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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

In the Doldrums

The scene that greets us at 7am is a beautiful cloudless sky and a flat calm sea. The bay is simply a reflection of the surrounding hillside, village and boats moored in the harbour. About 500 yards away across the bay is a three masted shooner, like the Cutty Sark that has a Tannoy system calling out instructions to its crew, what a picture, we could be in the caribbean but this is the west coast of Scotland, The crew of Santa Vey take a dip whilst we breakfast and try to figure out how we play out this day. We can do nothing but drop our mooring and motor out into the open water. We do this being tied in tandem to Santa Vey, but eventually we part company to sail across a flat calm sea and decide to practice anchoring somewhere off little Cumbrea, where we have lunch 50 yards from santa Vey. The wind never gets up at all, and we motor back to Cumbrea, return our unused supplies and head back to Largs where we arrive at 3pm. We clean out the boat, collect our belongings and say goodbye to our new found friends of Sants vey, Stewart and Skipper Dave. It has been a fantastic introduction to sailing, a memorable weekend, and we're now sure that our plan to sail the Caribbean will happen, we just need to have a plan. The dream has just become a doable reality, it may take us a couple of years but we now both know this is not a crazy dream it's perfectly possible.

Smuggling beers out of Lamlash

After lunch in Lochranza we set sail for Lamlash on the east coast of Arron where we will moor for the night and meet up with the crew of the companies sister boat Santa Vey. This involves runing with the wind which means we have the wind behind us but as the afternoon wears on the wind drops to next to nothing and we have to turn on the engine for the last hour or so as we head into Lamlash. Dave gets on to radio to contact santa vey and we tie up to their boat as the sun goes down. We feast on lasagne and the remains of our only bottle of white wine before heading for the pub. The only slight variation to a normal night at the pub is getting there. Our Mooring is some half a mile ofshore which will mean a trip in the blown up dingy we carry aboard. Mmm, it's a very small floppy dingy, but Dave and Steward seem confident it will do the job, although by now its dark and the shore seems a long way off. Never the less we arrive at the pier, rowed their by Dave, within about 10 minutes, and head for the pub on the front. I'll get these, says Stewart, no I will I say, no I insist says Stewart, why not just order first and argue over whose paying later or it'll be closing time says the landlord. Charming welcome, we think, but then it is Arron, we go for 3 Arron gold beers and a Tennents for Dave. We decide that it's a nice night so we go and sit outside and await the crew of SantaVey who arrive about 5 minutes later.
The Crew of Santa Vey is Skipper Dan, Ronda, Alisia and Olivia who's from Hong Kong but living in Glasgow. They're all in their late twenties, early thirties I would say and will have more stamina for this outing than Jackie and Colin. We spent a very pleasent evening getting to know each other, we're all on the start yachting course so it's fun to swap experiences. We hear of another pub after a couple of hours at the first, and although me and Jackie are ready for bo boes we have to tag along because our lift home to our boat depends on being rowed back by someone. When it comes time to go we ask at the bar for some beers to take out only to find that on Arron this is against the law. Drat, we were looking forward to a nightcap on board so we decide to try and pick some up from the first pub we went to and not mention taking them away with us. Dan is going to row us out to our boat, but meanwhile me and Jackie go off to the first pub to aquire some bottles. We slip outside pretending to sit and drink at the tables but immediately the police arrive and tell us we're not allowed to be outside after 10pm. We slip back inside and watch the cops dissappear. Quick as a flash we leave with the beers and meet Dan on the slipway. We climb into the tender feeling very guilty but elated at our subtefuge. We pull away from the key but we haven't gone more than 25yards when a pair of headlights appear on the keyside shining right at us. Oh no we've been rumbled, but Dan reckons we're in international waters and keeps rowing. After about 5 mintes the lights dissapear and we're gliding towards Somerled undercover of dark on a flat calm sea.
The others join us about 20 minutes later and we relate our tale of dareing do, all are very impressed and we spend the next hour in happy conversation before turning in for the night.

Kicker, sheet and topping lift

As we turn into the strait between Cumbrea and little cumbrea, we find the dark water Dave was on about, the water is choppyer here and sure enough there's enough wind to put up our sails. Before we can put up the sails we are told about the importance of KST, which stands for kicker,sheet and topping lift. This refers to three ropes, or lines, although one line is a sheet, just to confuse matters. The reason we're doing this is to raise the big heavy swinging boom arm at the bottom of the main sail so it is above our heads and won't knock us senseless,or into the sea when it flys across the boat, which it will do at times. We loosen the kicker, pull on the topping lift and loosen the sheet which is a line running through a series of pulleys just in front of the steering wheel,(helm). The boom is now raised above head hieght and it's time to put up the sails. We're told to come about, which means we have to turn the boat to face the wind. A swinging arrow at the top of the mast points to where the wind is coming from, and we put the engine into neutral. Dave shows us how to wind a rope, or halyard, around a winch, without trapping our fingers, pinky pointing at the winch, and with Stewart pulling on a line on the mast up goes the main sail flapping like mad as it climbs to the top of the mast some 30 odd feet above us. Next the Genoa is fed into a slot at the focsal and this too is flapping away. The Genoa line is locked in place with a thing called a rope jammer and one of the lines leading to the clew on the Genoa is wrapped around another winch on the opposite side of the top deck. Dave asks us to now steer the boat out of the head wind, and sunddenly the sails stop flapping, fill with wind and the boat sarts to move again, slowly at first but soon were doing 3 or 4 knots according to the speedo. Wowee how brill is this. It turns out that what we have to do is to steer a course that is about 45 degrees from the direction of the wind. If I get to close to the wind, as they say the sails start flapping and all I have to do is correct that is steer the opposite way to get the sails full again. Within minutes were doing the same speed as we were with the engine on, which was 6 knots, which Dave reckons is quite healthy. The wind we're told is about force 4 which Dave can read from looking at the wave tops.
To make progress, in a forward direction we will have to do what is known as tacking. This involves turning the boat through 90 degrees, and sailing in the opposite direction. What happens here is that two people man the two winches, one will release the line to the genoa whilst the other tightens the other line. The command for this action comes from the helm, and Dave tells me to say ready to go about, to which my crew have to respond, Ready, and I turn the wheel.
The sails go into a mad flapping once more, ropes wizz about, winches turn and in a few moments we're sailing again but we're now on what we learn is an opposite tack. We will have to do this again and again to move forward, we're quickly leaning one of the fundamentals of sailing, tacking. We swop jobs as each of us gets to grips with these new skills and at one point Jackie manages to clock an amazing 8.5 knots, this is exhilerating and so much fun. The weather is perfect, clear blue skys and a force 4 breeze to take us to our lunch destination which is a sheltered bay, called Lochranza, on the north west coast of the isle of Arron.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Heads, tacks clews, and dark water.

I'm first up at about 7am on Saturday morning, and I'm sitting on the back of the boat, which from here on in I'm to refer to as aft, and a Swan glides by on a flat calm sea. All around mountainous islands rise up out of these tranquil waters in which ever direction I look, but this doesn't look like a day for sailing, there's not a breath of wind. We breakfast on a full english and we are joined by Stewart who is about 25 and last night was behind the bar at the sailing centre. He is going to accompany us for the weekend as an extra hand on board, he's also learning how to sail, and has jumped at the chance of two days free cruiseing.
As there's little or no wind we have to use the engine for the first hour as we leave our overnight mooring and head towards little Cumbrea. With Jackie at the helm Stewart and I take off the main sail cover and get out a big sail, called a Genoa, which is big, and has to be hauled up to the front end of the boat and attatched to some ropes, that we will now call lines. We learn that the bit of the sail that will be at the top is the head, the bottom corner at the front is the tack, and the corner nearest us is called the clew. All clued up now we connect the head to a line at the sharp end, now called fo'ra'd, with a shackle and two red ropes are run through pulleys either side of the boat and are tied with a knot called a bowline onto the clew of the sail.
Skipper Dave explains that whoever is steering, or at the helm, needs to keep a 360 degree lookout for any other boats that we can see, and try to get a fix on them by lineing them up with something on our boat. If that fix changes we're not on a collision course, if it remains the same we might have to take evasive action. He also tells us to look out for dark water in the distance, as dark water seemingly means that it's windy there, and as it's a sailing course we should head in that direction.

Cumbrae, west coast of Scotland, 11th Sept.

We've packed all our warm clothes long johns and thermal tops, plus our full length deck boots as instructed and met our skipper at pontoon E8/9 at Largs Marina at 7.15pm on Friday night. We are half of a party of four, but the other couple haven't arrived yet. Our yacht for the weekend is a Jeanaeu 36 footer and as we're first there we take the opportunity to bagsi the forward bunk. We meet our instructor, Dave, who tells us to make ourselves at home whilst we wait for the other two. After numerous phone calls it's got round to 8.30 and Dave decides that we're going to leave without them. Looks like we've got ourselves an exclusive charter for the whole weekend as Dave fires up the engine to leave the Marina for the 20 minute sail to the Ilse of Cumbrea where we will pick up provisions from the Sport Scotland centre, have a drink and meet the crew of the other yacht that's going out this weekend.
The day has been beautiful and we've just witnessed an amazing sunset over the harbour but by the time we're underway it's almost dark.Ok Jackie, says Dave, come and take the helm, and as we're there to learn how to sail, Jackie dutifully takes her place behind this giant steering wheel at the back of a 36ft yacht and Dave engages 1st gear and the boat slowly pulls away fro the pontoon with Jackie steering! All around us are millions of pounds worth of moored yachts as we slowly make our way down this watery avenue heading towards a massive sea wall. Although Jackie doesn't let on she's not too good seeing in the dark as her contact lenses can play havoc with judgeing distance at night. Never the less here she is steering our boat closer and closer towards the wall. So far we haven't hit anything and I'm impressed, not only with her steering but with Daves' confidence in our abilities. About 20 ft from the wall Dave tells Jackie to gently turn to the right and the boat, Somerlea, swings round gracefully and we're in the exit channel from the Marina, and a few moments later we're clear of the breakwaters, passed the flashing beacon and heading into open water bound for Cumbrae which we can see in the distance across about a mile and a half of sea. The stars are out, the sea is calm and Dave puts Somerlea into top gear and we're cruiseing at 5 knots towards a red flashing light in the distance. About 20 minutes later Jackie is manouvering our yacht, under instruction, slowly into the gloom of the pier on Cumbrae. She wears a relieved grin of accomplishment, and I'm impressed as Dave and I hop onto the pontoon and tie up our yacht to the key. Dave has explained the way we tie her up with a sort of knot called OXO that we secure to the cleat on the keyside.Its completely dark by now, and once the boat is secure we head off along the long pier to collect our provisions for the weekend. It would have been wise to bring a torch with us for this excursion, but of course we didn't, so we pick our way slowly towards the buildings on the shore wher our stuff will be.
We pile it all in a trolley, take the perilous route back to Somerlea before returning to the centre to join the others in the bar to socialise before bedding down for the night aboard our home for the next two days.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Start Yachting course

So here it is the day we start to learn how to sail the kind of yacht we intend to buy. We booked ourselves onto a Start yachting course at Cumbrea on the west coast of Scotland. The thing you can always rely on is that on the west coast of Scotland it's going to be windy, but today we wake up to a weather forcast for the weekend that forcasts clear skies and NO WIND. Now as a complete novice I have this notion that to sail we need some sort of wind, so how we manage to pick this weekend when there is no wind is a mystery. Oh well, never mind we've booked the boat and we're packing our warm clothes and full length deck boots and we're heading north to Largs, to meet our boat at 7.30pm. Lets just hope that we get at least a breeze.

Sunday, 6 September 2009


In the RYA booklet, competent crew there's a couple of pages on knots, there's the figure of eight, the clove hitch, rolling hitch, and the bowline. I sort of recognise these, somewhere in the dark reaches of my 61 year old mind I sense my days in St Perrins scout group when I about 10 or 11. Way back then we used to do knots and I do believe I passed my scout badge for knots, and I remember the bowline. There was some thing about a rabbit coming out of his hole, going round the tree, and back down the hole, but when I try this with a bit of string it doesn't work, or at least it doesnt look like the one in the book. Jackie has found a good bit of old string in the shed, it's a slow Sunday morning, and she's trying to tackle a clove hitch, but garden string is not right, what we need is some proper rope. It's been a week since we were looking at boats, and the week has been busy with work, and our yachting adventure has been put on the back burner. So today, to keep up the momentum we decide to take a run out to Coniston to seek out an outward bound shop where we might be able to buy some proper rope so we can practice our knots. It's a grey day with rain forcast for the afternoon, so we take a ride out along the east side of the lake stopping at Waterhead to see if we can spot my friend Malcoms sailboat. I spoke to him early this week and he offered to take us for a sail. I'm expecting something like the boat we looked at last week, but when we find it tied to a tree it turns out to be just a little bigger than a dingy. It does have a mast, but it's not at all like the yachts we have been looking at. No matter, it might turn out to be fun for a day out, but for now we head off for Coniston to buy a yard of rope. In Summitrex we find exactly what we need, a couple of yards of nylon rope, about a quarter of an inch in diameter. Back home we open our RYA book and find that practicing with this is so much easier. We both manage a clove hitch, a reef knot, fiqure of eight and a bowline. Hey another small step towards sailing. Got the wellies, and now the knots, and next weekend we're doing our start sailing course, lets just hope the weather picks up, and calms down a little.