Day 15 – Fort Augustus to Laggan Locks

We were slightly worried that we wouldn’t get the first flight up this morning but we were the last boat in of six. It is a very good job that we moved the boat last night so we were closer to the front of the waiting pontoons because it does appear that this decides your position. Not when you arrived. So we might have arrived the previous afternoon but if someone cheekily pushes to the front on arrival they’ll beat you into the loch.

Typical of the conditions since Stonehaven it was wet and windy, the strongest winds saved for when we were motoring down Loch Oich. Thankfully the swing bridges and locks worked perfectly and we were soon moored up, with shore power at Laggan Locks. Very briefly the thick grey clouds became thinner white ones and we enjoyed lunch in the cockpit. Before normal service was resumed, the boom tent came out, and the rain started.

Given that we were finished by 2:30pm we decide to walk part of the Great Glen Way. In the end the round trip was about 10 miles. Then Pam managed to rustle up a great evening meal with the very limited ingredients that I still have on board. We really need to find a supermarket.

Day 14 – Down Loch Ness

Unrelentingly bad weather in Scotland is making this trip far too much of an endurance test. I was looking forward to the 20 mile trip along Loch Ness, but 30-35kt winds on the bow and unremitting rain made this yet another day of endurance with very little fun.

When we got to Fort Augustus at the South West end of Loch Ness we planed to go up the flight of locks. We radioed the lock-keeper and he said that the next lock up was approximately 4:30pm. Since it was about 2:15pm at the time we went for an explore and a pub lunch. Got back to the boat shortly after 3:30pm and radioed to confirm the time only to be told that because we weren’t there at 3:30pm and a commercial vessel wanted to come down, the next flight up would 9am the next day. We were less than impressed. At the bottom we had no shore power, but at the top there was shore power and that is why we wanted to overnight at the top not the bottom. Given that the night time temperatures drop to 8 degrees having shore power Papillon has an electric kettle, toaster, heating and water heating. Hardly the lap of luxury at the best of times shore power makes somewhere cold, wet and windy a lot more bearable.

I’ve made the decision that Oban is my final port and that after that the boat goes up for sale. Rivers and the Med appeal and the Western Isles on a 40-50 footer with a group of guys but not on a 24 footer solo. I’ve had a lot of fun doing short weekend sails on Papillon, but she is simply too small for an extended trip.

Day 13 – Inverness to Dochgarroch

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday was an endurance test. Today was fun. It was so, so good to meet up with my wife Pam in Inverness Marina last night and this morning we woke to bright sunshine. A shower, a trip to the fuel berth and an hour later we were entering the Caledonian Canal. Built for the navy in the 19th century the income of the canal now comes from leisure craft. All locks are manned and the lock keepers couldn’t be more helpful.

We went past the initial marina where a lot of boats stay overnight and headed through two swing bridges and a flight of locks to arrive at the locks at Dochgarroch. The very helpful lock keeper told us to moor on the pontoon and plug into shore power for an overnight berth. However the berths said they were reserved. Pam walked back to the loch and he immediately explained that the reserve signs were to be ignored and feel free to plugin. Pam said the shore power bollards had locking covers, but it turned out they were actually not locked. So we have showers, toilets, shore power.

Caught the bus into Inverness and enjoyed a meal and stocked up on some provisions for the following day.

Day 12 – Whitehills to Inverness

This was a long, long day. Too long. It started quite well, but endless 25kt wind squalls and long periods of torrential rain reminded me that there must be better hobbies! My stomach was suffering from all the motion of the last few days. I was in awe of those who can cross oceans or even sail around the world. The further into the trip I go the more I realise that 4-5 hours is my limit. Beyond that it is more endurance than fun.

Day 11 – Whitehills

Since I’m heading West and the wind was blowing at 15-20kts from the West today it was a day in port. Walk round to Banff which has a little marina not mentioned in my pilot book. So it must be fairly new. An internet search shows it opened in 2007, so my pilot book is 10 years out of date!

It’s going to be a long sail to Inverness tomorrow, at least 12 hours. So booked into a B & B for a few hours on dry land. It is quite a treat to not be at the mercy of the weather, cocooned inside a stone building.

I need to be at the boat for 7:30am so assumed that I wouldn’t be able to have breakfast but the very helpful, Swiss, owner is making me breakfast at 6:30.

 

Day 10 – Peterhead to Whitehills

The plan was to set off at 2pm and so arrive at Rattray Head at slack just as the tide turned Northward. Woke at 6am and checked the weather, fairly strong on shore winds and heavy rain were forecast for the afternoon. Yet up to midday the weather was clear and the winds light. I decided to set off, knowing that I only had two hours of favourable tide before it turned against me. I knew it was going to be slow and I was correct the trip took about two hours longer than it would with tide in my favour.

It became very cold and wet and I really started to question why I was doing this! At around 4pm I tied up at Whitehills and spoke to the harbour master. Checking the weather it looks like the wind will be on the bow all day tomorrow so I’ve decided to stay in port tomorrow and carry on to Inverness in a long day on Saturday. Currently the weather for Saturday is an off shore wind that would give me a slight sea and should push the boat along at a nice pace. Nevertheless I will be looking at a 12 hour day. I’m getting a little tired of these long days and looking forward to seeing my wife Pam in Inverness. Pam is joining me for the Caledonian Canal. We have 5 days to complete 66 miles whereas on Saturday I have a single day for 58 miles. Roll on shorter trips. I have no desire to cross an ocean, four to five hour days are my optimum.

On the plus side Rattray Head is now behind me and that is a great relief. It was fairly benign today but the trip overall was fairly lumpy with an easterly wind blowing down the Moray Firth while the tide was against me. Wind over tide, that is wind blowing the opposite way to the tide, always gives a confused sea state.

Day 9 – Another day in Peterhead

Winds of 30kts plus rattled through the harbour today. The sea outside looked lethal for a small boat. So did my washing and then wandered over to Buchanness Lighthouse. Thankfully the wind is now dying and all looks set for my departure at 2pm tomorrow. Watch this space.

At 19:00 a small Norwegian boat set off from the marina, couldn’t be more than a 26 footer. I suspect they are setting off to Norway, heading into a very choppy sea. Either brave or foolish. If I’m right and they are heading to Norway then it will be a long passage and some heavy weather would be virtually inevitable. Brave guys. The weather had certainly improved, the wind down to 15kts and the sun shining. But I was sat in my cabin watching Michael Portillo on the TV! Enjoying a glass of red after a home made Paella. What a wuss.

Day 8 – A wet day in Peterhead

I’m currently waiting for some bad weather to pass through. Started the day checking the electrics as the problem in Stonehaven made me nervous. Battery monitor is reading 12.8v when not connected to mains, 13.7 on mains and 14.4v when the engine is running. So it look like the mains battery charger is doing its job and the alternator. When the battery monitor was giving spurious results like an idiot I blamed the monitor! I won’t make that mistake again.

Once I was happy with that I wandered into Peterhead. I’m afraid I can’t recommend it. Got soaked and bought some over trousers.

Tomorrow promises to be strong winds and more rain. Oh joy!

Day 7 – Stonehaven to Peterhead

Phew! That was quite a day. Overnight I was on the harbour wall at Stonehaven. Woke up early and the battery monitor indicated that the batteries had discharged to just 10.5 volts. No surprise then that it wouldn’t start the engine. But I did a rough calculation and I couldn’t have used more than about 20 amps overnight and I was supposed to have 150. Something was wrong.

The very helpful harbour master lent me a battery which initially didn’t start the engine. But after an hour on charge it did. I needed to replace the batteries. The harbour master ran me to the local Kwik Fit and they supplied suitable batteries but I needed different terminals and they even got a friend to bring them down. Could I fit them? Answer surprisingly – yes I could. Nik will fix it!

Now I had new batteries I was able to set off about 30 minutes after my target time. But still nervous about engine starting I motored all day. Wind drop to virtually nothing but the sea state was bad. I assume this was left over from fairly strong winds in the morning. The harbour master at Stonehaven put the fear of God in me about the sea state at Peterhead and Rattrey Head. So I’ve decided to wait for the strong winds on Wednesday to pass. There was the hope of a window tomorrow, Tuesday. But heavy rain all day isn’t very appealing and I’m hoping to get an engineer to give my boat electrics a once over. It all seems fine but still a little nervous about whether it was just the batteries, or perhaps there is an issue with the alternator. I’m out of my depth on boat electrics and would prefer to get some more expert advice. Got a couple of days here to try to sort it all out.

 

Day 6 – Anstruther to Stonehaven

Longest day so far, started at 7:30am leaving Anstruther in perfect sunshine. Unfortunately within minutes I hit a lobster pot. You have to keep an eagle eye out for them. I later found 6 in 40m of water about 10 miles from anywhere in the entrance to the River Tay.¬†While removing the fenders I didn’t spot one but it wrapped itself around the propellor shaft leaving me no other option but to get a wet suit on and goggles and get into the water. Only took a minute to free the rope and then I continued on my merry way. Getting in and out of the wetsuit took about half an hour.

At first I was making around 4 knots because I was heading North against the tide. And I said I’d be with the tide. Sadly todays trip is 50 miles and that is 10 hours, you only get 6 hours of favourable tide so the first few hours were slow.

Crossing the Tay estuary I avoided a rather large boat that I chose to go around the stern, back, of rather than cross in front. The sails certainly helped but the wind was light and the motor chugged away all day long.

In the last 2-3 hours the sea got a little choppy as the wind lifted to around 15 kts, pretty much directly behind me. So I final had a useful sail. I thanked Navionics charts on my phone for letting me know which of several headlands was the entrance to Stonehaven. When I final rounded Downie Point, it was very obvious and I headed into the harbour and tied up to the wall at around 6:30pm. By 7pm I was ordering a very nice Sea Bass and a pint of Stella at The Ship Inn.