Monday, August 12, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 9 July 2013 Islay, Scotland

Land ho, Scotland! At least I think I see it. 

Sailing in light breeze nearing Malin Head

We awoke at 7 am to a beautiful sunny morning. Soon we were underway but planned to take our time and use this wide open Bay in Donegal with no swell or wind to calibrate the autopilot. Without it we had been taking turns hand steering all day.  To calibrate Otto, you have to give the autopilot control and walk it through a series of manoeuvres and turns so it learns your boat, which can be quite unnerving. So we gave the program control and sat back watching.  Just as a little speed boat came charging out of the harbour toward us waving hello, our boat veered sharp left.  Aaarrgghh!!!  We were about to bash into them, when they bore away swearing at the rude sailors thinking we were aggressive nuts! But soon the autopilot informed us that it had learned enough and passed the test.  Cool!  Disaster averted, and, more important, calibration complete.  One more thing expertly installed by Monsieur Alex Extraordinaire.

Basking shark. Second biggest fish in the sea. 
It was shocking hot, sunny, and hazy. The sea was still. More like Long Island Sound in July than Ireland. But we had about 12 knots of breeze so we raised the sails and had a lovely go of it for about an hour before the breeze died and the iron jenny took over for the next 50 miles to Scotland. We were hugging the coast toward Malin Head where the currents are weakest to get the best fuel consumption. 

Just off the coast of Malin Head, Alex yelled, “basking shark to port.” I grabbed the camera and snapped a shot just as he was passing a few hundred feet away on a reciprocal course. Two fins, one large and one small behind it, cutting through the water. First time either one of us had seen one. There are some benefits to a flat sea.

Mirror sea
Then we watched a massive areas of sea fog get closer and denser until it swallowed us up. It became freezing cold instantly. Visibility went from 50 miles to 4 miles, then to about ¼ mile. We knew because Alex also coaxed the new AIS into full service so we now had two new toys.  I turned on the radar to 4 mile scan and a ship on AIS disappeared into the fog at just under 4 miles.  I could not pick it up even though I could “see” the rocks and the racon.

Then it really closed in so we had the foghorn going on the loudhailer, and when we picked up a container ship on both AIS and radar, he turned on his foghorn, too.  It’s very unnerving to be unable to see what you know is there.

It looked like we were going to make Islay (pronounced Iyla) before dark and near slack water – just as planned. But would we see it? 
Watching a freighter disappear into a fog bank

The wind picked up just as we were approaching and the fog lifted miraculously so we could see the island, the harbour of Port Ellen, the giant ferry coming in, and all the cardinal marks. It was sunny and 9:30 pm.  There were two other boats anchored off the beach and a beautiful dark blue ketch off the town harbour.  We anchored off the beach by the lighthouse in 25 feet of water on a shell bottom. Just as we got settled, the wind blew the fog back in over the hills and blanketed the harbour for the night.

One minute it's blistering hot,
the next freezing cold as the fog sets in
And it's just so fortunate we didn't have to go ashore in that fog. Even though we'd entered another country, this EU thing makes it very easy for us to travel around. No formalities, no clearing in, just hoist a courtesy flag at the starboard spreader and you're in. And which flag might you hoist in Scotland?  Why the Scottish flag, of course. It would not be courteous to fly the Union Jack here. So in the morning, we'd go ashore and see if we could find us a flag. Some things just have to wait. 

After a delicious dinner of previously frozen homemade stuffed peppers for just such an occasion when cooking is not going to happen and starvation rules, we all three fell fast asleep in a pile.  

OMG is it coming at us?

Land ho! Fog moves to sea and uncovers Islay.

Miracle! Fog lifts as we approach Port Ellen.

We can see Port Ellen on Islay clear as a whistle. 

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