Our winter in Ardrossan, Scotland? Predictably cold, dank, windy and long and bleak. But we did not hate it. We enjoyed our long dark evenings – cabin warm with the Reflex heater cranked up and kerosene lamp lit, gale howling in the rigging outside, watching episodes of “Outlander” on the laptop (maybe not the best educationally but somehow appropriate) and lingering over long meals. With a drink or two. Or three. Pillows and lap blankets were employed. We were safe – let the gales rage on! Sometimes we would crawl out of our cocoon and check out the sea state out on the Clyde.
The ferry parking lot collected beach rubble thrown over the wall by the force of the waves. Locals knew to never leave a vehicle there during a gale. A massive boulder had smashed a car flat in a previous winter.
In the calms between gales we walked up the hill to the local castle, around town, shopped for groceries, or maybe walked to nearby Saltcoats for a coffee and pastry.
Irene was hauled out – and we were very lucky with weather. Bottom painted, zincs replaced, chain marked, and we had the mainmast lifted out for good measure. We relaunched and spent the next couple of months with the mainmast under cover to allow us to revarnish. Irene was noticeably steadier in the wind gusts without most of her rig.
On the rare days the sky was visible, it seemed like the sun would barely rise above the buildings lining the basin before setting again
We visited all the local maritime museums, and took the train to London to visit a friend. More museums, and the Cutty Sark!
We noticed the prop zinc was wasted, so Peter wasted no time putting in a new one despite the cold water. He also spent the next week cleaning up electrical ground points, aiming to increase the time between replacements.
Spring came, and the weather was positively nice. Everyone was in a good mood, greetings and smiles were exchanged on the street – but nice weather by Scottish standards turned out to be still difficult for painting and varnishing. Over and over we would check radar (all clear,) look at the weather channel (0% chance,) squint at the horizon (nothing in sight,) and put a bit of varnish on. Twenty minutes later it would rain. Hard. For ten minutes, just long enough to ruin the work. Och, aye!
Finally, on April Fools Day (our traditional season’s opening date) we were ready to set sail.
We flew down the Firth of Clyde with a brisk following wind, rounded the Mull of Kintyre and tacked up the Sound of Jura to a windy night anchored at Gigha Island. Sailing past the Isles of Muck, Eigg, and Rhum we agreed that we really enjoy the geographical names in this part of the world.
This coast has hundreds of wonderful anchorages. Probably because we were early in the season, we were usually alone. Another benefit to our timing – there were no midges about. So our shore explorations were bug free. And the weather was perfect – long warm days and rare rain, good sailing winds alternating with gentle calms.
And the pubs! Dog friendly! Sheep and cows! Hills and valleys! And right to roam! Our kind of cruising.
We took to towing the dinghy, as every stop offered interesting shore exploration.
Earlier water oriented times left wonderful stone infrastructure for bringing small boats ashore
More castle ruins – so many castles.
One sport we never tire of? Whenever possible we like to anchor or moor under sail. Then depart under sail the next day. We award ourselves extra points for difficulty factors of shifty winds, poor charting, foul currents, and sudden calms. Points are deducted for excessive swearing, missing a mooring pickup on the first pass, or resorting to the motor.
We ghosted into the beautiful little anchorage at Loch Scavaig
We enjoy Scotland’s wonderful combination of sailing and hill walking.
Our original rough plan had us crossing the Minch to the Outer Hebrides, but the steady easterlies suggested to us that we had best stay on the mainland side as we worked our way north. We had time for a circumnavigation of Skye in the process, and soon found ourselves up at the northern part of the mainland. A short hop across the straits and we were at Orkney.
We rented a car in order to greet dawn at the Ring of Brodgar.
Always alert for Viking influence, Peter finds a row of nouses at Westray in perfect condition – garages for small boats
Throughout our Scottish sails Ginger had been on the lookout for puffins. They are shy and only nest in a few remote areas. We heard there were some on Westray, no small factor in our decision to sail there! The puffins were on the other end of the island and timing is important to find them back at the nesting spot but not settled in for the night. The harbormaster kindly took us on a sunset expedition (which happens to be around midnight at this latitude in May!)
We plotted our departure from Orkney very carefully. The area is known for big currents, which we planned to ride through the island group and out to sea on a single tide if possible. We needed to get to Denmark and wanted to make sure not to get caught out in a gale in the notorious North Sea. The weather looked favorable, bordering on a bit too much if anything (which we prefer rather than a bit too light,) so the next morning we flew through Orkney on the tide (the plan worked!) and found ourselves at sea for the first time in six months. Under jib and mizzen we reached across the bumpy sea, threaded through several oil rigs, one jibe three days later, and hello Denmark!