The latest installment from PBO columnist Marsali Taylor's monthly page 'Living With the Sea'

I’ve been keeping a log almost as long as I’ve had my Offshore 8M Karima. The first entry was on 27 July 2005, heading out with Philip, my generally non-sailing spouse, for afternoon tea in Vementry. The log records ‘Excellent expedition’.

There’s a serious purpose to record keeping, of course. Every time we leave the berth (that’s Karima and I, not necessarily Philip too, or it would be a very slim volume) I note hours out, distance and engine hours; I log refuelling, so that at any time I can check exactly how many hours fuel I have – conveniently Karima uses a litre an hour. The back of the log has handy pages to list repairs and replacements, which is how I know that the standing rigging really needs to be done in the next couple of years, and I add what’s been done by way of antifouling during lift-out time. The engine was well used last summer, 27 hours, which brings it towards its 150 hour service.

We get the occasional misty day here too. Often on a bonny summer evening you’ll see the fingers of mist creeping over the top of the hills and lurking there, a sure sign of another good day tomorrow, but from time to time it rolls in down the voe. Now if that happened while I was out, having kept a log probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference, because in general I know which bit of my own ‘back yard’ I’m in, but it feels a seamanlike practice.

I had fun with that one day last summer (17 June, to be exact). I’d planned an after-dinner sail but just as we were eating the mist came in like a grey cloud from as far as we could see up the voe and stopped half-way. It didn’t seem to be coming any further so I went out anyway, and pottered happily for an hour and a half in broad sunshine with a curtain of fog shutting off the other half of the voe. I wasn’t feeling foolhardy enough to sail into it; goodness knows what I might have met. A ghostly galleon manned by skeletons… a sea serpent…

The evening mist rolling in over Aith Voe usually indicates fine weather for the next day. Photo by Marsali Taylor

The log’s also the boat’s visitors’ book. It turns navigation from a mystery to something rookie sailors can do: compass course, deviation and log from the instruments, then dividers and the chart, to see how far we’ve gone. Keen visitors can try to work out where we are using the handheld compass to take bearings, which leads on to the compass rose and parallel rulers.

Visitor comments in the notes and remarks are fun to read afterwards. One visiting priest has simply written on one line EMMET O’DOWD AT HELM GOD HELP US! Bishop Hugh quipped, neatly, ‘Allow for clerical error’. Ann Cleeves’ grandson noted that his famous granny (author of the TV series Shetland and Vera) is doing well so far on the helm. My own granddaughter took advantage of her brother steering to find hot chocolate and biscuits.

There’s one person, though, whose writing doesn’t appear in the log-book, even on the rare occasions he’s out. Philip’s handwriting would lead anyone to suppose he’s a member of the medical profession. As records are meant to be legible, he’s excused from log duty!

Now’s a good time to look back on 2020. The year has the record number of excursions: 33, well above the previous best of 28. COVID’s responsible for this. There were no visitors to look after, and nor was I off the island for London visits or crime conferences. My mast didn’t go up till 7 June, two months late, but I went out every bonny day thereafter.

Hours under way has been not bad either, at a neat 75, second only to my ‘peak’ year of 2010, where I notched up 95 hours. Mileage, well, at 203 I have a way to go to beat 2011 when we sailed right round Shetland, racking up 291 miles, including the Hamnavoe to Cullivoe leg, with wind Force 5-6, and three hours of, respectively, 5.5, 6.9 and 6.5 knots account for it. Hit 7.9 at one point! the log crows exultantly – not bad for a heavy 26 footer with two reefs in and three adults aboard.

So, bring on 2021 in which we aim to improve upon 33 excursions, 291 miles and 7.9 knots!

Marsali Taylor

About the author: Marsali Taylor sails an Offshore 8M, Karima S. She’s a dinghy instructor and author of The Shetland Sailing Mysteries starring liveaboard sleuth, Cass Lynch.

Originally published in Feb21 PBO. To read Marsali’s column every month subscribe!

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