The voyages of the Fulmar – part six

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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 six

The glass falls

Sunday July 29

It blew freshly all night and not till about seven did the rain take off, but we lay quite comfortable and quietly. The glass came well back. At a quarter to eight we heard a poor weather forecast with gales and rain for practically every area including north-easters for both Malin and Hebrides. In the news that followed we heard that Moyana (the winner of the recent Lisbon race) was in trouble on her way home and was asking for help as she would have to be abandoned.

As there was no hurry about moving as we meant to wait for the flood and there was obviously little enjoyment to be had on deck we turned over and went to sleep again. We hoped to make Tobermory in the late afternoon having the flood with us all the way and if things got no worse.

At half past nine we began to turn out. A cold strong north-westerly was blowing but it was dry. Seewolf had sailed for Oban but Lindisfarne was still with us with Guy still shouting (he calls it talking) and singing with undiminished enthusiasm. The Saguenay was not happy – a man was crouching in her cockpit with the lead line in his hand keeping watch for the first sign of dragging.

We had a breakfast of grapefruit (as it was Sunday) and bacon and eggs. One of the eggs when broken into a cup was so rotten it nearly blew the Pilot out of the forecastle.

After our meal we had a big clean up above and below and the Tar pumped the ship then, with the wind falling light, the rain started again and blankets etc. up on deck to air had to come down in a hurry, but the glass was beginning to show signs of being somewhere near the bottom for the time being.

The Tanky and Tar took shelter in the dog-house with the Major and talked of this and that while the rest of us occupied ourselves below. The Bosun and Pilot finished putting the tacklines in the flags, the former got a book while the latter started sketching. The Skipper had a patent lighter that could be used in any weather no matter how blowy or how wet, but which, when working emitted a series of sparks and this was the subject of one of the sketches. The Mate fitted up a tumbler holder in the ladies cabin then did some knitting, the Skipper, after cutting the tacklines to the required length had a snooze.

At two o’clock by which time it was calm and raining less heavily, the Tanky and Mate started getting our dinner of lamb salad, greengages and custard, coffee and Yo-Yo biscuits, ready and the Pilot and Skipper tried mixing gin and Dubonnet but decided that to do so merely spoilt good gin. The Tanky, however, seemed to enjoy Dubonnet by itself and she was given the freedom of the bottle. About this time the man in the Saguenay got tired of holding his lead line and he shifted billet to inshore from us.

When we started lunch it was almost a flat calm, but coming on deck after it ready to go onto Tobermory, we found the wind had risen considerably and had veered a point. We got our anchor at four o’clock and under engine went out into the Sound of Mull and, turning west, began to get up our sails as we passed the Morven Pier.

In view of the forecast and of what we could see ahead of us we decided to tie down two reefs. We got the tack and clew lashed down and had started on the reef points when we began to doubt the wisdom of proceeding. The wind was fresh and getting stronger every minute and the sea was increasing similarly – to go on would mean getting a proper hammering and the prospect of a north-east gale would mean our intended anchorage in Tobermory would probably be most uncomfortable (‘most uncomfortable’, we were to learn later, was a masterly understatement).

The decision of whether to turn back or not was left to the Skipper for as usual, on these occasions, the Pilot steadfastly refused to offer any opinion, but he did agree that the Skipper was right when he decided on the former course. Round we came, the jib was broken out, and we scampered back to Loch Aline. At the narrows the jib was furled and under engine only we ran up to Kinlochaline and let go off the boat-house at ten past five. The Mate, Tanky, and Tar, down below and unaware of our change of plan were quite bewildered when they heard the chain run out and the first named came on deck to find out where we had got to.

The Saguenay had preceded us to this anchorage and the Lindisfarne came up a little later and Guy said that Kyle Bay, in the rapidly rising gale, was getting almost untenable. In Kinlochaline we were very comfortable though, even here there was quite a lop on the water and we were sheering about a good deal in the squalls. It was raining very heavily but the Bosun took the Major ashore, but still without any concrete results.

At six we had a cup of tea with cake and biscuits and by the time this was finished it was blowing a full gale. The weather forecast was bad and our only consolation was that it was ever so much worse for the South.

In the Channel the barometer had reached a record low level for July and force 9 and 10 winds were commonly reported all over England and Wales. With us the glass had turned and was .02 up since mid-day. Then with the exceptions of the Bosun who was in the dog-house and the Tar who played patience we spent the next hour or so dosing in the cabin.

At half past eight we had a supper of scrambled eggs and meat roll for those that wanted it, then we put up the tents and down the angel and veered a further five fathoms of chain, making it twenty out in three fathoms of water.

We could see out in the Sound of Mull that a huge sea was running and down by the narrows the top of the water was being swept off in spindrift. The squalls where we were were very fierce but, there being no sea, we were lying quite comfortably and never once put a pull on the anchor though we did suffer rather badly from bobstayitis.

Two motor boats came up for shelter. One, Ormidale, anchored off the west shore opposite us, but the other (unknown) let go out in the middle of the loch and kept steaming to her anchor for as long as we could see her.

It was a wild night and at eleven o’clock to cheer himself up the Bosun made coffee for himself and the Pilot and half a cupful for the Tanky. While they were having it the rest of us started to turn in.

That gale was news and in our sheltered corner we had no idea how bad it was. Even in Crinan warps were carried away and yachts set adrift in the basin. All round the coast were reports of vessels in distress; one, a steamer in the Channel, being rolled right over.

Next week:

Part seven: High seas and low provisions