The barometer was rising. At close of play Saturday it was 986 and this morning 993. Quite a bit of movement but in the right direction. These figures reinforced the forecasts and it looked like we were on track for an afternoon departure out to Rockall and then on to Ireland. This would be the single biggest leg of the trip and I was looking forward to some time offshore.
With 4-5 days duration I could expect the weather information to be accurate for the first few days, then I would be relying on data from the radio and Navtex. I had seen the forecast change dramatically in my favour over the past few days, so realistically could expect it to go the other way on the leg down to Ireland. That was ok... as long as the wind was aft abeam, Slamat had proved she could handle it. In real terms we are talking probable force 7-8 maybe force 9, max... f8 was a regular feature on the shipping forecast in this area, but I had only heard f9 a few times over the past month.
I started getting ready for a 1500 departure as planned. Water, provisions, shower and start getting Slamat ready. There always seems a lot to do, and the more you can do alongside in the quiet of the harbour the better. Canopy down, main cover off, extra dock lines stowed, water boiled, coffee made.. time to go.
15.30 slip lines and out into the bay. It still looked pretty rough and I wondered if I was leaving a bit early, but I knew that I had to take a bit of weather early to get into Ireland before the next weather system came down.
3 reefs in and steady. The wind was showing 15 kts TWS (true wind speed) ... what was I worried about.
During the blow in Scalloway my max TWS had been 28 kts where as both my neighbours had been 39, so I knew I was reading a bit low. However, I could think of no good reason to adjust the inaccuracy, and besides, I love having a fast, light wind boat.
As I made my way out of the protection of the islands the swell started to become significant. I guess we had a 3 meter Atlantic swell coming down just aft abeam and with some current influence it felt quite large. This was the hangover from the night before, and we could expect the sea to moderate over the next few hours as we cleared the land and the sea took on the characteristics of the current easingconditions before showing what was to be expected.
We were sailing along well 2 reefs in and the afternoon passed enjoyably as I got used to the motion and listened to the legend spot at Glastonbury... Barry Gibb followed by Chic and Nail Rogers... great stuff.
By 17.30 we were at the top end of reef 2 with 17 kts on the dial. Healing well at 20 degrees we were comfortable and some 6 miles south of the outlying island of Foula. I started working on a bit of nav.
The Uk and Ireland charts I had purchased failed to show as far west as our outlying island. Reeds (Almanac) had a waypoint and the Garmin charts showed the rock some 1 mile north of the Reeds position. Reeds also mentioned in passing Helens reef, 2 nm ENE of the rock with 1.2m water and breaks heavily in any sea...terrific. I spent some time just plotting the max north possible position of the rock and then plotted the reef on the data I had. Drawing an approach line 2 miles north of the reef I should be clear on my approach from the north east. I was still unsure what time I would get there, and the likely conditions. There was a chance it could be filthy weather and the rock would be unseen... I did know, however, that between the rock and Helens reef is a favoured squid fishing ground so was hopeful that there may be a fishing boat or two showing their track on the AIS which would help to confirm my plot. Anyway, that was a few days away.
The barometer was rising fast and the conditions were as expected...we were going well. The sea was still a little unsettled... a reaction to Foula I guess, but ok so I started on dinner.
Red stew, but I would make a decent amount while conditions allowed. ....usual..... onion, garlic, potatoes, courgette, cabbage, carrots, tin tomatoes, beef stock cube and tray of meatballs in tom sauce from the butcher in Scalloway.
As I put the lid on the pressure cooker a few bits fell off in my hand, some sort of bit from the pressure release system. I guess the old pot was doing well. I had inherited it from a similar boat I had bought in 1999, so although it had been in my warehouse for 14 of those years it really was due for an upgrade. I guessed it was only a skin wound and would be ok.... actually there was no plan B so it was going to work.
Being out of the shipping lanes I could expect little traffic. The boats I might see would be fishing boats and knowing that fishing boats prefer not to be watched, I was unsure how reliant I could be on the AIS for any vessel under 300 grt...... I had an old but favoured bit of kit on board, time to break out the CARD system.
I set up the collision avoidance radar detector (CARD) system, a tool I had used on different boats over the years. Last used in the gulf of Aden in 2011, it fired up and seemed to work fine. This unit just listens, and when it is touched by any radar it show, on a basic screen, the approximate direction and signal strength. Its location ability is not great, it just tells me someone else is out there and I need to take a look. It appeared that I was getting a signal.... this took a while to work out, but after thinking, it looked like I was getting a regular small blip at 15 seconds and 45 seconds past the minute on my watch. This was too regular for any shipping and I put it down to my own AIS transmission. Once discounted then card was on station and working away... another set of eyes on deck.
By 2200 the wind had eased and with 2 reefs in and full jib, the sun shone out low on the horizon, giving a warm orange glow.... a nice day coming, time for some sleep.
22.30 ship in the dying sun.... of course...there must be some traffic up to Sullom Voe oil terminal from the west.... another ship... fishing boat... I'm on the Turbot bank for another 5 miles.
Monday 26 June
0200 and a fast get up as I heard a crash from deck.....ok... the jib car had run down the track for some reason. Sorted out and back to sleep. On passage I sleep ready for deck, so seaboots on, full ollies and usually life jacket. That way I can respond immediately. It just feels safer like that and although its often cold and damp, it has to be a special night to relax that regime.
Overnight the wind eased, so reef out, and increased, so reef back in... etc. I could see the light of Westray (Orkney islands) 30 miles on my port quarter and although we had made about 75 miles, Rockall still felt a long long way away.
The wind was easing and we went through the full sail moment until by 0945 I had the reacher up and we were back up to speed. I had last flown this sail off Dungeness.... eons ago
With then calmer conditions I managed a good breakfast of bacon and eggs... always good for moral after a fitful night. It had been cold overnight, and damp, adding to that feeling so with the sun now out and a dryer breeze coming from astern things were looking up and a lot more cheery.... Lavazza time
The wind was backing a little, so we were off course slightly, but the reacher was pulling well and we were making progress..... still some 330nm to Rockall. The wind was easing, and as such the apparent wind angle was less stable, giving Sven a hard time. I was loath to use the autopilot as we had a long way to go and It would be working hard in the swell and using precious power. We would just take the yawing about and hope things improved.
I took the opportunity to reprogram the Navtex . We were coming into a different forecast region and I wanted to pick up Malin head and other stations that would give a more relevant forecast. The latest forecast had the wind NE 3-4 up to 5 later... that sounded perfect.
Looking out I saw a dark windy sky... reacher down..... Not exactly a text book drop... but down and dry... ho hum.. no wind ... reacher back up but with a tack modification and a fuller hoist she was performing better
By 13.30 we were just lopping about with little wind and many miles to go. You get these changing moments when the conditions reset themselves and I felt that this was the change happening.
Having been overcast for all of yesterday the batteries were ok but showing 12.7v so could do with a boost, and with 299 to Rockall I wanted to push on. Lopping about in 3kts of wind is a bit dull. Had I been more motivated ( and younger) I may have got out the 150 percent mylor sail and carried on at 4 kts, but switching the engine on seemed easier and I could get the fresh food cold in the fridge and charge the batteries while I had the chance.
I had a power nap and noticed that the swell was nowbuilding from the N and at 3 meters it looked like some wind was on the way. I could now see the islands of Rona and Sula Sgeir 15 odd miles to the south and we had some birds... fulmar, gannets and a puffin or two... lovely. The water had turned a sort of jade green and being on a 45m bank there was a fishing boat to port.... quite busy.
At 17.30 I saw my first big sea life... well what I saw was 2 fins from, I thought, pilot whales. I watched expectantly for 15 minutes expecting to see some sort of display...., breaching, tail slapping, leaping out of the water. What I saw was nothing. Just the 2 fins once, then nothing. Ok so this wasn't going to be a big sighting trip. On Pegasus we were so luck to see masses of sea life every time we went to sea. The cold N Atlantic had proved to be the most successful area for us with orca swimming around the boat and dolphins most days.... Slamat was proving slightly different. I hoped things improved.
By 1900 the wind was starting to fill in. Engine off, we were sailing again. I put on some music ... Ed Sheeran...great... and had a little dinner. The reacher was pulling well and we were making 4.5kts and all was well.
I was gybing downwind with the reacher and not having done it before, my system was working well but I'm not sure it would work in heavier conditions. I will need to work on that.
The wind was due to pick up early in the morning, and with the first signs of increasing wind I called time on the reacher, packed her away dry and set up the pole to goosewing the jib and have a nice stable down wind rig.
Tuesday 27 June
The wind was freshening slowly, and a precautionary reef in the main made no real difference in speed, just allowed a quick kip knowing there was plenty of scope in the gate.
Sven was now steering a much better course and with a reef in the main and full Jib Slamat was beautifully balanced dead downwind, making good speed and on course...good news.
0330 and a couple of fishing boats to port. We were now 60 miles N of Lewis in 16kts ENE wind. I was starting to feel the cold again, and surprisingly I had a sore throat and was sneezing. I dropped a couple of Neurofen as some sort of treatment... there wasn't much in the box for a cold...major trauma yes...cold no.
With the morning light came breakfast... bacon and egg sandwich and I was looking forward to the day ahead. I had a good wash, shave and freshen up and dug out my purchases from Lerwick. I had bought a pair of Icelandic woollen socks, and they were looking very appealing. I put them on and managed to get my boots back on...much improved.
With steady winds we were pushing on well....180 to Rockall. I wrote... wind astern, moderate f5 couldn't ask for better.
At 17.30 we gybed the pole and set on starboard tack.....the wind was backing as expected, and I noted the barometer had started falling slowly. Things were changing.
I was now off the plate and into the deep water, 1000+ m so the sea was evening out and becoming more regular. Still a healthy 3m from the north but not 4 small ones then a huge one sort of deal.
Easy dinner, sausages, onion and beans... very good, quick and all washed up and cleared up early. We were clocking up the miles and it looked like an ETA at the rock 1500 Wednesday. Great sailing conditions and all was well, music on board and feeling good. My throat was hurting a bit and trying sing along to the tunes I noticed I was loosing my voice... oh well.
Looking around it was dark and rainy to stb and clear and bright to pt. Slamat was in a great spot, on the edge of the cloud and dry. We had 100 miles to go and were in the deep water...1800+m.. water temp touching 13degrees (from 11 in Shetland) and nearly off the chart.
Wednesday 28 June
Second reef in. Bit precautionary but wanted a good sleep. I had a couple of sleep sessions and was finding the motion quite difficult. I felt disorientated and after 3 nights at sea was starting to feel the discomfort of the motion. Slamat was yawing about a bit and with the wind backing the waves were beam on and it was quire rock and roll. Just not as young as I used to be i guess!!
I tried to change the set up for comfort.. coming up a bit and dropping the goose wing etc. That worked for a while. I noticed that the control lines on Sven were fraying after the motion of the night, so I spent a moment just moving the line a few inches through the yolk so the wear was on a fresh section of line..good for another long day of serious motion.
06.15 and poled out again,. 50 miles to Rockall... and the barometer had risen a point... good news
0700...feeling exposed and alone. And of course at that exact moment the AIS alarm sounded. Ship ahead on an exact reciprocal course...fish in the scupper, and a lone fulmar ... not really alone at all.
I took the opportunity to test the CARD system.. all well. Wind was picking up and We were starting to take some water over the cockpit. Wind peaking 18, so second reef in and bear away for comfort.
Things were changing again, so at 09.30 I had a good tidy up. Pole away, ropes tidy, cockpit tidy... all set.... Lavazza time.
By 10.30 it was apparent that the sea had changed. It seemed younger, more unregulated, more teenage, unpredictable, changing direction, slapping the hull a touch, time for 3rd reef as seeing 22+ on the dial. Feeling better. 27 to Rockall.
Much more white water about, aquamarine seas with pearl white crests... beautiful and powerful. Quite magical.... Couple of big broadsides, water over the cockpit, spray all over the place... I am down below...ha ha
Getting windier so reef the jib.... the heads of both sails are even height.. nice balance but still plenty of broadsides. Starting to hear 8's mentioned on radio, but not Rockall..... yet.
13.30 and getting a bit rough, so put in a couple of wash boards..just in case. Lots of bird life around now with gannets and fulmars etc. Some arrival anxiety developing... will I actually find it...where is that reef, why can't I see any fishing boats..I'm only 20 miles off
14.30 ship sighted on AIS... and 10 minutes later I can see the rock. Lots of birds everywhere and 3 fishing boats. Great.... now where is that reef. On assessment I recon I am well clear of the reef and after avoiding the boats I make a lazy port bearing away.
At 1500 I pop in the gybe and start heading south. The West is done. On past the rock but waves astern now, the wind has eased and the sun is out...beautiful conditions...how lucky.
1530 abreast Rockall ... off to the Shannon, 329 to go. 1 reef out and full jib, lovely sunshine and off we go. The dept sounder had touched 75m by the rock but was now back off the scale.. I had been close enough thank you.
16.20 and the wind is back so 3rd reef back in and a few roles on the jib. Bit slower but more comfortable.
By 1900 the sea had changed again. Much bigger now. Big breaking seas abeam so cockpit a bit scary. No reason to be out there so down below. Its a bit unnerving to see a big white growler 5 ft from your face, Slamat rose and it slapped but little came in. With the unpredictability of the waves it would be even more important to clip on but I wanted to limit my exposure on deck. It all looked pretty dangerous.
Dinner was an easy affair, same as last night, sausages and beans. All done and cleared up. I started a book...easy reading, lee Childs...great to take your mind off a windy rough night. With 3 reefs in and half jib we were steady and mid sail gate so plenty of scope for gusts. Sven was doing a great job and little prospect of shipping. AIS and CARD on watch...I'm wedged in the bunk, good book, little music... all very sustainable for a long night...just a little cold and damp in my oillies and sea boots, but need to be ready to respond ....if that time came it would be super time sensitive.
Thursday 29 June
0400 and blowing a bit harder. Starting to get a little concerned about power. Batteries now 11.9v and 37% I would need to charge at some point.
My grib files were starting to be a little unreliable...they had done well. The 0520 shipping forecast was pretty difficult to hear and scratchy but f8 expected Rockall and Shannon later, .. both my areas...looks like it was going to get rough and windy. With that news I needed good power so started the engine on tick over to charge batteries. They say that you should run the engine under load, but there was no way of loading the engine other than the alternator, and I just needed power, it would have to do.
0700 couple of noticeably big side swipes, full wave over the stern... quite spooky.
Time for a good deck check. Tightened tiller nuts, Sven good, rig good, sails good, ropes etc secure.. a few fulmars about and a tern taking a good look at the mast head...all looking a little better in the light, barometer up a point but thinking that it should be falling if wind coming??
0900 motion feeling a little better so decide to make dinner. White stew. Usual, onion, carrots broccoli, leek, garlic, potatoes, pack veg soup, 2 cups water and 2 packs Swedish meat balls from Peterhead...hope they are ok.
I was a bit worried about the f8 forecast. I real terms that should be high 20s or low 30s on my Navman, and I have had 28s off the wash, so couldn’t be that bad. The sun was out and things always look better in the sun.
Over the day the wind backed so put the waves more on the beam. The seas were big and the motion quite uncomfortable but Slamat was making miles and heading south. Water temp was going up which was great and now was 13.5.
By 1400 I had the pole back out and was heading dead downwind. I was a bit nervous about going onto the foredeck in the swell but it was worth it. Slamat and Sven much happier with the goosewing arrangement.
Our daily runs were all looking as expected. Dr1 148,dr2 137 dr3 145 dr4 157....so still pretty happy with performance well done Slamat.
We were racing down towards the Shannon with 180 miles to go. We were still in the deep water and looked like we would pass onto the plate in a compression area. On our track the water depth went from 2800 m to 190m in just 15 miles so I could expect the sea to be bigger in that area.
The wind was now really up and I was looking for ways to shorten sail. I tried pulling the main in, so feathering backwards and that was effective. We were definitely more comfortable now.
1900, and the wind and waves are getting pretty big now. The motion was quite rough below, so I was glad I had dinner sorted. It was just a question of turning on the gas and waiting for the pot to whistle. Turn off the gas and wait for the pressure to drop... job done and really rather good.
21.30 and the sea bed was rising. The waves were really rather big.. 25ft average, some 35 footers... just really big and steep, with hissing white foam rolling off the top. The Navtex indicated that the gale was over in Malin and was expected in Shannon. I was in Malin and headed to Shannon, so looked like I was 100 miles behind the big wind... lucky.
At 2200 I was just coming up on the plate. 3fishing boats ahead and trawling... or looked like it, and all right on my track. I was pretty tied and I didn't need this right at this time. The waves were pretty large and being goosewinged I was limited in my ability to manoeuvre. I called on the vhf but no response which can often be the way. One boat was just stopped and time was running out for a gentle course alteration. I called and explained my situation asking for his intentions. At that point he started moving and turning out of my track... great.... no need to go beam on, or gybe. The seas were large, with big holes opening up as the seabed changed below.
Friday 30 June
By 0600 I was feeling cold, damp and tired. The motion was getting to me and I was looking forward to a change. Rockall is not for the faint hearted and considered myself lucky I was not a day ahead or a day behind. I had been very lucky with the weather.
0800 and the wind had definitely eased with strong gusts but definitely less wind between. It was still a good 6 but the worst was over and the sea would only get better and the motion easier from here in.
1100 ....gone are the hissing waves of last night, the sinister nature of the chase..today the waves seem much smaller and less threatening.... sunshine always helps.
11.30 land ahoy...Slyne head spotted through the haze. We were reasonably on course and making good way. After lunch I could take out the 3rd reef. All well except I dropped the winch handle which promptly went overboard. Oh well, it had made good service.
Some bird life about and a puffin.. the wind had eased and with a better motion I was enjoying Frank Gardner "Crisis" (thanks Amanda) so didn't bother taking out the reef, enjoying the relief from the rolly motion.
1800 and life is good, sun out and only 1 precautionary reef in, music, loads of razorbills about, dinner on the go. It looked like Iwould be in the Shannon by 2000 and at anchor by 2200...
1900 and got a text out to Amanda.. all well.
19.30 gybe into the Shannon. What an evening..... Beautiful sunshine, f4 sailing downwind in the calm waters of the Shannon. How wonderful. I had made a fantastic trip. I had done my west and was now on track to meet the family.
I had planned to go into the marina at Kilrush, but being late I seemed better to anchor behind Scattley island and make the lock entry into the marina in the morning.
I turned on the engine and gently motored in calm conditions up to the anchorage and dropped the hook at 22.45.
Wow. Done it. Just a short 2 mile hop into the marina in the morning and then a rest for a few days until the family arrive next week.
I made a coffee and sat in the cockpit thinking about the past few days. The constant motion had really got to me.. I felt physically tired and worn out, but happy and grateful for good weather... it could have been considerably worse and getting a f8 ...from behind .... just a blessing. The forecast was now talking about f9 in Rockall....
I set the anchor alarm and settled down for a good sleep.
Saturday 1 July
0130 and up like a startled rabbit.
Anchor alarm. Just needed a bigger swing radius, so reset it and back to bed. The alarm went off 3 times, and at 0700 I didn't bother going back to bed. I wanted to get into the marina and tied up alongside.
The wind had picked up and I carefully set up Slamat to go into the lock and then alongside. I set up to weigh anchor.... I seemed to be having difficulty tying a rolling hitch....a knot I use regularly, but this morning I couldn’t tie it first hit..... I recognised I must be tired
I made my way up to the lock, but saw a red light so spun round in the tight channel and made a call to the marina manager. I went back to the lock and with a 15kt tail wind I slowly went alongside the pontoon and managed to get a stern line on and tied up. There was an automatic system in the lock, but the lockmaster was there so locked us through into the marina bay.
The wind was picking up, but all I had to do was get alongside and tied up and all would be well. There was plenty of room and I selected my berth and made my approach.
A perfect entry. I hopped over the side, grabbed the breast line and made it fast. The wind was starting to catch the bow, so I pulled in the slack and got some pressure on it pulling it in....
Something was wrong and looking back I could see the breast line slipping off. It had gone... the stern was past the dock and as I pulled in the bow the stern was going out... Slamat was now across the wind and off the dock... oh hell.
She was moving away from the dock and I had to make a decision and act fast. I dropped the bow line and ran down the dock, launching myself over the water towards Slamat. My hands made contact with the lifelines, with my feet in the water, and I dragged myself over the lines and jumped in the cockpit ... bringing her back head to wind..I had control again....
wow ...not text book... very Daniel Craig. I'm too old for this. Slowly I went into the dock again. This time there were a couple of people there to help, and in a blink Slamat was tied up alongside.
I took a moment. Mistakes are made and lessons learned.
Oh well no harm done, but I have definitely had enough adventure for this week.
I need to wash the boat, tidy up a bit, get a good lunch and take a sleep.
I checked into the marina, and serviced Slamat in a basic way, wash, power, canopy etc. In town I found a good lunch and spent a relaxed afternoon sending texts, making calls and reading my engaging book.
Dinner out and back on board early. I thought about the days ahead. I had some jobs to do, nothing pressing, and could spend a few days sorting out Slamat.
Amanda and the boys were scheduled to arrive in Ireland on Wednesday 5th July.
What a week..... Rockall and the West done.....sleep