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A Bit of a Blow



We had a couple of days notice of the impending storm, but no idea of its savagery. Loch Aline seemed a good, safe option – Tobermory too crowded, and Loch Drumbuy lacking VHF, phone or internet signal. We snugged down on a mooring and waited for the storm to pass. As the wind steadily rose through Force 8 (gale), 9 (strong gale) and 10 (storm) we took photos of the wind speed readout. Just after a gust of 58.1 knots (68 mph) the mooring parted and we leaped into action to prevent being quickly driven ashore. It is difficult to adequately describe the conditions – wind at steady violent storm Force 11 (70 mph+) with higher gusts, crashing waves, sea surface white with foam, little visibility, sheets of spray and lashing rain – the boat driven on to her beam ends with gunwales awash, despite full engine revs scarcely able to make any headway, driven from side to side of the loch in defiance of full steering lock. It took well over an hour to claw upwind the short mile to reach moorings in what would normally be a more sheltered corner of the loch – but not today. A fishing boat pointed out a mooring astern of them, but steering an accurate course to the pick-up buoy was nearly impossible in the conditions. After eight or nine unsuccessful approaches Maggie, on her knees, managed to get it aboard but  it was wrenched from her  hand, which was damaged in the process. On the next pick-up she was unable to secure it to anything with only one hand, but  lay down on it and that was all that kept us from being swept away again. We were only held by the light pick-up line which was chafing and would not hold for long. Unable to reach the mooring rope or haul a six ton boat against wind and sea, we radioed the fishing boat and asked them to buoy a line and float it downwind to us – it might allow us to winch or be winched forward to reach the mooring rope. Unfortunately it was blown out of reach but a brave scallop diver swam down the line and attached it to one thrown from our bow. He scrambled aboard and took control on the foredeck as we were both soaked, frozen and exhausted. Eventually we were secured to the massive mooring hawser of a 70ft fishing boat. After applying an icepack and sling to Maggie’s left hand, which was obviously damaged with a dislocated fracture of at least one finger, the diver called the Coastguard for medical assistance. The hand was hugely swollen, turning blue and in need of urgent treatment. The call was heard by the Lochaline-Fishnish ferry sheltering at the pier, and they launched their rescue RIB to evacuate us. They had great difficulty approaching the plunging, rolling yacht but we eventually jumped in and were landed ashore with the RIB now half full of water, and handed over to the mobile Coastguard, who drove us to the doctor’s surgery in Lochaline. Without electricity due to the storm, the doctor had neither power, light nor heat and did not have a ring cutter – by this time there was a distinct risk of Maggie losing a finger if her wedding ring could not be removed. The Coastguard returned with a huge pair of bolt cutters with which the ring was removed, relieving pressure on the finger and allowing circulation to resume. Normally a helicopter would have been called to take us to hospital, but conditions ruled that out. The ambulance, which had a lengthy journey getting to us as the Corran Ferry was off and the Loch Eil road was blocked, took us to the Belford Hospital in Fort William, via the ferry which had fortunately resumed service. There the A&E team were ready, and quickly X-rayed, splinted and bound the hand, but could do no more as they are not equipped for orthopaedic surgery, which at that stage looked inevitable. After an overnight stay arrangements were made for handing over to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, and we were able to return home on the evening bus. Following more X-rays and examination by the A&E consultant and an orthopaedic registrar, the hand specialist reserved opinion on treatment and will see Maggie next week when the swelling has gone. In the meantime, we have been back to Loch Aline to sort out the mess inside the boat, remove wet clothes and leave her properly closed down. Fortunately the mooring is not required at present and the owner is happy for us to have the use of it until we arrange to move the boat to a marina and attend to some minor repairs. So………a bit of a blow, both literally and to Maggie and our sailing plans for the summer.

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