The voyages of the Fulmar – part five

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The serialisation of a log book from the yacht ‘Fulmar’, recording her 1956 voyages and the adventures of her crew.
The dog-eared log book was sent to the Argyllshire Advertiser accompanied by an unsigned note saying the log book had been bought among a lot of assorted items at an Edinburgh fleamarket.
The ‘Fulmar’, a 41-foot gaff cutter built in 1901, was owned by Commander Ralph G Mowat, RN (Rtd). Information on Commander Mowat was unearthed after an appeal by this newspaper, but we would love to hear from any surviving relatives.
The yacht won her class in the 1956 ‘Tobermory Race’ from Bute to Tobermory, via the Crinan Canal before setting off on a cruise from Crinan up the west coast, around Mull and back home.
Crew of the Fulmar and their nicknames: RG Mowat, ‘Skipper’; Mary R Mowat, ‘Mate’; G Paterson, ‘Pilot’; S Stanger, ‘Doctor’; JM Mowat, ‘Bosun’; Chris Paterson, ‘Tanky’; Robin G Mowat, ‘Tar’; Shena R Mowat, ‘Purser’ and dachshund Ruddiger von Stoer, ‘Major of Marines’

Part five

Loch Aline and a nip of gin

The Mate had gone below when the sails came down and very shortly after we had anchored we sat down to a supper of lamb salad, strawberry tarts, coffee and biscuits. As we stood about on deck while the dishes were being washed a boy from one of the motor boats passed in his dinghy. He was wearing blue shorts and red stockings which brought from the Pilot the remark: ‘In Brodick if you don’t wear red stockings you might just as well be in Lamlash.’

All but the Skipper and Mate went ashore on Centre Island for a stroll. The Major was still completely paralysed in his hind quarters but he was full of spirit and when the Bosun held up his hind legs (wheelbarrow race fashion) he galloped along. It was a quiet peaceful evening with a very light northerly breeze but it was distinctly chilly and there was a magnificent if somewhat lurid sunset. The shore party back aboard the Bosun took the Tar off in the dinghy and they landed on Eilean na Beithe and while the former explored the island the latter played on a shingly shore – it was long after dark when they returned.

At half past ten we began to turn in and, as always on the first evening, this was a longer business then usual as pillows and blankets had to be allocated and pillowslips put on but by a quarter past eleven we were all in bed and shortly after that a light shower pattered on the deck. The problem of what to do with the Doctor’s mattress was solved by the Pilot double banking his bunk. We were all very glad to have had such a good day for the start.

It was noticed that voices were still coming from the ladies’ cabin when the last of us in the main cabin fell asleep.

The Tanky brought an innovation to the Fulmar – ‘Quickies’ – a patent washing gadget that saved precious water.

Saturday July 28

We had a dead quiet night with, as far as any of us knew, no rain but the forecast was not good, promising north to north-east winds, force 2 to 6 with frequent heavy showers. The glass had continued its steady drop. When we turned out, a light but cold north wind was blowing from a well broken up sky.

We had a breakfast of bacon and eggs then the Bosun took the Major ashore for his walk. The latter was possibly a little better and was able to take a few steps on the deck, but ashore on the rough ground could do nothing. While they were ashore the big motor boat with the red-stockinged boy left after very nearly going ashore on Seil Island while getting his anchor aboard.

At twenty past ten we were away under engine, but as soon as we were outside the sails went up to the north-easterly breeze and we set off for the Sound of Mull. There was no sign of the swell that is usually met south of Kerrera and we got along quite well, but we could not point any higher than a mile or so south of Loch Don. The Pilot went below and brewed a welcome cup of tea which warmed us up, then we took a tack right up to the south coast of Kerrera and had a close up view of Gylen Castle and the Skipper waxed historical.

Putting about again we passed close south of the Potlid Island, but when we were about halfway across to Loch Don the wind died and the strong ebb began to force us south and about the same time the rain came on.

The engine was started and we headed up for Duart, but our progress was pitifully slow, and indeed at one period we but barely held our ground. The Lady Rock and Lismore Lighthouse seemed never to get any nearer closing. When the engine had run an hour we waited for the first sign of the old familiar falter but none came and we began to hope a cure for its stopping had been effected by replacing the HT coil.

This change was a despairing effort made because it was the only thing we had not tried, though all the pundits declare it could not possibly be the cause. The engine would either go or not go, they said, and it would never start if the coil was defective. We got one scare when it staggered for a moment, but the Bosun, who was at the tiller at the time, said we had just passed though a big mass of floating seaweed and may have got some round our propeller.

As we were to prove later the cure had been found and the engine ran impeccably all the cruise and the Skipper had a lot of unkind thoughts about all the many professional motor experts who had caused him a great deal of trouble, not a little acute anxiety and more than considerable expense through their failure to diagnose a not very obscure disease.

As we came up to the Black Memorial Tower Leonora crossed our bows making for Oban and another yacht (a beautiful new affair with every gadget aboard) passed close by south bound under engine though by this time quite a reasonable and, for then, favourable breeze was blowing from the north-east and our sails were drawing.

We learnt later that the owner’s wife would not allow a sail to be set under any conditions as long as she was aboard – a pity, we thought, as she certainly was a lovely job and we felt it would have been better if the wife had decided to stay ashore.

At Duart we stopped the engine and were able to make good progress, but the rain got heavier and heavier and our sandwich lunch was taken below in relays. Then at about three with the turn of the tide the wind died completely and the engine was started again. Near the Grey Rocks we saw St Roma coming south under power so we altered course to intercept her then at slow speed turned back the way we had come for a few hundred yards while we exchanged news.

We heard a thoroughly bad forecast at mid-day, the wind had gone, the rain was stotting in the glassy sea, and, though the glass had come back only a fraction, we decided to call it a day so, with the Bosun the only dissentient, made for Loch Aline. As we turned inshore at Ardtornish we saw Seewolf to the north of us, becalmed but heading south, and guessed she would be joining us later. Coming in, when between Morven Pier and the Ferry Pier, the Skipper held too close to the west shore and the bottom showed up suddenly far too clearly for our peace of mind and a quick sheer out was necessary.

Through the narrows we turned to starboard and anchored at half past four in Kyle Bay in a flat calm and the rain coming down heavier than ever. Gratefully we realised that it was not quite as bitterly cold as it had been out in the Sound.

Seewolf came in shortly after going very slowly and Hamish Lawrence called over that he had run a big end and was on his way to Oban for repairs and to hand over to brother Alec and his family. Soon after that we were joined by a small motor boat, Saguenay, flying a blue ensign which, in view of her size, the Skipper was sure she was not entitled to do and then a little later, while we were warming up with some coffee, Lindisfarne arrived and anchored close beside us with Guy Clephane in his usual tremendous (and noisy) form – he’s a proper marvel is Guy.

Hamish Lawrence came across in his dinghy and came aboard for a gin and while he was there Guy called over inviting Tanky and the Pilot across to Lindisfarne then sent the Pilot back to Fulmar to fetch the Bosun. Hamish gone, the Skipper began to put nine inch tacklines into our line of flags as we had discovered at Rothesay at the Royal Clyde Centenary Regatta that without them our line was about fifteen feet too short and we wanted them to be right for the Queen’s visit to Tobermory.

When the Pilot came back he and the Bosun got the tents up as the rain was by then torrential.

We had a supper of sausages and beans and while the dishes were being done the Bosun took the Major ashore. He was walking a little better if very slowly, but there was, unfortunately, no concrete results from his exercise.

At nine o’clock we went in two loads across to Seewolf and were offered drinks OR tea, but the Skipper insisted on both. We were, however, not allowed any biscuits with our tea as to have them would have meant opening a new box and broaching Alec Lawrence’s stores. The Tanky had not wanted anything but tea, but Hamish had given her a good strong gin which she tried to hide on a shelf behind her and it was only got rid of when the Pilot took it off her hands and quickly put it to its proper use. The Bosun was drinking beer and when he opened up the tin a goodly portion of it bubbled onto the fitted carpet in the cabin.

On board Seewolf were, besides the two paid hands, Hamish’s mother and his two sisters. The old lady, well over eighty, was in grand form and waxed eloquent on ‘The old days’ and the greatness of ‘Belshaft’. Also on board was a great big collie who was obviously petted and spoilt beyond measure and he behaved more like a lap dog than the great big clumsy creature he was.

It was half past eleven before we went back to Fulmar all in one load with little enough freeboard for the dinghy considering the conditions. There was a nasty little lop on the water, the northerly wind was bitterly cold, and the rain was as heavy as ever. As quickly as possible we got below and into our warm bunks, not even the Bosun wasting any time about it, though he did read for some time after all the rest were sound asleep.