A long, long way…

So after the trip down from the Clyde to Stranraer, Rosanne and Chris found their way back to make the big trip round the Mull of Galloway to Kirkudbright… It was the beginning of April, and the weather was still not playing ball, so we had to wait for the best window possible to make the trip.  A lull in the weekend forecast seemed to offer the best chance of a safe trip around the Mull.  Rosanne drove down from Aberdeen whilst Chris drove up from Liverpool, and we met in Kirkudbright. We had to shuttle the cars, so dropped Rosanne’s car off in Kircudbright on the way to Stranraer.

We left Stranraer heading for the Mull early in the morning, with the trip up to Portpatrick being mostly uneventful, though we were feeling the effects of the tide against, and were down to under 4kts at times.  There was little wind to speak of, so we motored with the Autopilot on.  We were very conscious that we did not have charge coming from the alternator to the batteries, though the alternator was producing enough current to run anything we asked it to run.  With this in mind, we ensured we kept the engine start battery in reserve, and proposed to just keep the engine running…

As we left Stranraer, we could see that the visibility may not be that great, though we were seeing a good mile or two at that stage.  After Portpatrick, we made the decision to press on, as we were losing time with the tide against.  Also, the fog started to close in on us, until the only thing we could see was the water around the boat for about 200 yards, and the rocks at the base of the cliffs with the swell from the previous few days southerlies crashing on the cliff below…

As we got closer and closer to the Mull of Galloway, the visibility closed in even more, and we started to encounter the start of the overfalls.  We had tucked as close into the cliff as we dared, and think we managed to avoid the worst of it further out to sea, but it was quite terrifying not being able to see ahead on the water, and not being able to plan ahead or take avoiding action.  Occasionally, we caught a glimpse of a huge standing wave to seaward in the fog to confirm this suspicion, which Chris has to admit had him properly on edge. Rosanne was dosed up on seasickness pills and oddly calm about the whole situation!! Mostly she was too busy concentrating on not being sick to be concerned about anything else! If only she knew…!

The closer we got to the Mull of Galloway itself, the faster we seemed to go over the ground, picking up an inshore eddy that, although the flow offshore was to the North, seemed to be accelerating us South toward the point.  The flow was accompanied with some turbulence and jostling from the overfalls.  We had timed our arrival at the point for 1hr before low water slack, to give us a safe passage round, and to throw us in the direction of Kircudbright as we left the Mull.  As we closed the Mull, we were 200 yards away, and we saw… NOTHING! It’s a shame that all the foghorns have been decommissioned….

At this point, an eddy sucked us round the cliffs, and as we had no visual situational awareness, we couldn’t tell that a massive course correction was needed to break out of the flow.  Eventually, Chris realised what needed to happen, and took action to prevent us being flushed up into Luce Bay.

After the Mull, we got settled into the passage to Kircudbright.  With what wind there was, we managed to set the genoa for a bit of a motor sail assist in the right direction.  As the tide turned, we were accelerated again, passing Burrow Head at a range of 1 mile.  As we passed, we were doing 9.5kts, in thick fog with 200 yard visibility, and it was getting dark… and choppy…  We had no sight of any navigation lights on land or otherwise, the fog was so thick.

We had to slow down, or risk being very early at Kircudbright.  Entry is only recommended 2hrs either side of high water.  We arrived at 2hrs 30mins before high water, with a spring tide.  with the visibility as it was, and by now it was pitch dark, we struggled to identify any lights on the approach.  The entire approach into the bay was done under GPS and Radar.  Fortunately, the water had flattened off.  It was quite incredible that the first sight of a navigation light was the first red and green channel marks.  At a range of maybe 20 boat lengths, the glow and haze of the lights were just visible.  As we closed the lights, fortunately the fog cleared somewhat, and we started to see the next channel lights, and then the next.  Phew… nearly there…

Needless to say, the flow in the river was extreme.  We were barely in tick over on the engine, and doing nearly 7kts over ground at some parts of the channel.  Chris was concentrating hard, making sure the boat stayed in the deepest part of the channel, which is quite narrow.  We had a bit of a moment when the flow in the channel tried to put me into the bank at No. 13 Fish Pool.  We were trying to stay to channel right to avoid any possibility of messing with the rocky outcrop on the left side, but the set of the flow was almost perpendicular to the channel at this point from left to right, and we were late in realizing this in the dark with only two or three reference lights to go by.  Fortunately, quick adjustments and throttle meant we missed No. 13 buoy by about 3 feet, and carried on up into the village.  All the while, Chris was taking his glasses off and passing them to Rosanne every 30 seconds to get the rain cleaned off them so that he could see!

Seeing the end in sight, we made Ragdoll ready to go onto the pontoon.  Sensing the adrenaline and tension on board, and knowing that doing things in a rush or panic is what gets people hurt,  Chris took a minute to talk things through and slow things right down.  He talked Rosanne through the mooring, which although in a strong 3kt flow up river, would be under a lot of control as he would be able to motor into the tide, and ferry glide across to the berth.  It would be all under a lot of control, and no frantic jumping off to get ropes on cleats would be needed… the last thing we needed at that point was a person in the water getting carried under pontoons or up river.  Besides, the pontoons were wet, and Chris (accurately!) predicted that they would be very slippy…

So with the boat pinned on the pontoon in gear forward and being held by the flow, it was an easy one for Rosanne to step down to the pontoon and get a bow line on… and a fumble and slip! Argh!!  I told you, no dying!  Fortunately no blood, and she stayed on the pontoon, which was the main thing 🙂

Having made a 7am start, and now arriving at 23:30h in the dark, rain and fog after 75 miles of terror, we were ready to crash out hard, which we very much did!  The next day, we shuttled the cars back to Stranraer, and visited the lighthouse on the Mull of Galloway as we passed.  It was quite nice to finally actually see it, as the fog had completely lifted and there was a nice sailing breeze!  We were looking at it thinking… how is this day so completely different to yesterday?!

All was well that ended well though.  And it is in extremes that one finds out what really works and what doesn’t.  We were happy with our Mull of Galloway strategy.  We stayed out of the majority of the overfalls, and had the tide boost at the right time.  as for the fog, we had radar and Navionics on our IPad, fed from the boats main GPS. This did highlight a few weaknesses however. Rosanne was in no hurry to repeat the journey anytime soon though…

Our radar is a Raytheon R20x.  It is old school Magnetron and CRT display technology, and is down at the chart table, where it is of no use to the helmsman.  It sucks about 7 amps on transmit, and about 2 amps on stby.  That’s pretty ridiculous, and would completely discourage me from using the unit while sailing.  On engine it’s fine, but the amp draw under sail would be too much.

Secondly, modern Chartplotters and Radars can overlay the radar on the chart.  They can also overlay AIS data.  Having this info in the cockpit during the voyage at key points such as going round the Mull, and on approach to and going up river at Kircudbright, would have made a massive improvement to our situational awareness.  Do we really need that?  95% of the time, probably not.  But in that situation it would have made all the difference, and given us a bit of reassurance that we had got the approach right.

So, the plan is over time, to get a new modern Chartplotter in the cockpit, with a modern broadband radar, and AIS transponder functionality.  Maybe even with forward looking sonar to complete the package!

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