First Sail of the Season – 2019

Jess was launched a couple of weeks ago after her annual maintenance a little later than I had planned. I had asked the guys at 360 Yachts to do some work on her whilst she was on the hard, engine check and service and repacking the stern tube. Whilst carrying out the engine service the engineer noticed that the raw water sea-cock for engine cooling was in a bit of a state. I had been getting a constant leak since returning from our annual trip last September and put it down to a drippy stern tube but it turns out it was the sea-cock. I asked them to replace the other two sea-cocks below the water line for the heads. I had booked a launch for the week Alan and I were doing the annual maintenance but with the extra work I rescheduled this. The guys at 360 offered to oversee the launch to save me coming back through – which was a great help as I was driving down south the day after.

I spent a great weekend in Harrogate with friends and then a few days in Durham before I drove to Largs on Thursday morning. I had invited Alan, my sailing friend, and his family for the weekend but he had a last minute change of plans and was unable to make it. This was a pity as I still had to put the foresail back on – it has to be taken down when the boat is launched. It’s not really a job you can do on your own – not impossible but difficult. Fortunately, Graham, a friend we met on the Crinan Canal said he would be able to help me on Friday afternoon.  With the weather not looking too difficult – with light winds, sun and warm temperatures I decided an overnight trip to either Portavadie or Tarbert would be perfect.

Graham was coming to help around 5pm on Friday afternoon, so I spent Thursday and most of Friday doing a few jobs; I varnished the washboards, reproofed the canvas sprayhood and sail bag, scrubbed the deck and tidied up after maintenance week. Graham also has a Moody 31 mkII – Kiwi, an ex-charter boat which was based in Largs which he is working on at the moment and hopes to get launched in the next couple of weeks. Over a beer, we discussed the coming season and we hope to do some sailing together later in the year.  I tidied up and wandered up to Scott’s for something to eat. I hadn’t booked and being Good Friday it was very busy, but they always try to find a place for berth holders. I had something to eat, a couple of pints and then returned to the boat.

Leaving Largs

There was little wind forecast for Saturday and since I would be motoring most if the way I decided to take the route around The Kyles of Bute which is a little more interesting than crossing Inchmarnock Water, I left just before 10am which would mean arriving at Portavadie around 3pm. As I was making my way up the East Kyle I could see a large plume of smoke coming over the hills from the west from the direction of Tighnabruaich and fairly quickly the boat was covered in soot. When I arrived at Colintraive most of the smoke had disappeared. A fire engine was waiting to make the crossing back to the mainland as most of the fires were out with jusr a few small fires around Buttock Point. Graham sent me the spectacular night-shot of Bute ablaze!

Bute on fire

The wind had got up as I was making my way north up the East Kyle and I was hopeful that I would be able to get the sails up, a nice downwind run and then a couple of tacks toward Portavadie. I was disappointed, it turned out that the wind was being funneled up and round the island and it was still on the nose going down the West Kyle. However, I did manage to get the sails up for the last 4 or 5 miles towards Portavadie.


I berthed next to a Moody Primrose 36. The owner had sailed her from Ardrossan and intended to berth her at Portavadie. The yearly berthing fees here are considerably less than those at Ardrossan, Kip and Largs and it would appear that they have a recruitment drive on as a number of owners spent time trying to convince me of the benefits of berthing there. For me and many others it’s a complete non-starter. The journey time from Edinburgh to Portavadie is over 3 hours on a good day with the last bit down a single carriage road. Public transport takes nearly 5 hours! The trip to Largs takes around and hour and a half by car and less than 2 hours by train. Perhaps part of the reason that they are keen to attract more customers is the continual upgrading at Tarbert just across Loch Fyne from Portavadie. The fees are even less here and with the new shower block now open, it’s beginning to look more attractive. There aren’t the yard facilities that Portavadie has but onshore facilities, shops, pubs, restaurants and banks, are much better. On reflection, I wish I had made for Tarbert. Perhaps down to the Easter  weekend but Portavadie seemed to be swarming with bairns and dugs.

Crossing Inchmarnock Water

The wind was forecast to increase through Sunday afternoon and I left around 1030 am which would get me back to Largs around 4pm. The winds were fairly light when I left and coming from the SE so I got the sails up – having put a reef in the main “just in case” – and unfurling around ¾ of the foresail. Just as well, as the wind blew up to a F6 approaching Cumbrae. Inchmarnock Water can be a nasty bit of sea, particularly with winds anywhere from the south as the swell increases very quickly. I made good progress and was pleased to get to the more sheltered waters around Cumbrae and on to my berth in the marina.Having been away from home for the last ten days or so, I was quickly running out of clothes. I decided to stay in Largs, tidy and get the boat ready for the next trip and do a laundry – which would save me when I got home.

The only problem I had was the main halyard wrapping itself around the radar reflector. This has happened a number of times before and involves hoisting the halyard up and through the spreaders, freeing it from the reflector and then taking it back through the spreaders and I have rigged up a couple of light lines to do this. It was a good shakedown weekend and everything seemed to be performing as it should do and the leak of water into the bilges through the sea-cock has been fixed.

Approaching Largs

The weather is looking OK next week, albeit a wee bit chilly, with light winds from the west forecast for the end of the week. Perhaps another trip on the cards – this time I’ll make for Tarbert!

End of Season Sail – Part 3

I have always been interested in music and have played guitar for over 40 years. I also play ukulele and keep one on board ‘Jess’, but my guitars are expensive and I would never consider leaving one on board.   There’s a fantastic wee music shop in Oban which I passed on the way back to Oban Marina from getting milk and bread at Tesco. I was in Oban waiting for my friend Alan to return from Edinburgh so that we could resume our annual end of season cruise to Northern Ireland and the West Coast of Scotland. I noticed a Tanglewood parlour guitar in the window and decided to go in and have a look at it. Mahogany construction, decent Grover copy machine heads, nice action, it sounded great and at the bargain price of £110 it would be absolutely perfect for the boat. I bought it!

Trips around Kerrera and Iona

I had a few days to fill before Alan returned and with the forecast looking good I had planned a walk round Kerrera Island, a trip to Iona and I needed to restock the supplies at some point over the weekend.

I picked up a map in the marina office and set off up the hill to Hutcheson memorial. David Hutcheson was one of the founder members of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry company, now the largest ferry company in the UK.  From the top of the hill you get a great panoramic view across Oban Bay and north to Mull.  I continued around the northern end of the island and then took a walk along the beach where there were a number of interesting old wrecks, rusting channel buoys, chain and anchors which made for some great photographs. Kerrera is worth exploring, however, many of the paths can be very muddy at this time of year and overgrown with bracken and thorny bramble bushes, but the bonus is the brambles are delicious!

Last year we had planned to circumnavigate the Isle of Mull and during that, stop off at Iona. Unfortunately, this plan was thwarted by the weather. There are no moorings and very few anchorages around Iona. However, it is possible to anchor in Martyr’s Bay, row ashore and then take a walk around the island for a few hours. This can only be done if the weather is very quiet and not really a spot to anchor overnight as it is very exposed and there’s a lot of swell. An alternative is to anchor at Bull Hole on Mull, row ashore and then walk to Fionnphort where you can take the short CalMac crossing to Iona.  I visited Iona as a child but I don’t recollect much about it other than it being wet, cold and miserable. It was also the first time I have ever felt home-sick. I had booked a tour to from Oban which included the ferry from Oban to Craignure, a bus tour and the ferry from Fionnphort to Iona. I was lucky in that the weather was glorious and Iona is absolutely stunning in the sunshine. The island is rich in history with Scots, Irish and Norse influences and is well known as ‘The cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland.

I met Alan from the station on Sunday afternoon and before heading back to ‘Jess’ we stopped off at the supermarket  and got a few supplies for the next stage of our passage. We had given ourselves five days to get to Tarbert in time for the Music Festival Weekend on the 14th of September.  This would allow us to get down through the tidal gate of Dorus Mor and maybe an overnight stop at Ardfern, a leisuely transit through the Crinan Canal, perhaps a night at Otterferry on Loch Fyne to arrive in Tarbert Harbour by lunchtime on Friday. A month ago when we arrived in Largs for the start of our trip we were wearing shorts and t-shirts and for the first couple of weeks we enjoyed warm sunshine and blue skies. As the trip progressed we had definitely moved from late summer into early autumn and the forecast for the next few days just wasn’t looking good and this was going have a serious impact on our “leisurely” plan.

It was a miserable wet, windy day in Oban and the forecast for Monday and Tuesday was for F7 and F8 winds from the WSW meant that we would be staying in Kerrera, but there appeared to be a bit of a window on Wednesday.  We needed to be at Dorus Mor by 11:00 am on Wednesday morning to catch the last of the ebb tide through the tidal gate having to leave before 05:45 am in order cover the 23 nautical miles from Kerrera. At spring tides, the ebb stream through Luing Sound runs south at over six knots and eight knots south east through Dorus Mor, so you need to get your timings right particularly as the flow is at its strongest just after the turn. Having said that, locals have told me that it is possible to pass through Dorus Mor against the stream as long as you stick very close to the northern shore, we had decided not to test that particular theory.

We usually enjoy night sailing but the passage through Kerrera Sound was a bit stressful despite us proceeding cautiously. The channel is quite narrow and twisty with numerous small islands and rocks to avoid, fish farms, moored boats and to add to the confusion of lights there’s a road that runs along the mainland shore and I mistook car lights for navigation lights a number of times! However, we stuck to the route we had on the plotter and soon we emerged into the Firth of Lorn and navigation became much easier. The wind still wasn’t really in our favour but as we approached Fladda and turned toward the Sound we got a well-reefed main sail up and unfurled a tiny bit of genoa. We had taken a bit of a pasting crossing the Firth of Lorn and had made very slow progress through a heavy sea with the wind blowing F6 from the South West and gusts in excess of 37 knots.  This is no surprise really as there is nothing between here and Newfoundland 2000 miles away, but soon Lunga, Scarba and Jura were offering a bit of shelter from the swell and the worst of the wind and we were grateful to enter the relative calm of the Sound between Fladda and Dubh Sgier – one of the many “black rocks” marked on the charts! Once passed the lighthouse at Fladda and into the Sound it’s fairly straightforward toward the southern tip of Luing and we sailed, very quickly toward Reisa an t-Struth with 6 knots of tide we were touching 12 knots at times. From Reisa an t-Struth there is a choice of routes to Crinan. You can continue south and then head east to pass between the southern end of Eilean na h-Earne and North Rock or pass to the south of Reisa an t-Struth and then south east through Dorus Mor between Graignish Point and Garbh Reisa. We chose the latter as it would give us more shelter into Loch Craignish and across to Crinan. It was still a bit of a challenge to get the sails down and the fenders out but we found a bit of shelter just outside Crinan Harbour, readied the boat and entered the sea-lock at Crinan just before 10:45 am. We had made good time; our cautious start and slow slog across the Firth of Lorn had been cancelled out by our quick passage down the Sound and we had covered the 25 miles in less than five hours.

We had a short wait in the sea-lock whilst another boat was making its way down from the final canal lock to head out to sea. This gave me the chance to fit tarpaulins down the sides of ‘Jess’.  Some owners like to use a fender-board for transit through the canal, but I have found they aren’t really that successful with my boat due to the shape of a Moody 31 and its wide beam. Instead I just use lots of fenders, five or six, on the side next to the lock wall and a tarpaulin between these and the hull to keep the hull clean.  A few years ago I bought a large five by three metre tarpaulin and cut it up the middle and I attach this to the toe rail using small ball bungees between the hull and the fenders. This only cost a few pounds but it keeps the hull clean in the transit through the canal locks. Canal staff will assist you through the sea-lock and lock 14, the first canal lock, both of which are automated and since we wanted a quick getaway the next morning the staff helped us into a space just above lock 14.

Heading South to Crinan

Many sailors balk at using the canal citing the cost as one of the reasons not to use it. It is quite expensive; particularly if you employ a local to assist your passage as we were. However, I think it a stunningly beautiful canal, especially at this time of year as the leaves and foliage are beginning to turn and it gives great shelter from the storms that can be frequent at the beginning of September. It’s also a wonderful, relaxing experience and had we not been pushed for time we would have taken most of the four days you are allowed for transit. The canal is nine miles long, running from Crinan on the west to Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp and was opened in 1801 to provide a short cut for vessels to travel from the industrial area of the Clyde to West Highland villages and islands. A few years ago, Scottish Canals offered an assisted passage using their own staff, but they’ve discontinued this now, reducing the cost in the process. Although they no longer offer the service they will give you a list of locals who will help in your trip through the canal.  

First locking on the canal is at 08:30 but we were able to leave a little before this as it takes about 30 minutes to reach the first swing bridge. We had arranged to meet Andy at lock 13 and he would help us for the rest of the day to Cairnbaan where we planned to stop for the night. Lock 14 to lock 9 going east are the uphill locks and lock 8 to lock 2 are downhill and we planned to get below lock 5 at Cairnbaan where the pontoons have shore power, showers and toilets. Uphill locking is very much more turbulent than downhill and you really need to pay attention, especially when there is more than one boat in the lock, to avoid crashing against the lock sides or into another vessel.

After the battering we took coming down from Kerrera, the passage through the canal was a delight, particularly when someone else is doing all the hard work. We had time to enjoy the wonderful scenery and wildlife, take photographs and chat to other boat owners in the locks. With Andy’s able assistance, we were tied up at the pontoons alongside the Cairnbaan Hotel by early afternoon.

We always plan for the end of our trip to coincide with the Tarbert Music Festival, which is held each year in the small town towards the middle of September. The Music Festival is always very popular and the marina in the harbour busy so it’s well worth arriving as early as you can on the Friday. With this in mind, we left Cairnbaan just after 08:15 to make our way down to the first swing bridge where Andy would meet us once again. This last part of the canal would take us around a couple of hours to complete and with just 12 miles to cover once we were into Loch Gilp, we would arrive in Tarbert around dinner time. I spent the time between bridges and locks tidying things away and making sure that we were ready for the short sea-passage south. We left the sea-lock just before 10:00 and I got the sails up. There wasn’t much wind but, fortunately it was coming from the NW and we motor-sailed down the loch and arrived in Tarbert at 12:30 and quickly found a berth.

The music weekend was fantastic yet again, with many great local bands and artists with the highlight for us being “Dr Hip and the Blues Replacement” featuring brilliant keyboard player Ronnie Leahy who has played alongside many great bands and players; Jack Bruce, Narareth, Steve Howe and Jon Anderson (both from “Yes”) and many others. At the age of 72 he has lost none of his enthusiasm or skills and it’s always a pleasure to watch and listen to him.

With the Autumn Equinox just a week away, it was clear to us that summer had gone and autumn was approaching fast. In the past week or so the weather had become increasingly unpredictable with stronger winds and frequent fronts streaming across the country. Our final leg from Tarbert back to my home port in Largs was covered in some of the worst weather we had seen.  At times it was squally, wet, choppy and bouncy sea, very strong wind and stronger gusts. Despite recording the highest wind speed of the trip at 45 knots, we were well reefed and sailed the entire way in record time.

Another great trip and already thinking about the next.

End of Season Sail – Part 2

Worn Water Hose

Whilst carrying out my daily engine checks I noticed that the alternator pulley belt had been rubbing against the hose connecting the water pump to the manifold. On closer inspection it was obvious that it was likely to fail. I decided to make a temporary repair. I removed the old pipe, cut and fitted a length of reinforced plastic pipe, started the engine and let it run for a few minutes checking for leaks. Everything looked fine and off we went, heading north toward the Sound of Jura and Ardfern where I would repair it properly. The wind was a light F2 to F3 coming from the west and we motor-sailed up the Sound of Gigha with me checking the engine at regular intervals. We had covered just over ten miles and were just north of Gigha when my latest check told me that my temporary repair was far more “temporary” than I had hoped.  Due to the heat, the plastic hose was beginning to expand like a sausage and the belt was rubbing against it. Being far less resilient than a rubber hose it was going to burst and probably very soon. We had no choice but to turn off the engine. Our passage plan showed that we could turn back to Arminish or head west to Craighouse on Jura. Craighouse was closer. The wind had backed a little and increased, now blowing F5, but despite this it took us over four hours and countless tacks to cross the seven miles to Jura.

The entrance to Craighouse moorings faces SE and we discussed how we would negotiate the entrance and pick up a mooring under sail should the engine let us down. Once inside, there would be plenty of room to tack back and forth and on one of our many tacks approaching we saw that there were no other boats moored so we could sail on up the line of moorings until we hooked one. I left starting the engine until the last possible moment and fortunately it held together and we quickly picked up one of the buoys. I found a length of the correct kind of rubber hose and after boiling a piece of it for fifteen or so minutes to make it pliant and with the help of a little washing up liquid I managed to get it fitted. Just before we had set out from Largs I had a mechanic replace the water pump and he hadn’t pushed the copper pipes far enough back to avoid the belt and this was what caused the abrading. The belt was also a bit loose due to it stretching over time and as there was no more left in the adjustment arm I replaced it as well and gently pushed the copper pipes back towards the engine. I should have made a proper repair in the first place.

Craobh Haven and Oban

When we are planning our trip we always have a few spare days “just in case” and this year as well as allowing for weather, Alan was returning to Edinburgh for a meeting and we had the added complication of having the boat somewhere convenient for him to leave from and get back to. With a couple of our spare days spent in Campbeltown, Northern Ireland and our forced trip to Jura we decided to make straight for Craobh Haven, missing out Ardfern just to make sure we had our buffer and could still make our target of Salen. 

With the wind a decent F4 from the NW we managed a close reach all the way up the coast of Jura before heading north east toward Craobh. Glorious sunshine all the way and we spotted porpoises, dolphins and a sea eagle!

We arrived in the marina to a great commotion and its cause soon became apparent. Thick black smoke, which smelled strongly of burning plastic, was billowing across the marina. Flames were licking from the back of a yacht tied up to one of the pontoons and owners and staff were running everywhere with fire-extinguishers. To their credit and bravery they quickly had the fire under control. The fire brigade arrived about twenty minutes later from Lochgilphead, 16 miles away and made sure the fire was out and safe to get back on board. It turned out that the owner had been installing a new cooker and was testing it. He was lucky, I can’t think of many things more frightening than a fire on a boat.  Once we had tied up I checked the status of all four fire-extinguishers on board ‘Jess’.

There’s not a great deal at Craobh Haven; the marina, some holiday homes and a small shop. There’s also The Lord of The Isles pub and restaurant which serves great food has fantastic, friendly staff and is a wonderful refuge on wet, windy days which can be frequent at this time of year. The marina facilities are part of a purpose built holiday village which was constructed in 1983 from a series of small islands connected by causeways. You always get a great welcome at the marina and it’s well sheltered, which is just as well as the weather turned a bit nasty and we ended up staying for a couple of days.

There are tidal choke points all along the coast between The Mull of Kintyre and Cape Wrath and the area around Sound of Luing is one of them, so careful studying of the Tidal Stream Atlas is essential. At its southern end is the Gulf of Corryvreckan with the notorious whirlpool and Dorus Mor – The Big Door. At the northern end you have Fladda and Cuan Sound with standing waves, overflows and strong tidal streams. It was just coming up to spring tides and we knew that the streams were going to be particularly strong. The weather had improved dramatically and we left Craobh around midday to catch the best of the tidal stream north toward Oban and the new transit pontoons in the harbour.

Oban North Pier Pontoons are owned and run by Argyll and Bute Council. The development was quite controversial with previous attempts at developing facilities having failed and the owners of Oban Marina on the island of Kerrera just across Oban Bay greatly concerned about the detrimental effects on their trade. The pontoons have the advantage of being right in the centre of Oban, there are free showers and toilets for visiting crew but there’s no laundry, fuel or gas and no chandlery or other boaty type facilities. We were fortunate when we visited in that the wind was coming from the NW, but with the pontoons being very exposed to wind anywhere from the south, I suspect an overnight stay in a strong SW wind would be really uncomfortable. It doesn’t have the same feeling as other marinas or moorings, however, the Council had hoped that having the transit pontoons right in the centre of town would attract more cruise ships and this seems to have been quite successful.

Oban, Tobermory and Salen

It was a grey, dreich morning when we left Oban for Tobermory, but there was a good following wind from the SE (the wind direction had been all over the place in the past few days) and we quickly crossed the Firth of Lorn toward Lady’s Rock. Apart from the numerous ferries it will come as no surprise that the other hazards in the area are the fierce tidal streams and overflows particularly in this area around the south westerly tip of Lismore. It is possible to sail between the lighthouse on Lady’s Rock and Lismore Island but this is the route that the ferries and commercial traffic take so we decided it prudent to head further west before racing up the Sound of Mull. The scenery in the Sound is stunning. Unfortunately, with poor visibility we weren’t able to enjoy it to the full, and the poor weather continued all the way to Tobermory. The main entrance to Tobermory Bay is to the north of Calve Island and there are no hazards except ferries, cruise ships and other commercial traffic. If there’s enough water or you have little draft, it is possible to enter the bay through the Dorlinn Narrows to the south of the island, but this dries at low water. The pontoons in the NW corner of the bay are well sheltered from everything but a strong NE wind. Reaching the moorings is straightforward and there is a channel of sorts marked through the local boats to the pontoons and visitors’ moorings.

As you would expect, Tobermory has all the facilities a visitor might need. The Harbour Office has coin operated showers, toilets, a laundry and the ‘Mull Aquarium’. Diesel is available at the pontoons and gas and petrol from the garage a few yards from the marina. You’ll find a good chandlery in the town as well as a well-stocked Co-op, outdoor clothing shops, gift shops, banks, ATMs, pubs and restaurants. The Mishnish Hotel next to the CalMac ferry terminal across the bay from the marina is well worth a visit as is the nearby Café Fish where you will get the most wonderful fish tea!

What a difference a day makes. We woke to glorious sunshine and Tobermory is such a pretty wee place when the sun is out. Our final destination before heading back south was Salen Jetty. We first visited Salen four years ago and it has become a firm favourite. Set in beautiful Loch Sunart between the Ardnamurchan and Morvern peninsulas, it must be one of the most peaceful and picturesque marinas you will find.

Leaving Tobermory we crossed the northern end of the Sound setting a course to the south of the drying rocks of Little Stirk, Red Rocks and New Rocks and then sticking close to the Morvern coast round Auliston Point. The wind was coming right out of the west and we sailed and surfed the waves averaging seven knots most of the way up Loch Sunart. The passage up the loch is not problematic; just steer clear of the islands. The marina at Salen is one of the very few where you can book a berth in advanced and it is advisable to do this at the height of summer when it is very popular. Having said that, there are additional moorings in the bay and owners Mark and Jan will always find you a spot. The approach is fairly straightforward as long as you take heed of the East Cardinal on the approach to the pontoons. The marina is well equipped with water, shore power, gas and diesel (no petrol). There is a shower and toilet block and next door a great shop and café. The Salen Hotel is a ten minute walk from the marina along a quiet, single track road. It’s unlit, so unless you’re visiting in mid-summer, take a torch. There’s a lot to do in the area and you could easily spend a few days here. Lots of forest walks and Jan will supply you with some route maps. You can hire bikes from Sunart Cycles and they will deliver them to the jetty. You can catch a bus to Fort William and spend a few hours there. Alternatively, you could just kick back, relax and enjoy the beautiful, peaceful surroundings.

Return South to Kerrera

The weather had become increasingly changeable and the following day when we returned to Tobermory the wind was coming from the south which would be no use to us on our return through the Sound of Mull so we stayed a couple of nights in Tobermory allowing the front to pass. We had decided that Kerrera would be the best place for me to stay whilst Alan returned to Edinburgh as there are good rail links from Oban and there would be things for me to do waiting for his return. We had a couple of days to get there and had planned to stop at Lochaline on the way down the Sound from Tobermory, but the sailing was so good we kept going to Dunstaffnage which is just a short passage from Kerrera.

We first visited Dunstaffange nearly 20 years ago whilst sailing with an old friend on his beautiful Laurent Giles, gaff rigged cutter, and then it really was somewhere special. The restaurant in the marina was classy and the marina friendly and welcoming. Sadly, things have changed. In a bid to attract larger yachts some of the long standing berth holders have left due to the changes and the facilities and customer service has gone downhill. Next time we’ll be giving it a miss and either stop at Lochaline or head straight for Oban Marina.

Oban Marina has gone through some turbulent times in the past seven years. In early 2016 it was in a right state and put up for sale for the second time in five years. It was bought by Surrey couple Gary and Catherine Peat, yacht owners themselves, who are really keen to make a success of it and I hope they do. They’ve already refurbished much of the marina, sorted pontoons, reinstated power and water, opened a great wee restaurant and bar, but there’s still plenty to do. I am seriously considering a summer berth here for 2020. It’s a great sailing area and with the rail links it is relatively easy to get to. There’s a complimentary ferry to the mainland for berth holders and all the facilities you would expect in a marina. I would still winter in Largs as it’s only just over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh and far handier for maintenance trips than Oban would be.

I had negotiated a deal for an extended stay from Tuesday to Sunday when Alan was due to return and we would continue our journey south to The Crinan Canal, stopping off at Ardfern on the way. As usual, there were a few small jobs that I had to attend to and I set about these when Alan left on Wednesday morning. The joker valve in toilet needed replacing, the stern-tube grease gun needed refilling, there was a loose wire in the instrument panel, I had to repack the lifejacket I was wearing at Ballycastle (I had picked up a gas canister at Dunstaffnage), I had a laundry to do and there were a few other bits and pieces that needed my attention. In the afternoon, having completed all my tasks, I took the marina ferry across to Oban for a wander around and a trip to Tesco for milk and bread. I got back to ‘Jess’ with a guitar…

End of Season Sail – Part 1

Alan and I took the train on Wednesday morning from Edinburgh and arrived in Largs at lunch time. I had spent the previous fortnight preparing ‘Jess’, for our annual trip. With passage plans made, routes plotted, diesel and water tanks full, dinghy inflated, outboard serviced and provisions and gear stowed away we were ready to set off as soon as we arrived at the marina.

In previous years we had sailed up Loch Fyne to Ardrishaig and taken the canal to Crinan but this year we decided to be a bit more adventurous and head around the Mull of Kintyre and spend a few days in Northern Ireland before heading north toward the Isle of Mull and, hopefully, our most northerly destination at Salen on Loch Sunart.

Our first stop was to be at Lochranza, just a short sail from Largs, before heading round the north of Arran and down Kilbrennan Sound to Campbeltown. The moorings at Lochranza can be a bit bouncy when the ferry is coming or going but apart from that they are good, well-spaced, sheltered and fortunately the ferries stop around 6:00 pm. There’s a transit pontoon where you can leave you dinghy for a visit to the hotel. Alan was born on Arran and we usually make a trip to the hotel where we enjoy a few of their exclusive Arran Malt. However, with an early start the next day we decided to stay on board and drink port instead! 

Leaving Largs and heading for Lochranza

The next morning it was a bit of a slog around Arran toward Carradale but eventually the wind veered from a SW to the west and at 23 knots we started to make good progress south to Campbeltown.  The facilities at the small marina are excellent with a great welcome from the Harbour Master and we decided to spend two nights here taking in a couple of visits and a meal at the Royal Hotel, a trip to the Springbank Distillery and waiting the extra day for better tide times before making the trip across the North Channel to Glenarm in Northern Ireland.  

Campeltown to Glenarm

There’s much written about rounding the Mull of Kintyre and crossing the North Channel and it has a deserved reputation for the fierce tidal streams, particularly when wind is against tide.  But, with careful planning, favourable conditions and using the tidal stream to your advantage it can be less daunting, perhaps even enjoyable. We left Campbeltown in little wind and ended up motoring most of the way to Glenarm. There was a swell of around 2.5 metres but the distance between wave peaks was such that we just gently sailed over them, unlike the Clyde where the distance is very much shorter and you find yourself bashing through the sea in a most uncomfortable way. I think we must have got our timings slightly wrong as we ended up having the tide against us for much longer than we anticipated. The wind never really helped us either, but eventually we arrived at Glenarm marina.

Glenarm is a wonderful little place, good facilities at very reasonable prices which include a free laundry! There’s not a great deal to the village, a small shop and a couple of pubs, which are next door to each other, with a great welcome from landlord and locals. Neither of the pubs serves food, however, you can order a takeaway from the Chinese Restaurant in nearby Cairnlough and have it delivered to the Coast Road Inn where they will provide crockery and cutlery for you to eat it there! Whilst there isn’t much in the village it’s still worth wandering round taking in the wonderful architecture and talking to the locals you’ll find that it has had an interesting past. There’s an 18th century castle which has extensive woodland walks, a walled garden, gift shop and a tea-room which is well worth visiting.

Bangor and Belfast

We had already planned to spend one night in Bangor further down the coast with the possibility of spending the next in Belfast. We had a chat with the Harbour Master at Glenarm and some local worthies, who seemed to be a permanent feature in his office, on the merits of sailing to the marina in Belfast. Taking heed of what they said, we decided that since we wanted to spend a day sightseeing in Belfast, two nights in Bangor and a train journey to Belfast would make best use of our time as it would take an additional couple of hours to motor from Bangor to Belfast.  We left Glenarm the next day, just before midday and with a favourable wind and tide we had a great run down the Antrim coast and covered the 23 miles in just less than four hours. There are loads of great places to eat and drink in Bangor and I would recommend ‘The Rabbit Rooms’, particularly on a Monday when mussels are half price and it’s right next to the marina.

The station at Bangor is about a fifteen minute walk from the marina and the train was very cheap at £6 for the return journey. It takes around twenty-five minutes to get to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast and a short walk from the station takes you to The Titanic Experience. We arrived fairly early in the morning, which was just as well as by lunchtime the whole area was extremely busy. The Titanic Quarter is impressive; the exhibition building is in the shape of a star and built to the same height as the Titanic’s bow, standing next to the building and looking up really gives an idea of just how big it was. Nearby, there’s the SS Nomadic which was a tender for the White Star Line and is the only White Star Line vessel in existence today – you can buy a combined ticket for this and the Titanic Experience. Belfast Harbour Marina, also in the Titanic Quarter, was smaller than I expected and perhaps a mile or so from the city centre. I’m not convinced that the ten mile trip up the River Lagan would be worth it unless you wanted to spend a few days exploring Belfast. We were told by the Harbour Master at Glenarm that if we were to go to Belfast, not to tie up on the pontoon closest to the walkway. Apparently it has been known for locals to lob things over the railing towards the boats tied up there.  We took an open top bus tour of the city which was absolutely fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone visiting. The tour took us through all the areas associated with the troubles of the 70s, Falls Road, Shankhill Road, Crumlin Road Jail and the Peace Wall. It was a little sad to see that the gates on the wall are still closed from 7:00 pm until 7:00 am, but heartening to read some of the messages on the Peace Wall.

We took the train back to Bangor and spent the evening wandering around the wee town. Earlier, I had visited the well-stocked chandlery and bought some rope to replace worn rope on some of the fenders. I spent part of the evening making very poor attempts at splicing loops and I have to say, I’m too embarrassed to post any photographs of them. The last two splices were in fact bowlines.

Our final destination in Northern Ireland was to be Ballycastle but we decided to split the journey by once more stopping off at Glenarm.

Heading back North

We left Glenarm for Ballycastle the wind was gusting 28 to 34 knots from NW and with the tide was against it was a bit like a washing machine at times. But, heading a little further out we had a great sail up the coast averaging well over six knots most of the way. It was all pretty uneventful really, well that was until we reached Ballycastle marina. I always choose to berth port side if I can and we saw the berth that suited us. However, the Harbour Master directed us to another, also port side, but with the wind blowing very strongly off the pontoon. Alan was on the helm and the wind caught the back of the boat just as I was stepping off onto the pontoon which suddenly wasn’t there and I ended up in the marina. Fortunately, the Harbour Master and another boat owner were quickly there to drag me out. I can tell you this; it is not easy and extremely tiring trying to swim/drag yourself to a pontoon ladder when you are laden down with wet clothes and a life-jacket round your head. I was absolutely fine, just suffered from the indignity of being hauled out and a large bruise on my left elbow. However, it was reassuring to know that the life-jackets are in perfect working order. Of course it was the helmsman’s fault and little did he know that he would be supplying the drink for the rest of the trip. The Harbour Master threatened me with a £100 fine for swimming in the marina.

There are a few places to eat and get a drink near Ballycastle marina including a pizza place a fish and chip shop and the Marine Hotel has a restaurant and there are three pubs. There’s a SPAR shop, two ice-cream parlours a couple of cafes and also an ATM. We found “The Anglers Arms” next to the marina has traditional music on most nights. It’s well worth taking the walk up the hill to the main part of the town where you will find a greater selection of bars and restaurants, shops, supermarkets and a museum.

The North Channel back to Scotland

We left Ballycastle heading back to Scotland at 9:00 am the following morning to catch the tide on what was the first really wet day of our trip so far. Leaving the marina the visibility was poor, the wind gusty and the sea lumpy. The tidal streams around Rathlin Island and Fair Head are all over the place but heading east towards Kintyre it soon settles down and once we were well clear to the east of Macdonnell Race we steered NE toward the Sound of Jura. We had a great sail across the North Channel and with a good blaw behind us, the tide helping and a bit of surfing we were at times doing over 10 knots; the theoretical maximum speed of my boat is just under 7.5 knots! There were a few squally rain showers with wind speeds gusting at F8, but all in all it was a very pleasant and exciting crossing. We were wet when we left but we arrived at Arminish Bay on Gigha at 3:30 pm in glorious sunshine.

We absolutely loved Northern Ireland; it’s a great place with really friendly, helpful people. The sailing was exciting and sometimes a bit challenging. The facilities we used were fantastic and the scenery around the Antrim Coast is beautiful. The towns and villages we visited are lovely, full of interesting history and things to see and do.  It was the first time I had been to Belfast and I wouldn’t hesitate to return to explore more of the city. Tomorrow we are heading north through the Sound of Jura to Ardfern or continuing north through the Sound of Luing for Craobh Haven but tonight we spend on the beautiful wee island of Gigha with a meal at the Gigha Hotel washed down with a pint or two of local brew and perhaps a couple of malt whisky chasers.

August 2018

I managed to squeeze in a few days sailing before Alan and I set off on our annual trip – this time to Northern Ireland.

I met Stephen on a Guitar Retreat, a fellow Scot but living and working in Moscow with the Foreign Office. Well, he was until Mr Putin decided to start expelling Diplomats in a tit-for-tat retaliation after the Sergei and Yulia Skripal poisoning. He’s applied for a transfer back to the UK. Apparently, if you are deported from Russia you never get to go back and he would like to return one day.

I picked him and friend, Natalie,up at Failrie Station and enjoyed a few days of great sailing on the Clyde – usual haunts of Portavadie and Tarbert. We came across Waverley on our trip.

An American, a Canadian and a Scotsman – once more

On the journey back from my holiday in France, I stopped off in Canterbury to stay with Brandon and Lauren for a few days.

Brandon and Lauren lived in Edinburgh for a number of years before setting up home in Kent. I met Brandon through our shared interest in ukuleles and became great friends. They moved from San Francisco a few years ago when Lauren (the Canadian) took up a post at Stirling University lecturing in Philosophy. She got the offer of a better post at the University of Kent and moved south whilst Brandon stayed in Edinburgh before he also got a job. It was great to see them and I had a great time. They had planned to travel to Edinburgh for a ukulele event and I offered to put them up for a couple of days and then take them sailing.

The weather continued to be hot and dry. Unfortunately, not really sailing weather as there was very little wind. Still, we did manage a bit of sailing and the weather was glorious.

Slideshow and cheesy music!

June/July Sailing 2018

The past couple of months have been a busy time for me and I haven’t been out on Jess as often as I was last year. I managed a couple of outings in May and then for most of June I was on holiday in France.

The great weather that I had enjoyed in France continued when I arrived home and I had arranged a sailing weekend with friends Rob and Mairi. We were joined my Mairi’s teenage daughter, Kirsty.  I became friends with Rob a number of years ago when we met at our ukulele group. and took him and Mairi sailing last year. They also met at ukes and they are getting married next year!

We had planned to spend a night in Portavadie and, with the weather being so good, a trip to Otterferry where we could have lunch at the Oystercatcher before heading back down to Tarbert for the night. The following day we would make for Lochranza, picking up a mooring and stopping for lunch before returning to Portavadie for our last night.

The winds were pretty light but we managed a bit of sailing and motor sailing on our trip through Cumbrae Sound and across Inchmarnock Water to Portavadie and we arrived to a glorious warm evening.

I had recently replaced the sail-pack and spray-hood, both of which were looking a wee bit tired. I had the work done by Saturn Sails in Largs and can’t fault the standard of workmanship or the quality of materials used. However, I was less than happy with the way they fitted the sail-pack (which I paid extra for) and with the final spray-hood. I had given them instructions to make direct replacements, exactly the same size and shape as the old ones. They fitted the sail-pack without a bolt rope which meant the main sail was free flying – I was not happy about this at all and it wasn’t how the old one was fitted. Give them their due, they did refit it correctly with a bolt-rope. I have a bimini which requires a zip on the spray-hood which they had not fitted (despite my instructions) to the new one. Had I insisted, I am sure they would have rectified this but it would have meant an extra couple of weeks delay. They did take something off the final bill. To be honest, I’m not that fussed by this as I have fitted a £10 plastic hap from Amazon which does the job and is far easier to store!

Next day we had a great downwind sail to Otterferry. Yesterday, I had spotted a frigate which was on exercise chasing a submarine. In the middle of Inchmarnock Water we could see the frigate on one side of Arran and the submarine, on the surface, on the other side! As we were approaching the narrow(ish) entrance to Upper Loch Fyne between Otter Spit and
Achnaba I could see HMS Northumberland coming toward, clearly making for Upper Loch Fyne as well. We were goosewing sailing and we stuck to our course to round the spit. The frigate changed course and made a huge detour, compromising his entry into Upper Loch Fyne. But the crew waved at us and the captain gave us a cheery hoot!

Oystercatcher is one of my favourite restaurants and Otter Bay is a beautiful, picturesque with good mooring which are quite well sheltered. A few years back there was talk of the restaurant/inn converting an old outbuilding into showers and toilets for visiting sailors but they seem to have abandoned the idea as the building is now self-catering accommodation. After a great lunch we made our way back down to Tarbert for the night.

The following day we decided to sail to Lochranza and pick up a mooring and have lunch before crossing back to Portavadie once again for the night.

First Sail of the Season

After a week of maintenance last month, we finally managed to get out for the first sailing trip of the season over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. I was joined by my good friend Alan.  Maintenance had gone well and Jess was back in the water within a week but this was the first opportunity to get out on the water.

I arrived on Thursday morning picking up new fenders and some gel-coat filler (more of that later) at Duncan’s Yacht Chandlers. I like Duncan’s the guys are really helpful, they have a good range of stock and their prices are far better than those at the chandlers in Largs. Alan was arriving later in the afternoon and I spent the time getting Jess ready, stowing supplies, filling with water and pumping up the fenders. The genoa had needed the sacrificial strip replaced and I went  Saturn Sails to collect it. I’m having them make a new sprayhood and stack-pack which should be ready and fitted next week.

Alan arrived around 6.40pm and we went to Scott’s in the marina for something to eat.

It had been too windy on Thursday evening to fit the genoa but fortunately it was a bit quieter on Friday morning so we quickly got the sail on and then went to Scott’s for breakfast. We had toyed with the idea of taking a trip to Campbeltown, but over breakfast, with a brisk SW forecast  we decided that a sail to Portavadie was the thing to do. From there we could decide whether to sail up to Otterferry on Saturday and back to Tarbert for the night or head for Lochranza. The latter was Alan’s preference as he was born on Arran and likes to go back as often as he can.

We left the pontoon around 11.00am for the fuel berth and then set off into Largs Channel toward Cumbrae. A good F5/6 was blowing and gusting around 28 knots so I reefed the main and put out about half the genoa. We had a great sail across Inchmarnock Water toward Loch Fyne and only had to resort to putting the engine on when the wind dropped 3 or 4 miles south of Portavadie. We arrived just after 18.30 and moored on one of the pontoon fingers opposite the main building

Being the holiday weekend, I expected the marina to be quite busy and I was surprised at how quiet Portavadie was, there were just half a dozen other visiting boats in the marina. I had booked dinner at the lodge and before that we went for a drink in the main restaurant. They’ve made a few changes to the restaurant, removing the large sofas and putting in more seating and some high tables and chairs. We could have eaten here but we prefer the lodge (and it’s cheaper). We returned to the main building after dinner and spent a nice evening chatting to a couple from Glasgow who were there for the weekend. They had a lodge and a boat on Loch Lomond and were interested in boats and sailing.

It wasn’t going to take more that three hours to get to Lochranza  so after a lazy start we left Portavadie around 11.45 am  The forecast so far hadn’t been that accurate and on Saturday morning there was a brisk F6/7 coming from the SW.  The wind was gusting around 35 knots so I reefed the mainsail right down and put only a small amount of genoa out. Still, we managed to tack across toward Tarbert and then down Loch Fyne toward Arran touching 7-8 knots at times. The wind was always going to blow us away from Lochranza and we knew we would need a few tacks to get us there. However, about 2 miles from from our destination and two or three tacks later it was obvious that it was going to take at least another hour to get to the moorings. So we put on the engine and motored the last bit.  As we were approaching Lochranza we could see a war ship approaching, which had to take a detour to avoid us. There had been some chatter on the radio about a submarine exercise and it turned out that it was the Dutch frigate “Tromp” and its helicopter that were doing the hunting.  There  are 12 moorings at Lochranza and 4 of them were taken.  Like the others around the island they are serviced and maintained by the local community.  The moorings are large hippo type buoys and in previous years there was just a ring on the top which you had to try and thread your mooring line through, almost impossible in all but a flat calm unless you have a mooring hook device. However, this year we found that they had added pick-up buoys and mooring ropes so mooring was easy.  We had pumped the dinghy up at Portavadie and tried out the outboard, which started at the second pull, so it was just a case of getting the motor on the dinghy.  I have a 3.5hp engine which to be honest is a bit too big and heavy for the dinghy and as a result mounting the engine is a bit tricky, but with a safety line and the dinghy secured to the stern of the boat and the advantage of a sugar-scoop we manage. I need to investigate some sort of portable davit type thing.  By the time we were ready to cross to the hotel, all the moorings had been taken and arriving boats were having to turn around and head north for Tarbert or Portavadie. The wind had died and the sun came out – it was a beautiful sunny evening and Lochranza looked quite stunning.

We spent a great evening in the Lochranza Hotel chatting to other yacht owners and walkers, drinking too much Arran Blonde and whisky. Shortly after we had arrived, another Moody picked up the mooring next to us and we sat next to Mark in the hotel. Turned out they were on a shake down preparing for a trip to The Azores next week.  He has offered to write an article for Compass Magazine about his preparation and passage.

Sunday morning was a complete change from previous days. There was no wind at all (it was a very quiet night on the mooring – well apart from the loud music we were playing) and it was foggy. Visibility was OK though and we motored off for Largs. I had our navigations lights on, but the steaming light didn’t seem to be working, this surprised me as it’s a single unit that houses the deck light as well and this seemed to be working fine. Still, need to have it looked at. Our trip back was fairly uneventful. We had a go at commissioning the auto-pilot but I don’t think we carried it out properly as it was a bit erratic so I’ll need to do it again.

We needed to reverse Jess into her berth so that I could carry out a repair to the starboard side. It was blowing an absolute hoolie when she was launched last month and leaving the hoist she was blown across the marina and I managed to take a gouge out of the gel-coat on the propellor of a rib’s outboard. Alan left for home and I spent the rest of the day doing the repair and tidying up.

It was a great weekend and most things worked as they should. Can’t wait for the next trip.

Sailing – 2017 Season

This year I spent 72 nights on board Jess and went sailing for sixty four of those, travelled just under 1000 nautical miles and almost two thirds of those under sail. Things broke on the way; fridge, auto pilot, water pump and there were many running repairs, It rained, it was sunny, it was foggy, we were out in no wind and winds of 50 mph. We played guitar, ukulele and at times, very loud music 😀

We met loads of wonderful people and even bumped into royalty. It was a fantastic season and I can’t wait for next year.

This is a wee slide show of some of the brilliant places I visited along with the fantastic people who sailed with me.