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Cornwall to Scotland days 33 to 36

Day 33 – As ever the weather keeps us guessing no matter whether we are in port or out at sea. Today started brilliantly – a fresh little south-westerly breeze, the air sparklingly clear and the sky full of stripes of cloud with pale blue gaps between them. After three days fogbound in Arbroath followed by some heavy rain yesterday evening, it feels like a new world order has been imposed, one that favours sailors on the east coast of Scotland. Auchmithie HarbourSo off we go, all the sails we can muster spread out to push Cirrus along as fast as possible.

The coastline is stunning, wave-worn natural arches in the red sandstone cliffs, the same cliffs that when we were here two years ago we happily walked along amid a spring flower display second to none, past the village of Auchmithie, the true birthplace of the Arbroath smoked fish known to the world as the ‘Smokie’, then onward across Montrose Bay. All is exciting, the boat is going well with her clean bottom, there are porpoises and possibly another whale sighting to keep us amused and we can visualise making great distances, perhaps even Peterhead, sixty miles in one hop. Then the wind dies. It just seems to evaporate. One moment it is there and the next we are left with vaporous whispers that do nothing towards pushing Cirrus through the water. Nothing else has changed, not the sky, not the clouds, just the wind.

So Stonehaven it is for the night,Stonehaven thirty miles further north along our way and a prettier harbour one could not ask for. As the only visiting yacht we get pride of place tucked in alongside the harbour wall where we bounce gently in the slight swell. The harbourmaster strolls over to meet us with “Port Security”, his golden labrador retriever, an animal that just wants to make friends with everyone, and we adjust our warps so that when the tide falls there is enough slack to allow the boat to descend and not be left hanging. Then it is off for a wee stroll around the town before settling down to our supper. The town is bigger than it looks from the harbour and it has shops which cater for a tourist trade as well as those for the locals. It has a bluff exterior which disguises its charm, not that different from the inhabitants themselves, in fact.

It has been a relatively short day at sea for us but for some reason we are both feeling more tired than usual, as if the previous foggy days have sapped something out of us. The sunset does not disappoint, however, and we hope that this bodes well for tomorrow when we are due to press on to Peterhead.

Sunset in Stonehaven

Day 34 – We sit and watch a lone heron standing on the Peterhead marina retaining wall being mobbed by gulls which have taken a strong dislike to it. As each gull swoops down the heron evades it by rotating its head and dipping its long neck, a strangely comical manoeuvre for what is normally such a statuesque bird. But despite having a powerful beak in its armoury the heron makes no attempt to use it for self defence. Then as the evening draws in, so does the weather – a light mist and then torrential rain – but we have completed our east coast journey, or so it feels, as beyond the next corner (another left turn) we will start moving west across Scotland and then on to the Western Isles.

It was an unexciting day at sea for us, motor-sailing into a light wind, often too far from the coast to see clearly what we were passing, and we were anxious to get tucked into Peterhead harbour before the weather became less benign. Iain and Richard were our ‘greeters’ on arrival at our marina berth (they were in fact waiting for Iain’s dinghy-sailing children to appear) and the kettle was soon on for a cuppa inside Cirrus’ comfortable saloon. An hour later, in the warmth of their company, we were still discussing everything from the merits of Scottish independence to the recession. Ahead of us now are several days of strong northerly winds. Or to put a different spin on it, ahead of us are a few days lounging about in port, exploring the town and making friends with the locals.

Day 35/36 – The first of these days we spend almost entirely inside Cirrus’ spacious interior listening to the rain as it lashes against the windows driven by a fresh northerly breeze. In June 2009 we waited in almost the same position on the same pontoon whilst the northerly wind blew itself out. We were waiting for the change in the weather that would signal a safe passage around the next big headland, Rattray Head, our most scary yet which loomed large in our imagination then, like a terrible ogre waiting to pounce on us should we try to pass. In the end it proved to be a gentle pussycat, barely showing us a ripple or a swirl. The trick, we now know, is to leave Peterhead Harbour at precisely the right moment, either at or just before the top of the tide, and this almost guarantees arrival off Rattray just when the sea has paused between its southward rush and its northward movement. Slack water means less waves across the shoals that extend out to sea from the low-lying headland. Slack water means a happy boat too.

From inside we gaze out at the youngsters in their Topper dinghies who swerve about under the watchful eye of the sailing club rescue boat. They are fully wetsuited so barely notice the rain and in any case they seem to be in and out of the sea on a regular basis as part of the fun of it all.

The wind has not diminished at all the next day but our ambitious plans to set off exploring Peterhead are dampened by more heavy rain slicing horizontally across the marina. Fresh laid eggsWe become introspective and notice that the egg box which we bought in Lowestoft boasts a slightly raunchy comment, evidence of the sense of humour of some East Anglian farmer no doubt. We recognise that to have reached the point where we are reading the labels on egg boxes must mean that we are getting a little desperate. There may be nothing for it but to dress up in full waterproof gear and to venture forth regardless of the rain.

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