Passage 15, Whitehills to Wick

This passage is one long straight line across the Moray Firth. I had waited a day at Whitehills as the winds were too strong for comfort. But on Sunday, 17th the forecast was for them to be a little less strong and westerly. I was going north (well a bit west of north) so I expected a vigorous sail.

I set off early, 7:15am, and once I got out of the harbour discovered the to be wind quite tame so I decided to take a reef out (make the sails larger). When you reef or dereef on your own it's all a bit of a faff because you have to: Turn the engine on, haul in the foresail, point the boat into the wind and set the autopilot to keep it there, clip on and go to the mast to set the reef, come back and haul up/down the main sail, reset the foresail, redirect the boat and turn the engine off.

The calm winds lasted for about 20 minutes so had to reef again! I made very fast progress and soon the south side of the Firth was in the distance behind me. Approaching half way and the wind died a little and I dereefed. Most of the time I have the autopilot on and after doing some helming myself I went to reset it. beep-beepity-beep it went and refused to work. Damn! No autopilot for the rest of the passage. Makes things very awkward.

When the wind increased again I had to reef again and this time without the autopilot. Double faff.

The sailing was quite tough and it got tougher as the wind tended to veer northwards and then I was sailing close to the wind which is more uncomfortable. I had some sun but I also got rained on quite a few times. So not wonderful. Still I got to see some oil platforms from afar! And for quite a while I could see both sides of the Firth.

About 5 miles short of Wick the winds subdued and were quite northish, so I resorted to the motor for the last bit. Just before getting into port I have to set the fenders and lines ready to go alongside the pontoon. Again, I use the autopilot to keep the boat on track as I do all this. It was relatively calm so I could just let the boat drift as I performed those tasks and I got into the marina by 4:30pm.

Once in I sorted myself out and tidied up the boat. My first job was to fix the autopilot. It's a standalone "tillerpilot" and I took it to bits to reveal it's innards - nothing seemed untoward. Fiddling with the power supply plug, however, revealed the problem. When I took that to bits it was clear; sea water had got in and it was corroded away. Cleaned, rewired and re-assembled - all works. Great another successful fix!

In the evening Helen, a colleague of my wife's who lives/works in our home town came down to the marina to say hi - she happened to be in Wick visiting her Mother! Nice to see a familiar face so far from home.


A vigorous sail in changeable conditions of 50 miles completed in just over 9 hours. Reasonably fast. Disappointing to have the autopilot pack in on me.

Lessons learned

I'm too quick to dereef in an eager attempt to keep my speed up. Both times the lull was temporary and I had to reef again. Don't be so quick next time.

Passage 16, Wick to Stromness