Heading south

We’ve now reluctantly left beautiful Scotland in our wake and are heading south.

In the past week we have covered about 200 miles from Oban, through the Crinan Canal, around the Kyles of Bute to the Isle of Arran, and then after a night at anchor in Loch Ryan across the North Channel to Bangor in North Ireland. Today we left there and crossed the Irish Sea to Peel in the Isle of Man.

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The trip through the canal was pretty and, unlike any other canal we’ve been in, the locks all needed to be operated manually. Our friends Brian and Jayne were still on board so there were plenty of crew to share the work.

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Brian and Jayne left us to return home just after Crinan and Helena and I proceeded on to the stunning Kyles of Bute. I’d initially imagined that seeing all this scenery every day would dumb the senses to it, but the variety of colours and textures found in the Highlands meant that this never happened:

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The weather forecasts have been a bit hit and miss recently. We got caught in a quite viscous blow between Arran and Loch Ryan, and then the opposite problem today when the 15 knots that was forecast amounted to nothing much more than a gnats fart. With this in mind, and given the fact that we’re not in a hurry, we’ve decided to be conservative with our route planning until the series of low pressure systems that’s been causing the havoc passes over. Our aim this week is just to make it back across the Irish Sea to Dublin to meet up with an old Uni friend for the weekend.

Running at a slow pace has also meant that we’ve had a chance to get a few odd jobs done, including giving the boat a good clean. Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon applying a little TLC to the topsides which had started to look a little tired. Here’s the result, I’m quite proud of it:

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So now, we’ve finished our dinner and are sat in a nice pub with free wifi just a short walk from the boat. Just time to write this blog entry before checking the weather forecast.

If you’d like to see more photos and movies from this part of our journey, then take a look at our Facebook page.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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Taking the kids for a spin in the dinghy:

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

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

 

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):

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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.

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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.

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There are seals here feeding on the fishes too:

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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.

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.

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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:

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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:

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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?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Our journey begins

So we're finally under way, have crossed the Thames estuary, and will spend the first night of our trip, moored to a buoy in the river Stour, near Felixstowe in Essex. We'll not bother going ashore this evening as Helena cooked up a few meals for us before we left home. This evening we'll be feasting on spinach and bacon pie.

We left Ramsgate at 0600 to catch the tide. The force 4 that was forecast waited until we were pretty much here before making an appearance so most of the journey was made using the engine. In retrospect, this has been a blessing as we've started to realise that we're both knackered from all the preparations and a lazy day drifting over the estuary, dodging the sandbanks, has provided a welcome rest. We all (the cat included) spent a few hours snoozing along the way.

So it's been a good start. Nothing more stressful today than wondering if we'll be evicted from our free mooring should its rightful owner return and claim it.

I'll post more photos to our Facebook page in a day or two when I've got a better Internet connection.

You can see our location and route on this marine traffic web site.