IOM TT

That stands for Isle of Man Tourist Trial. The fastest and most dangerous road race in the world: Madmen on motorcycles flinging themselves around 37 miles of town squares and mountain roads at average speeds of 130 miles an hour. Top speed is over 200.

The “madmen” thing comes from the middle Sunday – “Mad Sunday” when anyone with a motorcycle can ride the course. The death toll since it started in 1907 has now reached 146.

So, I have come to the Isle of Man.

I happen to like motorcycles – I like the way they look. I like the way they sound – as long as they don’t disturb my peace and quiet – and there was a time when I owned a motorcycle: In my early 20’s, I had a BSA Bantam and came within an inch of killing myself in Streatham High Road.

… an inch each side, that is: That was the distance between the bike and the bus I was overtaking on one side and the oncoming lorry on the other.

I sold it soon afterwards and haven’t had one since. I’m quite dangerous enough in a car.

But, finding myself in Islay in the Hebrides and happening to see that the TT was about to start – and having nothing more than a vague plan to visit Dublin before I’m due in Pwllheli on June 8th – the chance was too good to miss.

Also, I needed to dry out against a convenient harbour wall to grease the feathering propeller and see to the anodes. The perfect place would be Ramsey on the island’s East coast: A drying harbour with three of the best spectator spots on the course – including Parliament Square. The idea of negotiating a town square and still keeping up the 136mph average would be something to see.

It was all settled: I could anchor overnight in the bay, enter the harbour at high water first thing in the morning and be up against the wall by lunchtime: Plenty of time to get the boatwork done and see something of the bikes.

You can guess by this stage, that something is going to go wrong.

First, the harbourmaster came round. He was a friendly chap and very helpful. One of the fishing boats had broken down and his mate was going out to get him – which meant that they would need some space to manoeuvre and would I move to a berth further down the quay?

No trouble at all – except neither of us appreciated that the water was a bit deeper there – and this being neaps. I had to creep around with it half way up my wellies.

While all this was going on, it started to rain – and of course, the TT death toll is quite high enough without allowing wet roads into the mix. So, practice was cancelled for the day.

Never mind, maybe Thursday’s session would go ahead. On the evening high tide, I moved out into the bay and anchored as close to the South West corner as I could get – the forecast being a brisk southwesterly.

Actually, I couldn’t get very close at all – the Isle of Man is one of those places where the beaches stretch for miles. It looked a long way in my tiny, lightweight inflatable dinghy – just 1.6metres long and weighing only 10kg. When I chose it, the idea was to inflate it in a trice and carry it around on my head. Now I fancied a big RIB with 30hp on the back.

All day the TT news played in Samsara’s cabin: Again, the afternoon practice was cancelled. Maybe they would resume at 1820.

At 1700, I inflated the dinghy. With the little 2.2hp outboard hammering for all it was worth into the wind, I set off for the beach.

Half-way there, I realised I hadn’t switched on the AIS*. It’s always a good idea to switch on the AIS when you leave your boat at anchor. Not only can you use your phone to check that she’s still there but if you search on this blog for a post called “Lost at Sea” you will learn how it saved me and my son Hugo one foggy day in Swanage – and if (unimaginably) the boat should drag her anchor and disappear out to sea, you can always charter a fishing boat and track her down.

Still, I was half-way there. Too bad…

The beach that had looked so welcoming through binoculars, now revealed itself as a quarter of a mile of wet sand – up which the water was advancing as if it wanted a race of its own. If I left the motor at the water’s edge and carried the dinghy above the high-water mark, the motor would be swamped by the time I got back to it.

If I took the motor first, the dinghy would float away…

The answer was to leap-frog them – 20 paces with the motor, then dash back for the dinghy, hoist it on my head and wobble hurriedly past the motor as far as I dared.

I have seen people in Africa carrying enormous loads on their heads. They all had perfect posture and seemed to know where they were going.

If I didn’t look down, I was going to trip over something. Add to that the dinghy’s 10kg is without the seat and the oars. By the time I reached the top and tied the painter to a stump, every time I turned my head, I could hear things creaking inside.

It was a mile to Parliament Square – and sure enough, there was a pub crowded with people in black TT racewear clutching pints of lager in plastic glasses.

Just to be sure (before I bought my own pint) I asked the nearest: “Is this a good place to watch?”

He turned from his beer: “It’s cancelled.”

“What? When did they cancel it?”

“About 20 minutes ago. We’d left our tent on the campsite. Got here and then we heard.”

A smattering of small raindrops blew into his plastic glass.

I had checked the five O’clock news before blowing up the dinghy. That was an hour and ten minutes ago.

So what was the good news?

The good news was that if I left the pub now and went straight back to the boat, I wouldn’t have to worry about her disappearing.

That was all yesterday. Today there is a 35kt wind blowing the rain sideways and whipping the half-mile fetch from the beach into the kind of waves that break on the bow and send spray onto the decks outside the heads window.

I’ve got a better idea: It’s due to drop tonight. I’ll leave for Dublin – plenty of pubs there…

 

*AIS – Automatic Identification System: A radio beacon broadcasting a vessel’s position and other details.

 

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The Best Sailing in Europe

 The authors of the Clyde Cruising Club’s pilot books are gentlemen not given to hyperbole.

One assumes they are gentlemen – with starched collars and whiskers and deckhands in the fo’c’sle to work the vessel. After all, their guide to the waters from Kintyre to Ardnamurchan begins with a poem from the Log of the Blue Dragon in 1903.

Advice for a passage through the fearsome Gulf of Corryvreckan is that it should be taken in calm weather, at slack water – and then goes on to recommend that “all hatches should be closed and all crew would be well advised to have a lifeline attached if going forward”.

So when they say that this stretch of coast and its outlying islands offer some of the best and most varied sailing that can be found anywhere in Europe, it is time to sit up and take notice.

So why didn’t they mention that it is like going back to school? I have just spent more than an hour with the Gentlemen’s comments, the tide tables for Oban, the two charts that cover the area in question – and an exercise book which is rapidly filling up with information such as “Firth of Lorn: SW going 0600 – 1225 BST (then clockwise)” and “Ardinamir to S point of Luing: 2 miles (anchorage Kilchattan Bay – await north-going stream through Sound from 1225 BST – then Loch Spelve?”

I put that down only because Tinkers Hole was looking doubtful with a North Westerly. Or, of course, I could just stay in the Sound of Jura which gives me such options as Lowlandman’s Bay or going into Loch Sween…

The trouble with “The Most Varied Sailing Anywhere In Europe” is that there are too many options. I’m not even going to bother to count the number of possible destinations just for tomorrow.

Or, of course, I could just stay here.

“Here” is a tiny little hole in the rocks between Luing and Torsa called Adinamir. It boasts, according to the Gentlemen “a notorious narrow entrance” – and it is. First you have to identify a white cottage, then a gravel patch, after that a white mark on the shore then a green perch and then a red perch with only a metre of water between them at low tide – and when you get there, holding is “sometimes poor in weed”.

But I had no choice: Luing has a Post Office and I had a letter to post. More remarkable, Luing has a working phone box – with a telephone directory on the shelf. Hebridean islands are not like other places: The population of Ardinamir is 162 (ten children in the primary school). At the end of the 19th century the census counted 632 – but that was with the slate-mining in full swing. Now it’s holiday cottages, a bit of lobster-fishing and curious brown cattle inspecting the solitary visitor on his way to the Post Office.

In fact the solitude – the sense of temporarily being somewhere off the planet – is almost tangible. Sit in the cockpit in the evening and time seems to stand still… for the very good reason that the evening lasts until nearly midnight.

In fact, just to test it, leaving Loch Spelve for Jura a few days later – and not having pinged off the blog post because there was not so much as a smidgeon of a mobile phone signal – it seemed like a good idea to sail overnight just for the experience. Twilight lasted from after dinner until I dropped anchor in Loch Tarbert in broad daylight in time for breakfast at 5.00 a.m.

 

Samsara in Ardinamir

Homework

 

 

Twilight in Ardinamir at 11.15 p.m.

 

Midnight on passage to Jura

 

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The Birds

Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, looked up into the cockpit one dark and stormy night and saw the pilot of Drake’s ship The Pinta at the wheel.

Jean Le Carn in the Vendee Globe Race held his sister in his arms – and woke up hugging a sail bag.

Hallucinations, when you’re alone at sea, are not unusual.

Feeling someone touch the back of your neck, however, on only the second night of a passage from Falmouth to Caernarfon – especially when pushed by northerlies into that empty gap between the Smalls and the Tuskar Rock separation schemes where there’s just nothing but empty sea (and on this occasion, not a breath of wind) – well, something’s up…

I’d had nothing to do for the past 18 hours but sleep and read and sit in the cockpit drinking coffee and watching some tiny land-birds flutter about the boat and try to balance on the guardrails…

So this was just plain creepy… but there: It happened again, just as I was pouring hot water into the pot: A feather-light touch on the back of the neck…

That was when I realised that the birds – having given up on the guardrails – were now in the cabin: Six of them whizzing about like rockets, exploring. It was a scene from Hitchcock.

Then they got into the fo’c’sle which, now it’s turned into The Shed, full of sails and the bike and the dinghy and the new enormous ball fender – well, it’s easy for a small bird to get lost in there – and start panicking.

With all six of them simultaneously bouncing from off the chandlery and banging their heads on the windows, they didn’t do much for my state of mind either. I got in there too and started waving my arms about and shouting.

In the end, of course, we all calmed down enough to take some pictures. One of them perched on my hand and even allowed me to carry him to the companionway and toss him into the sky like Noah and dove.

I hope he made it back to land (he hasn’t re-appeared with an olive twig). Another made a nest in the cockpit with a couple of non-slip mats for a cushion. He was gone by the morning. It was only then that I found another had settled down beside the petrol can. Maybe it was too cramped down there to spread his wings. I don’t know. Anyway, he was dead in the morning.

I gave him a sailor’s burial complete with a short prayer appropriate to a poor dead bird. I’ve no idea what he was. Maybe there’s a twitcher out there who can help…

The farmer, the bull and the windlass

Did you hear the story of the Spanish farmer and the bull?

This farmer had a brand new calf and it was time for it to move out of the stable and into the field during the daytime.

But the calf wouldn’t budge out of his stall. No matter how much the farmer cajoled and rattled a bucket of grain, the calf refused to move.

In the end, the farmer lost patience, hoisted the animal onto his shoulders and carried him across the road to the field.

The next day, he tried again with the bucket of grain – and even a slice of bread (calves love a slice of bread). But no, the calf was adamant. He wasn’t going anywhere.

With a sigh, the farmer bent down, put his head under the animal’s belly and straightened up, the calf lying across his shoulders – and, once again, walked across the road to the field.

And this happened the next day… and the next. Eventually, the farmer gave up on the bucket of grain and the bread – and even the pointless attempt to coax the calf to walk by himself.

In other words, carrying the calf across the road became a habit.

But as the calf grazed the good grass in the field, he began to grow. Imperceptibly, day by day, he grew bigger – and he grew heavier.

But the routine continued and every day, as the farmer lifted the calf onto his shoulders, he grew stronger – and stronger.

And it is said that if you go to a particular village in Andalucia early in the morning, you can see a crowd gathered around a farm gate to see an old, grey-haired farmer walk across the road carrying a full-grown bull on his shoulders.

I don’t know where this story came from but I’ve always loved the moral – which, of course, you can work out for yourself.

And I have been reminded of it over the past few days because of the anchor windlass. If you look back through this blog you will find various references to the windlass. It has worked on and off for the past two years. From time to time – for no reason that I can deduce – it will just go “click” instead of winding in the chain. I have checked everything that can be checked. The brilliant electronics engineer Art Butler of Deben Marine Ltd has toiled over it on several occasions – most recently, only a couple of weeks ago when he drove up to Lowestoft to clean the commutator. He even ordered a special cleaning implement for me so I could do this myself.

And what happened on Saturday evening in the Falmouth Haven anchorage with an hour to dusk and a spritely 20knots blowing across the deck?

“Click.”

I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t used it once since Art’s ministrations. Of course, the only thing to do was pull the thing up by hand. I had always assumed that with a 20kg anchor on the end of 10mm chain and me being an old man of 70, this was not an option.

But I did pull it up. I took it slowly, nipped back to the cockpit from time to time to drive the boat forward – and then back again to break out the anchor.

And I’ve been doing this ever since – twice when I sailed overnight to Plymouth and anchored in Barn Pool, did a short stay in Mayflower Marina to pick up the spinnaker and then back to the pool before returning to Falmouth the next day. Here I anchored off St Just and then moved last night to Falmouth banks ready for the overnight wind shift.

And, just like the farmer and his bull, I began to get into the habit. The secret, I found, is to take your time and let the boat move up as the weight of catenary takes over the pull – and wear gloves, of course. Eventually, you end up with the chain straight up and down and the anchor still well dug in. Breaking it out is going to be really hard work so this is where you put the engine into reverse and, once again, let the boat do the work: As soon as she starts to move back showing that the anchor is free, click into neutral and now all you have to do haul up the remaining chain and the anchor itself.

Of course, the deeper the water, the more there is to haul up. At the moment, on Falmouth bank just after low tide, I have 8.6metres from the bow roller to the bottom which means 17kg of chain and the 20kg anchor – a total of 37kg to begin with, but of course, less as it comes in (and I begin to tire).

I know there will be times when this last part of the process has to be completed in double-quick time as the boat begins to drift; but if the worst comes to the worst, I can leave it dangling for a moment or two while I nip back to the cockpit.

The odd thing is that, as I get more confident, I am beginning to see the benefits: For a start, I can stop paying Art to come out and try and fix it. The last resort of sending the windlass back to Lofrans might not be necessary after all…

Also, if I can do this now – and continue to do it every few days from now on, then presumably I will still be doing it when I’m 80 – and won’t that be something to be proud of!

Is it possible that I may be able to remove the wretched thing entirely? That would reduce the clutter on the foredeck – and take 25kg off the bow which would do wonders for the trim.

Do you think that, just like the Spanish farmer with his bull, I might attract a bit of a crowd?

Update May 22nd 2019: Of course, the real test was going to come when I had to lift all 50 metres of chain vertically. That was going to weigh 120kg…

Well, of course, if all of it was hanging straight down, that would mean I had anchored in something like 250m – and I can’t imagine anywhere I would want to do that.

But there would come a time when I would have all the chain out…

It happened in Loch Spelve on Mull in the Hebrides. The corner sheltered from the South Westerly right down at the end of the left-hand spur looked just right – except that it shelved so steeply that either I was going to be in 13metres or on the beach.

It had to happen sometime. I let it all out. Adding 2m for the difference between the depth transducer and the bow roller, I should really have had 51m but in fact, given the necessary amount on deck and slack on the snubber, there was probably only 49m.

Still, it all had to be hauled up – and the vertical lift would be 50kg. I left the engine ticking over ahead and started pulling. Once the chain was going into the water sideways, I sauntered back to the cockpit and clicked her into reverse (which gave me a chance to catch my breath).

Then, back to the foredeck and more hauling. The blue and yellow 35m markers appeared, then the white and yellow 25m.

It was at about this time that the people on the little motor-cruiser from the other side of the anchorage returned from taking the dog ashore in their RIB. They made a detour to get within hailing distance: “Do you need any help?”

I hadn’t realised I looked as though I was struggling. I must say, I was slightly disappointed… which sounds churlish.

“No thanks,” I called back. “Some people go to the gym. I do this!”

Update October 2019

I did get it fixed (new control box) but then, in Alderney, UK Channel Islands, anchored in 11.5metres in a 25 knot wind and with 47metres of chain out, the windlass packed up again. I reckoned I had 12 hours to get the anchor up and scoot across the channel before a forecast northerly gale set in – Alderney being no place to get caught in a northerly gale.

In fact, it was a lot less trouble than I expected: I put the engine in slow ahead and pulled in a metre of chain, belayed as the boat veered to one side and the chain became taught. Eventually, her head swung through the wind and the chain went slack – pulled in another metre.

This process continued and I later realised another benefit. Each time the pull changed direction, the anchor must have been rocked from side to side, loosening its hold. Eventually it came up without my even noticing when it broke out.

Meanwhile it looks as though the wretched thing will have to come off and go back to the Lofrans agent this winter…