Scratch’s first voyage


We sailed – and rowed – from Portobello to North Berwick, a distance of around twenty miles on the last Friday in August. This was Scratch's first long voyage – or perhaps passage – I'm not clear about the difference.

We were heading for the North Berwick Traditional Boat Muster that was to take place over the weekend. We left Portobello beach at 13:30 with a gentle north westerly breeze.

The photos above are taken while under sail as Scratch remains happily balanced while I take the snaps – first looking towards Eyebroughy, the point around which we'll turn, then looking back towards Edinburgh, and finally looking towards the southern coast.

In little under an hour the wind died and it was out with the oars. The wind teased me by returning occasionally only to die away again when I raised the sail. To confound the wind I took to rowing with the sail up, and there was often the lightest breath of wind which held the mainsail away from my head. I think we got some advantage from the row-sailing. We rowed off and on from 14:30 to 17:30 with occasional intervals of sailing.

Despite the settled forecast the wind got up from the west as we neared Eyebroughy. At first I was glad of the respite from drifting and rowing – delighting in running goosewinged before the wind. Soon though I realised that the wind had got considerably stronger and that I'd really be feeling that strength if I had to change the point of sail. Remembering from somewhere – Arthur Ransome? – the adage that if you think it might be time to reef, it is time to reef, I hove to, head to wind with the mizzen sheeted right in. Yes, indeed it really was windy – F4 gusting F5 perhaps? I quickly reefed the main and set off again.



At high tide there's water between Eyebroughy and the land, but at low water Eyebroughy is a rocky promontory rather than an islet. It was high tide now. Should I go inside? I decided not to chance it, even when I saw a power boat coming through in the opposite direction. I headed to the north of Eyebroughy instead, but as I sailed to the north to go around I saw a rowing boat coming towards me.

I knew the Portobello skiff Icebreaker was making the same voyage – perhaps it was them. I edged in a little, only to find my eyes were deceiving me – the boat was a rock in the channel, the splash of the oars, waves beating on the shallows. I headed north again, reflecting how easy it is to be deceived – and I certainly wasn't exhausted.

I did however decide to head west along the shore between the larger island of Fidra and the coast. After I was committed the wind appeared to strengthen further and it started to pour with rain. The following sea had developed quite a swell, and as every wave passed under us the boat tipped and what appeared like half a bucket full of water ran out of the bundle of reefed sail. Luckily it fell onto the foredeck and not into the cockpit.

This was an interesting – and fast – sail, now passing between the Lamb and the shore. The boat was performing well, but I felt we were being pressed a little too hard for comfort. But the main was fully reefed and the mizzen has no reefing points. This is when I remembered the advice from John Welsford, the boat's designer, on the excellent yahoogroup:


The reefing sequence for Walkabout Osbert, is to reef the main, then drop the mizzen as a second reef, then drop the main.

So, head to wind again and drop the mizzen. Because of the way I have the mizzen set up, I was able to untie one line and lift the mizzen mast completely out of its step and lie it in the boat. We set of again, Scratch much more at ease under the reefed mainsail alone.

As well as the islands, North Berwick harbour and the beaches are surrounded by rocks. I had my chart with me and was delighted it was 'water resistant' as often it was tiller in one hand, mainsheet and chart in the other. I re-checked the entry to the harbour and headed towards Craigleith before turning in and following the line of the harbour wall. The wind dropped quite a bit now and I was able to approach quite sedately and run up onto the beach next to the harbour entrance.


Next day I snapped the route I'd taken – tide was higher when I'd arrived.

First voyage done! In all the excitement I forgot to check the time. Around 19:00 I think.

After that I met up with the Portobello skiffies who'd arrived an hour or so earlier, and together we carried Scratch up onto the quay. Changed into dry clothes, checked the next train home, discovered I had no time to go for a pint with the others and headed for the station.



About Osbert Lancaster

Creating ripples to foster sustainability. Seeking solace & clarity on the sea by sail & oar.

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