Bonnie Scotland

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This year Oban is our stepping stone on the trip North from Plymouth to Norway.  The last time I was here was 18 years ago, and although I remember  this part of Scotland as being really pretty, my memory doesn’t quite do it justice.  The scenery is just fantastic and I can’t help thinking that we should spend more time here in future years!

We chose as our base Dunstaffnage Marina, nestled in a small bay outside the tiny village of Dunbeg it is a mere 3 miles north of Oban.  The view from the saloon window is stunning, across the bay to Dunstaffnage Castle, and the view from the castle is just as stunning across the bay to the marina.

Our trip from Plymouth northwards last week started in fog, which was to last up all the way up the Irish Sea to Bangor, Northern Ireland.  We must have settled ourselves under the centre of the low pressure, and moved with it all the way north.  We became very adept at spotting things on the radar!  We were lucky to be joined by 3 different types of dolphins and a few pilot whales as we motored along.

Once the fog had cleared, and given way to easterly winds, we enjoyed a fantastic sail north,  past the Mull of Kintyre at dusk doing 12 knots over the ground and up through the sound of Gigha, Sound of Jura and Sound of Luing.  We covered 140 breath taking miles in just 19 hours, and having benefitted from the flood tide at the Mull of Kintyre, caught the next flood tide through the Sound of Luing.  Reaching at 8 knots in the dark between the islands, especially those which are unlit kept Richard and I on our toes with the navigation.  It was slack water as we approached Corryvreckan, and although I have to admit to being slightly tempted we decided not to try the passage through.  The passage through the narrows at the Sound of Luing was challenging enough as we dodged shallow patches at 10 knots.  The sun was just rising, making fantastic photo opportunities for all.

After 3 days in Dunstaffnage, we are now full of water, food, fuel and gas and ready for our passage northwards first to the Faroes and then the Lofoten Islands.  The weather looks favourable for the first week which will see us well on the way.  There are now only 7 places left for our summer season in the Lofoten Islands so book soon to avoid disappointment!

Ocean Sailing

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I have a theory about ocean passages, and how they make people feel. 

The first 3 nights and days are the hardest, as the body acclimatises to the watch system and disturbed sleep.  Depending on the weather, there are far more challenges to be faced down below than on deck.  The watch system inevitably means getting dressed and undressed 5 times a day – and whilst the boat is moving around that is no easy task.  Cooking and washing up involve balancing acts in the galley, and simply moving about the boat without bumping into things is hard. Wedging yourself in to navigate at the chart table is an art in itself.

After 3 days, when you are more used to the motion, and adjusted to the watch system and sleep pattern, then you find time to do other things.  From day 4 onwards, the days are fairly much the same, and you get out of them what you put in.  Some tasks for the achievement of doing them whilst at sea, ‘baking a cake’ for instance, and others to learn a new skill, ‘using the sextant’.

Our most recent ocean passage from Azores to UK took us 9 days sailing 1312 miles, surprisingly all on port tack.  We quickly learnt to adapt to leaning at an angle, and all went home ‘walking funny!’  Luckily the galley on port tack is easier than on starboard, as you lean in to the work surface!  The galley is a good place to be to keep warm and dry, so all manner of exciting things were produced.  A spice cake, flapjack, porridge for breakfast every morning, poppadoms to go with the curry and much more.

The sextant was out a lot on this trip with sun sights being rapidly reduced and plotted on the chart.  We downloaded hundreds of weather maps and ‘practised interpreting them’.

The biggest debate of the trip, was ‘when are we going to be half way’.  I found this very interesting as it is not something I have ever really considered.  I have always focussed on the distance left to go.

Azores to Plymouth is 1194 miles by the great circle route, is half way when we have 597 miles left to go? We allow 10 days for the trip, is half way when we have used half the time?  The trip actually took us 216 hours, was half way when we had sailed 108 hours?  We actually sailed 1312 miles by the log – were we half way when we had sailed 656 miles?

What about if we measure half way on the chart with a tape measure?

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As it turned out, all of the above happened within hours of each other.  We sailed half the miles in half the time and were roughly half way there when we had 600nm to go on the log!  Good enough for me.