Heading South

I made a break from Peterhead a little unexpectedly. I have always used and been confident in the weather information provided by XC Weather although since being in Stornoway my confidence has diminished. It’s not just me either. For the last six weeks or so harbourmasters, sailors and local fisherman have all said the same. ‘I don’t know what has happened, we always use XC Weather but lately it just hasn’t been right’. To be fair to XC Weather, I don’t think any forecasts have been particularly reliable of late, not even the shipping forecast provided by the Met Office. The gale in Loch Eriboll was a surprise that was sprung on me at the last moment by an emergency broadcast from Stornoway Coastguard. They too can only rely on what they are told and since that time the weather has been anything but predictable which has made life tough for me for well over a month. Well, that’s tough in relative terms!
I was completely fed up with being in Peterhead and although the marina is great, Peterhead itself will not feature on my list of ‘must revisit’ places but I was resigned to staying there until Saturday at the earliest. However, a weather window appeared and I took a bit of a gamble and went for it. The forecast was for an east and then later a southeast force 4. Southeast is not good and would mean a tortuous slog into sharp seas but an easterly would let me pass nicely so I went for it and left in the darkness of Tuesday morning. It doesn’t matter how many times I do it but leaving in the dark and venturing out through the big concrete walls of a harbour and into the dark sea alone feels ominous and a little scary. Yet again, the forecast proved to be totally inaccurate and within two hours the wind had swung to the south and although this was the worst possible direction for me it also dropped right off and the sea became relatively calm so the 70 mile trip down to Arbroath, where I am now, turned into a twelve hour session of complete boredom accompanied by the continuous drone of the engine. You can’t do anything but sit and stay on watch and while you don’t want to see anything to trouble you, not seeing anything is unbelievably dull. Still, the job got done and I was thrilled to be in Arbroath which is a small fishing harbour and marina with another scary entrance through a narrow channel between the rocks and waves that break either side of you. There is a transit line for entry which means two boards set up on the shore that you line up, keep in line and this is the safe and deepest channel in. However, problems occur with visual navigation aids when the fog turns up to p*ss on your chips! In fact I had fog for most of the way so my radar was on constantly so I could detect any other vessels lurking around and also to show me exactly where the shore and rocks were. Now, it’s not just about radar because chart plotters are excellent and provide you with the same accurate detail and position that sat nav systems in cars do so in theory you could use the chart plotter on it’s own to ensure that you are in the correct channel. However, there can be inaccuracies and also magnetic anomalies that will throw these off and for the close navigation towards hard objects that is required for any harbour entry it is good to have the radar to double check the information on the screen when all you can see with your mince pies is scary white stuff and all you can hear through your Lords and Peers is the harbour’s fog horn (yeah, proper cockney ain’t I), which to me translates into ‘You’re getting close but will you turn to port, starboard or go straight on? The choice and ability to f*ck it all up is yours and yours alone you little prick! ‘Yes, I know that and can I just thank you for your kind assistance in this matter Mr Horn’….
We got into Arbroath harbour by going along the scary rock wall and then to the safe haven within. I moored up alongside a big powerboat and raised a glass to my chart plotter, my radar and Fiesta for getting us here safely.
The harbour staff are ex fisherman and extremely helpful and welcoming although I’m not sure the same can be said for the active fisherman here. I get the feeling that yachts are not their favoured water dwelling companions and all seem to be hardened (unsurprisingly) by the conditions they work in and have a measure of distain for anyone that uses the sea for pleasure. Well, my sea plundering friends, the feeling is a more than a little mutual especially after navigating through the vast amount of lobster pots that literally litter the approach to this harbour. I totally forgive anyone for thinking that the next statement is bullish*t because I would too but believe it or not there are 25,000 to 30,000 lobster pots around this area alone. None of them lit, some of them marked with flags and some of them only having small buoys marking their position (definitely a bottom of the barrel work experience placement).
Getting any one of these around the propellor means only one thing. Calling for assistance, probably the lifeboat before you are washed ashore pushed by the onshore wind and then the dream is over. However, after ten hours of utter boredom, picking my way through the maze of pots as they loomed out of the fog did at least make me concentrate hard and the last two hours of the trip flew past in a flurry of nail biting, swearing and brown trousering.
Apparently the powers that be are trying to do something about the amount of pots here and that’s not to help any of us recreational sailors, it’s about preserving the lobster population which although incredibly abundant at the moment, is due to be fished out at this rate. Apparently fisherman are pulling out 50 to 60 year old monsters which I’m sure are magnificent specimens but with 25,000 to 30,000 pots there is no way the lobster population can sustain itself despite the recent introduction of marine viagra, lobster lipstick and a new lower age of consent so something has got to change!
After a day of rest here in Arbroath there appeared to be another weather window forecasted by the BBC and XC Weather. I was up early yesterday to take it but there is a storm gate that protects this inner harbour from the swell outside and it was meant to be open at 7 am but it was not. At 8 am I called the harbourmaster with news that I wanted to leave. He seemed surprised and said ‘Well, it’s up to you of course’. That comment from a salty old sea dog is enough to set the doubt wheels in motion and he explained that the general consensus was that a gale was on its way. After talking to him and his colleague I decided that only a foolish ex insurance broker on a pleasure sailing trip would go against the far away misty eyed look of a local salty sea dog and go for it. As a final teaser, they opened the gate for me as it is indeed ‘my decision’ but by that time I didn’t have a decision to make. My want to get further south as we near October is considerable but not so great that I want to f*ck it all up in a gale as I cross the tide that flows out of the Firth of Forth.
 So I stayed put despite every fibre of my being thinking that I should have been out there on my way to Eyemouth. I heeded the warnings and bowed to local knowledge but in a cruel twist of fate or a cheeky way to get me to pay for another couple of nights, the gale didn’t appear! It was beautiful, calm and sunny all day and both XC Weather and the BBC were spot on! Boll*cks! That just about sums up the weather situation for the last six weeks for me but let’s be honest, if this is the source of my biggest frustration then life is pretty good!
If I dare to look at the forecast there appears to be a potential weather window tomorrow and that might even mean wind in a favourable direction. So it’s fingers, toes, Bristol Rock and Cobblers Awls crossed me old cocker!
It’s not bad here. No actually it’s very pleasant but whatever, it’s much much better than being stuck in Peterhead and to be fair, with a gene pool this small I should feel right at home so I might even mix with the locals later tonight.
I am imagining a scenario where I walk into the local pub and get laughed at as the ‘soft southern shandy drinker’ who got thoroughly wound up about a made up gale and lost his bottle’. Oh well, I’ll have to take that if it is delivered so let’s just see what happens…….
Finally, there is a new video under the ‘Other bits’ section. With apologies it’s a bit longer than usual but it was quite difficult to condense my 24 hours of nervousness and fear in Loch Eriboll into anything under eight minutes!
The harbour entrance with it’s breakers P1060022P1060025P1060028
Safe and shelteredP1060013
The view each side of the harbour entrance. Even the birds look hard.P1060042P1060044P1060043
Cute little crescent beach and the Brothock Burn that runs out to sea from Arbroath
P1060031P1060040
Ok ok, so there’s one less lobster pot than I said….P1060051

2 thoughts on “Heading South

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