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In search of Ferness

February 13, 2017

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Regular readers of this blog will know that if we’re not sailing, fixing, or fettling our yacht, we’re typically checking out possible cruising destinations.

Early in February we set off on a road trip with an aspiration of seeing the Northern Lights, but predominantly to find ‘Ferness’; a fictional fishing village that was the setting for Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film Local Hero. As it turned out, there was nowhere to actually stay in Ferness (a.k.a. Pennan) as the Pennan Inn was closed until March and there was no availability at any of the rental properties, so we rented a small cottage in Seatown; the oldest part of Gardenstown just a couple of miles west of Pennan.

We arrived in Seatown well after dark. The photograph above shows the shore-front road to the small car park, 100 precarious metres beyond our cottage [to the left of shot]. The dark area to the right is the North Sea.

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When we eventually made it out of bed the following morning, we were surprised at just how good the weather was. Yes it was cold, but it was very bright. As the forecast wasn’t amazing for the next few days, we headed directly over to Pennan, and we did all the things that tourists do on arrival. We took photographs of each other in the phone box where ‘Mac’ called ‘Happer’, took photographs outside the Pennan Inn, and also down at the harbour steps where the Russian character ‘Victor’ arrived by rib.

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Later that day, we walked to Crovie which proved to be a hidden gem [above]. Crovie feels like it hasn’t changed much over the last two or three hundred years; for example Crovie doesn’t have a traffic problem – as there is no road. Again the weather was fab, in fact it was so bright that all of the photographs I took were bleached out, so the shot above was taken a few days later when the sun was less generous with its rays.

The weather on Saturday was poor. We headed over to nearby Portsoy in the morning, but didn’t stay long as the crew wasn’t enjoying the freezing, blustery wind. The inner harbour was calm, but it was lumpy out on the open water. Days later, we realised that the helicopter that woke us up in the middle of the following night (Sunday night) was searching for a missing kayaker that set off from Portsoy late Saturday morning; precisely the same time that we were there. Unfortunately it’s not possible to wind the clock back.

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The weather improved again by the time Sunday rolled around. We were compelled to return to Ferness/Pennan as, having re-watched Local Hero the night before, we realised that although we had taken photographs outside the Pennan Inn, and in the Pennan phone box, these were not in the same places as the hotel and phone box in the movie. It turns out that the Ferness phone box was a prop, and the hotel was two houses joined together with some add-ons to make it look like a hotel. The real phone box is now a listed building (despite not being in the film), while the Pennan Inn is actually fifty metres to the right of the shot above, which shows the two houses that were used for the hotel exterior shots in the film.

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With this in mind we took lots of photographs of us outside the film set hotel and in the non-existent film set phone box. The top photograph of the pair of images above shows Pennan, and the image below shows the fictional Mackaskill Arms of Ferness, that I’ve roughly reconstructed (digitally) for no good reason that I can think of as I type.

Before we left Pennan, I abandoned the crew in the general vicinity of the phone box and headed off by car in search of a signal for my mobile. I drove for miles, and miles, and then even more miles. Eventually I found a signal and speed-dialed 01346 561 210 [‘Ferness 261’ in the movie].

At the very end of Local Hero, ‘Mac’ calls the Ferness phone box from the US but poignantly there’s no answer. When I called the phone box, the crew let it ring for a while and then we talked for a moment or two.

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With the exception of the wet and windy Saturday, we ventured outside every night at twilight and had a couple of drinks while the coal fire was warming-up our wee cottage, and the waves were doing their best to soak us. Our rental cottage was the pale blue one to the left of the shot above. It’s just possible to make out the livingroom window that faces north – the waves were bouncing off that on the Saturday night. In fact, a local told us that the waves were crashing over the roof tops just a week or so before. We were spared such excitement.

We had a great time in a lovely part of the world. If like us, you’re a fan of Local Hero, then Pennan should be on your bucket list. If we find ourselves up in that neck of the woods onboard our Macwester Malin over the coming years, we’re definitely going to spend a night or two in the harbour. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis next time.

Right, I’m off to call 01346 561 210!

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Bridging the generation gap – Part 2

February 4, 2017

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My earliest childhood memories come from blissful days onboard my late grandfather’s boat Dara. Recently, I was given some old plans and charts that belonged to him. The large plan above for example is the rigging arrangement from the T.S.S. Clan Chisholm built by the Greenock & Grangemouth Dockyard Co Ltd. The blueprint is dated 27th September 1937, and after doing a little Googling I discovered that the 463.8 ft ship was launched on 05/08/1937, completed in October 1937, and sunk by torpedo on the 17/10/1939, about six weeks after the start of World War II.

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One chart in particular caught my eye.

Over the last thirty years, I have occasionally tried to rediscover the precise location of my grandfather’s mooring. I always understood that Dara was moored off Clynder. I had previously looked at the cine footage, looking for clues in the background (such as the house above), but was never able to translate that into tangible results on location in Clynder.

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The chart that I was given proved to be the holy grail; it gave me the missing detail that solved the puzzle. I had been looking in the wrong place, and with the map to hand, the crew and I found the house above, which is the same house that can be seen in the cine film …albeit with 2017-style hipster foliage.

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With chart in hand [see below], we positioned ourselves with the aforementioned house to our backs and the wall ruins to our right …and looked out on to where my grandfather’s boat sat all those years ago [above]. My recollection of the scene was clearly warped by my diminutive size at the time. The stones on the beach are large pebbles, whereas I remember them as heavy boulders. Nonetheless there was something comforting about having rediscovered the location of those early happy memories.

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In a mind-bending twist; one that really took me by surprise, on what was after all a journey to somehow reach out, through the formidable barrier of death, to my long-lost family sailing heritage …we then walked south to the peninsula two hundred metres away. Not visible on any map or chart that I had seen previously, we looked back over to my grandfather’s mooring from Limekiln Point.

Kismet, karma, whatever you choose to call it, I felt that somehow I had made some sort of improbable connection with my grandfather. Sure, you could put it down to coincidence that his boat was moored just off ‘Limekiln Point’, and that we randomly stumbled upon and subsequently chose ‘Limekilns’ on the other side of the country decades later; whatever your thoughts might be, on this occasion …I allowed myself to read something more into it.

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Bridging the generation gap – Part 1

January 20, 2017

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When we first heard of the new Queensferry Crossing we were thrown into disarray. We hadn’t foreseen a third bridge linking North Queensferry to South Queensferry, and that development threw a major spanner in the works of our informal naming convention.

If we had known, we wouldn’t have labelled the existing bridges ‘Jeff n Beau’. Instead, we might have called the Forth (rail) Bridge – ‘Lloyd‘, and the Forth Road Bridge – ‘Beau‘, which would have left ‘Jeff‘ free for the new bridge.

Quelle Domage.

Given the circumstances, I’ve unilaterally decided that the new bridge will have to be called ‘Kevin‘.

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With that thorny issue now resolved, I can proceed.

Roughly 47 years ago my late grandfather sailed his boat Dara under the yet to be completed Erskine Bridge (on the River Clyde), about 50 miles due west of ‘Kevin’, a.k.a. the new Queensferry Crossing (on the River Forth). My late grandfather captured the journey that he made on cine camera, as they passed under the bridge [above].

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Given that the seed for our sailing activities was planted by my earliest memories on board my grandfather’s boat, I thought that it would be appropriate to somehow re-enact his journey …albeit it fifty years later, on the east coast …and with a completely different bridge.

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The cine footage is in pretty poor condition, and obviously there’s no sound. Granted, it probably doesn’t mean all that much to others, but to me it’s one of the few scraps I have to connect me with my family’s sailing heritage. I like to imagine that my grandfather would have been proud of us taking up sailing, and crossing the North Sea back in 2011.

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The Erskine Bridge was completed in 1971, and the Queensferry Crossing should open later this year.  Despite this 46 year gap, if you compare the imagery, on the surface it looks as though the construction techniques haven’t actually changed all that much.

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Building work on the Queensferry Crossing has been going since we first took-up sailing (2011). We both fondly remember the Beamer Rock lighthouse [above] from our first season, but it was demolished later in 2011/early 2012 to make way for the new bridge.

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Ever since then the riverscape has been constantly changing. Although we miss the Beamer Rock lighthouse, we don’t particularly miss the protective covers that used to shroud the Forth (rail) Bridge 365 days of the year, as can be spotted in the photograph of the Beamer Rock lighthouse above.

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It’s been interesting to watch the new bridge slowly stretch across the river during the last five years. At some stage this year, ‘Kevin’ will be completed and the river will settle down once again. That new normal could prove to be a little strange, but I’m sure we’ll adjust.

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A slow start to 2017

January 17, 2017

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We had an unusually quiet time over Christmas and New Year as yours truly was feeling a tad under the weather. Despite missing out on a few social engagements, team Ragdoll dropped in to see us on Christmas Eve, and we managed to catch up with our sailing chums two or three times.

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The weather for the local ‘looney dook’ on the 1st of January was as good as I can remember. It was a prime opportunity to strip-off and take the plunge… …unfortunately I was still recovering.

What a shame!

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We carried on with our winter road trips, including a trip to the East Neuk. While we were there, we spotted a couple of yachts from our club that are spending the winter on the pontoons. With an eight-year waiting list it will be a while before we can join them.

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Not normally one to be taking photographs of vehicles when there are boats around, for some reason I spent more time than a grown man ought to oogling the RNLI’s tractor. In my defence, given that we’re members, I felt in some small way that I was entitled to be interested.

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As well as Pittenweem, St Monans, and Elie we dropped into Crail [above]. We haven’t sailed into Crail before as it has always seemed a bit cramped and busy. Over the winter though, there was more space and it was hard to resist considering an overnight during the coming season.

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Above: the view over to Inchcolm from the beach at Aberdour.

There’s no doubt that the weather has been very kind to us so far this winter. As I haven’t been in a position to carry out the onboard maintenance that’s required before crane-in, I have a lot to squeeze in over the next three months.

I’d better get my skates on.

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Quest for Inchgnome

November 30, 2016

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At the end of November, our chums from Ragdoll a Westerly 33, very kindly invited us out for one last sail. They spent the night at Granton, and we caught up with them at 11am on the Sunday morning. We soon formed a loose plan to track down the mystical island of Inchgnome.

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It was chilly, but the weather was really good given that it was only a couple of days away from December. Team Ragdoll unfurled the headsail, however there wasn’t enough wind to make much progress.

Our first stop was directly north from Granton to Burntisland [above].

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We brought a simple lunch with us and we collectively demolished that while we were alongside at Burntisland, including way too many chocolate brownies on my part (unfortunately, I kept unearthing conjoined brownies that would just not be parted). After lunch we took a quick tour of the inner harbour at Burntisland [above].

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Heading west, our next stop was Starleyburn, which is a privately owned harbour well off the beaten track. We didn’t actually stop off, as we weren’t sure what was underneath Ragdoll’s keel. Hat’s off to the skipper for getting us in as far as we did though.

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After getting up close and personal with the most easterly beach at Aberdour, the skipper pointed Ragdoll’s bow west again to the golden horizon out towards Mortimer’s Deep.

Could that warm glow be the fabled Inchgnome?

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Yes, indeed (apologies for the cheesy vfx; I couldn’t resist it). Although we had previously passed near by, Inchgnome (a.k.a. Swallow Craig) had slipped beneath our radar. We circled the diminutive little island, which sits just a few metres east of Inchcolm, and drank in the surreal miniature world that largely goes unnoticed out in the middle of the Firth of Forth.

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It was pretty dark by the time we reached Port Edgar, and the temperature was falling away quickly. The following day, Ragdoll was lifted out of the water and her first season in Scotland was at an end. Although the end of the season is always a low point, our chums have done well, squeezing in six weeks of sailing after we were craned-out.

Thanks very much to team Ragdoll for sharing their final weekend of the season with us.

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High & dry …ish

November 22, 2016

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On-shore life has been hectic since crane-out, but we’ve been squeezing-in boat related stuff where ever possible. Team Ragdoll have been doing their best to gloat about being afloat while we’re high and dry. Last we heard they made it over to the inner harbour at Dysart.

Me …jealous?

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Not to be out done, we decided to get out on the water too.

Yes, it’s fair to say that our choice of vessel was a tad more compact, and had slightly less in the way of creature comforts [such as cabins and engines]…

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…nonetheless, we made it out on to the river, glided majestically past our Macwester Malin, sitting high and dry on the hard [above], and even ventured over to the Ghauts to upset the gulls, curlews, and oystercatchers.

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Obviously there was some work to do too. We performed our usual winterisation processes, making sure that everything is properly decommissioned for the winter months. This year we also had to winterise the heads for the first very time [above].

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As usual over the closed season we go out on regular reconnaissance missions. I couldn’t help but include this “in-seine” snap I took of a snazzy-kitsch-car on a Parisienne house boat in early November. Who knows, we might make it there some day.

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Another post crane-out-road-recce saw us nip over to Fisherrow, which could be on our cruising to-do list next year. On the way back we dropped into Leith docks to have a look at the Windsor Castle and her de rigueur dazzle paint. This is the boat that we totally failed to see during the Battle of Jutland commemorations earlier this year.

Later the same day, we dropped by Port Edgar to find out if team Ragdoll were around, but they were nowhere to be seen. Instead we bumped into our chums on their brand new Grandezza 33, Tight Fit V. We spent a night onboard Tight Fit IV, a Grandezza 27 back in June. They sold Tight Fit IV shortly after, and had been AWOL over the summer, so it was great to catch up and have a tour of their lovely new pride and joy.

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Another cracking day found us back out in our little dinghy. The river was like a mirror and we gently drifted just off the Ghauts as we enjoyed a leisurely picnic in the November sunshine, before heading over to the local pub.

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By the time we reached the steps just across from the pub, the tide was dropping and the wind had changed direction. We decided to head back round to the club harbour straight away, which turned out to be a sensible precaution. The wind picked up during the journey, and by the time we reached the harbour there were sizeable waves breaking at the harbour mouth. Fortunately the crew couldn’t see them rising menacingly behind her.

Note to self; take life-jackets with us next time we head out.

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As well as a walk along to Peatdraught Bay, a road trip to Dysart, and dropping into North Queensferry, we planned to walk out on the [new but rickety] pier at Culross. That didn’t go particularly well, as can be seen above. We expected a high tide given the super moon, but this was an hour after high water and the tide should have dropped to around 5.8m by the time I took this photograph. So by my reckoning, the stone part of the pier [just visible in the distance] is completely submerged at around six metres. As the pier can’t be all that much more than a metre [maybe a metre and a half] above the putty, I’m not all that confident about our aspiration to visit Culross next season.

We’ll see.

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Crane-out 2016

October 20, 2016

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Day one of crane-out was wet, windy and cold. Most of my wet weather gear was onboard, so I had to cobble together an eclectic array of clothing that should have kept me substantially dry.

Like many others, I still got thoroughly soaked.

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By mid-morning I felt something snap on my right hand. My finger didn’t feel broken so I carried on, stopping to check my limp finger tip every now and then. Eventually, I accepted that something wasn’t quite right and went in search of a second opinion. The second opinion I found suggested that I needed to pop over to A&E, and following an X-Ray the diagnosis was something called ‘Mallet Finger’, which means that my tendon had snapped. Treatment was a small finger splint to be worn 24/7 until the end of the year, and then a further month wearing the splint at night. Zang!

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My injury did nothing to prevent the unrelenting approach of the season’s low point.

When the tide arrived the following day, we brought our Macwester Malin over to the harbour ready for crane-out. We had a short 15 minute wait before the dreaded event was upon us.

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The wind had dropped, and the lift went reasonably well. I say ‘reasonably’, because there was some contact between the crane lifting gear, and some delicate equipment at the top of our main mast. At this stage I’m not sure if any remedial action is required.

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Moments later our twin-keel yacht was heading for what will become her home for the next six months. This year we have a slightly different spot, roughly twenty feet away from last year, on more even ground.

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Once our Macwester Malin was safely deposited on her wooden blocks, we stowed some items and checked that everything was present and correct before turning our attention to other outstanding tasks. Above; muddy antifoul paint power-washed a few days after crane-out – it’s a task that’s easier before the mud and paint dry out.

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One of the traditions the crew and I have is rowing our dinghy over to the club one last time, however that was going to be more complicated than normal given the damage to my finger. Hoping to avoid being labelled a finger-malingerer, I was keen to row the tender round as usual …but I was overruled. Instead the club boat did the job for us in a matter of moments.

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As crane-out weekend drew to a close, just prior to heading up to the club patio for a consolation beer, I noticed the view through our sprayhood from our new spot on the hard-standing. In that instance, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I find myself staring out at that view, gently rocking back and forwards on the balls of my feet.

The long wait for crane-in 2017 begins.

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