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Down Channel and Orion (or How I Came to Sail Alone in a 19-Ton Yacht)

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Down Channel and Orion (or How I Came to Sail Alone in a 19-Ton Yacht)
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): R. T. McMullen
Date Published: 2014/04
Page Count: 316
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-278-3
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-277-6

The single-handed sailing pioneer and his vessels

For anyone interested in single-handed sailing the name of R. T. McMullen and his book, ‘Down Channel’—an abiding classic of sailing literature and considered to be essential reading for any yachtsman sailing in coastal waters—require little elaboration. The principal value of this special Leonaur edition is that it includes all of McMullen’s writings in a single volume. Published singly McMullen’s books contain some repetition of the text, for this edition Leonaur’s editors have removed the duplication to create a single cohesive and complete volume of McMullen’s writings about his pioneering voyages and his vessels. We have also enhanced and enlarged the original maps and diagrams to provide clear information to the contemporary reader. This is an ideal book for any library on sailing.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

Aug. 11th.—After breakfast rowed along the coast towards the South Carrs reef, landing in a bay under the ruins of Tantallon Castle, an old stronghold of the Douglas family. There is enough standing to show that it was of immense strength and importance. There are dungeons and dark staircases that might repay antiquarian research, but on account of the ruin being much resorted to by excursionists and picnic parties, you should borrow a pair of overshoes and a candle to make the inspection.
After luncheon sailed from this pretty coast—which is much exposed in rough weather—and essayed to reach Granton, being short of water; but owing to the calm weather did not reach there until 3 p.m. the following day (Saturday), when we went alongside the steamboat quay, took in water, &c., and sailed over to Donnibristle Park, on the Fife coast, anchoring there at 9.15 p.m., quite late enough to be under way in the Forth, which is dangerous at night on account of its numerous rocks and eccentric tides. There is not in the Forth a more charming piece of coast and country to lie off and to land upon, weather permitting, than that which extends from St. David’s Pointy the western boundary of Donnibristle, to Burntisland, a distance of five miles, which includes Aberdour and a beautifully-wooded hill sloping down to the sea, called the Hughes. This splendid wood with public walks in it is composed chiefly of the finest beech and sycamore trees. To describe all that is to be seen from an elevation of a few hundred feet, and enjoyed on a fine clear sunny day when there is wind enough to disperse the smoke of the towns, would require a book of many pages. Such days are rare. During our month’s stay in the Forth, there were only about four so remarkably clear.
Besides the charming city of Edinburgh and the places already mentioned, we visited the beautiful parks of Donnibristle (Earl of Moray), Dalmeney (Earl of Rosebery), and Hopetoun (Earl of Hopetoun), the towns of Leith, Burntisland, and South Queensferry, the village of Aberdour, the islands Inchkeith, Inchcolm—upon which is the very interesting ruin of a monastery—and Inch Garvie, which has upon it the ruin of a state prison. Many other places of interest too numerous to mention were seen from the yacht or from the boat without landing.
Upon the morning of August 24—that fearful day when so many vessels were wrecked on the coasts of Norway and Sweden, and, amongst other disasters on our own side the North Sea, a steam-tug foundered with all hands off Tay Bar—we were anchored to leeward on the Fife coast, and hurried away from there immediately after breakfast on account of the threatening appearance of the weather and the barometer. We first tacked over to Granton, having enough wind for the whole mainsail, and anchoring outside the harbour, took in four or five days’ provision, letters, &c., and sailed again after a long shower at 3.15 p.m. in bright sunshine, and fast-flying scud from S.S.W. with three reefs in mainsail, whole foresail, and third jib, intending to anchor off Hopetoun Park, then a weather shore about 8 miles up the Firth.
After sailing pleasantly for three-quarters of an hour, the foresail had to be lowered for a heavy squall, with thunder and rain from W.S.W. This was followed by a gleam of hot sunshine, and an ominous lull in the wind; while a frightful-looking black cloud with grey foreground was advancing over the hills. 4.15 p.m., a fishing-boat running towards us under a lugsail faded from view in the coming deluge. In a minute or two more we were bending to the blast, so blinded with rain and spray that it was difficult to see the length of the vessel around. I had chosen my course, and tacked in anticipation so as to give the squall time to do its worst before it would be necessary to go about again. With foresail down and mainsail trussed, we were rushing along gunwale under towards the rocks, heaving the lead as if it were night. This awful fury, accompanied with heavy thunder, fortunately lasted only about five minutes, when it became light enough to show it was time to go about.
In ten minutes more the storm was over, the thunder rumbling fainter every clap, and the sun shining hot as before; but the wind continued very strong and more westerly, with a fast-falling barometer, so that when abreast of Hopetoun, in a nasty chop of a sea, it was evident that a less exposed anchorage or a harbour must be found. The latter being decided upon, we put back for Granton with all speed, and none too soon; for, after another thunder-squall, the gale broke with great violence, driving clouds of spoondrift before it. Although there was so little canvas set as the third jib and three-reefed mainsail, the Orion flew along with the wind on the quarter, gunwale down, as in the great squall, steering so wildly that she was hardly under command until I luffed her into the harbour, up which she travelled at such speed that there was no opportunity for shortening sail until she was brought up head to wind with 30 fathoms of chain. As she dragged after the canvas was lowered, we paid out 15 fathoms more, and took up a small government mooring alongside a brig we had narrowly escaped fouling.
Feeling secure in a good berth, we had dinner comfortably, and had reason to congratulate ourselves upon being all right as long as the gale lasted. This pleasant delusion was dispelled soon after dark by an excited official (not the gentlemanly harbourmaster of Granton, nor his deputy, who was ill, but a longshore man temporarily appointed in the latter’s place) ordering us in an uncivil tone to move out of the berth, which he knew was impossible, and make way for a large steamer, then at anchor lower down the harbour, adding that he had warned us of it when we brought up. Certainly we had seen on the quay an absurd man gesticulating frantically with his mouth open, but could not in such a hurricane hear a word he said; neither could his orders have been obeyed, had they been understood.
Foreseeing great difficulty in moving the ship, we felt tolerably easy until they towed her to windward with a tug and carried a hawser athwart our bows, and another under the stern, which threatened us with serious damage. Fortunately everybody was in such bad temper that the thing was bungled completely; the hawser athwart our bows parted, and the ship nearly got on the stonework. After that the captain refused to be moved any more, and our longshore man had to smother his rage and disappointment until the morning, when he succeeded in worrying us out of the berth, and giving a deal of labour and trouble for nothing.
Sailing gunwale under with three reefs down is not a pastime one would choose for pleasure. It only occurs under such circumstances as those described, viz., in a squall when there is want of sea room, or when too near shelter to sacrifice the time in further reducing canvas. An excursion-boat from Leith was five hours after time in steaming 15 miles to windward, landing her drenched and sea-sick passengers at midnight, for once satisfied they had had as much as they could reasonably demand for their money.
Wishing to leave the Forth and go to the Clyde, I determined to pass through the Forth and Clyde Canal, having been assured that it was quite practicable and pleasant. It was practicable, certainly, but not so pleasant that the saving of 300 or 400 miles of sea would induce me to do it again in a vessel so valuable and drawing so much water as the Orion. Thanks to the kind attention of the collector at Grangemouth, who found us a good guide, and to extraordinary good fortune, we got through without damage, and took a steam-tug immediately from Bowling on the Clyde to Gourock, to wash off the dirt in good seawater, paint up afresh, and restore order on board.
Having doubled the distance from home by this passage of the canal, I will briefly refer to our stay in the estuaries of the Firth of Clyde, and then give an account of the sail from the Clyde to the Thames at a time when there were many disasters on our coasts.