By Royal Appointment (part two)

July 15, 2015

The big day arrived sooner than we would have liked, and we spent most of the morning chasing our tails, with the crew and I running around in opposite directions trying to do all the things we needed to do. The plan was to meet at the other three club yachts (Calloo, Joint Venture, and Ramillies) on the east side of the M9, as that’s where the event was due to kick-off. ‘The crew’ made it there, but by the time I tried, the route was locked-down by security staff, so we had no choice other than to wait at the lock.

The flip side of that scenario was actually a really good thing, as the day before ‘the crew’ had mentioned photo-bombing Princess Anne. As the words came out of her mouth I tried to cram them back in, given that the surrounding area was awash with joggers and dog-walkers who all seemed to be terribly interested in repeatedly peering inside bins, and checking that manhole covers were secure. And, if even just one of those uber-curious leisure seekers happened to be a plain-clothed policeman or special agent, then I’m figuring that the word ‘photo‘ could easily have become detached from the phrase “photo-bombing Princess Anne”, and before you could say “eating horse meat sounds like a good idea to me”, we would have found ourselves strapped to a chair, wearing nothing but our pants, with black bags over our heads, and our tethered feet reluctantly bathing in buckets of ice-cold water.

Fortunately that didn’t happen.

After the formal opening ceremony, a small flotilla of six boats (not forty as reported in the press), took HRH Princess Anne up to lock three. We chose to bring up the rear, as we didn’t want to be caught in the middle of a cluster of heavy steel canal boats should something go pear-shaped.

Our Macwester Malin had over a dozen on board as we set-off along what proved to be a welcoming and cheerful ‘gauntlet of sound’. There was lots of applause, cheering, air horns, bugles, and kazoos, which I felt was some sort of acknowledgement for the insanity of taking two masts down, then putting them up, then back down, and back up again for a princess who, with the very best will in the world, had absolutely no chance of spotting (and processing the logistics behind) a yacht five boats behind, having its masts up on the west side of the motorway.

Macwester Malin yacht mast up Kelpies
So there you have it. The shot above is evidence of what is likely to be the only instance of a yacht with its mast(s) up at the Kelpies …at least until the 25th anniversary.

It took a lot of time and effort, and as I mentioned before, teamwork, but looking back on the event, the experience was worth it.

Macwester Malin mast down Kelpies
Inevitably we popped some fizzy stuff, and took some time to relax once all the pomp and ceremony died down. Ramillies and Calloo set sail later that day, with Joint Venture staying until the Thursday. Unfortunately we had some damage to a sleeve for one of the bolts on our main mast and so we had to get a replacement made and fitted before we could contemplate putting our masts back up.

Macwester Malin mast down Kelpie basin
With the part made and fitted much quicker than we expected, we had hoped to get the masts back up on our Macwester Malin on the Sunday following the event, but unfortunately the canal team were too short-staffed to man the crane.

Keplies panorama
With other pressures and un-seasonal gale-force winds the following week, our yacht ended-up being in the Kelpies Basin for a fortnight. The only upside was that the weather wasn’t suitable for us to be sailing, so the delay didn’t negatively impact on our sailing season.


By Royal Appointment (part one)

July 10, 2015

River Carron

Immediately after returning from Dalgety Bay we had an intensive couple of days preparing our Macwester Malin for an appointment up river to the opening of the Kelpies at the Helix in Falkirk. Over the weekend, a chum from the club helped show us how to build the wooden supports we would need for our masts, and we also removed both booms, the genoa, plus anything else that we dare dismantle.

We set off on Monday the 6th, not long after Ramillies the other yacht from our club making the journey that day. At first it was a little on the rough side out on the water, but we made good progress at 7 knots over the ground motoring into the wind. Ramillies motored off into the distance, and we later discovered that she has a 100 horsepower engine which is three times more power than our Lombardini diesel packs. Nonetheless we passed Longannet, and made it to the mouth of the River Carron in good time.

After passing Grangemouth yacht club and entering the Forth and Clyde canal system, the plan was for both yachts to step their masts on arrival, in order to access the Kelpies Basin that night.

Unfortunately for the skipper of Ramillies, the crane was too small to tackle its mast. Our Macwester Malin’s main mast is smaller, but we didn’t have any luck either as the bolts at the base of our mizzen mast were seized.

Canal Bridge

Eventually both yachts sailed up the canal, through the bridge (above) toward the M9 motorway that barred the path to the 30-metre high Kelpies. Close but no cigar; we were destined to spend the night with our masts remaining stubbornly up.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that yachts passing through the bridge above almost always have their masts down, and it was a bit of a worry making sure that we were far enough over to starboard to avoid a collision between the bridge and our spars.

That night, a good chum from the club (skipper of Joint Venture) arrived with his toolbox and a determined look on his face. It took us until a rather soggy 11pm (when I say ‘us’, it was most definitely mainly ‘him’), but we managed to get the bolts freed-off and ready to have another go stepping our Macwester Malin’s masts in the morning. We couldn’t have done it without his help.


By 8am the next morning we had turned our 32ft Macwester Malin around, gingerly passed through the road bridge again (stopping the rush hour traffic), and made the journey back down the canal, ready to have another go at stepping the masts. Despite having no chance of making it through himself, the skipper of Ramillies came to give us a hand lowering our masts. This time the mizzen was reasonably straightforward, but the main was a real pain. As with the night before’s efforts, we couldn’t have lowered the main mast without the help of our chum from Ramillies.


With both masts down and resting on their wooden supports as intended, we made it under the M9 motorway through to the Kelpies …and all of a sudden we were the focus of 500 hundred eyes! 500 eyes sounds twice as scary as 250 pairs of eyes in my book. We took it slowly and managed to avoid any embarrassing mishaps.

Looking up in the Kelpies lock

The Kelpies lock is the smallest in Scotland, and so we were in and out within ten minutes. It felt more like two. Exiting was a bit on the tight side as there was a small yacht blocking the way, but we managed to squeeze through into the Kelpies Basin, and headed for a large space on the pontoon directly opposite.

Macwester Malin Kelpies Basin

It was a relief to make it through at last, as we really thought that it wasn’t going to happen the day before. It was definitely a team effort though, and given that we were now destined to be the only yacht that made it through for the grand opening the following day, we realised that we had to fly the flag on behalf of the club.

The basic idea was that the organisers wanted two yachts with masts up for the opening ceremony, and (given that we were the only yacht that had made it through), the pressure was on us. Thankfully, our chum, the skipper of Ramillies, also helped us get both masts back up that afternoon.

Later that day, two more yachts from our club, Joint Venture, and Calloo made the journey up and joined Ramillies, all sitting in a row with their masts up, just to the east of the M9 motorway.

It was a long day; we slept well.


Geiger counters at the ready; it’s Dalgety Bay

July 5, 2015

Leaving the Forth Bridge

On the 5th of July 2015, our favourite bridge was denoted as a World Heritage Site by United Nations body UNESCO. The shot above was taken looking back at the bridge from our Macwester Malin a couple of days beforehand, as we motored east into an easterly dodging the thunderstorms.


The atmosphere was heavy and ominous approaching Dalgety Bay. According to Wikipedia, a series of radioactive objects have been found off the shoreline of Dalgety Bay, and one found in 2011 measured 10 megabecquerels. To be honest, I’ve never heard of a ‘megabecquerel’ before, but it sounds menacing.

Not at all like the Dalgety Bay that we experienced during our first ever visit by sea, assuming that you discount the thunderstorms (and the stone-throwing kids).

Dalgety Bay wideshot

The harbour is very small and there are no ladders to get on and off the boat, however there is one set of stone steps. Given the throbbing radioactive glow from the seabed at dusk, Dalgety Bay is probably not ideal for small kids and dogs, although we saw children and dogs (all with the correct amount of heads) frolicking on the beach, despite the health and safety warning signs. In the shot above you can see Inchcolm which lies just to the south-east of Dalgety Bay and the Forth Bridge that lies to the south-west.

Macwester Malin Dalgety Bay

We had a relaxing time, with no through roads and no bother with the exception of some kids throwing stones at our yacht. The nearest shops are a healthy walk inland, but we knew this in advance and we had enough provisions to last our three-night stay. We ventured out on a couple of walks; one east to St Bridget’s Kirk, and the other west to St Davids Harbour. We also took a day-tripping parent out for an enjoyable lunch in nearby Aberdour.


Talking of Aberdour, as it happens, we had planned to sail to Aberdour via Inchcolm following our short spell in Dalgety Bay, but the weather was going downhill as the weekend approached, and we knew that we had to return to base, as we had preparatory work to squeeze in ahead of another cruise the following week. After mulling this over, we decided that Aberdour would have to wait for another day and we pointed the bow of our Macwester Malin back towards the Forth Bridge.


Never say never again

June 24, 2015

River Forth June 2015

During the week, the crew and I left our Macwester Malin on her mooring and nipped over to Blackness for an early evening stroll. The plan was to wander along to the castle, but before we did that we walked out to the end of the pier. As we passed the Blackness Boat Club clubhouse we recalled the time that we ventured in there five years previously and as was customary, I re-stated that we would never set foot inside that building for as long as we lived (and a bit more).

Yet …about thirty seconds later, somehow we found ourselves walking over the threshold and into the clubhouse, having been dragged inside by an uber-keen sailor who was desperate to make our acquaintance. To cut a long story short, the club had come through dark times but was now a welcoming, sailor-friendly venue keen to reach out to other sailors and clubs.

As we left, we promised to return by sea, to the self-proclaimed “Cowes of the Forth” and to encourage others from our club to follow suit.

Macwester Malin Port Edgar

A few days later we took our Macwester Malin over to Port Edgar for an overnight with a number of other club yachts. We had a relatively peaceful evening while everyone else was out for dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. The plan was that we would meet-up later on. By the time it reached 11pm, we nipped over to the other yachts, but assumed that we must have somehow missed them as they were in darkness. Just as we were turning in for the night at 11.30, one of our chums appeared and asked if we were still up for visitors.

Five minutes later our cockpit was jammed, and we had a fun time through to the wee small hours.

Approaching Blackness

The next morning a few of us set course for Blackness, although we were later setting off than the others, as our yacht needed a thorough tidy-up. Given that the wind was straight on our Macwester’s bow, we motored up the river to catch the others, and made reasonably good progress.

Above and below: Blackness Castle.

Blackness Castle

Our chums on ‘Joint Venture’ had beaten us to it, however there wasn’t enough water to land when they arrived, so they sailed across the river before heading back over once more. ‘Joint Venture’ (with a draft of about 1 metre as we do), gingerly made for Blackness pier and as they didn’t run out of water, we followed them in a few minutes later.

Macwester Malin alongside

Although we had visited Blackness by car numerous times over the years, and sailed by a few times too, this was the first time that we had actually landed there, so this was a first for both yachts.

View from Blackness Boat Club

We were welcomed by the commodore and enjoyed a drink at the bar. It was quite a turnaround from the first time that we had visited the club and we both felt good that we had delivered on the promise we made a few days earlier. We subsequently encouraged others to visit, and a week or two later ‘Joint Venture’ and another three yachts from our club returned to sample the pleasures of the “Cowes of the Forth”.


Topsy-turvey weather continues

June 15, 2015

Macwester Malin mooring

It’s fair to say that the weather has been a disappointment during the first half of the sailing season in Scotland. There have been many days where we’ve simply left our Macwester Malin on her mooring when we would have expected to be pottering around on the river. Look at the starboard rear strop above (that’s in the most sheltered corner of the harbour).


There have been isolated patches of great weather, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to drop what we’ve been doing and head to the boat. The above shot is from the end of Brucehaven Pier. Below is a starboard panoramic shot taken at breakfast.


The first three-day spell we had in June was dedicated to remedial work including power-washing the hull and deck. We also drilled a hole in the roller reefing drum in order to adjust the angle that the line leaves the drum. Unfortunately that didn’t help much, but it was probably worth trying.


We also bought and fitted extra stanchion lead blocks to reduce any friction. Subsequent testing would show that this helped make the genoa easier to furl. We’re going to keep tweaking and improving as we go.

Macwester Malin Capernaum June 2015

By the end of the three days we were ready to hit the high seas; all we need now is some half-decent weather.

This year we’ve made a conscious decision to be a bit more adventurous, so it will be interesting to look back at the end of the season and find out where we end up.


El Niño = no go

May 31, 2015


As May 2015 slips through our fingers, we’re getting ever more frustrated that we haven’t managed one single cruise since crane-in six weeks ago. Of course there have been some fine days, but at the weekend these have been in isolation, so while we could have set sail for an overnight sortie, we wouldn’t have been able to get back the next day.

Okay, okay, when I say wouldn’t have been able to get back, that’s not 100% accurate. However these days we are dyed-in-the-wool, fair-weather sailors and we choose not to set sail knowing that there’s a storm on the way.

Been there, done that; and the T-shirt remains in tatters (see here).


We did have one overnight at our club pier in May (see 180 degree breakfast view above), and in theory we could have squeezed in a cruise that weekend, but we had some maintenance to carry out, plus the tides would have left us struggling against yet another incoming weather front, so we decided to exercise patience …it’s a virtue don’t you know.

Forth Bridges from Port Edgar

From time to time we have been out and about catching up with our sailing chums, however that’s been by road which isn’t quite the same.

So, as the rain is pelting relentlessly off the dingy window of my land-locked garret, let’s hope that the north of the UK manages to get out of the dismal weather pattern that we’re stuck in, and then, at last, hopefully we can all go sailing!


Shakedown sail 2015

May 11, 2015


With the weather misbehaving so far this year, we hadn’t made it out for a shakedown sail since crane-in last month. At the top of our agenda was testing our Macwester Malin’s genoa, and on Saturday night we had a small window to do this.

We slipped our mooring around 5.30pm and headed out on to the River Forth managing to dodge most of the showers. There wasn’t all that much wind, but there were noticeable gusts, so we decided not to unfurl the whole of the genoa and leave the main and mizzen under wraps until we had properly tested the genoa. We pootled along at a leisurely 2.5 knots, and reckoned that we had just enough speed to tack, so we gave it a go.


We were right to be cautious as, just as it did throughout last year, the genoa wouldn’t play ball. Given that there wasn’t much wind and we didn’t have the other sails up, I was able to casually make my way out on deck. With a few tugs I managed to get the sail furled back up. This is a problem that originated when we got the UV strip replaced during the winter of 2013/2014. We had to reverse the sail so that the new UV strip protected the genoa as intended. The sail loft are adamant that they put the new strip on the right way, but it seems to us that they didn’t. The solution is to change the position of the furling drum, and until that’s done then we really aren’t ready to go sailing in anything more than a very light breeze …and there aren’t too many of these around at the moment (see screen-grab taken ten minutes ago from windyty.com below).


Still, that’s what a shakedown sail is for. So I’d better come up with a cunning plan for a permanent fix.

…now where did I leave that sledge hammer?


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