Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cold return to Normality

The forecast on the Sunday evening was dire, offering a strong cold North-easterly building up during the day with rain arriving from mid-day. I considered hitching a lift back by road, but that would have left a sense of incompleteness and lack of achievement. Also it's a good old rule that if conditions look possible and you have an escape route you should always go.

My mates for the trip were going back on the sturdy Blue Sky, so the Kelpie's now solitary crew departed just before nine, with a couple of hours of favourable tide left.

Once I had rowed out far enough to get an offing the main was set. 

At that stage there wasn't a lot of wind, so the jib went up as well, but a few minutes later this effort was rewarded when a squall came over and we shipped a bathful of water. Thereafter for most of the day the jib stayed firmly lashed to the bowsprit.

Despite the strongish wind progress was slow, with Kelpie's flat bottom slamming a lot in the nasty short chop, then the waves gradually got bigger and she really got into her groove, charging along with her rail a couple of inches clear, luffing in the puffs and eating up the distance to windward. Operating the new pump was a bit like wrestling with an eel, however.

After a couple of hours Kelpie and I were well into Loch Melfort when a short line forming part of the snotter burst during a squall and the sprit fell down, leaving the rig accidentally scandalised and flapping like mad, quite useless for further windward progress. As it continued to blow very hard I couldn't see exactly what had happened, so stowed the main and got the jib up to see if any progress could be made against the wind. The answer was a resounding no.

I could have reached across to the South shore of the loch, except for the fact that the route to the only stretch with any shelter was totally barred by the lines of black buoys of the mussel farm, fastened with steel wires along the surface stretching for several hundred metres. This is exactly the sort of problem some of us have tried time and again to bring to the attention of the authorities who license these things, to absolutely no avail. The general public have the inalienable right to use the surface of the sea for the purposes inter alia of navigation and recreation, but the Crown Estate, who hold the seabed in trust for us, ignore these rights and make money by granting leases of the seabed. The farm in question, owned by some Swiss investors, was badly damaged in the storm a year ago, turning the lines of ropes into a tangled confused mess and a real hazard to everyone. It's been rumoured that they even got a cash grant from our government to start their operations here, which sometimes makes me wonder what kind of reply we would get if a group of Scots asked one of the Swiss cantons for finance to spoil one of their lovely mountainsides with a similar intensive farm. Surely the Swiss, with no seas of their own, should stick to tax dodging, cuckoo clocks and occasional sorties into the America's Cup?

Downwind from the mussel farm was a nasty lee shore with waves breaking on sharp  boulders. The only course was to run under the jib to the shelter of the point at Arduaine where I got the oars out and had a brisk row round the corner, passing close between the reef and the shore (there's a deep passage there, I discovered) before beaching on a nice sheltered sandy bay. I discovered that one tiny piece of line had let the whole show down, a real reminder of the old adage for the want of a nail .... After some lunch and a walk on shore I quickly got the rig repaired and the Kelpie relaunched.

There now followed a hard beat of about three hours into a really cold North-easterly with occasional squalls of sleet and a real sense of achievement on getting safely moored in time for tea. Once again Walt Simmons' wherry showed her seaworthiness.


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water