Posts Tagged ‘dolphins’


Irish Sea 2017: Cumbria to Cumbrae

May 11, 2017

Last weekend’s plans to get our Macwester Malin out on the water for a long overdue shakedown sail had to take a back seat, as the skipper from Ragdoll sent me a text telling me he was absolutely crew-less. Our chum needed to get Ragdoll, a Westerly 33 ketch, from the Lake District to Largs. With weather on Saturday the 6th of May the wrong side of sensible, we travelled down to Whitehaven by road and prepped for a Sunday departure.

After a night on board, we were in the sealock at Whitehaven by 7am, and were looking forward to a great couple of days out on the water. First up was crossing the Solway Firth with the Isle of Man to our south. The skipper had planned the journey to arrive at the Mull of Galloway at low water (around 3pm), with a view to hugging the coast and missing the worst of the choppy seas where two conflicting tidal streams meet. The weather was changeable; good enough for shorts at times, but cold enough for a neck gator at others.

We kept look-out for a black 17ft Fletcher speedboat which had gone missing (leaving from Port Logan) on the Saturday. We wondered why such a small craft was out on the water given that they would have had to navigate the Mull of Galloway during what must have been reasonably poor conditions.

We rounded the Mull of Galloway at the same time as Angel’s Share, a large cat with a similar passage plan. There were a number of vessels taking part in the ‘mayday’ search, including ‘HMS Battersea Power Station’ (a.k.a. MPI Resolution) which was the first self-elevating Turbine Installation Vessel in the world,  as well as planes and helicopters. The majority of the SAR activity appeared to be further offshore, which we found a little strange as the speedboat was supposed to have been travelling from Port Logan to Stranraer.

When we reached Portpatrick some 12.5 hours and 65 nautical miles after leaving Whitehaven, one of two lifeboats was exiting the harbour. We later discovered that the bodies of the two men from the missing speedboat were onboard the lifeboat. We also discovered that they weren’t on a leisure trip to Stranraer, instead they were heading over to Northern Ireland on some sort of puppy smuggling run.

We berthed in front of Angel’s Share and popped up to the Crown for a cold one in the remnants of the evening sunshine.

The following morning (Monday), we set off just before 8am and found that it was heavy going for a few hours as we pushed against the wind and tide. Talking of heavy going, the skipper treated us to a rendition of some show tunes, as he sang along to an American musical that we were unfamiliar with. Captive in the cockpit, I was reminded of the Vogan captain in “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by the late Douglas Adams, when the captain reads Vogon poetry as a form of intergalactic torture. Still, we survived without jumping overboard and things got a little more entertaining when we found some useable wind approaching Ailsa Craig (above).

With the wind typically in the high teens to early twenties, we made good progress and buzzed the east of Ailsa Craig, before altering course slightly toward the west coast of Arran. We had planned on circumnavigating Arran, with an overnight in Lochranza, but commonsense kicked in and we changed course for Largs, which was a couple of hours nearer.

By the time we cleared Arran, the wind gradually fell away and we had to resort to motoring. The skipper was first to spot the dolphins (above, looking back to Ailsa Craig), and we lost count of the amount of sightings. The tranquility and warmth of the sunshine was a big contrast to our romping sail just a couple of hours earlier.

On the approach to Largs, the skipper unexpectedly dropped the engine into neutral as the depth log was showing almost no clearance. My first instinct was to look over the side and a couple of feet away a dolphin broached the surface; the closest I’ve been to dolphins since our 2013 cruise [here]. Dolphins beneath the hull seemed to be the most logical explanation for the momentary lack of depth.

The wind picked up again to 20 knots on our final approach to Largs Yacht Haven. Berthing wasn’t too much of a problem as it’s quite sheltered in the marina. On day two we had travelled another 65 nautical miles and it had taken about 12.5 hours again, so our pace was pretty steady over both days.

All in all a cracking couple of days sailing for our first west coast adventure.


Party season 2013

December 30, 2013


Party season is in full swing and we’re burning our candle at both ends. You know you’ve had a good night out when you wake up the morning after, with a hazy recollection that you agreed to buy a Russian-built hydrofoil (thankfully, in this instance, subject to a few caveats).

It seemed like a good idea at the time.


As usual during the closed season, we’ve been out and about by car and on foot. Typically visiting harbours and ports up and down the Firth of Forth, often travelling back to cruising venues in a forlorn attempt to rejuvenate our memories of the summer. The shot above is the lighthouse at the entrance to Anstruther on a crisp winter’s day.


At low tide on Boxing Day, we walked out along side the Dragon’s Teeth to Crammond Island. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for years, but any time we’ve had the opportunity the tide or weather hasn’t been aligned to our plans. The image above is from Crammond Island looking over towards Crammond and the mainland. Given that the island is East of the Forth Bridge, technically the trek there and back is along the bottom of the North Sea.


Reflecting on our truncated 2013 sailing season, there’s no doubt that the highlight was spending an hour with a pod of dolphins travelling East from Elie (read more here). Next year, we’re contemplating taking our Macwester Malin through to the River Clyde on the west coast of Scotland for a few weeks, but that’s far from a done deal. We have a lot of work to cram in before crane in, and my attention is turning towards how we’re going to get everything completed by early April.

Whatever your plans for 2014, I hope that you have an enjoyable and peaceful Hogmanay and a great start to the new year.


Anstruther LWS cruise

September 2, 2013

Macwester Malin 32

After ten long yacht-less weeks in London, we were uber-keen to get back out on the water as soon as we could. We set a course for the marina at Anstruther, but given that the duration of the trip would be right on the edge of what was possible in one tide, we popped in for an overnight at Aberdour first. It was great to be back in our favourite east coast destination and we caught up with friendly faces that we hadn’t seen all summer.


That evening our rigging became the ‘perch of choice’ for the swarm of swallows that were resident in the harbour. We enjoyed watching their silent acrobatics as the tide fell and the day gave way to night. The next morning brought heavy fog, and it didn’t take an Apple Store Genius to deduce that the trip to Anstruther would need to wait for at least one more day.


Therefore a day later than expected we set sail for Anstruther. In a last-minute change to our plans, we slipped quietly out of Aberdour at 7.15 am on a falling tide rather than a rising afternoon tide. This would mean we would reach Anstruther at near LWS, but we set off anyway, as we were keen to make the journey while the fog had wandered off to bother somebody else.

As there was a light easterly wind, we decided to keep our Macwester Malin’s sails under wraps. About an hour into our journey, just as we started to cross Kirkcaldy Bay, our Garmin chartplotter lost all of it’s satellite signals. I veered substantially off-course to check if there was any change in position, but the screen was unresponsive. During the following five minutes we discussed turning back, as visibility wasn’t great. We could make out the coast to port side over towards Kirkcaldy, but had absolutely no visual of our destination. While the GPS was down, I used the diffused glow of the sun as a reference to steer, and have to confess that I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we were only five degrees off-course after the signal kicked back in.

Dolphins off Elie

We decided to press on. After crossing Kirkcaldy Bay, we needed to dump some time as we couldn’t enter Anstruther at low water, especially on one of the lowest tides of the year. We took a leisurely detour around the bay at Elie, before getting back on course to Anstruther.

Dolphins off Elie 2

Just as we were passing the lighthouse on the way out of Elie, ‘the crew’ nearly jumped out of her skin. She was speechless (not a trait I would normally associate with her), and could only point at the large disturbance in the water just off our stern. It looked a bit like we had strayed into a firing range. Moments later we realised that the large splash had been caused by a dolphin breaching alongside us, and that there was a pod of six or seven dolphins including a baby (see baby below).

Dolphin baby

The dolphins were going our way at around 2.5 knots and they accompanied us on our lazy journey for over an hour, meandering along passed St Monans to Pittenweem. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to video any of the dolphins breaching right alongside our Macwester on the three occasions that happened, but I did film them breaching further ahead of us half-a-dozen times, as can be seen in the video still below. It was a truly magical experience.

Dolphin breach

The dolphins eventually tired of playing with us, and all to soon they headed south. With the easterly wind picking up, it got a bit lumpy as we approached Anstruther, and we waited around for twenty minutes or so until we saw a fishing boat head into the outer harbour. We promptly followed it, and sat alongside the lighthouse for a further thirty minutes before heading into our berth on the pontoons.

High water came and went, and by 10pm it was approaching low water again. Our twin-keel Macwester Malin started to sink into the silt on the port side, leaning away from the finger pontoon. I courageously ventured out into Anstruther’s foggy Friday night chipmosphere, and did what I could with additional mooring warps. However, there was little could be done until we floated again the following day, and we spent an uncomfortable night listing to one side.

The fog we thought we had left behind, put in an appearance in the morning. Nonetheless we spent our days walking to Cellardyke and Pittenweem, and we also visited Crail by car courtesy of a visiting family member. We were grateful for the short periods of sunshine, but we also found the mellow tones of the fog horns to be strangely soothing. As we left the weekend behind, the fog stayed with us until it showed signs of clearing a little on the Tuesday. While we had the opportunity, we decided to head down to Port Edgar in time for East Coast Sailing Week which started two days later.

Approaching Inchcolm

As luck would have it, there was a westerly wind blowing against us on the way back down …and as that wind was in-cahoots with the tide, the journey to Port Edgar took us five and a half hours. The marina was already very busy and we struggled to find a suitable vacant berth for the night.

Macwester Malin Capernaum Pier

The next morning I looked ahead at the deteriorating weather situation, and discovering that the marina was to get substantially busier, we chose to set sail the following night for Capernaum Pier at Limekilns (see above). In the end the bad weather didn’t arrive on schedule, but it did arrive …and (as I understand it) East Coast Sailing Week was cut short, as winds edged from F7 towards F8 on the last day. By then our 32ft Macwester Malin was safely back on her mooring.


Maiden Voyage: Naarden to the Forth [Part 2]

April 26, 2011

Bass Rock Easter 2011

We slept in shifts. The nights were very cold, dark and contained sporadic banks of fog. By day four we had reached the Bass Rock. It was alive with gannets, which swarmed all over it, and were diving into the sea all around us. Just a couple of miles further on and we had a dolphin alongside for a while …and then in quick succession as the light was fading there were also seals as we headed towards the Forth Bridges.

Dolphins in the Forth, Easter 2011

Almost home, our chunky Lombardini engine was making good headway against the tide as we passed under the Forth Bridge. By then we were relishing the thought of toasting our success, and our engagement before closing time at the Ship Inn. Using the pub as a handy reference point, our Dutch skipper understandably took his time to navigate through the unfamiliar rocks in the pitch black.

So there we were… After months of planning, four 24/7 days at sea, and almost 400nm we ran out of water 3 metres from our drying mooring.

Stuck firmly in the mud within ear-shot of the pub, we turned the lights out and could only dream of last orders, robustly patting each other on the back, and revelling in the glory of completing our maiden voyage.

For more photos of our journey see here


Maiden Voyage: Naarden to the Forth [Part 1]

April 26, 2011

dutch canal lock

As genuine sailing virgins [this was our first experience of sailing], I spent months planning every detail of our first ever passage, which was to bring our newly-purchased Macwester Malin ketch back across the North Sea from the Netherlands. The trip lasted four x 24/7 non-stop days stretching over the Easter weekend [2011]. With hindsight, we would now both readily admit that we were a little on the adventurous side; while our RYA Day Skipper theory course was informative, perhaps we should have at least crewed on a yacht for an afternoon or two beforehand. We did take the sensible precaution of hiring a qualified skipper, but in practice my ‘crew’ and I still did the majority of the journey between us.

Naarden to the Forth

We left Naarden [Gooimeer] on the Friday, crossed IJmeer and made passage through the canal system that passes by Amsterdam and exits at the sea lock at IJmuiden. Until that point it had been shorts and T-shirts, but by then it was around midnight. It was cold and we were heading out to sea, so we got suited and booted for the occasion.

Mystery birdThere was little useable wind for most of the trip, so the engine was running constantly. As we left Dutch waters and set a direct diagonal course for the Forth, the traffic died down and apart from the occasional tanker or oil rig we were pretty much alone. The weather remained very good, and somewhere in the midst of the Indefatigable Banks, with my partner feeling better, I took the opportunity to bend down on one knee and pop the long over due question. Fortunately she accepted.

Just shortly after a small [wrenish-sized] mystery bird arrived on-board. It must have been tired and hungry as we were about a hundred miles offshore. It spent half-an-hour nipping around the boat picking off insects. It even landed on my fiancée, and made its way from her shoulder down to her hand before singing a little and then heading back out to sea.

Read part 2 here.

For more photos of our journey see here

%d bloggers like this: