Highs and Lows of our UK Circumnavigation via the Orkney Islands
05 October 2011 | Brandy Hole, River Crouch
Nichola / Scorchio!
Photo: Emerald settled in the mud
We are calling this the completion of our circumnavigation of the UK, which we've done in three stages. In 2009 we sailed from Brighton to Falmouth (and back). In 2010 we went from Brighton to the River Crouch before heading on to the Baltic, the Caledonian Canal and down the west coast to Falmouth and this year we've covered Falmouth to the River Crouch via the Orkney Islands. So, taking them all together we have gone right round the UK.
What follows are the scores on the door and highlights and lows of this year's trip.
Total distance travelled from Ruan Pontoon in the River Fal to Brandy Hole, River Crouch: 1711nm
Time spent away: 142 days
Split of motor-sailing to sailing: 70/30
Nights at anchor: 25
Nights on mooring: 16
Nights in harbours / marinas: 96
Night passages: 4 (5 nights at sea)
Distilleries visited: 11
• Our favourite distillery was Laphroaig where they were super-generous with their tastings even though we weren't doing a tour, closely followed by Lagavulin, both Islay distilleries.
• Bow water tank started leaking whilst we were waiting to leave Falmouth, we decided to not replace it and have managed ok with a couple of extra water cans.
• Stitching coming undone on canopy and stack pack (due to age) and a lazy jack fraying.
• Port navigation light stopped working - has since been replaced free of charge by Lopolight.
• Propane gas regulator - reached the end of its life, bought a new one in Northern Ireland.
• Power monitor giving incorrect readings mid-trip - hinting at possible problems with the batteries which turned out to be true. The house bank of batteries collapsed in our last week out so the power monitor is probably ok.
Favourite places and experiences - difficult to pick an overall favourite, most places had something good about them so here's a few that would be at the top of our list:
• Rona (an island off the east coast of Skye). Good holding in the anchorage, fantastic weather, beautiful setting, good walks, seafood and venison and a friendly welcome makes it our all-round top-tastic place.
• Loch a'Chadh-fi - meeting the Ridgways is definitely the highlight of our trip and a beautiful, sheltered anchorage to top it off.
• Learning more about Britain's ancient history from prehistoric to Nordic invaders to Lords of the Isles. In Orkney the days we cycled to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Skara Brea, Ring of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness and the Brodgar archeological dig were fascinating. The free tours provided by the ranger service are highly recommended. Seeing the full set of the Lewis Chessmen in Stornoway mainly for their comical faces.
• Gairloch - Despite potentially being crushed by the 40 tonnes steel boat that rafted to us. Cycling, sunshine, wild raspberries, soft sandy beaches, socialising with other boats, waterfalls, hiking in the hills, good value mooring rates and a friendly and helpful harbour master who got rid of the 40 tonner.
• Wildlife - otters, Irish hares, red deer, dolphins, seals, puffins, fulmar chicks, guillemots and many other seabirds.
• The scenery was beautiful even when the weather was bad - the ruggedness of Scotland, mountains straight out of the sea, hundreds of islands and clear, pollution free skies.
• Isle of Man - steam trains, electric trams to take you up a mountain, castles, giant water wheels and horse drawn trams. So much to see and do.
• Eyemouth and Wick - places we weren't expecting much from but stand out for being better than expected and for the friendliness of the welcome we received from the harbour masters there who do a great job.
Least favourite experiences/places:
• The amount of motor sailing we had to do compared to sailing time was very disappointing. When faced with spending more money in a marina because there wasn't a suitable anchorage nearby waiting for perfect weather or spending money on diesel so we could push on even if we had to motor was a regular decision we had to make. Given that we wanted to be in Essex before any autumn storms arrived we always had to be moving on.
• Stornoway - not that we didn't like the place, just a couple of things that marred our time there. A skanky harbour wall to tie up to (I believe they are extending the pontoons to take yachts over 12m) and a rude awakening in the middle of the night by an inconsiderate yacht crew.
• The weather - the wind seemed to be mostly from the wrong direction and we spent a lot of time hiding from deep low pressure systems due to the jet stream tracking south. Plus, our shorts have stayed packed away in their storage bags (until this week where the summer finally arrived in Britain!). On a positive we didn't get troubled by many midges.
• Not getting to see any live, traditional Scottish music. We always seemed to miss a gig by a few days when we arrived somewhere.
• Wildlife - didn't see any eagles or whales.
• A zero fish catch count for us this year (although we didn't try very hard).
• We love pubs but the price of beer was extortionate in some places, £3.70 a pint being the worst.
The Winter Mud Home
02 October 2011 | River Roach to Brandy Hole, River Crouch; 9nm travelled
Nichola / Sunny, light breeze
Emerald in her winter home
On a beautiful sunny day we up- anchored from the River Roach and headed off up the River Crouch on a rising tide for our last trip of the season. The batteries were still giving cause for concern so we kept the engine on in tick over rather than risk the engine not starting if we needed it. We were able to squeeze in one last sail as the breeze picked up to fill the genny to give a pleasant last few miles up the Crouch.
Colin weaved Emerald into the narrow, shallow passage between the mud islands; a temporary halt as we ran out of water on a corner. With a push from the workboat we were into the salting, nudged up to a gangplank and a bit of fiddling with lines got us into position. As the tide retreated, Emerald settled down into the mud with a slight list to port which we’ll correct over the next few days.
And so begins the winter jobs!
Our last sea passage of the season
26 September 2011 | Osea Island to River Roach; 27nm travelled
Nichola / Sunny
Image: The River Roach at high water
Our batteries gave us cause for concern Sunday morning when the engine failed to start due to lack of juice in the house bank. Colin switched to the dedicated engine battery and after another worrying cough the engine fired into life. Due to this we decided to keep the engine on whilst we sailed but out of gear and in low revs to charge the batteries rather than risk the engine not starting if we needed it.
Sails up and with the light breeze we bimbled slowly up the River Blackwater, joining the many other boats enjoying a sail in the morning sun, the wind increasing to a F5 at times. Closer to the mouth of the Blackwater our course put us more close hauled and as we turned to starboard to cross the Spitway we were too close to the wind to sail across. Victor took over until the other side when we could sail again into the entrance of the river Crouch.
The tide was now flowing out of the Crouch and close hauled we were making only 2.5kts. We stuck with this for an hour or so before giving up. A few yachts around us carried on sailing tacking backwards and forwards across and beyond the edges of the Ron Channel and across the Buxey, some of them flying along on the fine edge of broaching, which looked fun but given we didn’t know the area well we decided discretion was the better part of getting stuck on a sand bank on a falling tide so close to the end of our trip!
Even motoring we were only making 3.5kts against tide and the wind which picked up to a F7 almost on the nose – which is typical for us as we reach our destination. We upped the revs to avoid low water at the entrance to the River Roach where the channel narrows significantly. With the wind howling out of the Roach entrance and with 1 meter of spare water below the keel we pushed our way in. Reassuringly there were 2 other yachts anchored where we’d planned. The hook went in, the wind caught the bow and spun us around until the chain became taught and with what should have been a loud twang the bow came back round to the wind and we were in. There was a fair chop on the river and we skewed around a bit in the opposing tide and wind but we were well held.
The entrance to the River Roach at high water - I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles..........
Tack, tack, tack
26 September 2011 | River Orwell to River Blackwater (Osea Island); 41nm travelled
Nichola / Dry and sunny
Image: Sunset in the Orwell
We spent our ‘can’t be bothered to move’ days doing some walking along the Orwell; down to Pin Mill to look at the barge village there – some very well kept some not far being just a rubbish dump. Up to Ipswich, under the Orwell bridge and being tempted by the gorgeous cakes at the Suffolk Food Hall, and down towards Shotley although we didn’t get all the way there, it being further than we thought.
On Friday we got away, motoring down the river Orwell in the wake a large container ship until we picked up enough wind to sail as we reached the river mouth at Harwich. Tide was against us as was the wind so we decided to see how well we did tacking our way down the Wallet. We were making some ground but unfortunately not quick enough to allow us to be anchored at Osea in daylight so reluctantly it was on with Victor. We enviously watched the yachts who were able to keep sailing much closer to the wind than us but we’d rather have Emerald’s live aboard comfort and heavy sea going ability than the higher pointing mass production boats.
Continuing down the Wallet the wind increased to F6 which wasn’t forecast – afternoon breeze maybe? Across Priory Knoll keeping to the navigation buoys as it was close to LW. On down the Blackwater and arrived off Osea Island with an hour of daylight left. There were a couple of other boats anchored but still loads of space and we motored around checking out the depths before plumping for our spot. As we dropped the anchor a helicopter flew overhead discharging a load of whooping people in front of the Edwardian manor house on Osea Island before flying off again. Osea is owned by a record producer – Nigel Freida – and was until last year used as a drying out clinic for rich types and celebs (Amy Winehouse visited there so I guess they did make her to go rehab oh yes, yes, yes). The island is now open to the public and the mansion and a number of cottages can be hired out for holidays.
Boats at anchor off Osea Island
We spent two nights here - Colin got Emerald’s hull cleaned of North Sea yellow and a muddy line along one side that we gained in Grimsby fish dock and we rowed over to the island for a quick walk around the beach. Due to the earliness of some of the Rugby World Cup games that weekend we got to see a beautiful sunrise, the sun burning through the mist as it rose to leave a warm, sunny day.
Sunrise in the River Blackwater
Bringing it all back Home
22 September 2011 | Royal Harwich Yacht Club; 3nm traveller
skip sunny and gusty
Well it is strange to be back here with Emerald. My first two boats came from this very place, and my sailing life began here. The photo is the very spot where I slaved over 'Possum' my Halcyon 27 for a year to get her seaworthy more than 14 years ago. I even found the spot where I knocked over a pot of green epoxy barrier coat on the hard standing. It is still there 14 years later, so Possum's hull should be sound still!
Today was a day of procrastination. We intended to go to Walton Backwaters, but the tides weren't great, either an early start (really early) or arriving in the dark, which is something we plan to not do if we can at all help it. We then decided to pick up a 'free' mooring further up the river, but we had a marginal forecast, so have stayed put.
Tomorrow we are going to go anchor off Osea island in the river Blackwater but we'd also talked ourselves out of that today, but have reflected on it and will go for it tomorrow as the wind is forecast to ease. If necessary we can pick up a mooring off the Marconi Sailing Club, or anchor behind Stone Point should the main anchorage be too exposed because of the wind direction.
Then it will be across to the River Roach for a final few days before we head up river Crouch in time for a big spring tide to get us onto our winter mud berth at Brandy Hole Yacht Station.