Displaying items by tag: Cruising
#cruising – Cruising is the hidden side of sailing, yet it's the choice for the majority of those going afloat. Whether it's day cruising, a longer venture in the annual holidays, or the dream cruise of a lifetime across oceans, this is our sport. Unlike racing, which generates its own narrative even if only through the recorded results, much of cruising would slip under the radar completely were it not for cruising awards. W M Nixon considers the latest annual batch from the Irish Cruising Club.
Cruising under sail seems to be the secret of eternal youth. Last night's Annual General Meeting of the Irish Cruising Club in Dun Laoghaire saw a distribution of awards to voyagers from all parts of Ireland who sailed successfully in many areas of the globe in boats mostly of modest size. Yet any outside analyst would soon have made the point that many of the achievers were of mature – sometimes very mature - years, and fulfilling a retirement dream.
But despite any ICC membership gathering these days being a sea of silver heads, age is the last thing they think about. This club of 550 members has become the mixture of an Active Retirement Association – very active indeed, as it happens – and a sort of seagoing extension of the Men's Shed movement.
If you were looking for an illustration of Ireland's changing demographics, and our very rapidly changing attitude as to what constitutes old age, you need look no further than the ICC. Time was when it was thought quite something when one of the club achieved the Golden Jubilee of their membership. But these days, it's no big deal to have been on the strength for fifty years, as the senior member is Joe FitzGerald of Crosshaven, who this year marks 70 years in the club, and he is closely followed by Douglas Mellon who joined in 1947 from Howth - he now lives on the Scottish Riviera in Kircudbright.
Joe FitzGerald of Cork is the ICC's most senior member, having joined in 1944. He served as Commodore from 1984 to 1987.
All those years ago when they took up their membership, it was thought perfectly normal for young men – married or otherwise - to take off for at least a fortnight's cruising every year, regardless of family demands which these days would be regarded as the prior commitment. In fact, nowadays so much emphasis is placed on family life and families doing just about every last recreational thing together, that younger married sailing people either do extremely short-hop cruising of the type necessitated by catering for the needs of all the members of the family, or else they don't cruise at all in the traditional sense - "Fun For All The Family" effectively rules out proper cruising.
Then too, modern life has so many other distractions - not least of them work demands which involve 24/7 attention - that the old-style easygoing simply-wandering-along holiday cruising is very much a minority activity. This means that at first it seems young people are not taking up traditional cruising at all. But with its deep experience garnered since its foundation in 1929, the Irish Cruising Club has learned to take the long view. It is not unduly concerned by the steadily rising age profile of its membership, and certainly every year there is a significant group of sometimes quite senior yet nevertheless increasingly active cruising enthusiasts joining the club.
They're the embodiment of the slogan that Sailing is a Sport for Life, and it's only politeness which prevents them saying that the subtle pleasures of cruising are wasted on the young. So when you look at the lineup of achievement represented by last night's awards, it's natural to wonder what these people did in earlier life, that they can nowadays afford the time, resources and dedication necessary to complete voyages of this quality.
The adjudication was done by Dave Whitehead of Kinvara on Galway Bay, himself no stranger to the ways of the sea while making long voyages in small craft. He breaks new ground by awarding three trophies at once to Sam Davis of Strangford Lough, whose Cape Horn and Pacific ventures with his Rival 41 Suvretta have been quietly bubbling away in the background of ICC activity for the past three years.
Sam Davis first featured in Afloat magazine in March and April 1981 when we ran his two-part account of his first ocean voyage, an Atlantic circuit from Strangford Lough between 1976 and 1979 with the 34.5ft West Solent Class Suvretta, a former racing boat he'd found in a derelict state and restored to ocean-going condition.
The 34ft West Solent class Suvretta in her offshore racing days in the 1950s when she was based in Belfast Lough. When Sam Davis did the Atlantic Circuit cruise with her in 1976-79, she carried a less loft mainmast, with masthead rig.
But even with Sam's improvements, she was still no more than a slip of a boat, so it says much for his grit and skill that he brought her through the Fastnet storm of 1979 as he sailed the final hundred miles back to Ireland. There was damage aloft, and he'd to get into Dunmore East unaided with jury rigging, but the job was done.
While in the Caribbean, he'd worked in charter yachts between times to make a shilling or two. But after he'd spent time back in Northern Ireland, he went abroad into serious seafaring in offshore service industries, working in places like The Gulf, the North Sea, the Amazon, the Red Sea and Malaysia, becoming a fully accredited Marine Consultant.
Yet if you ask him nowadays what he is and what he was, he'll say he's a farmer and former seaman, as his purchase some years ago of Conly Island in Strangford Lough (you can drive out to it when the tide is down) gives him the little bit of land, and an anchorage too, while "seaman" covers his many experiences in offshore work.
Sam Davis with his newly-acquired Rival 41, re-named Suvretta, in 2009. Photo: W M Nixon
Suvretta in the Beagle Channel in southern Chile. Photo: Sam Davis
Back in 2009 he bought a Rival 41, a hefty and able vessel, a sister-ship of Waxwing in which fellow ICC members Peter and Susan Gray of Dun Laoghaire went round the world 14 years ago. Sam re-named his new boat Suvretta, spent the winter sorting her out, and in 2010 he was gone, sailing south single-handed to eventually round Cape Horn and then spend a long time on the coast of Chile. He was delayed there as a ship broke drift and damaged the boat, but it was well fixed, and he voyaged on into the Pacific to many islands, including Pitcairn and the Tahiti group.
Restless anchorage. Suvretta in Bounty Bay on Pitcairn Island. Photo: Sam Davis
Eventually he fetched up for some time in Tonga, where he became enthused about the 73ft Vakas, the Pacific islanders' contemporary take on the classic Polynesian inter-island vessels (see Sailing on Saturday 11th January 2014). But by November 2012 it was time to head for home, so Suvretta sailed southeast for Cape Horn non-stop, and having rounded it, shaped her course for Port Stanley in the Falklands.
Suvretta rounding Cape Horn for the second time, 21st January 2013. It was only when the Horn was well astern that the weather deteriorated rapidly to make for a challenging approach to Port Stanley. Photo: Sam Davis
However, while rounding the Horn had been simple enough, the passage onwards to Stanley became increasingly fraught, running before rising storm force winds. Conditions were such that it looked for a while as though the lone sailor was going to be swept right past the islands, but he made the cut into shelter to such a nicety that he is awarded the ICC's Rockabill Trophy for Seamanship.
And then when Port Stanley was reached, a very fine passage had been completed from Tonga, so last night for that he was additionally awarded the ICC's Atlantic Trophy for the best voyage with a non-stop leg of more than a thousand miles. And then finally, after they'd spent the mid part of 2013 working their way up the Atlantic with the lone skipper particularly enjoying himself at ports on the Irish coast, Suvretta and Sam returned after three years to Conly Island. And they'd now done more than enough to also be awarded a third trophy - the ICC's premier honour, the Faulkner Cup.
Home again. Sam Davis back in Ireland, August 2013. Photo: W M Nixon
With such a high level of activity by many members, ICC adjudicators always find some final choices to be a very close call, so some years ago the Strangford Cup was inaugurated for the cruise which almost won the Faulkner Cup. This year it has gone to a fine cruise from Portugal to Madeira and through the Azores in detail before returning to Portugal.
John Duggan with his MG CS40 Hecuba in Horta in the Azores
John Duggan originally hailed from Malahide where he sailed, and he also sailed with the college teams while at Trinity College in Dublin. He cruised and raced offshore mostly in the Irish Sea, but having qualified as an accountant he decided to spread his wings internationally, and he became one of those key people who turn up as partners in one of the big four accountancy firms worldwide.
Eventually his career brought him to the company's offices in Lisbon. Living in Portugal suited him fine, so he put down roots and in time bought himself an interesting cruiser. Hecuba is a 1989 Canadian-built Tony Castro-designed MG CS40, a handsome 12m craft with good performance enhanced by an effective wing keel.
During his final years in the day job he gradually improved the boat with a mind to some proper cruising once he retired at 60, something which he planned with all a high-powered accountant's meticulous attention to detail. He remembers the final day at the office, when a friend on the other side of the world sent him an email: "Even the worst day of your retirement will be better than the best day at work".
Azorean whaleboat with Pico beyond seen during one of Hecuba's cruises from Portugal to the Azores. Photo: John Duggan
Maybe so, yet not everyone makes the changeover smoothly, but in John Duggan's case the challenge of planning and executing remarkably civilised yet challenging cruises has proven to be a complete new job in itself, but much more fun than number crunching. He goes to enormous trouble to make sure that his crews have as enjoyable and varied an experience as possible, yet all the time he is quietly keeping the project moving along while noting details and features of ports visited which might be of interest to fellow skippers, a habit which is the hallmark of the true cruising man.
When you live in Cascais with your boat based in the marina nearby, the Azores are the western isles which call you each summer. But unlike Scotland's Western Isles which are just a day's sail away across the Sea of the Hebrides, the Azores involve an immediate ocean voyage from Portugal of at least 500 miles. However, for 2013's cruise west, Hecuba made it a triangle, going first to Madeira before going on nor'west to the Azores which were cruised in detail before returning to Cascais after six weeks away, having logged 2390 miles, with the final tabulation being:
Hours spent close hauled: Zero.
Cross words exchanged: Zero.
Inevitably the two big awards dominate the scoresheet, but the ICC also has a host of trophies which reflect every level of club sailing activity. The Round Ireland Cup, for instance, is for the circuit which produces most information for the club's sailing directions, and in a year in which a goodly number went round, it was Donal Walsh of Dungarvan with his Moody 31 Lady Kate who best filled the bill.
Donal Walsh's Lady Kate anchored at Inishmurray off the Sligo coast during his detailed round Ireland cruise. Photo: Donal Walsh
As the Faulkner Cup was first won in 1931 by the 28ft cutter Marie, the Marie Trophy is for the best cruise by a boat under 30ft, and Mick Delap from Valentia Island with his Tamarisk 24 gaff cutter North Star fits into the size requirement with six feet to spare. He made a fine job of completing a two-summer circuit of Ireland by returning from western Scotland via the Irish Sea and Ireland's south and southwest coasts.
Mick Delap's Tamarisk 24 North Star from Valentia in Lowlandman's Bay in Jura in the Hebrides. Photo: Mick Delap
In all, the ICC has a dozen cruising trophies. But even so not everyone gets one in a typically busy year, so to encourage the newcomers they've the Perry Greer Trophy for first time log-writers, and it goes to Peter Mullan from the Quoile in Strangford Lough for his insightful account of a round Ireland cruise with the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey Sancerre.
Peter Mullan's Sun Odyssey Sancerre in the little harbour at Tory Island with the Donegal highlands beyond. Photo: Peter Mullan
All the logs, including the winning ones, were featured in the ICC's 180-page Annual 2013, which Honorary Editor Ed Wheeler managed to get to the members in time for Christmas. All this is done by voluntary effort, yet the Annual would stand up to professional comparisons, as it includes informative accounts of cruises in just about every part of the world, plus a report on the ICC Cruise-in-Company to the Isles of Scilly which was an outstanding success despite coinciding with some uneven weather in June.
The Irish Cruising Club flotilla in the Isles of Scilly during their successful Cruise-in-Company in June 2013.
Everyone to his taste. ICC member Brian Black went to Greenland for the sixth time, crewing on Aurora. This is Kangertitiatsivaq Fjord in high summer. Photo: Brian Black
There's more to the Club than the Annual, as the ICC's programme of producing constantly up-dated Sailing Directions for the entire Irish coast in two volumes is a continuous progression, with the latest 12th Edition of the North & East Coast Book due next month from Honorary Editor Norman Kean, whose home port is Courtmacsherry.
Thus it's clear that Ireland's cruising club is a truly all-Ireland organisation, and this year it will be celebrating its 85th birthday with a Cruise-in-Company to Glengarriff where it was founded on July 13th 1929. Yet despite its obvious significance, this is a club without premises. In the final analysis, it's a club of the mind, made up of kindred spirits. Heading such a body is a mighty challenge, and the changing of the watch is always a charged moment.
Last night David Tucker of Kinsale stood down after serving his three years as Commodore, and he was succeeded by Peter Killen of Malahide. His experience in club administration is long-lived – he was Commodore of Malahide YC when it became "Club of the Year" in 1980. But it was his cruising CV which next went into overdrive, as in 1993 he voyaged north to Iceland, circled it, and then sailed back in near-record time in an S&S 30. He then moved up to a Sigma 36 which he cruised to Greenland among other places, following which he cruised even further with a Sweden 38, and then in 2004 he took on his dreamship, the Amel Maramu 54 Pure Magic.
Peter Killen seems to have cruised this very special boat just about everywhere. Not least was deep into Antarctica, where he made a memorable arrival in zero visibility with icy conditions into the natural harbour in the extinct volcanic crater on Deception Island. It was all a long way in time and distance from five boats gathered in Glengarrif in the hope of forming a little cruising organisation back in 1929. But that's the way it is with the Irish Cruising Club.
#royalcork – At the recent Annual General Meeting of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, James O'Sullivan, Past President of the Cork Business Association and Former Governor General of the Lions Club was elected to the position of Rear Admiral of Cruising at the Crosshaven club. Last month RCYC's Ronan Enright was elected Commodore of the South Coast Offshore Racing Association (SCORA) at the cruiser racing association's agm at Kinsale Yacht Club.
#cruising – Irish sailor Jarlath Cunnane has been awarded the prestigious Vasey Vase trophy by the The Ocean Cruising Club (The OCC) at its awards ceremony in London last night. The top prize in world cruising achievements is for the Mayo man's unusual and exploratory voyage through the White Sea Canal through Russia and around Scandinavia.
Jarlath and crew aboard his sailing vessel Northabout set out from Westport, Ireland for a journey to St. Petersburg and through the Belomorsk Canal into the White Sea. Northabout logged over 4500 miles in this adventure. She passed through 6 canals and river systems en route, including 115 locks.
Partly because of the difficulty normally inherent in making this transit as Prime Minister Putin had put severe restrictions on transit by any but government authorized transport vessels, few pleasure vessels have made this journey. In fact Northabout had planned to take that route after their successful transit of the Northeast Passage in 2004-2005 but were denied permission. As restrictions were somewhat eased, Jarlath made the decision to try again.
It was a most unusual journey to the Gulag Archipelago which included a visit to Sandermark, a burial ground where 7000 of Stalin's victims were laid to rest in mass graves. The canal itself, built by Gulag prisoners, was never the engineering marvel that Stalin envisioned. But it is a short cut that allows passage from the Baltic to the White Sea without the long journey through the Arctic Ocean. This voyage both unusual and exploratory is reflective of the spirit of the Vasey Vase.
Jarlath Cunnane, retired construction manager, boat builder and adventurer from Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, is currently building a new boat
Each year the OCC recognises the achievements of ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things on the world’s oceans and brings those achievements to the attention of the sailing community at large.
The OCC Awards Sub-Committee made the announcement at the annual OCC London Boat Show dinner. This year, the recipient of the club’s premier award for members, The Barton Cup, is Jeanne Socrates, who at the age of 70 is the oldest woman to circumnavigate the world solo, non-stop.
Two recipients share the OCC Award of Merit, an OCC award that recognises both members and non-members: Herb Hilgenberg and Laura Dekker. Herb assisted blue water sailors with ship-routing and weather advice for more than 25 years. Laura has shown the world that being the youngest circumnavigator was not derived from seeking fame and fortune but rather from a tremendous passion for sailing.
Commodore John Franklin added, “I congratulate all award recipients and nominees, and I thank all adventurous cruising sailors for inspiring new generations to reach for extraordinary goals.” All winners are invited to attend the OCC Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony on 12th April 2014 aboard HQS Wellington (Head Quarters Ship and home of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners) in London, where formal presentations of the awards will be made. The full stories will be presented on the night and published in the subsequent edition of Flying Fish (the journal of the Ocean Cruising Club).
The full OCC press release is available to download below.
#christmasrally – Strong winds but a relatively smooth sea state provided a fast exciting start to the Christmas Caribbean Rally.
The fastest boats in the rally, which set out from Lanzarote on December 16th, have about 1200 nm to go to Antigua. The fleet is being lead by Spanish flagged Ocean Phoenix, a Rob Humpreys 77, with Eduard Numan's Dutch Shipman 63, Jinthe close behind.
Eduard is a sports fanatic taking part in hockey, ski-ing, golf and cycling in his home town of Amsterdam. It has been Edu's ambition to sail across the Atlantic and cruising through Patagonia is also high on the agenda for Jinthe. Before the start of the Christmas Caribbean Rally, Jinthe built up a friendly rivalry with Juan Luis Serra, skipper on Ocean Phoenix. For the moment, Ocean Phoenix has the upper hand and Ocean Phoenix also has a secret weapon, First Mate 'Duna'. Apparently the 8 year old poodle is handy around the boat and is as wily as an old fox when it comes to the navigation!
Husband and wife, Alan and Terry Ryall are sailing two up on an Island Packet 465, Seminole Wind. The British couple have sailed two-handed before but never across an ocean. Terry has been providing regular blogs since the start of the Christmas Caribbean Rally. From these extracts you can surmise they are clearly enjoying the fast sailing and near perfect tradewind conditions. Below is an extract:
"This was a notion that turned into a dream that worked into plan that got delayed and is now happening - two very lucky people at the start of a new chapter in a blessed life."
"On the upside too, there's the vastness of the ocean and the depth of the universe We've had a bright full moon for most of the week. At one point when coming up for the midnight watch I thought someone was shining a spotlight into the cockpit. It was so, so bright. When the stars come out they're magnificent as is the Star Walk app that you just point at the sky and it tells you what the stars are. It's brilliant. Incidentally, I've now reached level 106 on Candy Crush Saga!"
Prior to departure, all of the yachts competing in the Caribbean Christmas Rally received Christmas sacks with presents, decorations and even a miniature Christmas Tree all provided as part of the package by the Sailing Rallies team.
The first boats are likely to make landfall in Antigua around the 29th December.
The daily broadcast is a Radio 4 institution, but its future is far from certain in light of the increased use of the internet by sailors to download weather predictions.
According to meteorologist Frank Singleton, it's only a matter of time before the Shipping Forecast comes to an end. (As it is, there may be interruptions to the service next year.)
Stuart Carruthers of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has described the online survey as a "cunning ruse" to provide an excuse for ending the service, which he says is "essential" to yachts that have no internet access at sea.
It's a charge that's been denied by the BBC, who noted that the RYA has itself recently sought the opinions of its members on usage of the Shipping Forecast.
Yachting Monthly has more on the story HERE.
#Navigation - The United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that it will cease publication of paper nautical charts in six months' time, according to Sail magazine.
Since the first maps charting the US coastline were published in the 1860s, the NOAA's Office of Coast Survey has been producing accurate and highly detailed charts to help all kinds of mariners find safe passage through American waters, from fishing vessels to merchant ships to cruising yachts.
But with the majority of ocean-goers now relying on GPS and other modern technologies, the use of paper nautical charts was seen as falling by the wayside by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which took over the production of US charts in 1999.
Yet while printed nautical charts may now become the preserve of specialised cartographers like Bobby Nash, who designed a special classic chart for the Volvo Ocean Race finale in Galway last year, the NOAA will still be providing its ocean maps by electronic means via data or high-res PDFs.
Sail magazine has more on the story HERE.
#circumnavigation – Having completed a nine year sailing circumnavigation Pat and Olivia Murphy of Howth Yacht Club have been giving talks to clubs, groups and organisations throughout the country. These have proven to be very popular and always result in follow up talks. Being a 'double act' and designed for a general audience makes these talks entertaining for sailors and non-sailors alike. For schools the presentations are specifically designed as educational.
If your club is interested or if you know of an organisation or combination of groups that might be interested you ccan contact Pat Murphy on 353 1 8322 312 for more details.
Pat and Olivia Murphy Talk Desciptions
Part 1. Ireland to New Zealand via Atlantic Ocean, ARC Rally, Caribbean, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama Canal, Galapagos, Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia, Cook Islands and Tonga. The 4 years planning the adventure, searching and finding the suitable boat, the departure, two close encounters with crocodiles and a night spent turtle watching are an example of the many stories included in this talk.
Part 2. New Zealand to Australia via Fiji, Vanuatu (New Hebrides) and New Caledonia. 9 days storm bound in the remote Minerva Reefs, Pat's initiation into a tribal family during a pig killing ceremony, Olivia's medical emergency etc. etc... Ends with a very unique 30 min. DVD Pat made of local tribal customs and traditions.
Part 3. From Brisbane through the Great Barrier Reef to Darwin, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Avoiding crocodiles off Northern Australia, Komodo Dragons and Orangutans in Indonesia and Borneo, being lucky to avoid serious damage to Aldebaran in Malaysia, losing our dinghy and outboard are only a small portion of the stories and experiences in this talk.
Part 4; Sailing and back-packing in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma) & Vietnam. If you have never been or plan to go to any of these Asian countries we promise our stories with high quality slides will whet your appetite. The restoration of the 118 ft ketch Cariad built in Southampton in 1896 is part of this talk.
Part 5. NEW: Covers our experiences sailing from Thailand to Galle in Sri Lanka where we were escorted by armed guards, Cochin in India, The Indian Ocean, Salalah in Oman, 5 nervous days transiting "Pirate Ally" off Somalia, Aden in Yemen, the good and the bad of the Red Sea, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, the Suez Canal and Cyprus to Turkey.
#arcticcircle – The Irish 'North of Disko' expedition, organised by Killary Adventure Company, returned last week from its ten-week voyage to the Arctic Circle and the west coast of Greenland. Stunning images of ice and film footage from the adventure are currently being collated for exhibition and a feature length documentary. The crew sailed from Galway on the 14th June and battled some wild weather on their Atlantic crossing, before reaching their destination and exploring Greenland's spectacular coastline, ice fjords and glaciers.
The crew sailed over 2000nm to Upernavik in Greenland, well inside the Arctic Circle, from where a team of four kayakers set out on a 300km unsupported sea kayak south, navigating through fjords and ice fields, while the team of three climbers tackled a series of first ascents, as they followed the kayakers south, on board the 49ft, ex admirals cup racing yacht the 'Killary Flyer'.
Adding a further dimension to the expedition, photographer Daragh Muldowney has captured some spectacular images of the disappearing ice and will be hosting an exhibition in the coming months.
The expedition was led by Jamie Young, MD of Killary Adventure Company, whose previous expeditions include the successful Irish Cape Horn Sea Kayak Expedition in 1989, the Guinea Bissau Sea Kayak Expedition in 1992, and the 'South Aris' expedition, which attempted to re-enact Shackleton's epic boat trip from Elephant Island to South Georgia, in 1997.
The crew arrived into Killary Harbour on the morning of Thursday 15th August and are currently readjusting to life ashore.
The London-headquartered organisation has set 19 October as the launch date for the new 'Celtic Seas' section, which will comprise the whole of Ireland plus the west coast of Scotland, the Isle of Man and the west coasts of England and Wales.
As Sail World reports, the proposed new section would complete the CA's coverage of the British Isles, along with the North Sea and Channel sections. Events and cruises-in-company would be arranged, not to mention the creation of a 'CelticNet' online forum for section members.
It's hoped that the Celtic Seas section would work together with existing cruising clubs and associations using the waters around Ireland - the Atlantic, North Channel, Irish Sea and Celtic Sea - to organise joint events, expanding on the CA's current presence in Ireland via honorary local representatives.
The first meeting of the Celtic Seas section will take place on Saturday 19 October at CA House in Limehouse, East London, where members of existing Irish and British west coast associations - and non-members with an interest in cruising - will be invited to discuss motor cruising and sailing in the region.
#hebrides – August is almost upon us. The heat has been fierce, and the summer season has been busy. Despite some blips in the weather, civilised folk will be thinking of sailing away from it all for a while. North and west perhaps, in the hope of finding uncrowded and beautiful places which may be cooler. The Western Isles, the Outer Hebrides, are calling us away.
Certainly they did so in August last year, but not for reasons of heat. On the contrary, the jetstream lay persistently along Ireland's south coast, and July's weather here was appalling. But the word came back that up in the Hebrides, they were already thinking of water shortages as the sun shone on and on.
We had contemplated taking the 1912-built 36ft Kearney yawl Ainmara to southwest Ireland for her Centenary cruise. But as owner Dickie Gomes is an enthusiast for the west coast of Scotland in any case, it was no contest. Twelve days in mid-August were allocated to celebrating the old girl's emergence from a 27-year restoration with some Hebridean island-hopping. And I became so taken with the idea that I made an offer that if we could get to the remote little pool of Rodel at the southern tip of Harris, I'd stand my two shipmates the Centenary Dinner at the inn beside that enchanted anchorage.
Rodel is a real honey-trap, as you need a good rise of the tide to get through the drying channel into the deep pool, and there you are - whether you like it or not - until the tide returns. But it's no hardship, as the place is beautiful, the inn is welcoming, and for a thoughtful insight into times past in the Western Isles, just up the road is the restored late mediaeval church of St Clement, complete with the famous MacLeod tomb with its carving of a sailing vessel, the inspiration for Wallace Clark's building of the Lord of the Isles galley with which he voyaged from Connacht to Stornoway.
The Centenarian on a silver sea – after a restoration lasting 27 years, Ainmara deserved to spend her hundredth birthday at a very special place Photo: W M Nixon
The cruise objective – Rodel is exactly in the middle of the long necklace of the Outer Hebrides
It's the sort of place that everyone thinks they are the first to discover, and my own first discovery of Rodel came in 1977 when we sailed in aboard Johnny Roche's 26ft South Coast OD Safina. The party in the inn was mighty, and dawn was already hinting when we struck a deal in the old kitchen to buy a bolt of Harris tweed, woven within sight of the anchorage. We sailed home with the tweed in a sailbag in the foc's'le, and two of the crew then commissioned that great Dublin tailor Jack O'Rourke (father of current Mermaid National Champion Jonathan O'Rourke) to make them up a couple of suits from our seafaring cloth.
Although they both were of much the same age, one was an old fogey from birth, while the other was a permanently young trendy. So when Jack finally produced the suits to their two very different and clearly defined specifications, it took a real effort to realize that both outfits were cut from the same piece of tweed, as one was a very sharp and fashionable bit of work, while the other had all the timeless style of a sack of potatoes.
Next time back to Rodel was six years later with my own Hustler 30 Turtle, and some of those good folk of Rodel with whom we'd partied in '77 had since gone to the great weaving mill in the sky, while the inn was running out of steam. It still clung to some semblance of gentility with immaculate table linen, but portions for dinner were of such modest size that we simply had two dinners apiece, one after the other.
That was all of thirty years ago, and since then the word was the inn had closed down completely. But a few years ago there was a welcome whisper of a restoration under completely new ownership. So when Ainmara's centenary came up the agenda, it seemed the perfect setting for a mid-cruise Centenary Dinner, and we departed from Ballycastle towards the sunny Hebrides with this interesting cruise objective in mind, while astern the Irish coast continued to lie under cloud.
Despite his impressive record of international long distance offshore racing, these days Dickie Gomes takes care to avoid unnecessary nights at sea, so our progress towards Rodel was gentle yet effective, hopping our way via Port Ellen and Ardbeg in Islay, then on to Scalasaig in Colonsay, and then out to Tiree to be nicely placed for the passage across the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra.
There'd been only one other yacht in Gott Bay in Tiree when we arrived, but there were half a dozen getting under way in leisurely style that morning. Ainmara was the only boat to head west out through Gunna Sound between Tiree and Coll into the Sea of the Hebrides, shaping our course for Barra and motoring gently through a large shoal of basking sharks going about their leisurely work. There was a strengthening breeze from the northeast and the soft grey cloud cover was melting away. It may have been three days already since leaving Ballycastle, but coming out through Gunna Sound gave a special feeling of the cruise really getting under way, and it settled into a perfect 40 mile passage, beam reaching in sunshine with everything set to the jib tops'l on its first outing, and the distinctive peaks of the southern outliers of the Western Isles starting to rise above the horizon while still thirty miles ahead.
First port in the Outer Hebrides - Castlebay in Barra revelled in the August sunshine Photo: W M Nixon
Castlebay basked in the sun, the heat was solid, and the tarmac on the quayside road was soft in the sun. At first we were in solitary splendour on the visitors mooring nearest Kisimul Castle, that ancient fortress of the MacNeils, but some other boats came in later in the evening. Up in the cool of the pub, glad to be out of the fierce sun, our gallant skipper met so many interesting folk that we were too late to get a booking at the funky little Café Kisimul on the quay, but had a reasonable meal in the hotel above the boat and retired aboard in a state of enchantment at being in the Outer Isles.
The morning brought a crisp easterly and hazy sunshine, so we were away early to make northing through the Sea of the Hebrides. We'd thought to drop into Eriskay for a lunch break, but the sailing was just too good, this was what we'd come for, we just kept going, and began to think that in a day or two we might even get to Rodel. Once the southeasterly headland on South Uist was astern, the sheets were eased and Ainmara settled into her stride with the jib tops'l pulling well, and the ancient mizzen staysail in its Killkenny colours of black and gold making its first appearance after a very long time in storage.
This is what we came for – glorious sailing in the Sea of the Hebrides with the ancient mizzen staysail (in the Kilkenny colours) pulling well. Photo: W M Nixon
God be with the days.....Ainmara alongside the cliff at Loch Boisdale in June 1963 to collect a bunch of heather for the bowsprit end Photo: W M Nixon
With progress like this, where on earth were we going to stop? Northward she romped, passing Loch Boisdale almost without a thought. Back in 1963 on our first cruise to the Outer Hebrides with Ainmara (when I already thought she was rather an old boat), one fine June morning we were gliding seawards down Loch Boiusdale, and noticed a healthy growth of heather on the nearby cliff. Once you've got north of Ardnmurchan Point, Scotland's Cape Horn, you're entitled to have a bundle of heather on the stemhead or bowsprit end. We hadn't yet got around to this back in 1963, but on that blissful morning we simply came alongside the steep shore, and nipped up the cliff to get the heather. It was Monday June 10th 1963. It was with some relief at the end of June that we noted the exact Golden Jubilee of that magic morning on Monday June 10th 2013 had passed entirely unmarked. You can have enough of Golden Jubilees.
Onward we sailed in August 2012 with gems of lochs like Eynort, Skipport and Uiskkevagh slipping by as this perfect day progressed. Flodday likewise was missed with cavalier disregard, then by Eport the wind was gone, but we motored on to Loch Maddy (48 miles from Castlebay) as we'd never been there before, and it left barely a dozen miles next day to Rodel.
We liked Loch Maddy, it's very Western Isles with the pier in one place and the village in another, and in the morning there was time for an heroic breakfast before heading down the loch in bright sunshine. There was a fine easterly breeze, and out in open water all plain sail was set and we started making impressive knots towards Rodel. I foolishly remarked that this looked like being the best sail of the cruise. Within minutes, it was as if somebody had knocked off a switch. We'd to motor for a while, then a gentle nor'easter had us beating in very leisurely style, and in mid-afternoon we were off Rodel with an hour or so to go to high water.
While Loch Rodel itself provides only limited shelter, the pool behind Vallay Island is snug
The tidal entrance looks tricky enough, but it's worth it for the perfect anchorage within
The shoreline begins to take shape, with St Clements Church clear above the hotel at Rodel Photo: W M Nixon
Ainmara is lining up for the Bay Channel into the pool Photo: W M Nixon
The seabed is clearly visible as you pass through the channel close to the port hand marker Photo: W M Nixon
A very relieved skipper as we start to find deeper water in the pool Photo: W M Nixon
Mission accomplished – Ainmara in Rodel to celebrate her Centenary Photo: W M Nixon
But as tides were neaps, the skipper was a bit nervous as we found our way through the shoal entrance in gentle style. You really do pass very close to the port hand marker. Yet once within the pool, my shipmates saw why I was so keen about this enchanting place, and we happily slowed down to Rodel speed for the rest of the day.
St Clement's Church at Rodel is one of the Outer Hebrides more significant buildings Photo: W M Nixon
The historic Macleod tomb in St Clement's Photo: W M Nixon
The stone carving on the MacLeod tomb which inspired the Lord of the Isles galley to be built in Greencastle in Donegal Photo: W M Nixon
Ashore, a visit to St Clements Church fitted the mood perfectly. There is a genuine sense of the past, and of the turbulent history which had once been the lot of this sleepy and now remote place. Down at the restored inn (it's called the Rodel Hotel these days, but for me it will always be the inn), we found the sympathetically-renovated establishment had a new dining room beside a new bar – the old rough bar out the back where we'd started negotiating for the tweed was long gone. And though the Countess of Dunmore's drawing room cum dining room where we'd enjoyed fine linen still exists, it is boarded up. But everything else is very much alive, we were able to have luxurious baths in Jock's Room (thanks Jock) and the setting was perfect with the evening sun still bright on the Centenarian sitting gracefully on her mooring and well visible through the restaurant windows, while the food aspirations were up to speed with a German chef and a friendly and obliging Spanish husband and wife couple front of house.
The Rodel Hotel has been restored in a manner which respects its original style. Photo: W M Nixon
Appropriately, the skipper had the best of it - he went for the surf'n'turf option which was far from your usual beef and salmon, it was Pabbay venison from the second-last island before St Kilda, combined with Sound of Harris hand-caught scallops. It sounds a bit overpowering, but worked very well, and kept himself in the best of spirits. Denis our third crewman being a sports addict, he was keen to see the Olympics Closing Ceremony on television after dinner, and we were invited to use the Residents' Lounge to do so in comfort. While the lads were settling themselves in there with the coffees and digestifs, I nipped furtively up to the bar to settle the bill - the other two hadn't really believed my "get to Rodel and I'll pay for dinner" proposal - and found what was clearly the man himself running the bar and everything else.
"Would you be our host?" I enquired. "I am indeed," said he, "for my sins I'm the proprietor of this place. Welcome to Rodel. I'm Donald MacDonald".
Such is life. We go all the way, nursing an old boat across hundreds of miles of potentially very turbulent water to Rodel in the Western Isles in order to celebrate her Centenary Feast in the Great Hall of the MacLeods of Harris, only to find it has become a MacDonald's.
A MacDonald's with a difference – Ainmara serene in the evening sunshine at Poll an Tigh-Mhail, seen from the dining room in the Rodel Hotel. Photo: W M Nixon