6am alarm is very unwelcome. Part of us hopes that the forecast is poor, which will give us a great excuse to stay acquainted with our duvets. However, the threatened force 6 is not there and we make the decision to go. We are still taking a childish delight in sailing in waters we have only heard on the radio: Thames, Humber, Tyne and now Forth. We are in the land of Rattray Head to Berwick upon Tweed. Places which sound so romantic and adventurous, when heard in the deep tones of the shipping forecast in the early hours. Will we get to Cromarty this trip? The Dutch boat which had been moored in front of us has already gone and so we are feeling a bit slow off the mark as we slip our mooring at 7 and join the small procession of fishing boats leaving harbour.
A seal pops up to check as we slide between the harbour walls but loses interest too quickly for us to take a photo…or so we thought.
We are headed for Arbroath on the other side of the Forth and just a little up from Dundee. It should only take around 7 hours, but the lock into the harbour shuts two and a half hours before low water. We need to get there before 6pm and in theory we have loads of time. However the tide is not great for us and the variable wind arrives sooner than expected, dragging our speed over the ground to a shade under 4kt. This could be tight. There is a bit of a swell running which makes for an uncomfy motion and we are a bit concerned about the entrance to Arbroath. Dundee is an alternative but not brilliant either. We press on and motor sail to maintain speed. We hang some fishing lines over the back but it seems that no mackerel is inclined to join us for dinner.
Towards Fife Ness the tide turns in our favour and we radio ahead to Arbroath to ask about entry conditions. They are very reassuring and so Dundee will have to wait. By 3 we are receiving permission to enter the harbour although a big dredger with very battered sides is moving in the narrow entrance to add to the fun. The broad Scottish accent over the radio is a challenge to our southern ears, but we do what we think we are told and we end up next to Dave and Pam in their Westerly Seahawk. They are also circumnavigating the UK. But in the opposite direction. They have their son (a very experienced sailor who lives in Canada) and his family for company.
With almost indecent haste we are off in search of some of the famous Smokies for a late lunch. There are loads of fresh fish shops and plenty with signs like ‘Today’s Smokies ready from 12.45’. The Old Brewhouse by Danger Point not only has fresh smokies, but also some nice Orkadian beer. The smokies turn out to be succulent and juicy and worth a trip to Arbroath in themselves.
The bay and the beach here is stunning and we wish our camera skills could do more justice to the landscape. We wander off through town with half a mind to find a pot big enough to cook crab and lobster, but sadly not on this trip. The chimneys tell a story about the winters past…and to come?
Arbroath Abbey is shut but we get a strong sense of the history which was made here, as Robert the Bruce drew up a successful petition to the pope to grant Scotland nation status. This text was later used as the basis for the American constitution. The harbour is still focused mostly on fishing and the old Signal tower was used to house the Bell Rock Lighthouse keepers’ families and to signal to the lighthouse itself.
Back on board we get chatting to Dave and his son and we begin to think about revising our plans. Originally we were going to head for Inverness for the winter, then through the canal to the Western Isles. They sow the seeds of going right up round the top via Cape Wrath and the Orkneys. There is a real attraction in this and it would be a shame not to use the chance to see the islands by our own boat rather than by ferry. As the evening wears on the weather forecast for the next few days suggests that the relatively settled period is coming to an end and that we won’t get much further than Peterhead before it breaks. Our plan starts to look like winter in Peterhead or Lossiemouth before heading north in the Spring.