The planning, work and dreaming actually all come to a point in time where reality meets and the physical actions start.
We all had a lovely Sunday together and Amanda made dinner of fresh prawns and sardine fillets which we all enjoyed together, at 8pm she drove me down to the folly with the last of the provisions, frozen water for the fridge and a few frozen meals to get me going on the first few nights.W e all said our goodbyes and I took the launch up to Slamat on a calm and clear evening, expectant, excited and apprehensive about the journey ahead.
After stowing the boat and sorting out the deck, sail covers off, winch handles in, safety lines rigged - by 9.30 I was all done and settled down with a cup of tea. I sat in the cockpit listening to the muffled sounds of Run DMC who were playing at the Isle of Wight festival some 2 miles upriver.I made up my bunk and set the alarm clock for an early start.
I had looked at the tides and planned to slip lines at 0330, so set the alarm early - needless to say I was up early and by 0230, I had made coffee started the engine and was ready to rock.
The plan had always been to sail around the UK and Ireland.
I thought as we lived here I should really sail around our islands having sailed around so many others. So in keeping with the plan it seemed appropriate that I should start with the Isle Of Wight and had planned to head West out through the needles and then pass St Catherineís to port as I headed East to Dover and up the East coast.
Saturday 10 June
The conditions were great. The last of the West set tide and 8kts of wind from the SW.
At 0230 I slipped lines and headed off down the medina, all seemed well as we motored down the Solent.
I felt a little apprehensive and rusty I half expected to hear a crash or wallop or something as I set off.
0400 and predawn off Yarmouth, wind starting to pick up as expected so first reef in, the reef went in with ease and I was relieved to see that the new reefing system that I had fitted looked like it was going to work well.
On a small boat the sustainability of any sail configuration is more sensitive to variable wind conditions and I was expecting to reef frequently in the variable conditions we can expect in the UK.
0500 and I was out of the Solent, not to return until late August - I hoped, and as I made the bridge buoy I bore off on starboard tack and made for St Catherineís, my next mark. Engine off, fridge off, Sven (sailomat wind vane... my competent crew) set and earning his keep. I settled down, it looked like it was going to be a nice day.
On checking the bilge I noted some water sloshing about. A slight concern - went over the boat thoroughly but could find no apparent leaks, after clearing it out I decided that it must have been some residual water somewhere after the rain of the winter and with the healing motion had found its way out of its hiding place, I would keep my eye on that for further signs of sinking!
0700 abeam St Catherineís and on course to Beachy head and beyond.
The wind was a bit up and down so as I played with the reefs, I worked out the best reefing procedure and use of the safety harness and clip on procedures etc.... With the wind SW at 11knots apparent Slamat was going well at 7 kts and I was pleased with progress. It looked like the work and effort on the hull preparation in the refit was paying off.
In planning the trip it seemed a split decision on which way to go around the UK, clockwise or anti. I had chosen Anti clockwise for a couple of reasons, firstly I knew that once I started I would want to get my teeth into it, and would want a few days offshore to find my feet and rhythm with Slamat and heading West would have started with day sailing in busy waters. In heading East there is also a great tide advantage in the channel and as I carried the East set tide East, so it stayed with me giving 9 hours of East set and only 3 or 4 of west set, a great advantage on spring tides.
The first day was quite busy. After a nice lunch of bread, ham and cheese the wind had backed a little so I started playing a bit with the coloured sails, I had bought a spinnaker snuffer and had it rigged on the tri-radial spinnaker, a sail best used dead downwind. With the wind on the port quarter and having eased I set up the reaching shute.
With the sail configuration on Slamat I had made some decisions earlier in the year and bought a second hand Genoa. In technical terms it would be a jib at about 95% of the fore triangle, but it was a beautiful Carbon double taffeta laminate sail with a rather flat cut, great for windward work and reaching, but on the small side for downwind work, with that in mind I had a large reacher a light wind sail to give Slamat more guff downwind, I set this up and watched the boat speed come back up to 7kts.
As we sailed past Beachy head and on to Dungeness I started to think of the best procedure for taking this rather large sail down.
The one key thing for me on a small boat is to not allow the light wind sails to get wet, stowing a wet sail down below is a nightmare as it tends to make everything damp which is unpleasant and draws down morale in the harder times, so stowing a dry sail is quite key for me.
As the wind came aft it was time to swap out sails so with some luck and cunning timing I took down the reacher and then set up the main spinnaker, as this was in a snuffer she went up with ease.
This was the first time I had set this sail and I retired to the cockpit to take a good look at it and watch its performance, I have to say I wasnít that impressed.
As a tool it only did a pretty limited job and covered only a small wind angle not covered by other sails. It dawned on me that the cruising shute being much less work to rig and covering a much greater wind angle was going to be far more use that the symmetric spinnaker, I was probably only going to use these sails in light winds and the action of the large sail in light wind was always going to bring the apparent wind forward making the cruising shute more appropriate, In heavy winds it would be a goose winged rig so no use for the symmetric kite.
Decision made, I swapped over the snuffer and loaded the cruising shute which would now be my primary downwind sail.The symmetric sail would be retired to stock for occasional work.
So with the cruising shute set and pulling well I settled down to look at progress and the plan, with all the work of the afternoon I was starting to feel a little drawn, I had little sleep Fri night and with nerves and apprehension I felt my energy drain.
Looking ahead I wondered how I would feel at 4am the following morning in the depths of technical navigation through the sand bars and tide gates of the Thames estuary and Suffolk coast.
On the one hand I had a perfect tide situation and favourable wind gate, on the other night was approaching and I had been awake for 18 hours and would need to be alert for at least another 20 before gates became available.
Earlier that afternoon I had a text from my father in law and family who had been watching progress on the AIS live feed over the internet, he had asked if I was going to pull up in Folkestone. I have spent some time in Folkston and Dover and remember seeing a yacht at anchor in the outer harbour in Dover, I remember Folkestone as not being suitable, It seemed like a great plan to just pop into the outer harbour and drop the hook for a good sleep and pick up where I left off 10 hours later, pretty much a no brainer.
Dinner on board, some lovely bolognaise that Amanda had made with potatoes, one pot cooking and a liberal dash of Louisiana gold all very good.... a hot meal and well needed thanks Amanda.
Dover approaching so I took down sail started the engine and 2 miles off contacted port control for permission to access the harbour. I thought this was just a formality but Dover came back with the news that the anchorage was unavailable due to construction work and offered the marina instead. Being single handed and only wanting sleep the thought of the formality and docking procedures of a marina did not work for me, so I asked their advice on other suitable anchorages locally.
There really were none and the suggestion of pulling up off Deal pier we both knew was not really suitable. I signed off resigned to pushing on. With relief Dover came back to me 5 minutes later saying that they would escort me to a suitable place to anchor if I was still interested. Very definitely.
I entered the harbour with a ferocious cross tide and followed the harbour launch to a quiet spot with 5 meters under the keel. I dropped the hook and thanked the departing launch for their help and hospitality.
0145 and day 1 over, I sat for a moment with a cup of tea and reflected on the day. I felt at ease and at one, I now had a much better understanding of Slamat and what she liked and didnít. I felt confidence growing in my ability to achieve what I was attempting and felt much less rusty than I had at 0230 Sat morning, a good day.
This was the first time I had set the new Delta anchor, and although I knew the bottom was soft mud and forgiving, I knew that I would need to work on the procedures for anchor setting and how to get a good hook. This had all been intuitive on Pegasus after so many nights at anchor and I would need to learn again. I set the anchor alarm and went to my bunk happy with a great day at sea and good progress made.
Daily run (DR1) 143nm.
Sun 11 June
Up at 0830 and noticed that I had left the fridge freezer on all night, I usually put it on when the engine is on as this allows the engine to do 2 jobs at once. Having left it on all night battery 1 was showing 12.65v so not the best and I hoped that it would hold out. Having bought the boat last year I had no knowledge of battery age or usage, but suspected that the house battery had regular use so was not at its best. The engine battery I thought was good.
After coffee and downloading the latest grib files (pictorial weather files to overlay on the charting software) I started the engine, up anchor and made my way out of the harbour. With the muddy seabed, I spent some time washing the anchor chain and rode before stowing it away. This is an easy job with a great deck wash pump and hose. At 10am I was exiting Dover harbour and by 11 I was all cleaned up, main up with 1 reef in. The wind was from the W so as I rounded the corner the speed picked up on a nice reach. The forecast showed that I could expect stronger winds increasing over the day and into the night, with easing winds on Monday.
I had some tricky navigation to do and with the shallow waters about I could expect rough conditions. I knew it was going to be a long night, but if I could push through I would be into a nicer weather window and a clear run north.
By 12.30 we had 18kts of wind but I had made it past my first obstacle, the treacherous Goodwin Sands. I was definitely in the North Sea.
With the wind now backed to the south I poled out the jib and had a steady rig as I pushed north. The wind was still up at the 18 mark so it was quite fresh with a reefed jib and 2 reefs in the main. Lunch of cheese and ham sandwiches and pushed on up the Suffolk coast. I past size well power station (the second nuclear power station so far) and as the afternoon pulled in I felt quite alone after the busy shipping of the day.
The wind was due to pick up that evening as I rounded the corner and with the change in direction I would be close to the wind as I tried to fetch past the various sand banks heading north. I considered pulling into Lowestoft but decided against it. If I stopped I would be in a no wind situation the following day and any passage north would be considerably more tiresome.
I rounded the corner and was windward sailing with 3 reefs in and a slip of jib. Of course there was plenty of shipping around now as it was concentrated into the narrow passages between the sand banks. The new AIS was working well and with the audible alarm on both the tablet, phone and on board, I really knew when there was anything within 2 miles of me. It has taken some time to get used to the alarms and initially they made me jump, but now they are a real benefit and I can rely on them to show any approaching traffic that is transmitting their position. Things have really changed in the last 4 years since I was properly offshore.
Dinner on board was some sort of mince to which I added onions, potato, garlic, courgette and cabbage, pressure cooked it and it tasted good, with the addition of a little Louisiana gold it tasted much like the night before. A welcome hot meal.
At 1800 the wind eased and I took out a reef. I didnít think it would be out long as the barometer had been steadily falling one point every 2 hours, change was coming.
10pm and it suddenly got hectic. A blast of wind at 17kts up from 12 had me putting the 2nd reef back in and with half the jib and I was back in the groove.
Monday 12 June
At midnight, with no shipping about and a clear course I tried for a sleep. I managed two 40 minute sessions and felt much better. I was starting to feel cold and noted that it was 15 degrees in the cabin. Time for another jumper.
Sleeping while using a wind vane in confined areas has its dangers. If the wind changes direction so do we, but at 7 knots thatís only 5 miles max possible deviation on a 90 degree wind shift so I could calculate the risk out.
0300 and time to harden up again. Close hauled with 3 reefs in and half jib I was only just making the course of 310 degrees and with 40 miles to run it was going to be a long morning. My wind instruments were showing 10-12 kts true wind and 16 kts apparent wind speed. I was having trouble believing it.. It didnít look good if Slamat can only sail in 12 kts true wind to windward with 3 reefs needed. By my reckoning we had 25 + kts of wind when I stuck my head up... something not quite right. I think the unit is just under reading.
0320 Ė Pre dawn with plenty of shipping about and Slamat was hard pressed to get past Hainsbourough Sands. I needed a keen course to make the mark, but Sven was showing signs of wear and the spreader blocks that route the steerage lines had broken their ties. Time for a little maintenance.
Once sorted we were back on track. The wind was up and so were the waves. The seas were really nasty.
With a 9ft breaking sea and a 20-25 ft frequency (approx 3 seconds) abeam Slamat was really launching off the waves and crashing down. The only other time I had seen seas like this was in N Australia in the Joseph Bonaparte gulf where we spent a miserable 24 hours on passage in Pegasus. The sea was a real teenager ... unlike the mature nature of a deep Atlantic or Pacific swell. ..If any of the winter glass work was going to fail it would be here. We were taking a real pounding, but all was good on board. Wet in the cockpit but Sven doesnít care, dry below and with a thermos of coffee all was good. Not much sleeping going on with the noise and motion and shipping about, but a good test of man and machine before the deep offshore sailing planned for the west coast on passage to Ireland.
With the amount of water being chucked about I spent a while looking for leaks. A few highlighted ... chain plates and around windows, but once identified easily sorted at a quieter moment.
0430 daybreak. More wind farms about and I was now making passage between these large areas, literally altering course to avoid the next one up the coast.
A little more sleep, maybe an hour and the wind now howling. Must be at least 30kts, but my trusty instruments saying 15kts true? Canít believe it. Wind whipping off the top of the breaking waves abeam streaking behind. 0900 took a massive broadside in the 3 meter seas.
By 10am the wind had eased a little and the barometer had risen a point to 1011, so perhaps it was tailing off...
In the carnage of the night the bottom drawer of the chart table has flown out of its nest and landed broken on the other side of the boat. There were a small but growing number of maintenance items appearing in the log... as always.
Having left Dover at 10am yesterday, I logged the DR2 at 10am as 150nm. With yesterdays being an hour short it looked like we could make 150 miles a day. A good daily average in a 35ft boat of this style. A half knot makes a lot of difference, some 6 miles a day or another hour of sailing every 24 hours. That equates to arrival days later on any long sea voyage, so I was happy with the averages.
Managed another hourís sleep and washed and freshened up before lunch. We were still taking quite a bit of water over the spray hood and decks but nothing like the early morning pounding so things were looking up.
I was now in gas rig country. Gone were the nuclear power stations of the south, the wind farms further north. Now it was oil and gas to the top of the country. Our insatiable demand for energy.
By 12.30 the wind had eased enough to take out the 3rd reef and with 2 in and full jib we were making good way. I turned on the engine to get a little battery charge. Voltage was way down 11.8v. Been a bit hasty as is often the way and by 1300 the wind was back, so a few rolls on the jib steadied us down and I had lunch of cheese and ham...again.
Over the afternoon the wind was steady, but with the deepening water the waveís lengthened frequency and it became altogether more comfortable. There was now less shipping about and I managed another two 50 minutes sleep sessions.Slamat was feeling much better and so was I.
All looking much better coming into evening. Much more sustainable, unlike last night. With a longer swell we were making good way and riding the waves. I made a supper of sausages, onions and vegetables, all in the pressure cooker and it was all pretty good. A hot meal does a lot for morale. Only slight drawback was that the gas bottle ran out, we carry a spare but I expected the existing bottle to last much longer. Oh well. I will just get a replacement at the first convenient place.
With the wind eased a little I went forward to do an evening deck check but while inspecting the mast got a bit of a dousing. Not that clever to get wet before dark, but it wasnít as bad as it could have been.
I have to say that I am very happy with my new spinlock deck vest lifejacket. It is very comfortable and easy to wear. With integral harness I use it to clip on while in and forward of the cockpit and really wonder why it has taken me so long to buy one. Definitely a great investment.
Having been through the rough stuff we were due some better weather now. I am starting to find my feet again and feeling more intuitive about the sail settings and navigation. My cooking definitely needs work. Having not really cooked for some 14 years, married to an ex chef you see... I have forgotten most of what I thought I used to know. My staple seems to be red stew with chilli, but that will only be palatable for so long. I must buy a book on one pot cooking.
10.30 and things are a lot more comfortable. 1 reef out so only 1 reef in now bit precautionary, but after the rock and roll of last night itís ok to be a bit mellow. I will need more sleep tonight.
No shipping about other than rig tenders and with the fixed rig installations started seeing some birds about ... so just me and the wildlife... great. Strange really. No fishing boats and Iím just inside the Dogger bank, which I remember was a great commercial fishing area when I was younger... nothing here now but rusty gas rigs.
Noticeably colder must think about buying a blanket.
Managed some sleep in two 1 hour sessions, all good nothing about.
Tuesday 13 June
0400 somewhere off Newcastle and 14 degrees in the cabin. I somehow didnít compute that it was going to get colder up here... I will need to buy a blanket.
Batteries not doing too well at 11.8v, so really quite depleted.Not being that clued up on batteries I suspect that battery 1 is not going to make it.. Ho hum.. If I need new batteries I will just have to get them. The weather is looking better for a few days now with force 3-4 forecast from the SW. Great sailing conditions and now being well offshore Slamat is clear of shipping and were set for a good run to Fairisle.
Decided now was a good time to treat myself so took the oilies and lifejacket off and crawled into my sleeping bag for a good sleep.... I even slept in my port berth, oh the luxury... and managed some 3 hours sleep. I felt great and fully refreshed.
0900 and nothing about. No birds, no boats, no UK fishing fleet. Just Slamat diligently making her way north. Saying that 2 hours later I saw a sailing boat heading south some 3 miles to starboard.
With the easing conditions I started thinking about getting out the much larger Mylar Genoa. At 150% itís pretty big and being well flaked in its bag takes little room on board. My reservation was that once out of the bag it will be very difficult for me to get it away dry and small... I decided against it... if I was younger maybe - but I was going well so no point in stressing it. On with the Commodores greatest hits, a blast from the past and started on a little maintenance. I fixed the bottom drawer that had broken in the rough weather and a few minor bits and pieces.
Log taken at about 10am shows our DR3 at 149, so still making the averages at 6.5kts, great.
The wind started to back as expected after lunch so time for the reacher. Now fitted in the snuffer she went up like a dream and after a little messing about had her in the right place pulling well with 7 knots on the boat speed.
Suddenly there was action about, 4 jets flying in 2 formations overhead, a rendezvous and off into the distance... was that a seal diving, guillemots all over the place with gannets and gulls... at last some active wildlife. The water had changed to a beautiful turquoise colour and with Dire straits playing on the speaker and Slamat sailing fast and balanced all was Just great... at peace and feeling connected.
The sky was changing with cirrus clouds developing... this sunshine was doomed and not for long.
I spent a while reprogramming the Navtex and was now receiving good weather info for more northern waters. The forecast was looking good with force 3-5 all the way until a change on Friday.. I will be well tucked up in Shetland by then....21 degrees on board, somewhere off Edinburgh and all is good.
So dinner rolls up again and itís the same fare, sausages and onions and a tin of soup all in the pressure cooker and away you go..... Really not great tonight, and need some advice at the earliest opportunity to get this one pot cooking sorted with a little more variety.
1900 and reacher away as starting to look wet ahead. No sooner down than the wind eases ...19.45 back up now and making good progress again now raining a bit... I hope it stays off a while...
21.25 Reacher down and wet, exactly what I didnít need. Feel a bit under powered but thinking it may be a squally night so felt good about the rig and small sacrifice in speed.
However it was clear that I was starting to make bad decisions and thought a little sleep would help. I thought I would just check the Navtex before a sleep so sat down and scrolled to the latest report. There on the Navtex is an alert
ďGD00-INTERNATIONAL. PAN ALERT NORTH NORTHSEASAILING VESSEL SLAMAT CONCERN FOR VESSEL, DEPARTED CROMER BOUND SHETLAND, 1POB, HUMBER COASTGUARD CO-ORDINATINGCH16/2182Ē
It was clear that it was me but why? Was something wrong at home? Why did they want to contact me? Do they know something I donít? Either way this was significant. Navtex is an international system and all vessels with Navtex in the broadcast area would have received this. It was extremely unusual and caused me concern. I just didnít understand why there was concern for my safety, if that was the intended message; perhaps it was a message to make contact asap. Either way I needed a ship in range to relay a message to confirm my well being.
I saw a vessel (Nao Provider) some 12 miles away and tried hailing on ch16, but no response. What does the message mean...? I decided I had to make shore to see what was going on. Looking at the chart it seemed Peterhead was my best option some 70 miles away. I started the engine and started motor sailing towards Peterhead with an ETA of about 10am. The Nao Provider was headed to Aberdeen and she would cross my path at about 4 miles ahead, so my plan was to contact her by handheld VHF when she was in range. I kept trying and on occasion head calling on the handheld which I thought mentioned Slamat, but I could only get reception in the rain on deck and nothing on the main radio below which I didnít understand.
I then caught the end of a broadcast from another vessel definitely mentioning the name Slamat, but could not make contact with her. After repeated attempts I finally made contact with the Nao Provider. They kindly agreed to relay a message to Humber coastguard that l was well on board and I had altered course to Peterhead.... Oh well, an unscheduled stop but it would be good to stock up on a few things and get some gas before going out into the islands. I would get on the phone and find out what was going on in the morning.
With the situation contained and little wind I slept in 40 minute blocks while motor sailing to shore
Wednesday 14th June
0440 and after a good series of power naps the wind had freshened and we could sail.After setting the boat up I slept again to be woken by the handheld VHF talking about me. Reception was intermittent but it was definitely un nerving, itís like everyone is looking for me or trying to report seeing me sort of like that TV programme ďThe chase" but in real time...
I turned on the fm radio to see if I could get any coverage as I approached the coast. I had sorted out the aerial so knew that I now could receive good radio coverage at least 30 miles offshore. I picked up what later I learned was radio 5 the late show...
Listening in horror I hear an eye witness account of an unfolding tragedy. An Australian was talking about a massive tower block fire. He was on his balcony having spent 2 hours at the site, inside the building trying to get people out. As he was talking he was describing seeing people with mobile phone lights shining out of windows on the upper floors. He was saying that there was no way out for them, the fire was on the second and third floor and growing ... consuming each floor as he spoke. It was a horrific description of the actual event as it was happening. It was only later that I realised it was actually happening there and then and that it was in London and was the Grenfell fire. It was the most harrowing eyewitness description of unfolding calamity and certain tragedy. As a listener you knew that here was no hope...no salvation for the trapped souls. How utterly terrible.
0600 reacher up and pulling, land ahoy. Wonít be long now till I get phone reception and can find out whatís happening, the wind eased and with the reacher mostly dry she went back to bed and the engine came on again to motor in.
At 0930 I got reception and called Humber coastguard to find out what was happening. I was grateful for concern, but I was not overdue and quite experienced and unsure what the concern was about. So it transpires that my AIS signal had dropped out off Cromer. There were a number of people who had been tracking me on the AIS and with no signal, bad weather and tricky navigation in that area concern was raised with the coastguard who noted that I had Navtex so put out a call on that system as they had received nothing on the CVHF DSC calling they had been doing.
Itís always a difficult thing. A lost signal may be alarming but is quite frequent, but can cause alarm. When that alarm is voiced then a chain of action is set in motion with each party acting to the scope of their obligation. Although I did not understand why there was a Navtex message issued about Slamat I did understand that there was concern for my safety for which I am always grateful.
I spoke with Amanda and she explained the same thing to me and all was well.
It seemed that the AIS had fallen out and I was concerned that the VHF had not worked as well... what to do.
At 1100 hours I was alongside and spent a moment cleaning off Slamat and tidying up.
The marina was fairly empty and in a lovely bay in the corner of the large harbour. There was another cruising boat there that had arrived a few hours before but that was it. I decided to go into town for lunch and stretch my legs. Town was a good 20 minutes walk, but it was overcast and dry and I could look out for a few facilities on the way.
From the conversation of the morning I knew that I had to get the AIS and VHF sorted. I had installed both units so there was some doubt if I had done it properly. Both transmitting aerials were quite close, but at slightly different heights, and I suspected that one signal was blocking the other. What I needed was an engineer with the knowledge. A man who had some testing equipment who could factually measure the integrity of the installation and equipment and find any issue.
I walked into town and having had a brief look around I found somewhere for lunch at the Fishermans mission down in the docks. Most of the bakeries and cafes I had seen were offering pies, chips and ďstovies" .... Not sure what that is ...advice sought...my Scottish friend advised ďpressure potted mince and veg, goes down lovely"..... Sounded a bit too close to boat fare so gave that a miss.
Sitting in the mission I had pork and veg and pondered my issues. Peterhead was full of serious boats...oil supply and fishing... my man was out there but how to find the right man.
I turned around and saw opposite Peterhead Marine Electrical, with a phone number... a good place to start. So I started the hunt they gave me a lead to another company Woodsons... I called their office in Aberdeen and spoke to a lovely lady who after listening to my issues said with all confidence that I needed to talk with Robin and gave a mobile phone number. I called Robin...Ē Ahhh youíre the bloke everyoneís looking forĒ he said... Robin is semi retired but with 30+ years experience in exactly this subject and he agreed to come down to the boat with his meters.
2 hours later and we had tested all systems and equipment. Both AIS and VHF were perfect installations, both Aerials working very well, all units up and running, no problem. I started discussing the actual events and quite quickly Robin deduced that the low battery voltage was probably my issue with the VHF and from his experience AIS does sometimes just jam up and need resetting. Even so with voltage down at 11.8V the AIS is still looking for amperage to transmit a 2w signal, so may not have had the juice to actually be picked up by a wider network other than local traffic.
So with that in mind I accepted I would need new batteries and Robin gave me a lead back to Eric at Peterhead Marine Electrical. He said he would send Michael the engineer down in the morning.... Great
I busied myself with a few jobs,recaulking chain plates which were leaking, a couple of ceiling vents and a small window leak...bought gas from the marina and made a better fix of Sven spreader blocks which had failed on the way up.
In the afternoon a blue 40 footer arrived in the marina. It was the Ellen Macarthur trust boat on her 2017 Round Britain adventure. I walked over and talked with the crew about their experience and how they were enjoying it. The charity has created a fantastic opportunity for young people and it was great to see that they were all thrilled to be part of it and loving the experience... and with 8 on board the 2 pack games of Uno can be great fun!
That evening I wandered out and found the local McDonalds... (A Scottish restaurant as my brother calls it) a mile or so away. The walk did me good. I had forgotten that you really cover some mileage when cruising.
Thursday 15th June
After sleeping well the engineer called and arranged to come to Slamat. He put his meter on both batteries and it was apparent that they were both shot, or nearly shot. I arranged for him to source 2 new batteries and fit them that afternoon. He recommended a good brand and arranged to come back that afternoon to install them.
That afternoon a small boat arrived next to me. They had arrived from the Orkney Islands and I sat for a while talking about the islands. They kindly gave me a cruising information sheet showing harbours and anchorages and made a few recommendations. It seemed a shame that I was thinking of missing these lovely islands, heading straight to Fair Isle.
The engineer turned up and fitted the batteries. They were the same amp hours but a/ much better brand. I can now expect 5 years service from these. I gave the better old battery to the small boat next door and recycled the other one. Michael the engineer mentioned that he had a relative in the Orkney who had sailed extensively around the island and asked if I would like to meet him. It seemed like a good idea, so I planned to sail to Orkney first to meet Mike and then head on to Fair Isle.
I paid the engineer and he dropped me in town. I wanted a few provisions and to try and find a book on marine birds. It is frustrating not being able to identify wildlife when you see it so a good book on birds would be a worthy addition to the on-board selection. With no dedicated bookshop I tried the many charity shops in the town centre. Amazingly I found the fantastic readers digest ďBook of British Birds" a book I recognise from my fatherís book shelves when I was a boy. It was meant for me.I wandered back in the rain feeling good about the work that had been done in Peterhead and looking forward to a good day at sea.
On returning to Slamat I noticed another cruising boat had made port. One of the crew came over to see me, ďare you the Slamat that everyone is looking for?"Yep thatís me, and Iíve found myself!
That evening I seemed to be busy with last minute jobs, so ordered a Kebab take away which was delivered to the Marina... really very good, and very easy with no mess. That night I prepared Slamat for sea. I filled with water and calculated usage at about 7 litres a day, my first gauge on consumption. With everything ready and passage plan done it seemed that I could leave when ready. I was going to Kirkwall, but would anchor up for the night in a bay before going in on Saturday...
Friday 16th June
0330 and up early. It gets light early here and so with my mission set I made coffee, took a shower and sorted myself out for the passage to Orkney, some 100 miles north. After a shower etc I started the engine and slipped lines at 0545 heading out of the harbour and north up the coast.
The weather was good, overcast but no rain and wind in the west at about 12 kts. I motored up past Ratney Head and by 0700 the engine was off and we were sailing well on a reach.
Lovely conditions and time for a little maintenance. The loo water flush pipe seemed to be leaking. I had bought a service kit but had not had time to service the heads, so that was a job that would need doing. I made a temporary repair with Ďoí rings from stock and fiddled around with the stereo antenna which now seemed to be much more effective.
Normal ships lunch, bread pate and cheese and with the wind backing I set the reacher for a little more speed. All well.
1600 and the conditions were changing. The wind died and with dark clouds approaching, I dropped the reacher and put out the jib... great call... not often that happens but with a dry kite below and no real loss of speed I was ready for any change in the weather.
The wind was pulsing a little and after dinner of chicken breast, onion, cabbage, courgette and potatoes in a dolmio sauce... more red stew. I turned on the engine to motor sail through the drizzle and fickle wind.
Planning to anchor, I took out all the anchor rode and measured and marked the chain and warp. It seems we have 11m of chain and 25m of rode with the bitter end attached. Effectively we can anchor with 10mm below the keel max on a 3 to 1 ratio. That was good enough. Any deeper and itís a bore to haul up.
2100 abreast Copinsay and by 21.30 I was hardening up into the Stronsay Firth. By luck the tide was with me so made my way towards Kirkwall to a bay where it looked good to anchor. The light was fading as I entered Inganess bay and with some evidence of salmon farming on the chart I carefully made my way to the west side to some shallow water that looked protected from stronger SW winds forecast. I found a lovely spot in the Bay of Becstoone and dropped the hook at 23.15 with 4m under the keel. A perfect spot for the night.
All quiet on board, had a cup of tea and listened to the gulls on the cliff some 100m behind Slamat. It had been a good days sailing and lovely to be back in the Islands at anchor again after some 5 years onshore.
I prepared my bunk looking forward to a good nightís sleep at anchor ... but set the anchor alarm just in case.
Saturday 17th June
Slept well and woke at 0730. Allgood. Made coffee and thought about the anchor retrieval procedure. I wanted to work out a system which was easy, whereby I could retrieve the anchor from the cockpit, being close to the engine, winches and tiller. I sorted this out and pleased with the result retrieved the anchor and headed off under engine the 3 miles to Kirkwall. With little tide I motored through the pass and between the islands into Kirkwall. The marina was easy to access and I found a berth and pulled in. 11.15 engine off all good
The marina manager arrived and provided some details of the town and general cruising information and town facilities. It seemed that Kirkwall was well serviced by shops and facilities and I noticed a few small cruise ships as I entered. I wondered if the town was going to be affected by the cruisers as we had seen so many times on Pegasus. The shops develop to service the day visitors and prices are set accordingly. The real spirit of the town is often found behind this facade and that is worth looking for to get a real flavour of the place.
I went into town to find a little lunch... bad choice and not very good... and bought a few things that I thought I needed... Ďoí rings, fishing lures, coffee, bread etc. There was another club member in port so went over and said hello. Remarkably they had come from Cowes as well, and Oh youíre the Slamat everyone was looking for! We had a laugh and decided to meet up on Sunday for a drink if we were both still in the harbour.
It had been a great week. I canít believe that it was only a week ago that I left the Solent.
Much has happened and it feels great to be back on board and finding my feet at sea again. With good mobile coverage in populated areas itís great to be able to talk with Amanda and the boys and I feel very lucky that they support this little adventure. Itís not the same sailing without them, as we sailed so many miles together on Pegasus, but needs must and we will all be together in Ireland in a month or so. In the meantime itís Fair Isle, Shetland, Rockall and Galway for Slamat and me.