I escaped from Arbroath on Saturday. I tried hard with the poor wind direction to make a sail out of it by heading into the entrance of the Firth of Forth in order to put a corner in my course and hopefully get the sails up along the coast to Eyemouth. However when I reached the point at which I planned to turn the wind shifted through 50 degrees and was once again on the nose for the rest of the trip! Yet another 8 hour slog with the engine in confused seas ensued. Eight hours can fly by when you’re having fun but this eight hours was another session of torture, something similar to crawling through broken glass with your cock out and I found myself apologising to Fiesta again for making her do this. Fortunately after a few hours and once well clear of the mouth of the Forth the sea state got better and we pushed on to Eyemouth where I was escorted into the harbour by one of a family of very tame seals that swam alongside Fiesta through the entrance and all the way to the pontoon. What I didn’t realise at the time was that he was expecting a tip for this as most boats that he escorts in will give him a fish dinner for his trouble. Sorry mate.
As has been the norm and continues to be so, a gale was on it’s way and for the next two days the wind howled and I made the most of relaxing other than a few walks out including one to the petrol station to get forty litres of diesel and then stretch my arms all the way back. Yes I could have got a taxi but I actually see it as a work out because I am not cycling much at all and although sailing the boat can sometimes be heavyish work, there’s nothing like carry 20 kg’s on each arm for a mile to get the heart rate up.
At last there was a change of fortunes from a wind direction perspective and on Tuesday the gale had blown through and a force 7 from the northwest looked set for the next few days. A force 7 is not my preferred wind strength in which to venture out but I have learnt that sometimes you just have to take what is on offer in order to make progress and as long as it is blowing on your side or anywhere from behind then Fiesta loves it. It was quite rough after the gale but again, when you are going with the sea, it’s a peace of cake and there were views aplenty along the way with Bamburgh Castle, followed by sailing inside the Farne Islands and then finally passing Dunstanburgh Castle before arriving at my destination. Jib only, 42 miles and 6 hours later I arrived at Amble marina which is another nice fishing harbour with a marina squeezed in the corner.
Arriving in Amble also marked my return to England. I was more than a little sad as I lowered my Scottish courtesy flag after such an incredible three month tour but at the same time I was happy that despite roughing me up on a few occasions she had finally let me pass albeit with a force 7 kick up the arse for good measure!
I stayed in Amble for one night and then pushed on for a relatively short hop of 16 miles to Blythe in much the same conditions. It was great sail and included a 5 mile stretch through an area where hundreds of sea birds were dive bombing into the water for fish. Really spectacular and a treat to watch.
The marina at Blythe is owned by the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club and they have one long north facing visitors pontoon so that is where I moored. Yet again, another gale was on it’s way but this time it was predicted to be a severe gale 9. Lately I have become quite accustomed to dodging these weather systems and it has worked out quite well thanks to plenty of head scratching, talking it through with myself and then making the decision of should I stay or should I go? I am aware that any such decision also requires a helping hand from Lady Luck when running between gales from harbour to harbour but harbours aren’t always as safe as you might think, as I was to discover.
On Wednesday night I went to bed feeling totally safe and secure alongside the pontoon in Blythe marina despite the imminent severe gale 9. The gale was forecast to come from the west or northwest and right in front of me was a big commercial jetty that would give me good shelter from that direction so I went to bed without any worries being in the ’safety’ of the marina. My alarm call came earlier than in Loch Eriboll but it was the same noise. Loud howling and getting louder. I instinctively knew that I should get up at least for a look and when I opened the door it was nearly ripped out of my hand. The wind was blowing straight across the harbour from a north or north east direction straight on to the side of Fiesta and a swell in the harbour was already building.
‘Oh sh*t, this might not be pleasant’ was my immediate feeling. As I got dressed the howling changed and much to my dread the shrieking sound returned and my speed dressing reached fever pitch as Fiesta jerked and snatched at her mooring lines. Within 30 seconds it went nuclear and I jumped onto the pontoon to see three of my five fenders squeezed out as the now 50 knot wind (yes that magic number again) battered Fiesta against the pontoon with frightening ferocity. The fenders were popping out because as usual they were tied to the life lines on the boat but as the boat bounced up and down in the swell at a different rythm to the rise and fall of the pontoon they were pulled out and once they are out, with 50 knots blowing against the side the boat there is simply no way of pushing the boat back out to get them in again and even though I managed to jam a couple back down in other places they were immediately popped out by the next wave that rolled under Fiesta.
And so it was again that I was outside fighting the elements in total blackness getting soaked from the waves breaking on the pontoon and the spray being whipped up from the water. It wasn’t easy to walk along the pontoon in that wind so it was a case of keeping low so as not to get blown off into the water. I was all too aware that whilst this situation wasn’t good, falling into the water would make it infinitely worse. I fought hard, as hard as I could but it was futile and in the end I rigged another line up to the centre of the boat and started the engine. By motoring against the line I could swing the stern out against the wind and leave it in gear while I tied some different fenders to the pontoon rather than to the boat and because they were ball shaped rather than sausage shaped I could set them just under the edge of the pontoon where there was no way they could be squeezed out. Then I put the engine astern and swung the bow out and did the same that end. I thought I had it licked because there were two huge fenders tied to the pontoon 40 feet away so I untied them but they had been in the water for so long that their bottom halves were totally encrusted with barnacles and mussels and that combination on the side of Fiesta would have been like coarse sand paper so I had to borrow some unused fenders from a another boat and get these in the gap. To do this was a full on fight for over an hour and it wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the local seagull population use that pontoon as their toilet and bird shite mixed with water makes for an ice rink so trying to get any grip when pushing the boat was both difficult and dangerous. I say dangerous because at this point you are working in the gap between the boat and the pontoon in the dark. My old man placed the danger firmly in both Joanna’s and my mind as youngsters that you DO NOT under any circumstances get any body part between the boat and the pontoon or jetty and his words were ringing clear as a bell through my ears during the entire fight. I promise I am not being dramatic here but had I got a leg trapped whilst trying to stamp a fender in place then it would have been snapped like a twig, there is no doubt about that. The loads imposed on boats in 50 knot winds are utterly overpowering. In the end I think we have survived ok other than a few scratches to Fiesta’s hull, a few grazes to me and a swollen finger.
The final insult came when the wind decreased and I went back inside soaked to the skin, bruised, battered, exhausted and freezing cold and Max had the cheek to look up at me from his comfy cushion and shiver. Max you really are a little prick!
I’m going to do my best not to sound like a tool for this next bit but if I do come across that way then I apologise.
I would like to think that I have been mindful and cautious in my approach to this entire trip but I have been taught a lesson. As I have said before, this coast has been tough for me and I don’t mind admitting that whilst getting preoccupied with the thought of the crossing from Isles of Scilly to Ireland, the tidal dangers of the west coast of Scotland and the perils of the exposed north coast I totally underestimated the challenge of the east coast and the higher latitudes of the North Sea. It has certainly been hard work for me and I feel like I have taken a few beatings.
What this has made me think about is that we are all really lucky to live safe and sanitised lifestyles. If I cast my mind back over previous years I can recollect being genuinely scared three times. Once was on a ride at the end of Brighton Pier with Amy back in about 2010. I know it sounds pretty soft to be scared by a fairground ride but I was! Then there were two occasions riding a motorbike when I experienced the adrenaline surge of real fear but that’s it. So a total of three times in seven years. Now, looking at this trip, I have been anxious countless times, nervous at the start of any lengthy sail and properly and thoroughly, no deeply scared three times in the last month. My adrenalin making machine must be wondering what the hell is going on.
Living with the sea and the coast full time has delivered some difficult situations and has truly made me realise that we spend most of our time in completely safe and controlled environments but if you wander even slightly out of that safe zone mother nature is there to show you how powerful she really is and how easy it is to get mercilessly stamped on.
I have always found weekend sailing a pleasure and dare I say nearly always easy but you get to choose your weather or stay in the safety of your home berth. When you are doing this full time, it can be bloody hard work. I have never once regretted setting out to do this, quite the opposite in fact and whilst my job in London came with periods of stress and also the concern that any city worker has felt thanks to some of our rag clad brethren, this trip has given me my highest of highs but has also tested me like I have never been tested before. It has shown me beauty and isolation I hadn’t previously experienced and put me in situations of genuine adrenaline pumping fear during which there is no one else to lean on and no option other than to try and solve the problem alone. And once on top of the problem, my god, that’s a feeling of complete and utter relief.
Would I do this trip again? Yes, in a heartbeat and I’m sure I would learn as much second time round as I have so far this time.
Finally, I’ve got to share something that I found absolutely hilarious. Just before I left Arbroath I was once again having a chat with the harbourmaster about fisherman and their general distain for yachties.
He said ‘They don’t call us Yachties, they call us Wafi’s’.
‘Oh really, what does that mean then’?
‘Wind Assisted F*cking Idiots’!
Top marks there for a high quality insult and whilst there is a healthy mutual disregard between us wafi’s and fishermen, one thing I do respect is that the very conditions that have overwhelmingly scared me lately are simply what those boys would call their office!
And finally finally!!! Probably just in the nick of time before I descend into madness brought on by being alone for the last two months, Joanna is coming up to visit me this weekend for a few days which I’m really looking forward to followed shortly afterwards by a week long visit from Sarah which will be great and hopefully my social skills will be up to it.
Fingers crossed that as far they are concerned, I will come across as normal, whatever ‘normal’ is…..
There are some big nasties to avoid on the way in to Eyemouth
Gale 8 out there but that doesn’t faze these boys
Really tame seals as long as you are not a seagull!
The castles on route to Amble
Sailing inside the Farne Islands