2018’s Meanderings – part 1
At last I get to tell you all about my cruising this summer. It seems like I have been back an age already, so I had better get something down on the screen before I forget! I will break the cruise down into 3 stages: the fitting out and the first 10 days, during which I wandered singlehanded, the main 3 weeks when I had Olly Epsom as crew, and a final few days and wrap-up of my season (seems early to be wrapping the season up, but I have to go back to sea… 🙁
I got back from sea in late May, and soon afterwards embarked on my final scheme of works to get Meander ready for sea and back in the water. I had left her part-ready – in fact, the yard agreed to put the masts back in before I went back to sea, it being spring already, and I had painted the decks, cockpit and inside of the bulwarks before I struck the tent, and also spent a happy (!) week in the shed varnishing the spars, after I had first removed the loose glass / epoxy sheathing from the fully-hoisted position on the main. This is protected by brass scotchmen (strips) anyway, so removing the underlying glass is not a big issue. So all I had left to do was to prep the bottom for antifouling, prep and paint the topsides, which is a job which always throws up extra work, the paint not being too great at sticking to smooth concrete, and install the new fridge compressor, as well as having a good clean and tidy. I was very happy to have my parents, John and Lyn, up to stay once again and help out. This time I made sure I did most of the heavy work of prepping the bottom before they arrived, so we just had the antifouling to apply.
It was at the early stages of the warm spell at the end of May, so we had some beatiful weather to work in, and at the end of the week had time for a couple of days away in the boat as a reward! It was a very handy couple of days to use as a shakedown, make sure everything was working, adjust and bed in the standing rigging, and most fun of all, swing and adjust the compass (a job which has been outstanding since I bought the boat!). Anybody looking out to Loch Melfort over that weekend would have seen Meander gyrating wildly in both directions as we reduced the deviation from about 30 degrees on some headings to less than 10! We had a pleasant sail in light airs after that, which took us a short distance from Loch Melfort to Toberonochy on Luing, Seil’s next door neighbour. It was a beautiful evening as we sat down to our drinks and supper, and the sunset (which happened at around 2300) was beautiful, as witnessed by the above photo.
Sadly my parents had to slip and proceed back down south, so we put Meander back on her mooring the following day and, after a final night at Rycroft, they left.
I had a couple more days at home, as I was waiting to sort out a software / firmware issue on my new tablet (for navigation), and await delivery of its waterproof condom before I left. This accomplished, I went back to Meander on the 6th June, and stored her up for departure the next day. With very light airs I was able to make it through the Cuan Sound fairly quickly on the first of the flood tide, and motored out towards the Sound of Mull. Just in the entrance to the Sound there came a little bit of wind, so I set sail and stopped the engine for a while, tacking in as far as I could. As I was doing this, I spotted the Brixham Trawler Leader coming the other way, so I called them up and we had a blether, and they took some photos of me under full sail in distinctly unexciting conditions. It soon became evident that I wasn’t making any ground against the tide, so I dropped the headsails and started the engine. Ironically, the further up towards Loch Aline (where I had decided to stop for the night) I got, the more the wind picked up!
Once in Loch Aline, I dropped the sails as I motored towards the far end, past the pontoons (which I had never seen, so long is it since I have been there), and anchored. My echo sounder reported that the water was a blistering 22 degrees, and there were unusually no jellyfish in evidence, so I went in for a pleasant swim: the first, I hoped, of many…
I had a fairly prompt start the next morning to get the benefit of the tide up the rest of the Sound of Mull, heading for the Small Isles. I don’t think at this stage that I had chosen my actual destination, given the variable winds and the habit the wind has of being in an unexpected direction when you don’t want it to be.
Astonishingly, there was sufficient wind to sail, and as there was another boat leaving Loch Aline at the same time, I set everything, and off we went. At a snail’s pace, with my topsail set, I actually not only managed to stay ahead of them, put the distance actually started to increase. This changed however when they set their spinnaker. As we rounded the corner off Salen, I set the Ghoster, and this brought about an immediate 180 degree wind shift, so had to drop it again swiftly, and start the engine. As it was, I needed to catch up some time, having been sailing at somewhere just over snail’s pace. It was as I wrestled the ghoster down that I came up with the genius idea of putting it in stops for next time I set it; so commenced my search for wool, or something similar (apparently jute garden twine is quite effective).
As we passed Rubha nan Gal, the lighthouse north of Tobermory, I reset the headsails and stopped the engine and tried tacking out to the west, in company for a while with a lovely traditional yawl. She gave up very quickly, but I persevered for an hour and a half, but by the time I had had some lunch, it had dropped again and more diesel was burnt. We passed
Ardnamurchan at 1443 and by 1530 there was no wind whatsoever, so I dropped the remaining sails and stowed them in good time before arriving off Port Mor on the Isle of Muck. We anchored there in 8m at 1600 and settled down for the night after a quick trip up the mainmast to wipe away excess mastic which had bedded the scotchmen back in after I had to remove and refit them whilst varnishing. This had squeezed out under pressure from the gaff saddle, and, being of the non-setting variety, was getting all over the mast and the gaff saddle leather.
After a slower start on the 9th, we weighed anchor and set off again in flat calm and mirror seas, but setting the main and mizzen anyway, just in case, to head up the Sound of Sleat to position myself to get through the kyles the following day. I chose a new place for Meander to visit: Doune Bay, on the Knoydart peninsula. You may recall that last year I bumped into a boat called Binker, with Jamie and Penny Robinson on board: she is based at Doune, which is their home. I vaguely hoped I may bump into them again…
With light and shifty winds, my early attempts to sail were abortive, but I managed at last to get some headsails drawing off Morar, and stopped the engine at around 1330, and managed to sail the final 2 hours to Doune, heaving to and handing sail off the bay at 1530.
Once on one of the free moorings, I launched the dinghy for a row ashore and explore of the tiny community. Binker was there on her mooring, so there was a chance that Jamie and Penny would be about, but of them there was no sign. So, after taking a couple of photos, I rowed back out to Meander, and had a bit of a wash in the cockpit – I had been warming some water in the solar shower in anticipation of a swim, but there were too many jellies about – a common theme for the whole month! However, on a mooring a few hundred metres from the shore, one gets sufficient modesty by crouching / sitting in the bottom of the cockpit – in fact with a bit more ingenuity one could easily have a proper bath in it…
I had a bit of a lie-in the next morning, as I only had to get to Plockton, and I also had to wait for the tide to be right to get through Kyle Rhea. I slipped the mooring at 1030, and my log states in large capitals: “NO WIND”, which seems to be a common theme in this early stage of the cruise. I therefore had to motor the whole way until we passed the Skye Bridge, and a slight breeze started to come up. I set all plain sail just before 1400, and we set about drifting for a while. Although this was pleasant, it wasn’t getting us anywhere, so at 1500 I gave up and started the engine again and handed all sail. We arrived on the mooring at Plockton at 1550, which gave me time to nip ashore and buy a paper and have a pint at the hotel whilst trying in vain to get some wifi.
That said, I have found this year that there has been a huge improvement in 4G and 3G reception, and only on a couple of occasions (this being one) was I unable to get a data connection. As I rely heavily on t’internet these days for getting the weather forecasts, this should be considered a Good Thing, despite the general over-reliance these days on mobile phones and the internet.
On the 11th I slipped from the mooring at around 1015, heading for Acarseid Mhor on Rona. As I had come to expect, it was flat calm initially, but as I came out past the Crowlins, a breeze started to fill in. I hummed and ha-d a bit about which side of Raasay to go, and decided in the end to go up the west side, going through the narrows at its south end. This decision was, I think, the right one, as one tack took me all the way through until Caol Mhor, S of Raasay, where I had to start the engine and motorsail upwind to get north. Unfortunately the wind chose this time to start picking up and became a bit boring, making our motorsail a bit of a marathon, motor-tacking all the way up the Sound of Raasay with main, mizzen and staysail set. We arrived in Acarseid Mhor at 1815, several hours later than I expected.
The weather forecast was starting to broadcast a gloomier message by now: until this day we had had nothing but glorious sunshine and light airs, but now there was worrying talk about a storm brewing of unseasonable intensity, and they had given it a name: Hector. I had therefore to work out where to go in order to shelter for the couple of days he would be blowing, and Gairloch seemed as good a place as any, so that is where I headed. I had had a bad night’s sleep in Acarseid Mhor: I had anchored slightly too close to a reef, and this got even closer when the wind shifted and we swung round towards it. I therefore had my nav tablet next to my bunk, and every half hour or so I checked our position. We didn’t have to move, but it still made for poor sleep! We left after breakfast and motorsailed across towards the Skye shore for an hour, giving me excellent views of the Old Man of Storr, which I had never noticed before in my decades of sailing these waters! As we closed the shore, I was able to tack round, set headsails and lay the course for the entrance of Loch Gairloch. For the first time on the trip I was able to set George (the self-steering gear) to work and sit back and relax for a few hours as it was a straight run across. I was stunned when we got to Gairloch harbour to see that the pontoon had plenty of space – normally one has to raft up or fight for a bit of room on the end; here there was space for at least two boats of Meander’s length. I was greeted by Len, the very friendly harbourmaster, who had obviously noticed I was singlehanded, so came to take my lines, and was all fast by 1445.
Here I was able to have a shower in the boat club, and top up on some fresh provisions from the shop on the pier; although its stock is somewhat limited, if one can make do it saves a trip into the village proper to get food from the (small) supermarket. I also took advantage of the Old Inn and had my supper there that evening: as I had decided to head across to Loch Shieldaig for the next two nights to sit out Hector, this would be my chance to make use of civilised facilities prior to my self-imposed exile.
The following morning, the 13th, then I moved out to take a mooring. I secured initially with a line from either bow on a
long bowline, which is what I normally do on a mooring with no pick-up. As the wind started to increase that evening, and with Force 10 now being mentioned in the forecast, I decided to appy belt and braces, and ran out my second anchor cable through the bow roller, through the buoy ring and back to itself. As it happens, I carry a very handy Joggle Shackle, which is cranked specially to enable shackling between links of a chain. I then tried to balance the weight between the three lines, or if anything take a bit more on the chain, to try and stop the snatching on each warp as she yawed (something she is very prone to do, with her high bows). This arrangement seemed to work very well, and enabled me to sleep somewhat better…
The 14th was a bit of a write-off of a day, but I did manage to accomplish some small maintenance jobs, improving the compass binnacle and repairing the helmsman’s seat. it remained ridiculously windy all day, and I would be intrigued to know how HMS Grimsby fared whilst moored on the windward side of the pier.
By the morning of the 15th the wind had definitely dropped and was looking good for a straight run across to Stornoway. I left with 2 reefs in the main and the reefed mizzen, but once clear of Loch Gairloch I was able to shake out the second reef. By 1030 all reefs had been shaken out and I had set the jib, and we were romping along at 6-7 knots. There were some squally showers about, and whilst I managed to avoid the first few, by 1130 it was evident that my luck was out, and I had to hand the jib. Trying to get it rolled up in an increasing wind meant steering dead downwind, which was tricky, and it took some time to get the sail away, whilst it shook and rattled the entire rig. By 1500 we were off the entrance to Stornoway harbour, and I handed the main, continuing under mizzen and staysail into the outer harbour until the wind headed us, and I handed the remaining canvas before heading into the marina, getting alongside at 1545.
The next day, Olly joined me as planned, having left his car in Ullapool and got the ferry across.
TO BE CONTINUED…