Josephine’s cruise to Scotland 1987

Blyth to Clachnaharry

Josephine received no more than a perfunctory lick of varnish, and a coat of anti-fouling, for her winter re-fit in 1986/87. There was much more work to be done on her “tender”, a Mirror Dinghy called M-TM-T had suffered a stove-in bow in a collision with the safety boat during Cadet Week 1986. In case anyone is wondering how this could happen, let me explain that the safety boat was anchored at the time.

The perfunctoryness of Josephine‘s re-fit was exposed during the first cruise of the 1987 season. We set off to sail to Scarborough on May 22nd. Half way down Blyth Bay there was a sharp crack and the boom split along four feet of its length. The problem was traced to a tiny area of rot in way of one of the kicking strap fastenings.

It was impossible to build a new sitka spruce boom in the two weeks before the Bass Rock Race, but fortunately Jack Mills had an old aluminium boom of approximately correct dimensions, and with a minimum of hacksawing and pop-riveting, Josephine was rapidly re-equipped with a functioning boom (which she has to this day). Not even the new boom could keep Josephine going through the Bass Rock Race. We did manage a circuit of the course, rounding the Rock late on Saturday night, before retiring in flat calm some eight miles to seaward of Berwick upon Tweed, around mid-morning on the Sunday.

In early July we managed to take the entire family to sea for a cruise to Newton Haven. The first night was spent in Amble Marina, the second at anchor at Newton, after a gloriously sunny day spent lounging on the beach. The return passage to Blyth developed into a stiff beat. Josephine revelled in it, although most of crew found the conditions a bit cold for their liking.

That was the sum of Josephine‘s pre-summer cruise warm up. On Friday 10th July, at 2200, Don MacFaul, John Gilbert and myself, set sail in pouring rain. The wind began as SW Force 3, and through the night it gradually veered into the NW. The rain eased off as we sailed through the Goldstone Channel, and as breakfast was being served at 0845 on the Saturday morning, the sun shone weakly on the fields around Berwick upon Tweed. St. Abbs Head was brought abeam at 1030, and as Josephine set off to cross the Forth, we found it necessary to pull down two reefs in the main and set the working jib. The NW wind increased to an estimated Force 5 although on the evening shipping forecast, St. Abbs Head reported Force 6. Josephine is not at her most comfortable in such conditions, but she shouldered her way North, throwing up clouds of spray which sparkled in the bright sunshine. The only other sail we had seen was left far behind. Our course took us close to the Bell Rock. At 2000 we passed five cables to the West of the Light House, and as we did so the wind died away to nothing, leaving us in an uncomfortable swell. So it was a case of engine on and heading for the lee of the land to escape the swell. Three hours motoring later I decided to put into Montrose for a sleep. The only alternative was to motor through the night, and by common consent Montrose offered a better alternative. There were four or five other yachts and motor boats moored alongside just to the East of the dolphin on which the HM’s Office stands.

Harbour dues for the night were £5.75. We did a little shopping ashore, finally getting away at 09.45 on the Sunday morning. The wind was SE 1, backing E and decreasing. We tried playing with the spinnaker for an hour and a half, hoping for a sea-breeze to set in, but it wouldn’t draw effectively, and the best we could manage was a knot and a half. Tidal calculations showed we would lose the North-going ebb at noon, so if we wanted to catch the last of the next ebb round Rattray Head 60M away, we had to make an average of 5 knots. Accordingly, the spinnaker was handed and the “aluminium topsail” started –Josephine‘s BMW diesel has an aluminium block.

The day was warm and windless, with occasional light showers. We read books and newspapers, taking turns to shelter from the rain. At tea time we were tucking into Liz Gilbert’s superb fruit cake, when John, on the tiller reported that another yacht was manoeuvring oddly. The other yacht turned out to be Charmer of Tyne with Bill Foreman and Lew Scaife on board. They were returning from a Scottish cruise which Bill said had been absolutely appalling, and they were putting into Stonhaven. We wished them luck and carried on our way. As things turned out, they spent several days at Stonehaven, eventually becoming storm bound in a bad North Easterly gale. Charmer had to be taken into the inner harbour and the storm gates lowered.

All that was still to come. Josephine continued her way up the coast, admiring a pair of beautifully maintained Dutch Contessa 32s, which we had previously seen in Blyth, and which put out from Stonehaven heading North, as we were. The flood tide sluiced South. Slack water came as we were passing Aberdeen, and with the last of the ebb under us, we rounded Rattray Head at 2350. We continued motoring through the night. Around dawn a breath of wind came up from the South, and we managed to sail for an hour.

“…inching our way under Kessock Bridge”

The next tidal gate was Inverness Firth. HW at Inverness was at 1500. In theory it is possible to carry the ebb Westwards along the Banffshire coast, and then pick up the flood into Inverness Firth. Of course in practice you are always too late to do any such thing. We suffered a momentary temptation to visit the Royal Findhorn YC, but resisted. As it was the tide had turned by the time we were into Inverness Firth, and we made increasingly slow progress, inching our way under the Kessock road bridge, before finally entering the sea-lock at Clachnaharry at 1545, on Monday 13th July, having motored substantially all the way from the Bell Rock. It was a relief to give the motor a rest, and go ashore for a shower and a meal.

Caledonian Canal

Tuesday 14th July was fair and warm. We couldn’t wait to get started on the transit of the Canal. The previous night the keeper of the sea-lock had warned us to be in good time for the railway bridge which was due to open at 0805, after the train passed. The train passed on time and we cast off heading for the bridge. Nothing happened, not even a hail from the canal staff. After ten minutes waiting, a gentle breeze made it impossible to hold Josephine in the canal and it became necessary to make two three point turns and return to our original berth in order to investigate the delay.

The train passed on time ....
The train passed on time ….

No one knew why the bridge had not opened, and what was worse no one seemed to care very much. The attitude was, “It’s up to British Rail when they open the Bridge. Why worry about that which you cannot alter?” At last, at 1030, without a word of explanation or warning, the Bridge was opened to allow through two yachts heading for the open sea. We waited for them and passed through into the Works Lock on the other side. The locking was done very efficiently, and by 1100 we had filled up with diesel in the Muirtown Basin, and were waiting for the road bridge to open, in order to enter the five locks that make up the Muirtown staircase. Again nothing happened!

We moored alongside and John and Don went to investigate. The message was that the Locks were closed for lunch until 1300. Incredulously we settled down to make the best of it. After pushing hard for the last few days, the enforced sitting around did nothing for the skipper’s temper. I cleaned the ship’s brass trumpet until it shone, and tried hard to relax with a can of beer. First no wind, now no progress. To make matters worse, it was now a beautiful sailing day out on the Firth and we could see the two yachts which had passed us sailing away in the distance. Here we were, moored alongside a stone quay, next to the main road out of Inverness. This was supposed to be holiday, but we were bored.

Muirtown Locks

The lock-keepers appeared at 1310 after their lunch break, and explained what we had already suspected, namely that the break itself is fixed, between 1200 and 1300, but notionally it takes one hour to lift a boat through the Muirtown Locks, so if you haven’t started before 1100, you won’t start until after 1300. As it happened we had been waiting a little longer than the yachts attempting to come down the staircase, so we got first go leaving the descending crews to fester until we had finished. We were through by 1350, only to be warned not to bother to leave until after the Royal Scot, because the next road bridge would not open until the Royal Scot made its passage. “We’ll see about that,” I thought to myself. I had visions of the Royal Scot beating us to the Bridge and then finding, “We only open once a month when there is a full moon and ye Sassenachs have missed it!”

Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle

As it was we did beat the Royal Scot to the bridge, and they did let us through on demand. Thereafter it was straightforward through one more lock before entering the vastness of Loch Ness. There was now no hurry. We had missed the locks at Fort Augustus for the night. The wind we had noticed earlier in the day turned out to be SW 3, giving us a beat along Loch Ness towards Fort Augustus. It was good to be sailing again, even if the water was the brown loch variety. The wind freshened, and it became necessary to change down to the Number 2 genoa. We held one tack close under the battlements of Castle Urquhart. As we continued beating to the South West, the wind freshened with a sense of rain in the air. At about 1900 there was a tremendous squall with driving rain and hail, which knocked Josephine onto her beam ends so far that brown loch water came pouring over the cockpit coaming. The lee spreader was under water and I feared for the mast. Although much the most interesting of the day’s events, we decided it was prudent to stow the sails and continue the final twelve miles under power.

The night was spent at Fort Augustus, alongside a Norwegian yacht called HoneyJosephine‘s crew spent most of the evening pouring beers and whiskies at the aptly-named “Lock Inn”, before turning in. Next morning we made a 0800 start into the lock staircase at Fort Augustus. The operation proceeded smoothly apart from the amazing antics of the tripper boats, one of which cast off its bow line, went ahead on the stern line which caused it to swing out into the lock, and then having cast off the stern line, accelerated sharply away from the lock-side, catching Josephine  midships, despite the valiant attempts of her crew to deflect the collision. Needless to say there was not a word of apology for the injury to Josephine‘s varnish work. The incident did  provoke considerable abuse from the “driver” (one couldn’t call him “skipper”) but fortunately most of it was directed at his girlfriend, who was innocently standing in the bows, quite unable to influence things at all. Were either of them experiencing much pleasure from their boat-hire?

Motoring in Loch Lochy
Motoring in Loch Lochy

Eventually all was sorted out and we got away in company with Honey and a Dutch catamaran called Dragar II. We were soon able to outstrip the tripper boats, and the passage through locks Oich and Lochy was really quite a pleasure. We were caught by the road bridge keeper’s lunch break. It turned out that one of the stove’s burners had ceased to work. During the afternoon it came on to rain with that penetrating damp for which Scotland is so famous, so when we finally pulled into a berth at the top of Neptune’s Staircase (Banavie) at 1700 the decision was made to eat ashore.

The crew selected an expensive looking restaurant, which turned out to serve a delicious, if insubstantial nouvelle cusine. I can understand that the presentation and appearance of food is an important consideration in all forms of cooking, but for my money I prefer abundance rather than a pretty tracery of chives upon the plate. When we left we looked in vain for a top up of fish and chips. On Thursday 17th July we were at last allowed to escape the accursed Canal. As Josephine made her way towards the sea-locks at Corpach, there was the occasional grinding noise coming from somewhere in the transmission. I greased the thrust bearing which looked like the likely culprit, and after some shopping ashore,Josephine was once again permitted the freedom of the seas.


Corran Narrows
Corran Narrows

Apart from “getting to sea”, we had no very clear plan. We made sail and beat slowly down Loch Linhe into a desultory South Westerly. The tide was ebbing until 1730, and if we could clear Loch Linhe by then we could take the flood North up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory. But that depended on making five knots, which in turn depended on the motor. There was no option but to motor yet again. We motored down through the Corran Narrows, past the beautiful Island of Lismore, and apart from being an hour late at the turn and so suffering an hour of foul tide, we headed North up the Sound of Mull, in the gathering dusk and a gentle drizzle.

Some part of the transmission system was protesting loudly. Several times we took the engine out of gear, to be sure that it was the transmission and not the engine itself. Nonetheless at 2100 we pulled into the harbour of Tobermory Bay, anchoring well down the Bay on account of the 80 or so yachts already there. The dinghy was inflated and we rowed ashore for a few beers.


Next morning I lay in my bunk thinking over the options available to us. There was no doubt we had a serious problem with the transmission. It was most probably the thrust bearing, rather than the gear box. It would be sensible to get some engineering advice before continuing. Today was Friday. Almost certainly, seeking advice would result in spending the whole weekend in Tobermory, possibly until Monday or Tuesday next week. That would leave us with no option but to return through the Caledonian Canal. Tobermory would be our outward point. There was no particular virtue in sailing to Oban for engineering assistance; it would be Saturday before we got there, and in all probability parts would need to be ordered. The crew began to stir. I put the kettle on for them, and rowed ashore in search of bread, water, paraffin, and an engineer. The first three were easily obtained on or near the steamer pier. The lady who sold me the paraffin was adamant that the engineer I should speak to was called George Brown of Victoria Street, Tobermory. “He’s a proper engineer, and he will sort you out.”

I made a phone call to the man himself. He was far too busy to look that day. The Post Office van was coming for service, and he couldn’t let the Post Office down. He might be able to see to us tomorrow or Monday. I bluffed, “We’ll be gone by then, and get it fixed at Mallaig. Couldn’t you spare half an hour, so that at least, if we have to order a bearing, we could get that done today?”  “Aye, that’s a plan,” agreed Mr. Brown, and I arranged to pick him up on the Fisherman’s Pier in half an hour. So it was that I rowed back to Josephine with Tobermory’s “proper engineer”. In just a few minutes the shaft was disconnected from the gear box and the thrust bearing’s Plummer block dismantled. The bearing itself simply disintegrated in Mr Brown’s hands. Worn ball bearings cascaded into the bilge. At least we now knew what the trouble was. All we had to do was take the number of the broken bearing and phone through to Bearing Services Ltd. in Glasgow, for a replacement.

Easier said than done. The number was invisible, even with the dentist’s mirror Mr Brown carried for the purpose of reading ball bearing serial numbers in awkward places. Eventually we managed to read most of the numbers and I found myself in the phone box talking to a Mr. MacDonald at Bearing Services Ltd. in Glasgow explaining our predicament. “You know Mr. Grant, I don’t think we have a problem. From your description it is almost certain to be one of two bearings that you want. We’ll send them both and you can return the one you don’t need.” The deal was struck. The bearings would be sent by Datapost, and arrive 1000 Saturday without fail.

That gave us the rest of Friday to mooch around Tobermory, buying gifts for loved ones, and sheltering from the incessant heavy rain. According to the forecast, there was a vigorous depression passing to the South of us and we were forecast to have E/NE 8 on Saturday. Tobermory Harbour is open to the North East, and being engineless in with a large number of other boats which might drag their anchors in the forecast conditions did not fill me with enthusiasm. We organised showers for ourselves, and seriously sampled the local Tobermory whisky, which was certainly palatable enough to give us considerable difficulty in (a) finding, and (b) launching, the dinghy, when the time came to return to Josephine.

Alongside at Tobermory
Alongside at Tobermory

Next morning the wind pulled into the East, and some yachts began making for shelter. We laid out the kedge. The problem was that the yachts on permanent moorings, including Goldstone Gull from RNYC had much smaller swinging circles than the yachts to seaward of them. Eventually we had to haul short onto the kedge. The wind rose to a good force 6, bringing a distinct chop into the harbour. The prospect of George Brown achieving more than sea-sickness seemed improbable. Eventually he turned up in a dory, and suggested we might like to move alongside the fishermen’s pier. I made a two bolt connection between the shaft and gear box. We recovered Josephine‘s two anchors and motored gingerly in to lie in the lee of the pier, there to await the arrival of the new bearing.

It didn’t come with the 1000 postal delivery, nor was it on the “last post” which came in at 1200 noon. We explained our predicament to the Postmistress, who phoned Oban to find out where our Datapost parcel had got to. The story was that the train from Glasgow had been delayed and was two hours late into Oban. Because of our Datapost parcel, the ferry from Oban to Craignure on Mull had been held back, and if everything worked to plan, the parcel would arrive at 1430. Although the Post Office would be closed by then the Postmistress herself would come down to open the mail and deliver the parcel to Josephine.

All went according to plan and George Brown had the new bearing set up by 1700. We test ran the engine, only to discover that one of the engine’s  flexible mountings was itself broken, which no doubt contributed to the bearing’s breakdown in the first place. Ideally, we should avoid running the engine until we could replace the broken  mounting. But how? The only way home which did not involve a second transit of the Caledonian Canal, was by way of Cape Wrath. The forecast was for Northerlies, and the five day outlook was for light North or North Easterlies. If we were going to suffer another breakdown,  perhaps it would be better to suffer it in the Caledonian Canal rather than in some remote part of North West Scotland. It was by now LW, so we had to stay comfortably in the lee of the pier.

Lunga of the Treshnish Islands

Ardnamurchan Point
Ardnamurchan Point

The decision was made to undertake more motor boating in the Caledonian Canal. The aim was to get away from Inverness Firth on the afternoon ebb on Wednesday 22nd July. That indicated entering the Canal at Corpach no later than Monday afternoon, in order to get to the top of the Banavie locks by Monday evening. We still had Sunday for our West Coast Cruise, so the decision was made to go and visit the Treshnish Isles which lie off the West Coast of Mull, to the North of Staffa, the Fingal’s Cave Island. The Island of Lunga has an anchorage which the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions say is only for the experienced. That seemed a reasonable challenge.

At 0930 on Sunday we sailed out of Tobermory with scarcely a backward glance. The church bell was tolling, and the morning was bright and clear. The wind was NE 3, which necessitated a short beat to seaward, before bearing away North around Mull. At Ardmore Point we were able to set the spinnaker. We could see Ardnamurchan Point away to the North, with the faint outlines of The Small Isles, Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. By midday the wind had backed into the North and freshened to a good Force 4, so we had a decent run down onto Lunga.

Is this what cruising is all about?
Is this what cruising is all about?

The Sailing Directions speak of a rock on the West of the entrance channel, called Tigh Ogha, which turned out to look like a submarine on the surface, and two white-washed leading marks on the top of the hill. The leading marks were indistinct and needed binoculars to make them out but the entrance itself was relatively straightforward, about 50m wide. The crucial point is that the leading line must be deviated from in order to avoid the spits running out from the next rock, Sgeir nan Caisteal. At this point the rocks on the Eastern side of the channel are cleaner than the West. As you pass Tigh Ogha on the leading line you should alter course 45° to Port.

Anchorage at Lunga
Anchorage at Lunga

Once in, we anchored in 5m on clean sand. The anchorage is well protected, with the island to the South, through West to North East. From East to South it is protected by a reef which is exposed at low water. There were seals hauled out on the reef “singing” their haunting and melancholy song. That suited the mood aboard Josephine. All that effort, for maybe an hour or two in this idyllic spot. I sat with a beer in the cockpit, while the crew cooked a Sunday lunch of spaghetti bolognaise.

In the far distance I could see what I took to be canoe paddles flashing rhythmically in the sun. The canoeists came closer. There were two, a lad and his girl, in a big sea-canoe. They had missed the shipping-forecast and came in hope that we could give them it.  John had taken the 1355 forecast in shorthand, so he was able to reel off the entire thing word for word which impressed us all. The canoeists hung around for a while, before paddling on to Fladda to find a campsite for the night. The place was clean and peaceful. It would have been interesting to have gone ashore and climbed the hill for the sake of the view, but time did not permit. We still had a longish beat ahead of us.

Leaving Lunga
Leaving Lunga

At 1530 we weighed anchor and set off. There was a decent wind for once, N 3, givingJosephine a full sail beat to windward. She revelled in it. The seas did not stop her. A large yacht on a SW course passed close ahead. Josephine, hard on the wind on Starboard tack, held her course. It seemed the other yacht merely wanted to take a photograph. By 2100 we had Tobermory abeam again, but there was not much temptation to return for yet another night in Harbour. Instead we continued South down the Sound of Mull against the flood tide. The wind died away, and we ended up motoring yet again, past the entrance to Loch Aline, and round Ardtornish Point with its sectored light, into the pitch blackness of Ardtornish Bay.

Guessing there might be yachts anchored, we used the torch to pick out the ghostly shapes of several lying quietly in the Bay. Finally, picking our spot, we anchored in 6m, and set the riding light, before retiring for a wee dram and a well-earned rest, at 0045 on Monday 20th July.

The flood at Corran Narrows commenced at 1000, so it seemed worthwhile to buck the ebb for a few hours in aid of the overall objective of entering the Canal by 1300. That explains why at 0600, while most decent folk are in their beds the crew of Josephine were up and about, weighing anchor, washing the decks, and cooking breakfast.

To begin with there was absolutely no wind, so there was no option but to motor. As we rounded Rubha an Ridire into Loch Linhe, the wind began to fill in from the North East, but I decided there was no particular future in sailing because a beat against the foul tide which we would have until 1000, would leave us with too little progress over the ground to meet our objective.

By 0800 the NE wind had developed into a Force 5, with a considerable lop, slowing Josephine‘s progress still further. We reached the Narrows at 1100, and at 1230, as we were passing Fort William, with the canal entrance in sight, we were overtaken by a vessel we knew, the R.N.Aux. Loyal Volunteer. I guessed she would be making for Corpach, and reckoned that with a little bit of luck she would be held up waiting for the end of the lock-keeper’s lunch break, and we would lock  through together.

Caledonian Canal Again!

Waiting at Banavie
Waiting at Banavie

All we wanted was a little bit of luck. No chance! Loyal Volunteer entered the sea-lock at 1300. We saw her, being less than a mile away, but by the time we arrived at 1310 the sea-lock was closed against us. We enquired politely when we might enter. The reply was characteristic, “What’s the hurry, you’ve missed the Banavie Locks for today.” It seems that Loyal Volunteer had booked in by telephone. She would make the ascent in solitary splendour, while we waited at the bottom. She would be through to Fort Augustus that day; we wouldn’t. She would be out of the Canal by Tuesday; we would miss the afternoon tide on Wednesday. All for the sake of ten minutes.

It was pointless to fume at the inefficiency of the Canal’s operation. We moored against the decrepit landing stage below the Railway Bridge at the foot of the Banavie Locks (it belongs to British Rail). There was a small motor-sailor from N. Ireland already there. She had braved the crossing from Ireland specifically to “cruise” the Caledonian Canal, so the delay didn’t bother her. During the afternoon we were joined by a varnished prawner registered in Kirkcudbright. We watched Loyal Volunteer lock up and get on her way by 1500. Then it was the turn of a smart looking Dutch yacht to lock down. The owner claimed to have worked for the famous Dutch designer Van der Stadt, and his own boat seemed to have the lines of a Waarschipp like Jim Clark’s Pop Gun, except being 36′ overall.

When he locked out, he lay alongside us, “I am in no hurry, I have missed the tide at Corpach, I will leave tomorrow afternoon.” It turned out he intended to sail to Stornaway, and from there to St. Kilda and the Faroe Islands. We had an interesting discussion, comparing notes on the Faroes, interupted only by the Lock Keepers coming to inform us we would be first to be locked-up in the morning at 0800. We wiled away the evening, at one point visiting the local pub, but we were put off our beer by a grotesquely fat leering local who insisted we should join him in condemning the barmaid apparently on account of her breasts which so far as we could see were perfectly normal and demurely covered up. The whole episode was so revolting that we left our beer undrunk and returned on board for an early night.

Kytra Lock
Waiting at Kytra Lock

As promised the Canal staff let us get started again at 0800 Tuesday. We climbed the ten Banavie locks by 1000, the only hitch being the lower gate on the third lock from the top. This was stuck and wouldn’t close. The plan was to flood the lock with water from above and see if the pressure would shut it, Eventually this worked, and we were released from Banavie and off onto the Canal again, through Lochs Lochy and Oich. The only snag was when we failed to get a place in a lock owing to the tripper boats. That ensured we would not succeed in locking down at Fort Augustus that night.

In the event it made no difference because none of the boats with which we had started made it down at Fort Augustus. We moored alongside some Danes, filled up with diesel and water, and went ashore for baths. The diesel charge was a modest £1.00 a gallon, but only after Don had protested at the inequity of charging DERV prices for pink diesel. No doubt they can get away with it from the tripper boaters, and even foreign yachtsmen, but not the RNYC.

Fort Augustus locks
Fort Augustus locks

Next morning we locked down in a melee of yachts, tripper boats, and the prawner. Remembering the antics locking up here, I was keen not to end up at the front of the fleet and hung back waiting for a convenient berth. No such luck. We were narrow enough to be placed in a middle rank, alongside the prawner, our bows just feet from the lock gates. When we had descended to the level of Loch Ness, the lock gates were opened to allow the tripper boats out, since they could pass under the road bridge, which remained closed to the yachts.

The disadvantage of this situation was that the tripper boats all had to negotiate the gap between Josephine and the lock wall, which was only a foot or so wider than they were. Needless to say most of them adopted the plan of simply bouncing off anything in their way, and we had a strenuous time fending one after another off our rudder or stanchions.

But even this exercise had its lighter side – for us. We were busy fending one of the larger tripper boats off our rudder. The “driver”, red-faced with exertion and concentration, opened his window, lent out, and in an accent which can only be described as Home Counties imperious, enquired, “Why don’t you go? Make room for the rest of us! Don’t you want to go? Why don’t you get out of my way?” Incredulously, I turned and gestured to Josephine‘s 40′ of mast and the 8′ headroom under the bridge. I said, “Love to go, old chap, but I don’t think we’d fit.” “Oh I see, sorry,” came the response, but not before everyone in ear-shot had creased double in helpless mirth, including the hapless owner’s crew, as well as the crew of the prawner. No doubt he won’t be allowed to forget that incident of his canal holiday in a hurry.

Motoring in Loch Ness
Motoring in Loch Ness

At last the bridge was opened and we were allowed out into Loch Ness. As we accelerated out of the lock reach, we passed the OYC Ketch Taikoo, which we had last seen the summer before at Kirkwall in the Orkneys. A folkboat detached itself from the moorings and came to lie across our bows. We managed to avoid her, and sighed with relief at the comparatively open water ahead of us. There was still no wind to speak of, so the motor remained on all the way to the Muirtown locks where we waited for an hour, but we were still in time to lock through to the open sea at 1650.

It was around LW as we left, and we had lost the opportunity to head for the open sea. Instead we decided to put into Inverness to wait for the next ebb tide at midnight. I switched on the Echo Sounder, which promptly stopped, presumably through some sort of break-down. We moored alongside the timber wharf and went ashore for pizza and pints in preparation for the return passage, Inverness to Blyth. I phoned the five day forecast which promised N or NE 3 or less. Still we were well topped up with diesel fuel from Fort Augustus, and once in the open sea we would no longer be so dependent on the engine.

Inverness To Blyth.

High Water at Inverness was signified by three surges coming up the Harbour at precisely  the time predicted in the tide tables. We made ready for the sea, and cast off at 2245, Wednesday 22nd July. The wind was NNE but no more than a zephyr, so once again we were faced with an engine job out of Inverness Firth. By dawn we had Lossiemouth abeam, and a gentle breeze came up from the South, sufficient to tempt me into setting sail, although Josephine‘s speed dropped from a steady 5 knots under power to a bare 3 knots. With a knot of tide under us we made 20M along the coast in 5 hours sailing, but a least there was some blessed peace from the engine, At 1100 the wind died away altogether, and with 6 hours of foul tide to come there was no option but to start the motor yet again.

The day was fine and sunny. We watched the RAF bombing a target float off Rosehearty. We motored past Rattray Head at 1600, and by 2100 had Girdleness abeam and altered course to 180°(C) for Longstone. For a brief while we were able to sail in a SW 1, but within an hour a bank of cloud brought drizzle and killed the wind, so once again the motor came to our aid. At 0033 Friday 24th July, the shipping forecast gave NW 3 or 4, increasing 5 or 6, and when I took over the watch I decided there was sufficient wind to sail again.

The wind was sufficiently far aft to prevent the genoa from filling in the shadow of the main. Ideally we should have poled the genoa out to starboard. But unless there are two of you on watch I don’t like the arrangement, because it is not possible to remove the pole single-handed, which considerably cuts down manoeuvrability, when sailing single-handed in the dark. Instead, I simply sheeted in the genoa to starboard to stop it flapping. The wind did pick up as forecast, and we were soon swooping down the wave faces at a good 5 knots.

At 0230 I saw the lights of a power driven vessel, on what was apparently a collision course with us. I held my course. Josephine‘s regulation mast-head tri-colour was burning brightly, and I had a white “steamer-scarer” flare to hand should it be necessary. The other vessel came to within 3 cables, and I was on the verge of alerting Josephine’s sleeping crew, when she appeared to slow down and alter course to pass under our stern. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Her turn was just a preliminary to turning towards us and passing across our bows! She passed a cable to starboard. I made out the lines of an oil-rig support vessel. She turned across our course, stopped, and shone a searchlight in our direction. What she saw was me gybing out of her way. How fortunate we had not set the genoa on a pole! I brought Josephine hard on to the wind on the Port tack heading North away from the other vessel. Hell’s teeth! She followed us, passing 50 yards to the East, still shining her search-light. Surely by now she could see we were a yacht! What were they playing at?

There was little point in letting off a white flare, besides I had my hands full, tacking away and settling her back on the original course. Obviously I should have raised Don and John from sleep. At the very least that would have enabled us to try and warn off the other vessel by VHF. As it was we escaped from the situation by sailing out of it. I cannot complain of the other vessel’s inquisitiveness, only her seamanship.

By the end of my watch at 0400, the rain had eased off and the wind veered N 4. It was becoming increasingly  difficult to hold the course for Longstone. It had become a dead run and with the prevailing seas there was an ever-present risk of an unintentional gybe. A course of 200°(C) was a lot easier to steer, and took us towards St Abbs Head. The 0555 shipping forecast suggested NW 3 increasing 6 or 7 later. At 0930 the wind fell away again and we restarted the engine. A fix on May Island and St. Abbs Head enabled us to shape a course for Emmanuel Head on Holy Island. Holy Island was reached at 1630. There was a sailing breeze from the SE, but we were past caring and continued under power through the Farnes Channel. South of Boulmer Stile Buoy, the wind at last filled in from the North, and we were able to turn the engine off, for the final few miles down the coast. South of Newbiggin we saw the lights of the RNYC “Round the Farnes” fleet, beating their way North into the stiffening wind. I must say I didn’t envy them, and looked forward to a comfortable berth in Blyth Harbour. There was a spectacular thunderstorm away to the South East, and intermittent rain for us. The night was cold and exceptionally dark.

We came alongside HY Tyne at 0100 Saturday 25th July, at the end of a cruise that had lasted 14 days and 3 hours. Josephine‘s log recorded 668M. With less than 200M under sail, this scarcely counted as a sailing holiday. We had failed in our rather ambitious objective of rounding Cape Wrath, indeed we did not even qualify for the sprig of heather for venturing North of Ardnamurchan Point. The weather had been generally kind, lack of wind excepted, and we all had sun-tanned faces, Josephine had a new thrust bearing, which had worked perfectly for us, although it looks as if the entire engine installation could do with overhaul.

It was good to be back. Apart from a few day races that was the end of Josephine‘s 1987 season, although my brother and I did get away for a very successful cruise in company with Stella Peacock, around the Farne Islands in early October.