Arawa's Maiden Cruise

By David Pocock, Parker 235/52 Arawa

I collected my 235 in March and over the Summer I decided to try and sail from my mooring just east of Inverness, south down the Caledonian Canal to Fort William, down Loch Linnhe, up the Sound of Mull and as far north as time permitted. Ideally, going right round the top of Scotland past Cape Wrath, through the Pentland Firth, and back down the East Coast to Inverness. As it happens, I managed to complete the whole journey in 15 days – with 3 stormbound in the face of “perhaps Severe Gale 9 later”. Recorded mileage on the GPS track log was 435 NM but the GPS was not used for some of the journey down the Caledonian Canal.

Not being completely stupid, I took along a very very competent sailing friend – and I could not have managed without her expertise. Of interest, her opinion was that the 235 sails extremely well, but is a handful to get the best out of it single-handed.

Heading down theCaledonian Canaljust outside Inverness
Heading down the
Caledonian Canal
just outside Inverness

The boat coped brilliantly – and that includes a leg from Tobermory to Mallaig (round Ardnamurchan Point) in pretty rough seas where we raced a Gale 8 and lost. All the way down Loch Linnhe and up the Sound of Mull we were beating, and at times into sustained 23Kt+ winds but we made good progress. We had a gorgeous spinnaker run up the Sound of Sleat, and another up the Inner Sound where we learned how much wind the spinnaker can handle. We also had a frustrating spinnaker run down the East Coast in a heavy swell and very variable winds.

Our longest daily run was 64 NM (Kinlochbervie to Scrabster), and we had several others just under 50NM. To be honest, more than 40NM in a day was quite hard work and left little time (or energy) in the evenings for passage planning etc.

Lessons Learned

The traveller option was essential to cope with sustained hard beating. The boat handles the wind well enough but needs plenty of power to make progress through short chop. To handle that power in the strong winds it was essential to be able to spill in the gusts – and quickly at times. She goes over onto her ear rapidly when overpowered (but we had a full main).

The only boat goingdown Neptune’s Staircaseinto Corpach.
The only boat going
down Neptune’s Staircase
into Corpach.

The 3rd reef theory needs refinement! Running around Ardnamurchan before a wind that was a steady 28-30 kts and gusting higher (we saw 33 and 34 kts but to be honest at those strengths one does not have a lot of time to watch instruments) we were surfing at a steady 8 kts + and often saw 9.8 kts on the GPS – and rest assured we knew enough to go at slack tide. Under these conditions, which is when a 3rd reef is rather needed, it is not possible to untie the first reefing line and retie it in the 3rd reef position. Apart from being thrown all over the place as you try to tie the knots, the boat becomes unmanageable without some forward drive. We stopped using the main and ran under a scrap of jib, but this was particularly tough on the rig as it shook the mast. When the wind dropped back to the mid-20s and we could manage a double-reefed main again the motion in the rough seas was much better than under jib alone.

A spinnaker run up the Sound of Sleat – just South of Kyle Rhea.
A spinnaker run up the
Sound of Sleat –
just South of Kyle Rhea.

I was very glad to have taken the jackstay option. I was able to go forward in rough weather with at least some confidence. Also, the twin 2-speed winches were absolutely essential for winching in the jib when beating in strong winds.

The only thing that went wrong with the boat despite some pretty hard use was that the rubber seals underneath the hatch cover came loose.

Another spinnaker runup the Inner Soundtowards Loch Ewe.
Another spinnaker run
up the Inner Sound
towards Loch Ewe.

My Tohatsu 5hp saildrive was rock solid throughout the trip if a little noisy. However, when we rounded the entrance to Mallaig Harbour we could not make progress with it into the wind (then the “Gale 8 later”). This is where my companion’s expertise really came into play as we unrolled a tiny amount of jib and very short-tacked under sail and power into Mallaig. The harbourmaster called us a “hardy wee boat”!

The next day when we went through the 8kt tide of Kyle Rhea (it had to be a spring) the engine pushed us through after we had sensibly waited for the flow to drop to 3kts.

Approaching Cape Wrathfrom Kinlochbervie
Approaching Cape Wrath
from Kinlochbervie

We had no sun for several days so the solar panel added nothing but the Tohatsu’s charger just kept the battery topped up. Powering a GPS, VHF and a tiller pilot (another essential for long daily runs) the BM-1 rarely dropped below 70%. Pity really because I had bought a little Honda generator specifically to recharge the battery but I tried it out a few times and it worked really well. It fits perfectly in the cockpit locker and is quiet enough to have running in the cockpit while lounging there.

I need to find somewhere to put up hooks to hang wet oilskins. It will have to be in the heads but nowhere looks ideal. We laid wet clothing out flat in the forepeak and it did dry a bit there overnight.

I am going to change some of the halyards and sheets. There is nothing wrong with them except too many look the same. It was all too easy to loosen off the wrong one when things got a little tense (eg, jib halyard instead of second reefing line). I will forego some of the colour coordination for a bit of safety.

The standard 7kg anchor was no use at all in the deeper water where we were. It dragged the first time we used it lying over mud in a 15 kt wind. I replaced it at the first opportunity with a 14kg version (too big to fit in the anchor locker) which is overkill but it provided peace of mind and held us off a lee shore in Loch Ewe when the wind direction changed (unforecast) and strengthened considerably in the night.

The spinnaker was a doddle to set up and was equally easy to use. It worked well even in very light winds pulling us along at 2kts in 4 kts of wind. It flies well to 150%. We found 14 kts of wind was the sensible upper limit – above this requires very careful handling. The snuffer was worth every penny and very easy to use. This ease of use encouraged us to use the spinnaker at every opportunity and contributed to our good progress. My only thought for an improvement is to use a snap block at the end of the tack pole instead of a shackle attachment.

We had masses of room for 2 with our kit and lots of extras such as additional fuel, warps, fenders, spare water. We slept on the 2 side berths and even in some very rocking anchorages they were fine.

The galley worked remarkably well – especially the double sink arrangement where daily flasks could be stood upright in the rear basin. I had had my doubts about the single gas burner but it was very efficient and with the addition of a heater element and a toaster – both of which fit neatly on top of the burner – it provided all that was needed.

West of Cape Wrath.
West of Cape Wrath.

The decision to have a folding table as well as a “chart” table was a really good one – as we were always needing the chart version to work on and one could cook while the other passage planned. We stored our full size complete set of charts under the berth below the chart table.

Bill fitted me a Garmin 276c on a swinging mount so it could be viewed from the chart table or the cockpit. It made navigation very easy and I defy most people to pick, with complete confidence, the right entry to, say, Kinlochbervie from all the islands and rocks using charts and bearings alone.

Under Cape Wrath’slighthouse
Under Cape Wrath’s

The spray hood was fantastic providing good shelter. With one exception, no water got below. The exception was running in driving rain when quite a lot got in. We could not use the full washboard because that would have blocked the view of the GPS (on a swivel arm above the chart table). I think the answer is a half height version for such conditions although we improvised with a foil blanket that did the job if a little inelegantly. Despite some rough seas at times, no sea water came into the cockpit.

I carried a tiny NSA 195 Ultralight dinghy bought specially for this trip. It fits quite neatly into the starboard well space behind the double berth and its weight helped to balance that of the spare outboard and fuel in the cockpit locker. It could, just, be inflated on the foredeck.

A porpoise escortin the Pentland Firth
A porpoise escort
in the Pentland Firth

Another lesson relearned – although we thought we were actively watching out for it – was complacency. After exiting the Pentland Firth (and believe everything the pilot books say about the Merry Men of Mey races) we popped into Wick for a tidy up before making a simple 30 Nm hop to Helmsdale. A breeze after what we had been through. Wrong. We were tired, the swell and a very broken sea made progress hugely difficult and it soon became apparent we were not going to make Helmsdale before night. Fortunately we had the tiny harbour of Lybster to shelter in (10 m entrance in a strong cross swell) otherwise we would have had a long uncomfortable night at sea. And in Lybster we were woken at 3am by the skipper of the fishing boat we had tied-up alongside who had been planning to go out but decided the weather was too bad to leave port.

Finally, it was good to moor almost next to P235 Exodus in Tobermory – and even better to find Stephen aboard. We enjoyed a glass of wine together and Stephen very kindly took us ashore and back out. Probably the furthest North a pair of 235s have been seen.