The Logical Route

Carlingford Lough and the Mountains of Mourne

So that’s it: I’m going by the logical route.

The “Logical Route” has a certain ring to it. This was what the great French singlehander Bernard Moitessier suggested to his wife as the best way to get home from the South Pacific in time for the school holidays: Instead of flogging all the way over the top of Australia, across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean to Marseille, wouldn’t it be much quicker and certainly a lot less distance to nip round Cape Horn?

This was 1966. Hardly anyone had sailed a small boat round Cape Horn – and those who had told terrible tales.

The Moitessiers made it – and, in doing so, set a record for the longest voyage in a small boat – 14,216 miles in 126 days.

But I’m not going round Cape Horn. I am going to Blyth in Northumberland – and I have been sitting here in Carlingford Lough on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic debating how to get there.

First, a little explanation: When I bought Samsara, she came with a good solid spinnaker pole and a flimsy little stick which hardly deserved the name of whisker pole. The first thing I did with this was to bend the piston mechanism on one end.

Then the mechanism on the other end.

In fact, I bent the pistons and had them straightened (and weakened) so frequently that it might not have been an accident that on the way back across Biscay in the aftermath of Storm Ellen, the wretched thing slipped its lashings and disappeared over the side.

What I needed was a proper spinnaker pole to replace it. For one thing, I wouldn’t keep bending it. Secondly, if I were to get a spare headsail, I could fly matching twins and (thirdly – and not insignificantly) quite the best jury rig is constructed by using two identical poles as an “A” frame.

I posted on the Rival Owners Facebook page a plea for anyone who had a pole they didn’t need – after all, how many people fly symmetrical spinnakers these days?

Sure enough, another Rival 32 owner said I would be welcome to theirs.

In Blyth.

I was in Liverpool at the time and feeling rather delicate after a particularly good evening with my son Theo, the medical student. As the crow flies, Blyth is hardly more than 100 miles from Liverpool.

Another point in its favour is that it is not terribly far from Matlock in Derbyshire – and I was due in Matlock for the annual family walking weekend in the Peak District. I could get a train from Blyth.

The only trouble was that the 100 miles from Liverpool to Blyth was all land.

The sailing options were to go over the top of Scotland or, alternatively, back down the Irish Sea, up the English Channel and north from there – 900 miles in all. Also, I was beginning to think of the English Channel rather as a trucker thinks of the M1.

Obviously this is going to provoke all those South Coast sailors to catalogue the delights of Salcombe, the Newtown River and even Brighton Marina. So I should explain that, if you don’t stop,  those 300 miles from Land’s End to the North Foreland really can feel like Newport Pagnell to Donington Services (I did it six times, one year).

The northern route, on the other hand, had a lot going for it: Not only was it only 560 miles but it would tick a lot of boxes. Regular readers may remember that when Lockdown was first mooted, I had a notion to self-isolate in the Orkneys (until the local authority up there pleaded with second-home and campervan owners – and, by implication, yachtsmen – not to come and swamp their little hospital).

Also, I have never visited the northern Hebrides or any of those dramatic sea lochs. I could go to Mull and Skye. I would see Cape Wrath…

Admittedly, this would be happening at the end of September and for most of October and all the books tend to dwell on how quickly the weather can change and how very rough it can get up there with wind over tide in the Minches. But weather forecasting today is remarkably accurate up to 48 hours.

After 48 hours, it becomes rather more like newspaper astrology.

For instance, this time yesterday, I had decided that the Scottish option was a non-starter when the Windy App offered this for the four-day forecast.

By this morning all that “red wind” has shifted south:

Still, if it does shift back again, there are more anchorages in the Hebrides than there are salmon and I have a whole month to cover 560 miles. I can afford to spend a few days snugged down in some deserted anchorage with the stove lit – self-isolating.

8 Responses to The Logical Route

  • That sounds a good plan, beautiful sailing waters and much more interesting and exciting than the southern route. Have fun!

  • I barely know anything of the terminology you are using, have only sailed with the ‘out-laws’ who liked a gentle flutter up & down their nearest estuary: however your tales are so charmingly told it’s causing me to research & find out!!
    Good luck with the top: if you get chance to alight in the Orkneys check out the ‘Ring of Brodgar’: it wont disappoint!

  • Sounds like a good plan. Enjoy the trip and your new pole!

  • Hi John, I did that very route this summer as part of my round GB trip although I anchored in Dundalk bay rather than in Carlingford. If day sailing the northern section or looking for shelter I can recommend the anchorage at Loch Ewe (Aultbea) and Loch Ned (east of Head of Stoer), nearby Port Dhrombaig looked good on paper but waves were breaking right across the entrance when I got there (it was quite windy) Loch Ned was fine.

    The Rispond Bay anchorage at the entrance to Eriboll is crammed full of mooring and pot buoys, avoid, also avoid Portnancon – limited space due to a buoy and kelp. Ard Neakie opposite was fine.

    Stromness marina is to be recommended with v helpful volunteer staff but I suspect the showers etc will still be closed.

    If you stay in Blyth for any length of time try to get on a finger rather than the visitors section which is a bit exposed – I was stuck there for 12 days (with the YC closed for most of it) waiting for a weather window and glad to be on the inside. John. SY Sancerre.

  • Good luck, Scotland would be my choice but Everyman makes his own choices!?!!

  • Aye, there’s sense and merit in ‘Northabout’. You’ll hardly have left the green glens of An’rim behind before you’re inside the welcoming arms of the Sound of Jura, where there are oodles of anchorages…. and that continues much of the way up towards Wrath. But you’ll likely need about as many anchors as anchorages due to the acres of fishfarm debris abandoned on the bottom everywhere that looks at all enticing.

    Ca’ canny!

    And fair winds…..

All the time in the world…

When you get old, there is great satisfaction in re-visiting youthful passions. When I was a teenager I discovered the writer Nevil Shute who, most famously, wrote A Town Like Alice and On the Beach.

Now I have joined a Facebook group called Shutists and discovered several of his books that I knew nothing about. In particular, Pilotage, written in 1924, which centred around the author’s twin passions of sailing and aviation. The publishers felt these were not of general interest and rejected the manuscript with a politely encouraging note. However, they did publish his next effort which was full of spies and murders and, to my mind, not nearly as good.

The “lost novels” were found among Shute’s papers after his death in 1960 and published in a single volume since they contained some of the same characters. One passage, describing sailing in the 1920s, I found so evocative that I posted it on a sailing group and it seemed to strike a chord:

There was nothing to do on deck; he remained in the cockpit till the vessel had found her position and was riding quietly to her anchor; then he went below and trimmed the riding light. He spent an hour working in his little vessel, an hour of occupation and comparative happiness that carried him on till after dark. He trimmed every lamp in the ship, filled the tanks of the engine, cleaned the Primus stove, set his riding light on the forestay, pumped out the vessel, unpacked his bag and arranged his clothes in the tiny cupboards, put the patent log in a safe place with a bottle of rum and another one of turpentine to keep it company. Then he laid his supper very elaborately and supped off cocoa, bully beef, and a boiled egg, topping up with bread and jam. He scraped the mildew off the top of the jam and deposited it in the slop-bucket; he was particular about what he ate.

The ensuing discussion got me thinking about the pleasure of just being on your boat and pottering about doing the sort of things which, in a house, you would consider boring domestic chores.

At the moment, I have no choice but to be on my boat. I arrived in Liverpool to see my son who is studying at the University here. No sooner had I passed the bar buoy than he sent me a text saying that one of the staff in the bar where he works part-time had tested positive for COVID and now he had to be tested too.

Providing he gets the all-clear, we will meet for dinner on Monday. He apologised for having to make me wait another five days.

“No problem,” I replied. “I have all the time in the world…”

And I do. I am anchored in the river opposite the marina (and therefore not paying daily charges) and I spent the whole of yesterday pottering and tinkering and as perfectly content as Nevil Shute’s 1920’s yachtsman.

I re-fitted the foot of the main into the boom track where the clew had pulled free. While I was at it I marked the halyard to ensure that in future I let it off just the right amount for reefing…and while I was about that, I simplified the lazyjacks which had caused so much trouble for the old sail and had me sewing for eight hours en-route to Rockall.

I glued the piece of wooden trim back onto the galley where I had stepped on it during the passage up from Falmouth. I wriggled into the engine bay to tighten the stern gland and, while I was there, topped up the oil in the gearbox – and for good measure, checked the engine oil as well. Then there was the first of the winter supply of charcoal to be decanted into paper bags – and the chimney to sweep – that’s done by dropping the pin from the old anchor shackle down from the top with a piece of line dragging a kitchen scouring pad behind it.

I spent a happy half hour experimenting with new ways to stop the halyards slapping and, I must say I’m pleased with the result.

Not half as pleased, mind you, as I am about inventing a new knot for attaching a temporary headsail sheet when poling out. Yes, I’ve looked it up and didn’t find anything like it. We shall see if it works better than the reef knot which shook loose when there was no tension on it. Only then shall I claim my place in history.

And there was more: I removed the eyelet for the cockpit grating which was stopping the petrol can fitting into its chocks, I investigated the overheating trouble with the engine, cleaned the saloon hatch, re-distributed the stores from the bilges to the ready-use lockers, mopped up the puddle from the leaking washing-up liquid bottle, threw away two jars of mouldy peanut butter, investigated the fo’c’sle locker and discovered a bag of very soggy onions, a somewhat suspect sweet potato and a perfectly good butternut squash…

By the time I was ready to change out of work clothes for the evening and sit down with a beer at six o’clock, I wouldn’t have given you tuppence for indolence.

6 Responses to All the time in the world…

  • As I do not sail, most of the terminology used in your blog is unknown to me. However, I have a good imagination and your writing allows me to exercise that. Just like listening to the radio, I imagined myself pottering about in the boat, happily doing those tasks – and in vivid technicolor. Personally, I enjoy the domestic chores you describe as boring for the same reason – substitute “just being on your boat” with “just being in your house”. The simple pleasure of pottering with random purpose. Enjoy the time with your son!

  • Trustee from the Toolroom. One of my top five reads of all time. Simple, illustrates the value of integrity and living up to your responsibilities. Closely followed by No Highway and Round the Bend.

  • I’d like to revisit some of my old passions, too, John. But there are hazards in that. My ould knees might take up up to the top of Buaichaile Etive Mhor – but not back down, and my old ticker wouldn’t let me run again from some earlier of my amatory ‘crimes’.

    I’ll needs must make do with fading memory….

  • Welcome to Liverpool John, hope the river is not too choppy! The weather is set to improve ☀️

Sticky and smelly

Writing this, I am a bit sticky and also rather smelly. I have just completed the most unpleasant task on the boat. I feel so good about myself that I have the urge to share it.

I have cleaned out the greywater tank.

“Greywater” is that euphemism covering everything from washing-up water to the mixture of seawater, mud and rust that dribbles out of chain locker.

The reason the tank needs to be cleaned is because it is emptied by means of a float switch and in time the grease, decomposing crustacea and nameless gloop from the shower tray collects in a jelly-like, putrid mass around the switch and stops it working.

When this happens, the pump does not run and the “greywater” oozes out of the top of the tank into the bilges where it slops around making everything else sticky and smelly.

Then the whole apparatus has to be disconnected from its four hoses (three pouring in, one pumping out) and also from the electrical connection which, of course, has rusted solid.

Just to add to the fun, since this relies on gravity, it has to be sited as low as possible in the bilge so you have to do all this upside down.

Which is the easy part.

Once you have it out and into the blessed fresh air of the cockpit, you have to put your hand inside the revolting receptacle and fumble for the nuts to remove the switch. Any satisfaction in discovering that indeed it has been immobilised by a deposit the consistency of blackcurrant jam but smelling strongly of drains is outweighed by the disgusting process of spooning the stuff out on the blade of a screwdriver.

I hope I haven’t put you off you tea but now that I have it sealed once again out of mind beneath the cabin sole and have washed my hands three times to remove some of the whiff of putrefaction, I have a request:

Can anyone suggest anything I can pour down the sink that might do the job for me?

A bouquet of violets for the first person to come up with a workable solution…

21 Responses to Sticky and smelly

  • I dont know about boats John but in the world of campervans everyone swears by throwing cheap coca cola down your drains and then driving around for a bit. Apparently that stuff destroys and removes all sorts of sticky smelly stuff!

  • Hello John. Filthy job but someone has to do it! How about a drain cleaner product that breaks down grease etc in a ‘u’ bend. I think it exists in a bio version if required. PS it’s an acid so be carefull.

  • It’s a complete waste but alcohol has santinising properties. Sorry have not got sensible solution. Your explanation of the task was enlightening. All the best…

  • Vinegar and boiling water

  • It sounds as though a requirement for most of the repairs and maintenance on your boat is require you being a contortionist as they appear to involve huge amounts of climbing stretching hanging upside down getting dirty and ideally having 3 hands. Have you investigated one built and designed by a woman ?

    I digress. Your smelly putrid greywater tank problem. Having no idea how often you have to empty it – is there anything on the market you could add via a plug hole that might aid decomposition along the lines of products used with a cess pit? You can or used to be able to buy little packs containing SShhh gobbling enzymes you just popped into the tank that were supposed to thrive on such a diet. Having said all that presumably many others have a similar problem so perhaps it has been already been looked into.

    How is your water maker experiment progressing ?

  • Hi john,
    Many moons ago when we did flotilla holidays we were asked to take vinegar for toilet and basin treatment to be used on a daily basis usually overnight to minimise the gunge build up. The boats appeared clean and unsmelly so maybe it worked.


    Barry Kadwill

  • Oh John you have just had us in tears whilst eating my poached egg on granary. As you know I am well acquainted with the below stairs services and I’m afraid to say that after some 65 years of studying the problem the best answer I have found is copious quantities of vick applied south of the nose, and think of something pleasant. You could always recite the story of the airport cat to distract yourself .keep well .

  • Hi John,
    Have you tried Dettol disinfectant, it should stop the gloop forming, but if it doesn’t it will smell better!

  • You reminded me of the recommendation NEVER to cook and merrily eat the contents of an Alderney crab inside the boat. One is reminded olefactorily of the event for ever…

  • Excellent work. Keep this for your CV in case you wish to apply for a toilet cleaner.

    Best wishes

  • I’m afraid I don’t have a solution (ha!) other than bicarb & vinegar which cleans a lot of domestic grime, not sure if suitable here.
    How often do you have to do this?
    (A bouquet of violets…what a charming image! Thank you just for the idea of such)

  • Just about to drink some tea and go to sleep – your post has reassured me that at least someone somewhere has had less fun than I have todaygood luck finding a solution!

  • My suggestion would be to have a complete spare ready to go, remove/replace, drop the old one in a bucket of bleach, clean and store for next time? I guess space/cost/weight is a problem, all part of the fun!

  • John, I have fitted float switches in many tanks from fresh to septic and quite few in between. They don’t require any maintenance and would be ideal for your application.
    Getting sticky and smelly isn’t how you should be passing your time.
    If I can help I will.

  • Soda crystals and white vinegar!!
    I had to clear my touring caravan kitchen sink drain pipes recently. It worked well and no too vicious to wreck yer pipes! Follow instructions on Soda packet.
    Best o luck

  • Toilet Duck. Miracle stuff for smelly bilges. Geoff

  • Don’t envy you that job.
    I put Blue liquid ( for caravan toilets) down my heads which seems to convert the solid matter by some magic into a liquid. I don’t have sink waste going into the holding tank so don’t know what effect detergent might have in the blue stuff. But I don’t emit solids so that’s an achievement!