Saturday, 4 October 2014

Smooth seas and lumpy porridge

The alarm woke us on Saturday morning after two and a half hours sleep, and Julian had fixed the electrics before I even finished dressing. The battery that we had left in use for the bilge pump was flat, and although I had tried out the other battery I had also moved the switch on the fuse box to “shore” not “battery”. I'd forgotten the lowest switch on the fuse box did something different to the others when trying them in the dark.

We got the engine on using battery 2, then switched to charge battery 1 before we dropped the mooring and left Arfern. I helmed while Julian put the kettle on, then it started to rain so he stayed below and made tea, since I already had full oilskins on. He also made porridge, using the remains of the hot water from the tea making. This turned out to be a bad idea and he made lumpy porridge for the first time ever; we've never been able to work out why people complain about porridge being lumpy, how we know how its done! He asked where the salt was, and I told him, but he did not find it so there was no salt in the porridge. It had stopped raining while the porridge cooked, so we both ate in the cockpit, and the hot food was welcome despite a couple of lumps Julian had not been able to get rid of.

Julian went back to bed for half an hour while I motored down Loch Craignish. It was flat calm in the shelter of the Loch; the clouds lifted and the sun came out to make for a beautiful morning. I turned towards Crinan and could feel a light breeze in my face as Robinetta began to lift in a slight swell. I was beginning to wonder where I should be heading when Julian got up and put the bed away. I wanted his local knowledge as to where the entrance to the lock lay, so he put his oilskin trousers on and came on deck. A yacht came through the Dorus Mor and passed us heading towards Crinan, and another was already waiting outside the lock. A double ended open boat towing an inflatable dinghy came off a mooring by the canal entrance as we reached the lock at 0930. At first I thought that the dinghy's outboard was powering it since it was snubbed in really close, but closer inspection revealed a inboard diesel, and a gaff sail on the mast.

After a short wait the four of us plus 2 towed dinghys headed into the lock. It felt like quite a tight squeeze, and I tied Worm up close along side as soon as we were tied up in the lock. On inspection the double ender turned out to be clinker built. That made two wooden gaffers and two GRP bermudans in the lock. I'm not sure if its significant that both gaffers were towing dingies...

Julian asked for another fender to keep the bow off the stone of the lock, so I gave him the one that was keeping Worm off Robinetta. That meant I needed to move Worm's own fender into position instead; it was lying inside Worm, but on the other side of her. I got the boat hook and lent down over Robinetta's cap rail to reach it, and heard something crack. I don't know if I've cracked a rib, some cartilage, or just bruised it, but I definitely damaged some part of my rib cage. It's pretty painful!

The Crinan Sea Lock is operated electrically, as is the next lock, just above the basin. We went through in convoy, and were released into a surprisingly narrow canal at 1030. It felt more suitable for narrow boats than yachts, and the Crinan Canal Guide mentions that its a good idea for larger yachts to check with them that there are no boats going in the other direction! We passed the first bridge, hardly more than a footbridge on rollers, then the canal widened out at the Bellanoch Marina. The largest of the GRP boats stopped here, and our reduced convoy headed on through the Bellanoch Bridge. The speed limit is 4 knots, so Robinetta had no problems keeping up with the remaining GRP boat, and the double ender kept up too.

It began to rain, so I handed the helm to Julian and went below to put the kettle on. The Dunardry Lock flight appeared before it boiled, so I took the helm again so Julian would be free to climb the ladder with the ropes. In the event there was someone there to throw them to, so he did not need to. I had to dash below and wet the tea, and by the time I got back up he had gone up the ladder to help with the lock gates, leaving me to manage the ropes as we rose. At least I got to drink my tea while it was hot, but I did not enjoy the moving around to manage the ropes with my ribs hurting. I did not have a chance to retie Worm alongside either.

I virtually single handed Robinetta up the flight, with Julian helping out ashore. It turned out that all three boats in the lock were heading for Cairnbaan for the winter. The GRP one was owned by Adam Way, the boatyard's operator, and being very familiar with the canal he operated all the locks quickly with help from Julian and a lady who jogged between the locks. The Dunardry locks are not a flight, but 5 separate locks with basins between, and Julian stayed ashore to close the lock gates behind us as there was another little convoy close behind. That left me alone to reset the ropes every time, but there was no wind, and the basins were large enough to let me go forward and retrieve the bow line so I could throw it without worrying about Robinetta drifting off course. The constant moving round stopped my ribs stiffening up, and I was moving more freely by the time we got to the top of the flight at 1240 than I was at the bottom.

I picked Julian up from the pontoon at the top of the Dunardry Locks and we motored along the top of the canal to the Cairnbaan Locks. There are four of these, separated by basins, and once again Julian wanted me to single hand through them while he stayed ashore to work the locks. I persuaded him that I needed help managing the ropes as the lock emptied, so he stayed aboard until we reached the bottom, then climbed the ladder and helped open the gates, before casting me off and staying to reset the lock for the next convoy.

I found it pretty stressful managing Robinetta and Worm alone between locks, being in pain and not having had enough sleep, and ended up shouting at Julian at lock number 7 when he did something I was not expecting. He does not like it when I loose patience with him in front of an audience! Despite the contretemps the convoy team worked well, and we were moored up at Cairnbaan by 1405, well before our deadline! Once we were securely moored Julian and I headed for the hotel for an overdue lunch.

Overnight driving

Getting time off work can be difficult, but we had planned how to move Robinetta from Ardfern to Cairnbaan carefully. We would drive up on Saturday, move her on Sunday, then get her ready for lift out Sunday evening and Monday morning, before driving home in the afternoon to go to work on Tuesday. An email from Adam Way changed our plans as he told us that the Crinan canal stops operating on Sundays at the end of September, so we would have to mover her on Saturday. Having arranged to take Monday off I could not suddenly ask for Friday!

We decided that leaving after work on Friday was the only option, so Julian made sure he was home by the time I got in from work, and we set off north at 1730. Friday night is never good for traffic, but although it was busy on the M11 and A14 we did not run into any real problems until we were on the A1. Ten minutes stationary while the police cleared a three car shut was not too bad, then we ran into another hold up just south of Newark. It was 1930, so we came off the A1 and found a pub called the Tawny Owl. A nice place on the Wetherspoons' model (although not one); a useful stopping place.

We got were back on the road by 2045 and did not stop again except for petrol and to change drivers. Whoever was not driving tried to sleep; rather like being on watch for an overnight passage in Robinetta! The weather turned bad though, with pounding rain that slowed us down, and we did not get to Ardfern until 0400.

We found Worm in the dinghy park and launched her, then I rowed us out to Robinetta. It was raining slightly, but calm, and it was an easy row. Robinetta's white bulwarks make her easy to find, even on a dark night and we were soon on board. I tried to switch the lights on, and nothing happened. I felt round for a torch, but we had taken them home with us last time. Luckily the gas lighter was easy to find, and the citronella candles gave enough light for us to get the bed out. By this time it was 0500, and we knew we should be up and ready to leave by 0630. None the less we got into bed properly, and Julian set the alarm for 0730. Leaving Ardfern at 0800 should give us enough time to get to Cairnbaan before the locks stopped working at 1600. That was providing of course that the electrics not working was something very minor! We were both too tired to think about what had gone wrong, and fell into bed and slept.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


We got a replacement pin for the Wykeham Martin drum. Of course it is brand new and shiny compared to the years of patina on the rest of the assembly. There is a small gap at the ring end even when the thread is fully home, but it fits nice and tightly.

In other news, we have decided where Robinetta will spend the winter. She will be at Adam Way's yard at Cairnbaan. That is just a short trip from Ardfern. We will take her there during the first weekend in October and she will stay there until some time in April. We may talk to Adam about doing some winter work. She is letting quite a bit of water in via the top sides - not good for sleeping on a rainy night, and we still haven't completely cured the garboard leak.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

1937 to 2014 Track

I've put this map together to show Robinetta's circumnavigation. She started in Rock Ferry in 1937 and ended in Rosneath. In 1938 she travelled as far north as the Sound of Sleat and then returned to Liverpool via Northern Ireland. Later in 1938 she moved to Beaumaris for the winter. In 1947 she sailed from Beaumaris to Weymouth and in 1949 she must have sailed from Weymouth to the Crouch.

In 2013 we sailed her to Cowes and back to West Mersea, so the coast line we don't have written logs for is only from Weymouth to Cowes. This summer (2014) we sailed from West Mersea to Ardfern (green), crossing her southbound path (orange) on the west coast of Scotland. If you click on the map it becomes live and you can open the legend and zoom and scroll. This is disabled until you click to prevent problems with scroll wheels and gestures.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Perfect Shower

I've not kept count of the number of marinas and harbours we have visited this summer, in England, Scotland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Almost all of them have something wrong. Back at Ardfern this week, I realised the showers there are almost perfect. So here is my illustrated guide for Marina and Harbour owners.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the shore heads should be available 24/7 and should be available for crews arriving after the staff have gone home. Ardfern just leaves them open. Stromness has the code written on the inside of the gate, where crews can see it but the public cannot. Many places lock the facilities between 10 pm and 7 am which is no use at all. There are even places where the local rules mean you shouldn't use your boat heads and they still lock the shore heads at night.

Once inside, the first obstacle one tends to face is a coin machine. The worst of these have a single machine for several showers with a knob to choose which shower you want to pay for. I'm not the only person to waste their only Euro coin getting this over-complicated system wrong. I've seen prices varying from 50 Euro cents to £2. Charging £2 for 7 minutes is ridiculous. Ardfern doesn't charge for its showers. This is the only acceptable policy. It's just too much like hard work trying to make sure you always have coins for all possible permutations of charging.

Once inside the cubicle the first problem is often not enough hooks to put ones clothes on. There should be at least two, one for the clothes and one for the towel. Three is better. Next, there should be somewhere to sit. You need to be able to sit down to dry your feet and put your shoes and socks on. Finally, and this is the one bit that is almost never right, the changing area should have a dry floor. How are we expected to put keep the bottom of our trousers dry if we have to put them on while standing on a wet floor? Ardfern gets this right three different ways - the shower is on the side of the cubicle, not the back, so it doesn't spray straight out into the changing area; there is a proper shower tray to keep the water in; there is a grid mat on the floor of the changing area.

Finally we get to the shower itself. There are so many ways to get this wrong. Worst is kind of shower where the head is fixed to the wall and the on button can't be reached without putting ones head under the shower, which inevitably comes on cold. Then there are the many ways of arranging the controls so that the temperature has to be adjusted after turning the water on. Another recipe for getting frozen or scalded. Ardfern has a domestic shower where the head is removable and the temperature control is separate from the on/off control so if the previous user has set the temperature OK it is still OK when you turn it on. A movable head also helps for cleaning those special parts. The ventilation grill clearly visible in the photo is also something of a rarity. I've showered in facilities where it was so hot and steamy that one felt one needed another shower by the time one was dressed. Finally, there is somewhere to put ones shampoo and glasses down at hand level. Not too rare this one, but surprisingly often absent.

So, I said that Ardfern was almost perfect. Where does it fall down? There is no hair drier in the men's showers. Some places have them in the ladies' but not the men's. Some have them but they are coin operated.

Come on, the requirements are pretty obvious, it isn't hard to get it right. How come so many places don't get it right?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Heading Home

Thursday night was quite blowy and noisy in the marina but we had a reasonable night's sleep and a nice lie in. This morning was an anti-climax with nothing much to do except load a bit more in to the car and move Robinetta to her mooring. There was not much wind but the rain came and went, discouraging any thoughts of going for a sail, either in Robinetta or in Worm.

We went for a walk up to the Craft Kitchen, the Ardfern eatery we have yet to try. We both decided we could have pretty much anything on the menu by shopping at the Post Office and putting it together on Robinetta. Needing to stretch our legs, we carried on a bit down the peninsula. They are building new houses just south of the village and there are a number of yacht moorings further down the loch. We both felt like we were now twiddling our thumbs and we might as well start heading home. We have arranged to have lunch tomorrow with Alison's parents in Kirkcaldy and we wanted to to do that, but it meant driving 140 miles in the morning, with another 400 after that to get home. We decided to have an evening in Perth.

Back at the marina we finished unloading. Not staying the night on the mooring allowed us to walk the sleeping bags to the car. Robinetta was in a good mood leaving the pontoon. I put the the tiller right over and just watched, hands free as she pottered backwards and turned beautifully round.

Once facing roughly the right way I took the tiller and we motored out towards mooring S3, right next to where we left her in July. When we got close, we could see it wasn't going to work. Meander on S2 was on such a long chain that there were only inches between her stern and S3.

Alison called up the marina on the VHF and explained the problem and asked for instructions. The lady said to go on S4 if it was clear, which it was, so we picked that up and and I made sure we pulled up enough chain that Robinetta would stay nice and close to the buoy and not foul anything on S3 or S5. The only thing left to do was to put the cabin cover on. The roof leaks and it will help keep some rain out of the cockpit too.

Alison rowed us back to the pontoons and we hauled Worm ashore and borrowed a launch trolley to shift her to the dinghy park. We put the floor slats in the car - they have warped badly and one is broken, we will make a new set. Both turn-buckle mounts have come unglued again - epoxy doesn't like being in the bilges and the wetted area isn't really big enough. I'll have a think about what to do with that.
We stopped the car to take a last look before heading east. Robinetta looks at home. When we got to Perth we really couldn't be bothered to find a nice, cheap place to stay so we just asked the Mercure, near where we had parked, for their best rate and we didn't choke so we took it.

The Perth Playhouse was showing the film Lucy in 2D IMAX and we had enjoyed the trailer when we went to Guardians of the Galaxy so we bought tickets and had a coffee in their cafĂ© while we waited for the performance.It was a cleverly scripted, well acted piece of hokum. Alison found the violence a bit too believable and I know what she means. Afterwards we went to the Everest Inn. Three out of Tripadvisor's top four restaurants in Perth are Indian, the Everest is currently number two and it was really nice. We had Nepalese specialities and I even had a Nepalese beer, which was rather good, for a lager.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Through the Dorus Mor again

We could hear the wind in the high tension rigging of the boats around us last night, and the decks were wet this morning, but it felt as though the gale had blown through overnight. There was no 0710 forecast to tell us differently either, but when Julian checked on line at quarter past it was clear that this morning's calm was just a lull. We should get round to Ardfern while the tide was with us, before the weather closed in on Friday.

We got the main and staysail ready to use, but did not bother to set up a jib, and were off the pontoon at 0835. We raised the staysail once we were clear of the marina, but it was obvious that the wind was too close to our course to use unless we wanted to tack, and it was so light that we risked missing our tidal gate if we sailed.

We motored down the Penninsula towards the Dorus Mor in bright sun and calm seas, and were through it by 1005, an hour and a half before the tide turned against us. There were no overfalls, just slightly raised seas, and the odd swirl in the water, but we gained 2-4 knots of speed over the ground on the way through...

Once we were in Loch Craignish we got the main sail up and very broad reached up towards Ardfern. We heard Stornaway Coastguard talking to the Isle of Mull ferry. The coastguard was asking the ferry for a radio check! The Coastguard aerial had got damaged somehow, which was why there was no 0710 weather. Julian called them up, with the info that we could hear them too, in a much smaller boat and further away. The coastguard lady sounded amused, but thanked us for the information.

We were only making 2 knots, so Julian shook out the reef which did not help much. The engine went back on and we were at Ardfern in an hour. I felt rather sad as we turned towards the marina; the adventure was coming to an end. Then Julian accidentally dropped a fender in the water and it took me three tries to get close enough for him to pick it up. Maybe we should spend tomorrow doing man overboard drills....

We filled up with diesel, then motored round to a pontoon berth where we left Robinetta and Worm for the rest of the day.
 When we were anchored at Puildobhrain yesterday we had wanted to walk to the pub near the Bridge over the Atlantic, but the tides and the weather meant we did not go. We have the car at Ardfern though, so we drove there for lunch, then on to look at Easdale and Cuan Sounds from the shore. The weather was lovely, bright warm sunshine and a light breeze. What had happened to our gale?
We went back to Ardfern and unloaded all the charts and extra bits and pieces that we do not want to leave on board. We still have two nights on board through, so the rest can wait until we are on the mooring, and be rowed ashore in Worm.