Passage 10, Holy Island to Dunbar

By a considerable margin, this was the toughest 24 hour day so far of the venture. And the last for stage 1.

I was conservative about the passage time to ensure I got in good time to Dunbar at the height of the tide as I knew it was going to tricky and that I needed the harbour master's help. I was all ready to leave by 6:45 when I discovered that the anchor rope had looped itself around my keel.

Anchor rope wrap saga

This meant I had to unloop it in order to get the anchor up. This has happened a few times before and I've generally been able sort it out by various shenanigans with the anchor rope, the dingy or the engine. I first tried the easy options. No luck. With a heavy sigh I realised I had to get the dingy out (which I had laboriously stowed away the previous evening) in order to pull the boat around. I was now stressed as I was losing my passage time window. Out it came in double quick time, pumping it up in a sprint. I pushed the boat round with it and still the rope was around the keel. Not so easy. Maybe the rope was wrapped the other way so I "unwound" the boat. Still hooked. Damn. I stood there trying to think what to do. I could just see the rope around the keel but not enough to work out how it was wrapped - even when I dunked my head under the water with the goggles on (cold).

What to do? Answer: call for help in the form of my friend Ben who was tucked up in bed about 100 meters away. Very willing, he got himself dressed and I came and got him in the dingy. To make the situation more stressful, my dingy outboard motor was getting progressively weaker and by the time I got to Ben's boat it puttered out altogether. I thought it was a lack of oil and so Ben, who's boat is a treasure trove of spares and equipment, conjured up some oil to top it up. That seemed to make things better and we were able to motor back to my boat. Ben had another idea (that had not occurred to me) which basically involved taking the strain off the wrapped rope and unwrapping the rope around the boat instead of the boat around the rope. With the help of a large lead weight (that he also supplied - and has subsequently lent me as it will feature as a preventative measure when anchoring in the future) we worked it out and within half an hour I was free. Whoopie. I ran him back profusely grateful and charged back to my boat and proceeded to pack up the dingy and motor at breakneck speed. Exhausted, I was away by 8:45 - 2 1/2 hours later than planned. Now my window for Dunbar arrival was seriously at risk. With furrowed brow I got cracking and just hoped the passage would be quicker than I had planned.

The passage

Boy, was it quicker. At first I had to motor-sail as the wind was not enough to maintain a healthy speed but that situation soon changed and I was cracking along with the wind behind me at 6 to 7 knots. At first a force 4, changing to a force 5. I had the full mainsail out and by the time I was 15 miles away from Dunbar it was too much wind for the mainsail so I took it down and just went with the foresail, keeping up a good 5 to 6 knots. It was a tense sail which the auto pilot could not handle at all well so I had to helm the majority of the time.

Dunbar scary entrance

I got to Dunbar entrance at 3:30 - half an hour later than originally planned!  Dunbar entrance is full of rocks. Big rocks, against which several boats have been smashed in recent times. You are required to follow some leading marks to guide you and then turn left at a critical moment. These leading marks were by no means clear and I was relying more on the chart plotter to guide me. The sea was pretty rough and as I turned to point straight for the rocky shore the boat was beam on to the waves and was rocking wildly. I had the motor on full chat to keep the momentum going. This entry requires you to pass between two big rocky out crops towards an even bigger rocky outcrop that is the shore. There is absolutely no visual sign that there is any escape from the rocks. I just had to trust my charts and continue at full speed with rocks all around me. I nearly bottled it. It was very scary - especially in the rough sea. Just when you think that you're going to go straight into the shore, an opening on the left reveals itself and I steered round into that and into the relative calm of the little hidden passage that leads into the harbour. Good grief. That was nerve racking. I got to the harbour wall and, with help, managed to get the boat tied up which was a struggle in itself with the wind still blowing the boat about.

Laying the boat up for my absence

Dunbar is where I had planned to leave the boat for my break, and so the next task was to relocate it into the inner sanctum of the harbour behind a lifting bridge. The Harbour master knew I was coming and he was ready for me. We reviewed where to put the boat up against a wall in the inner most harbour. He lifted the bridge and I motored round and tried to get the boat to where we wanted except that it went aground earlier than expected a meter or two away from the wall. Oh. Tied it up anyway and watched as the tide went out. It tipped alarmingly up onto its side away from the wall. Something had to be done.

And that something was to reposition it and tie it properly against the wall at the next high tide. Which was 2:30 am the next morning. Now, while the washing facilities at Dunbar are quite simply atrocious the helpfulness and friendliness of the people there is second to none. First some locals insisted on buying me 2 pints of beer, second the sailing club gave me the keys and let me use their club house throughout the night. So, having drunk their beer and had a steak in their restaurant I retired to the club room to wait it out until 2am. Yawn. Eventually the appointed hour arrived and I trundled round to the boat in the dark, wind and rain to find the boat afloat.

It took me an hour to position it and tie it up to my satisfaction in the wet blackness (though I had prepared for this and had torches at the ready). I had to alternate from being on the boat to being on the (top of) the wall. This was a journey not a step: Going from the boat I'd lower myself into a rickety old dingy, paddle to one end if the wall, tie it up and climb a vertical slippery iron ladder some 4 meters high! By golly was I careful as the thought of slipping into the murky shallows below was not a pleasant one. The reverse for the return journey. I had to do this several times as I adjusted the ropes. By 3am I was done and I dozed in the boat until 4:30 am when I calculated that the boat would once again go aground so that I could check all the lines. All was good and I dozed some more until 7am and then prepared to leave. Meanwhile, it was a full on gale outside.

By 8am I was out of the boat and back in the club house. Duncan, the volunteer deputy harbour master who helped me the day before came in at 10am and I showed him my night's work and agreed for him to make a few precautionary adjustments in my absence. He then drove me to a "coffee shop" which was the local leisure centre by the side of a large leisure pool choc full of kids. Did some blog writing there and then Duncan came and got me and delivered me to the station. What a star. Thanks Duncan.

All in all, Duncan is one top man and could not have been more helpful. Definitely above and beyond the call of duty. The night before some local club members and life boat guys bought my drinks and we had a very friendly banter at the bar for a couple of hours. I just about understood what they said! What splendid Scottish hospitality. Shame about the facilities.

I was on the train home at 11:30am after a gruelling 24 hours. I need a break!


Up at 5:15 and away by 8:45 having spent a stressful time untangling anchor rope. Ever increasing winds meant a fast but taxing sail of 38 miles having to helm pretty much non stop. A nail biting entry into Dunbar followed by setting the boat safely against the drying harbour wall between 2am and 4am in the rain and wind.

Lessons learnt

Weigh my anchor warp down when I anchor - I now have Ben's big lead weight to perform the necessary. Hope we meet again to return it. Dunno how else - can't put it in the post!

Passage 11, Dunbar to Montrose