The wind continued to laugh at me although I did manage to leave Lybster and get to the next port down the coast which is Helmsdale. Helmsdale is a lovely little town with a great little port and an extremely friendly and welcoming harbour master. I could have relaxed there for a few days but instead I left at the earliest opportunity when the wind dropped and I decided to make a bit more progress. If I am forced to go against the wind then I’d rather it not be a gale when I do so. That is too hard on Fiesta and her crew! My plan was to head to Nairn but with a very light wind forecast, 35 miles and almost no diesel in the tank I felt this would be a challenging, long and slow sail. Helmsdale has a bar over the entrance and it’s not a sand bar, it’s a bolder bar! I studied the chart and felt that I could sneak across it an hour or so after low water so out I went. As it turns out I think my timing was right but my position was wrong and I just nudged a boulder with the port skeg. Being aware that I was pushing my luck I was going very slowly, probably about 1.5 knots and thankfully the shape of the boulder was very round and smooth so there was a slight scraping noise and the port hull lifted up and then slid down the other other side of it! I stopped and instead of trying to move forward I decided to reverse the way I had come as I knew that the water was deep enough to float in. Sure enough, Fiesta rose up a few inches again as we slid back over the top and down the other side of it back into deeper water. I changed my course and steered towards the area that I should have aimed for in the first place and out we went! No, it’s not ideal to nudge the rocks but the harbour master had told me that they were big round boulders rather than jagged rocks and I was going so slowly that it was all very gentle. The bottom of the skeg has a reinforced fibreglass shoe on it as this boat is designed to take the ground so a little scrape is not an issue. To be honest I would consider that the boat gets a lot more shock loading when I’m pushing hard into a lot of wind and a lumpy sea. Anyway, we were out and clear and luckily for me the forecast was wrong and it turned into a fantastic sail! Because of the way the tide runs around the shape of this coast I had the benefit of a fair tide for longer than usual and with a lovely unforecasted breeze we cruised along in perfectly flat water at 4 or 5 knots and made it past Nairn and on to Fortrose in the Moray Firth where I anchored for the night in a little bay in front of the Fortrose sailing club.
During the sail a beautiful Pilot Cutter called Westernman appeared on the horizon behind me. She looked so impressive under full sail and making better speed than me was soon alongside and we chatted and took photos. This was exciting because not only was she a beautiful sight but she was also the first sailing boat I had seen out sailing since I left the Island of Skye! On the way up the Moray Firth I was treated to the best dolphin show of the trip so far! They were big Bottlenose dolphins and there must have been about twenty of them in the pod and they spent about ten minutes playing around Fiesta. I really don’t know what it is about these creatures that is so magical but it doesn’t matter how many there are or how often I see them, it’s an amazing experience. Amazing. That’s one of those words that is used far too liberally for my liking because there isn’t really much out there in day to day life that is genuinely amazing is there? However, in this context I think it is the correct word to use. It is an amazing experience. Whenever I have seen them, the experience changes the way I feel for the whole day so for that reason I’m sticking to my guns. It is amazing. There you go, I told you that word is used too much. That’s four amazing’s (now five) in quick succession! Oh f*ck it, they are an amazing sight, amazing creatures and it’s always an amazing experience. Honestly, it gives me the tingles just thinking about it. It’s absolutely f*cking AMAZING…..
Anyway, after anchoring for the night in Fortrose I pushed on under the bridge and into Inverness Marina. On the way into the marina I saw the Pilot Cutter that had creamed passed me the day before. We had already established contact via my blog and arranged to meet up for a chat and swap photos once in the marina. The next night I went aboard Westernman and had the pleasure of chatting to Lloyd and Mike who are lifelong friends and sailors who’s passion for being afloat is something that has obviously never wavered in the slightest. Their stories and adventures were fanastic and fascinating. Fine whisky and fine company on a truly beautiful, cosy, all wood sailing vessel the charm of which is immediately infectious and all consuming. Random meetings with quality people make this trip even more special and provide lasting memories which are a continuous reminder of what a sweet life this cruising life is.
Lloyd and Mike were readying Westernman for the winter and this is what made me realise that time is indeed marching on and I need to be heading further south! However, I would prefer it not to be so but I think I am now in a pattern of things to come. The weather seems to be fairly unpredictable. A good forecast will be issued, I will make a plan and the day before my planned departure it will change and invariably that means a dramatic increase in wind strength. Depending on the direction, I can handle the wind but what is causing me problems is that the trip from here to Peterhead along the north facing coast is just over 100 miles. I plan to do this in two or three hops but the small ports along that coast are old commercial fishing ports and whilst they allow yachts to enter, the entrances are all narrow and shallow so threading the needle between the rocks and stone piers is not something that I want to be doing in strong onshore winds and rough seas. I have to resist the temptation of throwing caution to the wind and simply going for it and instead be patient and wait for conditions that I am happy with. Quite often being out at sea is not the dangerous bit. It’s getting near the edges that is. It’s certainly an exposed coast here and my feeling is that to underestimate it is to dance with the devil and as mentioned in my previous bog, I’m not a fan of what he can serve up!
Once at Peterhead I will be heading more or less south where a northely wind would give me a lovely following sea and any direction coming off the land, southwest, west or northwest would mean nice manageable waves so I feel that once I am there, the options will open up for me. It has also got cold here! I’m used to a chill whilst out at sea but now, here in Inverness it is definitely cold and think my big fluffy ever so slightly gay onesie will soon be on under my waterproof sailing gear! Oh, I have missed that thing!
Inverness Marina is a cracker. Very sheltered, very good facilities, top marina staff and although not fully developed yet I think it will soon be a lovely waterside hub. However, I am a little underwhelmed with Inverness itself and particularly the town centre. I have probably become too accustomed to the peace and beauty of underpopulated areas so wandering into Inverness’s itself was a bit of a shock! It’s not Inverness’s fault, it’s mine. If anything I have probably become even more comfortable with my own company, peace and quiet since being on this trip so the busy town centre was not a pleasant experience for me. WTF is it with people and town centres across the land???? There appear to be many many thousands of people who have somehow succumbed to the dreary, one step from suicide notion that a productive way to spend their spare time is to mooch around the shops for no particular reason at all. Ok, some are there to make specific purchases and I have no issue with them but most it seems are in a totally anaesthetised zombie state shuffling aimlessly from shop to shop waiting for age to overtake, the misery to be over and for Dr Death to do his work!
Well, that’s how it appeared to me as I tried to race by fully loaded with fresh food in an effort to keep the scurvy wolf from my door!
I even have some respect for the thieving little gypsy shoplifters and I don’t have any problems with the down and outs. The thieving toe rags have at least got an aim to their existence, a goal to achieve that day and the down and outs are making the town centre appear much more pleasant to themselves through the bottom of plastic two litre cider bottles whilst remaining tucked nicely out of of everyones way in derelict shop doorways under blankets made stiff by anything but starch.
It’s the rest, just ambling around completely without purpose other than to wonder where their next deep fried mars bar is coming from! Let me be clear here, my impression of our Scottish brethren is fantastically favourable. Everyone I have met has been lovely, welcoming and really friendly but one thing is for sure. Whether oop north or dan sarf, scumbags are scumbags and town centres across our fair land are blighted by them!
I know, I know. That’s a bigoted rant but is it really just me???
Lastly, I’m a little concerned that watching yet another sailing video might be tedious. However, my concern is not enough to prevent me from posting a new one under the ‘Other bits’ part so have a look if you want to! Don’t worry, it’s quite short but that’s an entirely different story…….
The entrance to Helmsdale and the tranquility within
Cromarty. Where oil rigs are built, stored or abandoned
These friends are always welcome
The Pilot Cutter Westernman that sneaked up and passed me. What a beauty.
Rounding Chanonry Point and into the Moray Firth after a fantastic sail from Helmsdale
The harbour at Fortrose and a view out to Fiesta anchored in the distance with Doris in the foreground.
Approaching the bridge at Inverness.
Max doesn’t like walking far these days and this was a pretty good way of letting me know!