The Western Isles – Part I

We’ve returned briefly to the mainland to pick up Brian and Jane, our guests for the next week, which also means internet access and a chance to write a quick blog of the places we’ve been to over the past few days.

After leaving the Caledonian canal we headed down through Loch Linne stopping off at Oban, Loch Aline and Tobermory, where the popular kids show Balemory is filmed:


Here’s Buxton, now safely back with us, taking in the sights:


From there we headed out to what are collectively called the small islands, anchoring overnight at Muck and then Canna. These places have tiny populations; to give you an idea, here is the post office (and telecommunications hub) on Canna:


From there we headed over to the south side of Skye and found this delightful spot to stop at and to sample the local beverages:


We had originally planned to head around the top of Skye, but given that we had just two days to meet up with our friends, we decided to take the shorter route back along the south side instead. As it turned out, this was a great decision as the next anchorage we stayed at was absolutely stunning.

Loch Scavaig is surrounded by jagged mountains on all sides and has a small waterfall leading into a bay, all of which can only be accessed from the sea, the yacht on the far right of this photo is Amalia:


Climbing the waterfall, in the photo above, led us to the freshwater loch:


We’re now heading back out to the small isles before we turn south and start making our way to the Firth of Clyde.

As ever, there are more photos from this part of our trip on our Facebook page.


The Caledonian Canal

We’d initially expected to pass through the canal in three days, but it’s been so nice we’ve taken six. The scenery has been stunning and we’ve slowed the pace down to the point where it’s felt like we’ve taken a holiday within our holiday.

We’ve had our first guests on board too. Maarten and Olga came all the way from The Netherlands with their two children and joined us in Lossiemouth to help search for our missing mog. Maggie (a friend from my days working in the circus field at the Glastonbury festival) joined us there too and together we all sailed from Lossie to Inverness, and the start of the great Caledonian Canal. There were dolphins galore on the approaches to Inverness, and we were even joined by them in the marina that evening.

The Caledonian Canal crosses Scotland’s Highlands and consists of natural lochs, sections of man made canal and numerous sea locks where the crew must manage lines ashore as the water levels are raised or lowered by the lock keepers.


We love spending nights at anchor and will take any opportunity to avoid the hassle of marinas. Here we are at anchor in Loch Ness on the second night:


It’s been great fun having the children on the boat and it seems that they’ve adopted me as the third kid on board. We’ve played silly games, sped around in the dinghy, swam in the lochs and I’ve even taught Ricardo how to play the blues on my guitar.

One evening at anchor the kids were shouting for me to look at something – it turned out to be a man walking naked over his boat. The poor guy has subsequently been christened The Nudie Man  and is now they key character in a blues song all about his adventures in the buff. More embarrassingly for him though, he now gets pointed at and yelled about in Dutch by two very excited children whenever we pass him along the canal; the only words he understands must be ‘bla bla bla Nudie Man bla bla bla‘.

The scenery enroute has been stunning, what follows are a few of our favourite photos from this week (there are more on our Facebook page).

This is Urquhart castle, just next to where we anchored for the night in Loch Ness:


Taking the kids for a spin in the dinghy:


Our final lazy night in the canal watching the sun set on Ben Nevis:


The last of the 29 sea locks, and we made it without so much as a dink:


There are more images on our Facebook page.

Buxton is back!

We’re delighted to be able to announce that after almost a week of being absent without leave, Buxton is now back on board the boat with us!

We received a call late yesterday afternoon from a couple saying that they had a cat in their kitchen that looked very much like the one in the lost cat posters. After a short conversation we became quite convinced that it was him, and they said that they would be happy to drive the 75 miles from Lossiemouth to Loch Ness to return him to us.

They arrived this afternoon to join us for a special lunch that we’d laid on for them. Before long Buxton was also tucking into a bowl of his favourite cat food followed by one of his treats. Here are his saviours, Graham and Lynne, giving him the treat:


He has lost a little weight, and was looking a bit sorry for himself but has settled straight back into his routine of eating and drinking before snoozing under the saloon table, and occasionally looking around the boat to see what’s going on.

Our guests’ children have made a ‘welcome home’ banner for him that we’ve had hanging up in anticipation of his return, and we’ve made a long lead, inspired by one that a neighbour has been using, to preventing from jumping ship in the night again.


It has been a stressful week and we’d like to thank everyone involved in the search to find him. We’ve had Facebook and Twitter users sharing and retweeting our messages and there have been both local radio and newspaper announcements raising awareness of his disappearance. It’s been great to receive all the messages of support from everyone too.


Lost cat

We had a terrible surprise on Friday morning. We awoke at 5am, to an alarm that I should have cancelled on my phone, and Buxton was not there. We searched the boat, and then the marina for him but he was nowhere to be found.

The only clue we have is from a boat that arrived at 2330 on Thursday night (after we’d gone to bed) who said that they had seen him sat on top of the boat next to ours when they arrived, and again shortly after midnight walking along the pontoons just before they went to bed. Apart from this no one has seen or heard a thing.

We’ve put posters up on lamp posts and in shop windows all over town and are now being recognised as ‘the couple who’ve lost the cat’ when we approach people in the street. We’ve given our number to dog walkers, postmen and window cleaners and are hoping that someone will spot him.


The local veterinary surgeons, the police and the Cat Protection League, who have started a  thread on their Facebook page, are all aware that he’s lost. I’ve posted the Cat Protection League’s thread onto other local organisation pages on Facebook too.

We had a false alarm on Friday that gave us some hope but only left us chasing the local church minister’s grey cat.  The girl who spotted him later said that it wasn’t Buxton when she saw a photo of him.

We’ve now searched for two days and have been regularly walking the streets of Lossiemouth calling for him and rattling a packet of his favourite treats. This morning, given the futility of our search, we made the tough decision to leave Lossiemouth and head on with our journey.

The people of Lossie are an amazingly friendly and accommodating bunch and I’m sure if Buxton is there he’ll turn up and we’ll get to hear about it. He has been microchipped so we should  hear from a vet if he turns up too. The owner of the next boat to us has offered to drive him to us if he appears in the next few days, and we have a friend of a friend who lives nearby that will take him in temporarily if needs be so that we can rent a car to drive back and collect him.

We’ve got everything crossed and are hoping dearly that it won’t be long before we hear some good news. He is a part of our family and we hope so much that we’ll see him again soon. Please wish us luck!

Contact us on our Facebook page if you have any suggestions or news of his whereabouts.

Welcome to Scotland – passports please

After another long overnight journey we’re now tucked safely away in Peterhead marina on the tip of Rattray Head, Scotland.

In contrast to the solitude of the Farne Islands nature reserve, where we spent the past two nights at anchor on the Northumberland coast, Peterhead is a stark, busy and highly industrialised port. The main industry here is oil, and catering for the tankers that deliver it.

After negotiating the breakwater entrance, and finding the marina, a member of the marina staff came down to help with our mooring lines. He asked where we’d come from and when we said that we’d sailed for twenty four hours direct from the Farne Islands, he told us that as this was a port of entry we should take our passports to their office once we had settled in. We dutifully did this and the appropriate forms were completed by the marina manager and signed by me – the skipper.

It did seem strange that we were asked for our passports when entering Scotland, and we did remark that we’d been to France recently and hadn’t been asked to produce anything, but better not to question these things too much; after all, give a man a uniform….

About an hour later, the young lad that helped us moor was passing by and said “The Farne Islands are in Northumberland aren’t they” – I confirmed this and asked if he’d been Googling the place we’d come from. He said that he had, and then apologised for making us complete the passport forms after arriving from England. He simply heard the word ‘island’ and assumed we’d travelled from somewhere a little more exotic.

Like many of the places we’ve visited the locals here are extremely friendly. The local shop owner kept us entertained with a fisherman’s tale of a storm which raised a 60ft wave that lifted one of the local’s boats clear over the breakwater and into the harbour. He also gave Helena an I a free milky bar each – usually reserved for children but we seemed like ‘a nice couple’.

Sadly though, Peterborough isn’t an exotic destination. To see what I mean, consider the corner of the port that the marina is in (click on the image to get a better view):


So where’s Amalia? you ask – just there in front of the massive yellow topped tanker. Oh and what’s that to the right of the tanker? – they’re fuel silos, this is where the big commercial vessels come to fill their fuel tanks. No a little further to the right – Ah, that’s a prison. No not that, even further to the right – oh the big chimney, that’s the top a massive gas fired power station.

So, as friendly as Peterborough has proved itself to be, we’ll be moving on tomorrow morning and heading west to Lossiemouth.

As an aside, some of you may remember the Fast Show’s Bob Flemming – the character with the ever nagging cough. In case you were wondering what ever happened to Bob, it would appear that he’s dropped his Devonshire accent in favour of a Highlands one and has been in gainful employment as a harbour master here at Peterborough. Our conversation on the VHF radio this morning started something like this:

– “Peterhead Harbour this is sailing yacht Amalia”

– “Amalia this is #ahhemmm# Peterhead Harbour”

– “Peterhead Harbour we would like permission to enter the port and to proceed to the marina please”

– “Amalia there is a lot of  #ahemmm# traffic in the #haack# port currently so #ghurrrm# please do not enter, do not #ahaaar# enter, there is a tanker preparing to #ahemm# leave, you will need to #phwoooar# call us back in fifteen minutes.”

I know it’s silly, but I’m sure this will be the most memorable VHF conversation of the trip.

If you don’t have a clue who Bob Fleming is, watch this classic clip:

Video: Sailing North Yorkshire

Here’s a short video of our sail from Blyth to the Farne Islands.

Warning: includes a gratuitous closeup of the cat:

I’ll try to upload some better resolution video when we get to a wifi point as posing videos is hammering my 3G connection.

We left Blyth at around 1100, and stopped at Amble at 1400 to refuel. We arrived in The Kettle anchorage in the Farne Islands and set anchor at 1700.


There are a couple of other yachts moored here at the moment (one all the way from Boston, MA) and then there are the day trip boats too, coming and going every couple of hours, bringing people over from the mainland to see the islands.

The wildlife here is amazing – there’s a continual feeding frenzy of birds diving for fish all around us. I’m no twitcher but it really is spectacular.


There are seals here feeding on the fishes too:


The heat from yesterday’s sunshine has bought with it a sea fog for this morning. With that in mind we have decided to hold up here for another day before setting off for Scotland tomorrow morning. The sun has finally broken through here  now and it’s lovely again – we’re just hoping that its like this again tomorrow.

Two things to do with string

We couldn’t have wished for better weather over the past few days, and it’s been great relaxing here in Whitby, it’s a lovely town. Among other things, I’ve kept myself amused with a couple of minor jobs on the boat that have involved tying some quite intricate knots.

The first is called a turk’s head. It’s primarily a decorative knot and doesn’t have any real use apart from, when tied to a steering wheel, acting as a center mark that can be felt when the wheel passes through your hands.

Until today we had a plastic pull tie on the wheel, but now thanks to a length of old kite line and a little patience we’ve got a yellow turk’s head marking center:


The second job was to make up an anchor snubber. Without a snubber an anchor chain lies over a bow roller and is typically retained by the windlass. The forces employed to hold the boat in position when at anchor are therefore directly applied to these essential and expensive parts of the boat. A snubber’s job is to take this load and transfer it instead to a cleat, which is much more capable of handling such high loads.  A snubber simply consists of a hook that is attached to the chain and a mooring line from the hook that can be attached to a cleat.

We have two very heavy duty cleats either side of the bow roller so it seemed sensible to use them both. To do this I made up a snubber with a hook in the center of a length of mooring line, held fast using a seizing knot shown in the closeup here:


Dolphins, turbines and gas rigs

At a little over 150 miles from start to end, this has been the longest single journey that Helena and I have completed on our own in our new yacht.

We set off from Lowestoft (the tattoo and junk food capital of the east coast) at 11am on Tuesday morning and arrived in Whitby, North Yorkshire some 28hrs later, at 3:30pm on Wednesday.

Our route took us along the east coast of Norfolk before we headed out into the North Sea at around 6pm. Dinner was reheated bolognese sauce, that we had kept frozen, and pasta which we ate as we skirted past the north side of yet another new wind farm at sunset.


The forecast that night was for the wind to pick up to a force 6 so we had the storm sail rigged and laid out on the side deck just in case it went any higher. As it turned out, the forecast was good and the sail stayed unused on the deck.

After nightfall we worked a 3 hour watch. I took the first, from 2100hrs to midnight, then Helena took over until 0300. Neither of us slept well at this point as the winds had increased and sea had become rougher. Maybe some seasoned sea-dogs can sleep while being levitated above their bunks, but its a skill that still eludes us.

At 0300hrs, after 15 hrs of making way only under sail, we reduced sail and started the engine in an attempt to help stabilise the boat. Of course it didn’t stop us from pitching around completely but it did work to the extent that Helena managed to get a few hours sleep while I spent my time dodging the ferrys and cargo ships as they made their way to and from Hull.

First light comes early this time of year and it was possible to see quite well at just 4am. As it started to get light, we passed through an area full of gas derricks, this was one of the larger ones:


At 6am, when Helena joined me back in the cockpit, we had two extra visitors make an appearance, I just managed to get this photo of one of them playing with our bow wave:


They were White-beaked dolphins which are apparently quite common in UK waters.  They must have been  around 3m in length and the stunning white markings on their sides flashed as they sped around under us and jumped out of the water.

As the day went on, the wind dropped and the warm sea air thickened, reducing visibility to just a couple of miles. We headed north past Scarborough and finally arrived outside Whitby at 1510hrs. The marina manager had very kindly had words with the lifting bridge operator and delayed the last lift of the day until we got there. Five minutes later and we’d have been out on a temporary pontoon, rather than tucked away in this beautiful traditional fishing harbour.

I the evening, we found a great fish and chip shop so took dinner back to the boat to eat in the cockpit. With a view like this, why would we eat anywhere else?


Take a look at our Facebook page to see more photos taken on this trip.

Next stop Lowestoft

We started out at 8am this morning and simply slipped the lines before sailing the five miles down the River Stour to the open sea. What a great way to start the day, breakfast in the cockpit watching the riverside go by certainly beats the morning train into Canon St.

We had fair winds today and only needed to run the engine for an hour or so around lunchtime when the wind dropped. Here’s our track as we approached Lowestoft under sail shortly after 4pm:

track to lowestoft

Todays journey took just over nine hours and we had a very warm welcome from the Royal Suffolk & Norfolk Yacht Club who were on hand to take our lines and assist us into a tight berth on our arrival. Their welcome was only surpassed by the magnificence of their men’s urinals, the like of which I’ve never encountered before. I was particularly impressed with the solid copper cistern:


Sadly the urinals look like they may be the highlight of Lowestoft. It’s a pretty rough around the edges, and run down port town. I don’t think we’ll be stopping here for long.

Buxton, our cat, impressed us today with a demonstration of how he could walk on his hands. The boat pitched over a wave just as he started his way down the companionway steps and his back paws didn’t touch down again before he was off the bottom step. So much for feline grace.

Here he is recovering from the ordeal in port shortly after we arrived: