Slamat log week 2
I awoke to note that the wind had picked up considerably as expected and it appeared that I couldn’t move Slamat if I tried. We were pinned against the dock by the wind and waves but well protected by the extra fenders I had put out the previous evening. It would be at least another night alongside. No problem, plenty to do.
I busied myself with a few light maintenance jobs and had a lazy morning sorting out e-mails etc. The forecast was for improving conditions so I needed to get ready for a bit if sailing... a few fresh provisions and more coffee. I went into town and had a much better lunch, sorted out the shopping and had a bit of a tourist moment in the cathedral. Back on board I readied Slamat and planned the following few days. I was going to spend a night at anchor in the islands and then move on up to Fair Isle.
Early evening and an enjoyable hour on board Zwailer, hearing of their trip up and their plans of no plan... how nice. They had the freedom of not having to be back in the Tamar until September so were just going to enjoy the Orkney islands and wherever else took their fancy until home beckoned.
Not feeling like cooking I found a quayside pub and had a lovely dinner of scallops, and was back on board by 10pm for a good sleep.
Monday 19th June
There is always another thing... back ashore and I bought milk and a few sandwiches for lunch. After refuelling Slamat and filling with water, I took a shower and was ready to leave by 1300.
With the wind still quite strong I waited an hour until it eased and worked Slamat off the dock, safely exiting the harbour at 1400. It was quite blowy out so with 3 reefs in I made my way up Sharpinsay sound and north up through the islands. Both wind and current were strong, so it took some time to get the planned anchorage, but a lovely sail through the islands with some interesting navigation.
I had seen an interesting place between the Island of Eday and another called the Calf of Eday. There was a small anchorage between the two islands that looked interesting and a great stop over before heading north.
I arrived to find 2 other boats there on the laid visitor moorings,.. oh well I will just anchor. I dropped the hook in 5m water and it looked like a stony bottom. I was a little gentle with the set probably too gentle but we seemed to hold ok and so started making dinner.
It really was a beautiful spot with plenty of bird life and out of the wind and tide. There was some phone reception so spoke with Amanda and the boys before dinner.
I also received a message from my brother who has been following progress on the AIS tracker. He pointed out that I had missed the island of Auskerry and passed it to Starboard. ... Oh hell, I will have to go back...
It was a pretty simple brief... pass all the islands of the UK and Ireland to port, ....and already I had missed some.
Oh well, I will get up early and take the tide down, round the S of Auskerry and that will be that.
Tuesday 20th June
Yes well I was up a little earlier than I thought. I woke to a different noise coming from the rig. Something had changed. Getting up I noticed that the other boats on the moorings seemed to be much further away. I checked the plotter and anchor alarm. Yep, massive anchor drag. We were now anchored off the shore of Calf of Eday, so had dragged some 300 meters.
Not sure why the anchor drag alarm did not sound, but either way it didn’t matter, I started the engine and retrieved the anchor ... heavy with kelp, probably the cause of the drag and the cause of the reset ho-hum.
By 0400 I had 3 reefs in again and was making my way south to pass Auskerry to port and head North again to Fair Isle. With the wind abeam and the tide astern I made good progress and at 0600 I gybed round the south of the island and headed off to Fair Isle some 50 miles NNE.
The wind eased through the morning and the sun came out. What a lovely sail. By 0900 I was down to 1 reef in and had the Lavazza on the go and all was well. There was bird life about. The Fulmars were gliding gracefully around Slamat and then I spotted a great Skua, a large predator looking and unusually brown sea bird. It too had a graceful flightand I learned from my book of birds that they are quite a rare sight.
1030 and land ahoy. It will take a while to get there but it’s always good to see the objective. I busied myself with some maintenance, sewing new catches onto the sail cover and had a boat lunch... cheese, bread and chorizo, going well in the large swell and lighter winds. This was the first tine I had seen the large powerful Atlantic swell and remembered just how awesome it can be. I will have to treat it with great respect as we always have.
The seas changed south of the island as we got close and with the tide acting against the swell the sea became lumpy and confused. I altered course to avoid the worst and once clear hardened up into the lea of the island.
Engine on, down sails, fenders out and lines ready. I was going to go port side to, so that I faced any wind coming into the harbour, so once all set up made my way gently into the narrow passage that opened into a small protected harbour.
There were 4 other yachts against the harbour wall so I slowly came alongside a Germanuacht, helped by another skipper... Jhan, a Dutch single hander. He asked if I was Dutch? No.... Ohh it’s just that Slamat means Welcome in Dutch Indonesian?? Ahh...I said, I bought her from a Dutch man.
So we had made Fair Isle. Our first scheduled destination and we were actually here. Fantastic. I had heard about Fair Isle from some documentary and always liked the idea of making land fall here... it’s sort of the UK version of a desert island. Cut off and remote with a character of its own, history and tradition.
I had heard that not only is Fair Isle renowned for its bird life, but it has a strong tradition of making knitwear, jumpers and hats etc... basically anything you can make out of its no 1 inhabitant...
After a few moments on board I thought I should go and look for the hat shop. I was unsure of my plan but wanted to have a look around and if the grib files looked good make a plan from there.
On the notice board by the dock it suggested that knitwear was available at a blue and red house, Burkle. Shouldn’t be too hard to find... I set off up the road past the Bird observatory and followed the only road south.
Round the corner and the road the road led on into the horizon and round another corner... follow the road...plenty of birds about, not sure the variety but on I went. After about 40 mins I got to the shop and after buying a chocolate bar asked about knitwear sales......
Well, if you walk for 5 mins or so you get to a white house, well not that one but after there are 2 white houses, not the small one but the bigger one. Ok sounds good thanks..... nope, nothing matching that description, but around the next corner I saw the distinctive red and blue house...across a couple of fields but that’s ok.
There was a lady mowing her grass, we started talking.... she had a new spinning wheel, would I like to see it. To be honest it was fascinating talking with Kathy about her work as a designer and spinner. She spun her own wool and designed threads. She was a crofter and worked her 7 hectares and spun her own wool and wool from Shetland mainland. She pointed me in the right direction and off I went to Burkle.
I was met at the door by a very nice lady Hollie who I spent an hour with talking about the process and how the knitwear is actually made. Its a time consuming and detailed business which requires great concentration over extended periods, counting stitches often with say 7 colours so 7 counting streams and no mistakes...it takes skill, training and time. She had some absolutely fantastic items, real works of art and on reflection I am sorry that I did not buy more, but I did manage to buy hats... one for Amanda and a fisherman’s kep for myself. Super warm and both things of beauty... I bought in traditional colours explained as any colour you would see a sheep wearing...love it.
I set off north back to the little harbour, had a little conversation with a lady from the boarders asking directions and noted on my return that a few more boats had arrived. There were now 11 boats in the small harbour which is pretty packed really.
I had some dinner, being the remains of the night before... white stew, and went up to the bird observatory for a little internet and weather information.
The gribs were looking good, and keen to push on I decided to leave the following morning.
The bird observatory has accommodation, a restaurant and bar. People travel to stay there on Fair Isle and help with the tracking and monitoring of migratory bird life on the island. It has the feel of a ski lodge, with weary people eating together at the one call dining in the restaurant ....and plenty of bird discussion. The bar is the evening focal point with the staff taking a sightings roll call each evening and talking weather, flight and travel information for the changing guests.
I headed back to Slamat and informed my neighbours that I would be leaving early. The weather data was showing moderate SE winds in the morning strengthening over the day, then clocking the following morning to the S, SW. If I could leave early I could head up the E coast of Shetland and make it over the top and most of the way down the W coast before head winds.... a tough call but worth going for, and if I was lucky I could get the northing done.
It would then blow big guns for a day or two, so I would find somewhere to hold up. I would need somewhere sheltered, somewhere with a shop and preferably dock power (battery charge and heater) and restaurant as I would have a few days of red and white stew on my way to Rockall and Ireland. I could make that decision after Muckle Flugga, the furthest most rock on the British Isles, just off the island of Unst (factually old stack is ...1 mile further north)
Wednesday 21 June
0700 and feeling physically refreshed. Lavatzza time and sorted out a few bits. True to form my Swedish neighbours appeared and moved their boat so I could get out and off.
2 reefs in and settled down... more coffee and a little fruit breakfast. Overcast but a good wind and slight sea... very pleasant. Reef out after breakfast and a little more speed. I wanted to get north while the wind allowed. The barometer had started to fall so I knew the wind was coming as expected.
I was feeling a little apprehensive about crossing the top late at night in strong winds with the tide building against the wind... how was all that going to react with the Atlantic swell ... building weather out to the W could be kicking up quite a swell... oh well, just have to see what it’s like when we get there. The barometer was starting to fall faster. Not a concern and expected, but it was 2 points lower than it should be which could mean the wind shift was coming earlier than expected. I didn’t want to be on the W coast in building head winds if I could avoid it. There was a big blow coming... I needed to be well tucked up before that lot came crashing in.
Not being slack on speed was key and I pushed on hard in the building conditions. By 1400 I was somewhere off Lerwick and reefing down. Conditions were brisk with 15-18 kts on my wind speed indicator.
The wind indicator is definitely reading low. In Kirkwall I was reading 9 and my neighbours 16... so perhaps 6 kts under. However I look at it I can see no advantage to alter it. If I need to reef - I reef and seeing 25 on the dial is more encouraging that 30... when it reads 6 and Slamat is making 7 kts of boat speed it feels great to have a fast light wind boat... so it will stay as it is for the moment.
1600'and third reef in, half jib... making good speed in quite a large swell. Loads of Fulmars around, beautiful graceful gliders and another great Skua.. no marine mammals yet, but in serious Orca country.
1800 dinner. I found some pork and bean red stew in the fridge... bit old but it was easy and hot and a welcome relief from the building apprehension.
I was starting to worry about the conditions. It would be better if I could round the top in wind with tide conditions... would make for better sea conditions. There was a possible stopping place ahead. Balta sound, an hour sailing from the top. I could rest for 5 hours, wait for the tide and then push on. I was seriously considering it as the wind was reading 27 and there was a 2.5m sea... quite pokey conditions in a 35 footer. However I realised that the entrance was facing the swell.... it would be a real rollercoaster of a ride through the heads.....probably safer to stay offshore.
Looking at how to minimise the risk I decided to follow the deep water line when I got there and stay 3 miles offshore, that would help. I also called Shetland coastguard just to let them know what I was doing and to see if they had any data on swell conditions. They had no data but put me on their watch list which was a comfort in the rain wind and swell offshore.
The pressure was now 1009 and falling... things were moving faster than expected. The current wind conditions were more advanced than expected... it all looked better to push on to get down the west side before the shift came.
I was making towards the top and was that the wind just starting to ease? Had the sea come off a bit...2200 and a call from Shetland coastguard.. welfare check. Very comforting and much appreciated. I was clear of the lea of Iunst and no Atlantic swell to speak of... what a relief... wind definitely off now, reading 22 kts.
22.22 gybe and start to take the corner. By 23.10 we had some south in the course and had finished making north. Our furthest north was logged at 60 degrees 54 minutes... time to head slowly south.
It was raining, windy and misty, but at 23.59 I was abreast of Muckle Flugga, 1.5 miles off and could see the lumen of the light. Suddenly the rain stopped and mist cleared and there she was. 23.59 on the summer solstice, nearly 61 degrees north and there was light to see the land, lighthouse and old stack... magic.
10 minutes later and the mist and rain was back. I hardened up into the lea of Unst and flatter seas. Some Atlantic swell but nothing like the sea on the other side. The wind had eased and Slamat was cracked off, 3 reefs in and going well.
I felt a great sense of relief having made the traverse from east to west across the top.
We had made our furthest east at 01.26 on 12 June (001.56.25E) and had made our furthest north at 23.10 on 21 June (60.54.34N). Is that half way there ??
Thursday 22 June
Amazing that the rock appeared for 10 minutes as we w ere passing and now it is lost in the mist and rain again.
Having set course at 237 degrees and in a much improved sea state it was time for a kip.
01.37 wind died... ha ha...all reefs out, full jib and close hauled. Time for another sleep.
03.20 tack. 0400 wind building, 1 reef in. Anchor banging about so taken off foredeck and stowed. 04.45 all reefs in and a roll in the jib. I had to sail close hauled to the headland where I can bear away a little. Now on stb tack.
0600 and 17 miles to the Veskerries (is that the verrysaccaries??). Wind is clocking, cold and wet, neoprene gloves, hat and still cold.... but finally I can ease the sheets a little. My first finger left hand is starting to throb. I got a stab wound last night from the cotter pin on the goose neck while reefing. Went some way in and bled for ages. Now just starting to throb. Will need to watch that as infection could end the trip. I will dress it in due course.
0730 up after an hours sleep. Wash and freshen up, weather looking clearer...Lavatzza time. 5 miles to the Veskarries so no more sleep. Will make the passage between the Scarries and mainland so can expect some strong current.
0800. What a palaver. Wind eased so went forward to shake out reef. Safety line snagged so pulled line, not really thinking and caught my beloved thermos coffee mug and flicked it over the side. Had the kettle on and could see the stainless mug bobbing about astern. I’m not having that. Engine on, jib away boat hook out... there you are - spotted... kettle boiling, cup alongside .. missed it...reverse..forward..kettle whistling... got you...phew.. kettle off...back on course, reef out, engine off... Lavatzza...and on in to the pass.
The wind died completely as we were now making 6 kts over the ground and little wind. Big currents. I am very glad..and lucky.. the wind is not blowing hard now as the sea is awesome, big folding seas, all directions, a real nasty place in any weather. With little wind and at the mercy of the current I turned the engine on and motored towards smoother waters. The turns were diving so the slackwater was over there... after an hour I was through.. a lesson learnt, and now motor sailed in a brightening day towards the mainland.
15 miles further on was a town called Scalloway. There was a dock, a shop, and it was well protected. An ideal place to pull up for a few days.
I sorted out the boat and started writing up a jobs list for when I was alongside. As I motored in the sun shone and it was quite hot in the cockpit. The oilies came off and things were looking good. I made the passage in to the protected harbour in calm conditions, main down and packed away, engine on and jib out, wind astern... lovely.
At 1300 I was alongside. A very chatty French chap took my lines and I positioned Slamat carefully. The lesson of Kirkwall learned I made sure I had a good spot facing the SW and the expected blow. No way was I going to get pinned to the dock in any serious wind.
It felt great to be alongside and safe after an exhilarating sail from Fair Isle. I had covered some good mileage and made the passage around the top. The North was done and I could now direct my attention to the next and most significant challenge... the west and Rockall.
I knew that the conditions were going to go downhill fast Friday and Saturday were going to be very windy, with conditions expected to improve on Sunday. I now had to look for a weather window to make it past the rock and down to Ireland without getting a real pasting. I had been lucky on the trip round the top... could I be lucky again. The current grib files were showing heavy winds... 24 hours of sustained wind over 33kts...it’s not the wind. ....That sort of energy can create unimaginable seas. Going out in that is like doing a round with Mike Tyson. You may make the round if your extremely lucky, but it’s more likely you’ll get a real thrashing...something you will always remember.
With a few days alongside I had a jobs list and the first item on the list was sleep. The second was a restaurant. I had a nice ships lunch of bread, pate and cheese and settled down for a few hours needed sleep.
I wandered ashore and after a little advice found some fishcakes in the Scalloway hotel. A great little hotel with friendly attentive staff and delicious food. As I ate, and with internet at hand I ran a passage plan for the forthcoming journey. It wasn’tlooking good, but we were a long way out and things change fast. I settled back on board for a good night’s sleep.
Friday 23 June
Not an early start but after coffee started to look at the few maintenance jobs I had listed. The first was to inspect all the glass work I had done over the winter. Slamat had now been through a few big seas and taken a bit of a thumping. If any delamination was going to happen it would now be apparent. I moved stuff around and pulled up the floor boards. With magnifying glass and torch I full inspected all glass works and keel bolts. I was happy to see that it all looked exactly as it had when I placed the floor down in late Feb, with no visible signs of any movement or disturbance. Great. Next a quick look at the engine. Oil ok, looking clean with no apparent leaks, no building corrosion. I sprayed some light lubricant over the injector supply pipes, just for corrosion protection... probably wont do anything but made me feel better. The last immediate job was to fully wash Slamat with fresh water. I find that a wash down inside with fresh water over the floors etc.. keeps the boat fresh and dry, ready for the next passage.
I set up the cockpit canopy, a useful addition to practical living on board. This I strapped down. Low and hard as we were expecting some heavy wind.
I went into town to have a look around and see what provisions I could muster. There were 2 convenience stores, and a rather good selection of fresh veg and vacuumed packed meat in one. I could easily find enough fresh food for the next leg.
I had planned to eat in the hotel again, but on inspection it was full and they could only offer a late sitting. The other restaurant was fully booked, and with lots of locals in suits it was clear that there was something going on. A wedding.... ok so I will eat on board.
On the way back I stopped into the boat club, on whose pontoon Slamat was berthed. I had to pay them the £15 per night charge. The place was full, and everyone was well stuck in to their Friday night revelling. It was about 8 pm and as I sat there eating a packet of nuts I watched a hilarious exchange between a punter and the bar man. The order was for 2 double vodkas... is that one double or two singles...two doubles...and a pint...is that two pints ...err noo ...and so it went on....everyone was pretty worse for wear.... I got out of there and went back to Slamat. I needed to eat those last sausages in the fridge. Sausage and beans for dinner, tasted alright but didn’t feel too great in the morning. I threw out the sirloin steak I had been saving....I won’t make that mistake again.
Saturday 24 June
I slept well and woke to a falling barometer and 18-20 kts on the Navman. As expected the wind was starting to come in. Max wind overnight was 28 on Slamat, but my neighbours were both showing about 38... we are definitely reading low.
Over the morning the wind picked up and by lunch time I was having to be careful walking on the dock. I really had to lean into the wind to walk. A Sigma 33 was pinned to the dock and really taking a hammering. With others I helped rig a bridle line to shore at an angle and we managed to winch the boat a little off the dock. With spare fenders from all the boat was rocking about but not getting damaged.
Slamat was sitting well. She was now some 3 feet off the dock but facing the wind. I doubled up all the dock lines... those new lines I bought were looking a little light now. Having removed all the non essential longer flexible lines I was using what we had. The only lines remaining were static lines...really no good as the stretch in the line cushions the loads on the boat. Slamat was snatching a bit but that was acceptable. She was in a sustainable state and comfortable.
Happy that Slamat was well I had a ships lunch and made into Lerwick on the bus to have a look around and find a hardware shop or chandlery. On the way up the east coast of Shetland it occurred to me that I had no way of locking the washboards into position or of securing the hatch in a big following sea. Some years ago in Biscay I had spent 2 days below decks in a big gale and taking breaking waves over the stern is no joke. I needed to sort something out if I was going into the Atlantic.
Luckily the chandlery was open, or rather they were closed but let me in. After half an hour I had enough bits to fashion some sort of system to lock the hatch way.
I wandered around Lerwick for an hour. The harbour was full with some sort of Norwegian race to Shetland, and I felt glad that I was tucked up in Scalloway and away from the crowds.
Returning to Scalloway, I bought fresh provisions from the local shop, to collect in the morning, and returned to Slamat. The wind was really howling, but Slamat was good, snatching on her lines a little, but safe. I spent an hour making the hatch system, and satisfied that it would work thought about dinner and weather.
The grib data was now looking much better. It seemed that if I left on Sunday afternoon then I would have fair winds with some strength but max winds now 25 kts... so very doable.
I ventured to the closest restaurant (the other one in town) and had a burger, being back on board by 20.30 to write up the blog and get a reasonable night's sleep.
At 2100 something changed. After a last big blow the wind just eased. Quiet, still, peace. That was it, the blow was over and with the barometer at 986mb and steady I could expect different conditions in the morning.
Lying in bed I felt the wind clock, Slamat changed, the noises changed and I knew the pass had happened and the conditions were performing as expected.
I would be leaving Sunday afternoon for the 737 mile journey out past Rockall and down to Galway.
See photos of week 2 here