Monday, 28 August 2017

Eastern Caledonian Canal

Hi everyone,
Day two in the canal saw us transit Loch Ness and along the canal from Fort Augustus to Kytra Lock. Sadly it was overcast for much of the day but the rain held off until evening.

After passing through Dochgarroch Lock we rafted alongside sv Taipan to show them Zen Again and share a cuppa.  Great to see them again.

From the lock we motored SW into Loch Ness.  There was a 20 knot wind blowing straight down the loch.  Tacking for the 20nm didn't look attractive so the donk did the work.  We went close past Urquhart Castle and admired the scenery which is spectacular even without much sunshine.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Loch Ness
Loch Ness
Fort Augustus is a pretty small town at the SW end of Loch Ness.  We lay alongside a pontoon for 20 minutes while waiting for the swing bridge.  After the swing bridge there is another flight of locks which lift boats almost to the level of Loch Oiche.  This flight is clearly a major tourist attraction with lots of people videoing our every move as we ascended from lock to lock.

Approaching Fort Augustus
In flight at Fort Augustus
Pretty buildings in Fort Augustus
From Fort Augustus we pushed on to Kyra Lock, about halfway to Loch Oich.  We lay alongside the pontoon just short of the lock as the gradually weather deteriorated.  The canal each side of Loch Oich is very pretty, as is the lock area itself.  Overnight it was quite windy and rainy.

Fort Augustus Reach
Zen Again at Kytra Lock
Day three in the canal saw us move further SW, transiting Loch Oich and Laggan Avenue to Laggan Lock.  The weather was distinctly inclement with steady cold rain and strong SW winds.

Rainy Loch Oich
Laggan Swing Bridge
Even in this weather Loch Oich was very pretty indeed.  Indeed the weather may have added to the atmosphere.  On arrival at Laggan Lock we were told the wind was blowing 35 knots out on Loch Lochy.  We decided we'd done enough for the day!

Laggan Avenue
Tomorrow we hope to move onward, through Loch Lochy to the Western Reach.

Inverness and Caledonian Canal entry

Hi everyone,
We stayed at Inverness Marina for four days.  We had planned to spend only two days but crew injury (not serious) caused us to wait a while.  Despite the injury we enjoyed our stay and got to explore the city a little.

River Ness
Picturesque Scottish Architecture
Many Churches
Inverness marina is at the mouth of the River Ness.  Small cargo ships go a little way up river to the docks.  Beyond that is the city.  The Caledonian Canal entrance is a little further west along the Inverness Firth and it runs through the western part of the city.

River Ness (east) and Caledonian Canal (west)
It's worth noting that currents are very strong in Inverness Firth.  As we exited the river we needed full power to round the shoal which extends out into the Firth.  The north cardinal at its end was half-submerged!

Entering the sea lock was straight-forward.  We paid our money (UKP200) for the permit and motored on into Muirtown basin.  We lay at a pontoon berth there until the swing bridge was able to open.  This bridge is in Inverness so openings cause major traffic jams.  It is at the base of the "flight" of locks out of the city and into very nice countryside.  The lock flight seems to be a major tourist attraction.  It was weird looking down into a valley from the boat.

Clachnaharry Sea Lock
Entering the Muirtown Flight
All the opening bridges and locks in the canal are staffed.  This makes transiting the locks very straight-forward.  We had long bow and stern lines rigged through blocks with the tails led back to our main winches - this worked very well.

In the canal
Once at the top of the flight we were very quickly in a rural setting.  The mostly tree-lined canal is only 30-40m wide but at least 4m deep.  We spent our first night at Dochgarroch Lock, just short of Loch Ness.

While shutting down our systems I had a quick look at the AIS boats nearby.  300m along the canal was Taipan, an Australian boat we last saw in Bermuda and whose crew we first met during the Fremantle to Darwin Splash in 2002.  How amazing!  We walked along the canal to see them and spend a nice evening with them.

Zen Again at Dochgarroch Lock

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Hull to Inverness

Hi everyone,
At midday today we arrived in Inverness after a three day passage.  We had a wide range of conditions from near-gale to calm and sunshine to drizzle.  We were very lucky to get a weather window to sail here in one leg.  That said, it wasn't a perfect weather window!

Here is the plot of our track...

Zen Again Track
And here are the vital statistics...

  • Distances/Speeds
    • Route Distance = 350nm
    • Logged Distance = 380nm
    • GPS Distance = 377nm
    • Duration = 3 days 6 hours
    • Average Boat Speed = 4.9 knots
    • Average Ground Speed = 4.8 knots
  • Weather
    • Minimum Wind Speed = calm
    • Average Wind Speed = 16 knots
    • Maximum Wind Speed = 30G35 knots
    • Seas up to 1.5m
  • Engine
    • Total = 24 hours
    • Driving = 24 hours
    • Charging = 0 hours

Like our passage last year from the River Orwell to the Humber Estuary, this passage was hard work. This was mainly due to the strong westerly which became north-westerly before blowing itself out to a flat calm.  We then very had a nice easterly to take us from Peterhead to Inverness.

We departed Hull Marina at 0600 on Saturday.  We had a great sail down the estuary with the ebb giving us a boost with ground speeds up to 10 knots.  Once clear of the estuary we turned north and sailed inshore of the wind farms.

Down the Humber
As we continued north towards Flamborough Head the wind was veering from SW to WNW and increasing.  We gradually reefed down until we were sailing under double-reefed main and storm jib. There we quite a few fishing buoys to avoid along the way.

Approaching Flamborough Head
 We stayed 3 nm off Flamborough Head since the tide was against us.  The seas were lumpy and we were regularly taking waves on deck.  Eventually we got clear but found the best course we could lay was due north.  We were sailing "full and bye" - just cracked off a little to drive through the waves.  The original plan of hugging the coast wasn't going to work.  Like it or not we were aiming for Peterhead!  The wind was cold.  We wore four layers of clothing - shirt, fleece, Musto Snug and wet weather jacket - and were still cold.

The worst of the weather was on Saturday night when we were down to a half-furled storm jib and the double-reefed main.  Note that our main is small - equal to a first reef - so our double-reef is trisail size.  It was wet but fast.  Did I mention it was cold?  Very cold.  A hell of a "welcome back to sailing" after a year ashore.  Zen Again absolutely loved it.

By Sunday morning the winds were easing but continued to veer as they did so.  Eventually we had full sail set and were close hauled heading NNE.  By early afternoon the wind had died and we started up the donk.  The zig we did to the NNW is clear on the track.

The North Sea was glassed-out for most of the night with just a low, short N swell rolling by.  We motored until dawn on Monday.  We then were able to sail for several hours, passing Peterhead and rounding Rattray Head into the Moray Firth.  As soon as we bore away towards Inverness the wind was too light to stem the ebbing tide so the motor went back on.

Motoring over a glassed-out sea
On Monday night the E wind gradually built up to 15-18 knots and we were sailing again.  However we realised we needed to slow down to enter Inverness at the midday high tide on Tuesday.  As the wind built up we reefed down until eventually we were under bare poles to time our entry.  This reduced our speed to 3 knots for much of the night - explaining our poor average speed overall.

This morning (Tuesday) the air temperature increased markedly as a warm front came through with only a little light drizzle.  By mid-morning we were in T-shirts!  Motoring in to Inverness was quite spectacular with pretty towns and old forts on the foreshore and fields and forest on the hills behind.

Fort George
Chanonry Point
Passing the Meikle Mee shoals
Approaching Kessock Bridge

Zen Again rests
Zen Again is now in Inverness Marina.  We'll stay here for a couple of nights, catching up on sleep and exploring the city.  On Thursday we plan to enter the Caledonian Canal - only a mile from here.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Readying for Sea - Summer 2017

Hi everyone,
It's been ages since our last blog.  Zen Again has been safely moored in Hull Marina while we have moved from Yorkshire south to Surrey and settled into new jobs.  Summer has arrived in the UK and we are enjoying exploring Surrey as much as we did exploring Yorkshire.  With the arrival of summer we needed to prepare Zen Again for her 2017 adventure - to Scotland!

Back in a pen
We have just returned home from a long weekend in Hull preparing Zen Again for sea.  During a previous brief visit before moving south we dewinterised the engine - basically replacing the anti-freeze in the raw water cooling circuit with sea water.  This trip had a much longer to-do list, including the following:

  • Haul-out, pressure-wash, rekey the antifoul, replace the shaft anode and re-launch
  • Inspect the rig and deck fittings
  • Scrub the deck clean
  • Polish any tarnished stainless steel
  • Fit the boombag and lazy jacks, bend-on the mainsail, and fit the reefing lines 
  • Bend on jib, storm jib and their sheets
  • Refit the boom brake
  • Replace the anchor swivel and shackle
  • Check the anchor windlass
  • Air all the cockpit lockers
  • Test all electrical and electronic systems
  • Check our new Garmin UK charts cartridge
  • Replace Raymarine tiller ram proprietary electrical plugs

We arrived in Hull at 2130 on Thursday evening after the 2.5 hour trip from London.  All was well aboard.  On Friday morning we pumped out and refilled the water tanks which we had left well-dosed with bleach.  We then checked then test-ran the engine for 30 minutes while inspecting on deck and below.

One item we found was slop in the tiller to rudder shaft joint.  We encountered this once before while in South Africa.  On that occasion the lock-nut on the rudder-shaft top fitting had worked loose and the bolt had started to loosen.  This time the lock-nut seemed tight but backing it off allowed me to get 1/8 of a turn on the bolt which took the slop out.  We'll look into this more fully after our summer cruise.

Later on Friday morning we motored around to the haul-out dock in light winds and sunny skies for lifting by the cheerful and professional marina staff.  The last time we were hauled out was in Fremantle over two years ago.  We were booked to hang in the slings for two hours after pressure washing.  The pressure wash uses hot water which apparently kills (or at least shocks) any barnacles so they come off readily.

In the slings prior to pressure wash
There was remarkably little growth on the 4-year old coppercoat and most of that came off during the pressure wash.  We then set to work with 80-grade wet'n'dry to rekey (exposing new copper micro-balls embedded in the resin).  It took the two of us only 90 minutes to have the boat ready for relaunch.  With 80-grade one doesn't need to work hard at it.

Hot pressure-wash
The only problem during the haul-out was that our spare (3-year old) KleenHull antifouling anode appeared to have shrunk and wouldn't fit the shaft!  Other than that the appendages seemed fine as did the stern gear.  There were only a few minor "dings" (unsurprisingly at the bow and at the keel leading edge) which is amazing considering how many miles we've done since leaving Fremantle.

By the time we relaunched the wind had got up to 25 knots and we were given permission to put Zen Again in an easily accessed pen close by.  The rest of the day was windy and showery so our timing was good.  We spent the time checking systems below deck.

Post-wash and scrub
On Saturday we spent the early morning scrubbing clean the deck, boom and lower-mast.  Later in the morning we fitted the boombag, mainsail and associated gear.  In the early afternoon we hoisted and furled the No 3 and storm jibs.  Lastly we part-inflated and cleaned the dinghy before strapping it down on the foredeck.

Inspecting various safety gear revealed a corroding gas cylinder in our inflating danbuoy so we triggered that and left it inflated overnight the check it held pressure.  In the morning we fitted a new cylinder.  That evening we had a well-earned pub meal.

On Sunday we moved Zen Again to her new pen - one which will be much easier than our winter pen to exit when we return in a few weeks.  We're now next to a Royal Navy training launch so hopefully will be safe!  After the move, which took place in light winds and under a sunny sky, we got to work checking electrical/electronic systems, airing gear on deck and restowing gear below.

Cockpit teak holding up very well after 4 years
One of the items of work was replacing our anchor swivel.  I had inspected it earlier in the year and it had looked fine.  However when disassembled I found the metal at one end of the smaller pin had corroded and fell off as soon as I removed the pin.  A little surprising considering it is stainless steel.  The nice shiny new swivel highlights the need to regalvanise our marvellous Manson Supreme anchor.

Also on Sunday we spent a pleasant two hours catching up with the owners of sv Phira.  They plan to head south this summer after several years in Hull.  Back aboard we checked more gear and systems and did the little s/s polishing required.  We checked the Garmin UK charts which add to the CM93, Navionics and paper charts we already have for the UK.

Later in the day I test-ran the Honda outboard motor and topped-up its fuel tank.  I replaced the connectors on the Raymarine tiller rams with Bulgin 3-way plugs as used by the Pelagic Autopilot tiller rams.  These are far-superior connectors.  We also checked the nav lights - all shining bright.

In the evening we had a very nice dinner at the nearby Minerva pub.  Their ploughman's lunch was outstanding and perfect while we listened to their weekly Sunday night folk singing session.  Lots of sea-shanties amongst other songs.  Very pleasant.

Today we had breakfast in town before heading to the railway station.  It was nice walking through the city centre in which there was not a cone to be seen.  Previously there was work happening everywhere for Hull's 2017 City of Culture preparations.  It now has a great city pedestrian centre and lots to see - well worth a visit.

Our carriage awaits in Hull station
We now have three weeks at home and at work prior to two weeks of sailing holiday.  We hope to sail Zen Again to Clyde Marina near Glasgow.  That's an ambitious distance to cover given the changeable weather we expect, so the sail up the east coast will be more delivery than cruise.  We hope the transit of the Caledonian Canal will be more leisurely.

Trust all's well where you are.