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Home / News / Talk: Sailing to the Orkney Islands - mostly single handed (26 January 2024)
Home / News / Talk: Sailing to the Orkney Islands - mostly single handed (26 January 2024)

Talk: Sailing to the Orkney Islands - mostly single handed (26 January 2024)

Published 11:19 on 2 Feb 2024

To the Orkney Islands and back - an enthralling talk by Brian Masters on his 2014 expedition.

This fascinating story of Brian's expedition begins with the "plan".

3 years of preparation for his Dehler 35 "Triple Constraint" included a detailed rigging check, new sails, a new plotter below plus a small GPS plotter for the cockpit. This preparation was supported by extensive passage plans with a highly impressive level of detail gleaned from many sources of information including the obligatory paper charts, pilot books and publications plus the Cruising Association's CAptain's Mate. Extensive use was made of iPhone apps including XTide Planner, Boatie, Marine Traffic and various weather sites. In particular, CAptain's Mate provided a lot of detail around facilities available at individual ports and marinas.

The premise for the plan was a planned passage of 2000nm over a period of 4 months, an average boat speed of 5kts, no planned night sailing. The only permanent crew were the two teddy bears George and James!

Detailed plans providing a two day look ahead were prepared using SeaPro and tabulated on paper showing location, tide information and timings. The course was based on a straight line to which tides and wind information was added. This allowed optimum time of departure to be established to achieve an arrival time which was sometimes crucial to meet a lock opening time. Incredibly "most of my passage times were within 20 minutes of planned"! To assist this, waypoints were created for every hour and a record of actual navigation information recorded on the hour. This allowed speed to be adjusted to meet the arrival time.

The expedition itself started on 3rd May 2014 with a short, crewed hop to Weymouth where the weather turned against Brian for a few days. He was then single handed to Dartmouth and on to Plymouth to pick up crew. During this period a jib sheet parted (hidden from view under the deck) and the instrumentation failed, eventually being traced to a broken fuse connection.

After an overnight anchor stop at St Michael's Mount it was on to Land's End and Padstow and across to Milford Haven. It was during the leg across the Bristol Channel that Brian was entertained by a pod of amazing dolphins.

By now single-handed again, Brian forged up the Welsh coast to Fishguard, Pwllheli and then through Bardsey Sound to Holyhead.  This didn't quite go to plan as the correct tidal information was 14 pages away from the Pwllheli page in the Almanac.  Therefore, the tides didn't work out as expected.  Then on to Peel in the Isle of Man just in time for a family reunion and the TT races.  Bangor (Northern Ireland) was next before Campbeltown in Scotland and the first distillery.

Next stop Ardrishaig and the Crinan Canal. The canal was a challenge with 15 locks and 7 swing bridges to negotiate. To do this Brian had to take a "pilot" as they won't let you go through single handed! Next stop Oban (Kerrera) and another distillery. Through the Sound of Luing, past the Gulf of Corryvrekan with its wicked tides, whirlpools and overfalls and onto Oban.  A week was spent going around Mull, into the beautifully sheltered Loch Aline, visiting the picture postcard Tobermory, past Fingal's Cave on the isle of Staffa, anchoring in Tinkers Hole and back around to Oban.  From there he headed northwards to Mallaig, the Kyle of Lochalsh and on up to Kinlochbervie, the last stop before Cape Wrath. Round the corner and past the Old Man of Hoy and Brian's final destination, Stromness.

The Orkney's were magical with many archaeological sites including the famous Standing Stones of Stenness. The north of Scotland was challenging for Brian particularly being single handed. Shore facilities were few and far between for essentials such as fuel.  Even mooring up could be a challenge with very narrow (bouncy) pontoons with insufficient cleats.  

The passage home started from Stromness across the Pentland Firth and onto Wick with more challenging tides, 12kts combined with overfalls not being unusual, making accurate passage planning and timing imperative. From Wick down the east coast to Inverness and the Caledonian Canal.

The canal takes you from Inverness through Loch Ness to Corpach (Fort William). Brian allowed 8 days to pass through the 60 mile canal with 11 bridges and 29 locks to negotiate including the renowned Neptune's Staircase of 8 locks. Fortunately for Hilary who was now on board, the bridges and locks were all operated by the canal staff.

A short interlude at Fort William allowed time for a trip to Mallaig and back on the Jacobite Express steam train of Harry Potter fame. From Corpach the next legs were back to Oban and onto Gigha, round the Mull of Kintyre and across the North Channel to Glenarm in Northern Island.

The leg from Glenarm to Bangor Brian was completed in thick fog. Next came Strangford Lough with it's tides, in the middle of which was an unexpectedly large disused experimental water turbine which providing an unusual navigation hazard. Here, however, Brian did manage to track down Daft Eddy's pub a hostelry that was on Brian's must find list. Back into the Irish Sea, Brian headed south to Ardglass, Carlingford Lough (the home of leprechauns), Howth and on to Arklow. Crossing the Irish Sea to Dale Bay (Milford Haven) before a quick dash to Padstow to beat the next storm. During this time the autohelm instrumentation went on the blink and needed to be reset. So there's Brian going round in circles off the Welsh coast (not in the plan). After 7 days storm bound in Padstow Brian set off for Land's End and Penzance, from thence to Brixham. Just as an aside Brian was baking bread as he passed the Eddystone Lighthouse. And so to home, the last leg to Haslar (102nm) was completed in just 16 hours, arriving on 19th August 2014.

An epic expedition covering 2097nm, over 402hrs sailing/motoring at an average speed of over 5kts. Of the 57 days at sea 34 days were single handed, an epic achievement indeed.

Many thanks to Brian for sharing his trip with us in such a captivating and entertaining way. His presentation underlined the fact that preparation was the key to his success.

Peter Metcalf

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Last updated 11:31 on 25 March 2024

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