The trip from Gosport to Oban was full of contrasts. We started with s series of introductions and briefings in glorious sunshine on Gunwharf Quays, led by our skipper Emily – full of energy and enthusiasm – and Ricardo, our tall, dark, Italian First Mate. By 1530 we were on our way, on the ebb tide down the Solent.
With light winds against us and the tide turning as we passed The Needles; we were always going to be motoring. A massive contrast with the Round the World Race when motoring simply isn’t an option. On Switzerland or UNICEF, we would have been trimming, changing sails, and tacking to make the slightest progress out of the conditions.
After about 36 hours we rounded the Lizard and Lands-End, and eventually switched off the engine and sailed with full Main and our small number 3 Yankee. If racing, it would have been the number 1, changing down to 2 and then 3 as wind increased. By now, however I was feeling totally comfortable with the relaxed style of sailing!
The weather by now was overcast and chilly, with the wind increasing. We gybed south of the Isle of Man making good progress north. It was on my watch that the wind really started to increase. As the most experienced member of my watch, I was helping Nina and Luc with the technique of helming with swells lifting the boat at the stern.
It was probably blowing Force 6 when I took the helm, while the wind increased further. It was great! I was catching some good surfs and managing to bear away as the waves hit. Just like being in the Southern Ocean. The increase to Gale Force 9 came suddenly, and when it did it overpowered our rudder and we broached. Ricardo was up the companionway as we recovered and took the helm, quickly followed by Emily to lead the reefing of our mainsail.
Eventually, our watch ended, and we headed wet but exhilarated to our bunks.
As dawn broke, the wind subsided, and it wasn’t long before we needed the motor again to make progress. Watch followed watch as we passed the Mull of Kintyre and eventually dropped anchor in the bay of Port Ellen on Islay.
The next morning, we were lucky enough to meet a team who were sailing in high latitudes as part of an international project to advise coastal communities in how to adapt to rising sea levels and climate change. After visiting the Shetlands and Iceland, they will attempt the Northwest Passage. It appears that a massive 30cm rise in sea levels is already ‘hard baked’ into the oceans by 2050, at which time the rate of rise will be accelerating further.
We were ferried ashore in our little inflatable to spend the day exploring Port Ellen and inevitably sampling the local Lagavulin whisky. Laphroig is their principal export though.
The remaining days of the leg involved gentle motor cruising to Oban, Tobermory, Kerrera and back to Oban, sampling the local single malt in each one, enjoying the pub music in Oban and Tobermory and the dancing in Kerrera.
Today, we say goodbye to three crewmates whose journey is done, and we have a short break before we set sail for Iceland and the real adventure begins.
Image: SKIRR Yacht off the coast of Kerrera
Edward Gildea – SKIRR Adventurer 2023