Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

Heavenly Trap

by  Bill Mills

That year we decided for the three week summer cruise that we would not go north of Ardnamurchan.  We would go up to Tobermory and then investigate Loch Sunnart with leisurely sailing. We would anchor in different little bays, moving on when we felt like it, staying put if we liked the place or the pub – or both.  Generally relaxing in that way so special to sailing.  Not our usual bashing on to a set destination regardless.

          But the heavenly powers can have a warped sense of humour.

The 29 foot Rhodes Ranger MILLIBAR sailed quickly up the sound of Mull in superb weather.  Moderate southwesterly winds with a sprinkling of summer cumulus.  Just the right amount of heel to get full advantage from hull length and white water bubbled merrily from the stem.  The weather forecast couldn’t have been better and helped lay the trap.  The usual three Twenties crew of 63-43-23 year-olds began thinking that this was great travelling weather.

          We picked up a mooring at Tobermory, had a meal and went ashore to see if the Mishnish and Macdonald Arms were still in good condition.  They were - and lulled by the pleasant surroundings and a pint or two, the three of us decided to take advantage of weather and forecast and head up to Portree in Skye.  We could do Loch Sunnart next year.

First light in the morning we were off.  Breakfast in the cockpit with a warming sun and Loch Sunnart was left to starboard.  We settled down passage making to Portree.  It was a great sail.  Got the tide right through the Kyle of Loch Alsh –though at the neck we were a wee bit early – and Fergus our Nr 3 on the helm, had a wee bit of a sensation going through the disturbed water.. We didn’t warn him – just sat there and watched his face as he suddenly had to contend with the hull being gripped and pulled one way while he felt a lot of pressure on the tiller wanting to go the other way.  He called us nasty names for not warning him.  Our skipper told him it was all in the cause of experience.

          Half an hour before arriving at Portree we had a strong gust from the hills on Skye- and Fergus happened to be on the helm again.  We three-quarter broached and Fergus’s face was again a picture.  I grabbed the tiller and squared her up telling Nr 3  that if it happened again just to let everything go and the boat would look after herself.  Just then an almighty gust came hurtling down from the Portree hills. I called out –‘ Watch -- and see what happens.’. I let go of tiller and mainsheet.  All I heard in reply was a fast fading burst of vile profanity.  There he was hanging grimly on to the fully extended boom, his feet about a foot off the water.  The gust past and both the skipper and I asked him what he was doing out there. .       He told us – still hanging on like mad and interjecting every second word with an ‘F’ or ‘B’ word, that he had been listening and watching me when the gust struck.

The boom flew over –he ducked and held out his arms to protect his head and ended up as he still was.  We hauled the boom and Fergus in.  I asked him if he had got the idea now?  I was told that it was going to cost me pints till we arrived home – which I thought was a bit steep.

          We picked up a mooring in Portree by 2000 and were ashore by 2100. 

          The weather was still perfect and the forecast holding good.  The heavenly trap was well and truly set.

          We sat that night in a Portree hostelry experiencing that ebullient feeling that you get from having had a great sail in almost perfect conditions.  Looking into his Carlsberg Special the skipper murmured –‘ The way the forecast is we could head up to Stornoway tomorrow.’

          So, we left Portree at 0600 on a cracking highland morning . There was very little wind so we started the engine and motor sailed up the Sound of Raasay.  When the north end of Skye was on our port quarter a slight increase in wind strength allowed us to stop the engine and let sail power quietly drive us on.

          We were treated to see the Royal Yacht Britannia  heading towards us with the Royal Standard streaming out.  We wondered which Royal was on board.  As Britannia passed quite close, our question was answered when the Queen Mum appeared on the top deck, leaned over the rail and gave us a wave.  That added to the trip.

          We were tied up in Stornoway and having coffee and bickies by 1700 and well pleased with ourselves.

          The door to the divine trap had closed.

          That evening the sky took on a less settled look with cirrus advancing slowly from the west .  The forecast remained the same.  We checked with the Coastguard but they had no up-date of any imminent change.  The following morning there was that ‘something’ about the sky.  We phoned the Weather Centre and they told us that there was a small low to the west but nothing of any note.   We still didn’t like the look of the sky.  Cirrus was taking up a chunk more of the sky and was coming in at more than 45 degrees.

          We decided to get some stores aboard including food and then make for East Loch Tarbert on Harris as a start to getting home while we could.  There was this strong feeling that someone up above had been crooking their finger to us, encouraging us on till we got to Stornoway and now was saying – ‘Got you – now you will have fun getting back.’

          We arrived in East Loch Tarbert after a hard sail with the wind on the nose and a lumpy old sea.  The forecast hadn’t changed very much.  We left Harris early the next morning intending to make for the island of Canna.  We experienced progressively heavier weather.  Neist Point of the west coast of Skye refused to get any closer.  We turned with difficulty to head for Loch Dunvegan.  Our skipper told us that was the first time in the sixteen years he had had the boat that he had been pooped.  

Nr 3 told him that was no consolation at all –as we certainly had been ‘so-and so’ well pooped now.

          We sailed into the false Loch Dunvegan and battled our way out and round the corner and into Loch Dunvegan proper looking forward to some shelter but instead got accelerated winds howling off the hills.  We finally anchored in comparative quiet at 2300 with damaged main and jib sails and two broken battens.  Our conscientious Fergus told us that if we would get something together to eat, he would start sewing the ripped sails. 

          We ate and took turns at sewing through the night.  A local joiner spent some time making new battens for us –and charged us £2 and would not hear of taking our offer for more.

          The rest of the trip back to Fairlie via Canna ,Loch Aline, and  Crinan was hard, wet- - it never stopped pouring with rain – and the wind was against us all the time.  The inside of the boat ran with water despite good head cloth.  Everything became sodden including our oilies.  The weather folk never did change their forecast.

We really did feel that we had been lured on and were the butt of a celestial joke.

          The day after we arrived home I met Fergus, our Nr 3, and said –‘ Like me,  I suppose a hot bath was the best thing since sliced bread ‘

          ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘ that was good but the greatest thing of all was dry toilet paper.’

Harbour Stow.

It was a Friends Weekend on Taikoo when adults who donate to Ocean Youth Club were given the opportunity to sail.

          It was late Spring, the weather was fine so most of us were in shorts.  We were approaching our port for the night and my watch was engaged in stowing the mainsail.  I was instructing them in how to do a good harbour stow.  They had got to the stage of having the big heavy sail pulled out to form a long, deep bag and were folding the rest of the sail into the bag.  That went fairly successfully with me ‘encouraging’ them to do their best.

          When the sail was lying tidy along the boom it was time to get the lashing on to secure the large, tightly folded sail to the boom.  I was explaining to the watch, who were standing under the boom, how to feed the lashing through the foot of the sail and around the sail – then working from forward to aft.  To direct the operation better, I stood up on the side of the coachroof facing outboard and leaning over sail and boom.

          One of the watch, a rather reserved woman of about 35, shouted rather peevishly that she couldn’t get the lashing through.  I leaned further over the boom and told her just to take the free end and feed it up and through the gap between the sail and boom, then catch the end and pull it through, then pass it on to the next

person in line, who in turn would do the same and then pass it on the her again as she moved further along.  Simply explained –‘I thought.’.

          At last she managed to get the line through and I shouted  “ Good – now throw your hand up and throw the end over.”  Her first attempt was a weak effort.  I shouted over to her – “Put some effort into it.  Get your hand up and throw with some weight behind it.”  I think she got annoyed at me – and shouted back through gritted teeth –“ I am trying you know.”  With that she really threw her hand up, I felt it travel up inside the leg of my shorts and I experienced that sickening, excruciating pain, that only men can experience and I ended up on the deck at her feet.  In reply to her query about what had happened to me, I told her that I had slipped.

          After I had partially recovered, we managed to get the sail stowed reasonably well but I may have lost some of my earlier enthusiasm.