Posted by: Ray | September 9, 2008

Whitehills to Inverness, engine failure and Whale seen in Moray Firth.

This entry covers the final two legs of my passage to Inverness. It turned out to be a challenging second day for the crew and myself! 

Whitehills to Lossiemouth: 30M, 6 Hrs

We woke early to clear skies with very little wind. Whitehills is close to the borders of two forecast areas and light, variable winds were forecast with slight to moderate seas. Strong winds were forecast to the north and south of us, with much of the UK experiencing gale force winds for most of the week.

We had been lucky with our weather so far, but then we knew how quickly things can change on this coast with unsettled conditions. Using the mobile phone we obtained a SMS forecast for Whitehills that indicated wind NW 4 to 6Kn.

Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, showers and breakfast, we left our berth, took on fuel and made our exit to sea. Once clear of the harbour, full sails were deployed and we sailed close hauled making a course 260°M, that slowly closed the shore against our required 276°M.

Frances enjoying the sail

Frances enjoying the sail

Despite the light wind, we were sailing well and Frances who had sailed dinghies in the past was thoroughly enjoying her sail at the helm of Christine Marie. As we closed the shore we would put in a tack back out to sea, passing our charted ‘rhumb line’ by 1/2M before we tacked back towards our destination.

It was a lovely sail in the sun along scenic coastline and we decided to continue sailing and to anchor at Cullen for lunch. We had to arrive at Lossiemouth by 1830 with enough tide to clear the bar of 0.3m, but we had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely sail today.

Coastline close to Cullen

Coastline close to Cullen

 

 

Our last long starboard tack took as towards Cullen Bay. Our course gave us a safe clearance from the rocky shore to the east of the bay and we maintained our course until we were safely past Caple Rock before changing course towards the Cullen viaduct to anchor in 5m off the shore.

 

At anchor off Cullen

At anchor off Cullen

 

 

On deck we enjoyed a short lunch in the sun, taking in the view and watched another yacht sail eastwards across the bay. Cullen Skink is a popular fish soup made with smoked haddock that I like, and I assume it originated from here. 

 

Yacht passing Cullen Bay

Yacht passing Cullen Bay

 

 

We still had 18M to Lossiemouth, so our stay was short and at 1400 we weighed anchor and headed back out to sea, continuing our course west along the coast. By now the wind was less than 5Kn, so we continued motor sailing and by 1630 were in sight of Lossiemouth. 

 

Approaching Lossiemouth

Approaching Lossiemouth

 

We approached the harbour from the east on a bearing 292°T keeping the entrance open. We had contacted the harbour master earlier who had asked us to berth in the west basin where there was a vacant berth starboard side to. The key ashore would be left in a box at the gate for us. Safely tied up we looked for the key but it was not there: we could not go ashore …..

Lossiemouth Harbour

Lossiemouth Harbour

 

 

 

We then realised that we were on the wrong berth! 🙂 Quickly casting off, we found another vacant berth further down the basin and this time found the key that had been left for us.

 

View from shore at Sunset, Lossiemouth

View from shore at Sunset, Lossiemouth

 

 

Later in the evening we walked along the coast into the town as the sun was setting. It was a lovely view to sea from the shore where we stopped and Frances treated Liz and me to a nice meal in a hotel overlooking the bay.

 

 

 Lossiemouth to Inverness: 35M, 7 Hrs

Our final passage would take us into the Moray Firth to Inverness, a 35M passage of 7 to 8 hours. Early on the 4 September Liz and I completed passage planning and checked weather, W F3/4, sea slight to moderate … thundery showers.

Not ideal as we would be beating for most of the passage. Without making a very early start, the earliest we had enough water to just get out over the bar at the entrance to Lossiemouth would be 1115. We decided to visit some shops close to the harbour and to enjoy a snack at a coffee shop on the quay before leaving. The sun was shining and we relaxed.  Little did we know the challenges ahead we were all about to face ….

At 1115 we slipped our lines and headed east out to sea until we cleared the rocks at Stotfield Head, north of the harbour entrance. With full main and headsail back to the shrouds we had a great sail as we headed north to clear Halliman Skerries, drying 1.5M NWN of Lossiemouth. By mid-day, off the Skerries, we set course west, keeping 1M off the coastline. This took us into the wind, so the engine was started and we motor sailed into the wind ahead.

By 1300 we were off Burghead and making passage towards Findhorn. Liz and Frances were on watch and taking turn on the helm as we continued our passage, whilst I made hourly log entries and plotted progress on the chart.

Storm clouds threaten, Moray Firth

Storm clouds threaten, Moray Firth

I prepared a warm lunch for us to eat on passage and made several attempts to contact Inverness Marina on my mobile phone, without success.

At 1400 I made the hourly log entry and marked our position on the chart. We were making good progress and had completed 15M of our passage. We were still headed into the F3/4 wind and the weather was fair, although storm clouds were in the distance around us, so an eye was kept on the barometer and weather.
Cromarty Firth

Cromarty Firth

 

At 1445 having tidied up below after lunch, I rejoined Frances and Liz on deck. The Moray Firth was now starting to narrow, with attractive scenery all around us towards Cromarty Firth that was now visible on our starboard bow.

Frances who was on the helm, alerted me to the engine control panel and asked if the red light should be showing! It was the engine temperature warning light and no water could be seen from the exhaust. I immediately shut down the engine, we let out the headsail, came off the wind and sailed close-hauled on starboard tack closing the coast.

Christine Marie’s engine is very reliable but Liz and Frances told me we had passed through a floating bank of weed whilst I was below. We had about 1M before we would approach shallow water and needed to tack back out to sea, so Liz and Frances took watch and sailed the yacht whilst I went below to check out the engine’s cooling system.

With one eye on the GPS display I set about checking the sea water cooling. The engine was very hot and I methodically checked the sea water inlet, through the filter that was clean and the impeller that was in good condition. As a precaution I changed the impeller and checked it was functioning, turning over the engine briefly with the starter with the stop lever engaged. All appeared ok.

By now we were closing the shore, so I came back on deck and we tacked back out to sea. We continued sailing and whilst the engine cooled, considered our options. At this point I considered the weed had probably caused the overheating, but was now free as the seawater inlet was clear. Now abeam of Cromarty we were enjoying our chance to sail, despite our uncertainty on the engine. I entered into the log: “1543, course 253°M, sailing, cooling checked ok, allowing engine to cool.”

I decided to try the engine again. It was started and cooling water could be seen from the exhaust over the stern. We resumed our passage motor sailing into the wind. Fifteen minutes later the three smoke alarms went off in the cabins below deck! I went below to find the cabin full of fumes. The engine was again shut down and we came off the wind sailing again.

By now we were off Nairn Harbour and discussed whether we should divert there to get assistance. In our passage plan we had Nairn as an alternative port, with tidal times noted in the log. The latest we could enter was 1700: we had less than an hour.

I called Nairn Harbour on VHF without response. Whilst we had pilotage plans I was not happy entering a shallow, unknown harbour under sail. We could not rely on the engine until I checked it through again. As a precaution Aberdeen Coastguard were contacted and advised of our situation. I told them we had no threat to the yacht or crew and were under sail continuing our passage as logged with them under CG66 scheme earlier in the morning. We would now be entering the shallow waters of the Inverness Firth and our final destination much later than planned, in the dark.

The Coastguard were brilliant and helpful. I assured them I was happy continuing to sail whilst I investigated the engine again, and we agreed I would keep them updated at half hourly intervals.

There was a lot of salt water now in the bilges and under the engine. Where had it come from? The engine was started briefly for a few minutes and the cause quickly identified: water and exhaust fumes were pouring from the exhaust pipe where it attached to the muffler. On inspection the exhaust hose joining the muffler was loose and slightly soft from the heat, loosening the jubilee clip. I made sure the hose was securely attached and tightened, cleaned the water from under the engine and restarted the engine. No water or fumes were coming into the engine compartment and water was coming from the exhaust outlet at the stern as required.

I reported in to the Coastguard that I was now underway motor-sailing and that I thought I had resolved the over-heating problem. It was now 1730. We had travelled 31M but still had 15M to go to Inverness. I noted details of navigation lights for our approach to Inverness and joined Liz and Frances on deck. The auto-helm was engaged and we settled back to relax and enjoy the evening views.

Is it a whale, submarine, or has Nessie escaped from loch Ness?  :-)

Is it a whale, submarine, or has Nessie escaped from loch Ness? 🙂

Looking across towards the attractive northern coastline of the Moray Firth, west of Cromarty Firth, I suddenly saw a fast moving bow wave off the cliffs. At first I thought it was a fast motor boat, but then a dark shape, like a long rock … but it was moving and fast. I pointed it out to the others and we all watched it, not sure what we were seeing. There was no sign of a boat or jet ski, we all thought it was either a whale or submarine. The object would disappear, then appear again moving fast along the opposite shoreline with a large bow wave in front of it. Liz grabbed her camera, zoomed in and took a few photos in its general direction.
 
Is it a whale?

Is it a whale?

It then disappeared, only to suddenly appear moving rapidly in the opposite direction towards Cromarty. We all thought we had seen our first whale at sea, or did we? Liz’s photo caught what we had seen, although at times the bow wave was much larger. Enhanced and enlarged we feel it was a whale, or was it a submarine? …. or perhaps Nessie had escaped from Loch Ness into the Moray Firth? 🙂
 
Update:  In March 2009 I came across an article in the Inverness Courier about a stranded Whale last year.  It was sad reading as the whale later died.  A link to the article follows.
 
Chanonry Narrows

Chanonry Narrows

 

By 1800 we were approaching the Chanonry Narrows into the Inverness Firth. Our passage would take us past the mid-channel Munlochy safe water buoy, course 220°M to pass close to starboard of the Meikle Mee green buoy marking the shallows on approach to Inverness.

South Cardinal marking Riff Bank with cruise liner anchored in background

South Cardinal marking Riff Bank with cruise liner anchored in background

 

 

This stretch of our passage needed careful pilotage. We would pass south of Riff Bank that dries in places and we could see the White Ness sand banks between us and the shore on our port side as we approached Fort George. 

 

Shallows, White Ness Sand

Shallows, White Ness Sand

 

 

 

Fort George, Inverness Firth

Fort George, Inverness Firth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbow, Inverness Firth

Rainbow, Inverness Firth

 

 

 

By now the weather was clearing and we were rewarded with a lovely rainbow over the shore. At 1900 I made a log entry. We were passing Craignee red buoy, course 185M, log 36M, wind W F3. The sun was low in the sky and setting fast.

  

Passing ship at anchor, Inverness Firth

Passing ship at anchor, Inverness Firth

 

Three miles on we were approaching the ship at anchor that we had seen earlier, when the engine temperature alarm went off again. The headsail was unfurled, engine off and we continued again under sail. Winds were light, but we were able to sail our required course, passing the anchored ship into the Inverness Firth. 

We were now faced with the possibility of sailing into Inverness, past the very shallow Meikle Mee banks. I checked through the cooling system again and could find no problem. There must be a blockage downstream of the impeller; but I was not very familiar with the Vetus Syphon, heat exchanger or exhaust system. I had completed the RYA diesel course, but service of these was not covered.

We had still not made contact with the marina at Inverness, so I asked Liz to try and make contact again. No response from the marina, but she finally made contact with the Inverness Harbour Master, now off duty at home, who told her the marina was not yet open!! The marina was listed in the 2008 Almanac, but apparently opening had been delayed. He advised us that our best bet on arrival was to anchor alongside a barge in the River Ness, Inverness!

Our situation becoming more difficult, I decided I would let the engine cool further for our approach past Meikle Mee and under Kessock Bridge into the river to our mooring. If we had further problems I would look for somewhere to anchor off the main channel or contact the Coastguard for assistance. Our tricolour masthead navigation lights were turned on and a note made in the log at 1930.

Approaching Kessock Bridge Inverness in the dark

Approaching Kessock Bridge Inverness in the dark

Now getting dark, we could see the lights of the Kessock Bridge in the distance and before long saw the flashing green light every 3s on the Meikle Mee buoy ahead of us. As we neared the buoy the headsail was furled, the engine started and the lights changed to navigation and steaming.

The engine was kept at low revs as we passed close to the buoy on our starboard side and headed to pass under the Kessock Bridge. As we approached it looked like our mast would hit the bridge! Just the angle from the cockpit as it has 29m clearance! 🙂  Once under the bridge we picked out the quick red beacons marking the entrance to the River Ness, keeping 50m off the first and then closing to 10m of the second two to make sure we cleared the long shoal that extends NNW of the breakwater beacon on the west side.

We passed the marina with its piles visible, but no mooring pontoons! Keeping to the centre of the river we passed ships loading their cargo in their floodlights until we saw the barge ahead of us. Liz and Frances prepared fenders and lines and we came alongside the barge. It was very dark and I used the spotlight to help Liz and Frances pick out suitable points on the barge to make fast. It was difficult as the barge had large tyres hung as fenders and it was a long reach across to her railings. Liz made it across onto the barge and we tied off lines to secure points. She later discovered that her sailing suit was covered in grease.

Inflated at Inverness!  :-)

Inflated at Inverness! 🙂

Securely moored, Frances started to come back round the starboard side of the yacht. I cautioned her to be careful as she was not clipped on. Frances was somewhat bemused by my comment and when she was back it the cockpit the reason became evident. Whilst stretching over to secure to the barge, her life jacket manual pull handle had become caught in our guardrails and the lifejacket had inflated.

We all saw the funny side, but Frances was quite uncomfortable and it took us some while to deflate and remove it. (via the manual inflator valve). I had often tucked the red pull toggle that manually inflates my jacket up and away into the lifejacket and had thought how easy it would be to catch it whilst working around deck when it frequently hung down at the bottom of the jacket!

It was 2130 when I made up the log. We were now tired, although thankful that the engine had not failed again. There was a large amount of water still in the bilges from the earlier problem of the loose exhaust hose after the overheating that needed to be cleared. Liz and Frances offered to pump it away whilst I cooked an evening meal.

Alongside the barge at Inverness

Alongside the barge at Inverness

 

It had been a very challenging day. Despite this, the scenery and sighting of the whale made it enjoyable. We relaxed with our meal and a bottle of wine and retired for the night, safely secured alongside the barge.

 

   

 

Kessock Bridge, Inverness

Kessock Bridge, Inverness

 

The next morning we called the Clachnaharry sea lock on VHF to inform them of our intension to enter into the Caledonian Canal. Referring to tide tables and the guidance in the Almanac we expected this to be late morning. We were surprised when the lock keeper asked us to approach the lock as soon as possible as they would wait for us. We made a hasty departure from our mooring alongside the barge, back out of the river leaving the Kessock Bridge to stern as we made the short passage to the canal entrance.

Leaving Clachnaharry Sea Lock

Leaving Clachnaharry Sea Lock

The lock gates were open as we approached and entered the sea lock. The lock keeper was waiting to take our lines, but with the low tide this was not as easy as it might seem. The crew had to throw the lines almost 15 foot vertically and it took a few attempts to get our lines up to the lock keeper before we were securely tied up.  The lock keeper was very patient, friendly and helpful.  We paid our licence fees to pass through the canal and were soon ‘locked up’ and out into the canal.

Seaport marina, Inverness

Moored at Seaport Marina, Inverness

 

 

A short distance further we moored at Seaport Marina, also the location of the Caledonian Canal Office.

 

 

 

Melted exhaust silencer

Melted exhaust silencer

 

After lunch an engineer was called from Caley Marina to investigate the engine over-heating. Inial checks (as I had carried out) found no problem with the cooling system.  The engineer then checked the exhaust pipe and silencer, where the muffler was found to have melted, blocking half of the exhaust entry.  The engineer was confident this was the cause of the continued over-heating problem and the exhaust muffler and pipes were replaced. Checks running the engine on the mooring showed all was well ….. but was it??  (See later post Inverness to Oban).

Inverness

Inverness

 

We spent a lovely day visiting Inverness and had a nice meal ashore together in the evening. Tickets were booked to travel back to Arbroath where Frances had left her car.  I travelled back with Liz and Frances on the return journey for a short visit home,  rejoining the yacht the following weekend for my passage through the Caledonian Canal to Oban.

 

I have now completed nearly 1000M since leaving Lymington. My next passage will take me through some lovely Highlands scenery to Oban on the West Coast, where I plan to do a little local cruising before bringing Christine Marie ashore to over-winter. I still plan to visit the Orkney Islands and will make a loop clockwise next Spring, coming back through the Caledonian Canal, before starting my passage home down the West Coast of Scotland.

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