Holland to Ardfern - bulletin nine
Peterhead to ... er, Buckie
By this time, it was mid-day, and we revised our journey plan. We would head for Buckie, which was 25 miles nearer than Lossiemouth, and was accessible at all states of the tide. In the rush to get going, Broontroosers completely forgot the 5am shipping forecast (“Strong South-Easterly winds by the afternoon.”)
Two hours later, we are round Rattray Head again, and the forecast is proving to be accurate to an uncanny degree. Force 6 to bloody 7. The only bit they missed out was the crucial piece about bloody great foaming waves on the port quarter, making steering rather difficult and life rather frightening to those of a nervous disposition.
All of this prompts Cap'n Broontroosers into one of his monologues... “If only I had known about this bloody misery, I would not have started out, why didn't 'somebody' remind me of the forecast..... etc.” This misery would have continued all the way to Buckie, if a remarkable stroke of luck had not intervened to save Totty's sanity.
It started innocently enough. “Oh look, there's a yacht”, said she... “I wonder what he is doing; he just seems to be drifting about?” she continued desperately, for Broontroosers is not that easily distracted from his miserable grouching. Five minutes later, Totty points out that there is a man standing at the stern of the yacht, and he appears to be waving. This generates a flicker of attention.
Sure enough, it becomes apparent that the man is waving both arms up and down, as though trying to fly. This gets full attention, as it is a recognised distress signal.
(Later in this eventful day, an ex-member of the Buckie lifeboat performs, especially for us, a lively dance in which he jumps up and down, flaps his arms just like the man on the boat, and makes frenetic fowl noises. The title of this dance is “Chicken To-night”!!)
Now we know what our heroic rescuers say about the poor victims they save - no way will you find us waving our arms up and down; its rockets or nothing for us from now on!
There is no alternative but to go and have a look at the yacht, which has no sails up, seems to have no radio, is clearly drifting and tossing about violently. The same applies to us, it might be said, but we are in an ex-lifeboat, and must be brave.
As we get close to the yacht, we see one man sitting, looking sick or terrified, and one man waving a rope. We get as close as possible, and Charlotte gathers that he thinks we are the lifeboat, and wants a tow into Whitehills, the dinky micro-harbour we saw from the land several days ago. Don can't control the boat, and has to pull away, rolling horribly, and perform another circuit round the yacht. Charlotte goes out on the foredeck, opens the rope locker, and gets our longest warp, ready to throw as a tow rope. Demonstrating great courage, she goes out on the side deck, lets go of the hand rail, and prepares to throw the rope. At this very moment, the old boat does one of its best rolls yet, and nearly projects her to Venus.
How the heck did real lifeboat crews do it? It is only a Force 6/7 wind (about 35 miles an hour), and yet we cannot control the boat precisely. Charlotte is sternly summoned back into the safety of the wheelhouse.
Meanwhile, we have called the Coastguard, they have called the MacDuff lifeboat, and five minutes later, the lifeboat pipes up, and says it has launched and is on its way. Talk about speed, this is truly impressive!
We wallow our way back towards the yacht, and Charlotte yells through the gale “The lifeboat is coming”. “But you are a f---g lifeboat”, comes the indistinct reply. Off we lurch again, in a wide circle round the yacht, and we hear the lifeboat announce “Three minutes from casualty”. Where is he? Then we hear, “One and a half minutes from casualty.” At last, a ball of spray emerges from the breakers, going like a bat out of hell. It's an inshore lifeboat, with four men, dressed in helmets and spacesuits, sitting in a row. The little craft draws alongside the yacht, cool as you like, and the four occupants casually stand up to hold on to the yacht. One man boards it.
It is time for us to go, so we call the Coastguard, and the nice man thanks us for our help. We inflate with modest pride, and set course for Buckie. Looking back across the breaking waves, we can just see the yacht, being towed by the little lifeboat towards the shore, some three or four miles away.
This eventful day has not finished with us yet. We still have to get to Buckie, and the sea is as rough as ever. But somehow it doesn't matter, we have survived rope round the propeller, and have carried out a sort of rescue in a near gale, and the boat gave us not a moment's anxiety. So, onwards to Buckie, let the elements do their worst!
An hour later, this air of cavalier nonchalance is beginning to fray. We are, or should be, approaching Buckie, but where is the harbour?
Situations like this are usually the signal for a little disputation in the wheelhouse of the brave “Deneys Reitz” and today is no exception. This time, the battle lines are drawn around the proposition that, “This House supports continuing on a line towards Buckie harbour, despite the fact that we cannot bloody see it, or its surrounding rocks”.
Today, Totty is for the proposition, and Don against. The argument rages back and forth, until Don has the bright idea of calling for an adjudicator, in the form of the Buckie harbourmaster... “Er, Buckie harbour, this is motor-yacht “Deneys Reitz”, we are a little disorientated, and cannot see the harbour entrance - can you help? - Over”
There is a minute's silence, and then a distinct chuckle on the radio. A very Scottish voice suggests that we keep on going West until further notice, just as the navigator suggested.
Five minutes later, the same voice advises to turn on to a southerly course for a few minutes. Again, just as the navigator predicted, but we still cannot see the harbour entrance, not helped by the spray flying around. Suddenly, all becomes crystal clear; the markers on the rocks become visible, as do the white blazes on either side of the harbour mouth. Four nil to the navigator! Blast! (Don)
Tired, but triumphant, we creep between the imposing walls of the port entrance, and turn into one of the four basins in the harbour. Standing on the quay, some 20 feet above us is the harbour master, dressed in a light T-shirt. It is 10 degrees and blowing a gale, and he appears as snug as a bug, for God's sake! By contrast, the crew of the old lifeboat are shivering in two sweaters.
Our new-found friend is very welcoming, and speaks to us in the form of English understood by foreigners, as opposed to the English shared by local inhabitants. (We have come through at least 5 language zones since starting out - Suffolk, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Border Scots, and now this, say, North East Scottish. What a wonderfully variegated set of islands we live in!)
Buckie harbour is large and handsome, built of mellow stone. It has good harbour facilities, and wonderful wash and shower facilities, built for local fishermen. But the whole place is empty! Even the three-masted schooner, which looked so handsome from a distance, turns out to be semi-derelict from closer to. We consume the appropriate quantity of wine for those in peril on the sea, and retire to our bunks, slightly sozzled.
The next morning, we had a little wander. The air of desolation of the previous evening had not dissipated, in fact it was more pronounced. The computer shop near the harbour appeared to have closed down, and no people were visible in the streets. We didn't have long enough to explore properly, but the place appeared to be dying, despite its wonderful harbour, pleasant location and friendly people.
We vowed to return, and find out what was really happening to Buckie, even though there is little we can do to help. Now, folks, Buckie is a nice place, the people seem very friendly and helpful, and we can't just allow it to go to rack and ruin, can we?