Monday, August 12, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 8 July 2013 Portnablagh, Ireland

Lovely Sheephaven Bay anchorage at Portnablagh on the north side of Donegal, Ireland

Bloody Foreland

Alex attempting to fish
 It was a beautiful “shocking hot” sunny and still morning as we motored out of Arranmore in no wind.  What a difference from when we first arrived here. This time we could see all the perils that were invisible in the fog on the way in. Maybe it was better that way!

We were now a motor boat, as we’d used the last of the promised wind. At least now we had an extra week and could take our time cruising rather than delivering Aleria to Scotland. We motored all of about 25 miles in flat calm waters past the charmingly named Bloody Foreland, all the time searching for signs of basking sharks, whales and dolphins. Alex even tried fishing with no success. Despite the glass calm surface, we didn't spy any sea life other than vast numbers of birds. Perhaps the cetaceans and the fish moved into cooler waters, as this hot weather was rather unusual in these parts.

Onyx relaxing under the spray hood
The Donegal coastline is nothing short of dramatic and breathtaking. It was also unusual to be passing so close to the headlands without fear of being smashed on the rocks. I can't emphasize enough how unusually benign the seas were. The are often ferocious here. Even Onyx found it comfortable enough to sleep on deck while underway.

We stopped for the night in Portnablagh in beautiful Sheephaven Bay. Hills all around. Long white sand beaches.  Sandy bottom. Good holding. Nice protection from the gentle swell. It's about as far as you can go in the Republic of Ireland before crossing the border into Northern Ireland, not that there is a border any more. 

Daria on watch along the coast
of Donegal 
We basked in the sun and ended up sunburned. We tested a new anchor, then just relaxed and did a few chores. We studied the charts and tides and currents for the next day’s crossing to Scotland. We decided to hug the coast to Malin Head by slack tide, then catch the northerly current to arrive at Islay at slack tide – at least that was the plan. The confusing thing about sailing in Scotland is that in many places they have no tidal variation but the currents can run in excess of 6 knots. It is essential to calculate the timings or you can spend hours making no progress at best, and be set onto a rocky shore at worst. Most sailboats travel at a top speed of 5-7 knots. So if the tide is against you, you make no progress. But if the tide is with you, it feels like jet propulsion, well at least the sailing equivalent of it. We didn't have to worry about wind against tide kicking up the sea at least. But we paid attention and planned it all out.

The beach at quiet Portnablagh
Since we discovered that we could use our android phones for internet access and as wifi receivers and transmitters, we downloaded our last bit of email before roaming and Alex downloaded the critical instruction manual for our new Raymarine autopilot. Now we could calibrate the new autopilot he had just installed.  Hand steering all day long was not just a chore, it was exhausting. If we could get 'Otto' to work, we'd be back in the business of relaxed cruising, especially since we would be a motorboat from now on charging batteries to feed hungry 'Otto' along the way. We had been unable to calibrate it without the instructions and Raymarine had sent us the wrong manual. To calibrate it, you have to plug your laptop into the autopilot and give it control through a series of maneuvers that test the steering responsiveness of your particular boat. It's a rather scary thing and you have to be prepared to take control back quickly if it goes wonky. It looked like tomorrow morning would be the perfect day. Flat calm, no wind, wide open bay, and no boats.
Lovely anchorage and we're the only boat 

We were also testing a new anchor, a scoop-type anchor that disassembles made by Mantus. It's a really good concept. Unfortunately, the bolts that stick out from the wide blade marred our deck where we had stored it in preparation for switching our bowers. Alex is writing a review, and we'll include it in the next edition of Happy Hooking. It will be a good anchor for people who have little room for stowing big things while crossing oceans.

It's hot and glass calm but no wildlife, except birds
So after spending the perfect evening over a lovely dinner in the warm sunlight, no rushing to get anywhere, reading Game of Thrones (volume 5 - still cannot remember all the titles of all the books but I am soooooo hooked) and Inferno in the cockpit till 10 pm when the sun finally started to set, we fell fast asleep dreaming about crossing the North Channel to Scotland on the morrow. Another lovely night in the cradle.

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