Saturday, 3 March 2018

MAPS AND PHOTOS


We will no longer be using Iridium Go and therefore tracking services will cease. I will however update our position on the map and produce an icon showing our latest anchorage position. The link to Vessel Finder below will also be pretty accurate. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

CALEDONIAN CANAL 29th August


Into the Corpach Sea Lock to begin our trip up the Caledonian Canal.

Caledonian Canal runs 97km, is 5.5m deep and two thirds of its length passes through several Lochs in the Great Glen.  It has 29 Locks, 4 aqueducts and 10 bridges. Neptunes Staircase is the biggest flight and comprises 8 locks rising 20 meters. 
The Vic. An old steam Puffer. Runs on coal and does trips up and down the Canal

The famous Canal Engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to survey, design and then build the Canal in 1803. It was conceived of as a plan to reduce unemployment in the Highlands after the Highland Clearances, a period of over 100 yeas during which Landlords removed tenants from their lands in order to farm sheep. The tenants who had no security of tenure were evicted on mass and as a consequence lost their homes and livelihoods.
 
Taipan in the Corpach Basin with Ben nevis in the background.
The Canal would also provided a safe passage for ships from north east to south west Scotland. The canal finally opened in 1822 after many unforeseen difficulties and a big blow out in the budget. The shipping traffic never really eventuated because in the intervening time steam ships were invented and were too large for the canal. It was closed for a while between 1843 and 1847 for repairs after defective materials caused Corpach Lock to collapse. In 1962 the locks were mechanised. Now a Scheduled Ancient Monument the Canal attracts  over half a million tourists each year.

Taipan in Neptunes Staircase with a group heading north.

Corpach Sea Lock at the south western end of the Canal near Fort William, on loch Linnhe, was our starting point. We had anchored in a neat little puddle with the occasional sea otter coming for a look. The magnificent Ben Nevis towers over Loch Linnhe and Fort William. To approach the first sea lock we had to coordinate with the lock master and prebook a locking in. 

Looking bach towards Corpach.

Once through the sea lock we arrived in the basin at  Corpach where we met Rex and Susie Whistler old friends from Asia who drove up to meet us. With so much to catch up on we didn't go any further that day and renewed acquaintance and had a fair few ales and some of the local brew with a group of Scottish and Dutch crews.
 
The new crew settling in!!
Next morning, leaving their car in the care of the Lock keepers, we set off up the 8 locks of Neptunes staircase. This involves about 2 hours of line handling whilst steadily moving upward as each lock fills and we moved forward to the next. Its a pretty intriguing process and was made all that much easier with extra hands. The first day we did the locks and then called it quits again. We had travelled about 500 meters!
Captain Dave, Rex and Susie.

All our days were short and pleasant with good wine and food and friends to share it with. In Laggen Lock we met David and Andrea McKay, Australians on Diomedea, and we all had a great night together. In Girloch we bumped into Zen Again with Mike and Nicky Reynolds who we last met in Bermuda and who are also Australians from WA, We go back a long way. The Splash in 2002 from Fremantle to Darwin was where we first met!!

Rex David Andrea Kris Susie and David
  
In Fort Augustus, the only town on the canal, our friends Jane and Bill on Vagrant, who we met in Stromness a short time ago, were just taking a stroll up the locks and spotted Taipan proudly flying the OCC flag they gave us. Can you believe our luck. Two wonderful line handlers to help us down the 5 locks and into Loch Ness. Another fun night aboard before we went our opposite ways the following day, with us to help them up the locks.

Charter Canal boats ply the waterway with tourists. 

In all we spent seven days transiting the Canal and Rex and Susie left us about half way. We had such a great time with them and were sorry to see them off at Laggan Lock. There is good public transport following the Canal so they were able to grab a bus back to pick up their car and head home. 


Each Lock is manned by Canal Staff and they were all extremely helpful and the whole locking process was stress free. The locks of Holland and Sweden on the other hand, were pretty stressful because there was no assistance and the bollards we had to tie to were recessed into the lock walls making them very difficult to get. They were also designed for ships so were spaced too far apart for smaller boats.

One of the more unusual vessels in the canal. A Czechoslovakian  adventure sailing charter headed to Ireland. Complete with cannon.

The scenery is fabulous and for the most part the weather was really good. No wind and some nice sunny days.  The mountains were just blooming with the purple heath and the wild flowers often lined the canal. There is the occasional castle and Loch Ness has been sailed down but Nessie wasn't spotted.

Urqhart Castle. Loch Ness.

Overnight pontoons are provided at very regular intervals along the route. They are often equipped with power and water but because you motor through the canal power is not such a big deal. We paid 3GBP per night for power where we used it.

Fort Augustus. 5 locks down to Loch Ness.

The cost for us to spend eight days in transit was 283GBP and this included all pontoons overnight and water.  There was no free wifi but we had a moderate signal with the cellphone most of the way. Inverness at the northern end of the Canal has a marina called Muirtown in which we spent the final 2 nights and were able to walk to the supermarkets for provisioning.

Goodbye Caledonian Canal

Looking at the season, the shortening days and with the East Coast of Scotland and England to tackle we have decided to get moving rapidly south. Check back and see how that goes.


Monday, 21 August 2017

SCOTTISH WEST COAST CRUISE. 21st August

Loch Eriboll

Our arrival in Lock Eriboll from Stromness, 65 miles west  of the Orkney Islands was without incident and in lovely afternoon sunshine we made our way south down the lock to tuck in behind a shingle spit with a pretty island on the end. Here, very close to shore, we found shallow enough water to anchor. Sheep were sunning themselves on the shingles and a few people were fishing from the old Lime Kiln landing on shore. We had a arrived in mainland UK again after almost a year.
Anchorage in Lock Eriboll.

The first leg of our west round Scotland trip was just 32nm  to Loch Inchard. We had to round Cape Wrath the most north westerly point in mainland Britain. Once again the sun shone and the winds were gentle with us. 

Cape Wrath

Rhiconich is a couple of houses and pub at the end of Loch Inchard. We ventured ashore by dingy and went in for a drink but there was a very weird crew and so we left after one quick drink incase it was catching!! 

Into Loch Inchard.

After the night at anchor we headed back up to Kinlochbervie, a tiny highland village at the head of the loch, The snug little harbour is presided over by old disused and mostly defunct fishing buildings but there is a small marina. A nice local guy drove David off to get gas and we set off again towards Portlevorchy just 10 miles south.

Portlevorchy

What a delightful anchorage this proved to be. Good depth going in and a good muddy bottom in beautiful highland  country. We had deer browsing on the shore at sundown and passed the famous “English Rose” at rest on the hard at the home of John and Marie Christine Ridgway, her owners.  There is an Outward Bound camp in the bay run by Ridgeways daughter we are told. It was stunning weather and the scenery was amazing.

English Rose on the hard

The next leg was via a lunch stop in Badcall Bay which was filled with moored debris from fish farms. Most unattractive so we carried on to Lochinver, in all about 30 miles. Lochinver town has a few good eateries which were all very busy and we were lucky to get a table at The Caberfeidh which was excellent. The marina was a disappointment. No facilities and quite expensive. We should have anchored in the bay. Suilven Mountain looms large in the distance and i missed a photo as we came in and next day it was covered in cloud.  Next morning after obtaining some fuel we headed south 40nm to Badachro which provided safe anchorage for 3 nights while some bad weather passed by.

Badachro

The coastline is very barren and rocky. There are some crofts and cottages tucked away in tiny harbours but the overall effect is one of isolation. There are quite a number of crab traps to beware of but overall not busy on our watch.

Arriving at Plocton

From Badachro we went on  30nm to Plocton, a really nice little town and we were lucky enough to meet some West Aussies on holidays. A fun night followed.

Plocton


Plocton

From Plocton we sailed up to Eileen Doonan Castle but were unable to anchor as the bottom is very rocky or way too deep so carried on as it was only 26 miles to Ornsay where we anchored overnight. Link to Wikipedia on Eilean_Donan Castle

Tobermorey the next day, 40 miles south and we encountered the first crappy sailing weather with a good stiff noserley and rain to frustrate our progress. The weather forecast was bad again but Tobermory is a delightful town on the Isle of Mull so we were happy to be stuck there for 3 nights.
Moving on 25nm from Toberrmory down the Sound of Mull to Oban we met family for lunch and spent 2 nights on a mooring. A great little restaurant at the marina turned on an excellent meal which we shared with some english cruisers.

Tobermory 

In summary, the Scottish West Coast as we saw it is a lovely cruising ground which deserves much more time than we gave it. The weather was not so great and the locals were all complaining that the whole season had been terrible. “Thems the breaks” as they say. What we did see we really enjoyed. 



Our next leg north for 28nm took us to Fort William at the southern end of the Caledonian Canal. We are meeting friends here so the next instalment will be on our adventures with more locks and maybe we will see Nessie!




Monday, 31 July 2017

ORKNEY ISLANDS 31st July

Bishops House, St Magnus Church and  The Earls Palace.  Kirkwell

There are quite a few islands forming the Orkney Islands and  the major centres of Stromness and Kirkwall are on the largest, Mainland Island. The Orkney islands are much flatter and generally more arable than Shetland. Without so much of dramatic coastal cliff line typical of Shetland, it has a softer  more rounded landscape.


In Stromness we hired a car for 2 days to visit the famous archaeological sites on Mainland Island. our first stop was Kirkwell half an hour to the east.


Kirkwall is the major city with a long history. It has an impressive church built by Vikings from the prevalent red sandstone, St Magnus dating from the 11th Century. Across the road is the Bishops house from the same period, now a ruin. The Earls Palace 1601, overlooks the Bishops house and has a very chequered history. Built by Black Paddy, the nefarious villain subsequently beheaded for treason in Edinburg. Several castles in both Shetland and Orkney owe their existence to Patrick, Earl of Orkney, also know as Black Paddy. For all his alleged wickedness he had a good eye for architecture and his legacy is some lovely ruins, considered one of the finest Renaissance buildings in Scotland.  We dined and said farewell to Joachim and Cecilia as here our paths diverged. They to the East coast of Scotland and we to the West Coast.

Maeshowe. No photos allowed inside but check the Wikipedia link

Our first stop next morning was to Maeshowe in the heart of Neolithic Orkney and only a short drive from Stromness. We got very lucky as they had a cancellation and we were able to book a viewing for the Thomb for that afternoon. Bookings are essential as the next available time otherwise, would have been 3 days hence.
Ness of Brodgar Archaeological dig.

We visited the Ness of Brodgar nearby where archaeologist are continuing the excavation of arguably the most important archaeological discovery in the UK in recent years. Geophysical Surveys only revealed the possibility in 2002. Used for 1000 years from 3500 to 2500BC it shows evidence of a large complex of  high-status stone buildings. Far from everyday structures these excavations are revealing buildings impressive for their structure and the quality of construction. Set on an isthmus between two lakes and surrounded by many significant sites, including Stones of Stenness, Henges and stone circles, this may have been a ceremonial focal point for communities of Orkney and maybe even beyond.

Neolithic house

Skara Brae, the most complete Neolithic village in north-west Europe, a short drive west from here was our next destination. This site is very similar to Jarlshof on Shetland but much more crowded with tourists and without the wonderful audio tour. Its scale is impressive and several of the wheel houses and the Broch are more imposing and less ruinous. Also buried by sand and rediscovered when a storm stripped the grass from the dunes in 1850. It was explored by antiquarians then but its was consolidated between 1928 and 1930 by the Australian Archaeologist Gordon Childe for presentation to the public.

Skahil House

Skahil House overlooks the site and is also open to the public so we took a look inside before heading back to Maeshowe for our tour. 
Maeshowe is a burial mound, a chambered thomb, and considered the finest neolithic building in north-west Europe. Sometimes called passage graves this tomb sits inside a large circular mound upon a flat disc surrounded by a deep ditch. It was built 5000 years ago and located  to form a significant part of the Neolithic ceremonial landscape. 
Under the mound there is a long stone lined entrance tunnel which opens into a stone lined chamber with 3 smaller side chambers. The quality of the stonemasonry is extraordinary for a time when no metal tools even existed and given that some of the slabs used weigh in excess of 3 tons. The entrance passage is aligned to catch the midwinter sunset and focus its rays on the rear wall for about 3 weeks. This was a significant date in neolithic society, signalling the return of longer days and the commencement of planting for the coming summer.

Broch of Gurness
The  Broch of Gurness on the north coast provided another stopping point and a good example of the Broch architecture remains preserved on the site. There are just so many neolithic sites scattered across Orkeny and Shetland it would take years to see them all. 

Fascinating jumbled waterfront of Stromness
On the second day we took a scenic drive around the eastern end of the island and finished at Barony Mills, a working flour mill with its waterwheel and wooden machinery intact. I was a great stop with the mill running and an instructive guided tour.


found on a house in Stromness
Stromness, the harbour in which we were staying is itself a pretty and interesting town. Much of the original waterfront architecture is intact and in good condition. Set on a pretty harbour overlooking Scapa Flow site of the sinking of Royal Oak, a British battle ship with heavy loss of life in WW11 and the scuttling of the German Fleet following WW1. During WW1  Kitchner, the minister for war  was on a big warship going to Russia when it was sunk off the entrance to Scapa Flow by a German mine. Revenge of Breaker Morant. There are a number of companies doing dive tours of the wrecks.

We caught up with a cruising couple called Jane and Bill McLaren aboard Vagrant. What a great ol' time we had and they just happened to have an OCC Burgee spare which they presented to us so we are now official.


Jumbled waterfront at Stromness

After  several plans to leave were thwarted by inclement weather we finally made passage out of Orkney towards North West Scotland on a pretty decent day, although cold. Tidal factors in the entrance meant we had to time our departure very carefully or potentially find ourselves pushing up to 4 knots of current. We got it right but It turned into a bit of a washing machine with the sea state somewhat crap as a result of the previous few days of strong wind. It was only a 56nm trip though and gradually improved so that by the time we rounded Whiten Head at the entrance to lock Eriboll we were in full sun and with only slight seas. So the next update will be from the sunny west coast of Scotland. Hopefully!



Sunday, 30 July 2017

FAIR ISLE. 30th July


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Setting off from Sumbergh Head Shetland Island early in the morning we made a bee line for Fair Isle, 35nm to the south west, hoping to get a berth in the tiny harbour. It was a good sail in fair weather and our early arrival saw us rafted to the Swedish yacht “Bliss”, a lovely Oyster 56  belonging to Joachim and Cecilia. There were only 2 yachts alongside and another arrived later in the afternoon. There is room for several more rafted either to yachts or the Good Shepherd, the ferry. There is also anchorage room inside the small bay.


Fair Isle is renowned as a bird watchers paradise with over 300 species of birds having been sighted there. A big building housing information and accommodation has been built near the harbour. There is only one ferry from Shetland twice a week so visitors not on private yachts are quartered in the bird watching facility. The Island is precipitous at the edges. Massive cliffs plunge into the North Sea and are battered by huge winter storms uninterrupted all the way across the north Atlantic.
Rugged coastline with amazing lichen.

Seabirds in huge numbers flock here to nest and raise young in the ledges and burrows on the cliffs. Puffins were the main object of our interest and they are abundant. Funny little birds with beaks which look like they have been poking about in paint pots they are fishers and sit on the water in large groups diving to catch food for their young, sequestered away in burrows at the cliff tops. They are easy to spot, although much smaller than I had thought. They make hard work of the flying business with short rapid strokes and sometimes ungainly landings at the nest side. Nevertheless we did enjoy watching them although I was frustrated by the lack of a Leica!


Bliss leaving behind us.

The weather was glorious and we spent the whole afternoon and evening strolling and enjoying the birdlife as it soared over the dramatic coastline. Later we had sundowners with the crew off Bliss, exchanging information and contacts. They plan to circumnavigate starting next year so we hope to meet again.




As much as we’d have liked to stay longer, the weather window was just too good to ignore so off we set again in company with “Bliss”, this time towards Orkney Islands some 60nm south west. We opted to anchor at Otterswick Bay in the north of Sanday island and Bliss carried on.  Continuing south west the following day to Stromness in lovely calm weather we were able to approach the rugged cliffs of the West mainland quite closely observing seals and lots of sea caves. Stromness has a good harbour with marina facilities and with inclement weather forecast we chose to avail ourselves of the convenience.







Next we will explore the Orkney islands

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

SHETLAND PONIES AND PUFFINS. 25th July



Blissful weather saw the end to our Norway adventure and that meant Mokster days were over. Schengen visa was finished and it was time to move again. We now had to go to a non Schengen country. Great Britain and Ireland are the only countries for thousands of miles so that was the only option for escape. 
It is not widely understood that almost all of Western Europe is lumped into one “country” for the purpose of visas. Non Schengen visitors like Aussies Kiwis and Americans can only spend 90 days in any 180 day period in the whole Schengen Zone. This effectively means that every 3 months one must leave for 3 months before re entry. As a result we have been on a sleigh ride these past 3 months to see as much as possible in the shortest possible time. Such a pity. 
Arriving in Lerwick

So out we headed into the North Sea for the passage of 190 nautical miles to Shetland islands,  navigating around oil wells and fishing boats, in sometimes limited visibility. The wind was almost zero. So it was one great big rolling motoring trip. 
Lerwick

Conveniently our arrival in Lerwick was in daylight and a berth was found rafted alongside “Leona”, a Swedish Nauticat 41 with Leo and Lena aboard.  We had a cyber introduction by “Tuuletar” and were looking forward to meeting them. 
Together we hired a car for an island tour the next day which not only reduced the cost but also offered the opportunity of some company. 
We had a fabulous day exploring the main islands spectacular west coast and seclluded bay. We did see puffins but not so close. One of the many disadvantages of such rushed travelling is the lack of time in which to get acquainted with other sailors so this was a real highlight. 
Shetland islands comprise roughly 16 inhabited islands set about 100nm north of Scotland. The resident population of 23 thousand is outnumbered by sheep, ponies and puffins. The little Shetland Pony is a hardy native of these islands. One of the islands, Foula, has apparently 50 ponies to every resident. There is evidence of human occupation since the Mesolithic period. Originally part of Norway they apparently became part of Scotland in leu of a dowry when a Norwegian maid married a Scottish king.

Leaving Lerwick behind we sailed south to Sumburgh Head and anchored in a small bay beside the Airport, just a short walk away from Jarlshof, a  Neolithic site dating back to 2500BC, before The Great  Pyramid or Stonehenge. 


Archaeologists have established that there were a number of successive  occupations here over thousands of years. Each built over the older sites, which when finally abandoned, was rapidly covered with sand and became an unrecognisable mound. Uncovered by storms in 1890 when a fierce storm tore the turf and tussock from the sand hills on the coast, partially revealing the stone dwellings. It was then excavated,  and the remains of the settlements are spread out across the picturesque Sumburgh Head. Fertile arable land, fresh water and plentiful supply of flat stones for building presented the original neolithic seafarers a perfect location to settle. There's a smithy for working bronze from around 800BC, underground storages, souterrains, used to store food, and a Broch. This was a double walled tower at least 3 stories high which was surrounded buy fortifications, all built from the local stone and enclosing several smaller houses. A medieval farm was established in the 1200s by Viking decedents. Several wheelhouses survive on the site and one well preserved wheelhouse containing beds hearth and saddle quern for grinding grains is open to visitors. 
Scara Brae
In the late 9th Century Viking settlement saw the construction of several longhouses consisting of farmhouse, bathhouse, smithy servants quarters and separate byre, or animal barn. This settlement survived three centuries as a farm. Buildings evolved and devolved on the site but the main house was in continuous use during the period. It remains a mystery why the area was subsequently abandoned.
The latest settlement on the site was a house built by the Earl Patrick Stewart. Black Patie. By the end of the 1600s this building too was a ruin and the owners moved to a new home nearby.  The Scotish Government  owns and administers the area now. 
There is a good taped tour supplied with the ticket and we were enthralled for several hours as we explored the history of the site.
Anchorage at Sumburgh Head


Sumbergh Head anchorage proved a good comfortable overnight stop. The scenery is pretty with a paddock full of Shetland Ponies and a couple of interesting farm houses ashore. David had a go at fishing after our exploration ashore with somewhat dubious results. He managed to snare a good half bucketful of decent looking smaller fish and proceeded to prepare them for dinner. Barbecued and buttered they went from respectable looking fare to mush!. We don't know what they were but we do know what they look like and we wont be keeping any of them again!!
Next destination Fair Isle.