Holiday in a Holiday
Part 2 of this journey begins with the conclusion of a holiday within a holiday in leaving the Caledonian Canal. This tranquil diversion was epitomized by the courteously greeted at the final canal lock, where my arrival, anticipated via the lockkeepers grapevine (Ch47) was further sweetened by the enticing offer of a cup of tea whilst waiting for the train bridge to swing. This personal and professional enthusiasm and pride for the Canal was apparent from west to east and left no doubt in my mind as to the value of the transit pass I had bought. Warnings also followed about the wind at the following exposed sea lock. This was no exaggeration.
The weather forecast has not been renowned for accuracy this summer as a complex stream of low pressure systems have brought unpredictable conditions. I have been using a US program called Grib, which displays wind states around the chosen area in a beautifully graphic wind vector map which, as a sailor and illiterate engineer, I find easy to interpret. These forecasts in the short term have generally been very accurate, until now. The 15 knot NE wind materialized as a 25 knot easterly. After an hour battle I decided that persistence was futile and took refuge at Fortrose, hijacking one of the yacht club moorings for the night. My thanks to them, if they ever read this, as I was unable to find a telephone contact for them and unprepared to risk a choppy ride in the inflatable for the half mile to shore. However, the next day, my enthusiasm still undampened I struck on for Burghead as the wind was a manageable 20 knots and had backed to NE. With luck the foretold backing would continue and prove a useful wind over the next few days to round the headland and bare away south. Wrong again. Evening time saw me tired and frustrated after six hours battling a head wind that was ultimately broaching force 7.
My experience of the Harbourmasters along this coastline has been exemplary. When they have been too busy to answer the phone I have received a callback to enquire if they could help. Once my journey purpose had been established two of the harbours waved their charges, a touching gesture that lifted my sagging spirit. Entrance to many of these little harbours can be confidence challenging, especially on a dark moonless night with a strong onshore wind. Again, my electronic navigation was a boon and memorizing the harbour entrance essential. At Whitehills the harbour wall was all but invisible until twenty feet from it, and having turned the sharp left around the occulting red light I found myself hurtling down an apparent narrow blind alley towards a lifeboat slip! My memory however, not renowned for persistence, served true as I held my nerve and located the unseen gap in the wall at the end. Once negotiated the trauma evaporated to the peace of sheltered waters.
My fourth and final NE corner on this square-dance around the coast beckoned. At last I had a sailing wind and made good headway the sixty five miles to Peterhead. The three hourly coastal weather reports from the coastguard stations were again liable to disruption due to industrial action so my next decision hung by a hair. The last received weather report had suggested strong winds due in twenty four hours, turning into a couple of days of gales. Not embracing the prospect of strong southerly winds let alone gales on the east coast I did not know whether to make a break for Arbroath, a further seventy miles and twelve hours journey, or plump for a reasonable nights sleep at Peterhead with the chance to recheck the forecast in the morning. The appeal of a nightshift evaporated at the last moment and the morning forecast suggested that leaving now would be a bad idea. This was reiterated by a call back from the Arbroath Harbourmaster who informed me that the last locking time into the harbour was at 19:45. So I was stuck in Peterhead, home of many of HMs inmates and undisputed heroine capital of the UK.
So brings this short chapter to its early conclusion as I come to terms with yet another wind driven decision. The reality of work beckons on Monday, so I am cutting my losses and heading back to the big smoke, to return again when I can bribe/steal/cajole more leave from my enduring colleagues to continue this madness.