Thursday, 31 May 2012

Jean Says: After 72 hours without getting off the boat, it's hard to get the legs to work normally again. The first fifteen minutes of getting from the boat to the centre of Plockton felt like trying to walk across a large inflated air bed. Once the legs began to function normally, we did a circular walk past Duncraig Castle, an imposing castle like house that's being refurbished as a guest house. It looked like a mini Hogwarts, and would make an amazing venue for a big party.
We're so glad that we didn't miss coming to Plockton. It's a tiny Narnia, in a Lord of the Rings setting, with toy town cottages, and exquisite little well tended gardens fronting onto the sea. The abundance of palm trees gives it a very continental feel. Plockton has a shop, two hotel, a pub and above all, ten welcoming and sturdy mooring buoys for visiting yachties like ourselves.
The Plockton Hotel, also a thriving pub, was hosting a Scottish music night, so our entertainment for the evening was sorted. I was surprised at the number of foreign tourists coming into the pub. There were several groups of young suave Italians and young Americans all eating there, as well as the standard retired Northern Europeans that you always find in Scotland in May. I don't know how Italians manage to look really stylish in the same stuff that we all wear - jeans, T shirts and maybe a casually draped scarf. I spent rather a long time trying to work out what the secret ingredient was, but could only come to the conclusion that it's youth, poise and uber trendy glasses. I'll be making an appointment at the opticians as soon as I get home.
We found ourselves sitting next to two chaps who were also going round Britain on a Halberg Rassey. They'd set off from Dartmouth on the fifth of May, and had managed to avoid some of the bad weather that we'd experienced. They're planning on sailing round the top, so we may bump into them on the way down the East coast and will look out for them. They won't be the only other people on Halberg Rasseys that we'll be looking out for. We're thinking of attaching a large rear view mirror to Bella Rosa, just in case there's a certain Danish Halberg Rassey called Cecilia, also circumnavigating via Cape Wrath. If she had AIS, we could check, but unfortunately, she didn't appear to have it. Oh dear!

Plockton - iPad drawing

Jean in a nautical T shirt in Plockton. None of the Italians were wearing one........hmmm

We're now in The Kyle of Lochalsh, which was only an hour and a half sail from Plockton. Getting there involves sailing under the relatively new Skye road bridge, which is 29 metres above the highest astronomical tide. Our air draft is only 16 metres, but we still held our breath when we passed under it. The facilities here are limited, but there is a nice solid pontoon, and a Co-op which must have one of the best locations of any supermarket in the whole of the British Isles. I never thought I'd get excited about visiting a Co-op, but we haven't been able to stock up on fresh food since we were in Tobermory, which was at least a week ago. Isn't lettuce wonderful!

Uh oh....... Here it comes.......

Looking back on the bridge from The Kyle of Lochalsh

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

We met at Specsavers

Jean says: We knew that there would be an improvement in the weather yesterday, and this was the time to cross back over The Little Minch to get back to the relative safety of the inner isles and not be at the mercy of the unpredictable and wilder Hebredian winds.
An early start was needed to get the benefit of a fair tide, so we set off at 6.15 in the glowing morning light (see photos). The air had become quite a bit chillier this morning, so we were back to wearing the thermals again. The day was going to be fairly uneventful apart from the chance to sail properly on a beam reach, at a decent pace, in the direction we wanted.
The little Minch has got to be one of the emptiest seas that you are ever likely to sail in around the British Coastline. While we've been in it, there has been no-one around except a very occasional fishing boat in the distance. It would be almost impossible to crash into anyone in The Little Minch even if you wanted to. The very last thing anyone would expect is a potential collision situation because, in fact The Little Minch is not little, it's a massive great piece of water and yesterday you could see for miles. So we were surprised to see that there was another yacht out and about, especially in the early hours of the morning and heading across our heading. We were sailing, and we could see that the other boat was motoring, so we were naturally expecting that if we did close on each other, the other boat would make their intentions clear in good time, and keep out of our way while we continued on our course.
It became clear that we were actually on collision course, and the other boat didn't appear to be taking any avoiding action. I could see by this time that the boat was bearing a Danish flag, and there was one helmswoman on deck. We shouted to her to attract her attention in case she hadn't seen us, and she waved back in a jolly fashion, but still didn't change course.
She was so close now that we could see the smile on her face, as well as the fact that her boat was a Halberg Rassey 54, a much bigger one than Bella Rosa. Perhaps she was coming over to compare notes? Time was running out fast, and it suddenly dawned on us that we might have come across an escaped lunatic, who'd stolen a boat and was out to get anyone else within striking distance. I checked to see if she had machine guns trained on us.

With this thought it mind, we had no choice but to bear away 90 degrees and literally just missed being carved up by the still smiling Danish woman.
There's not much you can do after a situation like that but hurl abuse after the offending person. They sail off into the sunset and can get away with murder. While Bob was enquiring at full volume why she was in charge of a boat at all (although not using exactly those words!), I'd managed to log that the boat was called Cecilia. The woman continued to smile inanely in our direction, so Bob grabbed the radio and called her up. She said she was sorry several times, and promised to uphold Bob's polite suggestion that she learn the rules in future to avoid nearly killing anyone else. I still can't believe it happened.
Well, after that, we carried on to Loch Torridon, where we were going to leave our boat on a mooring buoy owned by the hotel and stay for a night. When we got there, it turned out that the mooring buoy didn't exist, so we had to move on. We didn't want another night at anchor. We'd been on the boat without getting off for nearly three days by now, so had to find somewhere we could leave it safely and securely. We carried on to Plockton to find a more reliable visitor buoy, which is where we spent the night. We had a fabulous meal in the Plockton Hotel and have woken up to a fab day. We'll stay here today and do some walking. There's a band called the Budapest Cafe Orchestra performing locally tonight so although they're not exactly playing Scottish folk music it could be fun!

The Outer Hebrides a 6.00 yesterday morning. The squalls have died down.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A View of East Loch Tarbert from the Boat

The sun rising over East Loch Tarbert just before leaving East Loch Tarbert and a little more Security.

Monday, 28 May 2012

'Normal' service has been resumed

Bob says: So, it was never going to remain Med-like indefinitely and today we're very definitely back in British sailing conditions! We ummed and ahhed first thing with the wind NE and gusting to 30kts in our anchorage, but I had the theory that we were in an 'acceleration zone' that I'd read about in my Coastal Skipper course weather book. That meant it could be worse here than out in the open sea. We got a forecast from the coastguard which included a F6 and asked their advice on crossing the Minch. They aren't allowed to give sailors advice. All they can do is give the met office forecast and leave you to make the decision on go/no go. After pressing the guy to speak off the record all he would say is that the Minch can develop big seas in north easterlies. Jean was reluctant to submit ourselves to another 6-8 hour bashing sailing east into a north easterly but was eventually persuaded by me to go an have a look at 'what it's like out there'. So, we upped anchor and set off. As we got into the main channel leading out of East Loch Tarbert, the swell on the port beam increased and the gusts were still in excess of 30kts. There was no way this was going to be comfortable. We also heard Stornaway Coastguard answering a Mayday, which always adds to the dramatic tension. Still I had that look of grim determination, and anyway I'd read Coastal Skipper weather theory and just knew we'd been sitting in an acceleration zone. After a few more minutes to let me get some sense back into my head, Jean saw that my determination was faltering and said 'have we seen enough of what's its like out here?' So, the skipper was right all along (again!) and we turned around without any argument on my part. After a couple of attempts, we got a good hold on the anchor and we are now swinging around in gusts still hitting 25kts, but feeling safe!

We've decided that we won't go over the top. Partly it's the challenging tides, overfalls and rips around Pentland Firth and even through the Orkneys. Added to that are the expected deteriorating weather conditions, but also what we'd miss in the Summer Isles, Loch Alsh and the Caledonian. The Outer Hebrides and the far north of Scotland are bleak and featureless compared to the more sheltered and tree lined hills and mountains south east of here. There are also some good restaurants in those cruising areas! Incidentally a big thanks to Janene and Jules for the tip about Loch Torridon (and to everyone else who've given us ideas and advice on places to go and things to do - always appreciated, so please keep them coming). When the wind relents by the early hours of tomorrow morning and the tide is with the wind, that's where we'll be heading.

View from Bella Rosa of our relatively sheltered anchorage

Jean Says: I think that we both felt reluctant to leave Canna behind. It was remote in one sense, as in being a tiny community, not having basic facilities such as a shop and with no mobile phone signal, or daily means of transport. On the other hand, it's managed and being developed as a conservation island destination by The National Trust of Scotland, but development in a good way preserving its natural beauty and supporting the existing community. They are hoping to increase the population steadily to thirty five. The new inhabitants would mostly be employees of the NT and tenant crofters. One of the problems on Canna is that it's overrun by rabbits, so the job of rabbit controller is soon to be advertised. I wonder which publication it'll be in?

It's 3.30 in the morning and I'm on anchor watch. When you get up into the remote parts of the islands, most of the time the only mooring option is anchoring. In calm conditions, it's quite a liberating thing to do, being able to 'drop the hook' in the most secluded and beautiful coves, miles away from the rest of the world. Tonight, despite the fact that we are in a more sheltered small bay in East Loch Tarbert, the wind has been gusting up to more than nineteen knots, and we're swinging around quite a lot. Although the area in which we've anchored is reported to have good holding, our concern is that the anchor might start to drag as the wind puts extra pressure on the chain.
I can easily tell whether the anchor has been dragging. We've put a position mark and a track mark on the chartplotter and we haven't moved away much from our original position. There's a squiggly mass of thin black lines which show the arc of movement that the boat has been making as the winds swing us around. The rocks are still at a safe distance, and I feel confident that the anchor is safely dug in for the moment, but we need to be cautious. We're taking turns to be on the case, and I'll be waking Bob up at four thirty for his two hour shift.
I'm sitting on deck in the half light that you get up here in Northern Scotland. The rocks and hills are quite well defined against the pale grey sky, and the warmth of the night helps to reduce any concern. Over the hills to the West, a pale yellow - orange glow is beginning to span the sky. Between the slapping noise of the water against the boat, and the intermittent gusting noises of the wind, I can hear the sound of different birds singing.
This is quite a fun experience for one night, but I'll be glad to get back to mooring buoys and pontoons. You know where you are with them. I've also discovered that our anchor light isn't working, and there's no way I'm shinning up the mast to fix it and Bob isn't allowed, so that's a good enough reason not to do any more anchoring. Ten more minutes and I'll be back in bed. The sky is really pink now, which I think is not necessarily a good thing according to shepherds. I'm wondering also what's in store for us out there when we head back across the Little Minch and the start of our homeward journey. Ach, it'll be alreet!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Jean Says: I'm beginning to wonder whether I went wrong with the navigation, and at some point turned left instead of right. We're in the middle of somewhere that looks like Scotland, sounds like Scotland (except for all the Northerners), and yet doesn't FEEL like Scotland, on account of it being very hot. We've also logged 952 nautical miles, so that means we could be in the Bay of Biscay by now.
The locals are in shock. They're not sure that they've ever really experienced a heat wave like this one before, and certainly not in May or for so long. We know how extraordinarily lucky we've been to have managed to have more than a week of Mediterranean sunshine, slap bang in the middle of our (near) circumnavigation.
Having conditions like this has opened up a whole new range of unexpected possibilities for us. It would be a waste not to seize this opportunity to go much further afield than we've previously planned, and anchor in some of the more remote bays far away from civilisation as we know it, i.e. Smiths, Boots, the Co-op and endless charity shops.
On Friday we sailed North West from Tobermory to the Isle of Canna, a very remote island with only fourteen people living on it. Canna is tucked in behind Rum, Eigg and Muck, and was gifted to the National Trust of Scotland by well known (late) gaelic scholar Sir John Lorne Campbell, a man who's life's work was all about conservation.
We met a lady who has recently moved to Canna because her husband has taken the job on as head gardener at Canna House. They'd moved from Suffolk so it must be quite a culture shock. She said that she and her husband both enjoyed photographing wildlife, which is lucky, because it could be their main form of entertainment here on Canna. She said that a ferry comes over three times a week with supplies and is the only time they would have a chance to leave. Swimmimg away is definitely not an option. It must feel very strange to live on this tiny island with limited opportunities to escape and only thirteen other people to talk to, but then there would be some of tourists in the summer like us. I'm sure I could only cope with that life for a few weeks. I must be more urban than I thought.
The ten o'clock Saturday ferry arrived with quite a number of people on board. We found ourselves willing them to stay onboard, and not clutter up our new found paradise. Bob had got the binoculars trained on the back end of the ferry and counted seven people, one with a bike and a dog getting off.
Sitting nicely moored on your boat and spying on others through binoculars is a standard form of entertainment for yachties, and you can almost hear a resounding tut tutting when you bodge a mooring attempt.
Once we were installed on Canna, we were in a dilemma about whether we wanted stay for a whole day, relax and generally concentrate more on doing short island hops, or go for a long haul adventure and head right up to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. We decided that we could do a bit of both and have the day off in Canna, but then head for East Loch Tarbert on South Harris.
We're so glad that we stayed for a full day. We had one of our best days yet. We discovered that there was a once a week tour around Canna house and gardens which was fascinating. The Campbells main interest was Gaelic music, and John Campbell collected a huge archive of traditional Gaelic folk songs and stories. The library at the house contains the world's largest collection of Gaelic literature. We spent the rest of the day walking, swimming and reading, and finished off with a visit to the island's only restaurant, run by a fabulous Dutch guy and his wife. Aart was also the island's coastguard. The food was superb, and we were unexpectedly entertained by one of the other guests playing his guitar. We had a singsong until the light began to fade 11.00pm up here at this time of year) and got our dinghy back to Bella Rosa thinking that a day couldn't get a lot better.

Jean swimming in a wimpy wet suit with the tiny restaurant in the background on the left and the even tinier church on the right.

Bob swimming without a wimpy wetsuit.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Some photos

Tobermory at 11.00pm

The deck hand with Ben Nevis in the distant background

The skipper photographing Oban as we leave

Jean Says: After an easy morning strolling around Oban and stocking up on food, we set off for Tobermory. In my mind, Tobermory was always going to be a significant destination, because originally it was to be the furthest point North for us before we turned back down towards Fort William, and The Caledonian Canal. We have been contemplating going round the very top of Scotland because the weather is so good, and we've slightly gone off canals for the moment. The route round the top leaves you very exposed to the elements and we've read that huge seas can build up very quickly. We would never risk going if the weather was anything but calm, but there's always going to be an element of doubt, and a certain amount of anxiety. In my mind, I was warming to the idea until I read the section on the Pentland Firth. Quote from the Reeds Almanac, " the Pentland Firth is a dangerous area for all craft...tidal streams reach 9-12 knots between Pentland Skerries and Duncansby Head. The resultant dangerous seas, very strong eddies and violent races should be avoided by yachts at all costs". After reading that, the decidedometer not surprisingly swung dramatically in the direction of not going. We also had a look on Marine Traffic and saw that there was no-one on AIS going through The Pentland Firth except a few cargo ships and a 53 metre galleon, and they were all of Swedish extraction anyway. Normal people do go round the top though, so we can only think that they go via the Orkneys, which have difficult and strong tides, but not unmanageable ones.

Our plan at the moment is to poke our heads out beyond the Sound of Mull, and sail around the small Isles and Skye. We'll possibly pay a quick visit to the Outer Hebrides, before heading back down via the Kyle of Lochalsh to Fort William. It's definitely worth spending as much time as we can in this amazing archipelago while the sun is still shining, as it's probably quite rare to be so blessed with good weather here.
Tobermory is very charming with its colourfully painted houses, but it's completely geared up for tourists. Although it seems lovely to us in the middle of May, I don't think we would like it at the height of summer, but then that applies to most places. From our mooring buoy out in the harbour, we've been able to admire Tobermory from a distance. It must be one of the prettiest little seaside towns in Scotland.
We were torn between spending a whole day on the Isle of Mull, or sailing out to the Small Isles. We've chosen to sail because it's a unique chance to go to places we wouldn't otherwise be likely to visit. We're off to Canna, just North West of Rum, and will anchor overnight. The beaches are said to be white and sandy, and the sea is turquoise blue. We may even swim - how exciting!!

Sorry no photos here, very slow connection on Vodafone, so may try to load them later if we get somewhere better!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Jean says: This part of our trip has turned into a completely separate experience. The weather has transformed the landscape and the sea into a Mediterranean idyll, but with all the extra character that Britain offers. The sheer beauty of these tranquil isles is almost dreamlike and unreal, and has at times rendered us almost speechless with awe. The added dimension for us is being able to appreciate them from the sea, to travel amongst them freely and independently, and to be able to admire all their qualities from every angle. There are numerous tiny sheltered anchorages, solitary dwellings that appear out of nowhere, an occasional castle or grand house perched on a headland, and sometimes a pretty small town with a harbour.

Yesterday, we sailed to Oban from Ardfern through an area renowned to be a tidal nightmare. Prior to this trip, I'd known all about it, and was hoping to be able to pass through it at neaps when the tides are less strong. We also would have waited for the weather to be manageable just to be on the safe side. The area incorporates the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan. The Gulf is an area of sea between two islands which can throw up a large whirlpool of water that can suck you down to the depths of the ocean without a trace, as well as have at least eight knots of tide shooting through it usually in the opposite direction to where you want to go. At springs and at certain states of the tide, the whole area can be very dangerous. We didn't need to pass through the Gulf, only pass along one side of it, but the tides there are all over the place, and create so many extra little areas of overfalls and eddies, that negotiating it all could be like negotiating a minefield. We were lucky to have acceptable conditions to pass through the area, but I was aware that it was spot on springs, so the previous night, I'd spent about two hours scrutinising all the relevant pilot books and charts and felt confident that with a well worked out passage plan there would be no risk. I ended up plotting about twelve waypoints to see us safely through the tide rips and rocks all the way to Oban.
Even in calm weather, we could see quite a lot of areas of turbulence, and as we approached Fladda, at the top end of the Sound of Luing, we ended up sailing through small whirlpools which we couldn't avoid. We were surrounded! Where the main tidal stream borders the various eddies going in the opposite direction, this is a very common thing, especially at springs with the extra force of the tide.
I'm sure that we wouldn't want to sail through that part of the Isles in anything other than calm weather. It could be quite scary.
We stopped on a mooring buoy near to Oban marina last night. Oban is a very attractive cathedral town in a lovely harbour and well worth visiting. We're hoping to collect our post here that our friend Stuart has very kindly sent on for us. We'll be getting three weeks worth in one go, but because we've cancelled all magazines and subscriptions, and put all the bills on direct debit, we won't be likely to be getting much of any interest, but we still get excited at the prospect of opening mail.

The Notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan - it looks positively innocent in this photo!

We're just approaching Fladda lighthouse and You can just about see the whirlpools.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

For all Kate Rusby fans

YouTube Video

Bob managed to get my iPad working again. Aren't men useful!

Here's a photo of Bella Rosa from the grounds of Inveraray Castle

Early morning at Otter Ferry before we had early morning breakfast on deck

Jean says: I'm a bit distressed because my iPad refuses to work, which could mean that all my photos, iPad drawings, yesterday's blog and lots of other stuff I've written about this trip have disappeared into cyberspace. I won't be able to photoshop anything either because Bob's iPad doesn't do the same stuff that mine did. Neither is it backed up on iCloud because it only happens when we have wifi. Talk about having your creative wings clipped. How will I do cake alerts? Anyway, I'm still able to write the blog on Bob's iPad, so that's something.
It was another glorious day yesterday, but with no wind, so we motored along the length of Loch Fyne to Inveraray, and anchored offshore before rowing in to have a look round and visit the castle. The 13th Duke and Duchess were in residence and we saw then briefly from a distance. They looked decidedly normal apart from the fact that the Duchess was wearing very sturdy brogues, thick woolly tights, and was swathed in an excessive amount of the Campbell tartan. That's how we knew she was who she was. I was surprised to see that they had allowed Hello magazine to cover their wedding, but these days your average aristocrat is often strapped for cash, and it's possibly the only alternative to opening a safari park or selling off the family heirlooms.
We motored back to Otter Ferry at the end of the day to moor on a buoy ready for an early start this morning to negotiate the Crinan Canal.
We'd heard that the Crinan was quite special, but the thought of sixteen locks in one day was a bit daunting. We'd been offered assistance throughout, but in reality, we only had official assistance sometimes. It it hadn't been for a boatload of very helpful chaps who shared our journey with us, we've no idea how we could have managed with just the two of us. Even with help, it was very hard work, and couldn't be described as remotely enjoyable. The scenery wasn't that interesting either, apart from the Crinan end bit which looked a bit like the flat open plains of Africa, but without the Wildebeest. We went into the canal at nine thirty and finished at four o'clock and were very glad it was over. Luckily, when we came out the other end, the tide was with us, so we headed up Loch Craignish to Ardfern marina. A very nice man appeared form avery impressive motorboat to help us with the lines, which was just as well because we were making a mess of it, or at lest the person on the helm was! After that we had a couple of our emergency cans of Marks and Spencer's curry (unbeatable, absolutely delicious) and a rest. We're now wondering what the Caledonian will be like, but don't want to think too far ahead.
The weather is still lovely here, and it's predicted to carry on like this until the weekend - we're feeling very lucky.
The other special thing we have to mention from the last,few days is the sleeping dolphins. We'd been seeing all these apparently lazy, laid back dolphins mooning about occasionally surfacing before disappearing for 5 minutes, and carrying on like this interminably. Upon enquiring with local knowledgeable folk, this is how dolphins sleep! They go round in circles coming up when they need a breath. Amazing.

A view up Loch Fyne on the way to Inveraray. Sorry about the quality, from
Bob's Blackberry.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jean says: So it's turned out that Loch Fyne isn't just a chain of fish restaurants. We've spent the whole day sailing all around it, and ended up at Otter Ferry, where the is a pub called the Oyster Catcher, and more free mooring buoys. We rowed to the shore again because we couldn't be bothered with the hassle of winching the outboard onto the dinghy. Luckily, the water was flat as a pancake, and in any case Bob was doing all the hard work. This area is glorious, especially with the sun shining and if we were only able to have good weather in one place, this would be where we would choose to have it. We're so grateful for a break from the cold and often difficult conditions we've had up to now. I don't think the midges have realised that the weather has changed for the better yet, so we have a sunny, warm midge free Scotland, which is probably quite a rare occurrence.
It's almost difficult to comprehend that we are here in a Scottish Loch, having watched a bright pink sunset, accompanied by only one other yacht, surrounded by total silence.

Loch Fyne Early The Following Morning

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Bob says. Just arrived in Loch Fyne and staying on the Oyster Catcher's mooring buoys. Rowed into the pub and into the middle of a classic car/motorcycle convention. The piccie below is of a 1914 James motorbike which the guy uses everyday to go to work. Also a piccie of Bella Rosa on her mooring and of the pub

Video as we sailed up the Kyles of Bute. Perfect day!

YouTube Video

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Tarbert Harbour as seen on a postcard, and as we'd like to see it!

Jean says: Hallelujah! Today, we finally we had the sort of day we've been hoping for. We've waited nearly five weeks for a chance to sail peacefully through gently rippling water, with the sun warming our backs. We were bracing ourselves for another seven weeks of arctic conditions, and were about to parcel up the summer clothing and send it back home. When we sailed into Scotland two days ago, there was so much mist, we could only see the outline of the islands in varying shades of pale grey. Yesterday in Tarbert, it was cold and inhospitable, but this morning we woke up to clear skies and were finally able to see Scotland at its best.
In Tarbert, we were just a short hop away from the Kyles of Bute, which were on our list of desirable destinations. We decided to go along the Western leg of the Kyles, and find one of the numerous visitor mooring buoys dotted along the route. The improved weather must have inspired other yacht owners to venture out, and for once, we weren't on our own. The scenery here is stunningly beautiful. To think that we might have sailed right through it and not really seen it properly.
We moored on a buoy owned by the Kames Hotel near the apex of the Kyles and rowed ashore for a walk, and a beer at the hotel.
The mooring buoys are free, but they must get very good custom from visiting sailors like ourselves. The hotel bar was great fun and was gearing itself up for a fiftieth birthday party tonight, so they weren't offering food to outsiders, but the menu looked good, and normally we would definitely want eat there.
Bob also managed to watch the Heineken Cup Final in the pub's bar, which made him doubly happy.

The Kyles of Bute

Friday, 18 May 2012

Jean says: Yesterday afternoon, we checked out The Anchor Hotel in Tarbert with a view to having a night in a proper bed and a having a luxurious hot bubbly bath. We were offered a bedroom with a seaview on the top floor, but somehow weren't surprised that the seaview involved standing on a chair and looking over a flat roof covered in seagull mess. It also only had a shower. We politely declined on the basis that the key reason for staying anywhere other than on Bella Rosa was to get a bath. The desperate craving for a bath has temporarily passed because it's had to, but I'm not one to give up that easily.
So I didn't get the bath this time and had to go for the marina shower option instead. This was ten minutes of a scalding hot dribble of water down a cold tiled wall in a room that was very like a public toilet, but with some of the chill taken off. Eventually, it worked properly, but I felt that it was much too risky to wash my hair, so I booked myself in at a local hairdresser for a wash and blow dry. It turned out to be half the price of having the same thing done at home. It may get colder the further North you go, but it also gets cheaper, and that includes marina fees.
Tarbert itself is a charming little harbour tucked into the hillside of The Mull of Kintyre. It's one of the most sheltered harbours in this area of the Lower Western Isles, and is accessible anytime. We're beginning to see more yachts out and about in the firths, which makes a welcome change. Last night, we had a yacht's worth of male Liverpudlians as neighbours, and a small boat of students from the University of Strathclyde. The range of types of people who sail is quite wide and constantly surprising. Perhaps a touch of madness, and the joy of being able to create our own little island wildernesses are some of the common denominators.
The highlight of the day (the week even!) was the Virleys coming to meet us here in Tarbert on their way to The Trossachs, after having had a few days on Islay bird watching, and breathing fresh Scottish air. We had a cracking seafood lunch at the Starfish restaurant, and were able to catch up on all the news from home. They'd been suffering the same cold weather as we had, but were staying in a hotel with a bath. I'm really not green with envy! They said we were still reasonably as they remembered us and hadn't gone too strange! It was lovely to see them, a pity they couldn't stay longer and we felt rather sad when they left.

Here's a picture of Jean, Peter, Bob and Louise outside the marina office in Tarbert, with Bella Rosa somewhere in the background.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

We're not getting such good reception here in the Scottish Isles, so the blog is getting slightly delayed at times. We've just arrived in Tarbert and will stay for two nights. We may even book into a bed and breakfast to thaw out properly. It's been all Scotch Mist and motoring out there for the last two days. You can't see much and can't sail because the wind has disappeared almost completely. Tarbert is looking very good though, so we're glad we came.

Jean Says: Last night, we were invited onboard The Cuan Fisher by George and his first mate John. They were both up from Bangor, and were heading up towards Skye and beyond. We drank whiskey and red wine with them on George's lovely cosy boat (he had the heating on full blast), and because they both knew the area inside out, they gave us loads of tips about the best places to visit in the Western Isles. George is an ex corporate man and John is an ex trawler man, and they not only have bags of sailing experience, but were full of great seafaring tales collected over the years. George said that he was feeling a bit passed it these days to sail singlehandedly, and usually gets a friend onboard to help. He told us that he often motor sails just with the main sail up to minimise the hard work. I've definitely warmed to this idea. The Cuan Fisher has an enclosed wheelhouse immune to the elements, which is another appealing idea, especially at the moment. We stayed quite late, thoroughly enjoying their company, and were sorry to leave.
I popped my head up early this morning when I heard them preparing the boat to go. I could see George ensconced in his wheelhouse, and John was on deck in what looked like arctic clothing, tidying up the warps and fenders. They were too engrossed in the process of leaving to see me, so I wasn't able to wave, but I felt fondly towards our new friends as I watched the Cuan Fisher head out into the vast open space of the Irish Sea.
We set off intending to go to Campeltown, but changed our minds and went a bit further to Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran. We parked ourselves on a mooring buoy in the bay, and felt the liberation of not needing to have shelter for the first time in more than four weeks. The wind had dropped dramatically today, and although it was still freezing cold, the sea was flat, and we had the easiest ride we've had since we started the trip. The scenery is still varying shades of grey, and it makes it difficult to take a good photo. When we first came here years ago, I was disappointed to discover that this is not Arran of jumper fame. The jumper Arran is in Ireland, and apparently, very few people realise that. On route, Bob made a very delicious and comforting oven baked fish dish which included baked beans, but they were posh ones. We also polished off a bottle of (comforting) white wine to help with the warming process. Boat food has to be comforting, especially when you've woken up to your breath being visible even when you're still in bed, and the day resembles a very cold day in February.

Approaching Arran with Holy Island on the right and Goatfell in the background.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Weather and winds

Jean says: Just as well we had a day off today because we wouldn't have wanted to put up with the dreaded chop again. I'm not sure we would have been able to leave the harbour safely anyway, because the North West wind was blowing straight into the entrance and causing some of that coastal turmoil I've been reading about. Instead, we caught a bus and went along one of the most spectacular coast roads we've ever been on. It rose to hundreds of feet with views for miles along the Glens of Antrim, along the coast and over to the Mull of Kintyre. We took it to see the Giant's Causeway. When we first got there I couldn't see what all the fuss was about, but then I realised that I was looking at the wrong bit. It was actually well worth the trip and reminded me of the result you can get when you use the pixelating function on Photoshop, except that the view comes ready pixelated. Maybe that's where someone somewhere got the idea from in the first place, which just proves to me that all ideas originate in nature.
Next up was Bushmill's Distillery, which was conveniently situated just down the road from the Giant's Causeway. Another bit of foresight by someone on behalf of the pressed for time tourist. Bob naturally was very excited, as this was one of the reasons that he signed up for this trip. The tour was only forty minutes, which meant that we could get to taste the stuff within a reasonable time of arriving. I don't actually like whiskey, so I opted for the hot toddy which has cinnamon and sugar in it. Bob thought that I was being a complete philistine and tried to abdicate responsibility for me by sitting at a distance with his twelve year old malt. I wish I did like it, as there's now a large bottle of it on the boat.

People we don't know getting sploshed by waves at The Giant's Causeway.
Ha ha.......

Bob says: Jean won't admit it but the only reason she was prepared to come down to Bushmills Distillery is that I told her that the nearby Giants Causeway was part of a major shopping centre conglomerate, twice as impressive as the one with which she was familiar at Cribbs Causeway. Anyway as you've just read she was impressed with this one even if she's still suffering retail therapy deprivation. Here's a map with the isobars we're going to get for our crossing of the North Channel tomorrow. Nice and well spaced!

Has Anyone Seen Bob?

The longest place name in Ireland is Muckanaghederdauhaulia, which means marshy area between two saltwater inlets.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Jean Says: We wanted to make sure were didn't miss an opportunity to cross from Northern Ireland to the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, and be in time to be in Tarbert to meet up with our friends the Virleys on Friday. There are more gales predicted this Tuesday, so we decided to miss the Titanic exhibition in Belfast, and left Bangor today to get to Glenarm in order to be ready to cross on Wednesday when the weather is supposed to be mild with a Westerly wind. We can see the Mull of Kintyre from Glenarm, and it's quite exciting to think that we've come this far in four weeks.
The journey today was only four and a half hours, but quite tedious as we had a succession of squally showers where the gusts were hitting over thirty knots sometimes and then would drop right down to twelve. We were glad to arrive in Glenarm, and were greeted by a lovely helpful man, who gave us a full brochures' worth of information on his tiny town. There is a shop and two pubs, but neither of them serve food, so it could be Remoska time again.
Have we mentioned the Remoska yet?
We're having another full day off tomorrow, and want to enjoy the verdant Irish countryside in all its luscious splendour for one last time. No doubt, we'll also be on the lookout for the chance to have a last Irish cake as well, before we move on to Scottish cakes, I mean Scotland. We have high expectations of the Western Isles as a brilliant cruising area. It's meant to be stunning, and there'll be many opportunities to anchor in remote little bays and coves around the islands. That's what sailing is all about!

Bob (without a hat!) leaving Bangor.

Jean (without a hat and a permanent asymmetric hairdo!) leaving Bangor.
Within five minutes of this photo, she had the full woolly headgear on again.

Dodging the big ships in Belfast Lough

Arriving at Glenarm at the tail end of a squall

Bob says: Chris, thanks for all the tips and advice on things to do in this part of N Ireland, really appreciated! Rather taken with your stories of the Ballygalley Castle Hotel and liked the look of it as we sailed past. I checked and their 'Garden Restaurant' is in the Taste of Ulster book of good foodie places, may try it tomorrow for dinner!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Taken on some extra crew. Hope it works out.

Jean says: Bob did have his shorts on for a brief moment yesterday, and I got as far as opening my cupboard to check which T shirts I'd brought with me in case I needed one at short notice. Today I've re-applied the thermals, and Bob has reverted back to trousers and five layers.
Snow is forecast, but we are within sight of Scotland, so that may have something to do with it. It's so lucky that we've brought our thermally enhanced sailing kilts with us. We're certainly going to need them.
Yesterday, I found myself having a conversation with the fenders. I'm a little worried that the cold may be getting to parts of my brain, but Fat Boy Fender and Fender Rosa reassured me that it would only be temporary.
We went for a long walk along the National Trust coastline to a small place called Groomsport where we came across an award winning strudel cafe. This trip didn't begin as a prolonged cake tour round Britain, but it's turning into one, and we can only blame the weather. We can also blame the Irish because they do some of the best bakery that we've had anywhere. If we don't leave here soon, I'll be having to get the companionway opening enlarged, otherwise I'll be spending the rest of the journey on deck.
The strudel was delicious and so was the rhubarb scone. Bob ate most of both, but he is always able to eat for two and get away with it. Life can be so unfair.
Having exhausted ourselves eating, we headed back to the boat via Bangor town centre, but most of the shops were closed and heavily shuttered which is clearly a throwback to the 'Troubles'. Bangor escaped much of the sectarian violence during the Troubles, but there were still multiple killings, car bombs, incendiary devices, and extensive damage done to many of the shops and a few of the local churches. It's hard to imagine such violence like that occurring in a place that has such a similar identity to home, and hard to imagine the feeling of being at risk on a daily basis. Despite the slightly threatening atmosphere when everything is shut up, Bangor is an otherwise attractive town and still retains a Victorian seaside resort feel to it. They're promoting tourism here quite heavily and it does have a lot to offer.
If only sunshine could be guaranteed!

Bob says: the Strudel Cafe is the first one I've ever come across that has a mission statement (see photo below). Comforting in a way to be reminded of the corporate world here in County Down. It's clearly done them some good because they won the County Down casual eating award and were off to Dublin today to compete in the all Ireland finals!
One of the things the corporate world could definitely learn from the sailing world is the fantastic level of customer service you seem to get in all the marinas, certainly the ones we've been to. Maybe it's the recession and they're all struggling to stay in business or maybe people with the right attitude are attracted to jobs in this industry. Either way, no one seems to find any question or moan too much to deal with. Being new to this part of the world we wanted a tip or two about things to do around here and the Bangor Marina manager has to get the all Ireland award for the most helpful guy. So, if we're stuck here for a week we now know several walks, countless attractions, the best modes of transport to get anywhere (he even recommended sailing to the Titanic Exhibition!) and the best dentists in town if my tooth gets any worse (it's grumbling a bit). Coffee and cake shops we seem to be able to find ourselves!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ardglass marina. A lovely tiny safe harbour.

View towards the Isle of Man from above Ardglass across the golf course. You can see it very faintly on the right hand side of the photo.

What a civilised morning. We had blue skies, sunshine and lunch on deck at last. It was hard to extract ourselves from the thermals that have virtually fused themselves to our skin. We were waiting to set off in the early afternoon to catch the tide to take us nicely up the coast and around the headland towards Belfast Lough and Bangor marina.
Today's sail was the most relaxed sail we've had so far with flat seas, gentle winds and lovely views of the gentle County Down coastline.
It was so clear that we were able to see the outline of the Mull of Kintyre in the distance. The North East corner of Northern Ireland, and The Southern tip of The Mull of Kintyre are only about twenty two miles apart, although from safe haven to safe haven for us it could be double that. We'll be making that trip later in the week when the next bout of gales has died down.
Belfast Lough is a vast moody expanse of water that plays host to continuous commercial shipping as well as small fry like ourselves. There are several marinas, and we'd decided on Bangor because it's small and in a pretty location. It's also a good jumping off point for crossing the North Channel to Scotland, but we may head further North to Glenarm and go from there depending on those two old favourites, the wind and the tide.
We'll stay in Bangor for two or three days at least because of the predicted gales, but we're intending to have a good look round Belfast, and might even venture into the new Titanic museum. I wonder if any of the exhibits are interactive?

Belfast Lough in the early evening.

Jean at the Helm on the way from Dublin to Ardglass in Northern Ireland.

Jean Says: Back to reality from the virtual Caribbean.
There's a large section of sea between just North of Dublin and Strangford Lough that barely has a tidal stream and it's almost a fifty mile radius. The sea comes into the area from both sides of Ireland which neutralises the flow, although it still maintains quite a large tidal range. We were particularly looking forward to this passage, because the forecast looked great and the wind for once was predicted to be on the beam.
A few hours before we left yesterday morning, the forecast predicted stronger and more Northerly winds Force six occasionally seven! If we stuck to our plan of never going out if a F7 was mentioned at any point in a journey, we would still be in Portland marina. If we consider all the variables, then sometimes it's OK. In this case, we had no tidal stream to contend with, so there'd be a certain amount of discomfort, especially as it was a ten hour trip, but we knew we could handle it and wanted to make progress.
The forecast was right about the wind, but the visibility was excellent and although it was cold (see photo), we felt we'd made the right decision.
One of the great things about what we're doing is to be able to arrive somewhere unknown by sea, just the two of us. We are frequently the only sailors out there in the ocean, with just a few fishing boats and the occasional cargo ship keeping us company. Every day we're well occupied and on a new mission. Every day is a new adventure. We've had some pretty difficult weather so far, but we've done 560 miles and here we are in Northern Ireland in the middle of May and finally the sun is shining and Bob is having his morning cup of tea on deck. We're finally having a sense of how it's going to be when it does get warmer and calmer. We've got a lot to look forward to.
Ardglass is a lovely place (see piccie below). We went to a great pub last night for a Guinness and then on enquiring about whether they or any of the other 4 pubs in the village did food, they said we had to go to the golf club to eat. So off we went. All you golfers, if you're thinking about another tour, including Ardglass golf club on the itinerary wouldn't be a bad idea. Fantastic setting right on the cliffs ....... Oh yes, and the food is very good, especially recommend the 'champ' (mashed potato and greens).
We are moored up next to another couple, Heather and Ed, who are also sailing around Britain. They're from Swansea and Ed is Welsh so an immediate plus point for him and Bob. They're sailing an aluminium hulled, lifting keel boat, an Allures 44. Very interesting set up, enables them to get into drying harbours and sit on the mud! They're the first 'normal' people we've come across doing the same as us, so we're looking forward to meeting up with them at other places along the way.

Ardglass marina on a sunny morning!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

We're Back!

There was a bit of confusion at the airport over which flight we should be catching, and the flight seemed to take a lot longer getting back to Dublin than it did to get to Heathrow - eleven hours! They played calypso music on the plane though, which was very uplifting and a nice touch! The weather has bucked up way beyond our expectations, but we knew there'd be a heat wave coming sooner or later. It's spooky but Dublin is unrecognisable with the sun out. It seems to have shrunk with the heat, and what's more, it must be a national holiday because we're the only ones here. We couldn't find Bella Rosa, or in fact the marina, but it's OK because it's so warm, we're sleeping outside on the beach. We're off to Ardglass in Northern Ireland tomorrow, so hopefully we can find Bella Rosa soon because we've got some passage planning to do.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Jean Says: This morning, we did the 'Dalkey Wander', a circular walk of about seven kilometers along the coast to the East of Dun Laoghaire. Within no time at all, we'd found a great cafe for our morning coffee. Bob is like a heat seeking missile when it comes to finding superior coffee shops. We also have to report that the cakes there are exceptional. If we get marooned in Dun Laoghaire at the end of the week because of the weather, we'll be found in the Promenade Cafe having breakfast, lunch and probably dinner as well.

This is what to look for if you're ever in the area.

The 'Dalkey Wander' walk takes in some interesting features. There's a forty foot deep swimming area hidden amidst the rugged rock strewn coast called
"The Forty Foot". (The Irish don't mess about with fussy labels. There's a coffee chain here called Insomnia). People have been swimming here all year round for 250 years and Xmas Day is a particularly popular time to come. Today, there was a small group of relatively elderly people either preparing to go in, or just coming out. If we are still here at the end of the week we may try to go in, but only in our industrial strength wetsuits.

The Forty Foot

We met up with Gerard and Grainne for a hearty Sunday lunch, knowing that we didn't have to do much for the rest of the day.

Dun Laoghaire from a Distance

We're flying back to London tomorrow, so we're signing off the blog for a few days until we get back.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Jean Says: We spent the day in Dublin's fair city and the first thing we did was visit the Georgian House. We could have been in No1 Royal crescent, but hearing about the history of the house and its occupants gave us a good insight into the general social history of Dublin, so it was well worth doing. After that, we walked for miles through the Georgian quarter and Temple Bar, along the canal and back to the centre and Grafton Street where we had lunch in the Avoca shop cafe - my favourite shop in Dublin. I found myself wanting to pass people port to port and to cross the road at right angles to the main traffic. That's three weeks on a boat for you! The sun was shining at last, but it was still very cold and more like November.
Dublin is playing host to both a dance festival and a gay theatre festival over the next two weeks. There wasn't much evidence of gay theatre apart from someone dressed as a tiger, prancing around to music in a rather camp fashion. Bob reckoned that he could do a lot better, but I wasn't sure why he would want to as no-one was throwing money. By chance, we came across a free Irish dancing show being held in a small theatre in Temple Bar. It was all very Riverdance and truly impressive. It's great to see such traditions being kept alive especially by young people. Bob has been trying to upload a video of the show, but many expletives later he's still not succeeded!
We were very glad to find that Dublin seemed to be just as vibrant and buzzy as it has been the last time we came before the credit crunch. It really is a great place to visit.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Goodbye Arklow.........

Jean Says: Up at 5.00am and set off at 6.00am to catch the tide to get to Dun Laoghaire before lunch. The winds were threatening to whip up again, and after yesterday we didn't fancy another day on the bouncy castle. We were keen to get there as soon as possible, have a shower, read our books and stretch our legs.
We were comparing how many layers of clothes we've both been wearing during the past few days. Bob has had six layers on and surprisingly, I've only had five. Bob hasn't been wearing his shorts either - that's how chilly it's been. We're looking forward to when we can wear less as it's quite hard to manoeuvre around the boat dressed like stuffed marrows.
Dun Laoghaire harbour is large and very civilised. Big Stena Line ferries go from here to all over the place, and the marina is so sophisticated it has a biometric I.D. system. It makes a change from trying to remember code numbers. You can't forget your fingers!
Dun Laoghaire is a well to do suburb of Dublin. It's very Georgian, very attractive and spreads out along a rugged coastline overlooking Dublin Bay. It must be a great place to live apart from the weather.
We went into the main town this evening and dropped into a typical Irish bar to get stuck into the Guinness, the first and most obvious step in absorbing Irish culture. Wandering around the shops afterwards, we came across another Saint called Saint Michael. We were surprised to find that he has a 'food hall' here which is well up to the standard of our very own Marks and Spencer. This is truly the land of the Saints.
We've had three consecutive days of sailing and realised that we were quite tired, so we headed back to the boat with some of Saint Michael's food (bless him) and planned for a quiet evening and an early night. Tomorrow we're heading into Dublin town to be tourists for the day.

..........Hello Dun Laoghaire