“We don’t seem to have made much progress”, says the First Mate, emerging from the cabin. “I remember seeing that headland half-an-hour ago and it hasn’t got any closer.”
She is right – it is slow going. I feel somehow that she thinks it is my fault. We need to head almost due east to get to Rattray Point, but with the wind coming from the ESE that just isn’t possible, and we are sailing close-hauled with the wind about 30° off our nose. As a result we are gradually being pushed away from the Scottish coast in the direction of Norway and will have to tack soon towards Fraserburgh if we are to get back on course.
We had left Whitehills Marina that morning at 0530 to give us enough depth of water to get out before the low spring at 0900 when we would have been grounded again. The plan was to anchor in deeper water just outside the entrance to the harbour for a few hours, have breakfast, then catch the east-flowing tidal flow. The main ebb tide flows down past Wick, heading roughly for Cullen, before splitting into two, with one stream heading westwards in towards Inverness, and the other stream eastwards towards Fraserburgh and around Rattray Head. It was the latter stream that we had wanted to try and catch when it started flowing eastwards at around 1000. All had gone according to plan, except for the wind, which had had a little bit more east in it than had been forecast. We could still sail – it just meant that we would have to tack more often and the going would be slower than we might have liked.
The wind strengthens, driving a band of cloud in from the east, and the temperature drops as Scottish weather reasserts itself. The First Mate goes back down into the cabin.
I think back of the trip behind us. We have been on the boat now for more than three months. The time has passed quickly. I muse on why I see the trip ‘behind us’. I recall a book that I had finished a couple of weeks ago – “How the World Thinks: A Global History of Philosophy”, by Julian Baggini. In it, he questions the Western concept of time – we see it as linear with the past behind us and the future in front of us. It just seems the natural way that things are, but there is no reason why it should be that way. Many other societies see time as circular, with no beginning and no end, which neatly gets around the problem with linear time of what there was before time started. In societies where life was dominated by the cycle of the seasons and there wasn’t a huge number of changes between one generation and the next, I can see this kind of worldview makes a lot of sense.
And still other societies may still see time as linear, but completely the other way around to us – the past is in front of us and the future is behind. My mind goes back to the time I spent working in Zambia where the First Mate and I met. The local people in the north of the country, the Bemba, had this worldview, and I recall several discussions we had trying to understand it. They see the past as definite as it has already happened, and therefore it is better to face it to focus on it and keep memories alive. On the other hand, the future is unknown with no one knowing how it will develop, so it is pointless facing it as it could go in any direction. I thought at the time that this seemed so alien to my own way of thinking, but again there is some sort of logic to it.
We are now opposite Fraserburgh. We tack and head directly for the town, the wind now on our port side. Fraserburgh harbour is very commercial and not particularly welcoming to sailboats, so we give up any idea of stopping there for a break. We approach to within a kilometre from Kinnaird Head with its lighthouse, and then decide to motor directly into the wind, aiming to get around Rattray Head. The tidal current becomes stronger at this point, and we are swept along at 8½ knots by it as much as by the engine. The seas too become quite choppy, churned up by the currents around this extremity of the British Isles.
Eventually we round Rattray Head and turn south. As if to welcome us, the sea becomes smooth again, the clouds clear, and the sun comes out. The wind is now on our port beam and we skim along comfortably on a beam reach, so much more pleasant than the tough beating into the wind that we had been doing for most of the day until now. Ruby Tuesday sails herself, her sails fully out, so we relax for the first time and have our lunch and enjoy the sun. Ham and tomato sandwiches have never tasted so good! I lie down in the warm sun and close my eyes while the First Mate takes over the helm.
But are these different ways of looking at time of any use in the modern world? It seems so obvious that there is a direction of travel and that we are not just going around in circles. There is an unrelenting pressure towards more complexity and innovation – who would argue that there hasn’t been any progress over the last century, or millennium or epoch for that matter? Whether it is all for the better is another question, but certainly there has been rapid change over that time.
And if we dismiss the future as something behind us, and not worthy of focus, how can we plan and achieve things? When we sail from A to B, we need to have a picture in our minds of the route, the conditions along the way, and the final destination in order to plan. All of that is in the future of where we are in the here and now and we are journeying towards it. I suppose we could just focus on where we have come from, and see where the future takes us, but it seems to be a bit of a risky strategy, with sailing at least.
Time is a slippery concept, and it is interesting that all cultures seem to use spatial metaphors to think about it, even though the metaphors may be different. But in reality time doesn’t exist like any of them – those metaphors are just inside our heads. I eventually decide that I still prefer the linear approach to time with the future in front and the past behind, not only because I am most familiar with it, but it also seems to be the most useful. Nevertheless, it is always good to examine one’s own assumptions and think of other ways of seeing things. I make a mental note to give it some more thought in future ‘me-times’.
“What about a cup of tea before we arrive in Peterhead?”, says the First Mate, waking me from my reverie. “We’ll be there in half an hour or so.”
We arrive at Peterhead Harbour at 1730. As advised by the Sailing Directions, we call up the Harbour Authority about a mile away and tell them that we are heading for the marina. Peterhead Harbour is a busy fishing port and also home for many of the supply ships for the oil rigs in the North Sea, so there is a lot of activity.
“Peterhead Harbour Authority, Peterhead Harbour Authority, Peterhead Harbour Authority, this is sailing vessel Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday. Over.”
There is a gap of a few seconds, and I wonder if they have heard us. Then a broad Doric accent answers. It sounds friendly.
“Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday, this is Peterhead Harbour Authority. Good afternoon.”
“Peterhead Harbour Authority, this is Ruby Tuesday, and we are heading for the marina. Request permission to enter the harbour”, I say.
“Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. Where are you coming from, what is your speed and estimated time of arrival?”
I look down at the instruments and do a quick calculation.
“Harbour Authority, this is Ruby Tuesday. We are coming from the north, we are doing about six knots, and should be there in about 20 minutes”, I respond.
“Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. Thanks for letting us know. Proceed until you are just north outside the harbour entrance, and then call us again.”
Fifteen minutes later, we are there. We furl the sails and start the engine, letting it idle in neutral. I call the Harbour Authority again to let them know we have arrived, although I am sure they know already.
“Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. Can you just wait for ten minutes or so? There is a ship just about to leave, and then you can enter”, says the Doric accent.
Not wanting to come off second best with one of the massive supply ships, I put the engine in gear and let it tick over so that we can circle around on the same spot. Before long, we see the supply ship coming out through the entrance to the harbour. It towers over us as it passes, and Ruby Tuesday wallows in its wake like a cork.
“Ruby Tuesday, this is Harbour Authority. You are free to enter now. Come in through the entrance, keep to your left, and head for the green can on the south side of the harbour. The marina is just past that. You will see the entrance to it when you get to the can”, says the Doric accent.
We motor slowly across the harbour, past a magnificent tall sailing ship called Sea Cloud II with a Maltese flag, reach the green can, and turn to the left into the marina. The marina manager, Keith, is waiting for us, and grabs our ropes. We leap off and help him to tie us up to the outermost pontoon where the water is the deepest. This is to be Ruby Tuesday’s home for the winter. We spend the rest of the day cleaning up, sorting out what we need to take home, and treat ourselves to a filling pub meal in one of the hostelries in Peterhead.
The next day, our friends Uli and Ian arrive and come down from the car-park to the pontoons where we are tied up. They live not too far away from Peterhead, and have kindly offered to come and collect us and take us back home, saving us a complicated bus ride. It is great to see them again. The First Mate makes a soup and cuts the bread into slices. I clear the table.
As we eat our soup and sandwiches, we spot the Border patrol vessel motoring out of the marina. It has been tied up at one of the fingers at the other end of the pontoons from us. We joke that perhaps Brexit has happened while we have been away, and that it is off to make sure that we have taken back control of our borders properly. Either that, or it is just practising for when it does happen.
That evening, we are home again. Everything looks much the same. It’s nice to be back, but we feel a little deflated – our summer voyage from Scotland’s West Coast to its East Coast is now starting to seem like a dream as we try to adjust once more to the normality of everyday life. But we have our memories – Neolithic temples and villages, holy islands, Viking churches and settlements, picturesque canals, magnificent rugged scenery and awe-inspiring wildlife, remote islands, challenging but exhilarating tidal races, and perhaps best of all, we have met old friends and made new ones.
And once again, Ruby Tuesday has looked after us and kept us safe, and taken us to places that we might not have seen otherwise. There is lots of maintenance to do on her that will keep us busy over the winter, as we plan and prepare for the voyage across to Scandinavia when the season starts in 2020. New adventures beckon!