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Noble Marine 2022 SW - LEADERBOARD

Shrink in the Drink update - two months in

by Andrew Hill-Smith 10 Jun 2023 23:04 UTC
Shrink in the Drink circumnavigation reaches the top of Scotland © Andrew Hill-Smith

It is now two months into my solo and unsupported journey. I took a break around the King's coronation in early May to go to some social events back down South. Since then, I have only had one day off before reaching John O'Groats from Bridlington.

John O'Groats - I still can't quite believe it. The top of Scotland in a ILCA dinghy all on my own. It feels incredible, but it is true.

The routine of 'eat, sleep, sail, repeat' has been mostly pleasant but often arduous and usually uncomfortable. But a routine is a routine and it pulls you forward. One of the joys of the journey has been to meet so many people who have offered their kindness with open arms, and I have been able to stay with friends, relatives, contacts, friends of contacts, and parents of friends of contacts. People have been overwhelmingly generous. Hence to the daily routine, the word 'meet' should be added, making 'meet, eat, sleep, sail, repeat'.

The persistent high pressure over the North of the country has meant lighter winds and more paddling for me. Yes paddling. That is hard work and really uncomfortable. Scarborough to Whitby was a tidally assisted paddle of 18 miles with the flow turning against me as I was approaching the harbour entrance in an ever slower super grumpy crawl. Having landed in a fit of discontent, I left the boat fully rigged to drift in on the incoming tide, so that I could go and find a coffee and a better mood. I let a nearby sandcastle builder supervisor know where I was going, thinking that might suffice. After all, what could go wrong?

Moderately cheered and lightly filled, I came back to the shore to find the harbourmaster dragging my boat across the sand. I was alarmed wondering what he was doing to my HMS Betty, but also worried that the dragging motion would rip off yet another bailer from the bottom of the boat (I am onto my third). A handful of the local RNLI team trickled down onto the beach making quite an anxious gathering. It turned out that someone other than me had called the coastguard, assuming that a rigged sailing boat without a sailor, must be a sign that a person had fallen overboard and was in trouble - a fair point to the uninitiated.

After lots of apologising and reassurance, everyone dispersed including myself. I took advice to sail into the harbour to find a better landing spot. I also took the point that even though things might be obvious to me, they are not always obvious to other people. To avoid a repeat of the same I have written a message on one side of my centre plate saying that I have gone for coffee and to call the mobile, if concerned. This means that I can display the message by turning the plate over according to desired presentation and, if I have genuinely fallen overboard, it won't be on show. Success.

The feared and revered Duncansby Head and Pentland Firth combination were calm when I came by since the winds were light. I was grateful given all the alarming stories, but still nervous.

I went round on the peak of a spring tide under grey and drizzly skies which offered light winds and then nothing. A Fulmer seagull swam close to the boat and even took a casual tour around my craft as I floated towards the headland, thus circumnavigating a circumnavigator. I had been worried that I would not make it to Duncansby given the light winds but the tide accelerated as I came closer touching 8 knots according to the tracker. This must be a true reading since I was stationary on the water at the time. In awe I watched the swirling waters and listened as it rushed past the rocks, sounding more like a swollen Scottish winter burn than a becalmed headland. And then I was past it.

I need not have worried about making it given the tidal speed. But in my admiration, I had forgotten to think where the sea might flow after going past the head. It was not going round the corner as I foolishly imagined it might and instead was taking me to the Orkneys at some pace. It was time to panic and get the paddle out again. Frantically flapping away on each side of the boat, looking like a guillemot in take-off mode, I made a bit of progress and then was assisted into the calmer waters by a welcome puff of wind.

What a relief. And what joy to make it into the tiny harbour of John O'Groats, then up the grassy slope to the pole of celebration, hovering around the journey men and women who had made it on their wheeled machines to the end of their road. I was having a wonderful time soaking up the atmosphere in the calm evening air, basking in the memories of our own LEJOG cycle ride from 2011, adding pride and pleasure from the day. I still can't quite believe it.

Although it is round two corners (having started opposite the Isle of Wight) it is no more than 42% of the journey, according to the official measurer (my wife), so there is some way to go. I am looking forward to catching up with some of you on the West Coast and do say hi if you see me. Armchair tracking is very welcome as well via or the YouTube channel.

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