Standing waves and submarines

Denys Rayner designed ‘Robinetta’, his 22’6″ micro-yacht, in 1936 and had her built in the Wirral. He sailed her to Scotland in the summer of 1937 where she overwintered in the Clyde. By 1938 his wife was pregnant with their first son and he went cruising with two friends. They took the boat from Largs through the Crinan Canal to Skye and then home to Liverpool.

7th of June, 1938 saw them leave the safety of the Crinan sea lock and head through Dorus Mor, home of the dreaded Correyvrekan whirlpool to Tobermory in high winds and heavy seas. We have an extract from the log, originally published in the Royal Cruising Club Journal.

OGA members Julian and Alison Cable retraced the steps of ‘Robinetta’ to complete her circumnavigaion during the summers of 2014 – 2016. Follow her blog here.

A day in the life of a gentleman’s yacht, ‘Robinetta’ 7 June 1938

Bar down 3½ tenths since Sunday, mid-day. It blew very hard indeed during the night and was still doing so when we turned to at 06.00. Before breakfast we exercised storm trysail drill and lashed the main boom securely down to the transom. After giving everything below a hard weather stow we locked out at 08.45. It was then just low water and I reckoned that by the time we reached Dorus Mor the tide would be running well to the northward. We had a little difficulty with the keeper of the Sea Lock, as he was not at all certain that he ought to let so small a ship out on such a wild day, but after assuring him that we would come back if it was too bad he let us go.

Set the trysail and storm job as soon as we were clear of the lock, but kept the engine going as I feared being becalmed behind some rock and being swept on to something or into a tide rip going some way we did not intend. Once clear of Loch Crinan we felt the full force of the wind which gave us a fine exhilarating sail across the entrance to Loch Craignish, the ship travelling very nicely over the short beam sea despite her scant 86 sq. ft. of sail area, 50 in the trysail and 36 in the jib. Brilliant sun and storm-blown cumulus clouds.

We were up to the famed Dorus Mor at 09.10 and found a most curious and rather frightening tidal race in possession on the fairway. Curling in a big concave semi-circle right across the clear water was a line of breakers some ½-cable wide. Within this band the water was a seething mass of leaping white crests. We saw it too late to turn back, and barely had time to shut the main hatch and sit down in the cockpit holding on tightly before she took the first wall of water like a hunter. As we reached the pinnacle and I saw how short the distance was to the next breaking crest the thought crossed my mind that she might pitchpole end for end but she came up beautifully. It was a very bad time while it lasted and although it seemed an age it can barely have been more than three minutes before we were clear and with eased sheets wore off again with the short but regular seas astern of us on our course for Ardluing Buoy.

Scarba Sound proved quite uneventful. Except that we gave her the staysail as soon as we were clear of the squalls which had been churning the water along the Scarba side of the sound. At 10.35 we had Pladda Lighthouse abeam and being clear of tide rips we gratefully cut off Miss Adams supply of drink. The 10.30 weather forecast gave southerly gale still in operation, but I am inclined to doubt it. I always reckon that force 8 will blow the tops off the waves and although nearly every wave was breaking, some quite heavily, the white water was playful rather than vicious. I had never seen such waves from a sailing vessel. To us accustomed to the short stuff round Liverpool bay these big fellows seemed amazing – the next day we should have thought them short – but to us they appeared reasonably long and as they gave the ship no trouble they were great fun to watch.

At noon as I sit in the cabin writing up this log – it is far too cold outside for anyone who hasn’t got to be there – I can see the waves running up astern of us. The tops appear to break about a foot above Toady’s head as he sits at the tiller – I am just waiting for one to climb down his back. Quite frankly, had I seen these seas from the beach nothing would have induced me to leave Crinan, but now we are here I am glad we came because the ship just takes no notice of them but goes on making her 5 knots.

We had Lady Rock abeam at 13.05 and hauled our wind for the reach up the Sound of Mull. The wind is coming more squally as we get into the land and much harder in the puffs. We are also getting a number of vicious rain squalls which bounce off the water and knock down what little sea there is in here. The ship, I am pleased to note, goes well under her present rig even close hauled. Over on the Morven shore to the east of Loch Aline are two large waterfalls coming over the edge of the cliffs – the wind is blowing them to pieces and carrying the spray away like steam back over the land.

The day gradually clouded over and the showers drew together into driving rain so fiercely blown at us that one could not bear to look windward for more than a few seconds at a time and visibility decreased considerably. In these conditions we made acquaintance with a rock awash topped by a beacon in the form of a Gaelic cross with positively attacked us. After a hectic altercation between myself on watch and the two assistant navigators below, who said there wasn’t such a beacon in the Sound of Mull and never had been – and a lot more – the mystery was cleared up by the beacon altering course slightly and disclosing itself as H.M.Submarine L.23 in cruising trim. Previously bows on and looking for all the world like a rock awash with beacon on top.

At 16.15, when just short of Doirlinn narrows entrance to Tobermory, we experienced a succession of extremely heavy squalls which necessitated dropping the staysail, but even so reduced they nearly laid us on our beam ends – with no more canvas than a small sailing dinghy would normally carry. I didn’t know it could blow so hard. Afterwards we found that Cowper mentions that wooded slope as a dangerous spot – it is.

We entered the narrows entrance at 16.20, 42 miles from Crinan in 7 hours 35 minutes. Bar up 3 tenths since 04.30 this morning. Got all sail off her and motored into and round Tobermory harbour, having a look at the place and finally picking up a mooring off the old jetty at 17.10.

Read the full article on Log of ‘Robinetta’