Saturday 7th August
This year our pencil plan was to go around the Mull of Kintyre initially to Ballycastle, Islay and Gigha, and then see how things went. Well this plan didn’t last long as the wind was from the North West and would have meant wind against tide in F5/6….not recommended!!
My sister Trisha had also phoned to say that Timothy Spall was apparently moving his barge “Princess Matilda” up the west coast as part of his television series Somewhere at Sea. I only caught one episode when it was last on the TV and thought it was brilliant entertainment and he came across as a genuine warm human being.
We set off for Ardrishaig at the eastern end of the Crinan Canal, but on the way up Loch Fyne we realised that we had forgotten to pick up parmesan cheese without which, one of my favourite risotto dishes would have indeed been sadly lacking an important ingredient. As we had just rounded Ardlamont Point this wasn’t a problem as we could just nip into Tarbert and get some out of the local Co-Op, and also top the fuel tanks up with diesel. Upon arrival I checked in with the Tarbert harbour master who said that the first half hours berthing was free, but as it was a weekend there was no diesel available. Guess all the local boat owners must take time off their work mid week to top up their fuel tanks!!
Anyhow the solution was simple enough, we just went over the other side of the loch to Portavadie, where berthing is free all day with charges only applying to overnight stays. We duly filled up with diesel, and headed up to Ardrishaig and the canal. When we arrived it was low tide, but there was enough water to allow us to berth on the waiting pontoon and wait till the boats coming out had completed their locking out process. When we duly went through the sea lock the inner basin was chock ablock with boats with hardly enough room to manouvre the boat to create space for those exiting………turns out it was the end of West Highland Week.
Note to self: Check the dates of West Highland Week in the future!
Whilst I was holding position mid basin and checking with other skippers as to who was doing what, we had all understood what everyone was going to do at the next locking into the sea lock. When they opened the road bridge into the sea lock everything was going fine until a guy in a big Nauticat decided to cast off his shore lines and head into the same piece of water as me – and I didn’t have much room at all- what a buffoon. The guys trying to get into the lock kept asking me what he was doing, but I had as much chance of telling them the answer, than I had of choosing six correct numbers in the national lottery.
I finally managed to keep clear enough to let the other yachts into the sea lock and berthed alongside the wall – with matey boy in the Nauticat getting in everyone’s way. He then tied alongide the wall next to the sea lock (again restricting the entrance to the sea lock for those going in) while he was being a pest we helped others who were due out next to raft alongside us……..chaos was the only word for all this and the lock keepers were losing patience as this had apparently being going on for two full days. Finally the lock keepers worked on beyond their normal hours and managed to clear the majority out of the basin……..and guess what, Mr Nauticat was not even going out – he was going to stay in the basin for another day!!
We also found out that Princess Matilda had indeed been through a few days beforehand….can you imagine the potential for carnage if she had been trying to manouvre in the basin at the same time as all of this was happening?
Next morning the guys from British Waterways worked hard at clearing the backlog and by the time our rope handler (referred to by BW staff as pilots) arrived the basin had been emptied of the backlog and peace was restored.
Sunday 8th August
Our rope handler was a joy to work with all the way through to Lock 13 where we departed company, but not before I had a note of his phone number. We have been through the canal a few times with some rope handlers opening the sluice gates far too quickly with all the potential damage that can cause. In this case everthing was just as it should be perfect weather and an easy transit. When we arrived at the top of Lock 14 I spoke with the British Waterways guys who said that the Crinan basin was busy and that rafting was the only option in the basin which was filling with more and more boats all the time. We decided to berth at the small jetty above Lock 14 for the night, (you can see Sun Dog tucked in at the right hand side of the photo) and when we walked down to the basin it was clear that we had made a good decision.
We got talking to a nice couple who live in Australia (originally from England) who were going out for 5 days on the old but lovely VIC 32 and there was a chance we would bump into them again as their itinerery included Craighouse in Jura where we were heading.
Monday 9th August
Next morning I was down at the Crinan office to catch the BW guys early and they agreed to get us down and out into the sea first so that we could catch some of the remaining tide – what a result. So it was down Lock 14 into the Sea Lock and set a course for Craighouse.
The visibility was extremly poor, almost like fog, and the sea was pretty lumpy, so it was not exactly a relaxing trip but we did have our new radar working away and providing additional means of checking what was out there. As we approached Jura the wind eased off and the weather began to clear so we managed to get a good shot of The Paps of Jura.
The wind then increased (quite suddenly) and by this time we were in wind against tide situation and would be for another hour or so – when we reached the cardinal marker off Lowlandsman Bay I decided to go in the shallow route between the small isles and Jura, and this proved to be an “interesting” diversion – not one I would take again in these conditions – even though Jura was breaking the worst of the NW wind it was still 20-24kts true in tight shallow waters. We managed to secured a visitors mooring, and then went ashore to get showered and get some laundry done at the Jura Hotel. Now if there was a competition for the most basic and rudimentary of showers then they would have first prize. This might improve given the hotel has recently changed hands and I do hope so because I do like the whole atmosphere of Jura and these showers (sic) would not leave a positive lasting impression on overseas visitors. We also went to book a table at The Antlers Restaurant just up from the pier, but we were informed that the restaurant is closed on Mondays. This was a disappointment as we had heard good things about this restaurant.
Tuesday 10th August
Next morning we decided to take the Jura Ferry (a fast enclosed rib) over to Tayvallich at the top of Loch Sween as it was somehwere we had thought of sailing into with Sun Dog but as it’s at the top of a Loch with strong tides around the MacCormaig Isles at the entrance to the Loch we thought it might be best to check it out the quick way. The only snag in the plan was that whilst the ferry would pick us up from Sun Dog in the morning, the only return time was on the 1700 ferry back to Jura – but we decided to go ahead anyway.
Tayvallich is one of the places that we have never visited before either by land or sea, and as such we were looking forward to the trip across on the ferry. On the way over the sea was lumpy but the rib was flying across the waves and with it’s power the currents were no real problem either. Once past the MacCormaig Isles and into Loch Sween everything was calm and to our surprise the sun broke out making the scenery even more special. On arriving at Tayvallich it was bathed in glorious sunshine but when we berthed we saw the sad sight of a sunken local fishing boat.
Apparently another fishing boat had brought her in and a diver was meant to be arriving that day with a team to get the boat raised and pumped out. From what we heard they had hit an underwater rock whilst out raising their creels for lobsters – real shame – but at least no one was hurt in the incident.
We really fell in love with the place and walked all around including a walk over to the other side at Carsaig Bay which looks out onto the sound of Jura, and then back to the village to check on the progress on the raising of the fishing boat, which had undergone a repair on the upturned hull in the morning. I am happy to say that by late afternoon she was raised and dragged into shallower water by a sister fishing boat where the pumps could start empyting the hull.
We also met up again with the Australian couple as VIC 32 was having a stopover, and they were enthusing about their trip and the quality of food and service. This is what I love to hear from visitors to our shores. They also said that the VIC was now heading off for Craighouse in Jura so hopefully we could meet up later that evening.
We were so taken with the Tayvallich area that we decided to sail Sun Dog up here after we had visted the Island of Gigha, which was planned for the next day. So it was back onto the packed ferry and back over to Jura where we were dropped off like film stars back onto the boat….excellent day. The wind however was picking up to around F6/7 and we watched the VIC 32 arrive and go alongside the old pier, but no-one got on or off due to the wind and rain, and we hoped the weather would ease a bit so that they could get out and explore at least a bit of Jura.
Wednesday 11th August
We were up early to take advantage of both the NW wind F6 and the outgoing tide over to the Isle of Gigha, the trip over was really fast but closing the coast of Gigha the water shallows rapidly therefore the waves then stand up more. Well I had myself all lined up lovely with the wind and waves just nicely on the quarter so that I could cut into the lee of Gigha without having to go broadside onto the (by this time) largish waves. I should not have tempted the Gods by these thoughts as a fishing boat that had been heading away from us at around 90 degrees decided to come back on a reciprocal course. This was going to be right across my bows and unfortunately I had no room to go behind him due to the close proximity of the small island at the north end of Gigha. Which meant I had to turn to port for a bit to keep clear of him before getting back on course – this was the uncomfortable 15 minute part of the trip running with waves more on the beam. However once round and into the lee of Gigha everything was fine and we sailed down to Ardminish Bay fully expecting to anchor as we thought there would be a lot of boats waiting for the weather to change before heading north. Looking through the binoculars there were more masts in view than visitors moorings listed. However the Gods must have felt a bit guilty as when we were on our run in we spotted a free visitors mooring and picked this up, settled the boat and put the kettle on for a well earned cuppa.
We then jumped into the dinghy and headed ashore for a shower and a general look around at the bay that we last saw when we were here on the motorbike some years ago and promised ourselves we would come back via boat – so we were quite excited. This excitment soon dropped as the showers at The Boathouse could have ran the ones in Jura for the ill fated first prize on the most rudimentary of showers – again a real shame that visitors have to cope with these kind of facilities. As far as we were concerned we kind of laughed them off, but they did take a bit of an edge off our pleasure. We then had a meal in The Boathouse and have to say that this was rather better than expected.
Thursday 12th August
We decided to hire bikes and visit Achamore Gardens which were very pretty with some stunning blooms, which not being green fingered we didn’t know what they were – but this did not detract from our enjoyment or pleasure.
The windlife was in abundance and Sara risked life and limb to get her hands on some kind of bird!
After spending a lovely time in the gardens we cycled to the Ferry Pier at the southern end of the island.
We then cycled back up towards Ardminish, when the intrepid Sara decided to head off down a small path towards a beach which was simply lovely.
Across the other side was the pier Boathouse etc so with the tide going out we decided to cycle across – wrong move as Sara fell off and hurt her already damaged knee 🙁 Cycles were duly returned to the shop and we headed back to the boathouse for a coffee and a rethink.
We decided that as the tide was turning we could carry it to Loch Sween and go up to Tayvallich so it was back to the dinghy at the end of the small pier.
This would mean a wind against tide situation but the forecast infered the winds would be easing – or perhaps that’s how I decided to interpret the forecast. Either way we headed north and in truth at certain times were were taking a bit of a bashing, and at times we would get a series of two or three waves that were at least 50% bigger than the average height. One in particular caused us to take green water over the bow which was thrown over the wheelhouse and into the cockpit – there was so much water I could have been in a submarine, but full credit to Sun Dog she took care of us all the way up to Loch Sween where we arrived at the right state of tide to enter Loch Sween and calm waters. Once again the heat from the sun intensified as we headed up the loch towards Tayvallich passing the only rock in the loch which sits around the middle, and is clearly spotted despite no marker.
The rest of the journey was a joy and once again we were rewarded by both visitors moorings being free – lovely jubbly.
Friday 13th August
We awoke to beautiful sunshine and decided that we would make up a picnic and go around to the Fairy Isles and do a bit of exploring on the dinghy, so it was that we set off with spare fuel etc to the Fairy Isles which are just around the corner from Tayvallich and are as pretty as a picture. We had seals basking on the rocks, Gannett diving for fish and birds of prey soaring above. A lady had told us confidentially where the Osprey nest was located but despite a lot of searching we couldn’t spot the nest. However we did see the head of something swimming in the loch, that didn’t look like either an Otter or a Seal – and jokingly we said it looked more like a Beaver. You can imagine our surprise a few days later when we learned that Beavers had indeed been re-introduced into this area – so eat your heart out Davie Crocket!
We went ashore at a spot where there was a clearing and a picnic table on top of a rise,
and once we reached the rise we could see a sandy beach around the corner, so I nipped back down to the rocks and moved the dinghy around to this secluded spot where families were enjoying their kids playing away on a small but lovely sandy beach that they had named “Starfish Beach”. The balance of the time was spent simply enjoying this lovely area and it reminded me so much of Northern Brittany with so much family based boating activity.
Saturday 14th August
Today we had decided to leave Tayvallich and head for Ardfern at the head of Loch Craignish. Naturally this would mean having to get the tides right at the MacCormaig Isles at the exit of Loch Sween, and I calculated we would be there around slack water – well I got that a bit wrong as we arrived after the tide had turned, and we swept through the gap at 9.6kts SOG. I was at this point very wary of the sea to my port side as on all the charts it clearly states the tides in this part can be strong and dangerous, but all worked out OK and we headed north in around a F5/6. The sun was kind again today as we basked in warm sunshine all the way up to Ardfern Marina. When we arrived the office was closing and we couldn’t see any space on the visitors pontoons, so the office staff were quite happy for us to go alongside on the inner side of the new floating breakwater and they would sort out a berth for us in the morning. We went ashore for a meal at the local hotel and whislt the views from the restaurant were lovely, the food was alright but overall not somewhere we would rush back to again.
We had been keeping an eye on the barometer and it had been falling steadily and Mare’s Tails were in the sky indicating bad weather coming, but the strange thing was the forecast was for things to improve – not something we really agreed with! We were now in a dilema because everyday north would count as two days (as we would have to return) so we had a long discussion and decided that it would make sense to simply head back to the Canal and spend the balance of the holiday going back through the canal and taking a long lazy time meandering back.
Sunday 15th August
We headed off early in the morning back to Crinan and got back through the sea lock and lock 14 and berthed again on the same place. We had phoned the same rope handler and he had agreed to meet us at lock 13 at midday on Monday. This suited us fine as we were not in any rush, and we spent a lovely day wondering around and watching boats coming and going. One boat that caught our attention was a converted fishing boat that was in excellent condition and was clearly a live aboard – a real beauty, but for some reason I never took a photograph of her.
Monday 16th August
We cast off and meandered along to Bellanoch bridge where we went alongside and used the spotlessly clean shower facilities provided by British Waterways and then headed along and tied up at Lock 13 at around 1100. The converted fishing boat arrived along behind us and I helped them tie up to wait on the lock clearing. We had a good chat about the conditions over the past week and unpromted by me the skipper said they took a bit of pounding coming down past Eigg and he said he experienced spells of higher than average waves. This was the same as we experienced coming up from Gigha but we were both in differrent parts of the sea……………..mmmmmm. As we were waiting on our rope handler we helped them off the pontoon and into the Lock 13 just as our man arrived.
We went through all the rest of locks in company with “Sunart” and exited though the sea lock and headed for Otter Spit in company and we rafted together for the night. Sara and I went ashore for a meal at the Otter Ferry Hotel, which is made easy by the dinghy pontoon provided – and the food was also very good.
The bad weather we thought was coming did not arrive until much later in the day, but in the morning when we were running (under engine) down Loch Fyne the weather was calm with our wake radiating across the loch.
The balance of the holiday was spent meandering back and visiting Tarbert, Portavadie, Tighnabruich, Port Bannatyne with the forecast and barometer now becoming more alinged with falling pressure, stong wind warning etc. Our final run back to Largs was carried out in F6 and climbing southerly winds.
It’s fair to say that the weather was most peculiar during our holiday with the weather forecasters constantly refering to a “complex low” – and they were not wrong. This can be summed up because on one day they were forecasting North backing North Westerly – possibly backing to South or South Easterly. Go on, work a passage plan out to that forecast !!
Despite the weather we had a really relaxing time and whilst our mileage wasn’t high at 200NM, the pace suited our plan and mindset for this trip. It was also good to have all the new kit working as it should, and the new bracket just fitted for the outboard worked a treat, and again Chris of DDZ had pulled out all the stops and done an excellent job.
Finally, and I hate having to admit this, but the other thing I learned on this trip is that I now fully realise that manually lifting the anchor needs to be a thing of the past, and that I definitely need to invest in an electric windlass, or a cardiac arrest might just be lurking around the corner 😉