Miles logged: 50
Total miles logged: 1,211
Days since leaving Fleetwood: 44
Days at sea: 26
This was a relatively easy eight-and-a-half hour leg in fine sunny weather. It brought us to the starting-point for the passage across the far north of Scotland, which presents challenges at both ends and full exposure to the Atlantic Ocean throughout. We will face the first challenge tomorrow when we round Duncansby Head and take on the Pentland Firth. This area is reckoned to be where the fastest tidal streams in all our coastal waters are to be found. Indeed, the pilot book recourses to red ink when it warns of the potential perils to mariners who might be tempted to face this piece of coastline in other than the most benign of weather conditions.
Fortunately, given that we are both new to these waters, the weather conditions for the next few days are predicted to be benign. That will inevitably mean a lot of motoring, if not entirely motoring, but Mike and I are more than happy to forego sailing for a few, relatively short legs in order to have the safest conditions as we pick our way around the most challenging hazards that we will face in the course of our circumnavigation.
The conditions today, for our crossing of the Moray Firth from Whitehills to Wick were settled and the weather fine, just as it is forecast to be for the coming days. We rose early but at 0500 the sun at Whitehills was already up. We knew that we would have to motor this leg; later on the wind did get up to around eight knots – a little more as we approached Wick – but it was fine on the starboard bow and very marginal for sailing. We each raised our genoas and Bubble gained half a knot or so, but I couldn’t keep the sail full and after a couple of attempts gave up and wound the genoa in.
Nevertheless I enjoyed this leg. The passage across the Moray Firth was one which concerned me from the outset of our planning for our trip. It is long way, there is no protection from the weather and no scope for a plan ‘B’ once committed. The benign conditions meant that we could set aside our concerns and enjoy the ride. Fortunately there was no morning mist to we could enjoy the view of the southern coast whilst watching the northern shoreline come into view. The mountains south of Wick were visible throughout, but nothing more. The sparsely-populated coastline revealed itself gradually as we drew nearer, including an impressive run of cliffs for several miles up to Wick. Doubtless the scenery is nowhere near as spectacular as the west coast but it was nevertheless a rugged coastline which, in the warm sun, was an impressive sight.
Midway we had to pass through a gap between the south of the Beatrice Offshore wind-farm, the Moray East Offshore wind-farm and and the restricted areas around two oil platforms to the south of these. It was quiet throughout save for a few wind-farm support vessels and a ship making for Inverness. There were no yachts visible but we picked up the trace of one on AIS; she was probably heading for Whitehills.
At Wick we had the usual struggle to identify the harbour entrance but once contact had been made with the harbourmaster we were well looked after. He was on the pontoon to take our lines and we had a chat with him about our plans for Duncansby Head. As a result of that we put our planned timings back by an hour. This seems reasonable given the weather. With tide with us all the way it should be a fast passage.
With several days of light winds ahead, and having reached the point at which there will be no more full-service marinas for a good many miles, we had our yachts’ diesel tanks topped up and our back-up jerry cans filled to the brim. Tomorrow we will stock up with fresh food at a supermarket as we may well not go ashore again for several days and when we do we cannot expect to be able to find supplies as easily on the north and west coasts as we have at most of our stops hitherto.
This evening we followed the recommendation of a local fisherman and visited a traditional fish and chip shop here in Wick. I can confirm that the quintessential Scottish delicacy – the deep-fried Mars bar – was on offer. I was tempted but the shop was packed with locals all ordering a ‘fish supper’ (Scottish for ‘haddock and chips’) and I doubt that I could have asked for one, in my home counties accent, without these good folk sniggering at me.
We have made tentative plans for the next few days in order to take advantage of the calm weather which conincides with the difficult north-east and north-west ‘corners’ of our circumnavigation. If all goes as we hope then we will be on the west coast, with its bountiful delights for cruising yachtsmen, in under a week.