Light winds were forecast for Tuesday 31st July but the direction was favourable for a 20 nautical mile passage round Fife Ness and across the Firth of Tay to Arbroath. Katherine and I had spent a great evening in a small hotel in Crail with fantastic views over the Firth of Forth and of the Isle of May, so feeling refreshed I launched into the small harbour and drifted out of the shelter of the hills surrounding Crail. A light north easterly breeze took me along the north shore of the Firth of Forth towards the point of Fife Ness at around 3 knots. It wasn’t possible to raise the coastguard on the marine VHF due to surrounding hills and cliffs, but once in sight of the Coastguard station at Fife Ness I was able to register my vessel’s details and my passage to Arbroath. The officer on duty wished me well and I confirmed I’d call later to report my safe arrival. Dodging numerous creel buoys I sailed in company with a small Drascombe with tan sails for a while.
Rounding Fife Ness in bright sunshine I steered to the east of the post marking the edge of the reef that extended eastwards from the point. Later, with the expanse of the Firth of Tay to my left, the wind increased in strength to F3 gusting 4, backing to the south east whilst the waves also slowly increased in size. By now I was on a reach and making a much better speed toward Arbroath than expected (around 5 to 6 knots as an average). Whilst this was welcome I wasn’t entirely sure what the effect would be at the shallow entrance to Arbroath Harbour. Reeds warned about the dangers of the entrance in moderate swell conditions and I knew I’d be entering the harbour fairly close to low water when breakers would be more likely. I concluded I’d be unlikely to have a problem as there had been insufficient time for any significant wave height to build, but a slight nagging doubt remained. I’ve found this sort of uncertainty typical of sailing unfamiliar waters in a small vessel. For example, in the Solent I’d have no difficulty with working out what the implications of a wind against tide situation in the Needles Channel would be for a sailing canoe; because pilotage guides are written for yachts, I’d also have little problem with entering a harbour for the first time in a yacht in less than ideal weather. In the event there were no breakers at the harbour entrance and after reaching Arbroath I soon had Stacey on a boatyard slipway next to a very large fishing boat, which was out of the water for deck repairs and repainting.
The large fishing harbour, with a marina in the inner harbour, offered nothing in the way of camping possibilities, campervan or not, so Katherine and I booked into a B&B where I was able to catch up a little on blogging and recharge the VHF, mobile phones, camera batteries and so on. The next day dawned grey with grey skies and fog (visibility of less than a mile) whilst waves from the spell of fresh south easterly winds were intermittently breaking over the harbour wall, so we spent the day looking round the harbour and visiting the Signal Tower Museum* and Arbroath Abbey.**
* Built in 1813, by Robert Stevenson (the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson), the Signal Tower complex was the shore station of the Bell Rock Lighthouse until 1955 and provided a home to its keepers and their families. The museum, housed in the signal tower building, has a fascinating exhibition concerning the building and history of the Bell Rock lighthouse, the first sea washed lighthouse in the world, also built by Robert Stevenson. The Bell Rock lighthouse is situated 11 miles from Arbroath on the notorious Inchcape reef which wrecked many ships before the lighthouse was finished in 1812.
** Arbroath Abbey is the site of the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath which asserted Scottish independence. The ruins of the once huge abbey are impressive. There is an interesting exhibition concerning the declaration, Scottish history and the long history of conflict with England.