Seagull Feeding Frenzy

Lossiemouth at latitude 57 deg 43.41N looks as if it will be the furthest north Temptress will get, we spent a comfortable if odd night in this small harbour. The trip from Whitehills to Lossiemouth was not exactly eventful, initially we sailed for a couple of hours until the wind died completely. With a flat sea and no wind it was finally ideal conditions to recalibrate the autopilot, a task outstanding since March when the new rudder was fitted so a couple of miles offshore we slowly steered in circles. The instructions are to circle at least twice at under 3 knots in circles that take at least 2 minutes to complete each. Easy? No but it did give a chance for a mackerel to catch up with our lure just to complicate things!

These mackerel are lot larger than their southern cousins

Soon we had five large fish gutted and in the fridge, curried mackerel for supper (one fish each) to accompany the planned veggie curry & rice already planned. By late afternoon the sky was darkening with the forecast rain so we made haste and put on the mainsail cover as well as tidying away the spinnaker sheets & guys.

Lossiemouth entrance is a tight squeeze

The entry into Lossiemouth was a tight one – a shallow narrow granite walled channel then a sharp left turn into the basin with the L-shaped visitors pontoon on the left meaning a full 180 degree turn to get in. Alongside the wall that ran across the the top of the L was a converted ships liferaft, now a fishing vessel judging by the accoutrements adorning it, between it and a yacht berthed on the pontoon was a fifty foot gap, just big enough for us. Except we ran aground on the approach and our anchor nearly took out the over height light and services box on the pontoon edge. Susie scrambled over the bow to hold it off whilst Kevin managed to get Temptress moving again. The rising tide soon meant we were tied up parallel to the pontoon. All of this was watched over by the older couple who owned the yacht in front. Their loud commentary was not helpful, “You won’t fit in there”, “The boat that was in that berth earlier was on about 28 feet”, “Don’t you xxxx hit my boat” and so on, husband and wife both shrieking.

Final stages of AIS installation

Eventually they apologised but it didn’t make for a very warm welcome so after supper we took ourselves off to the pub. Well we had to go to The Steamboat anyway as it acts as the harbour office out of hours! The pub wasn’t busy and we were made welcome. The jukebox seemed to have a selection of bag pipe tracks and similar Scottish music which made an interesting change. Live music was promised with the band coming on at 10pm ( a bit late we thought) and the promise that by the the place would be heaving. Not certain what other Friday evening entertainment there is in Lossiemouth but a large part of its RAF personnel seemed to be crammed into the place by nine thirty. The band turned out to be one man and his guitar, the back tracks were better than him but everyone was having a good time when we left before closing time.

The next morning we left early, the grotty neighbours up to watch over their craft as we departed without incident. They did have the graciousness to congratulate us on our boat handling and wish us fair winds so perhaps they weren’t so bad after all but it was an extraordinary attitude to have and one we hope we won’t come across again. Most yachties are pretty easy going and let a skipper handle his own boat without comment.

Grey Seal

On to Inverness, having done all the calculations, when could we get out of Lossiemouth (now!), when was the sealock open (office hours but not for the two hours either side of low water so last lock about 4pm) and how far was it from Lossiemouth (30 odd nautical miles) we realised it was a bit of a tight squeeze. There was no wind (that period of calm before the forthcoming storm as the barometer was dropping like the proverbial stone from 1016 to 992) so yet again we motored. The mountains on the north shore finally came into view as the Firth narrowed, we were in effect heading west as down a large funnel. At the end would be the Kessock Bridge with its narrows and rip roaring ebbing tide. For now though the views of the sand dunes to the south and tree clad hills to the north kept our interest. Grey seals were added to our nature list. The first appeared to be a black bin bag floating on the surface ahead until through the binos the seal yawned! Unlike the guillemots they hung around as Temptress approached so we managed to get a few pictures.

Oil rig underway

The new AIS showed up an oddity – not one but two rigs seemingly moving slowly up the Firth at under 2 knots… when we got closer they were under tow by two huge ships each and indeed moving towards us. We also got a potential collision alarm from yacht anchored and acting as the committee boat for some dinghy racing off Findhorn which amused us briefly. We were never going to be that close to them but had altered course to avoid a large yellow and blue striped rig support vessel.

We watched the rain move down the mountains ahead and onto the water coming towards us with the sky shades of darkening grey as we made our way through the dogleg in the Firth at Fort George and beyond into the much shallower waters which mark the approaches to the bridge. We both donned oilies in preparation. When the rain hit us it was really heavy but only a slight breeze. Underneath our keel there was now only four or five metres compared to the 30 to 70 there had been recently. Ahead we spotted a familiar boat, the very yellow Dutch aluminium craft we’d last seen heading round into The Wash off Cromer!

Fort George on the south bank
Chanory Lighthouse on the north bank
Rain approaching from Kessock Bridge
The sun is still shining back there!

By now the tide was ebbing fast and the yellow boat virtually came to a standstill ahead of us as the Firth narrowed at Kessock. By keeping to the southern shore in the shallower water Kevin kept Temptress moving. Our boat speed through the water was over seven knots but we were creeping forward at times at less than four. we were running low on diesel and Susie wondered idly what would happen if the gauge was less than accurate as it already showed red and there was no real wind though with the fast ebbing tide we probably could have sailed in the apparent wind back the way we’d come. Slowly through the gloom of the rain Temptress overhauled the Dutch boat then executed a series of ferry glides sliding sideways through the water to keep us off the sand bank to the south but tucked in behind the bulk of the bridge pillar which deflected some of the stream, we are after all river sailors at heart and have had plenty of practise at this sort of stuff in our Enterprise dinghy on the Thames.

Under the bridge (rain drops on the lens)

Temptress passed under the bridge right under the orange upside down triangle which marks the centre, as always there was that moment when you wonder if there is sufficient clearance for the mast, then the road is overhead and we were through. We managed too to miss most of the rain run off teaming through the drains and cascading in to the water below. Again Kevin kept us towards the shallows, zigzag-ing to keep out of the worst of the foul tide and ignoring completely the advice of the pilot notes which was to stick to the north bank in the deep water. Soon we were tucked up in the lock.

In the sealock

Looking back – where’s the water gone?

The keeper gave us a warm and hearty welcome with plenty of advice on line handling as well as talking us through the procedure for getting a Caledonian Canal licence. As the rain faded away the Dutch came round the corner and tied up behind us. The gates rapidly shut, it was the last lock of the day and by the time we ‘d been raised up the 3 meters or so to the next level the shallow southern shore of the Firth was completely uncovered. On paying our canal dues less a WHYW discount we found we could berth free of charge in Seaport Marina for one night. Through the next lock and just a few hundred meters along the green grassy banks onto the first vacant hammerhead berth at Seaport. Suddenly we were in rural surroundings, freshwater below the keel and no longer at sea.

Yellow boat entering the lock

On the same pontoon there were Fiddlers Green, Seahawk and Moana from Whitehills. The “yellow boat” (whose name we still don’t know) found a berth further on alongside a fellow Dutch yacht. We caught upon news, shopped in the big Co-op literally next door to the marina (having got our bikes out they really weren’t needed) then after supper eight of us retired to the local real ale pub for an enjoyable evening of swapping yachtie tales and learning one another’s life stories.

The others are all moving on on Sunday eager to see more of this amazing canal. Fiddlers Green is aiming to be back in Essex by August having completed their canal transit and circumnavigated the rest of Scotland, Wales and England so doesn’t have time to linger. We though want to complete a few more boat jobs so will be taking advantage of the large chandlery just along the canal and it would be great to have time to explore Inverness a bit although the weather forecast is not encouraging. We’ve heard from Seahawk’s crew that there is an amazing secondhand bookshop to explore and Kevin needs to wait for the Post Office to open on Monday morning.

So we’ve five days to cruise Loch Ness and the rest of the Caledonian, 50 nautical miles or 60 statute miles of mountains and lochs (and locks) before exiting at Corpach on the west coast of Scotland. Two locks completed just 27 to go plus a few swing bridges to negotiate. Ten miles a day sounds just what the doctor ordered after the headlong passage to this part of the world, it will be nice to just slow down.

Whitehills – Lossiemouth 22 nautical miles logged
Lossiemouth – Inverness 37.4nm logged  593 nm total