We leave Wick marina at 0630 the next morning to catch the southward tidal flow down to Whitehills. Several of the supply ships are leaving the same time, so we have to call the harbour control on Channel 14 to let them know we are planning to leave too. We edge our way out of the narrow dogleg behind the breakwater and motor out of Wick Bay before hoisting the sails and turning southeast. A fishing boat follows us, and soon passes us.
After a couple of hours, the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (nicely abbreviated as BOWL) starts to show up on the radar. It is the one that we saw Prince Charles opening in Wick. We slow down, debating whether we should go through it or deviate around the side. On the radar the turbines look close together, but in fact each one is 0.9 km from the next one, and I had also read somewhere that the lowest point reached by the rotors is 22 m above the level of the sea. With our air draft of around 20 m, there is plenty of room to go through, although we decide to motor rather than sail just to have more control. Who knows what wind turbulence there might be between the turbines?
I start to read the brochure on Beatrice I had picked up in Wick. At the moment, it is Scotland’s largest offshore wind farm, and is designed for a lifetime of 25 years. Offshore construction began in April 2017, with the first turbine being installed in July 2018 and the last one May 2019. Over its lifetime it is expected to generate more than £2 billion of value for the UK economy, with about half going to Scotland. I muse on what might happen to these figures if Scotland becomes independent after Brexit.
There are little platforms at the base of each turbine. On one, we see two workers on the platform at the base and wave to them. They wave back.
Once we are through the windfarm we let out the sails again and continue straight to Whitehills. The wind blows steadily and we scoot along on a close reach.
I start to read my New Scientist magazine which has just arrived on my phone that morning. There is an article by Donald Hoffman on the nature of reality. HIs argument is that what we experience with our senses and what is really out there are not necessarily the same things – that evolution has conditioned us to sense things to ensure our survival and not necessarily the ‘truth’. Our perceptions, therefore, may obscure the reality behind things. It’s an interesting article, but hardly a new idea – Plato way back in Ancient Greece suggested that our perception of reality was like living in a cave with a fire burning in it, with people walking around it casting shadows on the wall. If we can only see the shadows, we can imagine all sorts of wonderful shapes and explanations of what they are, but it doesn’t give us any idea of the reality of the people causing the shadows.
But the argument in the article seems flawed. I can accept that our senses have developed through evolution to select for ‘payoffs’ that ensure our survival. However, Hoffman’s next claim that this prevents us seeing reality as it is, I think doesn’t follow. The only evidence he provides are some computer simulations that show that basing selection on ‘payoffs’ rather than ‘truth’ win out every time. I wouldn’t dispute this, but it doesn’t seem to me to prove that the two are mutually exclusive – or that this prevents us from seeing reality. For sure, we know that our perceptions can sometimes deceive us, but usually this is to be safe rather than sorry – the rustle in the bushes might only be the wind most of the time, but in some cases it could also be a lion, so it is better to have the wrong perception often and run to stay alive, than to have the wrong perception just once and stay and be eaten. However, this doesn’t imply that we can never see reality – we could refine our perception by using another sense, such as sight or smell, and arrive at a conclusion a bit closer to reality.
A survey ship crosses in front of us. Is it real, or is it just my perception? I check the AIS and radar screen – it shows up on there too. I conclude that my perception and reality are in fairly close alignment, and alter course slightly to make sure we avoid it. Which makes a point itself – that we have greatly extended our range of perception beyond our five senses through the instruments that we have developed.
It starts me thinking about what reality is and whether it even exists. It seems that there are two definitions – reality is what is left after you take humans and their artefacts out of the picture, or it is what the basic building blocks are that make up everything. The first of these doesn’t feel very satisfying to me – humans are real, as are the things they make, so why should these be excluded? The second feels more intuitively right, but even with that it seems there are problems. Quantum physics say that things only become real if there is an observer. So if you take a conscious observer’s brain, you can study its constituent parts all the way down to sub-atomic particles. But at that level these are only probabilistic wave functions until they are observed by something, when the wave function then collapses into a particle. So it’s all a bit circular – matter needs consciousness to exist, but consciousness needs matter to exist. Is there any reality independent of our observations? And if there is, how would we know? Perhaps panpsychism has the answer – the two basic building blocks of the universe are both matter and consciousness? Did Descartes have a point after all with his dualism? I make a note to read up more about it when I get a chance.
Fascinating stuff, but it isn’t getting the sails trimmed. The wind has gone around to the north a little, so I let the mainsheet out a smidgen. Ruby Tuesday surges ahead.
We reach Whitehills marina around 1600. I call ahead to the harbourmaster to check where we should tie up. He tells us that it will be to the pontoon in the outer harbour and that he will meet us. Getting in is quite a challenge – there is a narrow channel between harbour wall on the port side and two markers on the starboard side beyond which there is a rocky reef. Once past those, there is a narrow entrance in the harbour wall itself into which we have turn at a sharp right angle, then we are in the small outer harbour.
As we gently negotiate all of this, we spy someone on the corner of the wall taking photos, which we surmise is the harbourmaster himself. He later gives us an SD card with the photos for us to transfer to the computer. Apparently he does this to all arrivals. A nice touch, and we finally get some photos of Ruby Tuesday with us both on it!
He introduces himself to us as Bertie. He decides to put us in the part of the harbour where it is the deepest, but to do this we have to turn around in the narrow confines, not as easy as it sounds as the width of the clear space is only a little more than the length of Ruby Tuesday. We tie a line to a rear cleat and the pontoon, then motor forward against it with the rudder hard over. She pivots around the line, just clear of the fishing boat tied up on the other side. We then reverse slowly into our spot on the pontoon. Luckily no drama!
“Right”, says Bertie, a welcoming smile all over his face. “Let me answer your questions before you ask them. Is there a pub? Yes, just 10 minutes’ walk from here. Is there a restaurant? Yes, that building just up there in front of my office. Is there a fish and chips shop? Yes, just before you get to the pub. Is there a grocery shop? Yes, just opposite the fish and chips shop. You can stay as long as you like. Now, if there are no more questions, we can just do the paperwork.”
The formalities over, we sit and have a cup of tea. I calculate the height of the tides in the harbour by taking the current depth reading, then using the maximum and minimum depths in the tide tables for that day to calculate the range, then to work out how much lower the water will drop to at low tide. Unfortunately, it is right on spring tides and my calculations show that we will have about 5 cm under the keel at low water tonight, but at low water in the morning, Ruby Tuesday will be resting on her keel, 25 cm out of the water! We hum-and-ha about this, but in the end decide that she spent all winter resting on her keel while ashore, so a short time here shouldn’t do any harm. Bertie assures us that the bottom is silt and mud, no rocks, so the keel may well sink into it a bit. In any case, she will still be in some remaining water which should take most of the weight.
That evening, we have a drink in the Seafield Arms, then eat in the Rockfish fish and chip shop that Bertie recommended. We haven’t eaten much all day so we are ravenous. Luckily the portions are generous and we feel full.
As we waddle our way back to the boat we pass some open garage doors on the side of the road. Inside are two shiny beautifully restored cars – a Morris Minor and a BMW Series 6. The owner is standing outside having a cigarette.
“Lovely cars”, I say.
“Thanks”, he replies. “They’ve cost a bit of time and money over the years. But it’s my hobby, so what does it matter?”
“My first car was a Morris Minor”, I say. “Good cars, even though it was a bit underpowered. Drove it until it fell apart. Not surprising, the way it was treated, I suppose!”
We discuss old cars for a bit. The First Mate becomes bored and continues back to the boat.
“I used to drive wedding cars and coaches for a living, you know”, says the garage owner. “I have taken coach parties all over the UK, I have. Always had full coaches too. The most we did on one week once was from here to Thurso and back, then from here to Cornwall a couple of days later.”
The conversation turns to Brexit. Which one doesn’t these days?
“I can’t wait to get out”, he says.
“Why’s that?”, I ask.
“Most of my mates here are fishermen. We have to stop those European boats coming over here and taking all our fish somehow”, he explains. “They are just ruining the industry here, you know. Our boats have to go further and further out, just to catch the same amount.”
I mention that this doesn’t seem to have stopped some fishermen becoming extremely well off.
“Aye, that’s true”, he says. “Some of them have done pretty well for themselves. There’s one chap I know – just retired and has build a house for £4 million, not far from here. Good luck to him. There’s a lot of money where all the fishing is, in places like Peterhead.”
“But what about markets?”, I ask. “Most of the boats we have seen on our voyages all sell their catch in Europe. It’s almost impossible for us to buy fish off boats directly these days – all the catch is under contract to the Spanish and the like. If we cut off those links, who will they sell to?”
He looks for a moment as though he hasn’t considered that angle before. “Aye, well there is that”, he says. “We’ll be looking to our politicians to develop new markets for us.”
I wonder if this whole thing has been thought through properly. Putting your trust in the current crop of politicians doesn’t sound the wisest business strategy. It can take years to develop new markets. And what happens in the meantime? And all for what purpose anyway?
Later I realise that he is only the third person that we have met on our trip both last year and this year who admits to being in favour of Brexit.
“Of course, yachties are probably a bit better off than average, and have travelled more, so are more likely to want to Remain”, I hear you say. But I remember seeing a pre-referendum poll in 2016 amongst the yachting fraternity in which the split was 48% to 52% Leave to Remain, not that far off the national result.
In any case, many of the people we have talked to haven’t been yachties. Why are we not meeting any Leavers anywhere? It’s weird.