Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Peterhead sojourn

Perversely adverse winds held us up for three days in Peterhead. Happily, for us, the Dutch fleet were similarly affected, with about half a dozen boats waiting for a wind shift to carry them back to Holland.

We spent a good deal of time with our new friends, Hans and Gösta, taking in the fleshpots of Peterhead. All were eagerly monitoring the forecast but there was fun to be had in the meantime; visiting the pub, checking out the commercial harbour, basking in the steam room and sauna at the local leisure centre.

It was a joy to wander through a proper working harbour with fishing boats, ice plants, big dry docks and slipways. Sights that used to be a lot more common around our Scottish coast than they are today, sadly.

H&G returned home three years ago following a four-year circumnavigation - meaning that they had plenty of tales with which to regale us. The worst, I think, occurred somewhere in Indonesia when they were sorely tempted by the cheapness of duty-free diesel to fill up to the absolute maximum. The terrible price of a moment's carelessness was discovered shortly thereafter when some freshly prepared lemonade was found to have the most appalling flavour. Diesel in the water tank. Disaster!

I woke up strangely early on Saturday but seemed to be done with sleeping so started the day with a perusal of Pepys, observation of crab-hunting eider ducks and aiding fellow mariners in distress. I had noticed a mast outside the breakwater of the marina, apparently attached to a boat lying at anchor in the outer harbour, so when I heard engine noises reverberating up through our hull I looked out to see the yacht in question being towed into the marina by a small fishing boat. It was blowing like fury and the wind drove them onto the rocks of the breakwater, despite the best efforts of the fisherman. I pulled on some trousers and a fleece and ran across to take a line and haul them across to the pontoon and out of harm's way. Their tale was of contaminated fuel causing the engine to pack in as far south as Eyemouth, but they being northbound anyway and the wind favourable they decided to push on to Peterhead and stop there for repairs. That, however, was not all. As they lay at anchor in the harbour, one of the crew developed severe abdominal pains and appendicitis was feared. She was duly packed off to hospital when they got ashore, where a kidney infection was diagnosed. It never rains but it pours.

By Saturday afternoon the omens were shaping up well for a Sunday morning departure so we bade our farewells over a sensibly small quantity of wine and turned in early. Sure enough, the wind was down in the morning and the 0730 VHF weather broadcast was, if not exactly favourable, at least not unfavourable. Eight or ten boats must have pulled out within the space of half an hour, to the clear vexation of the Harbourmaster, who was radioed every few minutes by another yacht asking clearance to leave the harbour. He was already a bit browned off by the time I called him up: "Aye, you can go. Just go! ...There's a fishing boat heading out as well."

Though the wind was down, the sea was still up and so it was a bumpy ride as we plugged our way as nearly south as we could into the SSW breeze. As the day wore on, even the poor wind we'd had to start with died away and so the 'iron genoa' was fired up once more and we motored nineteen out of the last twenty four hours of our trip.

We've always found the stretch of coast between about Aberdeen and Arbroath a bit of a trial. Time seems to grind almost to a halt, with the tide running agin us and not much joy to the eyes resting on that featureless bit of coast. Night was falling as we left Arbroath astern and we found the rhythm once more.

The sea state gradually improved as we ran down the coast, but it wasn't until we turned the corner into the Forth, with 3o miles to go upriver, that it it finally flattened out and peace was restored for the first time since departing Flekkefjord.

Day breaks over the Firth of Forth:

Norway was so beautiful, so welcoming and such an ideal cruising ground that we were mystified by the absence of large numbers of foreign vessels while we were there. The reason was made abundantly clear on the jouney back, when we realised that our eastward crossing had been entirely typical. The North Sea is a brutish stretch of water. It guards the pristine coastal waters of Norway and guards them well, ensuring that they will remain the preserve of the hardy few.

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