Relieved, disappointed, upset, worried, stressed, deflated, let down, thankful, indebted; these describe the rollercoaster of emotions that we have we been on for the past 24 hours on board Ruffian. We have had 24 hours that we'll never forget and lessons have been learnt that will be etched up our brains for a long time to come.
Our time on Gigha brought white sandy beaches with clear blue waters that Fiona described as 'Like being in a big salty bath', as for the first time in Scotland she went paddling. It also brought a social event with some extraordinary people. They planned to swim around the isle of Gigha the following day, a total of 18 miles and they were planning to do this after having a very convivial evening watching the sun go down with a massive BBQ that they'd been kind enough to invite us to. Our offering to this BBQ was the classic Blue Peter food of roasted bananas with chocolate inside, their offering was hand picked scallops from one of the divers in their party and steaks from a farm that was 'next door'. An amazing bunch of people all with remarkable stories to tell.
We spoke of adventures past and future and what delights the western isles were. We also spoke of the weather with which we were lucky to have been gifted and laughed when one in the party spoke of the gales that we should expect tomorrow. With the Met Office forecasting just a gentle easterly breeze, clear blue skies and a smooth sea state we all laughed off this piece of local, hard gained knowledge. More fool us.
We caught the early tide north and made for the delightful Fairy Isles on Loch Sween. We were happily reaching along at 7 knots with Thug being towed behind absorbing the rays from the rising sun, the tide was set fair and all was right with the world. This is what we'd come for, this was and the following days would be, the crowning glory for our time north of the Crinan Canal.
As we entered Loch Sween the wind started being funnelled and steadily increased from 15 to 20, to 25knots. Was this the gale that had been outlined the previous day? We reduced sail in these confined waters with rocks a plenty and sheer sides rising from the deep to up high, we also turned on the engine, just for safety's sake, just in case we needed it to pass the rocks that scatter the loch.
Thug clearly took exception to this increased wind and duly flipped upside down. Thankfully we had the engine on and were able to reduce sail further to a just a double reefed jib. Thug was turned back up the right way and we continued up the loch. The wind increased from 25 to 30 to 35. This was the gale that the local had forecast and again Thug turned upside down. The decision was made, for safety's sake, that Thug could not be trusted and should be stowed on deck. Imagine if he flipped upside down when we were really confined or when trying to anchor. We'd then be in real trouble.
So it was to be sails away and time to stow Thug on the foredeck. Thug is towed on 2 painters and one of these was taken forward whilst the other was to be let out enabling Thug to be moved. This was to be our undoing. Iain went forward and hauled in Thug, Fiona slowly easing the aft line to keep Thug near Ruffian whilst still steering Ruffian in a straight course. As Thug was just coming on board. Clunk, clunk clunk. The engine stopped.
Thug's painter had got under the boat, around the prop and stopped and or damaged the engine and it's running gear.
Just imagine the scene. There are cliffs either side of us, rocks astern, no jib up, no main up, 35 knots of wind, confined waters, Thug half on and half off the foredeck, no engine. These were heart stopping times. Time to deal with the situation and make us safe. But how? What to prioritise? How to communicate? What to do?
The most important task was to make sure we didn't end up on the rocks. Everything else could wait. We rolled out a little jib to give Fiona a little steerage and Iain then got Thug on board. We could now make a plan.
Fiona went below a spotted a slightly shallow part of the loch on the chart. Tight to shore and upwind, we might just be able to anchor in 15 meters of water. Neither of these would be easy, first we would have to get upwind under jib alone as we didn't have the searoom to hoist the main, secondly we had to place Ruffian on top of this 'shallow patch' to get the anchor down and thirdly we had to make sure that the anchor set and held. At least we had a plan. Once safe and secure we could gather our thoughts and work out what to do in the longer term.
Over the next hour we crabbed our way to windward and made for the 'shallow' patch. The boat slowed and anchor readied. When the anchor was released there would be no going back, it had to hold, we had to be sure this was right. Splosh. The anchor hit the water, and the chain clattered out of the locker and over the windlass like a banshee. 10 meters of chain, 20 meters of chain, 30 meters of chain. Ruffian was slowing and turning. 40 meters of chain, 50 meters of chain. The anchor was digging in and holding. 60 meters of chain. Ruffian was lying to the wind and swinging. We were safe. The relief flowed over us and as the adrenaline subsided we could truly access the situation.
If we could get the rope off the prop and there was no damage maybe we could continue our day 'as normal' and this would simply be an 'exciting' interlude. Free diving on a boat to examine a prop is not easy when it's swinging and the wind is so strong. We also hoped that we'd maybe able to get a diver out. We hailed each boat we saw seeking assistance and eventually a rib came along side. We outlined our problem and with lady luck smiling on us not only could they locate a diver. They were divers, in fact not just divers, but dive instructors. We owe some Karma points for this stroke of luck. They hastened themselves and went back down the loch to get their gear. In the meantime Iain free dived, accessed the situation and had partial success. Upon their return Ally Mac donned his kit and freed the prop after much sawing. We cannot thank Ally and Debbie enough for coming to our rescue, and for the rest of their family for their patience as we delayed their water filled fun day.
Now for the moment of truth. Would the engine work? and would there be any damage? As the engine fired into life it wasn't sounding happy, it sounded like a jar full of nails being shaken. Not good. When the gearbox was engaged there was a terrible high pitched squeal. Again not good. At least, if needs be, we could turn it on and we could make some form of way for a very short time. Damage had clearly occurred and we needed to get this resolved.
Plan B formed after speaking with Andy at Crinan Boatyard. Again we'd like to thank Andy for his cool, calm and extensive assistance. We'd make our way to Crinan under sail with the afternoon tide and either pick up a mooring buoy in their bay or anchor in the next bay. They would then be able to look at us in the next day or so. All we had was the 'small' task of getting off anchor under sail, getting out of Loch Sween and away from the rocks, the 20 mile beat in 35 knots of wind and then sailing onto a buoy or anchor. The stress levels instantly increased.
We hauled in the 60 meters of anchor that was played out and as we drifted backwards we pulled out a little jib. Textbook stuff. We then sailed down the loch turning to avoid the rocks, this is where we started see 40 knots of wind. As we sailed out we both thought this would be the calm before the storm, but didn't dare voice our concerns to one another. Soon we would be in this wind, but having to battle with it upwind. The levels of trepidation were building and alternative plans of safe havens forming in our minds.
Out into the sound and the breeze dropped to only 25 knots now we had the beat to Crinan. Again lady luck smiled and with the tide with us again and the wind constantly lifting we made into the harbour in only 3 tacks. Now it was time to stop the boat again. Main down, bear away, head up into the anchorage, anchor down and set. The second time of the day was much easier than the first.
There was one final sting in the tail from the day's drama. With the anchor down and set, the sun setting in yet another beautiful bay there was just one thing missing. The illusive sundowner. One of the other reasons as to why we were making for the Fairy Isles, then dawned upon us. The need to go to a shop and buy some alcohol. We were out of wine, beer and mixers so the best we could do was elderflower cordial. So the main lesson that we learnt was not to run out of essential supplies that enable sundowners to end our days.
We are now sitting on Ruffian at anchor with a broken engine and drive gear but Crinan Boatyard are in the process of forming a plan to make everything better. We are also learning from all the lessons that we learnt yesterday and have grown from the experience.
Sandy sandy beaches. Fiona actually goes paddling.
BBQ hand picked scallops were truly amazing.
Another amazing settled sky in Scotland looking over Jura.
The sun was up at 4am, by 5 we were making way and what a great sail it was.
Diver down. Ally and Debbie. Thank you so much for coming to our assistance.
The end to quite a day. Now where is that gin and tonic? Ahh one final problem.
The guys in the yard were amazing and are sure they'll have us on our way soon.