Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Fantastic Scottish hospitality in the Crinan Canal

I have been incredibly impressed with Scottish Highland hospitality, everywhere we have been we have been met by friendly, helpful people. Peter, Donald, Alli and Chris where down to help us through the Crinan Canal. The two young boys were on their bikes and cycled the length of the canal, helping our crew with opening the lock gates as we made our way through the canal. It was fantastic fun, with Luke doing some really good boat handling driving Scarlet off the dock and into the canal. I must admit it felt quite tight, through the first part there were times that there was only about a meter clearance on either side of Scarlet, very much like going down a little country lane. There were passing pools though, but I was quite glad that the only yachts we passed travelling in the opposite direction happened to be in the lock basins where at least there was space to pass by.
The Mid Argyll Sailing club invited us to a BBQ that evening which was delicious. All the crew really enjoyed themselves. Again, a Scottish piper came to play. He was really good – just a treat to be able to absorb the beautiful Scottish culture so much. I hope that Peter and Donald were impressed that our lunch through the canal was Haggis. A huge thank you to Peter, Donald and Hamish from the Mid Argyl Sailing Club for making the Crinan canal such a memorable occasion for us.
We did have and incredible week and everyone just seemed to be having such a great time. We were also blessed with some periodically beautiful weather, and I think we got off reasonably lightly from the midgies (although, they were still out in force a couple nights). Luke, Raechel, Fran and Gareth also braved the outdoors and slept outside a couple nights, but it was particularly pretty in Caladh Harbour anchorage without a cloud in sight. It was a rare sight but beautiful to see all the stars out.
Skandia were waiting for us on our arrival into Largs. This was a great event with around 80 people turning up to wave us in, and again, the BBQ that they put on for us was really good. Bart Simpson was around again to chat to the crowd and the kids, who were quite impressed with his gold medal (adult kids included).
After the BBQ it was off to a field for the final night of leg10 sporting events, but having given up on the Ashes series, we took to rugby and played a game of older vs younger touch rugby. Frank and Simon joined in, but even with all our seriousness and competitiveness, the younger crew still managed to run circles round us, which was hilarious.
Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our new friends again, although, it is definitely a see you later as opposed to a goodbye. Such a great crew – well done all of you on a fantastic leg!

So here we are in Largs. We now have the crew of Leg 11 on board, all of whom have come over from Northern Ireland. We have Molly, Aidan, Aimee, Clodagh and Rob on board, with Angela as our volunteer from NICFC, and John from Skandia. All our crew are from Belfast or nearby… I hope we don’t have any nationality sporting competitions on this week as I might not do too well – I am a wee bit outnumbered!!
The weather…. Is being the weather again and giving me a bit to think about. Looks like we might have a window in the otherwise grotty looking forecast, and hopefully we might be able to get out and straight over to Ireland tomorrow night. I can’t believe it – we’re on our way to Ireland after an incredible 6 weeks in Scotland.
Thank you to everyone in Scotland for making our time here so special and unforgettable – we really have loved this part of our adventure and I must admit I am a little sad to be saying goodbye…

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

West Coast Cruising!!

It’s amazing, two blinks and the time has just flown by! I realised that I haven’t blogged for a few days, not since seeing Hillary. We managed to catch up with her and her crew in the Canal, on our final full day of the second Scottish trip. Hillary is doing amazingly well, it was really good to see her again, and to see her in the Caledonian Canal after 2 months of sailing was really special. She is due to finish sometime in August, may the North Sea be as kind to her as it was to us.
A few days have passed now, and we have had another crew change. Fort William was a rather quick changeover again, but luckily we had 4 volunteers from Skandia who came to help us get the boat ready for the new crew – and another big thank you to them, it really does help especially when we have such short change over times. This week we have Gareth, Fran, Rachel, Joe and Luke on board, with Tim from Skandia and Cath, our token Aussie from EMT, on as volunteers for the week. We have had an incredible time so far, with everyone settling in very quickly, not without a few comments about the Ashes (and also the start of our own Scarlet Ashes series), but all in good spirits.
We said goodbye to new friends made in Ft William who came down to the boat to wave us off, out the sealock and off again. Ben Nevis even came out of the clouds for us for the day, which was just spectacular. What a way to enter the Atlantic cruising grounds and the start of our West Coast cruising...
I was feeling incredibly lucky again, as the weather forecast we had seen earlier did suggest that we might be spending a few days playing card games in Ft William, but thankfully that changed and out we went. We sailed down to Dunstaffnage, through Loch Linnhe. Unfortunately it was more like a drift with intermittent motoring and the occasional blast when a gust came down the Loch. We managed to get the kite out again, but not so successfully as our magic furler was not so magic, forcing us to ditch the kite and resort to just plain sailing.
Dunstaffnage is a really pretty natural harbour, tucked up in amongst some islands, with an old castle ruin on the entrance. The whole area is just so impressive, and again, we were blessed with another incredible day out today.
We left Dunstaffnage in good old Scottish dreich, having eaten square sausage and potato muffins for breakfast. Not very much wind at all, so we motored up through Kerrera Sound to Puilladobhrain, which is a lovely little anchorage. The sun came out just in time for our Atlantic Challenge, and this time most of the crew joined in and jumped into the water. It was freezing, so we pretty much all shot straight out again. However, it wasn’t long till we were back in again and swimming our lap around the boat, with some braver souls (namely Karen and Luke) heading round again.
The sun stayed with us for the afternoon, but sadly the wind didn’t materialise much at all, so we spent most of the day motoring.
We had a fantastic welcome into Crinan Canal, with a young Scot playing his bag pipes for us. Peter has also very kindly offered to send us a couple helpful hands as we make our way through the canal tomorrow, should be great fun as from here to Ardrishaig it is all manual labour that opens and closes the locks… I hope the boys are feeling strong for tomorrow.
Good night from a very beautiful Crinan,

Friday, 17 July 2009

Loch Oich - Scarlet's highest point above sea level!

Crew change – Ft Augustus was the changeover point for our Scottish Summer trips. On Wednesday we said goodbye to the first leg 9 crew, and said hello to the second lot. We now have a boatload of boys and our two youngest crew yet. We have Jo, Stewart, Brandon, Michael and Rauridh. It didn’t take long at all for the boys to settle in, and they have been running riot since… all good fun though, and it’s great having such a busy boat. We went off to see the Caledonian Ceilidh Trail again, who were playing in Ft Augustus. This time there was a proper ceilidh dance so we managed to get at least the older boys up and dancing. Young Jo and Stewart were quite happy just to cheer the others on. It was great getting involved with a bit of traditional Scotland and I think everyone really enjoyed themselves.
On our first boating day with the new crew we wound our way through the canal to Loch Oich, going up a few more locks. Loch Oich is the highest point at 32m above sea level. It’s stunning, with beautiful mountains surrounding the loch, and forests huddling the loch shorelines. We stopped at Invergarry Castle ruins, but didn’t get to see much of them as they are closed off to public (dangerous!). It did make a perfect spot to go for a swim and it didn’t take long before Stewart was in the water. Slowly, one by one, the rest of us made our way in. A little chilly, but not quite as cold as Loch Ness. Unfortunately the Loch is a little narrow so we weren’t able to set sails. We got to Laggan Locks for the night, which is at the eastern end of Loch Lochy. We had to keep the boys on their toes with line handling, as for the first time in the canal we were starting to descend back to towards sea level again, so the boys had to ease out on our mooring lines to prevent us from being hung up on the canal wall.
After yesterday’s fantastic weather, it took a little bit of getting going out into the chilly wind today. We also woke up to rain ~(which is always a peaceful sound to wake up to). Loch Lochy is a little wider, and with the wind straight behind us we could got for a great little sail down the Loch. Jo did a fantastic job driving the boat, considering he has to stand up on the seat as the wheel is almost a head taller than him. We’re now at Garilochy Locks, the entrance to the final stretch of canal down to Ft William, but with some rather mucky weather around it’s down to card games for a bit, then hopefully I’ll be able to convince some of the crew that a walk along the canal (even in the rain) is a good idea. Ben Nevis is somewhere near, lurking in the clouds, but sadly we can’t see the top today.
Hillary Lister has also been doing incredibly well and is arriving into Ft William today. We’ll be seeing her somewhere on the canal tomorrow. It’ll be great to catch up with her and hear all about her adventures up the West Coast, and share some of our East Coast stories.
I think it might be hot chocolate time…..
Cheers, Cath

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Loch Ness and the Challenge

What an experience our first few days in the Caledonian Canal have been. It’s quite impressive climbing up a flight of locks, so far we have been through seven locks of a total of 29, and three of the 10 swing bridges. The Canal was first completed back in 1822 and took 20 years to build. We spent Sunday getting up the first set of locks, with Muirtown locks being a series of four locks in a row. It’s literally like climbing a staircase – except on a boat. I must admit it was quite weird looking out from Scarlet and seeing roof tops in the valley below the canal. Locks are also a great way to keep the crew entertained, and at least most people got a chance to drive Scarlet through a lock. We did also have Fran and Shadab jump off to be our line handlers ashore.
We spent the evening in Caley Marina and went for quite a nice peaceful walk into a rather quiet Inverness City (it was a Sunday night though).
The canal just gets more beautiful the further West we go, with steep mountains on either side descending down to the canal. It runs along the Great Glen, which is a natural geological fault line which divides the Highlands with a series of Lochs, making it ideal for a canal.
I am also getting much better at pronouncing some of the Scottish names. I was a little bit shy when I had to call up Clachnaharry Sea Lock, and sheepishly just called them up as ‘Sea lock’. I got a little braver, and with a little pronunciation advice from our Scottish crew, I managed to not make too much of a fool of myself when I called up Dochgarroch Lock. I do enjoy the names, and was quite happy (although it did take a couple attempts to get it right) to moor up in Drumnadrochit last night.
Our first glimpse of Loch Ness was absolutely breathtaking. It just so happened that the sun was out and we had beautiful blue skies. I really didn’t expect to be reaching for the sunblock again up in the lochs, what an amazing day! Just as we entered the Loch we caught a glimpse of Aldourie Castle, hidden amongst the trees. This is a true fairytale castle, but is not open to the public so a glimpse from the Loch would have to do.
With not that much wind around we unfortunately didn’t get too much sailing done, but it was really good just to be able to appreciate the spectacular scenery. The Loch Ness Lifeboat came out to say hello to us, and Neil (the helm) very kindly went into Drumnadrochit Harbour ahead of us, just to check what the water depth was. It’s quite strange not having to worry about tides this week. Thankfully there was enough water for us, and thanks again to the RNLI for being our scout boat. Drumnadrochit is in the corner of Urquhart Bay, so of course a trip to Urquhart Castle had to happen. It also just happened to be that the Caladonian Ceilidh Trail Band was having their opening night at the castle. They were incredible – it was such a treat to listen to young energetic musicians enjoying playing their traditional music so much. They also announced the songs in Gaelic, and sang a few really beautiful songs in Gaelic (thankfully there was an English translation too).
Urquhart Castle, although a ruin, is stunning. This is on a headland about a third of the way down the Loch, which is also the deepest part of the Loch. I couldn’t believe it, but Loch Ness is deeper than the North Sea, and has an average year round temperature of between 4 and 7 degrees. The RNLI base is located in Urquhart Bay, and Neil very kindly showed our crew round their base. He was quite informative about the lock, and mentioned that with the temperatures so low, if someone went overboard first stage hypothermia would start after just 5mins, and would probably have to go to hospital after only 15mins (hence the RNLI being dressed in full drysuits, even in the middle of summer). Another interesting fact we learnt about this bay is that this is supposedly the most common Loch Ness Monster spotting ground…
So, armed with all of this useful information about Loch Ness and Urquhart bay, Karen and I decided that Urquhart Castle would make the perfect backdrop for our Loch Ness Challenge – and we did it! We anchored Scarlet off Urquhart Castle and went for a swim around her. I enjoyed it so much (and yet, it was cold) that I went around for a second lap – I suppose so long as you’re moving and swimming with speed it’s okay. Of course, this was great entertainment for our crew, who have probably decided that we are completely mad. It was a little eerie swimming in the dark, peaty waters, but was certainly refreshing. It was also just a little surprising to be swimming in fresh water for a change, and I bet Scarlet is also enjoying the fresh experience. [14/07/09 13:00]
Simon joined us sailing for the day which was absolutely fantastic. It was so good to have him on board, especially to experience the beauty of sailing down Loch Ness. Thankfully we did actually manage to sail! Fraser, Mandy and Emma all took to winch work, while Graham and then Shadab did a great job driving. With the wind coming straight up the Loch, we had quite a lot of practice at tacking, much to everyone’s entertainment. We’re now moored up in Fort Augustus (Scarlet was nicely parked by Emma) and have an early morning of locks to look forward to – this time a flight of five.
From an incredibly beautiful Caley Canal, good night!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Good times in Inverness

The kindness of the Inverness community just hasn’t stopped. Roddy from Highland Taxis arrived on Thursday to give us a tour of Inverness. We managed to get to the RAF base in Lossiemouth and went on a tour of the Search and Rescue unit where Flight Lieutenant John Rowe was very informative and showed us round the ops room, hanger and the Sea King helicopter. It’s amazing that these machines were built in the 60’s but are so reliable that they are still in use. It was also really helpful to see how the rescue services operate. Big thank you to both Roddy and John for a great day out!
The crew spent the evening being very creative and acting out their pirate movie. OF course, Karen and I couldn't resist the opportunity to spice up the production a bit and 'invaded' the set with big water guns - this of course started a massive water fight. All good fun, but mid water battle we were also visited by two brothers, Peter and Dennis, who are currently riding their motorbikes round Britain to raise money for Help the Heroes. They at least got a glimpse of what our trips are all about - lots and lots of fun and laughter!
We went to Inverness Hospital on Friday for our hospital visit. The crew did incredibly well with their presentation, and the video they produced for the leg was brilliant! They were all really confident and full of laughter, always a good sign at the end of the week.
Sadly, as per usual, the leg came to an end far too soon and we had to say goodbye again. Well done to Steve, Ben, John, Laura and Emma – what a great week we had! Also a big thank you to Piers, Kim and Felicity for all your help during the week.

Saturday was the official opening of Inverness Marina, which Ellen came down to open. It was a hugely successful day with 100s of people around, a great display by the fire department and RNLI as well as a flyby of the Coast Guard helicopter. We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day with hardly a cloud in sight. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society were also there raising awareness of the work that they do to protect these beautiful animals.
Later in the afternoon we had our new crew arrive for leg 9. This leg is being run as a Scottish Summer Trip so we are sailing with young people new to the Trust. They are all from Scotland and will be spending the next four days with us, then swapping over with another Scottish group for the second half of the week. The first group is Graham, Fraser, Mandy, Emma and Shadab and we are joined by Fran from Skandia, who will be helping us for the week.
After the beautiful sunny day yesterday we now have the complete opposite – rain, rain and a little more rain – Bbut, we have good kit provided by MUSTO so we will again be putting it to good use. We are heading into the Caledonian Canal today which is very exciting. So what if we get a little bit wet? We are getting quite used to that by now…
Cheers, Cath

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Fantastic Inverness Hospitality

What an incredible welcome we’ve had into Inverness! Goeff Ashton and Jamie Hogan of Inverness Marina have really been incredible, and the support from the local community has been fantastic. We’ve got Highland Taxis running us around, New City Laundrette doing our laundry, and Pizza Direct feeding us, and all for free! We have had some pretty good receptions into ports, but this really has been something special – a massive thank you to Inverness for such a fantastic welcome!
We set sail from Whitehills Marina, another incredibly friendly marina, mid morning yesterday, into a fair amount of Northerly wind. It wasn’t long before the entire crew was soaking wet with waves coming over the bow, but at least for the first hour they found this very entertaining. After a while I think it did get a bit much for some, so we slowly started losing the crew to the warmth and comforts of their bunks (and again, a few seasick casualties).
We reached an impressive turning point in our voyage – as we rounded Halliman Skerries off Lossiemouth we passed our most Northerly point, the furthest away from Cowes we’re going to be, and our halfway mark. Heading South again, we are now on our way home, but thankfully we still have a massive adventure to enjoy ahead of us on our way South. Another celebration by the crew was had, as we also managed to bear away from the breeze a bit and headed for more sheltered waters making for a much more comfortable sail – a great sail in fact!
The sail into Inverness Firth was quite spectacular and we were welcomed into the Firth by dolphins, which we finally managed to get some photographic evidence of. Not great, but proof, so now it counts and Frank might finally believe us. Inverness Firth is really nice and sheltered. We were joined by the RNLI inshore lifeboat, who came out to escort us in. All the crew had resurfaced by this point, and most managed to get a ride out on the lifeboat – a very rare experience and one they all thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you so much to the RNLI for putting some great smiles back onto rather weary crew faces.
We managed to sail all the way up the Firth and under the Kessock Bridge – our 6th bridge of the voyage. So after a magic day out on the water we were welcomed into Inverness Marina by Jamie. We are in need of a new heads pump and it wasn’t long till Jamie had one of his engineers down this morning to sort everything out for us. What incredible service!
We spent today going for a short sail in the Firth to hopefully spot some more dolphins, but unfortunately they weren’t around today. It was great to go for a little sail though. Laura finally braved taking on the helm and with hardly any instruction she did a pretty good job. So much so that I got her to drive the boat onto the pontoon – backwards! I think she’s a bit of a natural – she did such an incredible job without any hesitation at all – well done Laura!
Goeff managed to organize a Moray Firth Radio interview and very kindly took myself, Emma and Laura to the radio station for the interview. It was great to be able to spread the word to the community, who have already been so supportive. The marina is having an open day on Saturday and it is the official opening of the Marina and Ellen will be opening it. It looks like it will be a great day, which I am really looking forward to.
Thank you Inverness!!!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Whales in the Moray Firth

What luck we’ve had so far… This leg has been filled with more marine wildlife wonders. It’s funny how we were so excitable at the sight of puffins, guillemots and gannets, and now they are common sightings. We have been very excitable in the last couple days with sightings of dolphins and whales!
The beginning of the leg was rather quiet weather wise, so it was a rather gentle motor up the coast to Peterhead. On board this week we have Steve, Ben, John, Emma and Laura, and our volunteers for the week are Felicity from Skandia and Kim and Piers Rowlandson from the Trust. It’s a rather full house, with bodies everywhere, but all are getting on well.
We were quite lucky with the weather in Stonehaven, and the new crew arrived to a bright sunny, beautiful evening. We attempted going to the beach for a swim, but only managed to get as far as our knees in the water before we came up with the usefull excuse that there were jellyfish in the water and so needed to get out – nothing to do with the freezing North Sea temperatures! I was feeling a little sheepish, as we had managed to go for a swim on the last day of leg 8 with the crew, but I suppose there was a little more breeze. I don’t quite know how Karen and I are going to manage our Loch Ness challenge – we have a bet on that we are both going to swim around the boat in Loch Ness, but after seeing our poor performance in the relatively warmer waters of the North Sea, I think we might just struggle. We may just have to bend the ‘no wetsuits’ rule (although that would be cheating, and that’s no fun!).
The sail from Peterhead round the Rattray Head corner to Whitehills was better than expected. We had rather light winds forecast, but once out there was a good 10 to 15kts from the NE, giving us a good reach round the corner and then run towards Whitehills. Kim is probably more excitable than me when it comes to whale watching. It started off with a debate amongst the whale-watching crew on the stern as to what a noise they had heard was. Kim, Ben and John spent ages talking this over, then came the first splash that got everyones attention. Next thing we saw a whale come all the way out the water- amazing! This is not something seen everyday, and to see whales broaching four times is quite special. But, unfortunately they where a bit far away to get a good photograph, so according to Frank, it doesn’t really count!
We got into Whitehills marina yesterday evening, with a pretty tight entrance into the harbour. I’m glad we got in yesterday though, as it would not be fun trying to get in with a bit of a swell running (impossible at times). It’s a nice little marina though with good facilities. The little village is quaint and pretty, and comes with the usual friendly Scottish hospitality.
The wind is freshening out of the North, and again, how lucky are we that we got round the corner yesterday. It does however mean that today we will have to go straight to Inverness, as the strong Northerlies tend to cause a bit of a hazardous entrance into or out of Buckie harbour, which was our next intended stop. So, not wanting to get stuck in Buckie for the rest of the week, we will be sailing on. We should have a great day out though, with a good beam reach all along the coast.
Many thanks to BT for supplying us with a dongle which has managed to keep us online and able to update our twitters etc. WiFi is not always available at the ports we’ve been to lately, so this access has been incredibly helpful.
Scarlet has been behaving pretty well, except for a small technical issue with the forward heads. A very big thank you goes to our superhero Simon Townsend, who got into his engineering mode and helped us out – you’re a legend Simon.
Off to Inverness we go, and hopefully see some more exciting wildlife. Ben already has his whale watching dance on the go….