Force 8 gale sail

October 4, 2011

Macwester 32

While most of the UK was experiencing record temperatures over the last few days, the Forth was being rained upon, and as a result we didn’t get out sailing during our last weekend before crane-out. By Sunday, we were looking at a further deteriorating weather forecast as the week ahead unfolded, and realised that because we needed to top-up our Macwester Malin’s diesel tanks before Saturday [yay diesel bug], we would need to squeeze in an early morning splash & dash at Port Edgar on Monday before the high winds kicked in.

We used the engine without sails and made 7.5 knots at 2500 rpm. We were ready and waiting alongside the fuel berth at 9am [see photo above], and put in a call to the office to request a quick turnaround in order to catch the tide back home. Unfortunately due to a failure on the ground, or staff communication nobody turned up to provide fuel until 9.50 …and by then we realised that we weren’t going to make it back until the next tide. After paying £150 for diesel, the marina staff tried to charge us a further £10 for a ‘short stay’. We politely refused on a point of principle, pointing to their service failure as the only reason we were still there.


The red flag was hoisted as the wind started to pick-up. When we were eating lunch onboard our Macwester Malin, I heard a coastguard warning issued at 9.41am for a Force 8 on the Forth “soon”. This was much worse than we had expected, and following further investigation and consideration we decided that we would leave our yacht at Port Edgar and try again in the morning.

The staff at Port Edgar weren’t overly understanding or helpful, and it was only after a calm, but forceful discussion with the management that they reluctantly offered not to charge us unless we were still there at 9am the following morning. We did not reject or accept this, but left it in abeyance. We felt that this was poor customer care and that the marina was seeking to extract revenue from their own service failings. It left a rather sour taste in our mouths.

On the plus side, friends at our yacht club offered to come and pick us up from the marina by car later that afternoon. To be fair, I should mention that before we were picked-up, one of the managers came down to see us, and said that we shouldn’t feel under pressure to leave [with our yacht by sea]. As we drove back over the Forth Road Bridge, the waves below didn’t look too daunting, and we wondered whether we should have just gone for it.

red flag 2

Having listened to the howling wind for most of the night, we got up before dawn the next day and set off back to Port Edgar. The red flag was still flying, but we quickly prepped to leave …and then cast off.


I think we were both swithering at around fifty/fifty. However the weather was forecast to get increasingly worse, and that moment might have been our best/only opportunity to get back before crane-out. Looking back on it, there was probably an aspect of ‘rising to the challenge’, but there was also the bad taste from the day before. Berthing fees categorically weren’t an issue, but the principle was …and somewhere deep down we probably wanted to avoid further strong conversations about the marina’s customer service policy.

Leaving Port Edgar

As we left Port Edgar behind we realised that we were in for a rough ride. The shot above shows us just slipping out of the marina, with Longannet power station just visible in the distance. Unfortunately there are no more images for this post, as [even although my HD video camera is waterproof], I needed both hands from that point on.

At 2500 rpm we made reasonable but slow progress up the river [around 4.5 knots], and early on at least, the saltwater that landed on us from the far side of the sprayhood was invigorating and exhilarating. Without saying anything, I think we both realised that we were at the edge of our comfort zone, and probably pushing our luck in terms of our experience. This has been our first ever season sailing after all.

We could have been more prepared …and we should have been prepared for what with hindsight was easily foreseeable; deteriorating conditions.

That’s what happened next. There was a five to ten minute spell when the atmosphere changed. The wind picked up dramatically, and it started to rain. Our yacht’s bow was rising out of the water and slamming down with a rather robust dunk similar to a frisky whale breaching. With my vision obscured by relentless buckets of salt water, doubts started to rush into my mind …and I wondered whether I had what it would take to remain calm and hold it all together. The horizon in front of us was black, and it looked as though things might get worse still. It was at that point that we realised we hadn’t told anyone that we were making the journey. That was a mistake, so we put in a call to the friendly harbour master at Aberdour, just to let someone know we were out on the water.

That done, I pointed our Malin’s bow straight into the wind, and kept going as I tried to think of a plan B. I was struggling to think, and plan B didn’t formulate until much later. Fortunately things gradually eased a bit without any need for plan B, and we managed to get back on course for home. Coming along-side the pier wasn’t easy as the wind was blowing us out towards the yachts moored in the harbour, but we managed it with much-appreciated help from a friend at the club on shore.

Needless to say that we were both very relieved to have reached shelter. At the same time, we both felt ‘alive’. I’m sure we’re not the first newbies to go through this sort of experience, and feel these sort of feelings for the first time. When all is said and done, we made it. However we can’t claim to have been ‘caught out’ on the return passage, as we set-off knowing the forecast. We knew that our Macwester Malin was up to the job; the weakest link was our knowledge and experience. We simply shouldn’t have have taken the risk.

What have we learned? That waves spotted from up on the Forth Road Bridge aren’t small …they’re just far away. Amongst other things, we should have used our safety lines to harness ourselves into the cockpit, and we should have had our washboards in place. That remaining completely objective about safety is actually quite hard when there are other pressures lurking around in recesses of your head (these other pressures should be totally ignored). Finally, if we ever find ourselves debating the conditions in the future; be in no doubt that we will definitely err on the side of safety.

Phew! The final sail of our rookie season turned out to be just as memorable as the first sail of the season [our first sailing experience ever]. See ‘Maiden Voyage’ to read about how it all started with a journey across the North Sea.

Roll on next spring!



  1. Good, honest report of a character-forming experience. For future comfort in such conditions, I find it useful to wear a pair of good quality, well vented ski goggles. They fit clear of my specs, keep salt off the lenses and hinges, and are easily wiped periodically to retain a clear view.

    Ted Vary


    • Hello Ted,

      Yes it was character-forming. We were fortunate to learn by our rookie mistakes rather than pay the full price for them.

      Now that we have learned those lessons, we’re much less likely to make the same mistakes in the future. Ski goggles sound like a great idea. I won’t be purchasing goggles any time soon though Ted, as (lesson learned) we simply won’t be venturing out in conditions like that in the foreseeable future.

      Best wishes!


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


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