|Lancaster Bomber overhead|
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.
|Looking over to St Abb's|
|Passing Bass Rock at 6am|
|Gannets on Bass Rock|
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.