Monday, 15 July 2013

Pause Button Pressed at Lossiemouth - part 1

Attentive readers (there are some of you, so you assure me!) will have read the recent, misspelt and picture free dispatch. Magrat * has been temporarily out of action and communications have been very difficult in the small harbours on the south coast of the Moray Firth – the idea of a free Wi Fi being a means to lure customers to your pub or cafe had not yet penetrated these parts of Scotland on a large scale, and Vodofone’s coverage also leaves much to be desired. It’s been a major task to find enough signal to download a weather forecast, let alone all those facebook pages that people keep recommending me to open. This definitely puts me the 'Grumpy Old Man' category.

You will also notice that the pause button has been pressed. At the moment, I have no clear idea of when our wanderings will resume, for  I am writing this on a very full East Coast mainline train south from Inverness (only 4 unreserved seats in the whole train see GMO above!) as I rush south to see Mega Gran (as she is known to the family) who has become ill some two months short of her 100th birthday.  As well as that, the plumber is attacking our “new” home next week, followed by the kitchen fitters and the builders.
Enough of this personal stuff, let’s get back to the wanderings.  Last week, after a foggy motor from Anstruther to Arbroath and the encounter with the dredger in the outer harbour, Vagabond and I wanted to move north to Stonehaven. The snag was that we couldn’t get out of Arbroath harbour to catch the morning tide north, not because the dredger was in the way but by a combination of tide times and council working hours.  The depth in the inner harbour at Arbroath is controlled by a gate, held open for a couple of hours either side of high water. Except that when we wanted to go, high water occurred so early in the morning that the gates weren’t manned. We had an enforced stay in Arbroath – it was a wonderfully sunny and warm day with a southerly breeze as I played tourist and watched attentively as the dredger worked the outer harbour.
 She was one of those ships that it was difficult to imagine ever having been new. Her black hull was liberally spattered with mud and dents, in almost equal proportions. Her draft marks were in feet so she must be at least 40 years old. Mounted on the bow was a mechanical bucket digger that looked as if it should be powered by steam and could have seen service digging out the Panama Canal. The bucket was controlled by wire and winches and was dropped into the harbour, apparently as random, remerging drippingly full of dark, smelly mud. In her centre was a well, into which the bucket deposited its’ noise-some load. This seemed already to be full to the brim as more was piled in.  A bridge and accommodation structure completed the stern of the ship, originally white but now spattered liberally with mud and rust. I, and other loafers, watched as she rammed the jetty a few times (to get in the right position, one assumed, ran aground in various places and slowly worked around the harbour. The crew all looked to be about 18 (but that’s probably a jaundiced view see GMO above) .
Keeping close to the shore
The sunny day gave way to a chill evening and the Haar thickened off shore.
Overhauled us from the south
Glistening cliffs
None the less, as 0700, as soon as the gate was opened (and the fishing boats had gone out) I took Vagabond out to sea. The gloom was not as bad as I had expected and we were able to sail slowly north, keeping the coast in view (most of the time). The wind dropped. The sun came out. On came Freddie and we motored north towards Stonehaven. A large yacht slowly overhauled us from the south and eventually overtook us. The cliffs ashore glistened white – was it with seabirds or their guano? We didn’t go to look.  Stonehaven castle looked down on us as we rounded the last point and there was Stonehaven harbour and town. Just as well, because for the last hour or more, we had been breasting the tide and it was going to get stronger for the next couple of hours.
Alongside the wall
The harbourmaster was on the wall, waiting for us, holding a pair of heavy mooring wires – ‘The trawler’s not back for two days’, he shouted. ‘Use these, they’ll hold you against the wall – there’s a 4 metre tidal range today. Is there anyone following you?’ Now I knew why he was expecting us – the people in the yacht that had overtaken us, now tied up alongside the wall, had told him we were on our way.  We tied up – my head was just about level with the top of the wall. Four hours later, the tide had gone out and I could examine the upper rigging from the jetty without having to look up. It was a long way down the ladder to the deck.  Two hours after that, the other yacht came to life and sailed – none of this staying overnight stuff, they  were just waiting for the tide to turn favourable again.
Painting the coach line
Once alongside, the harbourmaster dragged me off to look at his pride and joy – a traditional wooden yacht with a long keel that he was patiently restoring – ‘I used to work in the shipbuilders’ he remarked. Clearly a labour of love: as the tide receded, he was seen on a step ladder lining in the coach line on her side.

I told him about the dredger at Arbroath - apparently she had failed a survey a year or two ago and had been sold for scrap. Someone had bought and put her back into use. He wouldn't use her.......
A shower in the portakabin loo block, followed by a seafood meal (I’m not generally a fan of this but when you’re on the coast there seems to be little else on offer!) it was off to bed for another early start.
Comments, translations and conversions
*the elderly shipboard computer **
** her name is NOT misspelt – if you thought so, you are clearly not aware of the Disk World dreamt up by Terry Pratchet

*** 1 metre = approx 3’4”
**** 1 foot = 12 inches, 1 inch = 25.4 mm


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