Wick to the Orkney Islands sailing around Britain 2014

Date posted: 3 July 2014

We have been forecast gale force 4-8 today, so I gathered everyone together and asked if anyone felt we shouldn’t proceed. I explained that the wind was Southerly and although the sea state could be moderate, it shouldn’t feel that bad.

Ho! Bloody! Ho! As we left the sheltered harbour of Wick we hit massive seas, thankfully I had spent a couple of hours this morning battening down everything. I also prepared a risotto for dinner and made individual pack lunches for everyone, so they could snack as and when they felt able.

I was worried that the risotto would come out like glue in the slow cooker, but it was fine

The Crew gave me some space this morning and went off to the local museum, which typically they came back to tell me, it was the best they had ever visited, in respect to the photographic displays, and information, they particularly enjoyed being taken round by informative locals.

Museum at Wick

We had a briefing session this morning with Malcolm the harbour master; we paraded with charts at 9 am in his office. Simon and I had both checked the title flows going into the Pentland Firth (the most dangerous waters around the UK). From the information we both had, it appeared that we should be leaving the harbour at Wick around 3pm. It always pays to listen to local advice, Malcolm told us that if we left at 12.30, we would be at John o’Groats at 3.15 which was slack water, which was the best time to cross into the Pentland Firth. He also told us that, if we stayed within half a mile of the shore heading north, we would pick up a localised north bound eddy, but stray out and we would hit the south bound flow.

Simon saw us out of our mooring and headed us out to see, whilst I did a new and more detailed passage plan. Once the passage plan was done, I suggested we put out some sail, we had a following sea and wind which I knew would lead to the boat coming off the top of the waves at an angle, so I put in a gibe preventer. But before going ‘top side’ I put on a safety strap and attached myself to the jack stays. As I edged along the side of the boat, I asked Simon to turn into the wind, to make it easier for the others to take the main out.

As we left the sheltered harbour of Wick we hit massive seas. I was crouched down on the opposite side of the boat attaching the rope to the cleat and completely missed a massive wave that soaked Marian, Simon and Mike in the cockpit. I didn’t think it was appropriate to ask them to hold a minute whilst I take a quick picture.

Mike went down below because he hadn’t put his waterproof trousers before we left the port, so he needed to change. Well, he came back up some minutes later looking decidedly green, so we placed him on the helm again today. Which he took for a couple of hours until we reached Duncansby Head (John o’Groats), then he felt well enough to sit down again.

Although the sea state was rough, there wasn’t much wind at all, it even died down to nothing as we went into the Pentland Forth. But as we progressed across the Firth, I observed a change in the sea state, and wind. I asked if anyone wanted to help put out some sail, so I measured out about 1.5 m of foresail and Marian and Mike pulled that through. Such was the wind that we increased our speed by two knots, so were now moving along at 7.8 knots. We collectively decided that this was enough sail for us to manage for the time being.

Over the radio we heard a gale force warning 8 for the Orkney Islands, this warning arrived a little late for us, we were in it, rough seas, high winds and rain. Marian made mutterings about contacting the coast guard to give them our co-ordinates, which I thought was quite sensible, so I did, the coastguard ended the conversation with ‘I hope you have a pleasant onward journey’, she obviously had a sense of humour.

Simon started singing (I think this was to keep up moral), as he belongs to a male voice choir, he is always a pleasure to listen to. I got out the song sheets and Marian, Mike and myself joined in ( Sean was on duty), we had a really lovely sea shanty session.

Around this time, as the wind was increasing I felt that we should bring in the little bit of sail we did have out. So I turned Kantara into the wind, Marian released the halliard on the foresail, using the winch, but the halliard on the starboard side had slipped through her fastenings and was flapping and wrapping itself round the other halliard that Marian had. The chaps pulled in the foresail and I went forward to remove the trailing stray rope from the sea. Everything is so much more difficult to control in heavy weather.

Action shot of the team pulling together, bringing in the sails on Kantara

So as I write this, Simon is on duty for his second tour and I am bouncing about in the front cabin on my bed, water is being thrown down on the hatch above my head, although its obviously wild out there, it’s quite nice down here.

The sun did come out for about ten minutes as we headed behind Flotta, meaning that Simon and Mike went onto the foredecks to untangle the ropes whilst we were protected by the Island, which had created a relatively flat sea, for those few minutes. I managed to take a few photographs of the islands around use, so Flotta and South Ronaldsay.

I’ve phoned ahead and spoken to the harbour master called Bobby, who said ‘ I shall’nt be there when you get in, but I’ll give you the codes to the gates and shower rooms and see you in the morning’ (you have to imagine this said in a soft Scottish accent).

As we crossed the Pentand Firth, we had Skua’s circling the boat.

Skua settling by the boat

Skua’s circled the boat as we sailed across the Pentland Firth

We are now in Scapa Flow, which is the area of water in the centre of mainland Orkney, Hoy and South Ronaldsay.

Sailing through Skappa Flow

There is a low front moving in, which means that we will continue to have a few days bad weather. We had planned to sail around the Islands, so now it seems that we will make our base Stromness and explore from there. We have allowed for five days here which will enable us to have enough time to visit the Italian Chapel, the standing stones of Stromness, Broch of Birsay, and the Maeshowe chambered Cairn, amongst a few other sites no doubt.

We arrived in Stromness on the Orkney Islands at just gone 8pm, Marian was on duty, and as there was plenty of room in the marina,  I suggested that Marian take the boat onto a pontoon. Which she did beautifully, I stood beside her ‘just in case’, Marian helped teach me to sail in Looe fifteen years ago, and we have sailed together on many previous occasions, but Marian hasn’t berthed Kantara before, so well done to her.

This is how it all started, with Marian and a mirror dinghy at Looe sailing club fifteen years ago, we found this on at Wick marina, it was even the same colour as my old one


So I shall be back with an update in five days… or so!

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