Narwhal Sets Sail
Time for adventure
The moment that we have been looking forward to has arrived. After all of the jobs list ticking, food and fuel loading it is time for Narwhal to do what she was designed for. To head out to sea and point her bows north towards adventure. As Narwhal followers will know the first stage of our adventure is to sail to Oban, heading up the North Sea and then transiting the Caledonian Canal. This will give us a chance to get to know how Narwhal handles at sea, as well as generate a few more jobs for the list.
Narwhal sets sail
Friday 28th April we passed through Shotley Locks to a fanfare of hooting horns from the marina staff. I think they were wishing us well on our journey and not just glad to see the back of us. It felt strange to see what has become our home base for most of the last year dropping away in our wake. We passed Felixstowe docks accompanied by a string of container ships, so far so good but I couldn’t help wondering what teething problem Narwhal would present us with. Just as we were about to cross the shipping channel she presented us with it in spectacular fashion. Emptying the 1000L of newly added freshwater directly into her bilge. Rapidly rising water in the bilge is aways certain to raise the heart rate, fortunately it was accompanied by a rapidly dropping water tank gauge. Locating the pipe that had come disconnected from the water pump and caused the rapid discharge provided enough reassurance that it wasn’t the sea coming in. Fortunately we had enough spare drinking water to be able to carry on but there definitely wouldn't be any showers. It was time to head North...
Into the North Sea
We motored on past Orford ness and Lowestoft in a gently rolling sea and beautiful sunset. It was then that Narwhal decided to present her second teething problem. The autopilot flashed up an error message, stopped steering and despite much persuasion could not be encouraged to participate any further in the trip. This meant that we had to hand steer the rest of the way, good for power consumption but not ideal for shorthanded sailing. We carried on through the night, alternating turns at the wheel, with one hand on the wheel it was hard to get downstairs to look at any of the navigation equipment. It was a case of, tie off the wheel with a bit of bungee, nip below, get what had to be done sorted and rush back on deck before Narwhal veered off course to dramatically. My night watch saw us of Great Yarmouth and I was treated to a laser light show from the beach.
The following morning the breeze built, 8kts, 9kts, 10kts… The time had arrived to get Narwhal under sail for the first time. She seemed as happy to be sailing as I was, easily beating her motoring speed and filling me with optimism that she will be great at making miles under sail. We left the shore behind us and headed out to sea around the Wash. The horizon emptied to rolling blue sea and blue sky and we were joined by a steady accompaniment of guillemots, gulls and fulmars and even a pair of puffins.
Wind and waves
During the night the breeze built as forecasted and Narwhal got a chance to show us what she can do in 25kts. Happily the answer was make good progress, consistently above 7kts we were making good progress towards Scotland. The downside of the increased wind and sea state meant that leaving the helm to check on the nav or positions of other shipping shown on the AIS display became impossible. Meaning that the person off watch had to be woken from their much needed sleep when anything other than steering was required. Our watches of three hours on, three hours off/being woken up for all jobs were going to get pretty tiring. The wind, and lack of sleep persisted through the following day and the night (although I’m not quite sure I was sure which night it was by then). The strong winds whisked us past the mouth of the Humber Estuary, Flamborough Head and Newcastle. Our route directly north took us away from shore here so instead of sights to see they became points to check off along the way. Too far out for downloading an updated weather forecast we had to rely on the shipping forecast to tell of if the winds were ever going to ease. (Another job for the person ‘off' watch).
Sailing to Scotland
As another of my watches began, I came on deck to see Peterhead on the Scottish coast coming into view. The beam from the lighthouse gradually being erased by the wash of grey of the pre-dawn light. As we rounded Fraserborough, heading for the Moray Firth, the wind and the seas began to reduce and our energy levels began to rise again. It was time to start thinking about the next stage of our journey which would see us navigating through some shallow waters to reach Inverness and the Caledonian Canal. The sea lock is only manned and therefore can only be entered 0830 - 1730. Our current progress would see us arriving at 3am, so as evening approached we decided to anchor in Burghead Bay, get some rest and take the tide up to the start of the canal in the morning. Anchor alarms and a regular checking schedule set, it was time for my tired head to hit the pillow.