maggot in the fore peak for an afternoon nap, the skipper considered the statistics of the voyage. Taking the easy ones first, those supplied by others, this blog site has attracted 2,386 views from 496 visitors though I guess that includes the skipper, which probably means there have been 15 views by others. Visitors hailed from UK, US, Australia, France, Singapore, Germany, Guernsey, Jersey, Italy and even the UAE

The voyage stats have been lost in the laptop and will take a while to recreate. Certainly there has been less sailing than hoped for and more breakages but no diasters or turn rounds. The weather, broadly speaking, has been consistently disappointing but despite eveything, Team A-Jay got to Fair Isle and the Shetlands.

Next day the Second Mate was promoted to potty washer, a task he did brilliantly before we flagged down the bus bound for the teeming metropolis of Banff.  Somehow the crew’s inbuilt compass led them to the tiny marina, where the Second Mate paused to look at rocks and the skipper wondered where they could find cullen skink for lunch.

The lunchtime cullen skink was delicious, the sun shone, the sky was blue and it was 4° warmer – the crew was happy. An idle afternoon was just the job. It’s a strange thing, but the more the Second Mate kipped, the more he yawned, though this might be down to the skipper’s conversation or something more sinister such as a gas leak.

Both crew members were cultivating assorted sniffles from the bruising Shetland Dash, so the evening closed with the gentle whinnies of the Second Mate emanating from the fore peak and later, no doubt less sonorous snuffles from the skipper in the saloon.

The morning was officially designated summer though the blue sky and sunshine was tinged with a chill.  Leaving the marina berth required a cunning plan, mainly of Bertie the Harbour master’s making in the complete absence of inspiration from the skipper. The channel behind was barely a boat length but the manoeuvre was sweetly done and Team A-Jay was soon away, never less than 0.8 metres beneath the keels at low water minus one.

The weather Gods clearly hate complacency so soon scuppered the crew’s feeble attempts to sail but no one minded – it was a nice day, as the comfortable green landscape slipped by, houses grouped in companionable proximity in each pretty bay. Sandy beaches, curving green hills with their big bosomed cousins behind, RAF fast jets providing raucous entertainment…..

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Approaching the Rocks

 

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Impressive!

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More Rocks

The Second Mate was ecstatic when Team A-Jay paused near an impressive rock formation; a little later harbour preparations were made as A-Jay rested just off a glorious white sand beach.

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That afternoon, Andy and Judith, also sailing round Britain in their Sadler 29, a distant cousin of the 290, caught up with Team A-Jay.  The skipper bemoaned the lack of hair restorer aboard the good ship A-Jay, which was sufficient to secure a most welcome invitation aboard Quik Decision where it was grand to swap salty stories with such nice people. That evening brought a new friend, 70 + year old Lief 54 hours inbound from Sweden; again, our achievement was put into perspective. He arrived in a bullet proof Swedish lady, low slung, beautiful but headstrong in reverse.

Lossiemouth is intriguing, a place of contrasts. The lovely beach invites, pretty stone houses tempt and whisper of prosperity, yet nestle shoulder to shoulder with gentle decline. I suspect the original raison d’être of Lossiemouth has long gone and it now relies on the RAF service folk for its life blood.

Next morning the cheerful figure of Bertie the Whitehills Harbourmaster hailed Team A-Jay from the quayside – our berthing discount here at Lossiemouth was, we felt, almost certainly due to his influence.

Later the Second Mate strode purposefully to look at the beach though the skipper suspected he went for a lie down, whilst the skipper pottered off to visit the Stotfield Hotel where my late uncle had stayed as a young Fleet Air Arm Sub Lt. in 1940.  There were no visible memories at the hotel, or later in the museum but it was good to tread the ground.

A mild case of geographical embarrassment found the skipper outside a fish shop, where it was quite impossible to ignore the Cullen skink and locally caught sea food.

Tomorrow Team A-Jay will head for Inverness, that is if we get the tides right for the pilot book talks ominously of 6 knot tides at the choke points.

By ajay290

18th July Goodbye Shetland

Lerwick Scene

Lerwick Scene

The powerful Lerwick tug moved slowly in, cuddling a broken yacht like a Labrador with a pup, a reminder that any sea journey is never far from disaster. The morning was grey, the wind strong and gusting and rain followed as the front barged through to do battle in the North. Shetland looked as I had always imagined it, sternly, tempestuously imposing full of danger and tumult.

Lerwick Back Yard

Lerwick Back Yard

Lerwick Town Beach

Lerwick Town Beach

So Team A-Jay’s departure was delayed to allow the Fair Isle gale to blow itself out and the crew settled into ‘Saga Mode’ to make the preparations for sea, necessary as the skipper had suffered the occasional recent ‘stupid boy pike’ moments: little things like posting postcards without stamps, shopping without a wallet and forgetting what day it was. Still, at least I could remember where I had parked the boat and what the Second Mate was normally called.

Lerwick Back Street

Lerwick Back Street

Stromness Museum absorbed the crew, the second mate with rocks, the skipper with croft life and the location of the cafe, where the crew eventually repaired for essential sustenance. Back at the boat, a methodical engine check revealed Yanny the Yanmar had a thirst on and preparations concluded with the construction of a monumental stew. Outside the wind played the rigging and A-Jay danced the jig as rain provided the background.  Inside, a healthy fug and diesel fumes kept the crew sleepily relaxed.

Next morning, Saturday 18th July Team A-Jay said farewell to new friends and headed out into a sloppy sea left over from the nights gale, riding on the back of big ocean daddies.

A broad reach in varying wind strengths, other white sails scattered across the Sound heading South; the second mate opined that A-Jay was a terrific craft …. though she could do with a wheel, 10 feet on the waterline and a cosy wheel house. The skipper took these disloyal comments on the chin, putting them down to the fact that the Second Mate had yet to unpack his slippers and it looked unlikely he ever would aboard this boat.

Life became exciting 40 miles East of the Orkneys, the waves building and the wind rising. It keens in the rigging in the high teens and whistles through gap teeth in the 20s when the ensign snaps noisily. At 23 knots the first reef went in, main sheet down the track, and at 28 knots the Second reef went in to the main and Genoa. A-Jay settled comfortably though it was a dark, cold, rip roaring night, big ocean daddies hissing frothily under the boat, or slamming hard against it in a mess of spray and cold water. Character building stuff, all part of growing up and being British thought the skipper.

Oil rigs appeared suddenly, lit up like Christmas trees in the distance, then disappeared – it did occur to the skipper that he might be hallucinating. Certainly both crew members finished this leg badly dehydrated.

Dawn began breaking some time after 0300, revealing a tumbling, unfriendly cold, grey and white wasteland; Team A-Jay ploughed on relentlessly, even if the skipper’s courage wobbled occasionally. 45 nautical miles off Wick the skipper rustled up porridge, fruit and builder’s tea.

Overnight the weather had pushed us East adding several hours to the trip. Destinations were still to be finally decided, but Banff became first choice. Gradually the wind dropped, sliding round through West to North so Yanni the Yanmar joined the party though we weren’t disappointed; we had sailed for 24 hours, much of it in bruising conditions and now it was time to claw back lost ground and get ashore.

The Wick headland was just visible and Team A-Jay passed close by the Captain oil installation, which relieved the grey monotonous morning. The skipper issued rations of monumental stew at lunchtime, which prostrated the Second mate who had the grace to comment on its delicious taste.

Fair Isle and Shetland had been rich in bird life, yet few seemed to be about in the Moray Firth as we crawled diagonally across the ugly grey surface, dozing and seeing very little, no land, few vessels.

The Banff harbour master advised that we would have insufficient water to enter the harbour so we continued West to Whitehills where Billy the harbour master greeted us, camera in hand, from the end of the breakwater and guided us into the tiny marina where incredibly we parked alongside another Sadler 290. Just too late to grab a meal ashore, we went for a pint and the single barman owner went home, to return a little later with ham and cheese rolls at no charge.

As ever in such tiny places, our arrival caused interest; our successful docking in the tiny space solicted vociferous praise and high fives from a couple on the quay and it wasn’t long before a chap arrived for a chat. Billie the harbour master was a top bloke who could not have been more helpful; I’ll do anything for you except pay your taxes, but I will consider it a personal failure if you leave with anything in your wallets, said Billy. You can call me anytime from 0700 to 2230! Sleep felled the crew early; a ‘Saga Admin day’ had been declared for the morrow. Slow ahead, or simply remain at anchor.

Needless to say, after a very wet night, the day was grey, gusty, unappealing.

By ajay290

16th July Exploring Shetland

Zebra Striped oil worker's accommodation

Zebra Striped oil worker’s accommodation

Lerwick harbour

Lerwick harbour

Lerwick, N60°9′ W1°9’…..same latitude as South Greenland and St. Petersburg; chilly but more blue sky in our few days then the previous 2 months.

Skipper at ease

Skipper at ease

Day One was designated a ‘Saga Admin’ day – slow ahead or astern or stop and no matter if we forgot what was meant to come next. The Second Mate, busy arranging a hire car, asked a local for guidance on a suitable watering hole for old buffers, and was promptly whisked off by car to the museum, which has an excellent restaurant atop it.

The Crew Dressed to Kill

The Crew Dressed to Kill

It was decided that Lerwick should be taken by storm that evening, so it was to be best ‘bib and tucker’, Viking helmets and bed by 9.

Sallying forth we caught the eyes of our lovely neighbour who halted the crew’s progress to take pictures before the crew could continue on its way. The pleasant dinner was mildly spoilt for the skipper, as he watched the second mate enjoy the menu selection he would have preferred in retrospect.  It ended companionably with the exploration of a single malt and the swapping of tales, perhaps a little tall by bedtime.  

The skipper and second mate were in agreement on one thing though – it was better to be a “when I …” than a “never was ….”

Looking around the Small Boat Harbour it was obvious that Team A-Jay was in hallowed company for there was some serious ocean going ‘heavy metal’ lounging about: mostly 40 feet minimum, man sized cordage, baggy wrinkle and wind vanes seemed ‘de rigeur’.  

That is except for the tiny rowing boat with a skipper almost as old as the Second Mate, who had rowed over from Norway, as you do. Tough lot these Vikings – good genes too.

 

Day 2 and the road map was conspicuous by its lack of detail and the skipper’s cry “IT’S NOT ON THE MAP” was reasonable, loud and frequent. This was good news for the skipper, who was navigating, as it absolved him from any responsibility for forthcoming geographical embarrassment, as he could claim a place or road was not on the map, even if in retrospect it was.

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Sumburgh Foghorn

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Sumburgh Puffins

The crew headed South into the green bosom of Stornaway alighting at Sumburgh Head where Puffins entertained and the museums enlightened.

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Sumburgh Lighthouse

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WW2 Radar

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Radar Room

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Radar Plot

Blue sky and sunshine added the final gloss and rendered frequent geographical embarrassment less of an issue.

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Shetland Inhabitant

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Skipper makes friends

Coffee with Shetland ponies and a ball chasing Labrador at the Spiggie Hotel (discovered by happy accident) was a treat and Scalloway provided a perfect venue for lunch, where Norwegian language seemed as common as the local.

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Stornaway is my kind of place; it’s an island, true but there is enough going on to give it a buzz, a vibrancy.  It’s alluring with pretty Norwegian style dwellings, soft green contours and shimmering voes; but there is a wildness beneath the surface, easily unleashed on land and at sea.

The second mate, clearly a romantic, could imagine a Norwegian style house at the edge of a voe, a Cornish Shrimper bobbing at the jetty beyond the garden, long doggy walks in the hills ….. me too, in the sunshine. But then, as the lovely lady in the Spiggie Hotel said – “you can get 4 seasons in a day”. Indeed, she had just had a couple cancel their booking because the weather next day would be too much for their light aircraft.

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A-Jay with the big boys

Plans are but ideas, to be refined, changed on a whim or because fresh data, such as weather forecasts, impact.  Sitting on the poop deck in weakening evening sunshine, the Skipper’s master plan to head South straight to the Scottish mainland was brought forward 24 hours, in deference to the weather gods. But tomorrow – who knows?

By ajay290

In Stromness, Fair Isle and Lerwick

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Old Man of Hoy

  

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Stromness Light House

Ferry to Hoy

Ferry to Hoy

Blackburn Skua at Hatston

Blackburn Skua at Hatston

It might have been blowing enough to lift a toupee and raining hard enough to bring on the weeds, but I didn’t care; I was excited to be here. Reaching the Orkneys somehow seemed significant and now, 1,000 nautical miles after crossing the start line we had done it.

There is another reason, a family reason. My late uncle David flew out of Hatston, nearby, to his death over Norway in a Blackburn Skua in April 1940 aged just 21. Now here I am, determined to tread the same ground.

The plane is named after the Skua, the Great Skua being the chap who took possession of Team A-Jay as we entered Hoy Sound. It is described by the RSPB as an aggressive pirate of the seas, deliberately harassing other birds as large as Gannets – Puffins form part of their menu, which perhaps accounted for their nervousness at our approach with a Great Skua in tow.

Blackburn Skua at Hatston

Blackburn Skua at Hatston

Hatston Airfield 1940

Hatston Airfield 1940

Hatston was the first WW2 airfield built on Orkney and was operational before war broke out. It was commissioned as HMS Sparrowhawk and now lies under an industrial park. Nonetheless, to visit and to pace around the place was the aim.

Scrambled eggs on brown with bacon and black pudding with a soupçon of baked beans put me in mind of an incident in a previous life, when I became known for a fondness for this vegetable, and for riding a motorbike much to the disgust of a senior and no doubt wiser colleague. He declared disgustedly that baked beans were not an officer’s vegetable and proper officers certainly did not ride motorbikes! Thus began a lifelong affair with both.

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Second Mate Examines his Eye Lids

Trevor joined Team A-Jay immediately upping the crew age to a combined total of 127 sprightly years and greatly enhancing the on board expertise. Smoked salmon with asparagus followed by beef olive slipped down well, accompanied by a glass or two of hair restorer as the crew caught up and solved most of the World’s more intractable problems before light’s out.

The ferry to Lyness on Hoy paused briefly at Flotta before landing at Lyness, which had been home to over 12,000 personnel in WW2.  The museum brought those times to life and it was a moving moment to pause at the memorial to those who sailed on the Arctic convoys, which must have been awful.

Arctic Convoy Memorial

Arctic Convoy Memorial

Arctic Convoy Plaque

Arctic Convoy Plaque

Angie’s father was one of those brave souls.

The Ferry Inn proved the perfect venue for the detailed crew briefing necessary before any voyage.  Next morning the crew set forth to Hatston on the X1 omnibus and found evidence of buildings that must have been there in 1939.

Hatston road

Hatston road

Although it was now an industrial

Hatston road

Hatston road

HMS Sparrowhawk Hatston

HMS Sparrowhawk Hatston

Hatston hut

Hatston hut

Hatston Memorial

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Hatston Memorial

estate its roads were still named after the planes that flew from the Airfield and its station name, HMS Sparrowhawk lived on. Next to the burger van lay a memorial to the brave aircrew who flew from there in their mostly inadequate machinery, often to their deaths.

HMS Royal Oak

HMS Royal Oak

Dawn Star conveyed us out into Scapa Flow that afternoon up to a Churchill Barrier and on to the scene of the death of HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed by U47 with the loss of 800 lives, including 100 boys.

HMS Royal Oak 9 metres below

HMS Royal Oak 9 metres below

 

Floating 8 metres above the wreck, its hulk clearly visible on the sonar was a moving experience.  Seals came out to mark our route home highlighted in particular by a pair of Peregrine Falcons sitting majestically on the cliff top idly surveying the lesser birds busy below.

Fish and chips sharpened the minds for passage planning, Pierowall via Papa Sound en route to Fair Isle, that gloomy doyen of the shipping forecast.

0700 was time to go and for the rain to start and it wasn’t long before a reef went in and the mainsheet was dropped down the track as A-Jay tustled with Force 7 in Hoy Sound; turning North we were soon reaching at well over 7 knots powered by some big daddies. The local forecaster must have been sitting in his lounge looking out of the window and estimating – we added 10 knots to everything he said, which seemed about right.

The second mate, a generous sort, donated a little breakfast to the fish but remained sprightly, humour intact. A long line of evenly spaced Guillemots scurried neatly past: I wonder who decides which bird goes up front and which one flies “tail end Charlie “. Oh they will have a pecking order mused the Second Mate wisely…..

A-Jay motor sailed down Papa Sound passing the northern flank of Westray and by 1500 was tightly squeezed into a pontoon berth, 8 hours and 46 miles out.

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Perowall

A brisk walk to buy essentials from a Polish shop assistant was followed by a manly stew, which would have brought down a lion.  Sadly for the skipper, the First Mate said real men don’t eat quiche, so that no longer forms part of ship’s stores.

Tomorrow Team A-Jay heads for Fair Isle then Shetlands before the gales arrive.

Gary, the harbour official, gave us a thorough briefing on the many joys of Westray: people here are so kind and, so keen to have you enjoy their homeland. Every driver who passes waves and smiles,  for I sense that they have some respect for those who have voyaged so far.

Three trawlers came and went during the night and by morning fresh dressed crab and lobster were being loaded.

The Northern Orkneys are low lying and fell quickly out of sight, their last visible signs lazily spinning wind generators. Pewter sea and pewter sky: A-Jay like an iced cake on a slate plate covered with a smoked glass dome moved through the day, startling Puffins, company for Fulmars and Guillemots. The latter are a joy to watch; as you close their position they look left and right with increasing urgency until 10 metres off its “Dive! Dive! Dive!” Very occasionally one brave soul remains on the surface.

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Fair Isle

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Fair Isle

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Northaven Fair Isle

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North Haven

Fair Isle grew from a name in the shipping forecast to rocky reality and the skipper’s home-made soup went down a treat. The journey had none of the sailing drama of yesterday which suited the two old buffers aboard just fine. A-Jay just caught the vicious edge of the Rost of Keer, before following a Dutch dreadnought into North Haven, a delightful if tight spot. Rafting alongside a Canadian trans Atlantic couple, we paid our respects for an achievement far greater than ours.

The Second Mate had earlier reported a rare ‘sun sighting’ which held for the evening as the crew shared dinner. The Second Mate reckoned he would have strode out across the hills IF ONLY he had brought his walking boots – the Skipper would not have, even if he had.

0800 and 045° degrees for Stornaway visible in the distance. God delivered a morning of sunshine and peace on the 14th July and a tide that gave us 50° of leeway as we clawed out of the tight grip of Fair Isle under sail, bound for Sumburgh Head, the Southern tip of Shetland.

Sadly the wind left us for elsewhere so Team A-Jay powered North, assisted by the mainsail gently rolling to the lazy, long fetched Atlantic swell. A fine cockpit lunch followed ‘elevenses’ and immediately preceded a fine run by Team A-Jay down the Shetland East coast.

As in Ireland and occasionally Scotland, a rich bovine aroma blew off the land from the curvy green land, across the choppy sea to greet us.

By tea time we were docked in Lerwick and the skipper was whisked to Tesco by a friendly neighbour whilst the Second Mate did the real work.

By ajay290

Catch up Photosl!

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Cape Wrath

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Lt. House Hoy Sound

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Cape Wrath

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Talmine Harbour

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Talmine Bay

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Talmine Boat

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Cape Wrath

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Mighty Hoy

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Lt. House Hoy Sound

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Lt. House Hoy Sound

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Old Man of Hoy

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Old Man of Hoy

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Hoy

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Hoy

By ajay290

5th July to Stromness at Last

Reveille brought a breathless morning heavy with leftover rain, sunlight battling overcast. A journey is a string of moments in life which live on as memories of all hues, light to dark. Tired, dying Kinlochbervie will remain a special memory of friendship and kindness, the greatest of gifts. Thank you particularly Barry 2 Boats, a great artist, kind Willy who works on rigs and biker John with 2 suitcases strapped to his 37 year old steed.

Which way was the sea for Heaven’s sake?! A moment to restore the mental gyro, not an uncommon requirement for this skipper, before Team A-Jay headed up Loch Inchard to salute the flaccid morning with the mainsail. A friendly soul shouted good luck from the shore – and reminded me of a trailing fender – as we swung North round Bodha Roin for Cape Wrath 10 miles off.

Fire in the galley is to be avoided at sea I thought watching spilled egg ignite as the toast grilled and the cabin filled with smoke. When very tired, listlessness becomes a constant companion where even the peeling of a potato or onion becomes too much, so tonight we would make a concerted effort.

The coastline marching past looked like that of Sark, crumbly imposing, softened with green; later it was all hunched shoulders and curves. Guillemots seem to travel in pairs, watching intently from their water perches until Team A-Jay entered their comfort zone. Then it was bums and wing tips up, splashily wriggling down to safety.

I guess Cape Wrath, looking more lounging crocodile than dreadnought from the South, never sleeps for as we approached the waves increased and the cold NE wind touched 20 knots off the headland. Still it was satisfying to fly with the tide @ 8 knots and Espresso lifted the skipper’s spirits as we passed inside Duslick Rock, which scowled darkly through a white froth of agitated water.

Team A-Jay entered Kyle of Tongue and dropped anchor in Talmine Harbour in 5 metres, six and a half hours out, having followed Barry’s navigation advice to take an inside route South of Rabbit Islands. The showers had stopped and it was calmly peaceful in the tiny harbour.

The still morning was hidden in a cool white fog cloak and the boat barely moved; a lazy morning before mid day departure for Stromness 45 miles NE. If I could put a little place in my pocket for a special day, Talmine would be in one pocket and Badachro in Gairloch the other – with sunshine in my hands.

I had called a lovely lady at Stromness Marina to confirm my arrival and the forecast – we had a 24 hour window before the rain and gales arrived. This morning Mr Rocna was happy to join the party and although we could see less than 1/2 mile, we set off with extra waypoints, the spare GPS and hand bearing compass to hand.

By 1500 visibility had improved and the trawler we had been shadowing on the radar emerged 1.5 miles off port beam. Edith Appleton, whose book I was reading, nursed soldiers in France during the Great War. I was caught by a vignette.  One day she had been comforted by a stressed orderly responsible for burials; how can I cope if I don’t know who is officers? Surely it matters not – they are buried the same? No they’re not – men is ‘ammered, officers screwed! Unbelievable!

It is a rare event that Team A-Jay has to be reigned in from her stately progress but we had to get the tide right entering the Mouth of Hoy, Dover HW + 5 hours 50. A confused metre high sea marched out of the NW, doffing its white caps whilst the wan evening sun lit the vertical grated green brown flanks of imposing Hoy and its Old Man, 12 miles East.

A flotilla of busy little Puffins greeted us as we entered the Sound, all but one brave soul tipping bums to the sky and diving in panic. Skuas are real bruisers, perfect foils to this terrifying scenery and harsh conditions. One adopted Team A-Jay and seemed to defend its territory in case it provided dinner.

We docked at sunset and by morning the strong winds and rain had arrived.

By ajay290

1st July Lochinver to Kinlochbervie

Lochinvar is a working but decining port, though of interest far afield as shown by the 3 enormous Spanish refrigerated trucks.

The Mountain Rescue were out in force and the lifeboat headed powerfully off to join the Air Sea Rescue chopper a few miles away, an interesting backdrop for our early start in sunshine, a flat sea – the wind was on vacation elsewhere. A very large dorsal finned back cruised nearby for a while; sadly an hour later cloud stole the day as a juvenile wind crept upout of the North, insufficient to sail but enough to irritate.

Later we flew into well hidden Kinlochbervie harbour like litter in a gale and flopped alongside before a thundery squall arrived, blotting out the mountains and any memory of summer. The lovely lady in the Harbour Master’s Office asked if I knew where to find a forecast so naturally I obliged noting thunderstorms and strong winds in 36 hours – decision made;Team A-Jay would wait it out before heading straight for the Orkneys 80 nautical miles away. Trevor would meet us there to take up his post of chief cook and bottle washer.

That evening a huge red trawler out of Banff shaped like a mess tin smoked in to unload whilst refuelling, tilting alarmingly as she did so. The lively dockside fish auction was all but drowned out by the crew angle grinding rusty trawler bits. Five hours later she barged back out to sea.

As Beethoven entertained with his Moonlight Sonata, another red trawler left, bulbous nets hanging off its rusty backside like a baboon’s balls, huge diesels throbbing, men in yellow oilskins, lights ablaze, power – effort.

Barry is a character: I didn’t meet him in the showers as the only shower is broken and I shower in the’Ladies’ sink as the Gentlemen have nicked all the plugs.’Two Boats’ Barry took me to view his boat project and was momentarily silenced when I pronounced it to be a 28′ Sea Stag: no one but no one has ever known what she is he said with awe. Not as much awe as I felt when I saw his artwork in his studio: unbelievable. Nothing happens here without an extended multi topic chat and so it was that Willy popped over for we were in his berth. “Nae bother” he exclaimed, handing me the keys to his van as he was off fishing for the day. Willy is a top bloke – he could not believe I was 60: I didn’t enquire further.

Willy’s rugged little van didn’t have a rear view mirror which caused us to upset a whizzy air horned Ford as a we pottered dreamily up the desolate, bleak magnificent  glacial valley. Tatty sheep scattered the hill sides, isolated crofts spoke of hardship as the road frequently narrowed to a single lane, the traffic motorcycles and camper vans. Two Boats Barry explained there was only one crofter still working; others kept sheep to obtain government subsidy whilst working for the Council.

He agreed Kinlochbervie was in decline; it used to be the busiest port in the Highlands but now was home to but 3 ocean going trawlers. Strangely very expensive cars occasionally pulled up – some had made fortunes from fishing in the past – then of course there was oil. Willy worked the rigs.

John had ridden from Germany on his 37 year old single cylinder bike to visit Willy, his brother in law. Incredibly John had been working in Osnabruck when we lived thee, so it became a long evening as the wind arrived accompanied by its partner, rain. There are others seeking shelter, but our plan is to leave at o-sparrow-fart and strike out for Stromness. In the meantime I have business with 2 Boats Barry

By ajay290

Mallaig and Beyond

The little Mallaig Co-op was thronging with soggy hikers and lobster faced yachties, all  scooping up what remained of the Sunday stock though we managed to retrieve the essentials from the mele. Mr Delightful Border Collie popped over when he saw Team A-Jay preparing to depart & asked hopefully if we knew something he didn’t. No but if we were to remain to await good weather we would grow roots.

An hour later we were rocking and rolling North over a lumpy grey sea, so probably more comfortable than Dom bashing South into the wind to RV with Team A-Jay. Soon we spotted a sail tacking smartly back and forth across the loch & shortly Dom skidded to a halt like a greyhound visiting a bulldog, to swap shouted greetings & photographs.

I have a sketching set but have done very little – I would have run out of black and grey had I been busy so uniformly awful has the weather been. Rhum was barely visible in the murk & Skye, so beautiful I am told, hunched darkly under a grey blanket, its ferry bringing defeated campers back to Mallaig. Up a ahead it might as well have been sleeting in the Sound of Sleat for it too dissolved into the grey murk.

We shot under Skye Bridge and celebrated with smoked salmon on mixed seed brown, the Red Leicester & pickle having been consumed at’in-betweenses’. Time to settle Team A-Jay & set sail for Gairloch 26 miles North & soon we were off straight for the submarine range. Sadly at this point I put Smiley on sick leave with a broken hinge. As we exited Calos Mor an official vessel towing a target array passed slowly by & a Range Control boat wandered over for a polite VHF exchange and we agreed I would stay within a mile of the coast.

It was so dark by evening it felt like sunset, no other boats were visible in any direction & Skye remained hidden in the murk. The bare straight backed mainland a mile to starboard had nothing to say; empty. Bleak towering, sinister dark mountains loomed behind – best left to themselves I felt. At least Longa Island spoke of journey’s end.

The rain joined us as we nosed into Bacharo, the anchorage nearest the mouth of Gairloch 10.5 hours out. Holiday boats don’t get this far North and I felt proud to be at rest with 2 other adventurers, though humbled as one armour plated dreadnought hailed from Canada and the other, a svelte, black hulled seductress from Germany; still I doubted they would be enjoying rhubarb pie and custard!

It hadn’t been a perfect trip; Smiley was out through injury, the mainsail had ripped and the laptop smashed in a crash gybe. Otherwise Team A-Jay was in good nick☺

I am still amazed that a boisterous sail can end in a silent, still anchorage, so different fromopen sea sailing though deep in a loch you can be out of all communications. Barry was sulking having dropped during the night, it was raining and the sky – well it was the same as almost every other morning. Fortunately Tranny, £4.50 from Aldi, piped up and delivered 2 charming ladies on 2 Lochs Radio, who fortunately seemed obsessed by the inshore waters forecast which promised F 5/6, rain then thundery showers for starters.

A-Jay skipped down the loch propelled by 23 knots for a while to play with white horses in the big sea; actually they were more like Shetland Ponies but just as lively.

As we swung North up Longa Isle a large air sea rescue helicopter hovered like a dragonfly exploring the cliffs as weswept round the headland with gusts of 26 knots swooping off the cliffs to entertain us. It was rough with breaking waves hissing alongside and the Genoa was pulling like a train. To the West the Hebrides refused to give up their secrets this morning, though pale blue rips in the sky cloth joined us and the air got warmer.

Yanny was engaged at tickover to keep the pies to temperature in the fridge; opposite Priest Isle corned beef on seeded brown with the ubiquitous Red Leicester with pickle went down well as a small cruise liner nosed out of Ullapool and ahead lay the cheerfully named Summer Isles!

The wind was now a baby of 9 knots, the seas no longer breaking and the air was warm as the headland before Enard Bay drew nearer, hunched low more crocodile than battering ram. The mountains towered imposingly in the East, Cal Beat ‘daddy of the pack’ illuminated in sunlight.

Team A-Jay found the hidden entrance to Lochinver, pushed in by the dying gasps of the evening breeze  The marina attendant asked why we hadn’t called – check your answer phone and listen on VHF I said. The haggis with whisky marmalade followed by venison went down a treat.  The waitress claimed to be unaffected by midges, something she put down to garlic and red wine – funny that! Kindred spirit.n

By ajay290