The 2006 Gentleman’s Cruise Jan. 8, 2008
Here’s a writeup about the Chentleman’s Cruise 2006 (cc2006). I understand that it’s called the “chentleman’s” cruise as posh Scottish people would pronounce “gentleman” with a “ch”. It started as a blokes-only cruise but now in its 4th year there are some women and swmbo’s who come along too.
As well as this fairly useless info, I learnt lots of other stuff from jimi during the nine-hour drive from Southern England towards the west coast of Scotland. Eventually, I put on cheap CD of Scottish bagpipe music and he hummed along happily.
Lots of boaty sights on the M6, a lorry with a ships prop, and an immaculate lake launch.
Jimi was very keen to drive. He’s a very good driver but I am a useless and nervy passenger, especially since the car was only 15 hours old when I picked him up at Parahandy’s place near Oxford . Para was very cheesed off that he wouldn’t be going this year due to family commitments, but he loaned us a toolbox and told of numerous likely mechanical problems aboard Claymore.
I’ve hardly been to Scotland before except on brief business visits. Like lots of places away from southeast UK , the people have time to chat and to look out for others – even with complete strangers. We picked up Longjohnsadler at Glasgow airport, and did a supermarket shop as we neared Loch Melfort. I queued for more shopping on top of the stuff they got, and left a �20 note on the counter as I was about to dash back to get some cheese. “I wouldn’t leave a �20 note there!” said the old lady behind me in the queue. The nice checkout girl and two other pensioners in front agreed that leaving the �20 note on the counter was a very bad idea. But there wasn’t anyone around except them.
Loch Melfort is open to the sea, but protected and calm. It’s a fabulous setting with high hills all around perhaps 500 feet high or more. Beautiful in long lazy evening sunshine. In fact, the weather held good the whole weekend with no rain at all until the final evening.
There’s a busy yard ashore and a small pontoon which can take half a dozen boats alongside and rafted out, but for most of the season the boats sit on moorings in the bay. Claysie had organised for the marina staff to bring the boat to the pontoon in readiness. He’s very camera shy, though.
Once unpacked, the first job we’d been given by phone from Claysie was to retrieve and inflate the dinghy from the locked dinghy pound. But the office was shut. I asked someone how we might get in, and the chap immediately loaned me a key. Not sure what the point of the padlock was if everyone gives anyone a key, but heyho. I pumped up the dinghy about four times, each time the valve on one side failing. Bodgeable, but a bit hopeless.
Claysie arrived with his friend Muzzy (steve) completing the crew of five aboard Claymore with LJS, jim and me. Jimi made an ingenious spagetti dish for tea, somehow managing to actually stick together the individual strands to form an unusual pasta-block pie, very clever. At 9pm Claysie drove us all to a pub in Oban 10ish miles away and we met some of the others on the cruise.
Webcraft is quite youthful – he looks and sounds very internetty. He isn’t Scottish-sounding but lives nearby. Sgeir is a big friendly giant and very Scottish indeed. Both had their swmbo’s along. Machurley (mac- Hurley) is also Scottish-sounding, and lightly-built, just right for his 22footer.
Back at the boat after the pub I was very keen to test some malt whisky which I had brought along. Jimi and Claysie went pale at the thought, apparently recalling a recent horrible whisky-fuelled evening into the early hours. It turned out that it was at least a year ago, or perhaps two years since, but very vivid, and they turned in. So LJS and I had a little taste test, and decided that the Glenfiddich was nicer than the Laphroig, or it might have been the other way around, I can’t remember.
Next morning, perhaps a little stung by my breakfast comments on scuttlebutt, jimi also made breakfast. Excellent. We set off down the loch shortly after in bright sunshine and clear blue sky. Someone said later than Scotland was showing off to us. Breathtaking scenery. It an hour or so for the gps to wake up, though.
Claymore is a 30foot motorsailor. It has a deep center cockpit with ingenious canopy cruelly referred to in some quarters as a “conservatory”. It does keep the cold out though, with plenty of space. There also loads of lounging space on the aft deck too, especially since we forgot the outboard, damnit.
Imagine setting out into a vast and beautiful inland sea area and seeing three just other boats in the first hour. Fantastic. One of them was Avilion, the second crusie boat who joined us as we followed the switchbacks through the Cuan Sound and out towards more open sea towards Mull. Two more boats were now visible a couple of miles distant, which we knew must be the others on the Cruise, Sgeir’s “Shard” and Machurley’s “Silkie”.
The wind picked up from the North West, engine off, sails up and we were shielded by the coast. An hour or so later the wind was up to 25knots and the coast a bit more distant – we’d have to tack and tack again upwind to our target 25-30 miles away. Claysie the Cruise Director was snoozing, the sun shone and we pounded along upwind at 6 knots.
The mutinous VHF call came from Silkie to say that they weren’t making much headway in the rougher sea. The cruise director was roused. A revolt in the fleet! Despite goading from me and jimi, Claysie decided not to instigate disciplinary charges against Silkie, and agreed a change of plan. We’d all bear away and go to the island of Colonsay instead, an easier beam reach les than 10 miles to the south west.
Avilion came past us and we closed the island, an excellent site. I took some pictures, which are all rubbish, of course.
Then a call from Shard a mile or so behind us. He’d heard a strange noise under his cockpit, from the prop, daren’t use the engine and so can’t get into the port. We offer to tow him in alongside, and he readily accepts.
In calm water on the west coast of Colonsay we tied Shard alongside Claymore. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a salvage contract on board, so Sgeir still owns the boat. Claysie’s mate Muzzy piloted the makeshift catamaran to a smooth landing and a round of applause.
Once all tied up, which took no more than 40 minutes, I was keen to help get Shard sorted, or at least have the mechanical problem diagnosed before the light fell and the assembled crew had too many post-sailing drinks for boatfixing.
Sgeir is very calm about his busted boat. He announced that before any boatfixing he has to get all the stuff out of the quarter berth, and before all that he has to finish his drink. Eventually, he finds a torch and we take a look. Sgeir tells us the grim details of the horrible, thundering noise whilst at sea. He’d never heard it before and it sounds quite terminal – perhaps the gearbox has failed, but all the bits seem to be in place. Can he really have smashed the gearbox internals by sailing too fast? I asked him if he had tried the engine whilst at sea. No, he wisely couldn’t risk it. So has he tried since, closer inland? No. Now safely tied up, we could drop it in gear and see, maybe? He’s doubtful, but agrees. The boat nudges forwards and back on its warps. It works perfectly. I’m (nearly) a hero for “fixing” the engine/gearbox problem by telling him to turn it on.
Colonsay might be the about size of Guernsey but with only a hundred or so inhabitants. Our small harbour hamlet of Scalasaig has a few houses and an hotel 500 yards up the hill. Jimi and I took a walk to explore. We had an ice cream at the general store, the shopkeeper chatted with us, and I skimmed some stones on the loch, after which Scalasaig was pretty much fully explored. Very serene and peaceful, though.
Jimi is very fitness-concious, and decides he’ll go for a run. Do I want to come along? No, I flippin well don’t. But I help determine a route for him, which seems to be about three miles around and back to the port. Two hours later, we’ve had loads of drinks on Sharrd and tea is ready. Jimi returns splattered with mud, and says it was more like eight miles. Hee hee.
Time to go to the pub, which is all newly decorated in “Shaker” style with wooden floors and smart shades of blue and white. The dartboard beckons after a couple of pints. I “got out” from about 70, but LJS convincingly won the series ahead of me and jimi. Claysie joined in at one stage and threw his darts freestyle, jimi lead him away to safety, but Claysie was miffed at being denied more darts.
With a very fully funded kitty we had a few quiet drinks, followed by half a dozen veruy noisy ones. The manager isn’t very pleased at our behaviour as we leave at closing time, and he apparently says something offensive to one of the girls. Scottish legend has it that she bopped him on the nose, but I didn’t see anything, and the evening became very blurred. At one point ten people had drinks on board Silke – quite good for 22footer though a bit soggy underfoot. I seem to recall somebody making breakfast, although that could have been the following morning. The next morning was calm as we motored south into a narrow sound and around the southern edge of of the island of Jura. More wild and spectacular scenery, with a wreck on a craggy coast and a lonely distillery in a small coastal village as we pass.
We make a lunch stop at Craighouse, on Jura , mooring up with plank and fenders. On the other side of the pier there’s a brand new lifeboat and handily for us, Steve/muzzy (no idea why it’s “Muzzy”) is Coxswain of the Fleetwood lifeboat, introduces himself and we’re shown around without delay. The others are amazed at the giant engines, but being motorboaty I’m secretly a bit ****y about it. No carpet, no dishwasher, a lousy 27knots from 2x 1400hp, and a measly 5000 litres tank. Huh! The lifeboat crew chat happily and laughingly say that they hope we don’t meet again.
As we leave, jimi wonders if we should buy them a drink. I mutter that if they’re already getting paid to swoosh around on a free massive boat they can buy their own sodding drinks.
As others have a hearty lunch, I decide to investigate ashore and have a coca-cola based lunch in the pub with a view of the bay. The crew of Avilion are there, and the skipper (Donald – everyone in Scotland is called Donald, apparently, even if that isn’t their name, although often it is) is pondering over whether to have another half. The view is spoiled by jimi shambling past to buy some pop.
I join him, and we cast off to leave Craighouse, just in time meet Shard and Silkie who stop on their way in. Time to move on, says Claysie. Mrs Sgeir was frustrated at missing Craighouse – she’d never been and this was the day she hoped at last to make a visit. Thwarted again.
More loud discussions between the three boats milling around the entrance ensued, this time about the evening destination. The Cruise Director announced it would be Ardfern, but Sgeir and Webcraft seemed to prefer another port. As a newbie to the area I couldn’t usefully join in, but it was clear that the Cruise Director’s authority was being challenged far too frequently.
“Just shoot them, Claysie, don’t stand for this!” I suggested. “Get a gun and shootem, or just one of them, and there’ll never be any more dissent, ever!”
Claysie didn’t have a gun and neither did I, but he prevailed and we set a course for Adfern 10 miles or so up another sea loch. Another highland massacre was narrowly averted.
Light airs from the port quarter triggered a dash to get Claymore’s kite rigged. Naturally, the wind died to zero. It had to come down. As soon as it was snuffed the wind rose to 10 knots. Dang. More unrigging of kite, we eventually put up the ornery sails and chased after the others who had left with the breeze. Claymore had a quiet word with me about the parachute – I was clearly very mistaken in describing it as “green” when it is quite definitely “grey”. He kindly forgave my glaring error, and we agreed not to discuss the matter again.
I took a turn at the helm as the wind built to around 25knots. I did try to encourage the crew to put on more speed but they seemed unenthusiastic. Nether LJS nor jimi would sit on the rail, nor were they keen on my suggestions of running off the water to save weight, or chuck the others overboard. You can’t trapeze on an 8 ton boat, they scoffed. I sulked a bit. Cos I mean, 400kilos of people is 5% of the weight so putting that at one side or the other has got to make a difference, hasn’t it? Then they started suggested reefing, to wind me up some more. Pah!
But the others did agree to try and slow down the others by putting out various vhf calls to Shard saying that they’d found lots of oil in the sea and perhaps it was his gearbox? Later, we announced that we’d decided our engine was broken, and although we hadn’t tried anything could they please come and tow us in? Shard made some other calls to Silkie saying he could hear Claymore as we were probably so far behind we were out of range. Harumph!
Adfern is a beautiful marina at the head of a loch. Good for up to 60 footers or perhaps even bigger, the boats are all quite new, smart and Lymingtonish. They seem to have avoided the benjenbav deluge to date, so the boats are all different from each other and it’s well worth a good look round the pontoons. Princess Anne keeps her boat here, a Rustler 36, and we have a look. LJS says she can’t be here at the moment otherwise there’s be helicopters scanning us as we arrived and lots more security bods.
On our way to the supermarket a hundred yards outside the marina, Claysie tells me of his Brief Encounter with HRH, in the chandlers when he was returning with a broken galley appliance. Princes Anne was in the chandlers as well, he told me, and started up a conversation with him by saying she’d recently bought the very same item, and hers is faulty as well. Their eyes meet and there’s an immediate bond between fellow sailors. Claysie asked if hers has got a big crack and short of a screw, and I imagine that it was this clumsy remark (and not the looming security police) which largely explains why he isn’t HRH Claysie and never will be.
Early evening is the time that our skipper has decided that the assembled crew will have champagne and delicate canap�s made by Steve earlier in the day. All delightfully sophisticated as we relax with a glass of fizz. Webcraft arrives unannounced and is clearly quite a lounge lizard – he sweeps up handfuls of delicate canap�s and stuffs them in his gob. However, they soon make up and are obviously old friends, really.
My turn to cook tonight, and I’ve decided to really test my skills as a chef by making Corned Beef Hash. It shouldn’t take more than half an hour. Ninety minutes later as the others return from the pub it’s just about ready. I may have overestimated the quantities, but they all ate it so either they were hopelessly drunk, again, or it could actually have been quite nice. Fray Bentos corned beef, of course.
Another long blurry evening, again on Silkie, and also involving whisky. The next morning LJS reported that drinks-wise we’d finished the last of that bottle of port the previous evening. Actually I had only bought the stuff in Ardfern, but it sounds better to say we “finished the last of it” as though the bottle had lasted six months instead of six hours.
Last day, a little overcast, it’s back to Loch Melfort. We could have stayed out elsewhere but a gale is forecast Monday or Tuesday. There’s the choice of lunch stops surely, though? I’m keen at the idea of a short stop a Croabh Haven, Claysie less so: “We’ll have to prat about with lines and fenders and all that rubbish!” he says, to which I answer that he’ll have to do that quite lot anyway, it’s a flippin boat, innit?
We set the fenders on stbd side, and Claysie decides that we’ll drive in and choose our spot, rather than risk call on vhf and perhaps have to shift fenders.
Ashore, the lady up at the reception building announces that a short stay is �8. She stays at the far end of the office as she says this, wary of our reaction. But by then I had successfully used the loos for the first time in several days, and �8 won’t even cover the call-out charge for the plumber they probably now need. I pay the �8. LJS and I go to the pub. Claysie and the others again daren’t go into a pub for fear of inadvertently having six lagers each. LJS and I have orange juice and cokes, and I avenge the darts drubbing on Colonsay by thrashing him six-nil at pool. More lovely views from the pub, again.
Back to Loch Melfort. I am trusted with the helm, weave in gently and switch the engine off the moment we have lines ashore. I always think looks pretty slick and calms everyone down too, rather than the motor rumbling away. Okay, it saves juice, mainly.
The final night banquet is at the Tish and Trousih (?) anyway, a pub, about 15miles away. Actually, after the 1745 rebellion was brutally put down, wearing kilts was outlawed on the mainland. This pub was somewhere that highlanders could change into and out of their kilt. No kilts tonight though, unfortunately, but plenty of jolly songs and, well, you had to be there. Sgeir and Claysie gave fine performances, and then showed me up by knowing all the verses to “On Ilkley Moor baht’at” as well.
Oh and of course tons of other boaty fun stuff happened, as it always does. I’ve hardly told you the half of it. Brilliant trip.
Matt – May 2006
March 7th. The Crane is booked and the mast will be stepped
April 5th. A 9m tide at around 11:00 am – Ideal for the launch and 3 mile shakedown to Fleetwood Dock.
Dreams become reality.
We used to have a Vaillant hot water geyser which worked brilliantly and without fail for years. However, there was no flame fail device on it and I began to think of other means of heating water. Claymore is a Motor Sailor and whilst we switch the engine off whenever there is sufficient breeze to power us along, the engine does feature most days. Research followed and a Calorifier was bought – the biggest to fit in the space available and subsequently it was fitted at the relatively minor cost of a flattened finger and some lacerations to my arms, knees and one direct hit to the bits when my foot slipped off the engine bearer and one leg shot down towards the bilges. Fortunately the inside leg is 2″ shorter than the shortest Marks and Spencer measurement of 29″ so whilst the slip did not go on forever, the embracing of the engine rocker cover by my reproductive tackle did, naturally lead to a pair of watery eyes for a while.
So we have a Calorifier fitted and wired up so the immersion heater could be activated when plugged in to shore power – just a small matter of some plumbing to follow.It was obvious that the Calorifer was not going to be able get water to the tap in the galley through gravity alone as did the old cold water system, so a Boat Show visit to the Vetus stand saw the purchase of a pump. Naturally having only had a cold water tap to work with the hot water geyser we also needed a hot water tap. Funny how we became attracted to a mixer tap and funny how the old stainless sink suddenly began to look a bit old and battered. Funny how 2 sinks – one for washing and a smaller one for draining, began to seem the way to go. Obviously this meant the whole of the galley top had to be replaced – the 1980′s formica look similarly began to feel a tad dated so there we have it New taps. new galley top, new sinks – wonderful. Did I mention the water tank…?
Well – thinking about it, with an electric pump and a pressurised water system – water consumption is bound to increase, don’t you think? And anyway – even if it doesn’t, the planned retirement cruise to the Baltic would suggest that an increased fresh water capacity would be no bad thing. Enter Cousin Pete who fabricates stainless steel thingies for the Cheese making industry. An hour under the cabin sole and a few mutterings then a return a couple of weeks later with a cardboard mock up and there you go – 100 gallons low down in the boat.
Well – almost, the cabin sole had to come out so it was a good opportunity to clean and paint the whole area and then replace the sole with some nice stripey stuff – just like a Halberg!
I know – it would have been simpler to boil a kettle. But life isn’t always about being simple, don’t you think?
So – will this, the Olympic Year see Claymore gracing the waters of the Scottish West Coast once more?
2 factors run in her favour. The first is the completion – well, close to completion of the building works at Claymore Towers and the second is the acquisition of our own mooring after 12 years on a mooring association waiting list.
A third factor is my gathering impatience to get our Grand-Daughter sailing with us.
Claymore has been fitted out since last we were north of Fleetwood. Its a long story which is mildly reminiscent of an old Flanders and Swan song about the Gas Man coming to call. – I think its worthy of its own individual blog, Such was the cascade effect,so I will indeed write it in the sequential order of events.
The rigging was also due for replacement and as luck would have it, a 2nd hand but hardly used Harken furler has been added which ought to make life easier on the ageing back.
Launch date is planned for the beginning of April and then given half a chance we can leg it up to Oban in time to take part in the 2012 Chentleman’s Cruise
I must check the old log books for I do believe we are into the 10th Anniversary this year.
The week preceding the summer cruise of 2003 got us into optimistic mood as all sources of weather information referred to the establishment of the Azores high and its dominance over British weather for the foreseeable period. We drove the 298 miles to Kilmelford where Claymore has been moored for the past 3 years – in warm sunshine on Sunday 3rd August, correctly thinking that the M74, M8, Glasgow, Loch Lomondside route would be quieter in the early morning. By the time we had loaded and stowed what seemed like a years supply of food and clothing onto the boat, got the dinghy swung into the davits and collected Oscar the Outboard from the Yard workshop, most of the day had passed.
We decided to stay on our mooring having filled up with water and diesel and taken the opportunity to varnish some woodwork and so the evening came and went and we settled down to our first night aboard in the absolute peace and tranquillity of the beautiful Scottish Loch.
A leisurely start saw us underway at 09:45 hours to take the first of the ebb southwards as we came into the stream at the south end of the Sound of Luing. By 11:30 we were motoring in flat calm sea under a cloudless sky. The log has decided to develop and intermittent fault and so is obviously in need of a bit of attention to the paddlewheel. We decide to take a lunch break in Carsaig Bay just south of Loch Crinan and motor round to a very sheltered anchorage which we discovered earlier in the year.The Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions for The Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan Point show this tiny spot, tucked behind one of the islands on the spit of land that separates Loch Sween from the Sound of Jura which offers excellent protection from all directions. Lunch taken, the dinghy was duly lowered and I set about the task ofclearing the paddlewheel whilst Liz did a bit of good old fashioned deck swabbing.
Berthing in Skippool Creek, the boat always gets quite dirty from rain splashing the mudbanks but it is surprising how much dirt accumulates even when moored in clear Scottish waters. The exertions of this outburst of hard labour combined with the intense windless heat fairly hit us and soon after finishing our tasks we had no alternative but to take in a snooze. This done we raised the anchor – electrically thanks to our new Lofrans Kobra – and set off once more, destination possibly Tayvallich. Success and victory over the log gremlin was immediately apparent as the knotometer sprang to life and began digitising itself up to our 5 knot cruising speed. At the west side of the entrance to Loch Sween is the relatively short Loch Na Cille which the pilot advises is suitable for an overnight anchorage in settled conditions. The 3 day outlook was indeed very settled and so we decided to head up the loch and anchor for the night. Off the old stone pier there is 10 ft of water and a lovely clear sandy bottom with just a few patches of Kelp and here we came to rest. After our evening meal we rowed ashore and walked up to the old Chapel where some fine medieval stones are on display, then up to the top of the hill to look out over the vastness of this part of the West Coast To the North, Ben More on Mull stood clear in the evening sun, across the Sound lay the Paps of Jura, again clear in the evening light, Southwards we could see Gigha and beyond the coastline of Kintyre as it wandered southwards to the Mull. The Loch Sween area is a haven for wildlife and as the evening still began to settle and dusk fall, the night noises of Seals and Cormorants began to fill the air. We rowed back over still water and took an obligatory nip of the Jura whisky before retiring for the night, God very much in his Heaven.
Another leisurely start and in accordance with MCA regulations the Log gives details of our passage plan – Southish! – we motored out of the loch in windless conditions and decided to take the morning coffee at Eilean Mor, the MacCormic Isle. The first time we went in here was in 1994 in the Delta with Allen and Jean Rossall piloting us in on Genesis. We went ashore and wandered along to the old Chapel and the cave where the reclusive Priest had lived, smiling at the memory of Allen doing his Beastly Priestly impression as he appeared out of the depths of the damp cave. Coffee taken, a breeze was evident from the North East – excellent news for anyone heading Southish and perfect for a run across to Craighouse on Jura. Loch na Mile – the bay in which Craighouse is situated – has some visitor moorings but these are all old Highlands and Islands moorings and considerable time has passed since they were laid and there is also some speculation about how often they are inspected. Even when there is no wind a swell sets into the bay off Craighouse and so when we are there we normally tie alongside the pier. It’s a great place to be as there is hardly any tidal range at all, the lowest in Britain at 0.5m (Neaps), so setting the lines is simple and there is water on the pier and Loos nearby. The distillery and the hotel are both in easy reach. The Argyll Council yard is just along the lane leading to the Pier and there are always some long planks there to hang outside your fenders so that lying to is a painless and scratch free process.
Now Jura whisky happens to be my favourite and so no visit to the Island can take place without I do a tour of the distillery - there’s talk that I might be eligible for a loyalty bonus and discount on future purchases so with this in mind I made the usual mistake of going off on the tour and taking the samples on an empty stomach
Today has dawned bright and clear and the promise is of another hot and windless day – time to spend time ashore getting to know the Island more and luxuriating in the fact that we have time and don’t always have to be on the move. We breakfasted then set off to the bus stop by the hotel and took the ride to Jura House to explore the gardens. Gigha used to boast fine gardens but I’d read an article explaining how these had been let go but that the Jura gardens were magnificent. We spent hours wandering around marvelling at each new plant and each corner and hidden pathway. We took the coast path and sat on white sands at the entrance to Islay Sound and there as we sat an otter came out of the water and played amongst the rocks, busily searching for food. One of us made a move and he stopped, sniffed, stared at us then just carried on with his busy life. We stayed there watching him for an hour then carried on up the rocky path and onto the headland, making our way back through woods where red deer shaded themselves from the hot sun. The 3 mile walk back to Craighouse was long and hot and deserving of the rest from cooking we enjoyed a wonderful meal that evening, meeting with a couple from Findhorn who had sailed down through the Caledonian Canal and were cruising the area for a few days.
Another hot day and today we are doing more exploring. We headed northwards along from Craighouse then headed up into the hills and picnicked by a clear rocky streamlooking westwards to Colonsay and over West Loch Tarbert. Later we sampled Craighouse life as the village fete was in full swing; we looked into the Church hall where we saw a wonderful photographic exhibition of life on Jura and wondered at time and at change as we looked into the faces of Lairds and Ghillies and Stalkers and the way of Island Life before Caledonian Macbrayne when the Puffers plied their trade. We bought 2nd hand books at the bookstall and cakes and scones for our depleted goodies tin then walked home picking the last of the wild raspberries for tea.
Thick fog has descended over the West Coast - the Coastguard weather forecast the hot sun to burn it off as the day progressed and so we slipped quietly away from Craighouse in visibility of 100m to head southwards again for Port Ellen on Islay. Claymore has gps and this is linked to chartplotting software on the laptop in the wheelhouse, the green icon faithfully showing exactly where one is all the time. The radar was switched on for the first time in anger to make sure there wasn’t something big and horrible coming to run us down and we motorsailed across the mouth of Islay sound – which separates Islay from Jura – and then out of the mists loomed the Ardmore Islands off the eastern corner of Islay. The sun as promised began to make its presence felt and by 12:30 we were bowling along under full sail on sparkling blue seas with improving visibility. Port Ellen is along the south coast of Islay and we gained our first glimpses of Rathlin Island as it came and went through the haze. The entrance to Port Ellen is very obvious and straightforward and we passed the last of the small Islands beyond Texa then headed into the bay. A Marina has been built and so we spentour first night on a pontoon which cost us £12 per night including electricity and water. The port was busy with the twice daily Calmac ferries from the mainland and 6 or 8 other cruising boats some of which we recognised from Craighouse. We put on our walking shoes and set off along the road towards Ardbeg, past the distilleries of Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
I wanted to see if the complicated description of Whisky Bay merited its ferocity in the Pilot book or whether this was just another attempt by some author to discourage people and thus keep it to themselves. We climbed the ruins of Castle Dervaig and looked down into the bay – nothing to it once it all makes sense and the perches and painted rocks became recognisable - but a tight and complicated entrance no less and a wonder to think thataround 30 boats had anchored here on the Malts Cruise.
Not being lovers of the peaty Islay Malts we forwent the pleasures of more Distillery tours and walking back along the road to Port Ellenwere given a lift which was as well as we were flagging in the hot sun. On our return to the pontoon we began talking to the couple on the boat alongside as you do – Eile Eilean – Gaelic for Another Island, then Dansa’
s crew joined us, then Sea Mead and next thing Gin was being taken and spontaneously the singing began and carried on late into the still warm night.
An Island Day as we take the bus to explore Islay going first to Bowmore. We’ve long had a fascination with graveyards and the Bowmore Churchyard is as rich in history as any. The sad line of military graves of the men of Bomber Command who lost their lives when their flying boat crashed in Loch Indaal, the seamen drowned in enemy action and always sad reminders of the many men who served and died fighting for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. One headstone caught our attention – the stone of the Rev.Donald Caskie, the ‘Tartan Pimpernel’. Minister of the Scots Church in Paris at the outbreak of war, he turned down offers to be repatriated, instead choosing to go to Marseilles where he became a key member of the underground that smuggled 3000 servicemen back to England. A little later in the Tourist Information Centre his story was there in a wonderful book which I bought and read in the following days. On returning to Port Ellen we were pleased to see Alex and Christine our friends from Findhorn as had 5 boats from Brittany, each cruising separately and each headed home.
We decide to cruise in Company with Alex and Christine only as far as the Ardmore Islands, which look so challenging on Chart and Pilot. We slipped away from the PortEllen pontoon at 09:45 and with a gentle breeze sailed out of the bay then along the coast to ourwaypoint then cut inshore to follow the narrow rocky channel. The Clyde Cruising pilots are so clear in detail and on this bright warm day with breezes of F2 -3 we were able to take our time and carefully study and orientate ourselves as the pilotage features unfolded. There are long bands of rocks with entrances and corridor like channels ‘
on one we counted 50 seals basking and lolloping around in the early afternoon sunshine. We found the anchorage and in 10 feet of bright clean water we anchored and rowed ashore to wander through the bracken along the shoreline of this beautiful area. Alex had been fishing as we sailed along and caught 3 mackerel and a haddock which we shared for our evening meal aboard Claymore. The night came and the only sounds werea gain of cormorant and guillemot and the seals grunting and splashing in the shallows by the rocky outcrops.
A week has passed and we begin to think of our ultimate destination which is Largs. Our Nephew Alex Stothert, who learned to sail Toppers at Fleetwood Boating lake is sailing in the Laser Radial Nationals and we have arranged to get Claymore to Largs so that the family can live on her during the championships. Neither Liz nor I are too anxious to get into the Clyde too soon and so consider the options - Rathlin is one, Ballycastle another but then we consider the third option of a cruise over to Gigha followed by a trip around the Mull and into Sanda or Campbeltown. The weather is settled today and tomorrow with light North Easterlies but the Coastguard forecast is talking of South Westerlies – F5 on Wednesday . That would giveus headwinds down to the Mull and the possibility of something lumpy as we go round and so our decision is made – Gigha today then Sanda tomorrow. We raised the anchor at 10:00 and followed Alex and Christine up the narrow steep sided canal between the Islands before parting company as they head up the Sound of Islay on their way home to Findhorn through the Caledonian Canal. Addresses have been exchanged and photos were taken then we reached across the Sound of Jura in seas teeming with Gannet, Cormorant, Guillemot and Porpoise, gracefully arching their way through the gently rippled waters. We rounded the island of Cara and headed up towards Ardminish Bay on Gigha. The 15 or so miles are covered in 4 hours and it’s a good day for varnishing so we are taking turns at keeping watch and sailing whilst the other wields the sandpaper and does a spot of maintenance. On arrival we went ashore, rowing past Eile Eilean whom we’d left in Port Ellen. We walked around the bay and sunbathed and paddled and swam in the clean waters, walking in the warm pure white sands and awestruck by the beauty of this little Island. We relaxed on board in the evening and working up the tides we calculated an 05:45 start to catch the favourable tides for our journey south to and around the Mull.
Several other boats had come into the bay and we reckoned several would be heading south inthe morning but we were the only ones to see the sunrise as we slipped our mooring at 05:40and motored south.
By 08:00 we had the Mull lighthouse in our sights and 2 hours later the log shows that we were clear of the Mull and heading for Sanda where we anchored at 11:00. 3 other boats eventually followed us down including a Grand Banks trawler yacht who must have made short time of the passage as he blasted past us at around 15 knots. Sanda has been developed over the past few years, we’d read of the Byron Darnton pub – named after a ship wrecked on the south side of the Island, which has been built and rowed ashore to look around.
Indeed some hard work has gone into developing the properties on the small quayside and we had a drink in the bar before wandering back aboard Claymore. The Coastguard forecast came on the VHF and was predicting Westerlies F5 locally 6 so we had a think and decided that Campbeltown wouldn’t be a bad spot for the night. We left Sanda at 18:15 and were tied alongside the Campbeltown pontoon at 20:45. That night the wind came in and all those rare sounds of halliards tapping and water lapping against hulls and wind moaning through the rigging came to disturb us – but it had been a long day and little short of a hurricane would have kept us awake.
For some strange reason we really like Campbeltown and so we had a day at rest, walking into town where I love to look around the 2nd hand book shop, then I took a cold hard look at Claymore and decided that there are still some tatty bits of string here and there, guardrail ties and the like, so I took stock then set about replacing them all, splicing on new lines and getting rid of 2 or 3 redundant fittings.
Strange how sailing in the Clyde seems so much easier than sailing off the West Coast, no real worries about tide or navigation hazards, no real need to take too much heed of weather forecasts as the area is so sheltered and with so many options. We decide to pay homage to Tarbert, Loch Fyne, scene of Eric Forster’s finest hours in 1994 when we sailed Midnight Star to an almost clean sweep of victories. The wind was fresh as we nosed out of Campbeltown Loch and in the west, We turned to go up Kilbrannan Sound under full main and with the Genoa poled out and fairly rattled along the miles covering the 30 or so miles in just over 6 hours. The wind followed the shape of the sound before coming onto the port beam as we entered Loch Fyne for a beam reach up to Tarbert. The Pontoon has been extended as have the shower and toilet block, evidence I suppose of the establishment of this lovely little village as the host to Scottish Week. There was ample room to tie alongside the Pontoon – no need to raft – and we were charged £12:50 for the overnight stay. We did our usual thing in Tarbert, walked around the village, chatted to others on the Pontoon and took drink in the Victoria later in the evening.
The final day of this part of the cruise dawned bright and sunny and we had a wonderful sail down to Ardlamont Point. Here we met and chatted on the VHF with Dansa who we’d last seen at Port Ellen – homeward bound having come through the Crinan the previous day. The wind went around and straight onto the nose then died to a whisper going up the West Kyle. We motored up past Tignabruich and then found the breeze filling in again once we were approaching Caladh harbour by the Burnt Isles. We cut the engine as we bore away and unfurled the Genoa. We ghosted past Wreck bay then gybed our way past the Bunt Isles, crossed the ferry then ran right down the East Kyle beyond Rothesay and right across the Firth of Clyde to the tip of Cumbrae. The Clyde is so much busier and there seems to be more powerboats than I remember – it’s sad really because they are such a nuisance when they come screaming past and bring everything to a sail cracking standstill and yet they are so friendly and enthusiastic when they wave! Another advantage to being on the West Coast is the quietness of the VHF. The Clyde seemed full of radio checkers and intrepid souls logging ‘routine traffic’ calls for voyages that would take them all the way from Largs to Rothesay or Lamlash to Inverkip – surely Clyde Coastguard must get heartily tired of such nonsense.
And so concluded the first part of our Cruise. The 2nd part came the following Bank holiday weekend when we picked the boat up from Largs to take her back through the Crinan and up to her mooring at Kilmelford. Alex had come 7th in the Nationals so he was pleased and he brought one of his friends along to help us back through the Canal. We had a sunny trip once more and although we’d deliberated hard about whether to keep Claymore in the Clyde for the remainder of the season, walking around Crinan basin and looking over to Jura, Scarba and Mull with the sun setting in the evening sky we knew we were right to get her home to Kilmelford.
Total Distance Travelled 242 miles
Distance Sailed 66 miles
Distance Motorsailed 95 miles
Distance Motored 81 miles