Mukti’s Diary • June 2007
Friday 29th June
The lonely sea and the sky
Jonny Barton came down from Banff by motorbike. We set out at 0945. The forecast was NW5-7, strong conditions, but for our SW leg today the wind would be coming off the land so there would be little sea. Jonny had only once been out in a yacht and it had been a calm day, but I think enthusiasm counts for a lot, and he had bags of it. It was a nice easy start and we reached down the shore, enjoying the rugged cliffs and caves, interspersed with green patches that came right down to the shore.
Jonny kept sighing and chuckling as if he had rediscovered a pleasure he knew deep in his veins. He remarked that he felt very at home, despite the surroundings being quite new to him. I pointed out that there is so much maritime history in the British blood, that almost every one of us has seafaring in our genes somewhere. He recited the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield for me:
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the sound of the white sails shaking,
And a grey mist on the face of the sea, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
is a wild call and a clear call, and it may not be denied.
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume and the seagulls crying.
I must go don to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife,
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
And a quiet sleep, and a sweet dream, when the long trick's over.
Soon after that the wind picked right up and we put in the first reef. It was a racing 6 on the beam, we were roaring along, and it was every bit as beautiful as the poem. We passed the Scares, some nasty offshore rocks, to starboard.
Our first intended destination, Aberdeen, zipped by at 2 o'clock. We were doing so well we decided to continue south towards Stonehaven. The wind was now a 7, and I had to put in the deep reef in both main and Genoa to keep the boat under control. It was only the second time on the tour that the deep reef had gone in, the last time being in that terrible 7 in the Irish sea. I explained to Jonny that the conditions were very unusual because normally a force 7 comes with large seas and fairly unpleasant conditions. But today there was little sea at all - typical for a force 4-5 - and the sun was shining so it made for fantastic sailing. We saw dolphins further on down the coast, and Jonny identified the Turn for me, a wonderfully fine featured white bird with knife-like wings and a swallow-like tail that sky-dives into the sea like a missile, just like the Gannets do.
The wind was still a F4 as we approached Stonehaven on the turn of the tide. The forecast was to drop so we went in for the night and moored alongside beautiful fishing boat on its way to Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival.
Saturday 30th June
Some local sayings
The forecast was NW4 becoming variable 3 or less then becoming SE4/5, a very mixed up forecast. We set off across the sun-drenched bay to do what we could. As conditions were very calm I made some phone calls to organise the London event while on the helm, and Jonny sat in the cabin reading. Unfortunately this made him feel sick, so I recommended a good position to recover, and he sat on deck with his arms folded on the coachroof and his head on his arms, dozing. This worked well and in an hour he felt better. You tend not to get seasick if you are very relaxed with your eyes closed and head resting.
Progress was slow and we sat chatting. Jonny told me some local sayings:
"It's a braw bricht, moonlicht nicht the nicht, y'ken" (It's a beautiful bright moonlit night tonight, you know)
and "Mony a meickle maks a muckle" (Many small bits make a lot)
The latter I thought was very appropriate for my tour around Britain.
The wind died around 4pm when we were just off Johnshaven. I could see there was a tiny harbour so in we went. We had to put out the legs as it was a drying harbour - the first I'd been in for a long while. It was a tiny village and very pleasant. We sat resting in the cockpit, drinking fennel tea and talking about politics. Jonny pointed out a lone Eider duck messing about in the mud at the harbour entrance. Eider duck, Eider down; it conjures up memories of my childhood when the word was used. Jonny cooked some rice and curry and we turned in early. In the night there was a swell that kept making the lines snatch and stopped us getting any sleep, so in the middle of the night when the tide came in, we moved to a mooring in the middle of the harbour, which was better.
Thursday 28th June
A slip at the slip
The forecast was variable 2/3 becoming N4/5. I walked over to the harbour wall and there was a ripple across the sea so I set out in the blazing sunshine. I had a long chat with harbour control who doubtfully wished me a good wind as I took 20 minutes to inch out of the harbour. But there was a breath or two outside and the tide was underway so off we headed for Rattray Head, the corner from the North to East coast of Scotland.
It really was very calm indeed so I got my pad and phone on deck and started making calls to arrange the London event. I phoned my friend Eka who I had also called from off Land’s End on the pilot tour, and explained I was off the NE tip of Scotland. As we were chatting away the boat entered a massive sea of Jellyfish. There was a jellyfish three feet apart in every direction, be it up, down, or sideways, amazingly evenly spaced. The boat was sliding along silently at about a knot, although the tide was helping us with another knot, so it was easy to gaze into the water at this plethora of jellyfish. After the call with Eka I got the video camera out and stuck it under the water with one hand, the other still on the tiller. Unfortunately there were not quite as many by then, but I think I got some good footage.
Half an hour later we were nearing Rattray head and the tide was silently sweeping along a quite a pace. A catamaran approached us against the tide making little progress good despite the engines. It altered course to pass closer and the man shouted "You’re a famous man!" to me. "Am I?" I replied. "Yes! You’re in the local rag! I admire what you’re doing! May your journey go well!" "Thank you! Take care!" I called. "YOU take care! Farewell!" he called, and Chance silently left them behind.
The wind went SE after Rattray head, where there were quite a few overfalls, so it was a long beat down the bay to Peterhead. The wind dropped as we neared the town and the tide was near to changing so I debated whether to anchor off the beach rather than attempt to round the headland to the port. But the wind sprang up again so I had a go. I tacked well out and found the tide taking me north again. I tacked back in on a dying wind, thinking again of anchoring near the beach. As I neared the coast the wind again returned, this time from the north so I had another crack at the headland. It was a tussle between wind and tide and we inched round the headland, lining up the town buildings to check our snail’s progress. We made it to within 500 yards of the harbour entrance, but the tide was now in full flow, and the wind just didn’t have the umph. We began to go backwards. I gave up, turned and sailed back with quick progress.
I was just thinking how it wouldn’t be that comfortable off the beach with the onshore, if gentle, swell, when I saw a load of kelp 10 yards ahead. I veered round instantly and headed offshore. A subtle reef had been lying right in our path! My thoughts turned to the beach again and how far off to anchor, when I saw three fishermen casting off a ledge amongst the rocky town foreshore. As I got closer I realised it was a tiny dock and slipway. I approached for a look, and ended up alongside, the fishermen taking my lines. A couple of old boys came down and got involved as well, in keeping the lines right, and getting the fenders positioned, and asking where to and what for, and advising on the situation. It was very congenial socially, though rather precarious for the boat, as the gentle swell rocked her up and down against the concrete jetty whose one foot height above the water was covered entirely with barnacles and seaweed. Still we chatted and pondered and supposed about the tide and when to go round to Peterhead and whether to anchor, and it was very pleasant. My new old friend the retired fisherman took me up to "George’s" place at the end of the quay to use the toilet as there was no public one, and George said I could use it any time I was passing. Their accents were a very endearing, stacatto yet gentle Scottish, and they were wonderfully friendly in a completely easy, laid back way, like instant team mates or fellows at one’s local pub. We um’d and ah’d together some more, I handed out leaflets to everyone (there was by now a small crowd) and a young lad, who the old fisherman had deployed as my crew, cast off my lines before the slip was covered and I glided out to a mooring where I waited an hour or two more before setting off for the port on the favourable tide.
It was now dark and under masthead lights I approached the harbour, radioing for clearance with regard for shipping. I crossed the large harbour and entered the marina where a couple of men gave enthusiastic directions to a berth opposite their yachts. Entering the berth I leapt off the boat with my lines, only to find I was still clipped on. I fell on the concrete pontoon, cutting my hand slightly, bounced back off realising what had happened, looked down at the water that I was horizontally across, decided against it and in an admirable feat of gymnastics managed to fall back onto the boat despite the four foot gap between. My new colleagues meanwhile gained control of the boat from the shore, and before long the enthusiastic gentleman was explaining that he had seen me in the Isle of Man and had been following in my footsteps ever since, hearing news that I’d just left in many harbours. He leant me his shower key so I could go and clean up my bloodied hand, and soon after I turned in.
Wednesday 27th June
“When will these youngsters learn?”
There was still a bit of a sea running but it was nothing like the day before and the forecast was NW4/5 occaisionally 6 decreasing 3 or 4, with the sea state moderate to rough decreasing slight to moderate. I kitted up and strolled round to the harbour office to say my farewells.
I rowed down the harbour and a fisherman I had chatted to a lot looked worried and shouted "VHF Channel 12!" to keep in contact. I gave him the thumbs up and then suddenly noticed that his little green boat was also called Chance. "Your boat’s called Chance too!" I shouted. "VHF Channel 12!" he shouted back. "Sure thing!" I called. It was a hard row out of the entrance as it was right into the wind, but we inched our way forward. A man with a chainsaw looked down in despair with an expression that said "When will these youngsters learn. He’ll be back inside in a minute." But he came to the pier end and watched when I was clear and tacking away from the harbour.
It was the first sail alone on this tour and after a couple of hours I realised I was very much enjoying it. In fact there was a lot of pressure taken off me not worrying about the life of another human being. But why should I worry more about someone else’s life than my own, I pondered. It was as if I felt guilty not doing so. That would have to change, I decided. One can take every sensible precaution without worrying, worry is tiring and energyloss reduces safety. I should relax more with or without crew.
The sun shone and the dark blue waves danced all over the sea. Fluffy little clouds sped across the blue sky and white horses rushed over here and over there. It was a brilliant day.
Things calmed in the afternoon, and I rolled into Fraserburgh on a big, easy swell. A man fishing off the huge pier shouted "You’re a brave man!" as I rounded the harbour wall. "Thanks!" I shouted, "Any Luck?" "Yes, some mackerel!" he replied. I was soon alongside in the lazy afternoon sunshine and strolling round to the harbour master, who offered free moorings and even got the treasurer in to see about a donation. I wasn’t really prepared for this and had no clear request worked out, so he asked if the harbour dues were enough, which I confirmed gratefully.
I strolled over and took a picture of the massive fishing ships to send to my friend Chris the trawlerman in Clovelly. Later the man in the boat alongside me offered some statistics on these massive craft: Length 71m, fuel consumption 200litres/hour (5 tonnes per day), record catch: 900 tonnes of mackerel in one tow (a few hours) with a value of £1,000 a tonne. Although they certainly clean the fish out of the sea pretty quick, from a carbon point of view these statistics seem quite efficient, being around 200 tonnes of mackerel per tonne of fuel. (Compare that with 2.5 tonnes of fuel for just one tonne of prawns caught by a 100ft vessel from Macduff.) In fact the efficiency is so great that I wonder if these statistics are a bit tall.
I spent a couple of hours catching up on phone calls and did a telephone interview with the Ecologist magazine in the late afternoon sun, before a shower at the fisherman’s mission, dinner and my much-loved early night.
Tuesday 26th June
Home made oat cakes
The Gale came through today and the sea raged and threw up an impressive quantity of off-white spume on the beaches. The waves were a strange blue-brown colour that I had never seen before and suspected was pollution. I worked and rested. In the late afternoon I went up the street, posted seven video tapes to ITV, checked the Chandlers for a new burgee, re-stocked on fruit and dropped by the bakers for a syrup cake. The little Macduff bakery does some of the best bread I’ve ever had from a village bakers, and they have an impressive range of cakes and biscuits made on the premises, including something you never see in England: Home made oat cakes. I got some.
Monday 25th June
Lakeland Television in Minnesota
I knew there was a big Low coming through, but there had been a possibility of a window to sail today but it was not to be; the forecast was NW5-7 with Gale 8 for the next day. I stayed in port and the sea rose and battered against the harbour wall. I worked on the computer and telephone all morning. In the afternoon the guy who had given Charlie and I a lift to Banff for the Al Gore film dropped by. He worked for Lakeland Television in Minnesota, USA, and wanted to do a little story. He brought the camera down and set it up on board. We did an interview and he filmed me rowing in the harbour. I got a lift back to his place and had a shower and a cup of tea. The Low Carbon Lifestyle Tour had reached the USA!
I realised I had been coasting on fitness and state of mind developed before the tour, but after two months of sailing, talks, computer work and little exercise or meditation I was getting physically and mentally unfit. Now I would have to develop a routine that was sustainable. In the evening I went for a long run.
I was a week and a 100 miles behind schedule. I had booked this fortnight for a holiday, with no crew and just 90 miles to sail from Edinburgh to Newcastle. Luckily I could use some of this time to catch up. I called Jonny Barton, the friend who I had met years before and who organised the Al Gore film in Banff. Our one meeting in 2003 consisted of a huge conversation about sailing, that inspired Jonny to travel to Gibraltar to cross the Atlantic by Yacht. Unfortunately he had arrived a couple of weeks too late to catch a boat, but I knew he was keen on sailing. I called him and he said he could crew for me for four days over the weekend.
Sunday 24th June
Tour of the Scottish Parliament
In the morning Jay’s three neighbours came over and we had pancakes and toast and talked about the world. When I asked about electronics experts, Jay’s neighbour, Serge, sent a couple of texts and a friend of his called back to say he’d drop in at one to solder my radio charger. Networking. Fantastic.
I went for a walk past the Scottish Parliament and got in on an hour’s tour of the building, which gave me an insight into the world of politics as well as this interesting building. In retrospect I perhaps should have organised to give a copy of The Guide to Low Carbon Lifestyles to every Member of the Welsh Assembly and Member of Scottish Parliament as well as all the MP’s and Lords in the Houses of Commons, but at the time of organising the tour I just planned on one big gesture in London.
In the afternoon Serge’s friend came over and soldered up the VHF charger which had got corroded when splashed by a salty wave (I subsequently moved the radio’s position away from the hatch). Jay went to work and Amira and I had noodles and then walked over the hill for views of Edinburgh and then down to the station. Charlie had left the spare ship’s keys at a diner and Amira took a cab, grabbed them and met me at the train three minutes before it departed at 4pm. I sat the long journey alone and reflected. There was nearly a fight on the bus as one scotsman turfed another off for being drunk and holding up the bus for five minutes while he argued about the validity of his OAP card. I was back in Macduff at nine and climbed into Chance’s cabin to sleep.
Saturday 23rd June
Looking at kilts and sporrans
We caught the 1010 to Edinburgh and got to St. Augustine’s Church, George IV Bridge, at noon in the pouring rain. Jay had set up a fantastic stall for the tour with a tablecloth of tour posters, and guides, flyers and a donation box. The Environmental Justice Festival was well underway, with simultaneous talks in three different halls. I gave a talk to around 40 people from 2 until 3pm, then signed books and talked to people until 4. At 4pm Claire Carpenter from The Melting Pot interviewed me for a select audience of 15. The Melting Pot is set up to inspire and encourage social innovation. Claire had tried to describe to me over the phone how she wanted to hear about the personal journey behind the tour. I could tell she had a clear idea of what she wanted to hear so suggested she interview me so she could guide the dialogue. It seemed to work very well and was more about my own inspirations, ups, downs and tips from my experience of creating and working on projects for which the profits are something other than financial. Jay videoed the interview for ITV and everyone seemed to very much enjoy it.
After five we cleared up the stall and Jay and his wife, Amira, and I strolled gently through Glasgow towards their home. Loaded with gear, we ambled down the Royal Mile admiring its stone houses and colourful shops. The town was bubbling with life on the Saturday afternoon and we were pleasantly relaxed, looking at kilts and sporrans in the windows and debating dinner. Back at Drum Terrace they cooked Vegetarian Haggis, Tatties and Neaps (Potatoes and Turnips), and I sat on the sofa dismantling Chance’s VHF radio charger and sipping sparkling grape juice. It was a lovely evening after a long day, and we slept at eleven.
Friday 22nd June
Nothing to worry about with the next generation
We got up at seven thirty. At quarter past eight the harbour master dropped by in his pilot tug to ask us to move to a different place. I was just rowing across when the Aberdeen press and Journal photographer arrived so he got some shots of me rowing. He gave Charlie and I a lift over to the bus and we caught the 0912 to Aberdeen and the train to St. Andrews. It was nice to be inland again for a bit and see the countryside in summer coats of green and beige rolling hills and fields.
Writer David Lorimer met us at the station and took us for lunch with his wife Jane and our host in St. Andrews, Dr. Christine McGladdery, who teaches Scottish History at the University. It was graduation day in St. Andrews and gowned students were posing for photos with well dressed parents around the town as we drove through. The buildings were wonderfully old and classical.
After lunch I gave a talk to 80 9-11yr-olds at the primary school. They all listened attentively for 45 minutes and were very clued up on low carbon lifestyles. I asked them if they knew what carbon dioxide was and what a low carbon lifestyle was and got about 50 hands up for each. When I asked for suggestions to reduce your carbon footprint the suggestions went on and on until I stopped them, with every excellent idea from sharing lifts to work, putting in low energy lightbulbs and taking the train on holiday to installing solar panels and recycling your rubbish. They loved my description of being in a force 7 in the Irish Sea (complete with sound effects) and several came up to thank me afterwards. I reflected that we’ve got nothing to worry about with the next generation, and perhaps we should hand over the reigns right now.
Back at Christine’s we had tea and a long chat about Scottish History with me taking the opportunity to learn something about a subject of which I know very little. Christine cooked us a lovely dinner and then we went over to the Episcopal Church where I gave a talk to a small but very appreciative audience of which everyone bought a book afterwards.
Thursday 21st June
An old acquaintance not forgot
Now the wind disappeared with a forecast of “Variable 3 or less” so there was no hope for a sail. Charlie took the laundry and I did some email and went to see the harbourmaster about leaving the boat for a couple of days. We moved Chance across the harbour alongside a nice red wooden charter boat called puffin. The owner took some flyers and called the press, so in the afternoon I did two interviews with the Banffshire Times and the Aberdeen Press and Journal.
Charlie had spotted posters for a showing of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in the Banff Primary School. We hitched over and got a lift with a guy who works in TV in America.
When we arrived the guy on the door said “Well, well, it’s Mukti Mitchell. It’s me, Jonny Barton at hotmail.com.” I had met Jonny years before on a meditation course. We had had a huge conversation about crewing on yachts, which Jonny had been very keen to do. He had been watching the progress of the tour and hoped to catch me in Glasgow or Inverness, but didn’t expect me to sail into Macduff.
Al Gore’s Film was excellent, but didn’t go into the solutions for climate change very much, which I am more interested in.
After the film we went for a drink and talked about books, Jonny’s work teaching children who have been expelled from school, and the human condition in general.
Wednesday 20th June
Sail? No. Siesta? Yes!
Things were a bit on the borderline today. The wind was quite strong in the east again and the visibility was right down. I went for an early run and visited the chandlers for a new burgee (ours had worn out and dropped down its pole) and saw the Harbourmaster. He was really friendly and said he wouldn’t charge us if we were doing something like this for the good of the world. We did a calculation with the decision maker and it came out at 50%. Since we were rather tired we decided to stay put. We walked over to Banff for a shower and some groceries and then escaped the drizzle in Chance’s Cabin and snuggled up for a siesta.
Tuesday 19th June
Beating into an easterly
The wind was still in the east. I overheard a boatman say he had never known such a long spell of consistent easterly winds. We set off an hour before high water at 12pm to catch the favourable tide. Things were a bit stronger today and I soon put in a reef. Then I had to double reef the Genoa, so it must have been force 5 to 6. After helming the first 3 hours Charlie took over. She had only been a deckhand in Greece for a couple of weeks but was picking up sailing very quickly. Beating to windward is by far the most difficult thing to do. I lay in he front of the cabin looking back at the GPS and the scene through the hatch. Charlie was beating to windward in a 5 to 6 and great waves kept crashing over the boat, but she seemed quite happy and the course and speed were good. I decided not to mention that it was quite rough, as this might have put her off. I took over again at 6pm and beat a course into Macduff, a commercial fishing port.
We pulled up next to a towering 60ft trawler, cooked dinner and got an early night.
Monday 18th June
Nettles and dandelions for tea
The weather was OK again and we left before the tide at 1100 to beat up the coast. By 730pm we had covered 24 miles through the water and 14 miles made good, and as the tide was about to change we pulled into a little village harbour called Portknockie. I went for a run and Charlie went foraging and then we had rice and tinned organic curry with black beans and Charlie’s findings, steamed nettles and chopped dandelion leaves, for greens.
Sunday 17th June
Lowest food miles meal so far
The weather had calmed down, and although it was still in the East, Charlie and I set out to beat up the coast that day. We had a little bit of tide with us and the wind was light by mostly steady. The sun shone quite a bit. We put out a mackerel line and when the wind dropped a bit so the line hung vertically down, Charlie said “It’s good for the fishing”. Things were slow and after covering some 14 miles through the water in 6 hours, we pulled into Lossiemouth, just 8 miles made good.
We pulled in the line and there were to pretty mackerel for dinner. Charlie disappeared to get the shower key and came back with some tinfoil. She is a chef, and skilfully packed the mackerel with slices of lemon, carrot and fennel, and baked them in the foil in a pan. I’m vegetarian and don’t normally eat fish, but make an exception for fish caught on board when sailing. We had the fish on rice with some salad leaves from Susan, a teacher living on the yacht next door. Then we had Nairn’s Oatcakes from just up the road, with the Rodway’s Sweet Milk Cheese, and it was the best, most locally produced meal of the tour so far.
We walked round the town which though grey looking from the sea was full of character, with a nice gentle, spacious feel to it. Susan invited us aboard for cocoa before bed.
Thursday 14th June
Burghead? Findhorn? Burghead...?
After a while noises seemed not quite right and I peered out. "I'm sorry, we're going round in circles" said Beth. The wind had disappeared. "You'll have to try rowing" I said. Beth got out the oars and rowed for a while, but an occasional puff blew us off course, and the remaining swell made it difficult to row. Chance takes a bit of getting used-to on the rowing front, because the rudder trails and can accentuate your mistakes sending you off course, and the oars are quite heavy. As we needed to get there before low water, I decided to take over. Beth watched ahead and gave me directions.
By the time we reached the approaches to the channel marked by flashing lights it was just 2 hours before low water. The waves, that were insignificant in deep water, were picking up as they neared the beach and an appreciable surf was rolling in. We found what looked like a channel with no breaking waves, but it would have been another half hour before we reached the sand bar. We were nearing springs, and all in all I thought we might not have enough water to enter the bay. Beth agreed it seemed pretty dodgy. So we gave up on Findhorn too, and headed out to sea again. We would reach Burghead in two or three hours.
A breeze got up and with Beth on the helm I put up the sails again. We were now in Burghead Bay and there must have been shallows because some of the waves were picking up quite steep and fast, and making things quite exciting. Once we were well under way it was 3am and my watch again. I'd only had half an hour's sleep but felt ok, so Beth went below.
It was getting light, trawlers were passing here and there, and on my right the long low coast stretched around the bay from the windmills of Findhorn to the town of Burghead on the headland ahead. The wind eased quite a lot and played tricks on me. I took a long tack out to lay Burghead on the other tack and then the wind changed so the other tack was almost heading back towards Findhorn. It seemed to take forever to cover the few miles to Burghead; with little wind we were only doing 2 or 3 knots.
Towards 6am I got fed up with slow progress. I asked Beth what the speed was on the GPS. She said 0.5 knots. I got out the oars and rowed. We should have been doing 2 knots then but the GPS said 1.1. I was tired and annoyed. The whole boat felt like lead. It felt like there was something on the keel dragging us back. Perhaps it was the light breeze on the nose. I rowed and rowed and it felt like dragging weights through sludge. But in the end we neared the harbour. I had seen a fishing boat go in so knew we could get in. A trawler kindly came over and asked if we were ok. I said "We're nearly there. Thanks!"
We got in at 8 am. The first boat we tied up to had a sign on it saying if the tide got too low any boats mooring along side it might have 14 tonnes of boat on top of them, so we moved. Then a fishing trawler with broken steering had to be towed into our berth so we had to move again. Finally we moored alongside a lovely big wooden converted lifeboat called Vagrant. The owner came along and after hearing about our tour asked if we would come and talk to his wife and friends that evening. We said yes, and then passed out all day.
Wednesday 13th June
Midsummer in the north of Scotland
Beth and I sailed out of the sea lock at 11am on the top of the tide. Beth hadn't sailed for a few years so was getting back into it, but she loved the motion of the boat, and being out with the wind and the waves. We tacked into a NE chop that made things fairly bouncy but she wasn't the slightest bit queasy. It was a long tack out of the Inner Moray Firth with the land either side, and then around the corner and east along the long stretch of yellow beachside to Nairn.
My chart gave a depth at Nairn that would allow us to enter at low water. But as we approached I looked through the binoculars and could see the beach in front of the harbour, with birds standing on it. "We'll, there's no point hanging around here, lets head for Findhorn bay, it'll be high water by the time we get there" I said. Beth was up for it.
We sandwiched and Beth went below for a nap. I liked the way she just got into the cabin and sorted everything out, took off all her gear and got into her sleeping bag amongst all the pitching and rolling. She was the least experienced crew of the trip so far, yet seemed the most comfortable at sea in Chance on the first day. She grinned out at me with the delight of being on board, and then got her head down.
Things got rather calm around 10pm, which slowed progress greatly. For the most part there was just about enough wind to warrant not rowing, but with the weak tide against us we weren't going anywhere fast. Beth got kitted up and came on deck about midnight. It wasn't that dark. Being midsummer in the north of Scotland there was still a sunset stretched across the horizon under a dark blue sky. I went below.
Tuesday 12th June
The Whisky Barrel house
After toast and wild-plum crumble Nick took us to the Findhorn community. We had a great day there hosted by Jonathan Dawson. After Rory at reception told us the story of the founding of the community we went to see the living machine, a huge glass house with great silos containing special plants and microbes that digest all the sewage from the 300 inhabitants of the eco-village. Reeds and water plants maintain the habitat for the microbes in the huge vats and the effluent goes through different stages of vats ending up above the European fresh-water standards.
The park has four wind turbines that they bought second-hand from Denmark for £700,000. These provide more energy than the park uses, and are expected to pay for themselves in ten years.
One of the first people to build an eco-home in the new eco-village site in the park showed us around his wonderful home. Apart from being super-low energy, it was a wonderful construction of interlinked rooms with light flooding in from one to another, with a beautiful central stone pillar and radiating Douglas fir beams and banisters.
After a tremendous feast in the community centre where everyone eats together for just £1 per meal, we visited the universal hall, one of the most beautiful theatres I have ever been in. 25 years old, it is not that low carbon in terms of insulation, but the pentagon-shaped theatre fills one with awe and silence. We sat staring and soaking up the beauty as a piano player practised, filling the space with dreamy melody.
After tea with an old friend Oriel who lives in a house made out of a huge Whisky Barrel, I went to the community centre to meet anyone who wanted to chat about the tour. A woman called Trish Fenton came and told me she was about to set off to cycle and crew on sailing yachts around the world, on a bicycle with a pedal-powered smoothie maker on the back, to show that low-carbon travel is fun, and that the world is a friendly place. After hitching and working across the Atlantic and South America at the turn of the millennium, I think she is so right. People are so kind and friendly across the world.
In the evening I gave a talk and the response was very positive. There was a huge re-union of children who grew up in the community and had come back from all over the world, so many people couldn't come to my talk. But there were 30 people in the audience and I sold 30 books.
After the talk a man from Tasmania called Kasmir came up to me and thanked me for my efforts. He looked at me with great brown eyes and told me of changes in Tasmanian weather. He said there had been tremendous rains like never seen before. Kasmir told me: People say "What is this? Where is this rain coming from?" and someone says "This is Global Warming." And people say "What is Global Warming?" They don't know. Kasmir's great brown eyes were dark and troubled, his voice was quiet and gentle. He went on: Last year there was a tremendous drought. They had to buy all their food from outside the country. People say: "What is this? What is happening?" someone says "this is global warming." And people say "What is Global Warming?" They don't know. They don't know what it is. Thank you for your efforts.
Kamir's eyes carried the gravity of the experience of his people. Here we notice that the seasons are changing, bird migrations are changing, there are warm-water fish in the seas, but they don't affect our lives much. There in Tasmania, southern Africa, near the equator, people live on the crops they grow, and they are loosing their crops. There is an immediate threat to their lives. I was very moved. I thanked Kasmir and gave him a copy of my book. Though I knew the carbon footprint of him and those around him would barely register on my carbon calculator.
Jonathon took us to the station along with the vast £100 shop I had done in the community organic shop, and we caught the train back to Inverness.
Monday 11th June
We were hoping to sail to Findhorn today, but the forecast was variable 2-3, a very unreliable wind. So we decided to rest and catch up on email. Beth is an artist who does many low-carbon projects and travels from place to place in the UK to do different exhibitions. She was quite tired from recent projects and after breakfast crawled into the cabin and fell asleep. I did my laundry in the marina, and started catching up on emails and diary. After lunch a lady came down from Moray Firth Radio and did an interview.
At 5 o'clock we caught the train to Findhorn, and went to see the Rodways at Wester Laurenceton Farm. Nick and Pam and their three children ran a small holding in Devon when I grew up and many of my fondest childhood memories are from their farm. Now they make award-winning organic cheese eaten by the Royal Family, and Pam works for the Soil Association. It was a lovely evening eating a feast of home-made organic food including a sumptuous dish of lentils and white-currants, and catching up.
Sunday 10th June
Between a weir and a great passenger boat
We sailed into the top of the loch, and tacked up the narrows before the final stretch of canal. There were some weirs and at one point we were caught between a weir and a great passenger boat going the other way, but since Chance can tack in a breadth of 50ft we were ok. We tacked and towed through the rest of the locks and canals and we arrived at Inverness at 5pm, and Beth was there to meet us.
In the seaport marina Jay showed Beth around the boat while I made some calls ahead to Findhorn and my old friends Pam and Nick Rodway. Then Jay had to go to catch his bus back to Edinburgh. Beth and I put some wet clothes in the dryer, had dinner and got an early night.
Saturday 9th June
We began the descent of the locks at 8am. At the bottom it was misty and still, and loch Ness was mysterious. There was no point in setting off without a breeze, and although the forecast said there would be a breeze later, it was very unreliable as we were so far inland from the sea areas it covered.
Jay and I walked down to the end of the canal and sat on the dock of the bay, looking out over Loch Ness. There wasn't much ado so we gazed up the loch and started talking about the "Explorer 21" a 21 foot version of Chance, long but with almost the same beam and height, so little extra weight but possibly a lot more performance. I got quite excited and we chatted away about hull speeds, keel weights, sail area, passage times and rowability, and the sun came out to warm us and burn away the mist.
Then a breeze came towards us across the water. You could see the line of dark blue water created by the ripples as it slowly moved towards us down the loch. When it was a few hundred yards away Jay said "lets get ready for it" and we nipped back to Chance, stowed the water bottles away, clipped on our safety lines and rowed into the loch. The breeze was there to meet us and we got the sails up and under way. It was to be a long tack up the 22-mile loch so after sandwiches we settled into 3-hour watches, traversing the two-mile wide loch in long sweeping tacks.
Progress was steady and slowly we passed the few landmarks and anchorages on our way up the loch. The mountains were lower and less impressive than loch Linnhe, but with interesting rugged shapes to them.
In the late afternoon a magnificent old gaff rigged sailing ship came down towards us. We tacked across right under her stern and looked up at the man on the helm and another man and woman appeared to smile down at us. The great steel hull slid slowly by under a vast expanse of cream coloured canvas, reefing lines and wonderful tree-trunk mast and spars, flying the Norwegian Flag.
There were occasional booms of deep bass wafted down on the wind so we knew we were nearing Rock Ness, a music festival at the top of the lake. The wind eased and we slid gently to an anchorage in the sound of the booming music festival at 9 o'clock in the evening. After dinner a patrol boat took us ashore but the festival closed up for the evening so we had a chat with the security guards and then went back to Chance and bed.
Friday 8th June
Lush like a gentle Scottish folk song
Today it was grey, misty and cool, with a fine dampness in the air. We went through the locks and then there was a stretch of canal that had no towpath. I was a bit grumpy and not impressed but settled down to row, while Jay set up the cooker in the cabin to make breakfast.
It was too narrow to tack so I settled into the rowing. But it was very beautiful. I looked sideways at the beautiful deciduous trees and the gentle undergrowth. Scotland in early summer is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The plants are so delicate and lush like a gentle Scottish folk song. The greens are so soft and tender compared to the harsh leaves of the tropics. I looked at the Ash, the Birch, the Beech and Rowan. Underneath lay wild blueberry undergrowth, delicate ferns and moss. The moss was a light green velvet, so modest, growing under the shade of all the other plants, yet so exquisite in texture and colour, so tiny the leaves and flowers. I started to cry at the beauty and modesty of it all. I rowed on and on and cried, my tears dried up and then I cried again. After so many weeks at sea I found myself in such a soft gentle place, where storms never ravage and the sweetest of plants grow, and it was very moving.
Jay made scrambled eggs and beans on pita bread for breakfast and after he had finished his we swapped and I had a good breakfast before we reached the next swing bridge. We went through
And into Loch Oich, a very small and narrow loch filled with tree-clad islands, promontories, channels and narrows. We tacked up, avoiding boats sailing down, and talked about the sex industries.
Loch Oich is only a few miles long and is the highest point of the canal. After that we towed the boat again for a couple of hours, arriving at Fort Augustus at 5pm, at the bottom of Loch Ness. We were too late to go down the next flight of locks so we did a big shop in the local mini-market. Being rather spaced out and tired we bought all sorts of rubbish and spent far too much, but at least we had food for the next few days.
Thursday 7th June
Lord of the Glens
We towed the boat the last mile to the bottom of Lochy, and after a break for breakfast and to scrub the decks we sailed out into the loch. The wind was in the NE as usual so we tacked away. After lunch I went below for a nap and Jay woke me up as we neared the top of the loch in the late afternoon. We stopped beside the locks into the next stretch of canal, where the great cruiser Lord of the Glens was berthed for the night. An American on board the Lord who was enjoying a glass of whisky, called down to tell me he had brought the nice weather all the way from San Francisco.
Wednesday 6th June
This morning we rowed across the water to the first sea lock of the Caledonian Canal at Fort William at 8 o'clock. The sun came out and beamed down on us as we entered Neptune's staircase, the flight of seven locks near the beginning of the Caledonian Canal. We had to wait around for the swing bridge to be opened at 1130 am, and chatted to a cockles fisherman taking his boat through. He thought we desperately needed to do something about climate change, but didn't think anyone would make changes in their lives for it. Next we met a boat called Chivas, who gave us little bottles of whiskey.
We reached the top of the staircase at lunchtime and Ben Nevis was in full view across the valley, dramatically highlighted by strips of snow. It is unusual to see this mountain without a veil of cloud.
It was so hot that we decided to rest all afternoon. In the evening cool we took it in turns to tow the boat on foot the six miles to the beginning of loch Lochy. We had to stop for the night beside a swing bridge as they only open between 8am and 6pm. There we met a boat who gave us more little bottles of whiskey since Yacht Chivas had given them so many!
Tuesday 5th June
Loch Linnhe to Fort William
I didn't hear my alarm but woke at 03:00 as planned. I got up and began to prepare the boat. As Jay put on his waterproofs I was weighing anchor and we were away. Jay wanted to see the sunrise that was already beginning, so I put a reef in the main, left him on the helm and went back to bed.
I was aware of a fair amount of heel and sometimes quite a bit of noise but drifted in and out of sleepy thoughts.
After quite a while things had calmed down. Jay was asking me if I might shake out the reef in the mainsail. I said OK and gave myself 5 minutes to come-to. I was still very sleepy. I looked out. We were near a small lighthouse, things were calm and the cockpit was full of water. "I've been having a great time" said Jay. "I've been hiked out on the side of the boat having a cracking sail" he added. He had done well. We were near the Corran Narrows half way to Fort William.
The tide was going to turn in an hour, but we decided to go through and find an anchorage the other side, which should be calm as the wind was dropping. Even on the last hour of the tide, we shot through the narrows very fast, avoiding the Corran ferry. We anchored on the west side of the loch a mile north of the narrows at 10am. There was a light breeze, warm sunshine and a huge green mountain stretching straight up from the waters edge beside. Jay slept for a couple of hours while I made some calls.
At midday we put clothes into drybags and swam ashore through the crispy cold fresh water. We began to climb the mountain and soon Chance was a tiny shape below. The Great Glen really is great. Loch Linnhe stretched far out to the Southwest and we could see both Oban and the open sea 30 miles away. To the North East the huge valley stretched away in a tremendous line of massive mountains sloping down to the water on both sides. Ben Nevis stood opposite veiled in cloud. After some deliberation we continued to the very top and found we had climbed a Monroe, a Scottish mountain over 2,000ft. It was cool but strangely clam at the top and around us lay 360 degrees of a magnificent panorama. This was a glimpse of the Scottish Highlands. Countless mountain peaks stretched away in all directions as far as the eye could see. Little fluffy clouds drifted across the blue sky and the mountains all carried their fine coats of light green grass and dots of little sheep. I had once dropped by parachute from 2,500ft and we were now at around 2,300ft. And far below us lay the tiny spec that was Chance at the edge of the loch. It was a wonderful moment of stillness and expanse.
We walked back down to catch the tide. Being low water now, we could wade out to Chance, who had been perfectly position in 3ft of water. We climbed aboard and got under way at 4pm. I took the helm and Jay made sandwiches before going below for a sleep.
I then ran into a very frustrating location I have named the Loch Linnhe Triangle, about 2 miles north of the Corran Narrows on the West side of the loch. In this area opposite a lonely house and an open bay of shallow water the wind, which there was little of, kept shifting in all directions. To add to this there was an adverse current, even though the tide was supposed to be pushing us towards Fort William and should have been at full flow. In fact we were going forwards through the water and backwards compared to the land. There was nothing in the pilot about this either. Being rather low on sleep I found this quite annoying and battled for an hour or two to get the better of the situation, but kept going forwards then dropping back again and shifting the sails from a beat to a reach to a run and back.
Jay woke up around 6pm by which time I was beginning to make irrational remarks. I finally got all the canvas down, tied it up, and rowed to the east side of the loch to get away from the spot. Thankfully a decent breeze sprang up and we were soon beating healthily towards our destination. Jay played the guitar and I tacked on and on and on all evening, every tack bringing us closer to Fort William. We finally made it as the wind died around 10pm. We anchored behind a little island opposite the town and Jay cooked rice and Thai Green Curry with carrots and chickpeas. We ate and slept.
Monday 4th June
Lynn of Lorne
Our neighbours on Yacht Jigtime invited me on board for tea and we looked through the charts together. I wanted to get a better idea of the tides in Loch Linnhe for our 30-mile trip to Oban. Doug read from his pilot, which said tides of 2.5 knots at the two narrows en route.
The sun was shining and we left at noon to catch the north setting tide up the channel called the Lynn of Lorne. The wind was against us and not quite strong enough to really get going well. The tide was very weak, so progress was slow. But the scenery was fantastic, the beautiful greens and browns of the little islands all around. There had been a dinghy called the Flying Fifteen (designed by Uffa Fox) in the shed at the Oban Marina and Jay was excited about how we might develop a higher-performance Explorer influenced by the Flying Fifteen. Jay had lots of questions about the advantages of different hull shapes, the influence of racing rules on yacht design and the parameters for a boat that is rowable. So we discussed designs and watched the scenery drift by.
The tide shot us through the narrows south of the island of Shauna, but soon after that turned against us. We rowed for a tiny shallow patch north of the island and dropped the anchor about 10pm having only made about 12 miles towards our destination. There was a most fantastic sunset behind the mountains on the west side of Loch Linnhe, huge golden shafts radiated from the clouds on the mountain ridge and the calm waters turned to dance of oily golden shimmers. We cooked pasta and slept at 1130.
Sunday 3rd June
Drizzle, no wind...so rest
The wind was supposed to be OK for heading north today, and the favourable tide began at 2pm. But there was not a whisper at 1 o’clock. I was shattered and grumpy anyway, so decided on a day of rest and diary writing. It drizzled all day. The trip has been wonderful so far, with great sailing and fantastic people, but I haven’t had a whole day off in two months. Sometimes I’m a bit tired. I think I’ll have to do my best to keep to early nights.
Saturday 2nd June
One boiler - ninety homes
Unfortunately my computer had had some problem when we tried to connect the projector in Ardfern, so I spent a couple of hours failing to get on-line. Eventually I called the tour technical manager, Richard Dransfield, who talked me through rolling back the settings to before the date of the problem. I finally got on-line and downloaded emails but didn’t have time to respond to many.
I caught the 5 o’clock ferry-boat to Oban to meet our contact, Steven Watson. Steven runs Ali-energy, a project-managing company for installing renewable energy. He had done some great projects around Oban, and told me about them over chips and a bean-burger in the Oban Fish and Chip Shop - the best bean burger and chips I’d had in years.
My talk was at the Corran Halls that evening, and an audience of 60 or so came along. They were a great audience and the talk flowed easily. There were lots of questions and enthusiasm, so I felt very good afterwards. Jay’s mother and father in law, who live on the island of Tiree, came along, which was nice.
After the talk, Steven took us to the great amphitheatre-style monument above Oban. Then we visited the new housing development where a single wood-chip boiler heats 90 homes, that he had helped organise. The heat is pumped round to each house by insulated pipes, and residents pay for their heat by top-up cards like a mobile phone. A heat exchange in each house regulates the amount of heat extracted from the main hot-water pipes. The houses are so well insulated they don’t need much heat anyway, so the one boiler can serve so many houses.
Steven got us to the last ferry at 10 o’clock and we waved goodbye.
Friday 1st June
Crinnan to Oban
The wind was still good for Oban. I towed the boat on foot the last mile of the Crinnan Canal and then we went through the two locks in the fantastically pretty village of Crinnan, and out onto a sun-drenched sea. Through the Dorus Mor narrows, we sailed between the pretty islands and up the sound of Ling. When we reached the top of the sound the wind had almost gone so there was no force in the sails. The tide reached full flow and upwellings erupted around us. It was nothing dangerous, but the whirlpools actually spun us around three times! The first time that has ever happened on Chance. After that I got out the oars and rowed on out of the lee of the land.
A late afternoon breeze picked up and drove us up the sound of Kerrera. We reached Oban at 7pm and moored at the Marina opposite the town, by the island of Kerrera.