The forecast was horrible

Sam Llewellyn remembers some windy weather

Calm beginnings give way to lively winds for Sam Llewellyn.

It had rained in the night, but now the sun was shining. The anchorage was smooth and blue. The hatches of the other boats in our flotilla were open, and a whiff of frying bacon drifted across on the breeze. Beyond them the horseshoe of mountains rose into the blue blue sky, furred with trees. The trees were moving violently. The forecast was horrible.

We got organised for the day, turned the little cabin from a sleep shack into a practical if Spartan sitting room and navigatorium. In this calm place it seemed ridiculous to put two reefs in the mainsail, and struggle into offshore-weight wet gear and big boots and lifejacket, and get hot pulling up the anchor. But clouds were sailing in from the southwest. Safety first.

So it was up and stow anchor, back the jib, walk back to the cockpit and steer to what wind there was in this anchorage, and watch the pathetic triangle of mainsail struggle to push us along. The other boats were coming out too, peering gingerly round the headland and into the Sound. A black squall came racing round the corner. And suddenly we were outside, and the wind kicked in as per forecast, force five going on seven, and white water was roaring from the chainplates.

There is a rule closely related to Murphy’s Law that says a breeze of more than force 5 will always be bang on the nose. This rule seemed to be suspended today, and the wind stayed just west of south, so we were able to bang our way through the big seas rolling up from the open ocean, heeled with appalling steepness, spray and packets of water sailing aft, but after a while coming to the realisation that this was a natural state, everything in balance, not at all threatening. A slight smugness started to grow. We were getting it right.

The next headland rose from the rough black sea ahead. A red can buoy swept past twenty yards away. A ferocious clattering of sails, and out came the reefs and up went full sail, and we were storming up the loch on a dead run, gusts tumbling up behind us, hitting the sails like big hard hammers as we surfed north.

And in an astonishingly short time there was the next anchorage, with eider ducks swimming black and white and oystercatchers piping irritably by the smooth horseshoe of water among the hills. Still, we put the reefs back in, because once a lump of cold air has rolled up to the top of a high hill it can roll down again, hard. Not (we thought smugly) that it would.

On sailed the flotilla, exploring the steep-sided loch, slow in the light airs. Suddenly the boat ahead was on the port tack, and we were on the starboard tack, and we were both heading in the same direction. Flaws and eddies in the wind, we told ourselves; that’s all. We sailed on, feeling smug.

We were hard on the wind. The boat ahead of us had the wind on its quarter. Suddenly it gybed with a bang, and a ferociously hard wind was blowing at us not over the port bow, but from beam-on. It knocked our boat flat. Green water poured over the downhill rail of the cockpit. Frantic dumping of the mainsheet brought us upright. It was flat calm again. The cockpit drained. So did the smugness.

We went back to the perfect shelter of the anchorage, smooth and blue. The flotilla’s hatches were open, and a whiff of dinner drifted across on the breeze. A horseshoe of mountains rose into the blue blue sky, furred with trees. The trees were moving violently. The forecast was horrible.

Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly