July 07, 2008
Being a cautious sailor I tend to prefer to explore an area with someone who has already been there rather than doing it soley based on my reading of the Almanac and Pilot Books.
So in 2007 I signed up for a two week cruise with Ron MacInnes on his Sadler 36, Speedwell.
Ron normally runs a sailing school out of Ardrossan on the Clyde but likes to go up to the Western Isles in July with the aim of competing in the “West Highland Week” regatta.
So this is going to be a “Cruise with revision” for me and a “day skipper practical” course for the other four crew members.
I take a Ryan Air flight to Prestwick and Ron picks me up on his way down to the boat.
The other crew members turn up and we are ready to go.. Well we are ready but Speedwell isn’t quite, as Ron has a couple of maintenance tasks to finish off to get here ready for sea.
It is also blowing a bit so he decides to give us a demonstration of boat handling in the marina and it quickly becomes obvious that having had Speedwell for 25 years he knows exactly how she will behave in any situation.
July 08, 2008
Down towards the southern end of Arran and then close into Pladda lighthouse before altering to West South West for Sanda Island.
We are sailing well and I notice a large rib approaching us from ahead. I remember looking at the flare pack strapped to her rail as she passed us and thinking that she was well equiped, when she did a sudden turn behind us and comes up alongside.
Speedwell, Speedwell this is Royal Navy rib on your starboard quarter, please switch to Channel xx. So the turn across our stern was to get the yacht’s name…
Speedwell we are carrying out trials of fast underwater objects in this area can you please alter course to pass north of position xxx / nnn…
Please? Oh I like polite types. But this the same navy who put their first prototype Spearfish torpedo up a beach and across the eighteenth green of a golf course at 70 odd knots a few years ago..
Slap a way-point for xxx / yyy into the GPS and get the boss a required track and off we go again.
Way off to port there is what looks like an Royal Fleet Auxilary storeship and a Sea King helicopter hovering using her dunking sonar but that is all we can see.
We get to xxx / yyy and there is a yellow buoy bobbing in the water, looks like we missed the warning of these trials. Round the buoy and head for Sanda again, required track is xxx true, xxy magnetic.
Ron is quite impressed with my little hand held GPS with its built in chart display and wonders if it is insured and could I be persuaded to “lose” it somewhere…
July 08, 2008
On the trip across we begin to get the feel for Ron MacInnes, and his depth of experience, and are not at all suprised to hear a simple statement “There are two ways of sailing, the RYA way and the Ron MacInnes way, and guess which one I am going to teach you”..
Skanda Island is a nice little spot with just a Pub and two holiday cottages on it in a bay on the north side of the island.. A pub where everybody HAS to come by boat is a new one for me.
Coming into the anchorage Ron gives us his way of ensuring that you get the best spot in a bay with plenty of room to swing.
If you are the first boat into an anchorage and drop your hook then everybody else who comes in will say “Well that must be the best spot over there” and drop close to you.
So drop your hook well away from where you want to be and wait until you have two or three other boats around you. Then raise your anchor and go where you actually wanted to be.
If any late comers arrive they always go to where there are a group of boats and ignore “that fool who has decided to go over there”.
Result, a nice quite spot and no need to worry about not having to reduce that amount of chain you put out to limit the amount you swing.
Oh yes and while we are at it I always user 25 metres of chain + the maximum expected water height. Forget this minimum 4 times max expected depth, that is the MINIMUM. My way is more than that in under eight metres and if you have to anchor in more than eight metres up here then you better put it all out anyway…
And remember we don’t have a windlass so if you anchor in deep water that means a lot of chain and anchor to lift once it clears to bottom…
Still we finally get our anchor set where he wanted it to be, and its time to pump up the dinghy ready for a run ashore.
A meal in the pub and its back to the dinghy as the sun sets over the tip of Kintyre
July 09, 2008
Now the Mull of Kintyre has a bit of a reputation for tide rips and rough seas, it also has a traffic separation zone just off shore for merchant ships passing through the North Channel.
Early the next morning we get a lecture on how to get a head start on getting round from Ron.
“You can’t really go far enough out to avoid all of the overfalls etc because of the shipping lane. Take a good look at the tidal atlas, there is a tidal eddy that kicks in close to shore an hour or so before the main tidal stream changes. So if you keep in close you can be ahead of the game, and miss most of the rough stuff in the process.
What time to we need to be at the corner?"
And off we go for our second day at sea.
July 09, 2008
Round the Mull, close into the lighthouse and off northwards aiming for either Jura or Gigha.
As it happens the wind seems to be better than we had expected and we find ourselves roaring along.
Ron decides we can do best on a dead run towards Jura and its back to sailing “the Ron MacInnes way”.
“Can anyone tell me why we shouldn’t rig a Gybe Preventer when going down wind? Well if you can give me a good reason then I can tell you three reasons why we should. So on this boat if the wind is aft the beam the preventer goes on…”
“You may have noticed that I have two spinniker poles on this boat, I use that as an easy way of gybing the kite if we fly it but they are also useful when the wind is aft as we can pole out the genoa and with the preventer on we sail to the genoa and let the main look after itself”…
Well the wind was force 6 from dead aft and the sea state was about 8 feet or so, so we were screaming along goosewinged and showing some 10 knots or so on the log with a wave crest just ahead of the bow and another seeming to tower over the stern. Ron was enjoying himself and didn’t intend to let anyone else take the helm..
That was when he pointed out that we would be entering Craighouse bay in a few minutes and he would be rounding up to port and going for one of the mooring buoys.
No need to come head to wind to drop the main out here, we will wait until we have some shelter, so its a ten knot goosewing through the entrance into the bay, tiller over to the right, and round she comes. “Dont let that mainsail flap, its a new one and I dont want it worn out on its first trip..” “Depower the main and put it away whilst we are sailing on the genoa, no need to come head to wind that only makes the sail flap.”
“Well we could sail up to the buoy but I suppose we should have the engine on just in case…”
“Martin go forward and rig the mooring lines ready to through a line over the buoy please, there is a bit of chain in that cockpit locker, one line cleated on either side, though the fairlead on each side, back over the rail and then tie them onto the two ends of the chain.”
“I will come up to the buoy and all you need to do is throw the chain over the top of the buoy and let it drop then we can shorten up the lines. Take another two lines and a second chain forward as well and once the first line is around the buoy you can then rig the second set of lines feeding the chain through the ring on the top and then tying the second line on. Using a piece of chain stops any wear on the lines.”
“Oh yes and leave the first set over the buoy just in case anything comes loose on the main mooring set.”
(Whatever happened to the idea of motoring up to the buoy and using a boat-hook, well a try it with a force six and a sea running and Ron’s chain lasso wins every time!)
All fast forward, so its get the dinghy out again and row into the beach for a trip to the local pub which just happens to be right opposite the Jura Distillery, so it is time to sample the local produce. Whisky and Langaustines..
July 10, 2008
We sail over to the entrance to Loch Sween and up the length of the loch, looking out for a few shallow patches that we had to aviod.
Ron took the chance to go through Man Overboard procedures with his Day Skipper candidates and we had a period of gyrations chasing after the old favourite of a weighted fender casualty.
Welll we would have done but that means risking loosing a fender and that goes against Ron’s Scots upbringing, why risk a fender when some half full water bottles and a bit of rope will do the same job.
I still find it worrying that so much time is spent teaching the manouvering part of a man overboard situation and so little time is spent actually discussing the mechanics of getting the casualty back aboard.
If sailing short handed, e.g. as a couple, would the crew be physically strong enough to recover an unconcious skipper from the water?
Could they do it before hypothermia kicks in? I’m writing this in the UK in February and the water is COLD (survival time in UK waters in winter is about 5 minutes)
The time to think about recovery options is when tied up in the marina with a good chandlery close by. If the crew is going to need a block and tackle to do a recovery, and your rig doesn’t have something that can be used for that purpose EASILY then perhaps you need to keep one somewhere handy in the cockpit locker.. If you fall over it will be too late to regret not sorting something out earlier..
You may decide that a rope and a winch will be sufficent but at least you will have thought about it. Now remember to tell any new crew members of your recovery technique before you take them out!
Oh yes and does anyone have life-jackets without a built in harness? Well they will keep you afloat but a harness would make the recovery easier wouldn’t it. (and if you aren’t wearing a life-jacket and fall overboard then its probably too late to think about that as well!).
July 10, 2008
Out of Craighouse and over to Loch Sween.
Up the loch heading for the sheltered anchorage at the village of Tayvallich.
This is an area that reminded me just how inaccurate GPS charts can be.
I remember an instructor out in Greece on my first ever yachting course saying “Those of you who have brought your GPS’s with you please remember that will tell you where you are on the planet. They will not tell you where you are on this chart. This area was last surveyed by HMS xxx in 1890 and her crew didn’t have a GPS!”
Whan I got my first GPS and went out to Croatia with it I was a bit suprised to see my track showing me passing the wrong side of a lighthouse (according to the in-built database of lights), and what was even more worrying was the fact that the lighthouse was on the mainland!
These two little anecdotes just go to show that a chart surveyed using one datum doesnt necessarily work well with the WPS 84 datum used for GPS. That bit on the charts about moving GPS positions 0.x minutes East and 0.y minutes North is important!
The British Admiralty are rapidly correcting their charts to make them WPS 84 complient but many other charts are still based on older datums, and the GPS manufacturers don’t necessarily get the correction factors right when they digitise older charts (In fact I have sometimes wondered if they actually apply the correction factors at all!)
Tayvallich harbour has what looks like two entrances. One is clear but the other is full of rocks. My GPS track displayed on the Garmin chart showed me taking the right hand (rocky) entrance when we in fact went through the left hand (clear) one.
In good visability this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem but stick a waypoint on the good entrance on the large scale chart on my Garmin and try to use it and you will hit the breakwater about 200 feet left of the actual entrance…
Charts and GPS must be used together with caution (If you need a good explanation of why take a look at a book called “How to Read A Nautical Chart, by Nigel Calder” and you will look at even your paper charts with a lot more caution. He gives the best explanation that I have come across so far of the risks involved with charting techinques, obsolete survey information and datum differences..)
Just because the chart was published yesterday doesn’t mean that the area has been re-surveyed, or that the survey was carried out using modern techniques. I’m currently trying to apply 29 pages of corrections to a folio of charts for the southern part of the North Sea, and that is only a couple of years worth of corrections. Does it worry me that the channel at the mouth of the River Deben is 200 metres SW of where it was shown on the chart? Well only if I decide to go there…
Don’t forget paper chart corrections and also remember that charts shown on your lovely chart plotter probably won’t have the corrections for the last few years.. So remember to compare them with your corrected paper charts when in doubt.
Anyway, thats enough of a tirade about charts and GPS lets get back to the blog!
Tayvallich is a sheltered anchorage and hence tends to be quite crowded with boats left on permenant moorings. Visitors may be able to squeeze in somewhere and drop anchor but equally may prefer to anchor in one of the bays just outside the harbour and use their outboard.
We found a likely looking spot inside the harbour but the swinging room was going to be quite tight so its back to “Sailing the Ron MacInnes way”.
“Down in the cabin at the bottom of the starboard locker you will find a big lump of lead called an Anchor Buddy fetch it up on deck please, with the line thats attached to it…”
The Anchor Buddy turned out to be a proptrietry name for a type of device usually referred to as an “angel” an extra weight that you can hang off your anchor chain which allows you to anchor using less scope that you would normally deploy.
The basic principle is that you anchor as normal with chain running back from the anchor on the sea-bed and then rising up to the bow-roller. Now usually you lay scope so that there is enough weight in the chain to prevent movement of the boat lifiting all the chain and tripping the anchor, but that implies a certain amount of room to swing for that amount of scope.
You can reduce the amount of chain laid if you can prevent any snatch lifting the chain of the sea-bed and this is achieved by hanging a weight (called an angel) on the decending part of the chain aiming at having it just off the bottom. This may be a specialised version like the buddy or just a hank of extra anchor chain. Put a line onto your angel and secure it around the chain so that it can be lowered down the chain. Lower it until it hits the bottom and then pull it back up a little more than you expect the tide to fall and secure the line.
I have never employed it myself when anchoring, except under the eagle eyes of Capt MacInnes as I try to avoid such tight situations but it worked OK when we used it on this trip and hence is well worth knowing about.
July 11, 2008
Coming back down Loch Sween we saw seals sunning themselves on the rocks and stopped off for an expedition into an area of what Ron said were abandoned Oyster beds.
We had to take his word for it as floating weed kept clogging the prop on the outboard and we couldn’t actually get into them.
July 11, 2008
The tides on the West Coast of Scotland have always had a bit of a reputation but they are something that one just needs to learn how to cope with, and coping with them really only requires planning.
They vary from a point between Islay and Ireland where there is no tidal movement at all, to areas which have whirlpools, standing waves and other such hazards.
Between the islands of Jura and Scarba lies a stretch of water with a really fiercesome reputation, the Corryvrecken. It is an area with very strong tidal flows resulting in overfalls and rough water and in the bottom of the channel there is a rocky pinnacle that causes a disturbance in the tidal stream which manifests itself as a whirlpool… (and the top of the pinnacle is 59 metres below the surface!)
As we pack up after lunch Capt MacInnes informs us that that is our next destination and asks me to check what time to arrive at the mouth of the monster so as to get through it at slack water…
Surprise, surprise it works out to be just about the time we will get there under sail with the current conditions. (It was only later in the cruise that I actually twigged that before asking for such calculations he had already worked them all out himself and planned the days accordingly!)
July 11, 2008
Hit the Corryvrecken at slack water and it is more like a tame pussycat than a tiger, and we motored through with no problems.
Emerging on the western side we came to an area called “The Great Race” and by then the tide had built up enough for it to cause some rough water. To give you some idea of the power of the Corryvrecken, enter “The Great Race” at the wrong time on a rising spring tide and you will go through the Corryvrecken like it or not, unless you have a fast motor cruiser. Tidal streams over seven knots can have that sort of effect…
North of Scarba there is another fast running channel, “The Grey Dogs”, which is sometimes referred to as the “Little Corryvrecken”. I haven’t had a chance to look at that one yet, but it is just as fast a tide and the channel itself is far narrower (with an island in the middle at one point!) so even less room for errors if you get taken through on a spring tide.