The fishing nets precariously attached somehow to the wall behind us as a decorative effect look as if they might fall down at any moment on top of us. I try to imagine ourselves struggling to free ourselves from the fine mesh and think that might be how a seal or dolphin feels if it gets trapped in fishermen’s nets.
We are in the Marine Hotel in Stonehaven for our evening meal. We have just sailed down from Peterhead with our friends Uli and Ian, and are relaxing in a pleasant post-sail lethargy discussing the day’s events. Much delayed, we had set sail on our summer voyage at long last, and they were keen to try their hand at a bit of sailing in the stretch from Peterhead to Stonehaven. They had joined us the night before, staying on board to sample the sailing experience to the full.
We had set off at early in the morning at 0600, both to catch the high tide to avoid any depth problems with exiting the marina, and to catch the south-flowing tidal current that started later in the morning and which would carry us all the way down to Stonehaven, adding an extra knot or two to our speed.
And then something spooky.
“Peterhead Harbour Control, this is sailing vessel Ruby Tuesday. Request clearance to leave the marina and harbour”, I radio to the Harbour Control people. Peterhead is a busy commercial harbour serving the fishing and offshore industries, and there is a need for coordination of the many boats entering and leaving the harbour.
“Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Control. When you get within a mile of the harbour, call us again, and we will direct you in”, they respond.
“Harbour Control, sorry, I wasn’t clear”, I say. “We are in the marina and are requesting permission to leave, not come in.”
There is a short delay. I think I can hear the scratching of heads.
“Ruby Tuesday, apologies. There is another yacht Ruby Tuesday just north of here and we thought it was her calling. You have clearance to leave the harbour”.
Sure enough, we spot the second Ruby Tuesday on the AIS about five miles north of Peterhead. How much of a coincidence is that? We are aware of only two other Ruby Tuesdays in the whole of the UK beside ourselves, both in England, and one of them has to be passing Peterhead just as we are leaving it. Half-an-hour earlier or half-an-hour later and we probably would not have been aware of her.
Coincidences notwithstanding, it turned out to be a gorgeous day, bright and sunny, with a steady wind from the west and a smooth sea. At 0800 we were passing Slain’s Castle, the inspiration for Brad Stoker’s Dracula, where we decided it was time for breakfast. Over our toast and jam, fruit and yoghurt, and mugs of tea and coffee, we mused over the castle’s history. Apparently, Brad Stoker used to travel from Ireland to visit the Slains area and was there when he started to write Dracula. The story has it that an eight-sided hall in the castle inspired the octagonal Great Hall in the novel. Though set in Eastern Europe, I could see how the ruins of a castle on the bleak Aberdeenshire coastline could give rise to stories of vampires sucking their victims’ blood to gain strength. Momentarily I wondered if I could finish my yoghurt, but the feeling passed.
Further on, we reached the Balmedie windfarm array. Commissioned only in 2018, we had seen this several times from the land as we had driven up to Peterhead to prepare the boat, so it was interesting to see it from the sea and sail amongst the giant turbines dwarfing us. The array is particularly significant as Donald Trump opposed its construction as it interfered with his view of the North Sea from his golf club, but lost the appeal against the local authority. Good on them – at least it shows that the rich and powerful can’t have it all their own way all of the time. Scotland can benefit more from nearly 100 MW of renewable energy being generated than a few elites hitting a ball around the dunes. By all accounts the course is making a loss anyway.
Just past Aberdeen, we decided to stop and drift in the current to have our lunch and enjoy the sun. just as we were making ourselves comfortable, the VHF comes to life.
“Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, this is A-Comms. We see you have slowed your speed and are within range of one of our ships engaged in underwater activities. Would you mind moving on to give it a 500 m berth?
We had seen the ship in question on the AIS, although we had had no idea what it was up to. We were probably already more than that distance away, but we didn’t argue and agreed to move further away for somewhere to have our lunch. We learned later that the ship was laying a cable out to one of the off-shore wind arrays further out to bring renewable energy back to the mainland.
Ian had brought his fishing rod with him, and decided to give it a go. It probably took him longer to tie his hooks and sinker on than it did to catch his first fish – within seconds of dropping the line overboard, five silvery mackerel were struggling on the end of it, three small ones and two larger ones. The smaller ones were freed and returned to the depths, while the largest were dispatched and filleted for a future dinner. Over went the line for a second time, and again within a minute or so, another five were hooked. Clearly we were above a school of the creatures, as is often the case in July of each year as they begin their migration northwards.
We had arrived in Stonehaven just on high tide, and had no problems entering the harbour with our 2 m draft and tying up to the outside wall, leaving plenty of slack in the lines to allow for the 4 m tidal range. We didn’t fancy coming back from dinner at low tide to find Ruby Tuesday hanging halfway up the wall, or more likely, all the lines snapped with her floating around in the middle of the harbour!
The fishing nets on the wall behind us in the Marine Hotel have stayed put for the duration of our dinner, and we live for another day. Just as well, as I didn’t fancy the job of extricating ourselves if they had fallen down. We say our goodbyes to Ian and Uli, and they return home while we amble back to the boat.
Later that evening, the First Mate and I sit in the cockpit with a glass of wine and muse over the events of last several months. They had certainly not been the usual run-of-the-mill, to say the least.
First up was my toe operation. For a few years, I had been suffering from a painful toe joint, which had made if very difficult, if well-nigh impossible, to walk long distances. Luckily it could be fixed with a small operation to fuse the joint, although unfortunately it required six weeks on crutches to heal, and another six weeks to build up the muscles again. I was lucky to be able to have the operation scheduled for October with the recovery period from November to January, so that it didn’t impinge on our summer sailing plans. All went well, and I have to say that I quite enjoyed my enforced convalescence as I was able to catch up on reading and writing that I had been meaning to do for years. To match all that, the First Mate started on the process of having new teeth implants. Should we really be sailing in our state, I wondered?
The General Election was next. The slender hopes we had entertained of Brexit being cancelled were dashed as Johnson swept to power with an 80 seat majority. At a stroke our plans of sailing around Europe in Ruby Tuesday were just made significantly more difficult as the UK would now be classified as a third country and British citizens would be subject to the 90/180 rule – only permitted to stay in the EU for 90 days in any 180-day period. Even the boat would only be allowed to stay in Europe for 18 months without attracting VAT again which has been already paid in the UK when it was first purchased. A First World problem, I know, but what are the benefits that will outweigh these steps backward?
To cheer ourselves up, we had booked flights to the Canaries to soak up some sun and to use up Air Miles that would be lost otherwise. The First Mate had been keen to revisit La Gomera where she had spent some time in her younger days when it was the in place to be for German alternative life-stylers. So we had booked an apartment there, had hired a car, had met another couple who had similar interests, and had spent three weeks exploring the island, walking various paths within the rainforest national park covering the central part of the island and enjoying the sandy beaches tucked away at the base of precipitous cliffs. We even managed to squeeze in a day on the way back at the Santa Cruz Carnival, supposedly the largest outside Brazil.
Then came the coronavirus. In many ways, we were lucky, as we had a garden we could potter around in and sunbathe when the weather was good, and lots of paths near the house that we could go for long walks along, perfecting our social-distancing techniques by sidling along one side of the track when anyone approached from the opposite direction. We can now do passable imitations of crab walks. We did a few Zoom quizzes, kept in touch with family and friends by Skype, and did some cycle rides. The only limitation was not being able to get to Ruby Tuesday to do all the little jobs that needed doing on her.
Then the lifting of the restrictions began. Eventually we were allowed to travel to our choice of sports; in our case, sailing, although it was a few weeks before staying on board overnight was permitted. When that eventually happened in Scotland, most of the ports and harbours down the east coast of the UK were already open and receiving visitors, so we were finally able to plan our trip for real. We had decided to abandon going to Shetland and across to Norway and Sweden as had been our plan at one stage, and instead complete our circumnavigation of the UK then cross to France and work our way northwards towards the Baltic that way. But with coronavirus, quarantines, lockdowns and Brexit, who knows what might lie ahead?
Our wine glasses are now empty, and it has been a long day. We stumble downstairs and to sleep.