Issue Seven, Autumn/Winter 2006
Page No 3
More 'Amblings of Avocet'
More Amblings of Avocet, August 2005
Elizabeth Letzer and Brian Platts have sailed their Eventide 24 around the NW of England and West coast of Scotland for some years. They used to berth it on the Ribble, now they appear to be at Fylde. However they hail from Norfolk and last I heard had another Eventide, a 26 that they were sorting out back at home!
On Thursday, 4th August, we rolled into the car-park of the Blackpool and Fylde yacht Club to rejoin Avocet for our annual cruise. A keen south-westerly wind was howling through the rigging of the parked boats. It made me uneasy. We weren’t out in it but it would be setting up an uncomfortable swell for when we did set off. I recognized my usual pre-sailing nervousness, usually dispelled as soon as we’re on the water.
We set off along the River Wyre footpath to Avocet’s rickety jetty and mud berth, me on my folding bike, well-laden, and Brian with the wheelbarrow and the first load of gear. As soon as my feet landed on the deck, I felt better. Avocet was outwardly looking scruffy and dirty, but inside she was dry and tidy, and ready for habitation, her characteristic smell reassuringly familiar. I put the kettle on.
For the rest of the afternoon we made trips from windy van to sheltered boat, wheelbarrow and bike, tools, provisions, clothing, bedding, batteries, books, inflatable, liferaft (a first) – oh, and sails. Brian scraped and primed worn areas of deck while I fetched and stowed.
Graham (Brian’s brother) visited us as our ad-hoc tea was cooking – all the odds and ends of vegetables that had come with us, cooked up with a tin of carrot and cumin soup. The forecast rain arrived.
That evening the shipping forecast gave us our first fix on the weather situation; an Atlantic depression was moving into the Irish Sea, bringing more westerlies. We had shopping to do the next day. Perhaps we would get away on Saturday, Scotland bound.
Friday, 5th August
After a restless first night on the boat I cycled into Poulton Le Fylde for various bits and pieces, while Brian painted bits of deck and changed the engine oil. When the boat floated on the tide he tried the engine and to his delight it started straight away. After lunch we visited the chandlery in Fleetwood - not much help - and the camping shop – better! We got gas canisters for our gas lamp, and two new water containers, as we had managed to leave all ours at home. The weather looked good for setting off the next day, and we got into the holiday mood by eating out with Graham and Tanya at a pub on the other side of the river.
Saturday, 6th August – Skippool to Piel Island.
Brian took the van the six miles to Graham’s for safekeeping, and cycled back, while I stowed the boat ready for sea. It was mostly sunny and still breezy, but the rigging hummed rather than howled! We got away shortly before high water and tacked down the Wyre, hard-pressed at times, keeping a careful eye on the depth because of the shallows away from the main channel.
The tide turned before we got to Fleetwood and whistled us out into the white horses of Morecambe Bay. After a couple of tacks to keep in the dredged channel out of Fleetwood we were able to maintain the same port tack right across the bay, as the strong spring ebb counteracted our leeway. With wind against tide it was quite rough at times, and there were a few clunks and clangs from inside as things found their level. At times there seemed to be an aroma of coffee but I put this down to wishful thinking, as it was a bit too bouncy for brewing up.
By the time we were two thirds of the way across the bay, the sky was blue and the sun and wind were strong – what I call a ‘blue blast’, probably with the sea-breeze effect augmenting the existing wind. Gradually we came into the lee of Walney Island, and followed the Walney Channel to pick up a mooring east of Piel Island, with its castle and pub. The trip had only taken three hours, but had been tiring, so we stayed aboard and I headed for the galley. Oh joy! The coffee had fallen down behind the cooker and emptied itself everywhere, which wouldn’t have been too bad, excepting that the kettle had jumped off the stove (gimballed) and added some water, resulting in a ghastly, sticky, immovable brown mess… I have to say here that I usually get a smallish jar which fits the stowage area, but had bought a large jar because it was on special offer. That’ll learn me!
Corn on the cob and steamed veg was the supper menu, accompanied by a bit of whistle playing (me). The forecast was looking good, and we settled down with chocolate and candlelight and a miniature bottle of Glenmorangie Madeira cask whisky – this was purely educational as we were hoping to make this a distillery cruise. 15 miles, 4 hours 40 mins.
Sunday 7th August – Piel Island to Workington.
We left our mooring at 0900 and motored out into the Walney Channel. It was a stunning morning, with the hills of the Lake District merging into the Lancashire Wolds, hazy blue and back-lit by early sunshine, and the industrial landscape of Barrow in Furness hidden behind Piel Island. Walney Island is a nature reserve and teemed with birdlife, amongst which lounged a few seals, watching us curiously. Out to sea all was blue, with a few clouds already piling up over the (invisible) Isle of Man. We headed north-west to start with, skirting to the north of the wind farm still under construction in outer Morecambe Bay.
Our options as usual were to cross to the Isle of Man or head north up the coast. The former was the preferable option, but the forecast wind was north-westerly and, if it arrived, would be dead on the nose. Currently we had a hint of a north-easterly, so after some humming and hawing we went north, still motoring.
That soon changed! Around 1030 the forecast north-westerly sprang up at rather more than forecast strength, and blew a good force 5 until 1900 that evening, almost on the nose. With the residual south-westerly swell, and wind against tide, the motion soon became uncomfortable, with a lot of slamming down of the bows. We both felt a bit queasy, and only nibbled all day. Still, it was a lovely day to look at…
Conditions didn’t ease until nearly 1900, when we were able to come off the wind a little after rounding St. Bees Head, on the approach to Whitehaven. Because of the sea state and headwind we had made slow progress, and arrived at Whitehaven at low tide, when the harbour is inaccessible. (Typical…!) It wasn’t the sort of sea you could fancy anchoring in either, so we carried on a few miles to the commercial harbour of Workington. Here it is permissible to anchor in the turning basin outside the commercial dock, providing you are willing to move if a ship comes in.
We anchored as the sun set gloriously in the west, with salmon leaping all around the boat. Peaceful outside, chaos inside…The kettle had jumped off the stove again, and the clock and everything else that we stow on what we call the mantelshelf (across the forward bulkhead) was on the floor In fact, everything was on the floor. The fenders stored in the forepeak were in the saloon, and the cutlery drawer had jumped out and lost its bottom, so there was cutlery everywhere. We have had a few very rough episodes in this boat (St. Albans Head comes to mind) but I’ve not seen it this bad before. What a dish of ointment!
So once again we cleared up the mess, then had a labour-saving supper of corn-on the-cob, avocado pear, cheese and yoghurt. Because of our vulnerable situation we left the VHF radio on and prepared wearily for bed. As soon as we had settled gratefully into our bunk the radio sprung into life – it was the Harbour Master talking to an expected ship. We consulted him, and ended up anchoring in the narrow, shallow creek leading to the drying yacht basin. It was not ideal but it was safe with no swell; we heard the pilot boat going out but nothing more!
45 miles, 13 hours 10 mins.
Monday, 8th August
We were awake at 0530 to listen to the shipping forecast, so Brian got up and moved the boat back to the basin in case our creek ran out of water. We resumed the sleeping state until eightish, then had a gentle breakfast and clearing up session before heading off across the Solway Firth for Kirkcudbright, on the River Dee. It wouldn’t be a long trip but we felt that a gentle day would do us good. We motored out into a flat calm sea and a beautiful, sunny morning, with the beginnings of a south-westerly. The breeze picked up steadily and for a while we had perfect sailing (at last…), although we were being sucked into the Solway Firth by the tide. It soon became clear that we were not going to make the Dee Estuary before high water, so we replanned for a passage to the Isle of Whithorn, further west along the Dumfries coast.
The wind promptly picked up to such an extent that we were once again thrashing into a headwind, so we went for the Dee after all, anchoring in an idyllic spot just inside a wooded cove, known as Balmangan Woods. It being that time of the afternoon, I went to put the kettle on. Once again it was on the floor. The cooker had swung back on its gimbals and stuck, wedged by the handle of the grill pan, and the spare plates stored in the oven (when not in use!) had been chucked on the floor and had broken. Also we had not closed the cabin ventilators, even after the previous day’s soaking, so we had yet more ingress of sea-water, caused by the head seas breaking over the boat - and they forecast variable 2-3!
After clearing up yet again, and a reviving cuppa, Brian pumped up the dinghy and we rowed ashore to the tiny beach at the head of the cove, and went for a scramble over the rocks and up through the wood to the top of the nearest hill. The view was fantastic, with the Isle of Man clearly visible. We were both feeling a bit weird – the effect of being ashore once you have got your sea-legs – so it was back to Avocet for a boat stew and bed. 21 miles, 6 hours 30 mins.
Tuesday 9th August.
Our idyllic anchorage took on a different feel over high water as a swell crept in from the sea and set us a-rolling and a-rocking. In the morning we still felt out of sorts and unable to make the decision whether to press on or chill out. Finally we decided that it was a pity to be so close to Kirkcudbright and to pass it by, so we took the flood up the scenic Dee, and tied up to the single, long pontoon below the town. The friendly and helpful harbour master turned out to be a friend and ex-colleague of fellow Eventide owner John Williams. David Rainsbury and ‘Piper’ were further along the pontoon. There was another Eventide, E26 Philandra, painted exactly the same colour as Avocet, but with a gaff rig and tan sails.
We strolled round the attractive little town and castle, had lunch in a bistro, and visited an exhibition of Impressionist paintings on loan from Glascow. We stocked up on food and water, and I rounded off the visit with a shower in the sailing club!
We dropped back down the river with the tide; the breeze was westerly and we had just a chance of making it to Whithorn on the last of the ebb. At first there was too much west in the wind but it veered a little, enabling us to sail west to Whithorn on one close-hauled tack. For once everything was on our side – wind, sea, tide, weather. It was a lovely sail and a beautiful evening.
We anchored in the natural outer harbour (the inner harbour dries), and paddled ashore through the kelp for a quick drink in the pub. It was nice to be back – we had had good times here before. We were both exhausted by the time we crawled into bed. 18 miles, 4 hours 25 mins.
MORE AMBLINGS OF AVOCET part II
Wednesday 10th August, Isle of Whithorn.
Once again the swell crept into the anchorage over high water, and a couple of trawlers passed us in the early hours to rock us a little more. We were up at seven and, with a forecast of NW3, set off promptly to make the most of the remaining ebb towards the Mull of Galloway. (Low water was around 0930).
Well! Firstly we couldn’t see the Mull due to poor visibility, and secondly the wind piped up from the north-west and we couldn’t make the Mull even when we could see it. Result - thrashing into a head sea yet again.
We tacked inshore where the sea was nice and quiet, and spotted St Ninian’s Cave, which we had visited by land two years before. Then we made another tack out into Luce Bay before tacking inshore again on the last of the ebb, and anchoring up to sit out the flood, tucking in south of a headland on the east side of Luce Bay. We were well sheltered from the wind, but not the swell… We had our sea-legs by now, but it was still tiring. More north-westerlies were forecast – a bit depressing. Then the cutlery drawer lost it’s bottom again and I swore a word I don’t usually swear. Brian had a look in the bilges, and was puzzled about the dark brown nature of the water, until I reminded him about the coffee.
Just before high water we set off again and had a rapid sail across Luce Bay, still close-hauled. Intending to anchor inside the Mull, we headed well into the bay to avoid getting caught in the tide-rip which sweeps round the tip of the Mull. We still misjudged it and had to motor flat-out in the opposite direction to get out of the tide. Lining up transits to gauge our progress, we inched our way into the quiet waters behind the curving tip of the Mull, and anchored with some relief in Tarbert Bay. Once again we were out of the wind but could not escape the swell, so brilliant Brian did his trick of tying a line from stern to anchor rope to hold the boat head on to the waves.
23 miles and tacks, 6 hours 50 mins.
Thursday 11th August
The sea calmed right down in the night, so it was comfortable, but high water slack, the best time for us to round the Mull, was at 0330 hours. I peeped out and decided it was very dark, and went back to bed! We had a leisurely start the next day, and as the weather was so quiet decided to take the low water slack round the Mull, and once round, anchor up at Port Logan to await the ebb up to Portpatrick. We timed our departure by the book, but the flood had already started, and we had to plug the tide a bit. The water was flat but swirly, and the cliffs as stunning as ever.
Three hours later we dropped the anchor in the sandy bay of Port Logan.
After a sandwich on board we took the dinghy ashore for a look round the tiny harbour and a coffee in the pub. The village had been used in a TV drama called One Thousand Miles of Sky (or was it Skye?). Portpatrick had been a mainland port and Port Logan a Hebridean island.
I sent my brother David a text message from here to see if he was also at sea. He was – tacking off Worthing!
Back on the boat we waited for the ebb, and I watched fascinated as a huge shoal of small fish played round the boat. Approaching slack water we set off north again, motoring through calm seas, enjoying the scenery and the seals hauled out on the rocks, with local fishermen buzzing from pot to pot in their speedy little boats. Compared with last year’s slog up to Portpatrick, late at night and against the tide, we got there really quickly, and there was plenty of room in the harbour. We were in time for the superloo showers and the shops, then repaired to the Devonshire Arms for some well-earned grub.
19 miles, 4 hours 30 mins.
Friday 12th August
Although we had decided to have a rest day we still dithered about whether we should have gone! It was sunny and breezy, around force 4, with force 6 forecast for a time – and north-westerly. Nor could we decide where to go next. We went for a long circular walk, and it was hot, thirsty work. We also did some boat-keeping and shopping, and stocked up on diesel. Brian glued the cutlery drawer and I washed coffee out of the towel and tea-towel that were on duty at the time of the coffee debacle.
Saturday 13th August
The next day it was still windy and still north-westerly, and had been wet and blustery in the night, with a lot of straining at mooring ropes. The sun came out by lunchtime and we went for another walk through the local glens. Approaching the coast we spotted a small gaffer coming across from Ireland, hard-pressed and speedy, and disappearing into the troughs of waves. Later we chatted to the skipper from Bangor, and he said it had been a pretty rough trip, especially approaching the Scottish coast.
Sunday 14th August
After another windy night we listened to the 0530 forecast, but at the mention of force 6 we sunk back under the covers. A later inspection of the sea showed many white horses. The skipper from Bangor assured us it would flatten when the tide turned, and that if we headed for Ireland the first hour would be the worst. We decided to go for it. First we visited a table-top sale on the harbour-side in aid of the lifeboat, and bought a home-made fruitcake, then prepared for take-off. We saw the gaffer set off, bound for Larne Lough. He got his sails up in the harbour, presumably having a shrewd idea what foredeck work would be like outside!
We set off shortly after 1100, motoring out of the harbour into the switchback ride beyond. Brian got the sails up, braving the bucking foredeck, and, well reefed, we set off for Ireland, close-hauled on the starboard tack. The waves were big and there was a lot of up and down, but it wasn’t rough in terms of coffee jars and cutlery drawers jumping about the ship. I was on the helm and felt OK, but Brian wasn’t so lucky, and we both swallowed a pill to ward off green face syndrome. Brian’s pill kicked in just in time to save him and he snoozed for a while across the bridge-deck, while I just made what we could upwind and kept an eye on the high speed ferries.
After a couple of hours the size of the seas lessened, although even as we approached the Irish coast we didn’t get much lea, as the wind came more northerly. When Brian regained verticality he took some GPS fixes and found us to be on course for Belfast Lough, so Bangor Marina on the south shore of the Lough seemed the obvious place to make landfall. As we closed the shore we were able to bear away and roll down to Bangor at top speed, admiring the pastel coloured houses along the shore as we went. We arrived just before1700 and were made welcome in the smart marina.
We went ashore for a stroll and a pizza, then made the most of the excellent facilities with a well-earned shower. 23 miles plus waves, 5hours 45mins
Monday, 15th August
The alarm went off at 0630 but we didn’t actually get away until 0900 – we were well into holiday mode by now. What a relief to be on a weather shore; the wind was westerly and the sea-state smooth! We crossed Belfast Lough and sailed on northward up the coast. The weather was overcast and occasionally drizzly, but the sailing was good, with gusts off the cliffs and big black clouds to send us scurrying along over the flat sea. We kept a keen eye out for the fast ferries coming out of Larne Lough, and wondered at the old and new lighthouses on the desolate off-lying Maiden rocks.
We decided to berth in Glenarm Marina, on the south side of ? Bay. We had no sailing directions but watched another yacht making her approach, and copied! We had previously visited Carnlough harbour on the north side of the bay, and found sectarianism and a hatred of the Union Jack, causing us to hide our red ensign. Glenarm was quite different. The old stone harbour had been renovated and pontoons installed to make a delightful yacht haven. The village was quaint and friendly, with walks up the nearby glen, one of the Great Glens of Antrim.
Also moored in the harbour we found the Golden Hind Henry Rose, who we had met up with last year in Portpatrick. After a lovely walk up through the forested Glen, and a Guinness in the Schooner Inn, we joined Henry and Rose (aka) for a drink. 23 miles, 6hours 15mins.
Wednesday 17th August
It was a quiet, fine morning, a day to be savoured. Once at sea, heading north with a light south-westerly, it seemed like time to try out our recently acquired (but definitely not new) cruising chute. Red, white and blue billowed out ahead, pulling Avocet along at six knots. The G-force was noticeable! After a while the wind began to fluctuate and some large black clouds rolled seaward, predicting gusts, so we took it in again; the wind died! The headlands and the Glens of the Antrim coast were magnificent, and some porpoises swam close to the boat.
We motored the last few miles north, to Rathlin Island, sitting just to the north east of the mainland, and surrounded by notorious tide races and whirlpools – although not much in evidence at the moment!
There was windy weather forecast, and although I had misgivings about choosing such an isolated landfall, I was also curious about the island. We had passed it before and were both keen to have a look.
Shaped a bit like a boomerang and about six miles from tip to tip, the island has a lot of history, the most recent being that Richard Branson came ashore there when his balloon ditched nearby as he tried to complete his Atlantic crossing. The tiny stone harbour, on the inside of the boomerang bend, has been augmented by a breakwater with a single long pontoon behind it, mainly to accommodate the jet-propelled tripper boats which cross the Sound from the mainland in fine weather. There is plenty of room for yachts, but no facilities, although some are being built nearby.
Before the potato famine the island was home to three thousand, but starvation drove them to emigrate, and now there are around a hundred islanders eking out a living by smallholding or tourism, or by commuting to the mainland. All across the island are the ruins of former habitation – mostly just the gable ends and walls remaining of the tiny crofts.
The few more recent buildings are utilitarian and functional – there is nothing quaint about the place. It has more a feel of a continuing struggle to survive than a pretty tourist destination. Away from habitation the island is ruggedly beautiful with dramatic cliffs around it’s north and east coasts.
There was only one other yacht using the pontoon – a steel Spray, complete with windowed poop deck and figurehead! It looked quite incongruous in this wild setting.
25 miles, 5hours.
Wednesday 17th August
With gale warnings for the Hebrides and SW 6-7 in Malin, we decided to stay put, as the next bit of the trip would be exposed to the Atlantic. As it turned out, the wind was dampened by pouring rain, and we could easily have made the trip north to Islay. Instead, we got out the bikes and cycled over rugged terrain to the West Light, one of three lighthouses round the island. It was a demanding eight mile round trip with some very steep bits, and it rained continuously! There was an RSPB lookout by the lighthouse and we stayed for a while, chatting to the volunteers, sheltering in their tiny shed, and looking at some fulmar chicks nesting on the cliffs below through telescopes. Wet through, we returned to the harbour and dripped into the warm café for lunch, before returning to the boat for a complete change of clothes.
The rain eased up after supper and we strolled towards the southern point of the island. Brian liberated a moth that he had rescued at sea and had been keeping with his sail ties under a ventilator cover. Assuming it was a Lancashire moth, I wonder what it made of Rathlin Island.
To be continued.
As ever excellent stuff, pleased they met my man in Kirkcudbright! And saw Philandria, another of our members! There are now so many in the NW that I feel a meet coming on!
I am hopeful that the next instalment and a few more of their excellent pics will materialise too!
Thursday 18th August
There was no sign of the forecast easterly 4-5 when we finally left Rathlin Island, motoring west about round the island, passing fascinating cliff structures, before heading north. Although we had timed our departure to round Bull Point (the most westerly headland) at slack water we still hit extensive overfalls.
We trained our binoculars on the RSPB platform above the inverted West Light, but nobody was visible to wave to.
The sea calmed as we left Rathlin Island astern, but there was no wind to speak of, and amazingly the sun came out, transforming the day from grey and dreary to blue skies and sea - and warmth! Soon the boat was festooned with drying clothes and airing sleeping bags. Our hearts lifted.
Islay came into view ahead; we saw a large black floppy fin and wondered if it was a basking shark, and then saw a couple of dolphins – great excitement! (The fin was probably a killer whale, we found out later.)
We made landfall at Islay’s main natural harbour, Port Ellen, protected by outlying reefs, and rocky islets draped with seals. There was a small commercial quay for the ferries and trawlers, and some new pontoons for visiting yachts. The village was peaceful and pretty, with low, whitewashed cottages circling a sandy bay. A nearby B&B provided facilities for pontoon users, and all payments relied on visitor honesty.
We strolled round the village, visiting the ubiquitous Co-op for provisions, including some sticky buns to have with our tea. There was also a Tandoori, which provided us with a delicious supper.
Back at the boat some fishermen were feeding a massive grey seal with mackerel. It was leaping right up out of the water to take the fish. The previous year they had fed a tame dolphin – now they were training up a seal to do dolphin tricks!
Before turning in for a peaceful night we yarned with a circumnavigating sea-dog from Keighley, showered at the B&B, and watched the rising of the moon over the Sound of Islay.
26 miles, 5hrs 30mins
Friday 19th August – "Grist to the mill"
It was a beautiful morning and we had a gentle start, eventually ambling along to the tourist information office, where we found that the Ardbeg Distillery would be the best bet for a visit, not needing to be pre-booked.
Brian extricated the bikes from the fore cabin – a tricky operation! – and we set off, encountering a funeral procession, with all the men following the hearse on foot, and all the women in cars at the rear.
Following the coastline eastward we had a delightful ride to Ardbeg, passing the Lagavulin and Laphroaig distilleries on the way. We had lunch in the distillery café then sat in the sun by the sea, while waiting for our tour to start. Also in our group were some Irish cyclists and a Swedish malt whisky club. We passed a fascinating couple of hours, sipping this and smelling that – including the grist, the sprouted, malted barley – and getting to know our fellow tourists, as a certain mellowing took place. By the time we had consumed our final generous tot of ten-year-old malt, we were obliged to stay for tea and Bakewell Tart, in order to be sober enough to ride back!
We had planned to cycle down the Oa peninsular, largely an RSPB reserve, but some unexpected rain sent us scurrying back to the mother-ship. Later we went for a ride in the dusk, and once again enjoyed the rising of the moon over the placid sea.
Saturday 20th August
With only ten days of holiday left it was now time to stop putting off thinking about the return trip. Also we got the first hint of bad weather to come, as the three- day outlook predicted gales or severe gales in western and northern waters. We chewed this over, and decided to head for the Crinan Canal (rather than the Mull of Kintyre), calling in on friend and fellow Eventide owner Norman Garnett, living on the Island of Luing, en route.
We planned to leave mid-morning and catch the tide up the Sound of Jura.
A wooden gaffer arrived on the pontoons, having sailed from Rhum overnight. They had had a rough trip, with a strong north-westerly and a big Atlantic swell.
After breakfast I did a final shopping trip and paid our dues, while Brian stowed the bikes and prepared the boat for sea. I was quite sad to leave Port Ellen, but new shores beckoned, as we sailed out of the bay and headed north, running before the wind and a south westerly swell that was working its way into the Sound from the Atlantic.
The day became sunnier and the sea calmer as we headed up the Sound of Jura with it’s spectacular scenery, and for a while conditions were perfect.
It couldn’t last – the wind died off the Sound of Islay and we motored on, spotting a couple of porpoises. For our night’s anchorage we chose a tiny island called Eilean Mohr, one of the McCormaid Islands, which has a deep horseshoe-shaped inlet on the north side with just enough room to anchor. The island had a ruined chapel and a cross on its highest point – it had supposedly been the retreat of one of Columba’s monks, and I think he chose well! It was completely quiet and peaceful, and I sat late in the dark cockpit just absorbing the utter solitude of the place
27 miles, 9hours 35mins
Sunday 21st August
Strangely on such a tranquil night I woke a couple of times feeling the boat rolling, and had to look out to reassure myself that we were in fact motionless! The morning, when it came, was grey and showery. We couldn’t pick up the coastguard forecast so rang Marinecall, and Oh Boy, was it depressing. There was trouble brewing out in the Atlantic and it was heading our way, predicted to hammer us on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Crinan Canal beckoned…..
Meanwhile we caught the last couple of hours of the flood, running before an increasing south-easterly. Visibility was poor in the rain but we identified the various islands as we passed them to starboard, with the Gulf of Corryvreckan to port. The water at this northern end of the Sound of Jura was turbulent, with large patches of overfalls, making for exciting sailing.
In mid-afternoon we sailed into the quieter waters of Shuna Sound, with Luing to port, broad-reaching in a F5-6, and quickly arrived at our planned destination of Ardinamir Bay, a nearly land-locked anchorage with a very narrow, rocky entrance. We had negotiated it the year before, so once the sails were stowed and the engine was running it presented no problems. We anchored in pouring, squally rain. Nothing for it but to get the kettle on.
A couple of hours later, drier outside and in, we pumped up the dinghy and rowed ashore. Norman met us in his pick-up and transported us across the island to his neigbour Pam’s house, where we were invited for supper. We had a lovely evening, almost overwhelmed by food, wine and hospitality! Much later we rowed back to the boat by the light of Norman’s headlights.
Mon 22nd August
We awoke to sunshine, the oilies more or less dry. The wind was forecast to strengthen that evening so we decided to dash ashore for stores and a shower, then get on our way. This we nearly achieved, but on raising our anchor under sail we blew onto a bank of shingle and stuck fast. Careless! Brian leapt overboard to try and push us off, but to no avail. The only result of his efforts was a row of sodden bank notes from his back pocket drying in the cockpit, each weighted down to avoid any more wind games.
Four and a half hours later we floated again, just as our hosts from the previous evening arrived on the shore. They waved us off, but must have wondered why it had taken us so long!
It was half tide when we left, and we had a good close reach down the Sound of Shuna before bearing away for Dorus Mor, the notorious whirlpool passage between two of the numerous islands on the Crinan approaches. It was just a few minutes before high water, resulting in a smooth, if swirley, passage.
An hour later we tied up to a quay just outside the Crinan basin, to be met by the Julie and Paul, the crew of Henry Rose, who confirmed our suspicions that the canal would be full of sailors escaping the impending gales! Our conversation was curtailed when we became engulfed in a fog of midges, and retreated swiftly inside the cabin for supper.
Tuesday 23rd August
Today the shipping forecast gave warnings of gales in all sea areas, and southerly 8-10 in Malin! After a fine, moonlit night the rain arrived as we made a pre-breakfast move into the sea-lock of the Crinan Canal.
Once in the canal, we travelled with two other boats through the locks, with Brian driving the boat and me pushing, pulling and winding lock gates!
I soon became acquainted with my fellow lock-workers – Maggie, from a Finesse called Vela, which she sailed with her husband, and a New Zealander, Jeff, crewing on a Rival 34, Contender. We were soon looking like drowned rats in the rather continuous and heavy Scotch Mist.
We worked through the main flight of ‘up’ locks and most of the ‘down’ ones before stopping on the pontoon at Cairnbaan for a welcome late lunch and some relaxation. We had spotted a dipper and some kingfishers in the canal, and now a family of young swallows used our bow rope as a feeding station, providing some good photo opportunities – mostly for blurred photos!
The rest of the gang were stopping here for the night as it was well sheltered from the west, and so we did the same, joining them in the Cairnbaan Hotel for an evening of excellent food, company and conversation. It was also a good place to get dry in!
Wednesday 24th August.
It did get very windy in the night, and sheeted down with rain. Brian got up at some stage to put out some springs. In the morning the wind had eased and the rain had turned showery. We had showers too, of the hot variety, although the facilities (one loo, one shower) were somewhat oversubscribed and not exactly clean…
We had a mid-morning start, finding Henry Rose at the next stop, Lochguilphead, and carried on down to Ardrishaig Basin, crammed with boats that had come through the canal and were provisioning and getting diesel before moving out.
We did some shopping and more chatting, before locking out with Henry Rose mid-afternoon.
It was very gusty at sea – we put a reef in the main and headed south for East Loch Tarbert, still on the sheltered west side of the Kyle and about two hours away. This was a new port for us but one that frequently crops up in sailing yarns. Tarbert is a small town clustered round a natural harbour, completely sheltered and safe, and visitor friendly too. The mobile phone had cover for the first time for a few days so a flood of messages and missed calls came through. One call was from my son who was a little worried by the combination of extreme gale warnings and silence!
Thursday 25th August
The forecast was reasonable at last, west or northwest 4 – 5, so after a quick dash out for macaroni pies, we paid up and motored out of Tarbert.
It was a lovely morning, sunny but potentially showery, with a light breeze to set us on our way to wherever we were going, as our passage plan was characteristically fluid. The sail down Inchmarnock Water was quite idyllic, with the dramatic mountains of Arran to starboard, until a squall came sweeping across from the island sending us scuttling wetly along (I popped inside to put the kettle on!)
We saw some wonderful rainbows that day which compensated for the fact that as a following sea built up, so did we start being affected by a south-westerley swell coming off the Atlantic. Things deteriorated. Henry Rose was spotted on a parallel course, half a mile inshore. It got progressively windier and rougher – downwind with a beam swell. The forecast also got worse, so we headed for Troon, the nearest safe haven. The last mile was real rock’n’ roll stuff, especially the approach and entry into the harbour, sideways on to the seas, which were bouncing back of the harbour wall. It was quite a relief to get inside. Once settled into a berth we refuelled on the macaroni pies.
It was a cold and windy evening. Henry Rose was there, but no-one was aboard. My younger brother David rang to tell me how he and my older brother Simon had lost their rudder when sailing their Atalanta south off Bacton (Norfolk) in a force 6 in the dark; they called for help, and heard the maroons going off at Cromer! The lifeboat arrived and towed them at great speed to Lowestoft. The next day Simon hired a car and managed to obtain a replacement blade from a contact at Brightlingsea. The following day they resumed their voyage to the Solent!
Friday August 26th
The next day the west wind continued to blow and the white horses to rule the waves. While exploring the seafront we saw a small yacht approaching the harbour, disappearing into troughs, mast waggling about. It turned out to be the Finesse Vela that we had travelled the Crinan with. They reported a rough trip, having been pooped twice on the way in, and didn’t recommend it as sailing weather. Another boat we saw approaching entered the harbour under sail to avoid rounding up outside.
We were now considering the possibility of leaving Avocet in Troon, as I had three days to get home for work on Tuesday.
Saturday 27th August
Having reached the decision that I would go home the next day and that Brian would stay with the boat and wait for better weather, we spent our last day together at a brass band festival in the Town Hall, which was fun. We were invited to supper on board ‘Vela’, and I was offered a lift part-way home by the crew of Henry Rose.
Brian will conclude the log himself! (in his own time…)
I spoke to Brian when he came along to one of our recent Danbury nights, he told me a little of his exploits, I look forward to being able to add the final chapter to another of Avocet's great adventures! Thanks to both of you!
Don't be too long Brian!