Sailing Solo Around Britain

ANSTRUTHER TO PETERHEAD - 95 miles
Anstruther to Arbroath Sunday July 10 Anstruther to Arbroath - 24 miles

Left Anstruther at 09.30 on a lovely sunny morning with a force 3/4 south westerly promising good sailing at last. Paid my berthing fees for 3 nights 'Er we can only take cash, How about £40 for the 3 nights' Anstruther is definitely the least expensive place on the trip so far.

However I never did find the ablutions. The toilets were closed after being vandalised and showers were reportedly available in a nearby hostel.

The original course followed is 60 degs down the coastline of Fife heading once again for the open water of the North Sea. Under genoa and a bit of engine (batteries needed a charge) we are doing 6.5 knots splipping past Crail Harbour to port and the Isle of May to starboard.

Within an hour and a half, we seem to be 'spat out' from the river Forth into the North Sea. Turning sharply to port round the North Carr buoy on to a heading of 360, we head north towards Arbroath.

Arbroath is a tidal harbour and there will not be enough water to enter until 15.30 at the earliest so I have four hours to cover 15 miles. This is a big change from any of the earlier legs. Under genoa (foresail) only, it is a delight to roll along at 3.5 knots, without engine and any pressure.

Then the rain started and it poured down for the next four hours as Dark Star ambled along crossing the bay enclosing the golfing mecca of St Andrews, then past the estuary of the mighty river Tay.

Dark Star in Arbroath The approach to Arbroath turns out to be infested by pots and nets. Every man in Arbroath must have a set of pots out. The harbour entrance line of approach is 199 degs and it's critical to keep wthin a narrow channel through drying rocks. You must line up two white marks to stay on the right line. There were pots scattered across the leading line! Never could you safely approach this place at night.

I ease into the inner harbour and wonder where the marina entrance lies since there is no apparent gap in the surrounding quayside. A squeaking noise penetrates the rain and two ancient looking gates slowly open. The gates open 3 hours before high tide but they are not manned 24 hours, so no movement is possible between 8pm and 7am! Enjoyed a fish and chip supper (sadly not an Arbroath Smokie) whilst listening to the France v Portugal Cup Final. It's still raining.

Monday July 11 Arbroath to Stonehaven - 30 miles

Leave Arbroath at 09.00, the short visit did not give time so sample a 'smokie'. It is flat calm so it's back to motorsailing again, but at least the full mainsail can be set. Arbroath is completely fenced in by lobster pots. Getting out of the place without becoming entangled seems even harder than it was on entry.

However within two miles of the shore, there is not a lobster pot in sight. I cant believe lobsters all crawl around Arbroath harbour conveniently within 20/30 minutes of the 'fishermen'. As we pass Montrose, the sun disappears and heavy rain showers appear. Midsummer weather it is not. It is quite an interesting piece of coast but visibility in the rain is often poor.

We slip past the small harbours of Johnshaven and Gourdon, past Inverbervie and Caterline. The rain clears through and the ruined Dunnottar Castle appears on the starboard bow which means that Stonehaven is drawing closer. As I turn to make the run along the leading marks into Stonehaven Harbour, the approach is accompanied by a thunderstorm complete with torrential rain. Oh joy.

I enter the harbour gingerly, just an hour after low water, expecting to run aground, but without problems, ease around the breakwater and into the inner harbour. Stonehaven has no purpose built marina with nice alongside pontoons providing easy access, power and water. Stonenhaven Harbour Here are high quaysides, rough harbour walls and slippery iron ladders to climb ascend. I find an empty spot and scrabble around tying up temporarily before starting the climb up the ladder some 20 feet to the top of the quay. From there long lines are dropped to secure Dark Star. The lines need to be long to allow for the rise and fall of the tide. Too short and the boat is left hanging as the tide ebbs away!

By 16.00 everything is settled and afternoon tea and cake consumed. Exploring Stonehaven did not take very long and I find possibly it's main claim to fame, it gave the world the deep fried Mars bar. I just can't bring myself to try one. Batter + chocolate, 'No for Me' as nephew Dr Calum Gray PHD, would say.

Stonehaven Mars Bars Stonehaven Police Station The other picture is of the most grandiose police station I can remember seeing in such a one horse town and it's been closed down. They evidently had some big trouble makers in Stonehaven in the past. It was an odd night spent against the harbour wall. Low tide is 2.30 am and almost on the dot I wake up and go outside to make sure the the boat is not hanging from the mooring ropes! The brain, or what I have left of mine, evidently still ticks away when supposedly asleep.

Tuesday July 12 Stonehaven to Peterhead - 40 miles

Depart at 8.30 to catch the tide which recedes north for the next 6 hours and should push me along, but the tides up here are not as strong as they were below the Humber. The Met Office forecast a force 4 westerly wind which would be offshore, meaning a flat sea and a lovely beam reach all the way north.

Since setting off, the UK Met Office forecasts often seemed vague and too generalised. I find the online forecasts from xcweather.co.uk and windfinder.com more accurate, with hourly forecasts of wind strength and direction.

Poor forecasts And Trouble with roller reefing
That morning the Met Office forecast proved wrong again, the wind was force 5, gusting 6 from the north west which meant motorsailing hard against wind and swell. It was not as bad as the dire morning off Eyemmouth but the spray was still hoppping over the bow. I decided to ease off the wind, switch off the engine, let out the genoa and sail.

The genoa (fore sail) is on a furling system so that it rolls up nicely around the forestay, controlled by ropes, safely from the cockpit. As I unroll the genoa, with just over half the sail unrolled, the furling system jammed tight. I could not let out more sail, nor could I roll it away again.

I could continue to sail off the wind but would probably end up 300 miles downwind to Denmark, in a couple of days! With a bit of "heaving and hoing" the genoa is eventually mostly rolled away but it can't be used again until the problem is resolved. I suspect a case of 'halyward wrap'.

I won't bore the non mariners with an explanation of the condition, but fellow sailors will already have clammy hands reflecting on the condition, accompanied by a strong breeze.

'After You Claude' off Aberdeen, Wind Farms and Donald Trump
Onward we grind under mainsail and engine, passing Newtonhill, Portlethen, Cove and the skyscrapers of the granite oil town of Aberdeen. Crossing Aberdeen harbour entrance channel, a big oil supply ship plays 'after you Claude' with Dark Star until both craft come almost to a halt. I have right of way but never argue with commercial shipping and always pass astern.

Eventually with a parting 'toot' the vessel buggers effortlessly off to the north whilst Dark Star resumes her battle against the wind and swell. The lovely, sandy Ythan Estuary comes abeam. In this area a large windfarm has been proposed stretching south to Aberdeen Bay.

The RSPB rightly point out that this area is a huge highway for migrating birds, but withdrew their objection saying 'although bird impacts would occur, they would lie within acceptable limits'.

However presidential candidate, Donald Trump is made of sterner stuff and his objection that the wind farm would ruin the view from his £750 million golf course, was only recently dismissed in the High Court. The huge numbers of seabirds on this rocky coast had better get home before dark once these wind turbines start to appear in the next year.

Peterhead Virgins- 'Sorry, please say again'
Peterhead at last appears around yet another headland. The pilot book warned that it was a very busy commercial port and could not be entered without permission. I duly call 'Peterhead Harbour Control' and get an immediate response but the north east accent is almost impenetrable, and I am a Scot!

However part of the reply definitely enquires whether I have previously visited Peterhead harbour. I reply 'Negative, I am a Peterhead virgin'. Back came the the response 'Vurrrgins are awfy welcome here surr. Proceed at best speed to the marina in the south west corner and keep oot o' the way o' the vurry big boat being tugged oot o' the herber'.
Peterhead Marina Dark Star is tied up in the marina by 15.30. It's cold, overcast and windy. A quick nap is followed by early dinner (scotch mutton pie, potatoes and peas, with dessert of fruit cocktail and evaporated milk). I am in a better mood to appreciate the surroundings.

To one side is busy commercial docks with throbbing diesel engines, cranes and containers. Behind are large oil storage tanks overloooked by the grim presence of Peterhead Prison. At least two miles distant lie the shops and pubs of Peterhead. Oh, and the WIFI system is hopeless. However, toilets and shower facilities are basic but clean.

Endless entertainment on the vistors' pontoons
There is plenty of entertainment on the visitors pontoons. A couple dressed in matching yellow and black wet gear, like two big wasps, are preparing their 37 foot yacht to leave. They look the part and I expected a slick exit. However the wife is still on the pontoon, at the bow, holding a rope while husband has clearly engaged forward gear.

He shouts to let go. She does and just manages to jump onto the moving boat, but leaves the mooring rope on the pontoon where it catches on a cleat. The yacht, now anchored by the bow, jams tight between the pontoon berths. They are not in any danger other than being close to a relationship breakup.

Also preparing to leave is a Polish flagged yacht just a little bigger than Dark Star. Only one person has appeared. Thinking he is singlehanded I move to lend a hand and am staggered to see another four blokes plus a girl emerge from this wee yacht. Each has charge of a rope or a fender...just how many Poles does it take to un-moor a 29ft yacht? And where do they all sleep?

Around 21.00 the electricity throughout the marina fails. A large yacht with a sailing school logo emblazoned all over it had berthed in noisy fashion, with much shouting of instructions. A designated crew member plugged in the cable to obtain shore power and tripped out the power circuit. The marina staff had gone home at 6pm, so everyone is on gas and battery power till their return in the morning.

And finally..in tootles a little Fisher motor sailer. They are lovely little yachts, but are very high at the pointy end which makes getting from the bow to the pontoon impossible unless you are a gymnast. The wife who has been despatched to the bow with fender in hand is certainly no athlete, but there is little for her to do as her skipper husband never got near the pontoon in three tries. 'I'm sorry, I have only had the boat three days' he shouts. It looked like it would take another three days to berth until we get a line aboard and pull him in. And so to bed......

Wednesday July 13th Peterhead Marina - Weather Bound

Wind blowing force 5, gusty, from the north or north west. No point in trying get around Rattray Head today. Peterhead is the most easterly port in Scotland. It is much nearer to Norway and Denmark, than London and has many visiting yachts from the Baltics. Seven miles north of Peterhead, I need to turn sharply left, directly west for the 70 mile trip to Inverness. Somehow I had not appreciated it was about the same distance as the trip from Shoreham By Sea to Ramsgate.

The sun is out so today is a "dhobi day". Everything in Dark Star is taken out and aired. Diesel and calor gas are purchased and once again the contaminated oil again is pumped laboriously from the sail drive. The waste oil does not look nearly so 'milky' as the last lot. I feel pretty confident that replacing with fresh oil once a fortnight is a workable solution.

Also attention is given to the roller furling on the genoa which had jammed yesterday. Later in the afternoon, when the wind dropped, I am able to unroll the sali and examine the problem. As suspected it was halyard wrap. The new jib halyard had stretched allowing the sail to slide down the reefing furler. This is soon remedied and hopefully won't give any more trouble. It's a pretty satisfactory and constructive day.

Thursday July Peterhead Marina - Weather bound

Blowing force 5 from the north west, so no movement possible out of Peterhead today. Later in the afternoon the weather forecast shows a favourable change of wind to the south for tomorrow, Friday, but by 1500 it could be blowing 30 knots!

Too rich for me but there is an early 7/8 hour gap from 07.00 before the strong winds arrive. However at that time the tides are all wrong. Later in the evening various forecasts do not agree on the time of arrival of the weather system. It will probably be safer to stay put in Peterhead tomorrow.

Friday July 15 Peterhead Marina - Thoughts on the Caledonian Canal

I will probably put out this blog early since it looks as if rapid progress might be made towards Inverness and the Caledonian canal on Sat/Sun/Monday. This morning I have been reading up on transiting the Canal. It's 60 miles long with 29 locks and 8 swing bridges.

From the north end at Inverness it stretches south west to Fort William. Loch Ness comprises 23 miles of the Canal's length. It takes a minimum of two days to transit the canal, but you buy a permit which last for 6 days, so there is no particular rush. The Canal Guide says each boat should have three or four lines of about 45 feet each, to reach to the bottom of the deepest locks. Well, I have two hands and this leaves another line or two looking for a bodily appendage. No suggestions please.

Getting close to the half way point
When sailing down Loch Ness, Dark Star will have covered over 750 miles since leaving Shoreham By Sea and I reckon that is close to the halfway point on this trip. Just had a chat with a young man Dylans Westerly Centaur from Denmark sailing solo in a 30 foot 'Folkboat'. He is waiting for the wind to go west and carry him over 300 miles back to Denmark. Expected journey time is 60 hours. He will 'just power nap' on the way. And I am fretting about a 37 mile trip round to Whitehillls/Banff.

Keep Turning Left
Many fellow sailors have probably spent too much time watching the videos posted on Youtube by Dylan Winter. I believe Dylan is a professional cameraman working for the BBC, but his Youtube videos 'Keep Turning Left' are strictly all his own work and detail a slow, meandering trip around the UK in a small sailing boat. Unfortunately I just missed meeting him but his Westerly Centaur Harmony has been parked here in Peterhead marina, for the time being. keepturningleft.co.uk