Sunday, June 27, 2010


Pretty little Carnlough

[Kyle]In Murlough bay we hoisted the sails for a quick upwind beat to Carnlough, about 15 miles to the southeast. We had the benefit of a 3-5 knot current pushing us in the right direction, so the progress wasn’t too slow for upwind. We did have a couple of spots where the wind funneled down the glens across the opposing current and set up a pretty nasty sea, but most of them only lasted half a dozen waves or so before calming down on the other side. We heard our Welsh friends make a traffic call leaving Rathlin Island and an hour or so later saw them coming up astern motoring upwind in the zone of fastest current. We kept thinking we would cross their paths on one tack or the other, but the wind helped out our wind angle so much that we stayed well ahead of them the whole way until we pulled off for Carnlough.

The harbour at Carnlough is tiny. The entrance is only about three times the width of Footprint and there’s barely enough room inside to turn around. We found the harbor to be a lot busier than we anticipated. The entire visiting boat section was full of fishing boats cheek to jowl tied stern-to. We found a spot just big enough along the wall in the outer harbor to tie up. One of the locals, who we threw a line to, reminded us that there was a proper marina a few miles down. At first, we thought it was his way of saying we weren’t welcome, but it turned out he just thought we would need power and water hookups and the like.

We got the boat all secured and then Maryanne went to find the harbour master to find out about paying the overnight fee. After a brief conversation, he decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and told us to go on. More confusion. It turns out he meant “go on and use the harbour for free” and not, “go on and get out of here” That’s more like it!

We had a quick walk around the town to orient ourselves, and then we headed off to hike up to Cranny Falls, a round trip of a mere five kilometers. Included in the hike was the old limestone quarry and a viewpoint of the whole bay.

Hike to Cranny Falls and back

Afterwards, we went to see the other sight: the Londonderry Arms Hotel. Built in 1848 in the grand style of the time, its ground floor consists of a nice pub, a couple of grand and elegant dining rooms and several cozy sitting rooms, each with wingchairs and table lamps clustered around a big window. It was once owned by Winston Churchill, but the accounts we have read seem to indicate that he only saw the place once, probably to sell it. It seems like a marvelous place to pass an afternoon, plus they have free wifi, which we’ve been a little thin on lately so perhaps we’ll go grab a pint later.

We went back to the boat to change as it was actually starting to get hot. Along the way we caught sight of a small air-cooled Volkswagen convention. I’ve had several of these and I’m a bit nostalgic about them, even though the Car Talk guys say they’re deathtraps.

Busy little Carnlough

We also saw a parade! Whee, a parade! I heard the drums and Maryanne and I went out to watch them go by. Strange parade, nobody seemed to be having a good time. As an American, I assumed a parade would be good, clean fun. Not so. It turned out the parade was the Orangemen, a religious/political organization that can be a little insensitive (shall we say) to the local Catholic population. Maryanne stopped me before I bought a cotton candy and parked myself on the curb.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Murlough Bay

Fair Head and Murlough Bay

[Kyle]Following our afternoon on Rathlin Island, we went somewhere else we had been before: Murlough Bay. We did this simply because we liked it so much the last time and were eager to return. None of our cruising guides even gives the place a mention. The only indication that it is an anchorage at all is the little magenta anchor symbol on the chart. Our Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland has a paragraph or so about how it was once the site of a small chalk quarry, the only evidence of which is a ruined limekiln near the beach.

Murlough Bay is not so much a bay as a slight indentation along the rocky coast. Sailing by, even quite close, it looks completely untenable as an anchorage, with waves crashing onto the rocks on either side. Approaching closer to the crook of the bay, there is a tiny gap in the rocks of sandy beach that is about 50 meters long – not long enough for a stroll, but probably just the right size for a game of fetch with an energetic puppy. The slight dent in the coast and the rocks on either side of the beach disrupt the currents that race by, making for an uncharacteristically calm spot in a sea of pyramid shaped waves and swirling eddies caused by the fierce currents rushing by. All that is left is a slow, rock-you-to-sleep swell that gives the nice feeling of being on a boat without feeling like we’re underway in a rough sea.

Right up at the point where we start feeling nervous about being so close to the beach and the adjacent rocks, we dropped our spade anchor in fine sand about three meters below the surface, which it holds onto like it were a ring embedded in bedrock. We were surrounded by a huge coliseum of green hills. The cliffs of Fair Head lie just off in the near distance to the north. We were close enough to the beach to hear the surf as it landed.

The trip from Rathlin was so short that, aided by a current of up to five knots, we arrived in just over an hour. We were there by 10am, giving us the luxury of a day off. I know, I know, a day off from what? You know, from sailing and navigating, like. That can be hard. We had the whole afternoon to just loaf. The thing I really needed from all of the early starts of late was a good long nap. Without any stress about having to get up to go somewhere or do anything, I had one of the best afternoon naps in recent memory. At one point, I woke up and decided I was so content napping, I went right back to sleep. I don’t usually do that. I’ll wake up a little and then start thinking about all of the things I have to do or how I have to get up soon anyway and then it’s all over – no more sleep.

I woke up actually feeling refreshed and Maryanne and I spent the rest of the day reading and watching the world go by. To one side of the beach is a single holiday cottage that looks like it would be a great place to rent for a week or so. The guests essentially have the entire bay to themselves – except, of course for the American boat anchored off the beach. This place is definitely off the beaten path and I’m pretty sure no one has anchored here since the last American Boat the previous August. I hope we’re adding to the ambiance, although I realize Footprint is a plastic catamaran instead of a classic wooden ketch, but maybe it’s all the same to the people on the beach.

We got to see what looked like a group of new guests arriving. Three cars pulled up. The people went inside for a few minutes and then there was a huge flurry of exploration as they checked out their new surroundings. After a while, it petered out. A couple of people sat on the beach talking. A couple of others fished. Some kids went playing in the trees. After a long while, they all filtered back to the house for what I imagine was a nice meal and a good catching up.

In the evening around dinner time, I went out on deck, cast a lure into the weeds for about five minutes and caught a Pollock. It must’ve looked to the people on the beach like I do this every day as part of our routine, “Oh, it’s dinnertime. I’ll go catch a fish”. Ha! That was the first fish we’ve hooked since the Dorado on the passage from Guadeloupe to Antigua a year and a half ago and the first one we’ve actually landed since Boston six months before that. The count is now at four. Four fish, even three-fingers Tony from New Jersey can count ‘em on one hand.

We had already had dinner, so Maryanne decided to save him for her breakfast. He isn’t very large. I keep thinking of the kid’s breakfast cereal commercials in the U.S. where they say, “part of a complete breakfast”, and then show a complete breakfast with their product next to it, as if it would add anything. She’s going to still be hungry after eating that fish, unless it’s part of a complete breakfast. Still, it’s a fish and it counts.

Yeah, Murlough Bay is a pretty nice spot.

Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland

Footprint in Rathlin Island

[Kyle]With a glorious sunrise, we left Scotland under motor on in a flat sea for a bit, then a light wind filled in from the southeast and we were able to hoist the main and unroll the screacher for a fast run across the strait to Northern Ireland.

Soon, we were back in "Green Arizona", with its cliffs and pinnacles towering above the sea. We pulled in at our last stop before crossing to Scotland last year, Rathlin Island. We tucked Footprint in at the shallow end of the dock and Maryanne went to pay the £13.50 fee. She said the guy remembered us from last year.

We had a short walk around to get our legs some use and to re-familiarize ourselves with the place. We hadn’t been ashore for four days by then. It felt good to get out. It’s funny how memories play with time. We hadn’t seen this place for 318 days and yet, walking the familiar roads, it felt like we had only been gone for a couple. The sounds of the birds and the smell of the heather brought it all back as if we had never left.

We had dinner aboard Footprint and treated ourselves to a dessert at the pub, which was marvelously chocolaty. We struck up a conversation with a couple of semi-retired Welshmen who had just arrived on their boat. They gave us some good advice for later on. They were hilarious. They had been sailing together for many years and had the banter of on old couple, finishing each other’s sentences and correcting each other, exchanging playful put-downs and repeating inside jokes in stereo. They had a bunch of time off and were just sailing around without a care in the world. That’s the life, man.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Isle of Gigha (Last stop in Scotland)

More sailing

[Kyle]We woke to more low clouds interspersed with heavy rain. Avery time we would manage to get up the motivation to get up and at ‘em, rain would start pelting the cabin top. Yuck!

We had light headwinds forecast. I had done a couple of calculations and determined we didn’t have enough fuel to get to the next fuel stop so we would have to sail as far as possible. If we could get through the whole day, we would then have enough range to motor the rest of the way should it become necessary.

We got the sails up as soon as we cleared the sound, and I was pleased to find the wind angle was a little better than a direct headwind and it was stronger, so we were making decent speed. We would be able to get there with a series of very long tacks only about ten degrees off our course, and a few short tacks to get us at that angle.

Of course, it didn’t last. The wind shifted and we tacked west toward the Isle of Scarba. We tacked again to the south, crossing the Gulf of Corryvreckan – the 1 km wide channel between the northern end of Jura and the Isle of Scarba -at maximum ebb. We would not have dared enter the straight at this state of tide, or probably any other, to be honest, but crossing a fair distance from the entrance seemed okay.

The Corryvreckan whirlpool is one of the three most notorious in the world, the other two are the Maelstrom in Norway’s Lofoten Islands and The Old Sow in New Brunswick, Canada. It is caused by the funnel shape of the Sound of Jura, which causes the tide to “pile up” significantly more in the sound than out, making for a large elevation difference. Water can flow through the Gulf of Corryvreckan at up to 8 knots. Beneath the water a pinnacle rises from the 200m seabed to just 28m, forming white-capped breakers, standing waves, bulging boils and countless miniature whirlpools swirling around the main vortex. Corryvreckan is a fair sized tourist attraction. At maximum current, high-speed ribs can be seen speeding toward the show with their occupants dressed in immersion suits, just in case.

As soon as we passed by, we got shoved smartly an all directions, but mostly to the side, by the increasing current, requiring us to tack again to stay on our course. The wind picked up, we accelerated and between our boat speed and the current, we spent half an hour or so going over 11 knots over the bottom. At one point, we hit 12.4! Fun. We were glad we weren’t trying to go the other way. We would just have to hover in place for six hours until the current reversed.

The wind also started going crazy just then, and not just because we were getting shoved around by the current. The wind died down to nothing within about thirty seconds right as we were in a back eddy, giving us our minimum speed of -1.4 knots in the desired direction to compensate for the +12.4 from before. We just sat there drifting for a while before the wind steadily increased to 30, causing us to rush on deck and wrestle furiously flapping sails to a smaller size. No sooner would we get finished than the wind would start a precipitous decline and we’d have to undo everything. It did this over and over again for most of the day.

Scotland! In most of the rest of the world, being in the middle of a big high pressure system meant calm winds and cloudless skies. We were getting huge winds, rough seas and rain. Not fair. The same thing also happens in low pressure systems, only with more wind. It seems the only time the weather is really nice around here is for a short while before the arrival of the next low. It may be a couple of days, it may only be a few hours.

At one point, I was dismayed to find a guy in a 20 something foot monohull perform a horizon job on us. I had seen him come up from behind us and made a note of his presence. I then got busy trying to coax any motion at all from our limp sails. A few minutes later, I looked up and saw him zooming past at a distance of a couple of miles, heeled over and going really fast. I looked up at our useless sails – nothing. From the set of his sails, it seemed as if the wind where he sailed coming from the completely opposite direction as we were seeing and there was plenty of it. We had to get over there.

By the time I managed to get Footprint there about fifteen minutes later, he was gone, man. The last bit of his sail was descending over the horizon. How humiliating! Beaten by a monohull.

We did find the wind though, and it was good. We had to put a reef in each sail, but we were going fast in approximately the right direction. The monohull’s sail got bigger, then we could see the hull. We were gaining on him but the damage was done. He bore off to some other location before we even got close. Well done, monohull guy!

As we approached our anchorage at the Isle of Gigha (pronounced Ghee-a), the Jura current turned against us. Even with a good wind, we were crawling toward it. It had been an exhausting day. We got up really early (2am) after little sleep and the sailing all day was real work, not the brief flurry of activity to get everything up and trimmed, but constant manhandling of everything and figuring out strategies to get us where we needed to go. My hands were chafed and sore from pulling on wet lines all day. My back hurt. My legs hurt. My brain was tired from thinking. I just wanted to get there, but the cruel current was making us go slower and slower. We had to wait until the current started dying off again before we finally made it into Ardminish Bay. We got the anchor set the first time amid lichen-covered rocks with the occasional seal, which was a huge relief. It was also buried in sand, which would make getting it up a bit less messy the next day.

It was a shame, but we were both too exhausted to enjoy what will probably be our last Scottish anchorage. We had a quick dinner and collapsed into sleep, ready for our early day the next morning (you’ve got to go when the currents are going).

The skies had cleared overnight and we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise on a mirror sea. The forecast was for nothing (low coming), so we knew it would be another day of boring motoring, but it was at least clear and sunny and the alternator would provide enough power to charge everything full.

Farewell to Scotland

Our early start gave us a glorious sunrise; farewell to Scotland – next stop Northern Ireland.

It was clear enough that we could see the tops of Rathlin Island and the Antrim coast as soon as we were clear of Gigha.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cuan Sound

[Kyle]At Ballachulish, we woke to a world that had been drained of all color. Thick, heavy, drizzly clouds had moved in overnight. The cups on our anemometer stood motionless and the Footprint felt as if she were resting on concrete.

We pulled up the anchor and began motoring over the glassy water. The autopilot steered. Occasional drizzle covered the windows and the outside of the cockpit enclosure. We could see well enough to avoid hitting things, but not enough to enjoy the gray view. Venturing on deck into the cold drizzle wasn’t any fun. We spent all of our time just sitting there, waiting for the big excitement of the next turn. In a word, it was byoorun’ {Maryanne – let me translate for Kyle, that’s his current pronunciation of “boring”}.

Well, except for one thing. We did get to see some of the competitors for the Three Peaks Yacht race on their way to Fort William. In this race, runners climb the three highest peaks in Britain: Mt. Snowdon in Wales, that one in England {Scafell Pike} and Ben Nevis in Scotland. Between peaks, they sail. The finish line is at the Corpach sea lock at the end of the last run. The race is done by total time, so the faster they sail, the slower they have to run and vice versa.

Flat calm seas, not so good for a race so they break out the oars as well as the light wind sails

Ft. William had been in a flurry of preparation for their arrival the day before we left. We were told we would have to wait for the first group to lock up at the sea lock before we could lock down. The fleet had been beset by headwinds, calms and foul tides and were nowhere in sight the day we left the canal. It wasn’t until a day and a half later that we started seeing them near Oban. They were still at that point a day from Fort William.

As we motored down the Lynn of Lorn, we spotted a handful of spinnakers with barely enough wind in them to keep them filled. Each boat also had long oars set up with a person on each that they were using to help. The lead boat, in addition to its pair of oars, had jury-rigged a second set. I plotted them on radar and it looked like they were making about three knots. Ft William was still 35 miles away and the tide was about to turn on them.

We honked the horn and went on deck to cheer and yell encouragement as we passed each boat. We got back exhausted waves from crews who were clearly ready for the whole thing to be over. I imagine the last two or three nights of being frustrated by fluky winds was also wearing on them.

We arrived at Cuan Sound (of the world’s biggest mooring ball. See August 2009) an hour or so after the current began to shift. We crawled into the sound against a strong, whirling current and anchored in a nice, wide spot in the pretty bay.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back at Sea

[Kyle]We got the first locking down out of the canal the next morning. Footprint was now back in sea water.

We made our way against moderate headwinds down Loch Linnhe, through the Corran Narrows and around the corner into Loch Leven. We went under the bridge at Ballachulish hoping we would get lucky enough to find the mooring ball we had used in April still free. It was not, so we did our best to find space between the tightly packed mooring balls. No luck.

We tried the next little bay over, closer to the bridge and the anchor dragged in idle reverse. We pulled it up to find it covered with kelp and a very surprised looking crab.

Next, we went up the loch one more little bay to the only other spot in the whole loch that looked shallow enough to anchor on the chart. There were no other boats or even moorings there, which made us suspect the holding must be pretty poor. We tried the anchor anyway and it held fast the first time. Whoo, hoo!

The anchorage was large and we were pretty far from shore but, for staying on the boat, it was a great spot. We were on a shallow bank in a wide stretch of water between two uncharacteristically low islands of gravel and grass that must be the remnants of a glacial moraine. The islands are full of nesting sea birds, mostly gulls, who wheel around crying to each other in the updrafts on the windward side. We had long views of the glens both up and down the stunning loch. The lack of protection from the wind kept our wind generator spinning. That and the bright sunshine meant the batteries stayed topped up and we had more power than we could use, like for writing blogs and such.

Sailing Scenes

We were now rich by cruising standards: Full fuel, full water, full fridge, clean laundry, a clean boat, three full tanks of propane and all the emission-free electricity we can use. We had a whole free afternoon to just potter around and enjoy the views of our new neighborhood.

Seems like the perfect kind of day for dinner in the cockpit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Don’t Dilly Dally

[Kyle]I met the Laggan bridge tender as he showed up for work and asked for an opening. The poor guy hadn’t even managed his first sip of morning tea. Since it was early, there was only the occasional traffic and we managed to get through before any cars needed to stop.

From there, it was through a short and pretty section of canal before Laggan Locks, where we would start the drop back to sea level. We were now with two other rental boats, one with a couple on holiday, the other with a couple of staff from the rental company. Perhaps their company does one way rentals, perhaps somebody couldn’t take all of the bouncing off of everything anymore and gave up.

Our entertainment started after we had been lowered to the level of Loch Lochy and the lock doors were opened. The couple on the rental boat in front just kept standing there holding their lines, apparently waiting for something else to happen. We all sat patiently behind, engines idling, echoing their glug, glug, splash, splash noises off the chamber walls. We waited a bit more, exchanging the slightest of knowing smirks with the staff in the boat next to us. We chatted with the lock keeper to pass the time. Another couple of minutes passed and one of the guys on the other rental boat, with the well practiced manner of someone who is used to explaining the whole process to first-timers, went forward and quietly explained to them that the locking was done and that they could go now.

They looked a bit confused for a second, dropped their lines and went to start the engine. Then realizing they weren’t attached to anything, went and grabbed their lines again. Finally, they were ready to go and the lock keeper tossed them their lines with a smile and wished them a good holiday.

Maryanne manages the bow at the lochs, and fishes out a fellow boater's fender

About a mile or so later, we fished one of their fenders out of the loch, which we got back to them at Gairlochy, on the other side. They didn’t speak much English, but were all smiles and gratitude. They seemed to be having a great time in Scotland. The canal is a great way to see it. Later in the day, they came and watched us go through Neptune’s Staircase (rental boats aren’t allowed past the top).

We arrived at Neptune’s Staircase in Banavie around Noon and were told we’d go through after lunch. We passed the time by doing our laundry at the machines in the shower building on the quay. It isn’t all glamour. Footprint was still covered in big grains of salt from the North Sea crossing and I decided to give her a good rinse. We hadn’t had access to water anywhere else in the canal so far. Then I figured why not get out the soap and brush and give her a proper scrub? I’m not sure it changed her appearance much, but it made me feel better and it got the salt off. Those big salt grains act like ball bearings when walking on the decks.

After lunch, we were told they were going to lock another boat up before getting to us, so we had over another hour to kill. So…we gave the inside a good scrub as well and topped it off with long showers for ourselves, including, for me, my traditional Solstice haircut (sorry, Mom).

By the time the other boat made it through to the top, most of the onlookers had become bored with the process and wandered off, leaving us pretty much by ourselves for the process. Footprint was the only boat locking down. As we went further and further along, getting closer and closer to the main road, we gradually picked up more tourists.

With two or three locks to go, I heard a friendly “Hello”.

I looked up to see a man in perhaps his late sixties or early seventies with a shock of white hair and a very neatly trimmed beard and mustache that was each about ¼ inch thick. It was clear he spent a great deal of time every day with an assortment of specialty grooming tools. I’m always very suspicious of this. With a beard like this, you still have to go to the trouble of shaving most of your face every day while taking the additional time to make sure the edges of the pointless little line where your jawbone is supposed to be are perfectly even. Even though he was standing above me on the wall of the lock chamber, I could tell he was looking down his nose at me a greater distance than the actual one between us. He had a slight pompous smirk on his lips.

“Oh, Hello”, I responded.

He leaned in as far as he could. “I wonder if I could ask you to change your flag etiquette?”

“Oh…really? I was expecting to then be quite correctly admonished for the tattered state of our Saltire, which looked in serious danger of disintegrating before we made it out of Scotland. It was a neck and neck race. Instead, he went on a long and boring diatribe about how the correct courtesy flag was the British red ensign and the British red ensign ONLY.

“The French fly the Saltire to annoy us. The Danish don’t know any better….” he continued.

Maryanne interjected, “But isn’t it a courtesy flag?”

He snapped back at me, not even deigning to address Maryanne since, as everyone knows, women are pathetic… growing stupid little beards. “In France, you would be arrested for not flying the courtesy flag!”

Not true (and you can believe Maryanne researched this).They may be annoyed, but they wouldn’t arrest you.

I tried to change the subject by asking if he had a boat in the area. “Oh, I don’t sail much, but I do like to see things done PROPERLY.”

Oh, go away, you old bore! I did not like this guy. The absolute nerve of a man with an overly practiced posh English accent walking the locks of the Caledonian Canal insisting that people lower their Saltires! I could hardly imagine that any Scot would find it less courteous to fly their Saltire than the more generic British red ensign, which would also be appropriate. The courtesy flag is meant as a nod of thanks to the country visited. Most of the visiting yachts in Scotland fly the blue and white Saltire.

I suppose I would be denied sponsorship to join whatever posh Yacht Club this guy belongs to on the basis of our courtesy flag etiquette or the fact that we were overheard calling the galley the kitchen or some other such rubbish, missing my chance to exchange anecdotes about that time we took the boat out last year over overpriced tumblers of rum, but I could hardly care less. By my last count, we have flown over a dozen courtesy flags to his….oh….none.

I surprised even myself by expressing none of this to him. Instead I thanked him heartily for educating me and setting me straight, implying that the very next time I had a free hand, I would rectify the situation with haste. He could leave with the smug satisfaction of thinking he’s “converted another one”. Perhaps he’ll leave the next boat alone. Unless, of course, they’re obviously a bunch of dirty hippies!

By the last lock, there were perhaps a hundred people all snapping photos of us as we motored out toward the sea on the way to the basin just above the Sea Lock.

We still weren’t done with our chores. Once we were tied up at Corpach Basin, we took or propane tanks for a nice walk along Loch Linnhe on our little wheelie carts. (“Sir, please keep back. They don’t like strangers.”) Luckily, there were no other propanes around. We would have never got them to heel. We got them filled at an autogas station a couple of miles away. Our autogas adapter for the tanks is one of the best things we bought.

We really had stretched the life of our Saltire a few too many sails!

At the last locks before the basin, they let water run over the top of the lock gates for the night, making for nice waterfall noises in the basin, which we enjoyed with the Solstice sunset along with a nice dinner and, of course, a wee dram, still flying our Saltire.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A whole lot of Fort Augustus

[Kyle]I had originally intended to get pretty far through the canal but I was foiled. First, it was sleep. We just couldn’t seem to get out of the bed until about 9:00, you know, because of all of the gravity. Then my computer played up and I had to disassemble the thing and put it back together before it was happy. By then, it was lunch and the lockkeepers were gone. Then they sent a whole fleet of boats going the other way through first. THEN there were too many boats for one lock, so we had to go second.

So many distractions gave us a late start to the day

We didn’t actually mind going second. That put us with three other rental boats instead of five. We had spent most of our time waiting being entertained by the antics of the holiday rental fleet. Those poor people seemed to have the most terrible time controlling their boats. I don’t know if the unfamiliar controls are just confusing or what. The rental fleet is all equipped with bow thrusters – little electric propellers that shove the bow one way or the other. I can only imagine that, during the original briefing with the nice man from the boat company, he says something like, “This is the bow thruster. Use it to turn at low speed.”

Fort Augustus

Every time one of these boats gets into a predicament in close quarters, which is A LOT, we can hear bow thrusters going crazy as the person at the helm vainly attempts to get the boat straight using just the bow thruster and nothing else. Usually, all that is really needed is to put the boat in reverse to keep it from hitting the thing in front of it, but in the panic, they seem to head for the bow thruster.

We came out of one lock and found a rental boat wedged in bow first into the tiny space between two other docked boats, perpendicular to them. Three sets of arms splayed out each side fending off while the skipper nuzzled his way further in with the bow thruster. One crew of a boat we locked through several times with seemed to have no control over their boat whatsoever. At first, it was amusing and a little worrying, but after a while, we started feeling for them. This was not the vacation they wanted. As they were untying from the dock, Maryanne went over and gave them a few simple pointers, like disconnect the leeward line first so the wind straightens the boat rather than sends it sideways. They were very grateful but, alas, after the next lock, we found them bow into the wall, thruster going crazy, each holding a line they couldn’t get to the wall from that position, looking forlorn. At least they weren’t making it any worse by yelling at each other.

We finally got away from the Fort Augustus flight at about four. Then we had to keep waiting in each lock for the slow rental boats to catch up. At the end of the day, we raced across Loch Oich to arrive ten minutes after the bridge tender had gone home for the night.

Total distance: 7.1 Nautical miles. Oh, well, Loch Oich is beautiful and the weather was nice and summery. Maryanne made a particularly yummy batch of soup, which we ate feeling pretty happy with our lot in life.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Caledonian Canal ….Again

Back in the Locks and Lochs of the Caledonian Canal

[Kyle]After another night of only a couple hours of sleep (I’m sleeping less on vacation than I do at work). We got up early in order to enter the sea lock right at opening time. We had to because we were blocking the entrance to the lock and the tide would soon be too low to operate the lock and let us through.

We locked into the canal, paid our fees and tied up at the marina so that we could head off to the grocery store. We had deliberately stocked up before heading to Norway and now were running pretty low on a few things {Maryanne: It was also going to be a LONG time before we passed a good-sized supermarket again}. One thing led to another in there and we ended up buying about 200 pounds of groceries, coincidentally for about £200. I am sooo glad we have our little portable hand trucks for just such an occasion.

We got everything stowed and were soon ready to head up the canal. I called the bridge tender to ask about going through and was told the bridge was out of order for the foreseeable future. They didn’t even have an estimate for an opening time. The real killer is that it just happened. The fishing boat we had gone through the sea lock with had gone straight through and ended up being the last one before they discovered the bridge was broken.

I was devastated. We didn’t have either the time or a good forecast to go all the way around the top of Scotland. It was a Saturday just before lunch and, by all accounts, it looked like this was one of those things that needed it to be Monday before they could even order the part. My mind raced with contingency plans. My ambitious but not too unreasonable push southwards would need to became an awful marathon of long days and 24 hour-a -day sailing to make up for the loss. The other killer was that it was shaping up to be a really nice day. The sun was coming out and the wind was perfect for a downwind sail across Loch Ness. The forecast for the next couple of days was rain and headwinds. We were missing our chance.

Maryanne called the bridge tender on the radio after lunch. He said they found the problem and would be attempting an opening in the next few minutes. If it was successful, we could go through right after that. Well, we both stood on deck with bated breath watching for any signs of movement of the bridge. It opened, and then closed about halfway and stopped. Damn! Workmen in orange jumpsuits started crawling all over the place and after e few minutes more, the bridge shut and there was more crawling. This did not look good.

It wasn’t that bad. They called us a couple of minutes later and said we could go through. It turned out somebody had vandalized the bridge in some way that made it look like the problem was much more serious than it was. Once they figured out what was really wrong, it was a quick fix. We found out all of this as we were motoring through and never managed to get to what actually happened before we were out of earshot.

Next was the Muirtown flight. As it was Saturday, there were a lot of onlookers stopping by and asking questions. We talked with two American women for a few minutes before Maryanne acknowledged she recognized one (especially her voice). Since we don't have a television, Maryanne reads A LOT, but she also tries to catch her favorite lecture series on line when she has a decent internet signal ( One such lecture that she'd sent me recently and INSISTED I watch was by Jill Bolte Taylor. Jill is a leading American brain scientist that had the bad/good fortune to suffer a stroke, while being aware enough to understand the amazing impact the stroke event was having on her awareness of self and the world at large. She'd given a very emotional testimony on TED and is now a strong voice in the field of stroke recovery. Maryanne had been impressed with the strong emotions and the effort of reliving of such an experience. It was indeed Jill and her manager standing before us today - invited to the UK to give a talk to the National Health Service - asking about OUR lives. What a world!

If you are interested in seeing that same talk - here it is.

We got through the last bridge on the Inverness side of Loch Ness before the keeper went home for the night. This gave us the entire length of Loch Ness to sail before we came to the next lock at Port Augustus. It was marvelous! I would say it was pretty much the opposite of our last trip through Loch Ness going the other way. Instead of a freezing beat to windward in low cloud and rain, we unrolled the screacher and slid dead-downwind on a clear, warm sunny day. We could see the mountaintops this time! It was calmer on board that it is in most marinas and we were the only boat on the entire Loch. We made it to the other end at Port Augustus right as the sun was setting at 10pm. The light was beautiful on the hills.

Loch Ness

It had been a really long day and we were well overdue for a long night’s sleep.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Leaving Bergen and Norway

[Kyle]We left Bergen in the bright dawn of midnight. Our route took us in light tailwinds along a pretty path that meandered through rocky islands for about twenty miles before we met the open sea. Once we got there and turned on our course to Inverness, the wind increased and we started moving fast. As we sailed out of the protection of the last island, the seas picked up dramatically. Within about five minutes, we went from flat water to 3 meter seas that rolled us uncomfortably as they broke on the beam, slewing us sideways. Based on our original forecast, I thought it would be necessary to head a little south of a direct course to keep from getting the full brunt of the strong winds and waves but we found we could actually keep to our course and keep moving fast.

About a third of the way across, a predicted change in the wind from northerly to southerly arrived so we tacked and slowly started getting pushed north of our course toward the northwest. The wind died and then came up again several times all while staying southwest and pushing us further northwest. {Maryanne: all typical sailing frustrations!}

In the middle of the night during one particular lull, we passed close by an oil rig, BP Harding well 93b. I can’t say it looks like a nice place to work, way out there in the middle of nowhere. That place is all business. I saw lots of rusty metal doors and the innards of machinery they didn’t need to cover, but no windows, no outdoor break area, no signs of life at all. I was glad to keep sailing by.

My original plan with regard to the period of southwest winds was to slowly head northwest until a frontal system brought in strong north winds that we could ride into Inverness. It turned out we were going a little faster than I had originally expected so while we were still about nine hours from the forecast wind shift, we came within sight of Fair Isle, itself about three hours off, and made the decision that it would be better to wait out the wind shift there than at sea and put into harbor.

I would have loved to stay longer, but we needed to catch the northerly winds as soon as they came. The forecast called for the winds to increase as far as Beaufort force 9 (41 to 47 knots - pretty appalling weather) within a day or so afterward, worse in the north and east. We needed to catch the winds while they were still a reasonable strength and use them to get south and west where they wouldn’t be so bad. A delay would mean we would be trapped for days and Fair Isle’s harbor is dangerously exposed toward the north.

I had intended to at least get out and have a look at the Puffins, but by the time we got done securing Footprint for the short night, we were pretty bushed. The wind was now swinging through west and was starting to blow pretty hard. Any reasonable Puffin would have been well buried in their burrow, so we decided to go for a couple of hours of sleep instead {after a quick call to UK immigration to let them know we'd arrived}.

Following procedures after arriving in Fair Isle, UK

We left just after Midnight. As soon as we were out of the harbor and made the turn southwest, we were grabbed by the wind and shoved smartly toward Inverness, enjoying the relative comfort of a fast downwind sail.

We made it the 150 miles to Inverness just after Midnight the next day and tied up to the piling at the Clachnaharry Sea Lock. Even though we were only a few hundred miles south of Norway and the Shetlands, the night was noticeably darker. We actually had to break out our headlamps while we tied up to see what we were doing.

Once again we crashed for a short sleep (too short), needing to be ready for an 8am opening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Footprint docked at the wall in Bergen

[Kyle]We arrived into the city center harbour and managed to squeeze in along the quay at a spot just big enough for Footprint that had been rejected by others. We were right along the Bryggen, the old, medieval district. (Bryggen is Norwegian for wharf). We secured everything, answering questions from passersby as we did, and then headed out for our usual – getting to the top of the highest nearby hill for a view.

Instead of the usual routine of hiking up the nearest unimproved trail with Maryanne carrying my cinder block so that I have something to sit on at the top as I enjoy the view, we paid 35 Kroner to take the Fløibanen – the Funicular – to the top of Mount Fløyen. We then had an ice cream from the shop up top and had a nice stroll down to the city center, first through the park, then on winding residential roads with pretty houses that reminded me very much of Lombard St. in San Francisco.

A ride up the hill, to viewpoints, restaurants, fun and games

And a very pleasant stroll down, that's more like a "nice walk"!

Maryanne was a completely different person on the walk. Usually, as she’s pulling herself up over a ledge panting, she says things like “oh God …it goes on forever!” And, “I’m startin’ to ‘ate this bloody mountain!” This time, on a downhill stroll on a nice, wide path, she was downright chirpy, saying hi to everything. “Hello, birds! …Hello trees! …Hello flowers! …Hello bits of rubbish!” She was practically skipping! I know there must be some sort of lesson I could learn from this, but, for the life of me, I can’t possibly think of what it must be.

The next morning, we were up bright and early in order to get to the police station to clear out of Norway with Immigration. Like a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the whole thing only took about five minutes, but not until taking a number and waiting behind a hundred other people doing more lengthy things like applying for residency and work permits. We sat forever in a poorly lit hallway staring at the number display, each other and the ceiling tiles until we had every smudge on the floor and walls memorized before our number was finally called and we were released.

With that complete, we decided to do something a bit more interesting and took a very well done guided tour of Bryggen. Bryggen was the original part of town built starting in 1140, and subsequently owned by Hanseatic merchants from Germany who, after the plague had decimated the Bergen population, were brought in to keep commerce moving. They built a series of long, tenement houses, through which goods gradually moved from the sea front offices to the back, passing through various hands, before being sent out. Each long house formed a communal, male only dwelling for workers and managers of a particular absentee owner.

Bryggan inside and out - old original style wooden buildings and newer stone, fire-safer affairs

Over the years, large sections of Bryggen burned down and were rebuilt again. Policies were put in place that restricted cooking and light from the entire building and confined them to a stone cooking and eating hall at the back, making for what must have been terrible, bleak winters living in the main house.

Buildings were also required to be constructed a certain distance apart at ground level in order to create a fire break. Owners and managers quickly got around this by building eaves and awnings so that adjacent buildings practically overlap each other. We noticed overhead sprinklers in every room that we saw, but all of this densely packed wood must still give modern fire marshals nightmares. It’s easy to see how the whole district went up at once.

The current crop of buildings was rebuilt to their original plans after a massive fire in 1704. Since then, subsidence and the explosion of one nearby munitions ship in WWII has caused the buildings to sink and lean heavily on one another, giving them a certain funhouse quality. Our guide insisted on several occasions that the latest subsidence was caused by fresh water intrusion into the original wooden pilings when the Radisson Hotel at the edge of the site was excavated, once fresh water enters the wood it has started to rot, while the salt water intrusion actually helped to preserve the sunken wood. Radisson, they’re the baddies.

At the end of the block, restoration of the foundation of one of the houses is being accomplished by jacking up the entire building about a meter with jacks through-bolted to the walls and then redoing the foundation underneath using traditional materials and methods. It looks like a pretty daunting job.

We went to the local library to use their wifi so that we could download the latest weather file. We found the best (actually, only) window for departure for the passage back to Inverness was later that night. We took our time getting back, making a point of meandering through the parks and streets along the way before grabbing a few hours sleep and setting off for Scotland.

[Maryanne]Despite our very short stay in Bergen, we did manage to walk around much of the city, and get lost enough times to find ourselves away from the main tourist areas. It was exquisite, and despite being the 2nd largest city in Norway, had a lovely small feel (somewhat like Edinburgh). We really enjoyed it, and regretted the weather was pushing us away - we'd have loved to explore the excellent art galleries and museums. Each of the neighborhoods we passed were made up of picture postcard streets, you couldn't help but imagining living there and life being just wonderful.

Being on a boat, and tied up so close to the main tourist scenes, makes us too a tourist attraction. Often people come up to talk to us as we've just arrived somewhere and are (trying to be) focused on securing the boat for an extended stay, but we always try and be friendly and answer questions. The American flag gets us extra attention. I was busy one evening filling water tanks when a friendly drunk bombarded me with questions; I was a bit nervous about just how friendly to be. All the time I was fending off his amorous suggestions, I could just see Kyle in the cabin hiding from view of my new "friend" and laughing at the predicament I'd found myself in... Hmmmm Some hero!

Scenes from Bergen City