Sailing on The Forth – me at the helm.

I was looking through some computer bits and pieces in the attic when I came across a tin with a few SD Cards in it. They were clearly old ones as their capacity was just 2Gb and most of my cards nowadays are a minimum of 32Gb and usually micro SD. I guessed that they must have been used in my old Pentax DSLR camera . I still have and use the camera, in fact, it now lives on Jess. The sensor has a crack in one of the corners, the battery door is a wee bit loose and there’s a wee bit rust here and there and on the battery terminals, there are numerous scuffs and scrapes but it still takes great photographs. I used it to take photographs of my last sailing trip at the end of last season. I plugged one of the cards into my computer and I was delighted to find that it had lots of photographs of sailing trips I had been on a number of years ago, trips that had rekindled my interest in sailing.

My dad was a lecturer in Seamanship at Leith Nautical College and I grew up around boats of all descriptions. We built our own boat – a “Smallcraft Seafarer 21” and sailed it around The Forth for a number of years until dad took ill. Then during my time at university I did a bit of dinghy sailing, but as time went on other things got in the way and I didn’t do much more sailing until I met Ron at my rugby club. I have no idea how the talk got round to sailing but it turned out that he knew of my dad and other staff at the college who were mutual friends. Ron was planning a trip later that summer, from Port Edgar, north to the Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy. He had visited a couple of times before but his sailing buddy had pulled out and he asked me if I wanted to go. The Festival is held around the end of June each year and I managed to get an extra couple of days off before the summer holidays (I was working as an Education Officer at the time on teaching staff holidays) and we set off. That was back in 2003 and I continued to go sailing with Ron for many years after that and enjoyed many great sailing trips on both the east and west coast.

Ron’s boat was a beautiful Laurent Giles designed gaff rig cutter which, much to the despair of his wife, he built himself in his back garden – by another coincidence it turns out that his wife and I are related on my mother’s side – distant cousins but that’s another story. Sometimes Edinburgh seems little bigger than a village! At the time, the house where he lived had a small lane running along the back of the garden and his intention was to crane the finished boat on to a low loader. However, neither the low loader nor the crane were able to negotiate the lane and he ended up lifting the seven and a half tonne boat over his house!.

Ron and I sailed to the Traditional Boat Festival a number of times after that first trip and the photographs above were taken on that first trip in 2003 – which turned out to be memorable in a number of ways. Much of our trip north was through a thick east coast haar which accompanied us all the way to Peterhead. The night picture is of us creeping into Arbroath. We passed the Bell Rock in fog, barely able to see it and as we approached Peterhead we were confronted with a supply ship looming out of the gloom toward us. However, the weather cleared after Peterhead and we had a great sail down the Moray Firth to Whitehills and then on to Portsoy. After the Festival we decided to try to make for Stromness on Orkney. However, this involves passing through the Pentland Firth. Notorious at the best of times and impossible at the worst. We stopped off at Wick – which at the time had two huge, empty harbours. We spoke with the Harbour Master who thought we would have little chance of getting to Orkney in the next couple of days due to the forecast of strong westerlies. We decided to head back across the Moray Firth to Whitehills. A few miles south of Wick, carrying too much sail, the peak halyard snapped and the gaff came crashing down. To compound things, the flying jib parted from its halyard and we were left with just the small jib to get us across the Firth. We made it safely to Lossiemouth which was a bit closer than Whitehills and spent the next two days making repairs! We spent many years sailing up and down the East coast of Scotland and around The Forth with my friend Alan joining us on a number of occasions.

In 2005 Ron decided to take Capella to the West Coast with Alan and me helping with the transit through The Caledonian Canal and The Great Glen – another memorable trip. After passing through the canal, we spent time exploring the waters around Loch Linnhe and Skye before we left Ron at Dunstaffnage where he journeyed through the Sound of Mull, round Ardnamurchan to Arisaig in Lochaber where he would keep Capella for a number of years. Ron, Alan and I spent wonderful weekends and summers exploring Ardnamurchan, Morvern, Mull, Skye and The Outer Hebrides before he returned Capella to the East Coast and Port Edgar. Our last trip together on Capella was in July of 2008 on a trip from Port Edgar to Helmsdale. In September of 2010 Alan and I chartered Ruby, a Bavaria 36, from Croabh Haven, invited Ron and we spent a great weekend together, reminiscing.

During our trip together on Ruby I got the sense that Ron was losing some of his interest in sailing. He and the friends he sailed with at Port Edgar were getting older and spending more time sipping tea on their boats than they were actually sailing. Ron and his wife downsized their home and moved out of Edinburgh and he stopped going to the rugby club and gradually I saw less of him. We had a few day sailing on The Forth but no more extended trips.

I bumped into Ron in June 2014, in Next of all places. He was looking well and told me that he had returned to his other passion of cycling, had joined a cycling club and was feeling great. I was in the process of applying for early retirement and told him of my plans was to buy a sailing boat. It didn’t surprise me to hear from him that Capella had been on the hard at Port Edgar for 18 months, up for sale. Was I interested? I told him I would think about it and would be in touch once I knew that my early retirement application had been successful. About a month later he phoned me and asked if I wanted to take Capella off his hands, for nothing, saying that he would much rather she went to someone who would care for her than her lying on the hard, rotting. It was such a generous offer that at first I didn’t know what to say. Capella is a beautiful yacht, solidly built and capable of taking you absolutely anywhere. Unfortunately, my plans were for taking family and friends away for sailing trips and with only three berths, she just wasn’t big enough. Part of me still regrets not taking up his offer. Capella was eventually sold and as far as I know she’s still sailing around Holland, Belgium and Denmark.

I’m glad I spent time raking around the attic and coming across those SD cards, they brought back such fond, wonderful memories: wild nights spent in Stornoway, a caravan park on Loch Ness, and Plockton where we forgot where we left the boat and spent an hour, in the dark going from boat to boat until we found her; the peace and tranquility of Arisaig and Badachro, where we tied the tender too far down the slip and returned to find it floating 30 metres out (we returned to the pub); encountering a huge pod of dolphins in Raasay Inner Sound and enjoying their company for an hour or so; the racing at the Traditional Boat Festival and the Harbour Master at Helmsdale who drove us on a tour of the area. Great memories.

Each year when Alan and I are off on our annual trip we send Ron a text telling of our adventures. Perhaps one year he’ll join us.