Saturday, 13 August 2011

All aboard! Ruach has guests

For those of you that have been following this blog for a while you will remember that I have been accepting rides on other boats wherever possible. It's not that I like other boats better than my own, but I like to share the sailing experience. Well today I get to return that favour and take someone else out in Ruach.
In my last update I mentioned that I wanted to get somewhere accessible so that I could meet up with someone, well this is why.
There are two people in particular I hold responsible for me making this trip. The first being my mother-in-law, because it was she who gave me a book called Blazing Paddles following it's serialisation on Radio 4's book at bedtime. It is a thoroughly good read and I recommend it, but don't blame me for the consequences :-)
The second person has to be the author of that book. A chap called Brian Wilson (No, this one doesn't sing). The book recounts his adventure of paddling a sea kayak from the English/Scottish boarder on the West coast, over the top of our island to the similar demarcation in the East.
In a chance encounter on the internet while doing some research for my trip I found an email address for Brian, so pinged him off an email with the tongue-in-cheek title of 'It's all your fault', outlining what I was intending to do. Brian read the mail and responded with "Anti-clockwise! - Brave man!!" "Give me a call when you get round to the NW - maybe I could hitch aboard for a day and take the blame for setting you off on such a madcap venture!"

So this is my reason for being here in Sheildaig, Loch Torridon. Meeting Brian had been my main reason for heading initially to Ullapool, but due to other commitments we were unable to meet up there, so the next spot was here in Loch Torridon before I headed off out of range.
Brian Wilson - Author of Blazing Paddles

The weather forecasters had deemed this to be a 'no wind' day, so instead of going for a sail it looked like we were going for a motor around the Loch. Oh well, that gave us time to chat. Brian is an interesting guy with many stories to tell, we motored out of Loch Shieldaig into Loch Torridon then, still in Loch Torridon, round into Loch Diabaig.
Loch Torridon

More Loch Torridon

I asked him what made him inclined to come out for a sail with this guy he had never met, his response was "I get people occasionally contacting me about my books, some telling me how bad they are, others commenting on how inspiring they are, that they would like to do something similar, but then give all the reasons why because of the dog, the wife, the kids or whatever they could not take their own journey", "Where as I had been inspired and was out there making it happen". I took that a quite a complement. 
While out there the wind began to blow, so finally off with the engine and up with the sails. We ran back into Sheildaig while I prepared lunch (alas the bacon was off). We then went into Upper Loch Torridon where Brian was able to show me the first hill that his father had taken him hill walking up at the reluctant age of 11. 
Brian's 'first hill'

Upper Loch Torridon

The wind continued to fill and before long I had to take down the topsail as we tacked out through the narrows back into Loch Sheildaig. So much for the 'No wind forecast'.
Brian confessed to not really sailing before our trip, but he was excellent on the helm.
Loch Torridon and especially Upper Loch Torridon is a spectacular place to sail.

Alas all to quickly 5pm came round so it was time for Brian to head off. This for me had been one of those special memorable days that will stick with me for a long time.
A final wave before heading off

So what next. Do I moor up for the night or head a bit further South as I was planned to meet another very special person at four o'clock the following day in Kyle of Lochalsh. The forecast for tomorrow was again a no wind day and it is about 28 miles to Kyle of Lochalsh. I didn't fancy having to motor all the way tomorrow when I had a bunch of wind here with me just now, so I headed out of Loch Sheildaig into Loch Torridon for a final time tacking into the Westerly breeze, then headed South with the tide down the Inner Sound.
The wind finally blew itself out after around ten miles. The following day the breeze was only forecast to be a light Easterly. So I dropped my hook in the dark at Applecross. This is not a recommended overnight stopping place, but in the conditions, with my anchor light aglow, proved more than adequate.

I am pleased that I had gone this far as when I woke the next day the water was an absolute glass calm, I started the motor and headed on South. Only about 11 miles to go. Blisteringly hot in the sunshine, two and a half easy hours of puttering, plenty of time to get a shower, do some shopping and still have time to meet Penny, my wife off the train from Inverness. Even if the wind failed to materialise.....
                .....or so I thought.
After only 4.5 miles of puttering, the puttering putted less and less. I suspected I was running out of fuel, but a quick dip of the tank confirmed still a quarter tank. I checked for blockages, nothing found. Then I tried testing the sparkie side of the engine. All was well on the front cylinder, but a very poor spark was found on the rear one. So I drifted a bit, sailed a bit, coasted a bit and sailed a bit more all while being roasted under the noonday sun. At one point I lay under my light coloured cotton bed sheet in the cockpit to escape the heat. Time ticked on.... and on. I eventually received a txt that Penny could see yachts in the distance as the railway line follows the coast and that she could even see one with tan sails like ours. Erm, 'that will be me then' I informed her.
Through catching the odd zephyr of a breeze and the odd nudge of the tide in the right direction I was able to sneak under the bridge at Kyle before dowsing most of my sail and ghosting into a fairly full pontoon under just jib alone, furling that at the last possible moment before stepping ashore with my lines. It all looked very professional. But I was doing a great impression of a swan, cool calm and collected above the water, but paddling like mad below. You could almost smell the adrenalin. I'd managed about 6.5 miles in 4 hours, with a lot of open water and a fairly small bridge as a target. Finally mooring my boat down-tide on a short pontoon with my ram rod of a bowsprit getting ever closer to the bows of the boat moored in front.

After much testing and head scratching I diagnosed that either a coil or condenser had failed for the rear cylinder, but where to get a new one fast? The engine manufacturer is still in existence, but as luck would have it they were on holiday this week. After asking around I was told there was an excellent spares shop in Portree on Skye that covered cars, tractors and just about anything mechanical. So the following day Penny and me took a bus excursion to Portree. However on showing Julian the parts I needed there was much sucking of teeth. 'Not stocked those for years mate' however I can get you one for tomorrow.
       .....But more of that next post.

All over my charts I keep seeing the word Bogha which I am told is Gaelic for a sunken rock or a rock that is just awash. As Gaelic is a spoken language rather than a written one I wonder if this was the expletive used when someone found a new one? Oh Bogha! :-)
(Before any Gaelic speakers phone-in I'd just like to point out that I am aware of the a correct pronunciation for this. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story)

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Catch you next time.

David H.