Sunday, 7 July 2013

Hammerin' home

Lancaster Bomber overhead
From Scarborough we made for Whitby for a last chance to see our friends there before they move to Denmark. The short passage was uneventful but for two flyovers by a Lancaster bomber, escorted by Spitfire and Hurricane, bound home from the Armed Forces Day celebrations at Scarborough. We managed to get into Whitby at low water and waited three hours at the yacht club pontoon for the bridge in front of the marina to open. We were not the only ones. At 1730 there was a mad dash of 20 boats rushing through. Dan whisked us away and very nice it was to stay in a comfy house for the night.

The forecast for the next day was promising: SW4-5 - pretty ideal since we were headed NW and looking forward to a nice offshore breeze, with smooth seas. Alas it was not to be. As soon as we got out of the shelter of the bay, it became obvious that we were dealing with a westerly force 6-7. Down to the no. 3 jib and double-reefed main and Fettler began to overtake one over-canvassed boat after after the next. She was in her element, just eating it up. It could have been an enjoyable, even exhilarating bash, but then we heard a Pan Pan on the VHF. A minute later, it was a Mayday. Fifteen minutes later, a 26ft fishing boat had sunk about 4 miles from us, overwhelmed by waves 2-3 miles offshore in an offshore wind. Three guys were in the water, but luckily all were saved by a nearby fishing boat and then transferred into the Redcar lifeboat. However, we felt terrible hearing this and it cast a pall over the entire 60-mile passage to Blyth.

Blyth was pretty much an ideal overnight stopover. A very easy harbour to get into day or night with a fantastic yacht club 'house' on an old light ship, complete with cosy bar serving real ale where we received a warm welcome from the club members. We were reluctant to press on the next morning, but with only 100 miles to go, we were keen to get home and the forecast was good for the next day and a half after which there would be stronger southwesterly winds. Crucially, the wind was forecast to go southerly during the night, potentially saving us the usual long beat up the Forth estuary.

Well, the grib files just aren't as reliable in these latitudes. The wind and conditions were so changeable that we couldn't leave the boat to steer herself on the wind vane and there was still too much of a northerly chop for the autohelm to cope with. Jim was pretty much hand steering for 20 hours. There would be good sailing with a SW Force 5 for 20 minutes, then no wind, then Force 5 again but with the wind having veered 20 degrees, then no wind again, etc. The tides hardly ever seemed to be in our favour either - at least we got a bit of help from the current when we had to tack laboriously past the beautiful but navigationally hazardous Farne Islands.

Coldingham Bay
Looking over to St Abb's 
As we approached the border the wind began to head us for Denmark and we were both getting very tired. We decided to head inshore and anchor in Coldingham Bay, just before St Abb's Head, to get some sleep and await the promised southerly wind. We dropped the anchor at 10pm in beautiful evening sunshine and got a delicious three hours' snooze before hauling anchor at 0130 and gingerly making our way out of the bay past a lot of pot buoys. Jim stood at the bow with our mega Maglite torch to avoid any entanglements. It got light pretty quickly (not that it had actually been completely dark at any point - that's the beauty of sailing in Scotland in June and July) and we had a lovely sail with the southerly Force 4 which had arrived on time. As we got into the Firth of Forth proper the water smoothed out totally - a welcome relief after the North Sea chop. It was great to pick out all the familiar landmarks - Bass Rock, of course, Berwick Law and later on the Bridges in the distance.

Passing Bass Rock at 6am

Gannets on Bass Rock 
Of course, it couldn't be as easy as all that and just as we arrived at Inchkeith Island, a mere 5 miles from the harbour, the wind turned southwesterly, gusted up to Force 6 and the heavens opened. We pulled into Granton in the pouring rain at 1015 on a Tuesday morning and tied up to the near empty pontoon, two years and two days after taking our leave. There was nobody about. Slightly anti-climactic, you might think, but we were just glad to be in and to have a chance to collect ourselves somewhat before meeting anybody. Then, 10 minutes later, Chief Engineer Fowler arrived and gradually more Corinthians began to appear. Showers, a full cooked breakfast including haggis and black pudding and an afternoon nap later, we felt ready to celebrate.

Now it's all a bit of a mad rush, getting the flat back in order, unpacking and organising life back on land. We are enjoying the home comforts - hot and cold running water, a shower to ourselves, a washing machine on demand, a dish washer (!), so much space, so many clothes and shoes to choose from - but there are definitely more hassles and complications on land than on the sea. For us, with so much experience packed into the two years behind us, it seems a long while since we sailed away. For those who continued with normal daily life in the meantime, it's a surprise to learn that we've actually been away a whole two years.

1 comment:

Penny said...

No surprise to your poor old mother who felt every day of those two years! Welcome home. An interesting & challenging final leg, sorry to hear about the fishing boat but glad that no lives were lost. Take care & see you soon, love, Mum.