Log of Bolivar 1979 – The Granton Race

The Boat

Bolivar is a, 4 ton Hillyard, built in 1935 and sailed since then on the North East Coast.  With her large areas of varnished teak, bowsprit, and bumkin she looks rather old fashioned even for her time and the layout while extremely comfortable for two cannot be claimed to make maximum use of the space.  She carries a masthead bermudan rig and is rather tender, requiring large numbers of pig ballast in the bilge, and cannot be said to have a fine windward performance, although off the wind she can more than hold her own.  When cruising, of course, one rarely has a chance of close comparisons, so her performances are measured against her own yardstick.

When short of wind the Stuart Turner 8 h.p. engine can be brought into play. It is as old as the boat, in fact the block and head are much older, yet still functions well, with no more gremlins than many Stuarts 30 or 40 years younger!

Bolivar measures 21.2 feet x 7 feet x 4 feet and the long straight keel makes for easy drying out as long as a wall is available.

The Crew


Rodney Mitchell

Rodney Mitchell sailed the North East  coast in Squib his half-decked Westcliff on Sea One Design. He was regularly crewed by his twin brother Quentin. Rodney married Susan and they purchased Bolivar. 1979 was their second full season with Bolivar.  The previous year they cruised the Firth of Forth, the Fife Harbours and up through the Forth Bridges.  This year their plan was to extend the cruising area, and also to fill in some of the ‘gaps’ in the area already sailed. in 1979 Susan had increased the size of the Mitchell family by 50%, a lovely little girl called Katharine Rowena (Kate for short) and in the circumstances the decision was for her to stay at home for the Granton Race although she joined us later in the season.

katie and susan

Katie and Susan

As the baby was very small in 1979 she was easily accommodated in her carry cot or in her own chair and table unit which proved very useful. For heaving her up and down ladders we had a ‘front’ carrier.  As Susan was feeding the baby herself no special cooking was necessary, but it meant very interrupted sleep.  This undoubtedly caused a, higher fatigue factor than usual on cruises.  The baby did not appear to suffer at all. Except once, she never got wet (and then only her feet) and by the end of the season she was able to roll over and brace herself when beating to windward and tacks were changed.  In a small boat the space taken up by baby clothes, nappies, etc. is probably the main inconvenience.

RACE : Blyth – Granton – Cruise Back

25th May – 1st June

First cruises of the season are always looked forward to with great anticipation and this was no exception.  I had been on leave both the Thursday and the Friday and spent long-hours putting everything together.  For crew I had my twin brother Quentin who had also struggled manfully to prepare the boat.  Susan had increased the size of our family by 50% 3 weeks earlier, a lovely little girl called Katharine Rowena (Katie for short) and in the circumstances we thought it best for her to stay at home.

Just before sailing Bolivar’s history rolled around again when Mrs. Poole, the wife of George Poole a previous owner from the early ‘fifties, came on board to have a look round.  She was visiting England briefly and staying with Whitton Christie.  She reminisced about the old days with Bolivar and noticed few changes; the Calor gas being the main one, although it seems that the back of the bunks, now open to the hull were once boxed in.  She seemed most pleased to see Bolivar again.

The race was due to start at 21.00 but was postponed 10 minutes for a tanker entering the harbour.  Despite the publicity given to the race there were only six starters on the line although others had entered.  Apart from Bolivar they were Wild Thyme, Goddess Freya, Swedman, the Commodore’s Favonius and Rowena.

The forecast was Westerly going- South Force 4, and although the southerly wind had materialised the strength had failed it being light, and soon to get lighter.  With only two hours of ebb left running North and the tides being very large springs, this did not auger for a fast night sailing.  It also became distinctly cool when the sun disappeared – as it did before the Sow and Pigs Buoy was reached. Progress became even poorer as Newbiggin was abeam at 23.30.

After a supper of hot Bovril and garlic sausage sandwiches Quent took over the watch and I turned in to sleep well, after the initial half hour’s lying awake listening and feeling the strangeness.  Too soon I was awakened, 01.30 – change of watch with a fine view of the blazing lights of the Alcan smelter just abaft the beam.  Quent had spent most of the two hours checking transits to see if the fierce tide was pushing us backwards.  During the next two hours we started off slowly, but gradually did rather better – a speed through the water of 2½- knots at times, and I called Quent as day was fast appearing. He began his watch at 04.00.  With only two up in a crew we find that a solo night watch of 2 hours is normally enough although I daresay it could be stretched, but 3 is alright for daylight when things are easier.  In severe weather 3 hours alone can, of course, be too much.  Another rule is that watches below begin when the crew actually can get below, changing sail, navigation, eating and all the things which need to be done with two people do not impinge on time off watch.

Extract from Log; 04.00 – 07.00 Quent on watch.  A grey and hazy dawn revealed Swedman still in sight to the North East.  Light wind astern, strengthening after 05.30.  Bondicar 05.40 Hauxley 05.50.  Wind veered South West. Swedman abeam off Coquet (he also passed inside North East Coquet Buoy) Two other vessels in sight ahead after 10 hours of race time, this can’t be bad.  We continued to hold Swedman up Alnmouth Bay.  06.25 Forecast – Brisk easterlies.

I came on watch at 07.00 with Bolivar off Alnmouth.  I had managed another 1½ hour zizz, and did not realise how little more I would have. The morning was dull and hazy, with a fair tide which was more than necessary as for long periods the wind went to nothing.  Numerous porpoises disturbed the glassy sea and Swedman started her engine and headed off into the haze.  In the 3 hours off watch we drifted as far as Craster, some 5 miles, but at least I could wake Quent with some sunshine.

I cooked a fine breakfast of bacon butties etc. which considerably raised morale, which wasn’t low anyway.  After years of sailing Squib with no engine, long drifts were accepted with equanimity!

Enjoying the morning I was slow to get my head down and, of course, after only a few minutes doze I awoke to a freshening wind and the boat actually heeling!  I was soon up on deck to enjoy the sailing.  By 12.30 we were off Anstead and the tide turned against us again.  Vaguely, through the haze, sails including dark red ones were seen ahead, probably Wild Thyme. Bolivar passed close to the Shoreston Buoy with a strong foul tide and then close inshore to nip up the beach to avoid the tide.  I have sailed with many over the years whose idea of dodging the tide through the Farnes was to sail into 3 or 4 fathoms along the shore, and then wonder why they weren’t doing very well!  The beaches are quite clean and I like to get in to about 10 feet of water i.e. 6 feet below the keel.  It’s very effective although care has to be exercised with the ends of the Greenhill, Islestone and Black Rocks.  Quent was rather more zealous than usual, off Bamburgh Castle I had to draw his attention to the depth, only 2 feet below the keel!

14.00 – off Black Rock (close)  Change of watch.  Although neither Quent nor : myself were going to miss this most interesting part of the trip by going below, it pays to have a strict understanding of who is on watch and who is at leisure.

The forecast provided more than passing interest.  East backing North East Force 5-6 Gale 8 Tyne, possibly 7-8 Forth.  The cause of this unexpected wind was a shallow low which was to track North up the centre of England into the central lowlands of Scotland by the night.  We kept an understandably close watch on the barometer.  Quent has note in Log following this – ‘keep fingers crossed’.

We kept close inshore up Ross Links and a big detour seawards to pass outside of the Rigg End Buoy, now a resplendent East Cardinal.  I like the tale of the Holy Island fisherman who after observing the buoy for several weeks commented that it was helpful of Trinity House to put a radar reflector on the top of it.  We thought the buoy so far to sea as to be off station, having been used to its varied locations over the years but bearings showed it to be spot on!

15.00 – passed Emanuel Head – 18 hours might not be fast to Holy Island, but it looked as if it would be a lot slower than last night.

I tried to sleep off watch over Berwick Bay but found myself virtually unable to do so.  The tension of the race, the forecasts and also the amount of work I had to put into get the boat ready all counted against relaxation.  Normally I can sleep well, whether in charge or not.

Just South of Burnmouth we heard the 6 o’clock forecast : Cromarty, Forth, Tyne: South East veering East and North East 6-8 then North West 4 later.  Decisions have to be made.  We examined the arguments for and against

Against  This is NO coast to be out, least of all in a small boat like Bolivar in a 6-8 onshore – from St. Abbs to Bass Rock for 20 miles it is dead lee shore.  All harbours would be closed, and in any case if we went for Dunbar it would be dead low water! If we had been cruising the answer would have been obvious, Burnmouth, Eyemouth, or St. Abbs.

For The wind was still South East and no more than force 2, although the sea was starting to lift and the cloud was low.  The timing of the system was all important.  We now knew it was to track slightly East of us, yet the barometer had only budged 2 mb in the last 5 hours, hardly indicating a vigorous system, and it had to fall faster to give us the wind.  It would take some time, perhaps 3-4 hours for the wind to back and increase as it did so, depending on the vigour of the approaching low. We were now at St. Abbs Head and we argued that by the time this happened we would have sailed the 20 miles up to the Bass Rock and be off a direct lee shore, so could run, under storm jib if necessary up the Forth!  As the wind went into the East it would help us to keep the schedule.

We did of course keep on, watching the barometer very closely, and after preparing the boat, as far as possible, for bad weather.  In particular the newly fitted horse was almost dropping off so I re-screwed it into place without a great deal of hope of its holding and doubled it up with a separate line.

We certainly weren’t going to hang about despite there being no great increase in the wind.  Fast Castle was 1 mile abeam at 20.50 and Barns Ness Light was picked up.  At 22.30 the wind swung round to North East and it began to rain gently.  The barometer had dropped another 1 mb. perhaps 2 – the needle tended to jump a little. The wind stayed at the top of Force 3, occasionally Force 4 (just) but we could carry all sail, reaching and easy.  22.40 Barns Ness was abeam, and we were over halfway along the worst lee shore stretch.  Off Dunbar the Radio interrupted with an imminent North East gale warning for Forth, very cheering when you’re in such a position!  Afterwards I found out that Susan had been sitting at home picking up these broadcasts – it must have cheered her as well! She probably thought we’d done the sensible thing and gone in somewhere!

The 00.15 forecast was heard in the lee (there actually was one) of the Bass Rock, towering above us in the dark and the pencil of the light’s beam swinging round above our heads.  The lee was noticeable in other ways.  Quent commented in the Log that ‘finding the Rock in fog should be no problem due to the strong odour of the excreta of sea fowl’. The forecast was the same, but the depression was late; now in Lincolnshire expected Viking 17.00 tomorrow.  Boulmer reported North West 4.  The major scare seemed over – we hope we can beat the North Westerly.

By 01.10 (Sunday) we were steaming along on a black sea, doing 6 knots over the ground and passing Fidra Island.  The wind by now had backed into the north, force 4 and course was set for the entrance to the South Channel between Leith and Inchkeith.  I had originally wanted to steer on Inchkeith Light – not yet visible, but Quent preferred the southern route, which as it turned out was a choice we regretted.

As we had been unable to obtain an up to date I.A.L.A. chart of the Forth (out of stock) we anticipated troubles as we raised the buoys in the dark.  The first one came quickly – the Fairway buoy off Aberlady Bay was not even marked on our older chart!  There were to be no more problems with lights however.  The wind backed North West and went lighter, and occasional showers settled down to a cold steady drizzle, and the wind came even further round.  By 03.00, as a very grey light filled in, with visibility about 3 or 4 miles, the wind became slightly south of west and lightened to Force 2.  We were still outside (just) the North Craig. Sailing for the Inchkeith Light, which was now visible, would be given us at least 1 mile to windward!  As it was, the way we had been sailing, the remaining 6 miles to the finish would have taken only about another hour, and, worse still, the spring tide was due to change against us after 04.00!  So near.  It was almost another 4 hours before we finished. The wind remained the same, going lighter in the end, the tide grew stronger and the drizzle persisted.  We beat slowly passed the Herwit Buoy, barely seeing Leith, and short tacked up Wardle Bay in endeavour to stem the vicious tide.  It took three attempts to enter the piers at Granton (the finishing line) as the tide kept sluicing us back.  Within seconds of crossing the line unbelievably the sun came out and the drizzle stopped.  We sailed into the East basin and moored alongside Goddess Freya and Rowena, weary, thankful to be finished, yet also happy and satisfied.  The bottle of whisky was broached, large (very) measures poured, and I would swear I was asleep before my head touched the pillow.

We were woken at about 11.00 by the others and cooking breakfast we caught up with the news.  The others had not been nearly as far ahead of us as we thought, having had the wind shift some 2/3 miles short of the finish, i.e. some 3 miles ahead of us!  Despite them having had some tide problems, they had still finished some 3 hours before us and Bolivar’s stupendous handicap of 139 had not been enough to save all our time.

tres amigos

Rowena, Goddess Freya and Bolivar at Granton

The result was  1. Rowena 2. Bolivar  3. Goddess Preya 4.  Favonius 5. Wild Thyme. All agreed it had been a splendid race, and as far as the small boats were concerned a very special one. Bolivar’s average speed had been fractionally under 3 knots, not bad when considering that the first third of the race had averaged 1.3 knots.

Commodore Jack Mills presented the prizes, all books, in the bar of Royal Forth Yacht Club at lunchtime.  Despite it being an invitation race the Club was quiet and our arrival seemed unexpected, many of their members being away on the Clyde sailing the Tomatin series.

The celebration was long and pleasant and the ‘little ships’ crews, Gordon and John Timms, Bruce Grant and Ed Chester, and Quent and myself went back to the boats at closing time in ‘fine fettle’ to turn in again.  The evening meal was cobbled together from all three boats and eaten in Bolivar’s saloon, a pleasant function followed by a short session at the Club.

Monday May 28th

A late beginning to the day to complete the recovery process, and a long quiet drink at lunchtime in the Royal Forth Yacht Club’s spacious lounge overlooking the harbour.  Following this we tried to secure some long bolts to fasten the horse more securely – a fruitless search as the chandlers around Granton Harbour appear to be chrome and plastic merchants.


Incholm Harbour, Abbey in the background

We cleared the harbour under sail at 16.05 with the wind South South West force 3-4 rather grey, but warm enough.  We passed west of the Island of Inchmickery, rounded the west end of the Island of Inchcolm and entered the harbour from the North West to lie against the pier.  It was near High Water so there was no lack of water.  Despite assurances from other yachtsmen we found that on big springs the year before there is only about 3 feet alongside, so we anchored East of the Island. The local boatmen claimed afterwards that they had never known yachts lie there and the bottom was stony.

Inchcolm is a beautiful and interesting island complete with its own abbey, tea room and a maze of wartime gun tunnels and emplacements. At the time of visiting, the ferry service from Aberdour was not operating and the newly appointed custodian of the abbey had left, at his wife’s insistence, after only a few weeks’ tenure, so the island was deserted. A place well worth visiting although the prospect is likely to be ruined when the new terminal for the Moss-Moran Methane Refinery is built on the Fife shore opposite at Braefoot Point.

We left under power at 17.50 passing over part of the Medulse Rock, a. large rock patch which shows at Low Water, and proceeded down the inner channel (close inshore – the rocks outside are marked by small perches) into Aberdour Harbour, where we secured alongside at 18.10 having missed the forecast.

Rain, which began as we entered, intensified and persisted all evening which, except for a short interlude seeing the boat down alongside the quay wall, was spent in the Cedar Inn and Aberdour Hotel.

Aberdour is a pleasing harbour with a well wooded slope opposite the rough stone quay.  Several yachts, mainly bilge keelers, dry out on the mud in the centre of the haven.

Tuesday May 29th

The 06.25 forecast spoke of South to South West 3-4 perhaps 6 at first, and we decided that the Lothian and Berwickshire shore would be preferable to Fife.  We cleared Aberdour at 07.00 beating with a very light southerly which failed off Hallcraig Point (incidentally references in other books refer to this as Hawkcraig Point), then drifted without steerage way on the tide, rather close to the Commons Reef towards Burntisland.  The wind eventually settled to South West Force 3 and bright sunshine as we cleared Kinghorn Ness at 08.30.  Quent cooked and washed breakfast as we enjoyed a fine brisk sail.

North Berwick

North Berwick

I had an hour’s sleep to be woken as we approached Fidra Island and we anchored in North Berwick Fairway at 11.35.  It was near Low Water so it was impossible to enter the harbour, or indeed proceed up into the Bay. The proceeding year the ‘bar’ on the way into the pool in the Bay was shallow enough on Spring Tides for a man to wade across only up to his knees!  (Not so marked in the Pilot?)

Observing Rowena coming past Fidra we had a gin while waiting to see if she would come in, but although she passed between Craigleith and us and we could make out the detail of the crew, she continued past.  We rowed ashore, shopped, bought an English paper (The Guardian) which saved the necessity of enduring the parochial arguments of Baillies which passes for news in Scotland, and retired to a pub.   Quent claimed he caught me out on not being able to tell the difference between Real Ale and Tartan, in return I caught him being a little too admiring of a monument to a Victorian Heroine near the harbour!

North Berwick

North Berwick

North Berwick is a most pleasant, clean little town and the coast with its complex patterns of sandy bays and rocks is beautiful.  The harbour, however, is very crowded and visiting yachts have been known to have trouble finding available wall space.  The rising tide allowed easier access to the dinghy.  On our landing Quent was very pleased with his rock climbing prowess to attain the landing stage.  He claimed at least a Very Severe (probably only a Moderate!)

The forecast was now South West 5-6 so we reefed down and put on the small jib, fortuitously as the wind rapidly increased after we left at 14.35.

We bowled along a splendid coastline passed Tantallon Castle to clear the South Carr by 15.15.  Towards Dunbar the wind freshened again and we passed Barns Ness and Tor Ness, where there was much activity building the new nuclear power station.  Apart from other considerations of the nuclear debate, I do object to the spoiling of yet more stretches of beautiful coast and the area, behind with power cables.  Dungeness for instance is a disgrace from miles away!  The cement works near Dunbar was a great enough act of vandalism, but even it has some value as its smoke can be seen from a long way away!

Cove Harbour

Cove Harbour

The wind blew a good 6 gusting once into Force 7 but the seas, being close inshore, were flat.  Bolivar motored into Cove Harbour at 17.30 only to go straight out again to pick up an over-canvassed Rowena who we knew had only an outboard engine borrowed from Quent and rigged on a fragile arrangement.  We escorted her and then towed her in, finding out later why she had not attempted to use the outboard.  They had gone into Dunbar for a beer thinking we were there, having not seen us at North Berwick, and on Bolivar’s sailing past had hurried out under power and sail.  The outboard kept leaving the water which put too much strain on the improvised bracket and the engine disappeared below Dunbar Roads!

Cove is a most spectacular small harbour underneath steep cliffs, on a very rocky shore.  The Forth Pilot is quite good except that the South Pier is not ruinous, although still unsuitable for yachts, and when it was repaired the cliff beside the ruined cottages was cut away to give access from the cliff track to the beach.  The tunnel is still there but considered dangerous and blocked off, although it is still possible to go through!

Bolivar and Rowena alongside at Cove Harbour

Bolivar and Rowena alongside at Cove Harbour

A survey at Low Water showed the best line of entry to be:- keep the left hand end of the red sandstone cliff behind the harbour (approaching from the North East) above the South pier end.  This passes close to the rocks on the South, which are steep to.  Not a place to attempt in an onshore of any weight, or a place to stay in the same.  The small fishing boats which lie there moor to heavy chains which lie diagonally across the harbour.  The fishermen were rather dour and unhelpful.  Bolivar lay near the angle of the pier, bow up-harbour which turned out a careless mistake as there is a great mound in the corner so she dried very much head down.  Rowena lay near the pier end and hardly took the bottom, but had paint removed by the mooring chains.  There are no ladders on the quays.

After mooring we hurriedly legged up to the Cockburnspath Hotel where in company with Jack and Gordon Timms we enjoyed several toasts to baby Kate.  We returned at 21.00 to settle the boats (not before time) and Gordon and Jack came on board Bolivar for supper and a nightcap (again with more toasts!) until the 12.15 forecast (South to South East 4-6).  A most pleasant evening in excellent surroundings.

Wednesday May 30th

Pettico Wick

Pettico Wick. The entrance is behind the jagged rocks

At the 06.25 forecast I performed the not uncommon frustrating trick of hearing the very beginning and then the end, but dosing in between. However it was a fine morning and the wind was somewhat abated.  Within a short while we had put on the large genoa, and by Burnmouth shaken out the reef, as the wind steadily dropped.  On the way we sailed into Pettico Wick, the bay just north of St. Abbs Head.  It is much more of a gut than it seems and it does not allow inspection until very well in. Sailing out we passed very close to the rocks of St. Abbs Head which are very steep to.

Shortly after this the sun went in and it became grey and rather chilly. Approaching Berwick at 14.00 with Rowena well ahead we were headed and beat down Berwick Bay with the flood; close under the North Shore of Holy Island, through the Plough Channel and the Hole Mouth entrance into Holy Island, making up some of our distance on Rowena.

[Note: The Hole Mouth Entrance to Holy Island is most useful as (a) there is less tide and (b) often less swell than the main ‘beacons’ entrance. It is much used by Holy Island fishermen. There is up to 14 feet of water at Springs and the shallowest part is well up beyond the Castle so rarely has any swell on it. To clear Castle Point keep the Heugh triangular beacon just open to the North of the Coastguard Station until off the limekiln when the two can be closed.]

We watched Rowena miss the mooring buoy, and naturally found it entertaining until we too found a slack wind in the same area and did the same.  We started the engine and picked up Rowena, who had anchored, and towed her back to the mooring, picking up one ourselves. We dined on board, on mince and tatties, complete with a bottle of red wine, then ashore in a flat calm and steady drizzle at 20.15 to join the Timms for an evening of Holy Island hospitality.  We returned rather later, at low tide.  It was still raining but blowing force 3/4 South West. Rowena’s dinghy overturned and I ended up wading around up to my thighs collecting gear.  They had lost an oar so we towed them out to their boat. Despite the dark night Bolivar was easily spotted by her riding light.

Thursday May 31st

Up at 10.00 to note Rowena hanging out ‘washing.  Earlier fog had cleared but there was still poor visibility and a light easterly wind.

Rowena at anchor, Newton Haven

Rowena at anchor, Newton Haven

Clearing the Rigg End at 13.50 we beat down Skate Roads against a foul tide to lose the wind off Budle Bay.  Gradually the wind filled in from the North West then South West force 3 and we romped down, in company with Rowena, in bright sunshine to anchor in Newton at 1½ fathoms (Low Water).  That evening in the pub we learned that Jack had sprained his ankle quite badly the previous night.

Friday 1st June

A brilliant morning, if flat calm.  Rose 05.35 and cleared Newton under power at 06.05.  Jack and Gordon appeared in the hatchway to shout ‘goodbye’.  We motored to Craster and sounded through inside the Little Carr.  Just North of Coquet Island at 07-55 a westerly force 1-3 set in and we sailed as far as the Sow and Pigs Buoy when the wind dropped again.  After motoring in we moored on the back trot at 12.10.

4 Responses

  1. Doug says:

    A good read.
    Thank you.

  2. Peter Lowrie says:

    A good race and a good cruise, and a most enjoyable read.
    Thank you

  3. Tom Reilly says:

    A most enjoyable read, much appreciated.
    Very interesting to see how some things have changed with the passage of time

  4. Tony Whittinghamm says:

    Good to “hear” Rod again. In his element amidst the nooks and crannies of the NE coastline. A great guy.