No Walk in the Park - by David Richardson
On Wednesday morning, Ludo and I left Old Dornie, in Loch An Alltain Duibh, at 09.00 to sail to Kinlochbervie - a distance of about 30 nautical miles. It was perfect cruising weather - light winds, bright and sunny, and we were both looking forward to getting around the top corner (Cape Wrath) the following day. After a couple of hours however, as we sailed out into the open sea and encountered the Atlantic swell, the wind quickly began to increase in strength and became northerly and right on the nose, so we had to start tacking to make any real headway, doubling the distance to our destination.
In a little under an hour the wind steadily increased to a cold force 4 or 5, gusting 6, which is most unpleasant in an open 16ft dinghy, as we have no shelter from the chilling wind and continuously had to use our weight to the best advantage to counteract the constant heel of the boat, sitting as high as possible on the windward gunwale, and spilling wind from the mainsail all the time to prevent it from being overpowered.
We put a reef in the mainsail - not at all easy with fingers numbed by the cold and constant spray - but the wind continued to increase and the sea state became very nasty - short, sharp, steep waves that we slammed into rather than riding over, each time with bone-jarring shudders. Almost every other wave went over rather than beneath us, and with each wave I got a thorough soaking since as crew I was sheltering Ludo from the worst of it. The icy water quickly chilled me to the core despite the numerous layers of high-tech thermals beneath my drysuit.
The sea was so rough in fact that we couldn't reach our snacks drybag nor our bottles of water for fear of a capsize; probably no bad thing as there was no way that we would have been able to pee, but the constant deluge of freezing Atlantic water and not being able to eat or drink anything at all throughout the day rapidly sapped our strength.
When we finally reached supposedly more sheltered waters, we had to reef the genoa as the wind rose still more as it shrieked off the mountains, gusting in all directions, making our approach to the safety of the harbour even more precipitous and uncomfortable.
Fully hiking out of the boat for over six hours in those conditions is mentally and physically totally exhausting, but we couldn't let up till we had reached the safety of Kinlochbervie harbour.
I was frozen to the core when we finally docked at 6pm, but I was immediately taken to the hotel by one of the backup team for a long, hot bath and numerous mugs of hot chocolate to get me back to normal.
This was the most awful sail of my life as our gentle cruise rapidly changed to sheer survival. Whilst I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared out there, I have every confidence in Ludo.
He may be a young man but he has a very wise head on those shoulders of his.
In my view he took all the right calls on Wednesday, and whilst it wasn't in any stretch of the imagination pleasant out there, it is wholly due to him that we got in safely.
Am I discouraged?
Of course not; we both learnt the immensely valuable lesson of just how quickly the weather can change up here, and I am thoroughly looking forward to sailing around Cape Wrath with Ludo and on to the next part of this amazing adventure.