With the last lap of this years’ cruise now in sight we arrived at the Crinan Canal entrance at about 13.15 on the 7th August and in company with a couple of other yachts hung around outside the sea lock for a while waiting to be called in. Nothing much happened until it transpired that a junior staff member was running the lock and was not sure how to get us all in and in what order. Eventually all came right and we locked in, paid our dues and made ready for the transit. After chatting to the now complete and ever friendly staff it transpired that due to the lack of rain over this summer and last summer there was a shortage of water to keep the canal full. Scotland? No rain? Surely not!
We set off southwards from Helmsdale on the west side of the Moray Firth on the 21st July in a brisk north easterly Force 5 and bright sunshine. Storm Petrel is a well mannered cruising yacht and she loves it (as does her skipper) when the wind is behind the beam. We had a cracking sail on a bouncy sea touching ten knots at times passing Tarbet Ness at lunchtime until we came in to the shelter of the Inverness Firth where the land converged on either side of us, folding us into its sheltered embrace. With brother Michael’s friend Peter having departed the day before we were a family crew of three and spent a happy day indulging our favourite hobby and reminiscing about adventures in days gone by before navigation became so routine and predictable.
With our family chores done and suitable checks on the condition of two pregnant daughters in law we headed north again on the 6th July, this time by car with stops on the way at the Roache household for a gossip and then overnight at a friendly B&B in the Lake District. The plan was to leave the car at our new home marina at Inverkip so that we could bring home all the dirty washing and general mess for the winter. That accomplished we took a train ride to Glasgow and thence to Perth, Inverness and on to Wick. All of this eight hour fantastic scenic train ride for £17, yes £17. Now that is Scottish thrift for you, probably not available to Sassenachs after independence so enjoy it while you can.
Peterhead is a welcome shelter on the exposed coast of north east Scotland and lurking around the corner is a legendry danger spot – Rattray Head. It can be a devil with strong wind against tide, or even just with the tide we are told. So having settled nicely in to a very quiet Peterhead Marina with its modern facilities and helpful staff we wondered if we might spend some time there soaking up the local ambience.
At the back of the marina is a rather large and imposing building which one ventured to think might be a museum or some such place of interest but upon enquiry it transpired that this is no place for holiday visitors, rather more for prison visitors. ‘I wouldn’t go too near there, confided our friend in the marina, some pretty hard cases up there’.
Chris Nicholson is known to his friends as a man with an excellent eye for detail and planning. True to that reputation the phone rang whilst we were at tea at a Berwick hostelry, it was Chris with the offer of a lift back to the boat with yet another harvest of shopping (this time at the Coop – that is just for the record). Our crew have been such a pleasure along the way and so far the planning has been impeccably realised. Now its time for the next leg of our adventure having shown Chris the nightlife of Eyemouth. That took about ten minutes but we did enjoy an excellent seafood supper.
The weather forecast is showing signs of a real improvement with XC Weather, Windguru and even the Met Office showing predictions of some warmth and light winds. Still the winds will be from the north of course but now bearable, one hopes.
With Geoff Quentin still on board we had to cover quite a few miles before he would be dropped off to continue his lawn mowing, garden digging and preparations for the Lot Cruise. It was disappointing to be missing a motor up the Tyne to see the city and its famous bridges but good sense dictated that we should turn left out of Royal Quays Marina and make for the river entrance and farewell to the Tyne.
We have so enjoyed the changes in local accents as we have headed north. First the Essex, then the Norfolk and Suffolk, on to Humberside with a hint of Midlands, then Yorkshire, then Geordie and Northumberland. My family have always enjoyed speaking in local tongues (quite badly) and we have had lots of fun confusing ourselves and forgetting where we are. Wait till we get to Scotland!
Our departure from Grimsby and the River Humber was another with doubt about the weather, this time warm moist air rolling in from the south west which could only mean the threat of fog. The forecast was one of calm winds with the chance of fog patches and a more sinister warning of fog banks. Clearly in addition to the horrors inflicted upon us by our nation’s banks they were now ready to release fog upon us, perhaps with virtual fog bank cash machines lurking out there somewhere. Is your correspondent starting to hallucinate? Yes that was actually a pot buoy over there.
With Ipswich behind us and another stop overnight at Suffolk Yacht Harbour to pick up Mike’s camera left behind in the Lightship, we headed off down the Orwell clad in our best all weather gear to make passage to Lowestoft.
The weather being churlish as it is, and it being the 11th May, we reached the Stour entrance only to hear a gale warning specially prepared for us by the Coastguard. Oh what a good thing we had the radio on, one was tempted to think.
So in to Shotley for the night by which time Mike has had enough of estuary cruising and leaves by train from Harwich (with his camera) to be home in time for his birthday celebrations on the following day.
Thursday the 2nd May was to be the big day of departure, but not before weeks and months of planning, preparation and checklists. Well of course anyone who has done a trip of any significance knows about the lists, checklists and interminable double checklists.
So on the evening of the 1st May we were faced with the execution of our first passage plan, a very tricky operation to get Storm Petrel torn free from her happy home in Southsea Marina. She really didn’t want to leave and the wind had got up making life very difficult indeed.