Sailing is a cruel mistress. First you get the exam and then the lesson. And more my kind of expression; with boats there are a million ways to f*ck it up! These are two things that I say a lot to myself and to other people and following my sail to Whitehills from Inverness I can add another scenario to the expansive library of the aforementioned!
The forecast was for a west or northwest 18 to 22 mph wind so I took that and left the Moray Firth headed for Whitehills, a little harbour 60 odd miles away. Fiesta was beautifully balanced and I took the opportunity to have a conversation with Sarah while the auto helm did the work. However, about ten minutes after speaking to Sarah the sea started kicking up and it became quite rough and confused. No drama, just a little less comfy but we were trucking along nicely. After a while I started to get the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. The water coming over the foredeck seemed a little relentless, deeper than normal and Fiesta was digging her noses in quite a lot. This was accompanied by a strange shuddering motion and the auto pilot was labouring to keep us going in a straight line. I feel a little foolish about the length of time it took me to realise the obvious but it finally dawned on me that somewhere up forward we must be taking on water. I got my harness on and made my way to the foredeck where I could hear a deep clonking noise. I lifted the anchor hatch to be confronted by a locker completely full of water and the clonking noise was the anchor and chain being washed around in what was now a big deep rectangular washing machine. At this point I remembered what I had said in a previous blog about two things putting the willies up any sailor. Fire onboard and water from the outside coming in! Why don’t I just shut the f*ck up?
Without labouring the point, many things were going through my mind in that frustrating slow motion way when what you really want is for your brain to race effortlessly and efficiently through the issue, think of the solution and sort it. My thought process was made harder by the fact that I was going airborne on the way down some waves and landing hard on my knees before being drenched by the next wave that rolled across the foredeck which was finding it harder to rise over the waves thanks to the several hundred litres of water in the anchor locker. It’s at these times when the feeling of being alone and away from any immediate assistance really resonates. I thought of some horrible things like a hull failure and even imagined the dreaded mayday call if this situation escalated beyond my control. The obvious concern was that a hole or a crack had opened up but where I did not know as the water inside the locker was dark and muddy in colour. I was now soaked to the skin so getting my head a shoulders down in the anchor locker under the water level wasn’t making me any wetter as I felt around for a hole or a crack, which thankfully I could not find. I then went deeper into the locker and fumbled around for the drain hole which meant moving a lot of anchor chain aside. I found the drain hole but despite the considerable lubrication I was unable to shove my finger in. As I continued to press and prod, like a teenager fumbling around in a cold dark bus shelter, something became loose and I pulled out a cockle shell covered in sticky smelly mud! As physics (or maybe biology) dictates, once the barrier was penetrated I could get my finger right in up to my knuckle and when I pulled out I could feel the rush of water going down the drain hole.
I made my way back to the cockpit, turned Fiesta around and with the seas behind me everything got calmer. On retuning to the foredeck I was delighted to see that the anchor locker was now half empty (perfect time to be a pessimist) and was quickly draining. The drama wasn’t quite over though because as with any situation like this, weaknesses get exposed and water had also got into the boat over the top of a bulkhead in the anchor locker. This shouldn’t be able to happen but I discovered later when I was crawling around in the forward compartment that someone had cut an access hole to secure some deck fittings and the hole had not been sealed up so the watertight bulkhead was anything but watertight.
The anchor locker was empty but I still had well over a 100 litres of water in the forward section of the port hull which had also overflowed into a locker behind it and filled that with another 50 litres.
It was time to pause, take stock of the situation and make a decision. The panic was over and without 300 litres of water in the anchor locker Fiesta was no longer seriously bow heavy and I had established that the culprit was not a hole or a crack but a stupid little cockle shell that must have arrived in the locker alongside a clump of mud attached to the anchor and worked it’s way perfectly into the drain hole where it waited to be discovered once all the water that was coming over the deck and into the locker had no where to drain away.
It was now low tide so none of the harbours near me were accessible as the entrances dry out at low tide. The distance back to Inverness was only slightly shorter than the distance to Whitehills so despite it being rough, I decided that had it not been for this little drama I would be enjoying the sail so I got myself together, turned round and pushed on. Fiesta got us safely to Whitehills at about 6pm where the calm and protected harbour was extremely welcome! However, there was no time to rest and the clear up began. It took until 1 o’clock in the morning and all of the next day to get everything drained, the hole where the water came though the bulkhead sealed up and for the ship to be checked over and back in order again.
Did the incident scare me? Yep! Did it teach me anything? Well yes. I will fabricate something to ensure that a shell and mud can’t get in the drain hole and block it again but mainly it reaffirmed that there are a million ways to f*ck it up and that the sea is indeed a cruel mistress. It also reaffirmed that the north coast has been tough for me. No, this isn’t the north coast but it is still a long and very exposed north facing coast that roughed me up like the big boy at school does on catching you and your finger in the bus shelter with his bird! Thankfully I emerged unscathed other than being freezing cold following a thorough soaking and having a smelly finger. So on reflection, this would be marked down in any boy’s memory as ‘good times’!
The next day two other yachts joined me in Whitehills and both commented on how unpleasant and rough it was out there. So it’s not just me. The sea up here really can be quite testing and that’s a good thing. If this trip didn’t challenge or test me then what would I learn and what would I be achieving?
Having sheltered from the brisk conditions for three nights at Whitehills I left on Tuesday morning in bright sunshine, cock all wind and motored all the way to Peterhead. As I have hinted to on several occasions, I normally hate motoring but on this occasion I was very happy to complete the last of that north facing coast wearing sunglasses and a t-shirt and cruise into Peterhead unmolested.
The wind has been flogging the same old routine for a little bit too long for my liking. It has now decided to blow pretty hard out of the south and looks like it will do that for the next five days so I will be getting to know Peterhead quite well. So here I am, yet again, looking back at my previous blog where I said ‘Once at Peterhead I will be heading more or less south where a northerly 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’. Really Mark, you still haven’t learnt! Please, shut the f*ck up!!!
I’m not too worried though because as ever there are quite a few jobs to get on with so being here for a while we give me the time to get stuck into those.
I hope not to be reporting from here next week but now I have said that you can be pretty sure that I will be!!
The end of the rainbow off Fortrose on the way out of the Moray Firth
When you turn in to Whitehills it looks like a dead end but the opening to the harbour is just passed the rubber bumper at the end of the wall on the leftThere’s not a lot of room for error
Lovely, calm and sheltered. Time to bail out the water!
Massive fishing fleet at Fraserburgh on the way to Peterhead
A cruel Mistress for the professionals too!
Entering Peterhead harbour and then the marina tucked away in the far corner