16 miles off the Caithness coast
Set off towards Helmsdale with glorious sunshine, the wind again straight up the tailpipe, which started off being terrific as the miles counted off, 1, 2, 3.. 7 miles offshore, 18 more to go; then the wind tailed off a little, changed direction by about 15 degrees which left a very sloppy sea with waves coming from two directions, the motion was up and down from the back and corkscrewing from the starboard aft quarter (Back right-hand corner for you landlubbers). A horrible motion that I knew I couldn’t cope with for too long. Although I have gained a set of sea-legs while on this journey, I wasn’t confident that they would stand up for another three hours plus of this motion. What to do? I could either sail off slightly away from my intended destination to give the boat a better motion, then kind of tack downwind to achieve my goal, or maybe I could switch goals to the tiny port of Lybster, 26 miles away, an extra eight miles but in a more comfortable direction, with probably faster sailing. The decision was easy, the course was plotted and the Ruach took off in the new direction towards Lybster. We were flying, almost 7 knots, leaping from wave to wave. I called the harbourmaster to ensure that in these conditions a landing at Lybster would be tenable. No response! It was now up to my skill and judgment to decide to enter or not. Lybster is just a small indentation in the coast, the pilot books state that it is safe for winds from all directions ONCE INSIDE. The entrance is just 9 metres wide with unwelcoming rocks on one side. Two miles off I decided to get most sail off of Ruach. This was going to be interesting as the surf was blowing off the top of most waves. I furled away the jib (front sail), I dropped the mains’l (The big main one). This left me with just the staysail to help counter the bucking bronco the seas were throwing up. Using the engine to control my approach I aimed for the lighthouse, then when almost within touching distance turned to glide into the harbour. The tumult instantly subsided. We had arrived! The fun wasn’t quite over as Lybster harbour is made up of an inner and outer harbour. The outer being further inland than the inner one, so once in the outer harbour a 180 degree turn is required to enter the inner harbour. (If this sounds a little like the rules of cricket take a look at the picture below, simple really).
Just as I turned the engine puttered to a stop. Quick as a flash I dropped the anchor and stowed the staysail. I then poked my nose into the engine compartment to see what had happened? It looks like I still have some dirt in the fuel tank as the fuel filter was empty with the tank a quarter full. I’m not surprised really, the tank had had a real shakeup for the last few hours. I looked up and one of the small fishing boats were just on their way out from the inner harbour to lend me a hand, but the engine started and they were not required, I was welcomed into the harbour and directed to tie up to one of the fishing boats by Louise. As soon as we were made fast I was offered a cuppa, a shower, a dram up at the house which, once I had changed into dry clothing, I accepted the cuppa in the big warm kitchen. The house was full of international guests attending a house-painting party. Louise and Mano open their house to ‘couch surfers’ to help bring a bit of variety into their small community. I stayed in this warm kitchen until after midnight debating the world and everything. Once we had put all that to rights it was back to Ruach for a long heavy sleep.
Louise & Mano's freshly painted house.
The following day I had the privilege to be invited back to the newly painted Inver House for a BBQ tea. Where I met a number of the locals as well as the international guests.
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Catch you next time.