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Boats n’ ho-ho-hos

December 24, 2017

With the party season well under way and the big day just around the corner, the crew has been asking me what I want for Christmas for several weeks now. I had been considering a sailing watch; I looked at digital ‘smart’ watches with GPS features, but didn’t see anything that floated my boat.

In terms of more traditional watches for sailors, I’m not personally convinced about the way the Rolex Yacht-Master Rainbow watch looks [see here]. For a start I think I’d prefer a metal bracelet strap to the rubber one that comes with it. However for this 2017 pre-owned example even with the £5,000 discount currently on offer, the reduced sticker price of £74,950 still costs substantially more than our yacht. So even if the Yacht-Master Rainbow was to my taste …at that price I think I’d be replacing our yacht not my watch.

This year regrettably we failed to make it to the local for a festive meal with our chums from the club, but there will be other opportunities over the holidays. Besides, at this time of the year a trip to the local without bumping into a couple of our friends would be virtually impossible. By my reckoning crane-in is now just over three months away, so if we spend enough time “topping up” in the pub …we’ll be back in the water in the blink of a bleary eye.

Over the holidays we plan to head off on coastal road trips checking out potential cruising destinations that in all likelihood we won’t make it anywhere near during the coming season, but at some point in the dim and distant future we might just visit. Pointless? Well it keeps us out of the aforementioned pub and gives us a boat fix of sorts.

With the winter solstice now behind us, season 2018 is gradually drawing closer. In the meantime fellow sailing aficionados there’s some partying to be done – a very Merry Christmas to you and yours. Sláinte!

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Rescue ends with soggy cox

November 22, 2017

With most of our winterisation tasks completed by mid-November we waited for a weather window that would let us row our tender back to the club. When that opportunity arrived, it was cold but there was hardly any wind. It also happened to be lunch time, so we had a picnic as we floated around freestyle for a while out on the river.

By the time we had finished lunch, we had strayed too close to the local pub’s gravitational field, and no matter how hard I rowed in the opposite direction …the gravitational pull was just too much to overcome.

We parked our dinghy at the bottom of the stairs (first photo, left-hand circle) and enjoyed the panoramic view of the River Forth on a soft day, as we sat outside the pub (first photo, right-hand circle). Inevitably the coldness started to penetrate our winter layers, so we reluctantly left the pub behind us.

I warmed up again after a few minutes rowing but the crew, who was promoted to cox for the day given the traditional layout of a small rowing boat, remained a bit on the chilly side. The next waypoint on our late season adventure was a nearby beach to rescue a stray dinghy that belongs to one of our chums from the club. The plan was simple enough; retrieve the dinghy and tow it back to the yacht club. An oil tanker passed five or ten minutes earlier and we were expecting a large swell, but there really wasn’t much wash at all as we made our final approach to the beach.

Obviously I was rowing backwards unsighted. The cox encouraged me to get on with it as she was cold, and the wisp of ‘ambience’ that had followed us from the pub was dissipating by the second. As luck would have it, just as I was beaching the dinghy the tiny waves breaking on the shore reached a crescendo and two teeny-little waves broke over the transom in quick succession. The cox took a direct hit and she got totally drenched.

The good news is that I managed to escape without much more than a couple of damp patches above the welly line.

The cox wasn’t ‘feeling’ the good news.

The cox was cold, wet, and still wasn’t seeing the funny side; although in fairness to her she refrained from tipping me in when an occasional smirk broke free …and ran screaming from one side of my face to the other like a streaker desperately trying to evade the rozzers. Somehow her soaking turned out to be my fault, because I was rowing.

We successfully retrieved the wayward dinghy and completed the rest of the journey in silence. At least I refrained from sniggering like a cad in the way that Timothy West does when Prunella Scales catches a mouth-full of trees in the title sequence of Channel 4’s ‘Great Canal Journeys’.

With the cox up in the clubhouse drying-off in front of the fire, I got both dinghies back up the slipway with the help of a couple of friends from the club.

Reflecting on the minuscule waves breaking into the dinghy over at the beach; while it was funny and we were never in danger, the dinghy was half-way to being swamped by two very small waves in less than ten seconds. Another couple of tiny waves over the transom and, with the weight of two adults on-board, the dinghy would have sunk; again not a problem in the shallows a couple of feet from the beach. As usual, we had our life-jackets on, but in truth given the flat-calm nature of the river that day I briefly thought about not bothering with them. Whether you’re a supporter of the nanny state or not, it seems to me that life-jackets are a sensible precaution no matter how benign the conditions are. If you already have a life-jacket, it doesn’t cost as much as a penny to wear it one more time …and only takes seconds to throw on.

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Winterisation round-up 2017

November 17, 2017

Following crane-out there are a number of winterisation tasks on my to-do list. The one that I always tackle first is hosing-down our Macwester Malin’s hull to remove the worst of the season’s fouling. This year, as can be seen above, there was heavier weed growth than I’ve ever witnessed (on our yacht).

Still, nothing that would cause any problem to our type of sailing, and certainly much less than the growth that I spotted on our chum’s Colvic Watson earlier in the year [above]. She sported a rather impressive matching goatee-beard at the pointy end too.

Next up is swapping out the impeller, flushing away the salt water, and filling our Lombardini diesel engine’s cooling system with anti-freeze. I didn’t bother swapping out the impeller this year, as I plan on buying a new one for the start of next season.

When it came to winterising our Lavac heads, I thought that I’d try something new. The idea was to ensure that there was no water left in the system, including the intake. With this in mind I shoved a length of hose (kindly provided by Calloo’s skipper) up the inlet.

The other end was positioned with care in a strategically placed bucket of anti-freeze. All I needed to do was nip on-board and pump the anti-freeze through the whole system and the job would be done. Unfortunately, this didn’t work despite various adjustments. There must have been too much air leakage to enable enough suction in the system. This is something I’ll need to improve upon for next year.

We remembered to bring one of the children’s sledges with us to drag the Hippo buoy through the mud. That goes some way to reduce the energy-sapping nature of removing our mooring ground tackle for the winter. Despite that, this year, the crew put in too much effort and jiggered her back.

Above; note the promenade wall that was a feature of the previous post [see here].

While I’ve still to brim our Macwester Malin’s fuel tanks, and complete one or two other tasks, the biggest item remaining on the pre-Christmas to-do list is to address the gearbox problem. While some might just put the loss of gears on the last day of the season down to a glitch, I’m not the kind of skipper who’s comfortable taking a gamble on that sort of thing …so it looks like the gearbox might have to come out to see if any remedial work is required. Yay!

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Nearly caught-out at crane-out

October 10, 2017

The commodore suggested that we took our Macwester Malin round to the club harbour the day before crane-out so that we could be lifted out on the Saturday, as we couldn’t attend on the Sunday (due to an impending London trip). Given that it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump, we didn’t bother with much of the usual procedures. Instead we deployed most of our fenders on the port side, threw our strops off, and set off …or at least that was the plan.

What actually happened was that we let the stern strops off first, and when I cast the main bow strop off and got back to the helm, we immediately started to slip backwards towards the promenade, which is not much more than a boat-length from our mooring. It took a moment for me to figure-out that we weren’t caught on a line – we had no forward gear. By then the bow had blown round ninety degrees and I helped it round a further ninety by using our thruster. Now facing directly towards the ominous promenade wall which was growing larger by the second, I calmly engaged reverse …and eased our yacht back from danger.

Disaster averted. Deep breaths all round to suck up the relief …cool as you like.

I was just beginning to think through my next move, as we continued to reverse back away from the promenade when the engine faltered and ground to a halt.

With the countdown to Armageddon back on and just ten to fifteen seconds left on the clock before impact, apparently I wasn’t filling the crew with confidence as I frantically ran through the options in my mind – a bit like the gearbox there was nothing there. A boat-hook wasn’t going to keep us off the wall for long. By the time I moved the fenders …we’d be on the wall. By the time we deployed the anchor …we’d be on the wall.

The crew was doing her best to keep me informed of our proximity to the yacht on the next mooring and the unforgiving promenade. While the crew’s version of events includes a bit more colourful language, my recollection is that with our one and only remaining throw of the dice I calmly decided to walk forwards to the ignition panel and try to turn the engine back on. It started. I calmly walked back to the helm, buzzed the thruster to take our Macwester Malin’s bow away from the promenade, gingerly engaged first gear and …as luck would have it we slowly moved away from the wall, circled around the back of the harbour …and away from danger.

The shot above shows us motoring through the Ghauts two minutes later.

Ten minutes later we made a complete pig’s ear of coming into Capernaum, possibly because I was worried about losing the engine again, but perhaps mainly because we were still rattled by our close encounter with the promenade. Fortunately there were plenty of friendly faces on hand to help.

We had drinks and nibbles as night fell and the tide eventually dropped leaving our twin-keel yacht safely planted on the putty.

As usual it was an early start on Saturday morning, and we craned the smaller yachts into what’s referred to as the ‘dinghy park’. When the tide came in we moved our Macwester Malin further up the harbour and later in the day we ended-up rafted in-between Ramillies and Miss Lindsay.

It was getting late when our time came, in fact we were the second last yacht out on day one. Thankfully everything went smoothly and our yacht’s keels were resting on her blocks within moments.

The image above shows the view forward which will be fixed for the next six months. We didn’t have time to do anything other than make sure everything was tied down or stowed. Organising stuff properly would have to wait for another weekend. Next stop London.

As usual when we’re down in London, we’re drawn to all things boaty. We had lunch in the sunshine at Chelsea Harbour, and spotting Ramillies Street as we walked along Oxford Street momentarily transported our minds back to the weekend. While the gearbox trouble had been stressful and obviously didn’t constitute a great experience, the outcome was a great one although we didn’t feel that way at the time. We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, when the outcome could easily have been losing our yacht. Now she’s safely on the hard, we have the time to get the gearbox and engine fixed by a professional, and we’ll be ready for the start of the new sailing season in April 2018. The countdown has already begun!

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Warm end of season sortie

September 26, 2017

As the end of the season is looming just around the corner, we made the best of what could be the last chance to get out on the water before crane-out. Our plan was to head to Aberdour, but nip into Dalgety Bay if the harbour was vacant.

There was a light easterly breeze as we headed east down river later in the afternoon on Friday. The image above shows the new Queensferry Crossing with traffic (including buses), while the Forth Road Bridge stands redundant in the distance.

As luck would have it, the little harbour at Dalgety Bay was vacant, and so we were able to park our Macwester Malin there just before dusk. Given that the crew and I both had pretty tough weeks, Friday night was an early night followed by a reasonably early rise the next morning.

The weather forecast for the weekend threatened high winds with rain and clouds as the weekend progressed, but it was blue skies on Saturday so we got out and about as much as we could. We walked up to the local store for provisions, and after lunch we walked west to St David’s Harbour.

There was a club plan to anchor off Inchcolm overnight, and we spotted at least one club boat (Christina II) to the north of the island sheltering from the easterly wind. Overnight anchoring isn’t something that we’ve got much of an appetite for yet so we decided to pass. The image above shows Inchcolm to the right, which is south and east of Dalgety Bay.

The fear of missing out dissipated as we fired-up what would prove to be our last barbecue of the season. Of course we didn’t know that at the time, but the following weekend would turn out to be a bit wet and windy.

It was a balmy 15 degrees through the night on the Saturday, which is pretty good for late September on the Firth of Forth. The high winds didn’t amount to much and we took the opportunity of a further installment of rest and recuperation.

The journey back home was uneventful, and that pretty much sums up our weekend. It would have been nice to go out on a high, but we were both drained and it was good to recharge our batteries. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that one of the key reasons we bought our Macwester Malin was to facilitate some time out. In that respect at least …it was job done!

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Queensferry Crossing Fail

September 13, 2017

We were fortunate to be amongst the fifty-thousand ballot winners given the once in a lifetime opportunity to walk over the new Queensferry Crossing before it was formally opened by the Queen on the 3rd of September. Logistically, our allocated slot and crossing direction from south to north was a tad inconvenient, as it meant that we had very little time to make our way back south to the marina and we would have to set sail immediately to have any chance of getting back on to our mooring before the tide dropped.

The skipper of Huck Finn, a Macwester 27 had loosely organised a muster under the new bridge on both Saturday and Sunday prior to the official flotilla on the Monday. Although we met up with Shere Khan (who’s skipper was hoisting bunting, including a large pair of pants with Jeremy Corbyn’s face printed on them), and Christina II, unfortunately we didn’t spot Huck Finn when we were out on the water.

We had to abort our final approach to our berth in the marina, as a yacht that we had deferred to and that had entered the alley between D and E pontoons, subsequently had a change of mind and for some reason decided to come back out after we had followed her in. As a result we found ourselves unexpectedly in shallow water and I had to resort to using our Macwester Malin’s bow thruster to manoeuvre the front end. A grating noise came from the thruster and I stopped using it immediately. That made berthing a few minutes later sightly more interesting, but we managed nonetheless.

Our heads also developed a problem the same day. We reasoned that something must have been sucked-up through the inlet pipe, as nothing solid has ever gone out the other end. There wasn’t much we could do to fix the heads or the thruster until we could take the ground. Given our mooring is blessed with thick putty, that meant drying-out on one of our club’s pontoons, and with the outer pontoons constantly occupied over recent weeks, we realised that the inner pontoon was our only option. Slowly it dawned on us that the only way of getting on to the inner pontoon for remedial work the following day, was to miss out on walking over the new bridge. As a result, the shot above was the closest we got to the Queensferry Crossing over the weekend.

We met up with friends onboard Tight Fit V a Grandezza 33, and enjoyed a great night with food, drink and banter. The following morning the Tight Fit V crew popped round to our berth, and then we both headed out on to the river (above) to pootle around under the new bridge for a while.

With one eye firmly focussed on reaching the club’s inner pontoon at high water, we set a course heading west well before high water. We passed our chums on Miss Lindsay and later Shere Khan both heading in the opposite direction, and we were also buzzed by a couple of jetskis.

We made it on to the pontoon without complications. The following day, I pulled seaweed from the thruster and was able to check that it was back in service. The heads would take much longer to fix. I disconnected hoses and worked my way from the beginning of the system to the end. I seemed to clear the blockage by filling up the bowl with buckets of water and pumping those out. I can only imagine that some seaweed might have been sucked in and was causing an obstruction. That said, it still seems a little asthmatic at times, so I’ll need to keep an eye on it.

The skipper of Calloo and I watched the Red Arrows fly over the new bridge during the opening ceremony, and then up river towards us before banking over our heads.

Several days later, with our maintenance complete it was time to get back to our mooring. Unfortunately we had to pass on the opportunity to land for drinks at Blackness with Calloo because the crew and I are both carrying annoying injuries. Instead we slowly meandered our way home; not very exciting, but there are times to push yourself …and times to hold back.

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Double Bay BBQ (feat. Godzilla)

August 29, 2017

We crammed a lot into the last weekend of August, especially given the tides.

It was mid-afternoon on Saturday before we slipped our mooring. We headed east towards Aberdour, but amazingly the small harbour at Dalgety Bay was vacant for the first time in months. Thanks a million to the harbour master for accommodating us.

It turned out to be a lovely, soft evening and we lost no time getting a disposable barbecue up and running. We’ve been burning the candle at both ends for a while, and as we had an early start the next morning to leave on the falling tide, we called it a night not long after dark.

Above; it doesn’t take much to keep me happy.

We were back out on the Firth of Forth pre-9am, but I reckoned that we couldn’t set a direct course to our next destination (which can just about be seen to the top left of the very first picture in this post) as I didn’t want to arrive too early. With this in mind, we turned east again, and circled Inchcolm, which is the island silhouetted on the left-hand-side of the photograph above.

As it turned out, I hadn’t taken into account that we would be sailing into three knots of tide when we turned around to head west from Inchcolm, so in the end we arrived at Peatdraught Bay twenty minutes later than I had planned. This wasn’t a huge problem, but it meant that I totally failed to deposit our Macwester Malin on the beach with the precision that I had hoped for.

Taking the ground and drying out on a beach is something that we’ve aspired to do for several years, but never quite bitten the bullet. [Oxymoron Alert!]: when we heard that there was a club cruise to Peatdraught Bay and the plan was to dry out, we felt compelled to take the plunge.

Ten minutes after we took the ground Joint Venture arrived, shortly followed by Calloo.

Both Joint Venture and Calloo deployed their anchors, but we decided not to bother. In part, this was because we wanted to experiment given that we knew that we would be onboard with our Macwester Malin’s engine running when we refloated, and we weren’t near any rocks or other obstacles.

We waited for the tide to recede, then fashioned a makeshift rope ladder to hit the beach. Collectively we made a beach fire, got the barbecues up and running and cracked open some cold ones. The food was great, with the possible exception of the sandy-like seasoning that our naval architect chum (who was crewing onboard Calloo) sprinkled liberally all over the pakora. Eventually it became apparent that it wasn’t sand-like …it was just sand.

Following our beach banquet, we had a game of rounders with the kids. When my turn came I thwacked a home run and amidst the glory of the moment, and the cheering of the crowd it all became a bit hazy. There was a bit of a disturbance on the horizon to the east. All-of-a-sudden I was back onboard our Macwester Malin. I could hear a distant twisted roar that quickly got louder. I didn’t know what hit me; a freak wave crashed over our yacht throwing me overboard. As the giant wave hit, out of the corner of my eye, I could just see Godzilla over to the east behind Inchkeith. I was confused. It didn’t make any sense to me.

Next thing I knew I came round face-down with gritty eyes and a mouthful of sand. My ribs hurt like John Hurt had hurtled towards me with a chib fashioned from a DVD of The Hurt Locker (you’d think John Hurt of all people would have been a bit more sympathetic when it comes to rib trauma).

It was sore to breathe.

The skipper of Calloo came over to check that I was alright. He apologised, and it slowly sank in that what might possibly have happened is that he (Calloo’s skipper) had a momentary lapse of concentration and thought we were playing rugby rather than rounders …and that I had in essence cracked my ribs by falling over on to some sand.

As that version of events sounds a bit lame, I’m sticking with the Godzilla story.

Our Macwester Malin floated last, and we motored back to our mooring as I didn’t want to be struggling with large sails. I quickly learned not to breathe too deeply, avoid coughing and sneezing, as it was less “achooo” and more “ach-ouch”. As you might imagine if it was sore to breathe, then it was out totally of the question for me to scrub the decks, wash the cars, or mow the lawn.

It seems that the recovery time is about six weeks, so that means we’re going to have to take it easy until the end of the season. I say ‘we’, but I obviously mean ‘me’.

Now where has the crew gone to? I could do with a top up and a foot massage.

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