West Coast Sailing ‘ADVENTURE’!

Richard and I safely arrived in Oban slightly later than planned on Tuesday evening after a windy sail through the sound of Luing.  As we sailed up between the island of Kerrera and Oban on route to Dunstaffnage we saw how much damage the strong winds on Monday had done.  There were yachts beached on either side of the sound that had broken their moorings as well as a fishing boat up on the shore in the bay.

In Plymouth we were joined by John, Richard, Tony, Ben and Colin for this week who were all looking forward to sailing a big boat and experiencing night watches!  Before we left we studied the grib files and the weather looked like we would have a fast passage up and be able to stop for a night in Scotland before arriving in Oban.

In fact the first 24 hours were very quiet and we motored all the way from Plymouth to Lands End before a gentle breeze filled in the Irish Sea.  We were lucky with the tides, and managed to get ahead and have more tide with us than against us.

As we progressed north through the Irish Sea, the wind continued to increase and become squally and grey, the Irish Sea as I remember it from years ago!  With small sails, Velvet Lady surged along in the wind at 7 knots.  There wasn’t much shipping to see, but we were rewarded on look out with a visit from a huge school of dolphins that stayed and played for an hour immediately followed by a huge whale (humpback we think) breaching right in front of us on the Starboard bow, obviously enjoying himself.

Once in the Irish Sea, we are never really far from land.  On a good day you can see England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man all at once.  Well we couldn’t see any of them but we could hear the coast guards on the VHF.  The forecast soon grabbed our attention.  We were sailing along in a Force 6 or 7, but the forecasters were warning us that this was due to increase to 8 or 9 and then decrease 4 or 5 for a time!  Velvet Lady doesn’t mind that kind of weather, and with plenty of sea room we carried on.  Often being at sea is safer than trying to get into somewhere.

We approached the Mull of Kintyre with the tide underneath us and a moderate beam wind, and flew past heading for the sound of Islay.

The new forecast arrived, and for the first time in my sailing experience around Britain I heard the inshore weather forecast warn of Storm 10 and Violent Storm 11 in 24 hours.  It was time to stop thinking about getting to Oban and look at where we could shelter from the potential wind.  A study of the charts, pilot book and additional information from the guests who had been there before we decided to anchor in Tayvallich at the north end of Loch Sween.  The pilot book describes it as one of the most perfectly sheltered anchorages on the West Coast of Scotland.

We dropped anchor in the bay at 18.30 Sunday evening after 3 nights at sea and 455 nautical miles.   The bay was perfectly still and we enjoyed a quiet night’s sleep.  The forecast was still for Violent Storm 11 and for the wind to shift during the night.  Monday morning, we could see out of the bay and watch the white water and spindrift surging north in the Loch.  We were definitely here for the day so we would be later in Oban than expected.  With our guests needing to get back to work we set about a plan to get home.

On long passages Velvet Lady does not have her dinghy hanging on the davits, and in this wind our small dinghy would make little progress towards the shore against it.
In a small town the landlord of the pub is usually the font of all knowledge, so after a quick call to 118118, I spoke to the landlord of the Tayvallich Inn who suggested a local fisherman named John might be able to help us out.  Thanks John, for coming out on a bleak Monday morning in your 30 foot fishing boat and collecting our guests and taking them ashore.  We are very grateful for your help.

John arrived in his boat taking everyone ashore at noon; Richard and I were left to look after Velvet Lady as the guests set off on their very own adventure to get to Glasgow.

The wind continued to increase during the afternoon, Velvet Lady riding well to her anchor.  Soon there was spindrift all around us and the windy meter on the chart table reading constantly above 40 in the shelter of the harbour.  The maximum it reached was 51 before eventually easing down late in the evening.  We were very glad to be in shelter.  We spent the afternoon reading and then watching the telly to pass the time at ‘anchor watch’!

The ride home sounds adventurous too, Richard and John have both written to us to tell us about their experience!

‘The bus journey was adventurous too.  The little mini bus from Tayvallich to Lochgilpead was really great fun with all the locals making jokes with the driver.  At one point some of us had to get out to clear a fallen tree from the road.  In the press they reckoned the wind was up to 110 mile per hour!  Then the flights were cancelled because of the volcanic ash cloud and John didn’t get home until 0800 on Wednesday morning.’

The wind finally eased on Tuesday morning to a mere force 7, and Richard and I set off north from Tayvallich on our own eventually reaching Dunstaffnage late evening.  All the locals are talking about the wind, the seas, the damage to yachts and the fact the ferries were cancelled.  I am so glad we made the decision and went to Tayvallich and thank you to all our guests for understanding the reasons why.  Thanks for your e mails and look forward to sailing with you again in the future – perhaps with less wind.

45 Apparent

Azores to Plymouth is definitely the toughest trip on our calendar each year, and this year it lived up to its reputation.

Measured directly on the chart assuming a westerly airflow the distance is 1200nm, we actually had strong north easterly headwinds the whole way and ended up sailing a total distance of 1855nm to Falmouth and then a further 80 to get us to Plymouth.

When the wind is coming from where you want to go, you end up tacking as you sail the best course to windward which appears as a zig zag on the chart.   Our long Zig took us from the Azores to the coastline of mainland Spain followed by a Zag up to the Scilly islands and then another Zig along the English Channel with a series of shorter ones to get us around Lands end and up to Falmouth.

When trying to get the best out of the boat, and make these Zig Zags as short as possible we spend our whole time looking at the wind dials and we talk in our own special language.

Our most common phrases of the week were:
45 Apparent – the usual helm instruction as we tried to sail the boat 45 degrees to the wind
Best course to windward – sometimes the sea would not let us sail at 45 degrees without too much bashing so we would have to ease off a bit to make the best we could – ranging from 42 apparent in a flat sea to 60 apparent in the Force 9 we had!
Beating to windward – sailing against the wind
Bashing to windward – sailing against the wind in big seas

Always watching the wind like hawks, Richard and I would advise the helmsman:
Sail a little higher – point the boat closer to the wind
Stop pinching – don’t point the boat quite so close to the wind
Don’t steal so much – don’t point the boat quite so close to the wind
Bear away – turn away from the wind
Up a bit, up a bit – sail the boat closer to the wind
Big Turn that way – accompanied by hand signals
Come a little closer – point the boat closer to the wind
Come up – point the boat closer to the wind
Ease off a bit – turn away from the wind
and so on

As you can see, a lot of ways to describe exactly the same thing.

The catchphrase of the trip though, was still 45 apparent, as this instruction was passed from helmsman to helmsman throughout the passage.  We changed helm every 30 – 45 mins and as the passage was 13 days this phrase was repeated an awful lot!

Just occasionally,  in the right weather with a flat sea we could manage a little higher than 45, and for a short time as we approached the coast of Spain and the wind eased we all got very excited as we were sailing at over 8 knots very close to the wind.

With us on this trip we had Patrick, Helen, Rick and Tony.  All who dealt with the weather in steadfast fashion.  Never late for watch, always a smile despite the wind, waves and rain they battled along in conditions I have not seen since I was in the southern ocean.

‘One day we’ll look back on this and laugh’ said Tony one night in the cockpit as there was thunder and lightening all around us.

The wind blew from the north east making the passage harder and longer than expected, but we still experienced all  the plusses of being at sea as well.  Starry Starry nights, Beautiful full moon, dolphins in daylight and dark, glorious sunrises and sunsets, 2 whales surfacing behind us, and lots of exhiliarating sailing

Velvet Lady performed well, keeping us all safe and dry (when we were below) and of course well fed. She battled her way through the waves and the swell taking more than the occasional wave into the cockpit and never let us down.  We regularly pumped the bilges to get rid of the water that made it down the hatch, but in the main there were no problems.

Only towards the end did our brand new Garmin radar pack in, not great when in a rain squall with not much visibility but the AIS continued to work and at least we could pick out all the big ships.

The radar has now gone back to Garmin for a ‘software fix’, believe it or not they have discovered a glitch which stops the radar working if it is left on for too long!!

Safely back in Plymouth now, we are cleaning off all the salt and letting Velvet Lady have a well deserved rest whilst Richard and I are off to his sister Naomi’s wedding.

Those of you who have sailed with us in the past few weeks will know that my major chore in Plymouth was to find an outfit for the wedding.  Mission accomplished thanks to a personal shopper in Debenhams.  You might even see a picture next week.  Watch this space!