Thursday, August 31, 2006

Land Legs

It takes a while after getting ashore for the world to stop moving, and until then we both have a rolling and slightly drunk-looking gait. It is a lovely reminder of our adventure, but Heroine is now 350 miles and several weekends away.

We have washed all our filthy clothes, and all of the "clean" ones, those either unworn (sarongs and shorts) or washed in launderettes with our overalls. It is comforting that everything, even after a full wash cycle, still smells wonderfully of the boat.

We have started talking to a production company who might be interested in doing a programme about our project, probably in the same form as all the "Place in France", "No Going Back" things. I just wonder if we will find ourselves bickering and arguing like everyone does, like Nippy and Nigel, in those series; strife brought on, no doubt, by the presence of a camera crew. If we don't find something to fight about perhaps they won't do the filming. I think I favour peace instead of my fifteen minutes of fame, or even my seven episodes of 25 minutes of fame.

Here is a picture of Lenny, on the left, with Michael Meade, another Crosshaven trawlerman.

Would you buy a second-hand fishing boat from this man? Yes, of course, all day long.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Surfing Home

Peterhead towards Eyemouth, Wednesday 16th August 2006
We got up this morning at 5am to catch the tide with the intention of doing a short day down the coast to Montrose or Arbroath; I rather wanted to visit the home of the smokies However, the weather was looking good, the shipping forecast from the Met Office was for sylvan breezes so we have decided to do the rest of the journey today. Skipper says that the boat is going like a greyhound, she must know that home is in sight and apart from the earth's curvature, it is. Something about the winds, the tide and the sea state give the feeling that the boat is flying south, and we are hoping that the weather might warm up as we go, we can see blue skies ahead, and perhaps a little sunshine

It is sad to think that this is the last day we will spend on Heroine in her current state. I have come to love the awful scratched formica, the dreadful bakelite fittings, the rusty windows and doors, the appalling, flaking pegboard in the ceilings, the stink of hydraulic oil and Diesel and the aroma of Bilgex so reminiscent of a municipal men's lavatory.

We have phoned ahead to get ourselves an 'otel room in Eyemouth and the sun is really blazing for the first time since Oban; sunglasses on, sunblock deployed, cigar lit and sparkling seas carrying us south.

There are large swells coming from behind us, the kind of waves that are large but far apart and give the "elephants and fairies" feeling. The movement starts with the stern being lifted and the bow dropping, then the boat seems to raise her head as she is lifted at the top of the wave, then she almost bustles down the slope and seems to sit waiting for the next lift.

We approached Eyemouth in the early evening, about the time that the fishing boats leave the harbour for the night's fishing. We could seem them all emerging ahead, like bees from a hive, and they all seemed to be coming past us to have and look and see who we were. If one had grander ideas it would feel like a welcoming escort, but trawlermen are too prosaic for that kind of daftness.

As we were getting close to Eyemouth the boatyard manager rang us to say he was standing on the cliff waiting for us, and in fact he almost talked us in through the tiny harbour entrance, with the same big swells shooting us into the harbour, straight in amongst the seals, pleasure boats and lads' fishing lines. Lovely to see all the tourists sitting on the harbour's edge in their deckchairs, just soaking up the fishy atmosphere.

Entering a harbour is never relaxing, and nor is getting the mooring lines on, so we were parked up and the journey complete before we really had time to realise it. I had the job of turning off the engine. A sad moment; the old Caterpillar had got us there eventually and we would not be using it again. The sound of a slow-revving big Diesel with the Cat's distinctive clatter was the background music to the dramas in our life at sea, and I wish I had made a recording of it.

Spice of Life

Peterhead - Tuesday 15th August

We spent a happy 3 hours talking to another ex-trawlerman called Alex of Scotia Charters who is convering a 24m boat into a conference ship to go on the Caledonian Canal. He has done a huge amount of work to it and we think that when it is finished he'll have a gold-mine. He is proposing to do golf tours for business outings and I think with the tartan tourism thing going so well he'll be fending them off the gunwales with a marlin spke.

At about 8 pm we thanked Alex and headed off into Peterhead to track down some supper and the first place we spotted was "The Spice of Life". We were starving, and desperate for a curry after a month away from one. The problem was that we were straight off the boat so still in filthy overalls, boots and woolley hats, and the restaurant looked rather smart. Ravenous and determined, Skipper fronted it and asked them if they would feed us anyway, they said "yes" and what a courteous, kind and professional bunch they are. The food was excellent - not oily and subtly spiced, excellent quality rice and good meat and vegetables. I recommend them to you, and they can be found in Rose Street, off Harbour Street in Peterhead. Thank you again, Spicers.

In North West Scotland there is an abiding fashion for decorating the outside of steel wheel-houses with wood-effect paintwork. There was a fair example of it on "Ocean Maid" who we started the Caledonian Canal with.

Most of the boats in Eyemouth had this treatment, and in the original pictures of Heroine, the whole deck-house and wheel-house is "wooded". I am not sure that we are going to go for this look, it feels a bit old-fashioned, but who are we to decide what is authentic?

In fact the art, at its best, is really impressively realistic, and all done by hand, and sometimes it overflows onto the buildings around the harbour, as in this example. Rather odd to see wood decoration on a wooden door and wooden panelling, but there you are.

You No Eat Now You Go Now

It seems a long time since we had a meal out, and the hard tack is so old it is now mostly weevils, so we walked up the hill into the village at Buckie to find a traditional Scottish Chinese restaurant. We were not disappointed - our waiter must have been imported specially from Wong Kei in London because he was as abrupt and as rude as you could have hoped to find for delightful authenticity. Our chap rebuked us furiously for trying to order more drinks when he was came to remove our empty glasses because he only did one thing at a time, not as classy as the shrieked response to our request at Wong Kei to wait while our friends arrived "YOU NO EAT NOW YOU GO NOW!"

Buckie is an extraordinary town - in terms of architecture I think it is more interesting than Cheltenham or even Bath for sheer concentration of a single style of house. Most of them are elegant, double-fronted, substantial and stone-built with many stepped-gables and carved mullions. A result probably of the previous prosperity of the place, and fortunately most of them still exist, in the main untouched, although there is a plague of uPVC windows which spoils their faces.

At the top of the town it felt absurdly French, even under the grey rainy sky, but there were beautifully presented bakers, with delicate window decorations, many more elegant health and beauty shops than one would expect in a depressed fishing town and the lack of the big chains creates space for an exciting High Street and scope for local businesses to thrive.

I was touched and amused by the civic decorations half-way up the hill to the town. I imagine that at some point there was either some EU or lottery money made available for some kind of beautification and someone in the local council got one of their fishermen mates to do it. This is what happens if you leave a trawlerman to create an "installation" to decorate a public space...

In the background there is a pile of herring barrels, then an old anchor. On the right of the picture, nestled artfully on the gravel, there is a small hydraulic winch and the the foreground, as you can see, some punctured fenders. Note the dog-mess bin; located for convenience, not composition.

Buckie has other, more charming features, such as Finlay, one of the harbour-masters, whom we often interrupted during his making of creels to get the keys to the quayside bogs. Finlay always had a helpful word for us, at least we think he did, because for the first day we could not understand each other. Funny how we got to grips with the accent and the vocabulary. At one point I asked him where I could buy some fish and he said to go to the shop called "Eat Mair Fish", which I translated in my mind as "Eat More Fish", but no, that's what it's called. I wish we had bought one of Finlays pots to get some crabs.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Staying at Home Today

The forecast was bad for today so having poked our noses over the breakwater (didn't need to really, we can see the spray from miles away) we have decided to get some rest and look at the forecast again tomorrow.

Hot Water

Having had to get up in the night to chase away some local nippers who were throwing stones at uteh boatI was glad to get out of Inverness. We picked up yet another fishing boat on the way out to the sea lock, this time it was the Star of Hope, from Galway, on the way to be broken for scrapin Hull. I don't have a huge amount of love for rusty, square transom steel boats but surely it is a bit sad to end up in Hull of all places.

The skipper of the Star was keen to keep up with us as he was not sure about the exit through the Firth of Inverness and into the Moray Firth. Despite that he went full pelt up out of the locks towards the sea and there were some extremely tense moments when we saw him go the wrong way around a channel marker - because it was red he passed it on his port side, but he must have forgotten that we were leaving a harbour and not entering it, so the colours are reversed.

I was doubting my own eyes and the evidence of the chart - especially when he did it again but on the other side with a green marker. He was lucky it was high tide - we calculated he had at least 18" of water under his hull. Surely a fishing skipper knows what he is doing, but let that be a lesson to us, not to take anyone's lead unless they look like they know what they are doing, especially when they say they came all the way from Galway without charts. I only wonder how on earth he got through all the tricky tidal bits with all the rocks around Oban and Fort William without a big bump.

We were both really enjoying being out of the bath away from all the little rubber ducks and in the big water again; the tang of salt in the air, the water and froth seething down the sides, the prow leaping and plunging., there were dolphins playing around the boats and leaping clear of the water.

The fun did not last for long because within a couple of hours the weather had changed, the sea was really up and we were going over the waves and up and down like a fair-ground ride, but more expensive and with no candy floss to look forward to.

Things did not improve as dusk fell. The Star of Hope was leaving us to go 24 hours a day to get to Hull and apart from an air-sea rescue going on a couple of miles away and a huge tug towing a massive target barge for the navy and an oil tanker, and a tiny trawler dashing about between it all, we were entirely alone in a big sea.

It was not far now to our next stop, Buckie, but once again our navigation software let us down and we spent a couple of uncomfortable hours as the waves got sharper with me on the floor to stop falling over with the PC on one knee and the huge paper chart on the other, trying to nail down the right approach to the harbour, guarded by rocks of various heights and sizes, with all the harbour's lights obscured by cars' headlights, street-lamps and for all we know, local wrecking teams.

We were getting very tired and hungry - it was impossible to move around the boat without using all your strength just to hold on; I was even using my neck to brace my head against things as I was sitting. Also, it was impossible to use a bucket, so there was some talk of abandonning them and going for the old-folks remedy of "going where you stand". Fortunately, just as we were discussing our next moves, the small trawler, which had been racing about previously, appeared and looked like he was going into Bucke. We radioed to see if he would mind leading us in and he was happy to do so. We followed his wildly rolling stern lights, clinging to the path they made on the water and found our way in. I must say I have never been happier to see a grotty concrete wall.

I know we would have made it, we were just setting ourselves up to go in using the GPS, radar and the charts, it was just hugely more relaxing this way and saved our laundry. Once we were moored, Skipper went to express our gratitude to the trawler skipper, who is called Ian and owns the little 30ft "Challenge". He used to own an 85ft boat but that size is becoming uneconomical, and so, like so many other fishermen, he is earning his living getting high-value shellfish on a smaller, more "boutique" vessel.

Loch Oich, Ness to Inverness

I must say I am not bowled-over by the scenery here. Lots of pine forests with the occasional modern house on the shores. Once, just once we saw a beautiful house at the end of Loch Oich. Very much in the French style and it got me wondering about the "special relationship" that predates the Bush-Blair mutual-admiration or even the Reagan-Thatcher love-fest by several hundred years, and I mean the understanding and alliance between the Scots and the French. Having given it some thought, perhaps they are united by their mutual disdain for the English who, as a nation, completely fail to pronounce their "r's".

Moored for Two Days in Inverness - Force 8 in Cromarty
View from the aft deck of a tough pub. Note bars on windows. Very friendly nonetheless.

One memorable visitor was a girl jogging up the tow-path with a beautiful rough-haired sandy lurcher, loping ahead of her. All the staff at the flight here were kind and helpful, and directed us to a great pub near the sea lock. More later when I can remember its name.

We took advantage of a quiet day to do some shopping and found butchers that does proper flank of lamb. Also they sell "fruit pudding", which is advertised as a speciality of the Orkneys; wheat flour, sultanas, spices and beef suet, more like a classic English savoury/sweet Georgian era pudding. Jack Aubrey would love it.
Another picture, of the view from the galley - not my favourite location but safe, warm and apart from a bit of a disturbance, no worries at all.

View from the galley window at Inverness.

Where Worlds Collide

It took ages to get into the next lock - just because we couldn't make our VHF radio work on channel 74. We found ourselves in a small but deep pool of water facing the lock with a huge wind blowing us towards the steel gates or into the shallows. This made for a stressful couple of hours, constantly steering, reversing and trying to judge our position correctly while the wind howled through our aerials.

Part of the reason for the lack of enjoyment of waiting to go through the locks was the responsibility we suddenly had thrust on us by the presence of a scattering of rented"Caley Cruisers". These are small plastic river boats driven by men who think they know what they are doing and women who know they don't and are both equally dangerous. Especially when they are being blown sideways off jetties towards locks and wiers or towards us when we are trying very hard to avoid them. This is just another example of how there are seem to be two worlds in boating - oceans and non-oceans, one must think about tides, weather and shipping forecasts and uses Reed's Nautical Almanac as a bible, the other thinks about the Wind in the Willows, fancy new hats and uses "Which Pub 2003" as a bible.

Once in the lock, the keeper said we could moor there for the night. This was great for all of us - we had to do no more roping and had a secure berth, the lock-keeper got to go home and had a ready sign to the noddy boats that there was nothing moving until we went at 8.30 in the morning so he would not be bothered by VHF and mobile calls.

Just as we were battening down the hatches against the driving rain coming up the lock we spotted a solitary canoe paddling into the wind. We thought we had had a hard day so we waited around to find out who this toughie was. He is German and is kayaking the "wrong" way down the Caledonian Canal to fulfil a fairly random idea he had a few years back. We invited him for supper but he said he would be fine, once he had put his tent up (in the gale) and sorted out his cargo of 200kg. We described a warm room with a hot supper and in an hour he turned up, all clean and carrying a bottle of wine. Now that's organised. Emin was incredibly entertaining; witty (in English, his third language), asking us lots of questions and a great trencherman, although I think he must have put the 1 lb pound of hough stew, the lump of chocloate pudding and the pint of custard in is pockets, because there did not look to be enough room inside him for it all.

Neptune's Staircase

Neptune's Staircase
It was good to have another night's sleep and the day was going to require it. There is nothing more exciting that seeing ill-tied rope snaking out through a set of cleats to race the pulse. The stairs are a set of about 79 locks, each of which require that the boat be moored and unmoored, and during the filling the ropes need to be adjusted and care must be taken not to squash anything else in the lock. On the way up we had picked up another fishing boat called Ocean Maid, a large Scottich trawler on their way from Troon to catch prawns in the North Sea.

Now we hear that many of the East coast boats go West to get the prawns in the summer, so one wonders, could they not form a summer co-operative to save all the charging about?

We found ourselves crammed into the locks with Ocean Maid which made for an excellent fender. In fact we discovered a thing or two about fenders in the locks; the big round fancy ones with their own net covering get trashed - the netting is ground away by the boat and the concrete and the thing to have is car tyres, of which we have many. When we lost our smart fender the boys on Ocean Maid caught it for us and re-netted it in the space of two stairs, what kindness. My skipper shouted something to them about buying drinks at the next stop in Fort Augustus but I think they mis-heard him because once they were out of the top of Neptune's Staircase they were off at full pace with only a splash of spray and a puff of burning oil to show where they had been. I think we'll have to send them a bottle of something back to Troon.

This lock business is already a pain - roping on and off even with the help of the lock-keepers. Although I must say I think we put on a good show because although we are short of crew for this kind of task we needed only one helper instead of the two needed by Ocean Maid who has a full complement. Having said that, there is something undignified about trailing behind a huge, dirty, rusty boat in filthy waterproofs carrying a coils of two-inch thick grimy rope. I felt like some kind of ghastly bridesmaid.

I cannot say that we were faultless performers; there was a bit of Dick Darstadly and Mutley; shouting and under-the-breath retaliation, ingenious hapless leader and mutinous but totally dependent crew. The rain came down which was a great help, fewer spectators and therefore less pressure to look good. Although it was great to meet Bill, a local photographer who knew all the fishing boats that transited the canal and knew Heroine by sight. I find this very touching. He was a great help and told us lots of information about her, we did not know that she had been in Ayre for a while.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fresh Water

Oban to Ben Nevis Monday 7th August
Until I can muster the words for this, a picture will have to do. We are moored on a jetty, almost at the foot of the Ben. This is very odd but comfortable and we are going to climb Nepturne's Staircase tomorrow.

Don't Touch the Overalls!

Jura to Oban - Sunday 6th August

Things were quite grey this morning, Jura's beauty had disappeared behind the rain and we set off in soggy, cold wind.

There was a fair bit of tricky navigation in amongst the islands especially because our navigation system is not working. Fortunately, when we go to Corryvrekan, scene of many of my nightmares, we got behind a yacht that looked like it was making a passage (apparently this means it is being driven by someone who knows what they are doing) and so we followed his course by slowing down and checked on the paper charts. No whirlpools but some really funny water - deep eddies, smooth oily-looking patches and areas where the sea seems to boi. Once safely through we took off past the sailing boat and waved our thanks to him. I think he knew what we were doing, from the tone of his returning wave.

Anyone who has spent anytime in this part of Scotland knows that it is beautiful, and when you see how cheap old stone houses are on the islands, we like all Londoners started planning a renovation project with paying guests.

Oban was great fun. As soon as we arrived on the railway pier (the train station that connects to London, very odd) we attracted a crowd. I wonder if it is because of the recent series on the BBC called "Trawlermen", I think they must be the new pin-up boys because when the other fishing boats came in, the cameras were going like mad.

Following a recommendation in "The Rough Guide" I bought dinner from the seafood shack. It is green, for reference, and we had some langoustines (like Dublin Bay prawns) but smaller, some razor clams which moved about in the plastic bag in an unnerving way (until I got them onto a searing hot griddle) and a whole, small brown hen crab. Razor clams were great - that roasted shell flavour is just like the seaside on a hot day. All was superbly fresh and I can't wait to go back there.

A very handsome tail of oak-smoked salmon

It took us three hours from arriving to our dinner; everyone wants to talk to find out what we are up to. That was, until a more interesting boat turned up, and it was the "Rosa & Ada" an 1908 Whitstable oyster smack, a little like a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter, but smaller, and very pretty. You can see her at The master is a Scot as is the mistress and they have owned her for ages. They did exactly what we are doing and were a bit nostalgic about sleeping in the fish-hold on pallets. They also knew "Heroine" from their home port of Troon, and were very glad to find out what her future will be.

I got back from a walk to find another fishing boat rafted up on the outside of us, and thought that we were in for a worrying night, but it was another decommissioned boat, just bought by a local fireman who plans to renovate it and when he retires to take it to Greenland, Iceland and Canada. What a great idea. She is the "Clifton", from Maraig. No pictures just yet. Our fireman friend brought his colleagues down to the quay for a look-around and they arrived in the company car - the fire-engine. Happily for us "Rosa & Ada" was rafted out alongside the Clifton and we knew that was all we were getting. Even the most hardended fishing skipper is not going to raft onto an antique.

Heading North

Red Bay to Jura, Saturday 5th August

What a difference a bit of sunshine and a glassy sea makes. Boating is fun again and the old girl is chuffing away again Northwards. No more dolphins but more gulls that we can accommodate, hitching a ride to the Inner Hebrides.

Strange that as we are leaving Cushendall in the dinghy the night before saling, it is disappearing behind us in the mist in the opposite way to when we arrived a week ago so rather like a Brigadoon.This is more so because everyone is much kinder there than anywhere else we have visited. Without fail we were offered help without limit. I was touched by their generosity and will be wanting to go back there again.

The voyage up to Jura was uneventful, apart from seeing our first beam-trawler in action. These are boats that have arms which extend over the sides and pull nets on either side of the boat; scouring the sea-bed for scallops, plaice, flounder, sole and other flatfish. Very dangerous work because the nets are more likely to catch and drag the boat sideways and down into the deep.

We are moored in the delightful (in a craggy way) Loch na Mile, very peaceful and looking forward to an afternoon shop. Fortunately we don't need any more soap as we ran out of tank water last night. Loads of water to drink however, but are using travel-wipes for the worst bits. This morning, whilst still in Irish-ish waters made an Irish stew with lamb from the butchers as Cushendall. It is fab stuff, mostly fillet and a bit of breast so is going to be tip-top.

In order to get some water to do washing-up and showers, we are going to take the dinghy to "town" and fill up four of our 22 litre drinking water bottles. I am hoping that because Jura is such a small community that they will use spring water for their taps and not the chlorinated town-water found in most other places. The taste test will be the thing

Have been sitting on the aft deck waiting to hear the fish alarm on the depth sounder go off, but there is nothing - then we saw why - a sleek large seal is patrolling the loch in at a very lordly manner.

Now that we are in Scotland it feels like we are actually getting somewhere, at least we are in the right country. Jura is lovely and our nearest neighbour is a fabulous big house with lots of lawn, surrounded by about 50 acres of established, mixed woodland, backed by the grey hills, the Paps of Jura.
We set off to town which consists of an hotel "The Jura Hotel" and one shop "The Jura Stores" and a bit of a pier. The island was in the middle of its regatta, lots of different rowing races and races with outboards. Oddly enough, most people organising and doing the shouting and ordering about were middle-class English people (which is often the case all over the world) and the real Jurans were probably sensibly in their fields or toasting their woolly-socked feet in front of their own peat fires with a glass of the essential in their hands. We had a wee dram ourselves in the Jura Hotel and very good it was too, overlooking the distillery that was shut for the weekend.

We managed to get the water loaded into the dinghy and now we have the means for washing. Great. But apart from that, the water is great to drink, very sweet and soft.

Irish stew tonight was fantastically good, not least because the weather was cool, grey and rather drizzly. It is forecast to blow a 4 or 5 tonight, and in fact it did, but because there was no tide to speak of, Heroine lay with her bow into the wind which was so steady we didn't wake until well after it was light.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Force 8 Expected Soon

Friday 28th July Red Bay near Cushendall, Co. Antrim

I had hoped by this time that we would be safely tucked away somewhere between Islay and Jura, but we are just inside Red Bay and expecting a force 8 in the next 24 hours. I am sure that in the eyes of proper sea-folk my panic is ridiculous and that we have good shelter, good anchor gear and that the blow will not last long, but there is always the fear of the unknown, and I have not been out in an 8 before, not even in a ferry.

At the moment the bay is glassy still and there is a fluffy covering to the mountains around. We have loads of anchor chain out and I know that this boat was built for bad weather and an 8 is just standard stuff for the Shetlands fishermen. Skipper is doing more engineering - we seem to have lost the use of one or more fuel injectors and fortunately managed to get some ordered so they might arrive tomorrow Saturday. In the meantime there is some diagnostic work to do and we are using the hand-cranked harbour set to generate power. Noisy and smelly but so effective. This old Lister has earned a big dirty place in my heart for being so utterly dependable.

We noticed an unusual amount of smoke from the exhaust and started to worry about what might be happening. The main worry was that we were in a bay with no harbour and the storm was predicted to be a force 8 from the South East. We had some shelter from the bay, but the sea tends to ignore headlands and sweep in anyway. The water is mirror calm at the moment and the only indication of a change in the weather is the mist appearing at the tops of the mountains.

The noises and smoke from the engine Skipper thought might be a problem with an injector.
So the main engine did not start. It looked like perhaps there was not enough charge in the batteries so we decided to run the harbour set for an hour or so. Unfortunately, because it uses so much force to spin the alternator the fan belt sometimes slips. The adjustor was broken before we had her and must be held in position with mole grips. How these fishermen ever survive one wonders. Not surprisingly 34 trawlers were lost around the UK last year and there were 9 drownings, which, statistially, given that there are so few trawlermen left makes the business one of the most dangerious.

Time on my hands - looking at my fingernails

Ballygalley Bay - Thursday 27th July

This is a lovely bay with the sweeping coast road around the base of the soaring green hills with woods and sheep Yet another perfect summer's day in smooth conditions and blazing sunshine. The boat seems to love ploughing along North, and, not that I believe in it, but she seems to be heading keenly for Eyemouth for her make-over. I can sympathise with her; my nails are cut back to the quick to save ripping them on wood and rust, the sea turns my hair to straw and I have dirt so deep in my skin that I don't think I'll ever be clean again, my eyebrows have gone feral and my face is like leather.

Leaving Ballygalley we noticed a difference in the engine noise and spent a couple of hours listening and altering the revs to see what we could find. We had planned to take advantage of the tides and beat the incoming storm to the Inner Hebrides and get to Islay before dark. The engine noise did not get any worse and we are still getting used to what it sounds like.

Perfect Day at Sea

Ardglass to Ballygalley - Wednesday 26th July

The journey out of Ardglass and up the coast was one of the prettiest days yet. The Antrim coast does not figure on most people's travel wishes, but I'd like to suggest it as a rugged alternative to the West coast of Scotland with fewer midges. There are layers of interestingly shaped hills and when the sun shines on the grass, their intense green is almost luminous. A typical peaceful day at sea progresses, there seems to be something to do every minute.

After leaving the harbour we check our position using the GPS and the charts and plot a course for our next waypoint. That involves drawing a pencil line on the chart and checking for obstacles, such as rocks and islands and then turning the boat onto that compass heading. Because our computerised chart system does not work reliably, we spend time re-booting the PC and then re-checking the paper position every ten minutes or so.

In between, we check the bilges and the engine oil pressure down in the engine room, keep a watch for other boats and large stuff especially lobster-pot buoys and fishing nets which always seem to be strung across our path, keep a watch for other ships and boats on the radar and we also steer the boat.

There is tea-making, hand washing of clothes, filling of solar showers, writing of web diary, cooking and washing up, reading of pilot guides for the area we are about to enter and general house-keeping. Not to mention continual hand washing; we have used a whole big bar of soap in a week.

On the Ice Dock

Ardglass - Tuesday 25th July
As before, we tried to contact the Harbour Master but there was no reply, so instead we rang the marina. It is often the case that old fishing villages build a marina to bring in more income and the two functions don't usually work well together. The yachties was clean, quiet and pictureque and the fishermen want "10 tons of ice down the chute right now, we're loading at 3am and leaving the harbour at full chat so eat my wake." In fact, most fishermen have little time for anyone who puts to sea without being paid for it, so marinas and fish-docks have an uneasy co-existence.

Anyway, when the marina answered, I explaned to the girl (the marina owner's daughter as it turned out) that we are a decommissioned trawler, 21 m long ("what's that in feet?") and that we wanted a berth for the night. Now, we really only phoned them because we thought they would refuse us but give us the number for the harbour master, but she was adamant that we would be fine to come it and she would direct us. The harbour looked excitingly small and bijou on the chart and when we got in it felt like we were on a model boat pond, the spaces were tiny and we had to reverse up and down to avoid large rocks. Also there cardinal mark in the middle of the channel into the marina that says that the danger is to the East, and seeing as the entry to the Marina is from the East it seems a bit daft. When we mentioned this to the marina, they said that oh yes, lots of people comment about it...

We moored onto a flimsy pontoon with cute little aluminium bollards ("cleats" apparently) about the size of a door handle, and had just put the kettle on when the marina owner himself came running to tell us we could not stay. I took a pinch of umbrage at this because I thought it was because we were old and dirty, but the pontoons would only take 30 tons of boat, and we are more like three times that. Someone is not going to get any pocket-money this week.
We untied and set off round to the fish-dock next door.

We felt that we were going to be much at home moored against a 20 feet high concrete wall with smelly nets and old creels and bits of wire when we were met by a frowning chap with large jeans and an over-extended set of braces who asked us what we were doing. It turns out that all the harbours on this coast are plagued by abandoned boats and until he found out we were on our way to Scotland he was very unwelcoming. This initial hostility made his complete change of expression all the more charming when he found out that we were on holiday and would be there for only one night and he and his three harbour mates came on board for "the chat".

The food in Eire has been wonderful. Today I have eaten dulse, which is very salty (but would be great in an omelette or with rice and chicken) and potted herring - delicately sharpened with a touch of vinegar, sweetened with caramelised onions and warmed with all-spice. All for £1.75. Sold to me by a large enigmatic man with a waist length rippling dark beard and hair shot with silver, black eyes and walnut skin who appeared out of nowhere behind a counter in the corner shop, surely Merlin reborn. He certainly does magic with herrings...The fish went perfectly with some Irish wheaten bread, a sort of wholemeal soda bread it seems, spread with "I Can't Believe It's Not Transfats".

Ardglass is a perfect fishing port, lots of action and Dublin Bay prawns coming in, how many did I eat? None. Missed the market (where they are all sold to France, Spain and Portugal) and the boats were unloaded before we got there and had gone out again during the night. I wish we could have stayed a week. Despite what the clean and pleasant people staying in the marina might think, the best place to see the village is from the ice station on the fish dock, a sweep of rocky beach, backed by trees and small houses, rising up a wooded and craggy hill-side and a chunky bit of castle over the pub for glamour.

Fishermen being what they are, there was 150 tons of boat tugging on our mooring lines and what should have been a peaceful calm night for the Skipper was fraught with worry about us all drifting onto the rocks if our mooring lines had broken.

The picture shows three other fishing boats "rafted up". This is common practice and means that all the fishermen can come and have a chat about the boat. One chap in particular had wanted to buy Heroine when she was at Kilkeel (a new one to us) and was quite disappointed to find out that we had cut off the shelterdeck and were planning to use her to live on. He thought it a waste of a good fishing boat, but I think it was sour grapes.

Thou shalt have yet another fishy

Dundalk Bay
This is a wide and shallow bay so our anchorage is at least a mile off-shore. This position does not feel snug although we are nicely sheltered. There is little wind and few waves we have settled down to a quiet summer's evening of fishing as the sun starts to go down over the sweeping Mountains of Mourne.

In Milford Haven I bought a very impressive hand-line with special eel lures and spinning mirrors from a business-like looking fishing tackle shop. I put Lenny's (Lenny was the fishing skipper we bought the boat from, in Crosshaven) technique into practice and hooked some mackerel on the first drop, but somehow they all got free and the same thing happened on the second drop. It is frustrating to see your supper one minute out of the water and on the way to the pan and the next iswimming away unharmed. Lenny had been adamant that "Mustad" mackerel feathers, (the sort of very basic lures that children are given) were the best to use so having all the time in the world I settled down to changing the fancy lures for the more "end-of-the-pier" kit .

As soon as it was in the water I could feel the attack of the mackerel and pulled it straight back up with 4 fish. The next drop got 3 and that was more than enough for supper. So, well-sourced, no matter how unlikely, advice is often worth following.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

If I knew then what I know now...

Milford Haven to Cahore Point, Arklow, Wicklow, Dun Laoghaire and Howth. Friday and Saturday 21st and 22nd

Fully charged up and with our shiney new alternators in place we got up the anchor and headed round the corner into the St. George's channel. The sea at this point is very much subject to the huge swells that grow up out in the vast Atlantic and where they bounce off the Welsh and Cornish coast they seem to make a huge messy sea when the wind blows. Sailors call this sea lumpy. I would call it really quite uncomfortable. Small boats turned back in the face of the waves coming in from the Atlantic, but we went on. If I knew now what set of events were about to occur, I think I might have turned back too.

For the first hour or so outside Milford Haven we were thrown around regularly and spent much of the time restowing kit that was making itself free, but once past Grassholm it was much smoother, and less smelly too (Grassholm is white with guano). That said, there is the occasional huge wave, about the size of a small house that comes from the side and makes us grab onto things (and each other). It is a strange motion because instead of being an obstacle in the way, the wave become geography; the boat rolls as the wave starts going under one side, comes upright at the top of the wave and then rolls the other way on the downward side. Although these waves were much bigger than the coastal ones they are far easier to handle because we are riding them.

It is now almost 36 hours later and we have not had a night's sleep. I have been grabbing naps when it was not too obvious but Skipper has been on the go constantly. The weather and navigation have been so unreliable (I blame myself for the latter only) that he has not been able to let his attention drop for a second.

All of the problems we had stem from my lack of good sense. We had the chance at Milford Haven to buy the paper charts for Ireland, but because the chandlery was being difficult I thought we would "make do" (yes, I know) with a larger scale chart and the Reed's Almanac that gives details of marinas and places to anchor. That was a fine plan, until we found out that the Reeds is not really detailed enough. We also found out that our electronic chart system that sometimes works (when it blinking feels like it) and puts a picture of a boat on the chart to show us exactly where we are) does not "do" Eire.

We discovered how vague Reeds was when we gently bumped over some rocks in a supposedly good anchorage at Cahore Point. Very disturbing and quite nosiy. Fortunately this boat was made to be sailed by fishermen, people (we have met a woman-skipper) whose main interest is making money and getting home rather than being out there just for fun, so the keel is shod with iron and the hull, after decades of seasoning in salt water, is tough enough to take this kind of gentle exfoliation. However, in the night that followed, there were scores of journeys up and down the ladder to the engine room to check the bilges for extra water that might indicate a leak. From making land at about 8pm, perfectly timed for a quiet evening at anchor with the prospect of dinner and a glass of rouge, instead we decided we had no alternative but to make for the next safe harbour which was Arklow another 3 hours up the coast.

Nightmares often have the quality of the dreamer being out of control and at Arklow, as warned by Reeds, we could see nothing of the tiny harbour entrance in the pitch black, we were also usure of our position and the electronic charts were no help so decided to head on again for Dun Laofhe as the book indicated an easy anchorage. We were already tired and bruised and dirty from being thrown around in the St. George's Channel and it was turning into a long night. We estimated that Dun Laighoare was about 4 hours away and I really thought I wouldn't be able to do it.

The navigation was very difficult; my glasses need replacing and the anti-glare coating is now so bad it feels like looking through frosted glass. To save the skipper's night vision I was using a hand-held torch to read the charts and get up and down the stairs. We were watching vigilantly for buoys warning us of shallows and rocks, which are a constant shadow to this coast. Some of the buoys on the radar were "extra", some seemed to be marked differently from the notes on the brand new chart.

Every step of the way we were trying to work out if a buoy was flashing "quick 6 and then one" or "very quick 6 and then one" and with tiredness comes hallucinations, as the lights appeared to become free of their lines and float up and up and around in the pitch dark sky. There is nowhere for a navigator to stand on the tiny bridge and the skipper had to stand so see out of the open windows, so we had been on our feet all night, and trying to keep our balance in the choppy seas. Perhaps one of the worst things was the heat coming up from the engine making us sleepy and the noise of it thundering away that kept us awake. In fact, it is not possible to talk normally over the engine noise on the bridge so I was getting pretty tired of shouting directions to the skipper all the time. At about 3am there was a lighting of the horizon in the north east and we knew that the worst was over. It turned into a millefeuille of textures and colours, the brightest of which was the intense flamingo pink that the sea does so well.

We arrived at Dun Laoghaire at about 6 am and it would have been lovely to anchor in the marina, but the only person answering the phone was the security guard, who we discovered did not know that "trawler" meant a fishing boat and that starboard is on the right. We were just reversing into a lovey clean and tidy berth amongst the tupperware when he came running along to tell us that we could not stay. So, we had to manouevre again carefully out of the narrow channel and out into the bay.

We found that the anchorage outside was calm and in the brilliant morning sunshine things began to look up again until, that is, Skip discovered that the main engine bilge pump was not gushing away as usual. The bilge pump needs to be running to make sure that the water that leaks in around the propellor shaft can be got rid of, otherwise there would be water in the gear box and all sorts.I must confess that when he told me there was nothing practical I could do once I had fed him a monster "Irish Fry" and two pints of tea, after 24 hours of being awake and on my feet I could not stand up any more so had 3 hours sleep. In this time, he fixed the pump and a large wind got up, making the anchorage uncomfortable. As the wind increased we decided we had to pull up the anchor to find better shelter and getting it winched takes two of us because the huge chain does not go on straight; someone must use a rope to guide each 2m length slightly sideways with a rope as it is turned onto the massive spinning reel by the main engine hydraulics. This is a noisy, fast, difficult and potentially dangerous job, but somehow we managed it. We engaged gear and set of yet again, at 11 am across Dublin Bay to Howth.

It is the proper thing to contact a Harbour Master before you drive into his domain, so I spoke to Howth's HM who was reluctant to let us in because they do not have non-commerical craft here. I managed to persuade him that we desperately needed charts and hydraulic oil for the steering, both of which were true. He might also have heard the beginning of tears in my voice and I think that did the trick. He very kindly put us on the emergency berth by the ice dock, a priviledged position for a non-professional in amongst all the other old trawlers, and they are old. Some seem to be in far worse condition than Herione and some of them are still out ther in all weathers bringing in the fish.

Our harbour master is Captain Rajah who is a "deep sea man", i.e. a ship's captain from the merchant navy, and he says that the Royal Navy have too much money, the fishermen no respect and the yachties more money than brains, I was not sure where we fit it, but I am sure he'll think of a category for us.

Once we had the lines on and had a shower we went to sleep, and did not wake for a couple of hours until it was time to go out for a curry and to catch up on the Web-log. Sleep is delicious when you know you are safe after a long and difficult night. The sun was shining down the fish-hold hatch, warming the old carpet and if we could have been bothered to move, our feet too. The shouting and noise on the docks faded in our ears as we dozed off. For that kind of bliss it's almost worth spending the night fighting sleep, hallucinations and bad temper.

The boats at Howth all seem to be of the same era as Herione, they are more often than not made of wood with a smilar "cruiser" stern, typical of the older boats. Perhaps this is why people are not as interested in Heroine here, they see this kind of thing everyday but in Milford Haven where the boats are much more modern (although they are rusty and covered on guano too) they see H as a bit of an antique, which is fair enough.

I imagine that Howth at one time was a prosperous fishing village with some scenery around it, but now it has three golf courses and the fishing industry provides "flavour" for visitors seeking that elusive Irish experieince that they want to take home. I say elusive only because you'd need to be Irish to have it, and then perhaps you might not want it.

Our night at Howth (prounounced "Hooth" by the way) was peaceful, sunny, restful and fun but it is full of Germans and shi-shi cafes. It appears that the actual fishing fleet rather than the abandoned old wooden ones that we saw is very modern thanks to government grants and that they were all out getting Dublin Bay prawns, which apparently are fetching £24 a stone, so just £1.50 per pound, which I don't think is bad. All the boats along this coast are prawn fishers, there is no white fish left here. The fishermen in the Republic have a fairly good fuel subsidy which makes a huge difference to their income. When the Heroine was fishing she would have used about 1500 gallons a week, costing about £3500 in the UK.

There are some very handsome harbour seals in Howth, so I am including a picture of the most photogenic. He has curly hair down the back of his head and with the water it looks like a glossy pommade, a bit like a matinee idol.