Issue 1 The Eventider's News Dec. 2003
To issue - 2
Jean Goes North
Jean, the latest Eventide to be made, was M.G. designed and lovingly built by the skilful hands of Norman Garnett.
A Lancashire lad, Norman had recently discovered the joys of sailing, and also the beauty of the Western Isles of Scotland, and with great spontaneity had sold up and bought himself a cottage on the island of Luing, near Oban.
Norman asked if I might be able to help him sail Jean from Lancs up to Scotland, assuming that I was slightly fitter than him because I’ve only had one hip replacement whereas he has had two replaced. It was an opportunity not to be missed.
Jean had overwintered ashore at the Douglas River Boatyard near Southport, where she had been newly launched the previous year with great ceremony.
Re-launched on the Tuesday before Easter, all was checked – the engine, the sails - and Liverpool Coastguard received us loud and clear on the newly installed VHF radio. Extra gear was bought – rubber dinghy, spare anchor, life-ring with light, charts, and food stores including loads of milk to satisfy our craving for milky coffees. Also, most importantly, good advice was obtained from David, the shipwright at the boatyard, who had excellent local knowledge, and advised us on the tricky exit from the River Ribble.
On the next day, Wednesday, the tides required us to leave at about 1000 (a most civilised hour) to enable us to negotiate the silted up mouth of the river Ribble. Fair weather was forecast with winds varying between NE and SE, ideal for our journey, so as soon as we floated, we set off motoring down the River Douglas to join the Ribble.
In the warm weather spirits were high, and the milky coffees flowed well. A sharp lookout was kept for floating logs and debris brought up by the incoming tide. As we passed Lytham St Anne’s, another, smaller, junk-rigged boat gave us the thumbs-up sign; I wondered if they had just sailed from Hong Kong to set up another Chinese Takeaway.
Our timing had got us to the entrance at high water, and with just over two metres under our keel we left the Ribble and headed for our first destination, Ramsey, on the Isle of Man. The wind was light, but we cut the motor to see how Jean would go under sail. Norman had installed junk rig on his boat as he had envisaged sailing mostly single-handed, and required the ease and simplicity a junk rig offered. However, with both of us new to this rig, we found it a formidable task to control the single sail, with no less than seven different lines to haul on!
Norman rooted out the instruction book (not written in Chinese fortunately) and gradually we learned the intricacies of sailing to windward, reaching, running and reefing.
The wind stopped and started, so we motored or sailed accordingly, and gradually Blackpool Tower disappeared into the haze of the warm day. In the late afternoon the easterly wind came to stay, and had us romping along towards Ramsey. The haze disappeared as daylight faded, and darkness brought the near full moon, and its silvery path on our quarter. The lighthouse on Maughold Head encouraged us from ahead, with the twinkling lights of Ramsey just beyond.
All was calm when we arrived in Ramsey Bay at 0100, and we took a mooring buoy by Ramsey Pier for the night. This was a mistake for, on reflection, the calm had been due to the offshore land breeze, and soon after mooring this died away and the prevailing easterly took over, with its accompanying swell. In the morning Norman said it was like spending the night in a washing machine.
Not being able to stomach breakfast we set off and ate en route. Again we were lucky with the timing of the tides, and with the ebb out of the Irish Sea through the North Channel, we were helped along towards our next destination, Portpatrick.
The easterly prevailed, and after leaving the spectacular Point of Ayr, the most northerly tip of the Isle of Man, we had a good, boisterous sail over to the Mull of Galloway, and up the rocky, high-cliffed coast to Portpatrick, Scotland.
Arriving at a respectable time in the afternoon gave us time for a leg stretch and a nose around the town. The small harbour of Portpatrick has thirty foot high walls with ancient metal ladders to climb up. Long, loose mooring lines were required to accommodate the rise and fall.
Shortly after we arrived, a young Irish couple in a Leisure 17 tied up alongside us. Paul and Hazel, who had only got ten days of sailing experience under their belts, had just bought this boat in Scotland and were sailing it back to Ireland! And sure enough, the next morning we saw them goose-winging across a smooth sea with the easterly wind behind them, heading for Donaghadee - the luck of the Irish, as they say.
During that evening in the Harbour Hotel, Norman said that it was the anniversary of Jean’s launching, so blessings were made for her and all who sailed in her. Also imbibed in the pub was the local knowledge given by the Portpatrick boatmen who sailed those waters. On asking whether we should round the Mull of Kintyre to head north, or take the safer route through the Crinan Canal, they immediately dismissed the canal route, and advised that in these calm conditions the Mull would be fine. This was to be our personal "Cape Horn".
After a compensatory good night’s sleep, the next morning we were amused by the antics of the Black Guillemots in the harbour. These small, handsome black birds were in the throes of their mating season, and had nests in the holes in the harbour wall. They have bright red legs and bright red insides to their mouths, but their beauty belies their clumsiness. It could take several attempts to land in their nests, frequently hitting the harbour wall and falling back into the water. I suppose pelagic birds have difficulty in adjusting to land, as do sailors in regaining their land legs!
Thursday: Another civilised hour of departure had been advised – 1000, two hours before high water, meaning that we would have the last of the incoming flood as we left, but on approaching the Mull at slack water we would then start to be carried towards our next destination, Gigha island. Macrihanish Bay could provide us with a bolt hole should we be caught out.
Our departure was quite aromatic – the scent of the yellow gorse bushes was wafting down the rocky slopes to send us on our way. Say it with flowers! Another warm sunny day brought us the same easterly winds, which would come and go throughout the day, so again we sailed or motor-sailed accordingly, hoping that we would be able to simply sail round the Mull.
Fast ferries passed nearby to keep us on our guard, and porpoises came by in pairs to remind us that we shared the sea with them too.
As the Mull appeared through the haze and gradually got larger, we could see from bearings taken that we were being swept past in a south-westerly direction, so the unfailing motor assisted the sails to get us back on track and maintain our speed towards Gigha, which we calculated we might just make before dark.
We had been lucky to find the Mull in benign mood. Insects skated about on the millpond of a sea as we followed the west coast of Kintyre northward, motor and auto-helm allowing us to snack in the cockpit and admire the views.
The light was beginning to fail and the east wind was picking up as the island loomed closer, and we had to decide whether we could safely navigate the rock-strewn channel to Ardminish Bay in poor light, where we would find the security of a visitor’s mooring buoy. Or should we anchor up in the last of the daylight in a more sheltered bay on the south-west tip of Gigha where the holding was uncertain?
We decided on the former even though it may be a bit more rolly. Identifying the menacing rocky outcrops with the help of Norman’s good old GPS, we navigated our way up the channel between Gigha and the mainland, and finally could just make out the silvery masts of other yachts already moored. Dropping the sails we motored into the bay and rounded up onto a vacant mooring buoy – a fine day’s sail we thought, as we surveyed the other boats around us, and the few twinkling lights on the island.
After cooking and eating, the persisting breeze did give us a fairly rolly night, but nothing to compare with the torment of Ramsey Bay.
Friday: The morning presented us with the gorgeous sight of the island covered in golden gorse. The regular arrivals and departures of passenger ferries showed that we were still not beyond civilisation, and, inviting as the island was, we had to press on, as we heard that the good weather was to break by the weekend.
After breakfast we motored into the choppy waters of the channel and hoisted sail, but reefed, with the ease that a junk rig allows, to give us a more comfortable ride. With full sail up under these conditions the lee rail was under water and we had strong weather helm.
We noticed that pointing to windward wasn’t so good but thought that with more experience we could get better performance from the rig.
So this was Scottish sailing: a fair breeze, clear waters, mountains all around us, and a few rocks sticking up out of the water to keep us on the alert. With the auto-helm taking over, lunches were taken in the cockpit, bread, cheese, tomatoes and lettuce. An unspoken contest occurred as to who could nab the most pickled beetroots with a fork, without the other noticing - another addiction we shared along with the milky coffees that washed all this down!
We had the Paps of Jura on one side and the mainland mountains of Argyll on the other, as our northerly route took us towards the Straight of Corryvreckan. This is the notorious passage between Jura and Scarba where the ebb and flow can rush through at up to eight knots. Our route was not to take us through, but as we passed the exit of the Straight our speed went up from five to nine knots. This extra boost carried us ever more northerly and closer to Luing, our final destination and Norman’s new home. I noticed that Norman was taking on the air of a seasoned old seadog and becoming at one with his new environment. He must have thought it ‘right champion’ as they say in his native Lancashire.
We identified Luing with the aid of landmarks such as the ‘White Cottage’ on the southern tip of Shuna – the neighbouring island.
The now modest breeze – still easterly – helped us to glide up Shuna Sound towards Tobernockry, a small man-made harbour built of waste slate, for we were now in the ‘Slate islands’ where the globally renowned slate has gold coloured specks in it due to the presence of iron pyrites. We slowly turned into the harbour and tied up to the jetty, whilst an osprey, soaring overhead, observed our arrival.
In the short time Norman had been on Luing he had quickly been absorbed into the island’s population of 200, and was whisked off in a car to collect his own pick-up truck.
We left Jean on a friendly mooring where she could enjoy a well-earned rest, having proved the soundness of her construction. Norman drove us down the one road on Luing to his new home, where he proudly showed me the view through his kitchen window, showing the small, sheltered, rocky inlet where Jean would eventually be moored, a pool so rocky that he hadn’t yet learnt the way in. His fisherman neighbour had promised to show him if he was sober! (the fisherman, not Norman...)
That evening, well scrubbed, we dined with Pam, Norman’s next-door neighbour, and told our stories. Later she dragged us round to the village hall for the ceilidh and to meet some of Norman’s fellow islanders. The accordion music still rings in my ears.
The glorious weather persisted, allowing long walks and exploration of the island, leaving only footprints and taking only photographs, as the ‘rule of the countryside’ urges. But I confess to collecting a few samples of the gold-speckled slate from the now disused and flooded slate quarries that abound there.
Norman drove me to the mainland via the ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’ to Oban and the railway station. On saying our farewells, Norman said, ‘Grand trip Brian, but one thing would have made it perfect’.
‘What was that?’
‘Another jar of pickled beetroot!’ Brian Platts, July ’03.