Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Pause button pressed - Part 2

I had left you all at Stonehaven, a really delightful harbour. We could only stay for one night for there was now an urgency to get on to somewhere where I could leave Vagabond and get south fairly easily. It was 06:00. Time to go. We nosed round the harbour wall and promptly disappeared into a hemisphere of visibility that had about a 50 metre* radius. There was a scraping sound under the boat and we stopped, despite Freddies’ best efforts. The depth sounder said we were in eighteen metres* of water, so we weren’t aground. I assumed we were snagged on some fishing gear that I hadn’t seen and lifted the centre board. We lurched forward a few feet** and stopped again. I looked over the stern and found a fishing float wedged between the rudder and the transom***. After a bit of pushing and prodding, we were free and resumed our noisy but almost invisible progress.

A positive squadron of Gannets flew past – the last couple having to change direction to miss us. I wondered how these birds managed to stay in stable flight in these conditions and how they navigated from place to place. Without the two GPS displays and the compass, we would have been lost within minutes of leaving the harbour.
Cleared for attempted take off
A puffin struggled to take off in front of us. In the flat calm conditions, it was having trouble reaching flying speed and skipped across the sea like a pebble. It occurred to me that they may rely on the upthrust of an ocoming wave to take off from the sea, a bit like the ramp that was used by the Harriers.
Gradually visibility improved but there was still no wind as we worked northward up the coast towards Peterhead. We crossed the entrance to Aberdeen, one of the centres for north sea oil and gas support vessels, so we were expecting some shipping. ....We only saw two ships. 

Aberdeen entrance
One was a large oil tanker, way off shore, and I thought the second one was similar until I suddenly realised that it was an odd shaped support vessel, not only under way but quite close too. There we were shaping up to pass (as I thought) well clear of her stern when in fact we were crossing close to her bow. 
Which end is which?
A rapid (and obvious) course correction followed and passed astern of her.

And on to Peterhead, where the yacht marina is tucked into a corner of the main harbour, behind it’s own breakwater and close to a chemical storage depot, marked ominously with danger signs.

Peterhead Marina
Off to forage for petrol and food and then back to bed, only to find that a large contingent of Dutch yachts had arrived. We first met them at Hartlepool, then at Amble and now here. They, too, are going round Britain but in much bigger steps than us. Their next port of call is Lossiemouth – I think it will take us at least two days more to get there.

Next morning (at 05:30) we cast off and followed the Dutch fleet out of the harbour. There was Haar (of course) and a light southerly breeze.

The Dutch cohort each hoisted their spinnaker***** and disappeared. We drifted along, goose winged on the calm sea. We passed Rattray Head,
the most easterly bit of Aberdeenshire and turned to the NW, drifting through swirling tide eddies. Eventually we picked up the slight west going tide drift along the north coast of Aberdeenshire. Then the wind went light northerly, so we had an unplanned gybe. We passed cliffs that were attracting the attention of a tourist boat out of Banff, so went to have a look. Serried ranks of Gannets clung with
their nests to the cliff and flew around the cliff faces. From a distance, it looked like a swarm of white midges across the cliffs.
Birds on the cliff face
Then across Banf Bay, past a group in a red rib watching a couple of dolphins playing around their boat. We round the last headland to look for the entrance to Whitehills harbour. There was no local boat to show us the way......

Entrance to Whitehills
Eventually we found it and secured to the visitors pontoon, which squeaked abominably. ‘Would you mind moving’ said the harbour master ' I’ve two yachts that want to come in and raft together and that’s the only space I can put them’. I accepted his alternative with alacrity. Whitehills is a gem of a place. The harbour is compact and well protected, there are a number of small useful shops and little tourist tat. Well worth a visit (from the sea). It was a perfect, sunlit, still evening.
Entrance to Whitehills
Which made the northerly force 4 next morning a bit of a shock. The forecast suggested it would die away by midday and then become SW –right on the nose. ‘Better catch the tide and get a move on’ I said to myself at 04:30 so we managed to leave by six. The chop in the bay was awful – short, steep waves about four feet from crest to trough so we pushed over (and under) them, through them to slightly less trying conditions offshore. The wind was still blowing at about 20 knots when I hoisted the main, leaving two reefs in it. Scarcely had we got settled on our course, with the sail drawing nicely and us moving at over 5 kn, when the wind fell away to about 12 knots and then to 8. With all the reefs shaken out we scudded along at just around 4 knots and made good progress for a couple of hours, until the wind dropped completly. We had an hour of Freddie and then the wind picked up, this time from the NW, which suited us fine and brought us into the lee of Lossiemouth harbour. 

Lossiemouth Harbour Entrance

The phone rang with a timely message from the Lossiemouth Harbourmaster, telling me where to berth and where to find the keys. It was Saturday and neither he, nor his deputy would be on duty until Monday.
We found our berth, tied up and did all the things you do to tidy ship after a 7 hour passage. Now I had to find a mobile signal to find out what was happening to Mega Gran, how worried the elder sister was and how to get home. The best bet seemed to be to get Vagabond to Inverness on Sunday and take the train home on Monday. The weather forecast looked benign.
On Sunday, the weather had not read the forecast. SW, force 4 to 5. Inverness is SW of Lossiemouth. Anyway, I thought we’d give it a go. After a couple of hours butting into an increasingly white sea, I gave up. We had a lovely downwind sail back to Lossiemouth and then ran aground in the entrance. Up came the centre board and the rudder and we crept back to our original berth.
The harbourmaster turned up in the evening – he’d been to Wick and back for the weekend (by sea) and I explained my predicament. ‘No problem – we’ll move her to a quiter berth when you’ve gone. I hope all is well and give us a call when you can.’
And so the pause button was pressed......

For non metric and non boaty people

* 1 metre is about 3'4" Imperial
** 1 foot is about 300 mm
*** The transom is the flat bit of wood / metal / glass fibre that forms the stern****
 of most small boats
**** the back end
***** big round sail that makes boats go really fast when sailing downwind - can be dangerous.

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