11th July, 2019
Unfortunately, the thick fog persisted overnight and into the morning – it seemed the entire Moray Firth was enveloped in pea soup. We used our marine radio to contact a few ships in various proximity to ourselves to check if there as a hole in the white blanket somewhere nearby, but it became apparent that everyone was experiencing the same conditions.
And so it was that we closed in on the Cromarty Firth in the early hours of Thursday morning, barely able to see our own mast 40 metres ahead on the bow of the ship. The first sound we heard (other than that of our own ship’s whistle being used as a fog-horn) was the eerie rumble of the approaching pilot boat’s engines, creeping towards us cautiously. We were just able to see the Pilot jump on board through our ship’s side door on the port side, as Saga Sapphire slipped through the entrance to the Cromarty Firth; a natural harbour entrance approximately 700m wide.
We weaved our way some 5 miles up towards our allocated berth, still enveloped in the thick fog, passing large stationary radar targets in the form of enormous oil rigs either under maintenance or on standing by for deployment in the North Sea oil fields. Just 300 metres or so from the berth but still unable to see it, we turned the ship around and backed slowly down onto it; our officer posted on the aft mooring deck being key in relaying what he saw up to the Bridge.
Safely alongside, of course, the fog started to lift and it gradually became apparent where we were. Invergordon has been known to seafarers for generations, but for centuries was little more than a hamlet built around a castle known as Inverbreakie. Developed into a proper port and naval base in Georgian times, it was renamed in honour of a chap by the name of Sir William Gordon - a local landowner.
Invergordon has been the site of many excitements in the past century or so, including a dramatic explosion of WW1 battle cruiser HMS Natal, as well as the only recorded British Naval strike known as the ‘Invergordon Mutiny,’ which occurred in the early 1930’s. Somewhat quieter these days and perhaps slightly less busy, it was given a new lease of life with the development of the North Sea industry and is now the ideal sheltered home to half a dozen or so off-duty oil rigs at a time.
For our visit, Invergordon provides an ideal gateway form which to explore the Scottish Highlands. One could go in search of the Loch Ness Monster, discover historic remains and medieval castles, or simply explore the glorious Highland terrain of verdant landscapes and picturesque villages. Provided, of course, that the fog lifted. Which – fortunately – it did, and many saw plenty of sunshine on their trips today.
Towards the end of the day we made our usual preparations to sail and, typically, the visibility closed right in again just as we sailed past the oil rigs on our way out of the Cromarty Firth. Which was a bit of a pity as I was hoping to conduct some scenic cruising along the northern coast of the Moray Firth during the evening. Never mind – another busy evening on the Bridge for myself and the team ensuring that we don’t bump into anything…and let’s hope it clears by the morning, when I hope to do some scenic cruising of the coastline around Montrose and famous Bell Reef lighthouse.
Captain Kim Tanner
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