Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Swell Time

Briongloid left her home cove on Saturday under blue skies, carrying myself and Mr. T. We beat to westward for 34km against a steadily rising wind - choppy, damp, but exhilarating. After dropping anchor in the shelter of Broadstrand Bay, her hungry crew took to the dinghy for a 4 kilometre transfer to dinner at the nearest pub.

The wind having risen further after sunset, the return journey, in the teeth of a badly-timed squall, was exceptionally wet and bruisingly rough. On the basis that "'twer well, it were done quickly", I opened up the throttle on our nifty little Mercury Marine 6hp outboard. With Mr T lying flat across the thwart to keep the bows down, we had a wild ride through the blackness. In between trying to clear my eyes of salt water, I found time to admire the green flecks of phosphorescence in the sheets of spray blasting over the bows. Reaching the relative calm of Broadstrand Bay, we glimpsed at last the light from Briongloid, now rolling drunkenly in the swell that had now found its way into the bay; and at that moment, to the battered, soaking, and half-blinded sailors in that tiny dinghy, the little 10 watt bulb swaying alone in the darkness was as warm and welcoming as the sun.

Our long-suffering dinghy on the crest of a swell

Sunday dawned grey but clear; after a leisurely breakfast, we raised anchor and set off for home on a broad reach, whizzing past the low black knife-edge of Horse Rock and the crashing surf on Black Tom to reach the Old Head in record time, rolling our way home through swells noticeably taller than the previous day (9ft ?). Back on our mooring, the GPS showed 24km covered, the trip having taken less than half the time of our outward leg.

* For an alternative version of this trip, see here...

Friday, September 21, 2007


Less than a week on dry land, and I was missing salt water already - so left the office early, a colleague in tow - Mr. G. After a slightly damp dinghy transfer across the cove, we were tumbling aboard Briongloid and losing no time in rigging her for open water.

As we cleared the sheltering land, we felt her rise on the swell rolling in from the south west. Her sails filling then, the rising burble from her stern was almost musical. As the light faded from another grey autumn evening, Briongloid cut smoothly south and west into the rising waves, alone on an empty ocean.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


An (adapted) extract from the log recording Briongloid's first cruise

On the last morning, I raised anchor at 08:00, rescuing two very bewildered starfish from the chain as I gathered it in. With the storm jib already set, Briongloid bore off a little and began to move as soon as the anchor cleared the bottom; I had already lashed the tiller amidships, and she "self-steered" very smoothly out into Courtmacsherry Bay as I finished my jobs on the foredeck.

Before the morning was out, the cliffs of the Old Head slid past - the final headland was cleared, and a few miles ahead, the bulk of Big Sovereign marked our home cove. Just then, I spotted black fins in the water off the port bow.

Dolphin surfacing in Briongloid's wake

I bore up a little to meet them, and was thrilled to see the fins turn and slice towards me.
Within seconds, Briongloid was at the center of the school, and looking down from her cockpit, I could see sleek shapes streaking along beside her, a metre or two below the surface. Every few seconds, a fin would break the surface as a dolphin caught its breath; and sometimes, a muscular body would arc completely clear of the water. The dolphins stayed with me for a kilometre or so, playing all around while I scrambled to get a clear photo; then, two rose into the air side by side, landed with a neat double splash, and headed east; one by the one, the rest of my escort broke off to follow them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Briongloid's First Cruise: Encounter with a Giant

From "Briongloid"'s log for Thursday, August 25th

Raised anchor in Baltimore Harbour at 10:00 and slid gently out past "Lot's Wife" with full main and genoa set. Once outside the lee of Cape Clear, good westerly helped me to progress eastward, running almost dead down-wind with sails goose-winged, easy sailing under a clear blue sky, the sun bright enough to make me cover my hands for fear of their burning. The wicked-looking Stag Rocks (nemesis of the "Kowloon Bridge") drifted past very satisfactorily to port, and I allowed my course to take Briongloid well clear of the land.

By late afternoon, however, the easy progress of the morning was forgotten. Speed fell away, until an uncanny calm came over the water, and the sails hung slackly by the mast; after a week of light northerly airs, even the swell was undetectable. Four miles out, the land looked low and distant; the water was very, very clear and blue, and, just then, glassy and inviting. It was immensely quiet.

At 18:00, I had just decided to abandon all pretense of steering a motionless boat and break for dinner when I heard a deep "whoosh" to the south; a glance revealed the source to be a very large whale indeed. By the time I had my camera at the ready, I was too late: the giant's black back arched gently above the surface just once - then the weirdly small fin slid back under the surface, and beast dove deep.

Briongloid at Midnight, Broadstrand Bay

Just 5 minutes later, the long-promised strong north-westerlies arrived, and Briongloid was making 9 to 10 kph towards Seven Heads. The wind built quickly, and within the hour, I realised that I was over-canvassed. Foolishly, I decided against leaving the helm to drop the genoa, instead managing the steeply-heeling boat by luffing the mainsail. After two hours of fast sailing, I entered Courtmacsherry Bay just as the sun sank below the hills. Time to stop for the night; my charts showed a perfect spot close by - Broadstrand Bay, the perfect depth, and well-sheltered - though not so sheltered as to disable a boat totally reliant on sail power.

It was about this time that I discovered the damage two hours of luffing could do - the vibration had shaken loose the body of a bottleneck screw which attached a lee-ward stay to the deck. The genoa was doused in record time, and a temporary repair effected; then, reading my chart by torchlight and steering my moonlight and GPS, I tacked gingerly past the Horse rock in the gloom of early night, and dropped anchor right in the middle of Broadstrand Bay. The falling chain blazed eerily as it sank through the water: phospherence, very strong. The run for the day was 68 kilometres, made over 12 hours of single-handed sailing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

To Trail's End

The final episode of the "Back Country" serial post

Our night at Mystic Camp was punctuated by long rumbling peals of thunder, and fat rain drops drumming on the canvas above us. By the time we woke, though, the weather was clearing up; and when we rode out, the sun was shining again - though invisible to us, riding now along a densely-forested valley floor. This was the easiest riding by far, covering a short distance on the widest and easiest trails of our journey. We broke for lunch in a clearing below the gloriously named Mount Fifi (very fine-looking peak, actually).

Riders at Mt. Norquay, Canadian Rockies

And then, we were back, the familiar mountain-scape around Banff opening up in front of us, riding through meadows that in winter become pistes. Nature had one more surprise for us before trail's end, though; trotting nonchalantly past only forty or so metres away came a coyote - the first I'ld ever seen.

Back at the corral, our guide was effusively thanked, and (we hope) generously tipped. If you'ld like to see something of the Canadian backcountry, you might think of dropping a line to Warner Outfitters, Banff.