Slipstream Summertime and the Sailing ain’t Easy

Julie Elliott

I’d spent the past few weeks, and a small fortune on charts, preparing for our 3 week summer holiday on board Slipstream, our Beneteau First 31.7. We were aiming for the Orkneys and set off early on midsummer’s day in perfect westerly conditions. As we sailed out through the piers the sun came out and forty minutes of cracking sailing later we were off Newbiggin, spirits high- an excellent start to our trip.

But of course it couldn’t last. Soon we were on a beat and then the wind faded and with our boat speed falling we had to get the engine on. We were heading to Eyemouth for the first night and there was still a long way to go. Little did we realise but that would be the first and last decent sail we’d have this holiday. Apart from a brief 10 minutes in the Farne Channel when we tried to sail again, we motored all the way to Eyemouth.

A funny thing happened off Berwick. Two navy patrol boats had passed by and we heard one of them on the radio calling up the Harbour Master but receiving no answer. He then proceeded to broadcast his signals with instructions to ‘execute’. We decided he’d be the one for the chop after the coastguard intervened and explained he was transmitting on 16!

Comfortably berthed alongside Ice Maiden in the basin in Eyemouth we decided we’d stay a couple of nights before heading north. We visited the impressive museum which tells the story of the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster in 1881. 129 lives were lost when the fishing fleet was caught in an unexpected storm, having headed out in excellent conditions after being port bound for days.

The following day we set off in completely calm and fair conditions motoring out to sea on a heading for Stonehaven. It was forecast NW 4-5 and we thought we‘d do it one night.

One tack. An hour and a half later we were tanking along just off the wind in strong gusty winds. Then, from full sail and no wind, we were down to 2 reefs and half the jib out. And the wind, now on the nose, really picked up, hitting a good 7. Slipstream was brilliant but the prospect of beating for hours in this did not appeal. We turned and headed back inshore. Never thought I’d be so pleased to be back in Eyemouth. As I wrote in the log ‘phew don’t want to do that again in a hurry’ and ‘bit of a mistake visiting the Eyemouth Disaster Museum’- talk about understatement.

It was still forecast South Easterly- no good for Stonehaven. To escape Eyemouth, nice as it is, we decided to make for Port Edgar. At least we’d be on a reach heading up the Forth. Wrong! We ended up motoring all the way to the Bass Rock in no wind but lovely blue skies and sunshine. The Bass Rock was so impressive, teaming with Gannets and glowing white in the sunshine….it wasn’t even too smelly. Past Fidra the wind began to fill but from the East rather than the forecast South East. Typically as we navigated the south channel, an island, a wreck and various drying bits it blew a hoolie right up the chuff.

And the fun didn’t end there. A huge liner decided to come out through the Forth Bridge just as we were approaching, crowds on board merrily waving and taking our photo. I called up Port Edgar and they allocated us a berth. It was so far in shore I doubted there’d be enough water and we were going in close to low water. However they assured me they’d been dredging and we’d be fine. What they didn’t know was that the dredger had left a ridge which we ran slowly into before stopping. Great trip this was turning out to be! We eventually got onto another deeper berth and got settled for the night.

Pausing only to drag a brush through my tatty hair we dashed off into South Queensferry for dinner, thinking bar meals would only be served up to 8.00pm. The place turned out to be full of restaurants- Chinese, Indian and an Italian where we ended up, feeling very scruffy. We returned to the boat to witness the boats rolling alarmingly in wash from a passing ship. We set additional lines and then off to bed.

Woke to a beautiful sunny day but, with a strong Easterly blowing again, we were going nowhere. We spent the morning cleaning the boat, she was covered in salt. Then off to the showers- character building stuff as the water was freezing. Port Edgar is an old naval base desperately in need of investment. It reminded me of The Great Escape and I kept expecting to see men wandering about shaking soil from their trouser legs.

South Queensferry is a lovely place. That night we had dinner at The Boat House, a superb seafood restaurant looking out onto the Forth Bridge with the water lapping below the window.

We’d had no wind, too much wind and too little water- what next? Fog, lots of it as we motored back up the Forth. A tug came out to greet a couple of tankers and set up a fantastic display with its water canon to guide them in. It was very atmospheric. Out of the channel the vis improved and the wind picked up but, as ever, was on the nose. We motored until just south of the Bass Rock and then sailed for about 3 hours going well at 7 knots close to the wind. The fog closed in again and it was horrible getting around Fast Castle Head and St Abbs Head in a lumpy confused sea as it bounced back off the almost invisible headlands. I called up the Harbour Master and he informed us that friends of ours were already there- yes George and Martin were having as good a trip on Airstrip as we were! They’d also had the same experience of heading off to Stonehaven and being forced back into Eyemouth. It was great to have some company and, after fantastic hot showers, we all went to The Ship for a bar meal.

I’d always wanted to spend my summer holidays in Eyemouth I kept trying to convince myself. Actually it is a nice place…and it never sleeps. There’s always something going on, at all times of the day and night. The fishing boats return at day break and dozens of seagulls go mad as they land the catch, it’s very hard to get back to sleep.

We were woken at 3am by a commotion outside and found a huge fishing boat wedged across our stern and Airstrip’s between the Lifeboat and another fishing boat. The skipper was singing ‘Summertime and the Living is Easy’ as his crew fended off our boats. ‘Watch out for those wee yachts’ a very laid back crew member was crying as Alan and I came up on deck, bleary eyed in our matching jim-jams. I went below to fetch our fleecies and as I dashed back up the skipper cried ‘Don’t panic Mr. Mainwaring’. Alan pulled in Airstrip’s stern line to stop the fishing boat touching and through it all George and Martin slept on. Eventually the fishing boat got clear and tied up along the quay. As his crew commented, ‘It’s a good job he can fish it better than he can park it’.

Next day was still no good for sailing. After we’d told George and Martin about the fun they’d missed last night we all set off along the cliff tops. This is a superb walk, wonderful views and great geology, wild flowers and bird life. After 2 hours we arrived hot and sweaty into Coldingham and had lunch at the hotel. Then we walked round to St Abbs, first time I’d been there and it’s lovely, and caught the bus back to Eyemouth.

The following morning George woke us to say they were setting off. We raced up on top to watch them go out through the swell. That night as we went to bed, a text arrived from George saying they were in Stonehaven ‘ v. rough, skip and crew knackered’.

There was no point attempting to go north now. With a 1.9m draught we’re so restricted in the places we can get in to and there are long distances to cover in between. Finally we left Eyemouth, motoring out in a big NE swell. It was a beautiful sunny day but there was no wind. Not only was I feeling a bit yuk but I didn’t trust myself to steer down the waves. The sea was huge off Holy Island and then we had some respite tucked in behind the Farnes. Off the Shoreston we tried to sail but there was not enough wind and then at North Sunderland the swell rolled in again. The only high spot in the long slog back to Blyth was when some dolphins joined us off Alnmouth, diving out of the waves and swimming alongside and under the boat for about 20 minutes. 11 hours after leaving Eyemouth we were back home in Blyth. Alan was like a lobster after hours on the helm and struggled to stand having sat for so long.

Thanks to the weather, in 2 weeks we’d only managed to sail for 5 days and each time it had not been a pleasant experience. Enough was enough. With no sign of any improvement, Alan spent Saturday cleaning the boat while I went home, got on the internet and booked 2 fights to Malaga in Spain. We hired a car and deliberately headed away from the coast and into the mountains visiting Rhonda and El Chorro, which were both gorgeous. We’ll save the Orkneys for another trip- but next time we won’t let on where we’re heading. The weather’s the one thing you can’t organise.