Derry City, 14th June 2010
Finally departure date arrived. Looking at the forecast for the previous week, it seemed that we would have light southerly winds for the first 48 hours and nothing serious after that. So we agreed to leave at 4.30 on friday and overnight it. I was on board the previous night so had the chance to do a good look over before everyone arrived. A fuel leak had been discovered in old copper pipes a few days before and I was reassured to find the new pipework seemed good. Anne had been saying for ages that her sensitive nose always smelt diesel when she came onboard. I had thought it was just the bilges but on investigating more I found corrosion and replaced with rubber fuel pipes. God bless Anne's nose !!!!!
So we set off with good winds from the stern quarter and clocked up 5-6+ knots for the first couple of hours before the winds eased enough to bring out the cruising chute. The seas were a bit rolly at first but gradually eased with the wind. John, James and Anne were making their first night passage and conditions seemed ideal. After a good feed we settled into gentle sailing before having to turn on the engine when the winds died at 10pm. We had agreed a 2 hour watch each and the crew got into the rhytmn of looking out for lighthouses to mark our way and ships to avoid. There was little commercial traffic to worry us. Most coped with the onerous task of maintaining watch, though some did go a little crazy, being spotted dancing on deck during the early hours !!! The only minor difficulty we found (besides those onboard !) was thick fog which came in just before my watch. Lots of concentration on chartplotter and radar as well as constant looking around. But it burned off by 8am after we had passed Belfast.
Thereafter came the question of where we were going to land. Originally I had thought Scotland might be a possibility but as we got into the tidal current of the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, we saw that we would be fighting the tide for 20 miles to go to Gigha. So instead, we opted to go to Rathlin Island, of the North East tip of Northern Ireland. We arrived through sea haze and fog blowing over the hills of the island. But it cleared on approach to leave a bright sunshine. A great end to a first of the summer passages. 119 miles in 20 hours, sadly most of it under motor.
We relaxed, even the skipper snoozed (surprise, surprise !) and the more brave among us took a bike and cycled off to the bird sanctuary on the west end of the island. The sun remained strong which was a great reward for our efforts in getting to Rathlin. The next reward was Anne's spectacular plum chicken for dinnner. And befor you knew it, we were all tucked up in bed snoring like the lairds we are.
What happened over the next few days depended on the weather. We could either sail the North coast of Ireland or go to the Scottish Islands. The weather looked like winds might be favorable for a few days, so we haded north. Originally we planned on Gigha but ended up in Jura 42 miles later after a cracking sail. We were sailing close to the wind, enough to fill the sails well and allow for some compeditive steering by the crew. There was even a chance for some boat surfing manoevers as the boat heeled over in the winds. As we got closer to Islay the wind started to gust towards 20 knots and we reefed in to keep comfortable. Cloud early in the day gave way to strong sun again so we arived into Craighouse on Jura in flying form after a great 8 hours sail. That evening after John's stuffed pork feed, we adjourned to the pub in the local hotel beside the Distillery (did I mention they make whiskey on Jura????). We invented a new biathlon competition, since we are so sporty: darts and pool. Needless to say, our efforts were impressive and a champion was found, though we can't remember who it was.
At this stage, I should report on the highly compeditive nature of the crew on board Suckin' Diesel on this trip. You may conjour up images of people frantically pulling this and tugging that, shouting etc. Actually the competition had a number of events:
We awoke to fog in Craighouse, thick enough that we had to navigate by memory to the pontoon in the morning. We had a quick stroll around before heading out to sea. The day was mild with the fog clearing. Light winds meant motoring on glassy seas. The fog returned as what little winds there was started dying away. We motored past Port Ellen and up Loch Indall to Bowmore. I had never anchored there before. The only thing about it is that you have to anchor 200 metres offshore. But with light winds and a spectacular sunset, it seemed like sailing paradise. After dinner, we went for a stroll. The town was quiet at 9pm with locals sitting in cars or else taking photos of the lovely sunset.
The next morning we planned a distillery tour but the skipper messed up by speeding in too fast to the pontoon in Bowmore. We hit a bit of metal sticking out and punctured the dinghy. Quick thinking meant that it would deflate fast if we left it. So the crew headed off to the tour while the skipper nursed the dinghy back to the boat to patch it up. The glue says it must be left 24 hours to dry so we were in a quandry. I contemplated sailing single handed to Port Ellen, our next stop with the others coming by bus. But they managed to get a lift out to the boat with a local. The word got around that some sailors had a problem and the locals made great efforts to help. Many thanks!
After getting everyone back on board we headed off in light winds south out of Loch Indall. We ghosted along at 3 knots dead downwind, goosewinging the cruising chute and the yankee. Evantually at the Mull of Oa the wind eased and we motored into Port Ellen. It was busy there but we managed to find a berth alongside some nervous old folks who seemed worried that we would crush their boat as we reversed in alongside them. There was a blow forecast so we tied her up well. Since we were back on mains power, we put the immersion on and all had showers, before watching a video James had brought with him on his external hard drive. What decadence!!
Wednesday morning woke us to the wind we expected but since we didn't have to go anwhere, we just lazed in bed. We readjusted the mooring lines a bit but were content to ride out the blow. Naturally, we had to visit a distillery. Indeed, James and John really took to their duties by visiting Laphroaig as well as Lagavulin with me and Anne. I had been a number of times before but still find the tours very informative. The wee dram afterwards helps as well!! For dinner we had venison, a real treat for the skipper.
The day after the blow we had considered going from Islay around Malin Head into Lough Swilly, but the distance and the tides meant that we would have a 13 hour passsage and arrive around midnight. We decided instead to go to Portrush where John could easily get a train back to Dublin. We sailed in lovely winds, not to our destination, but to Giants Causeway, for photo opportunities. We were not disappointed, finding the winds eased enough to sail slowly parallel to the coast, while enjoying the views.
Though not a cultural gem, the people in Portrush were as welcoming as ever. Angus is the new harbourmaster who replaced Richard who retired last year. He is very pleasant and organised, having fuel and water pipes ready for us in the morning so we could fill up before leaving. 5 mins after tying up Charlie popped over in his dinghy to say hello and welcome back. Charlie is a local boat owner who had helped me out when I was in the area a few years back when I had an oil leak in the engine.
So, sadly John left to return to the big smoke. We had a wee stroll around the seaside town, which looked like it was suffering in the downturn. Last time I was in Portrush 2 years ago, it was notable the number of apartments going up but now many are for sale as well as many of the older buildings which are in need of modernisation. The wind was forecast to be on the nose so going around Malin was definitely out for the next day or two. So we decided to go to Moville, on the Donegal side of Lough Foyle and review from there. We had great steering practice for Anne and James as we had to tack towards the entrance to Lough Foyle. The wind set up 1 metre waves at times but we were soon honking along, with the drivers getting used to the procedure of setting up fast tacks without losing too much boatspeed. We were sailing in company now with a French single hander called Michel who we had first seen in Islay. The wind rose to 6 and we were sailing with 2 reefs which gave us over 8 knots as we approached the entrance to the Lough. On going in, the seas and winds eased as we approached Moville. We anchored off and waited for Aoife to arrive by road from Dublin. Anne, James and Michel went ashore for a stroll while I cooked. Michel joined us for another of those intercultural evenings onboard.
The forecast wasn't great for rounding Malin again so we decided to go up the Lough to Derry. Kevin, Liz and co joined us for the spin. Winds were erratic and we sailed most of the way in light shifty breezes, before motoring up the river. We went slowly as Michel was following us and had no chart. We were overtaken by a number of racing yachts we had seen racing arount the marks around Moville. Approaching the pontoon in Derry, we saw why the other boats rushed to pass us as the pontoon was packed. There was a maritime festival going on in town but they were organised so managed to move a boat to allow us berth. So by chance we had happened on an opportunity for free berthing in the middle of all the fun. It was also near the bus station for Anne to get a bus home the following day. I was really glad for her with all the variety of experiences she had on this trip. I even think she feels that she is becoming a better sailor. I certainly feel that she has achieved a lot, especially in the tricky tacking in strong winds into Lough Foyle.
After Anne left, overcast skies and unsettled forecasts made the decision for me. I would not go around Malin this year. James and Aoife wanted to be tourists so a drive around Donegal sounded like the trick, and use the boat in Derry as a base. So I paid for a few nights to do my laundry and a few repairs, to chill out before Derrick arrives.