Not the best summer cruise
by Mary Allan
Several times since retirement we have taken three months to sail northwards, enjoying the beautiful west coast of Scotland, sometimes going right round Britain. In 2015 we set aside the usual three months, May-June-July, to go up the west coast, visiting Scottish islands. We started well, having a very enjoyable time with friends at Yarmouth.
We expected, and got, adverse winds on the south coast of England – going east in an area of prevailing westerlies is asking for it, and we had to wait a few days at Weymouth in the strongest winds recorded in May for many years, before crossing Lyme Bay. We hoped for better fortune after rounding Land’s End, but the winds soon turned northerly! A few days were spent in Padstow (good kite-flying weather) then we called at Dale before crossing to Kilmore Quay and making halting progress up the east coast of Ireland, with three days in Ardglass and four in Bangor while strong winds blew. We made another stop at Glenarm, just north of Bangor, then set off for Craighouse, on Jura. A threatened severe gale persuaded us to make directly for Croabh Haven. This made our voyage longer, of course, so we ran out of good tide and had to fight the stream at Dorus Mor, then wriggle through rocks, islets and fish farms in the dark, before tying up at Craobh Haven, feeling very thankful for GPS, at 1 a.m. Sure enough, the promised gale arrived and we were there for four days. This is a lovely marina, with good showers, set in the most beautiful scenery, but there is no shop, and one restaurant in the “once only” price category! Because of heavy rain which had accompanied the strong winds the terrain had become “unwalkable” – we had brought sturdy shoes, but boots were needed.
Then at last summer came! With a brisk sail to Kerrera we started about nine days of sunny weather with light winds enabling a circumnavigation of Mull, calling at Loch Aline, Tobermory, Gometra (a first for us) and Bunessan, then Loch Tarbert on Jura, before passing through the Sound of Islay and calling at Craighouse.
By now we were well into June and realised that we were not going to go as far north as we had hoped. We decided to head for the Crinan Canal, another first for us. We had met friends at Tobermory, and they told us that the locks are all worked by staff now. The first day we did all the “uphill” locks, in beautiful sunshine, spending the night at Cairnbaan, where we went to the Hotel for our evening meal. We were told that not only was the restaurant full, but so was the bar! But we could have a meal in the lounge, they said, so we gratefully sat on a sofa with a knee-high table and ate excellent fish pie.
Next day the weather reverted to what we now regarded as normal – rain and more rain! At the Loch Fyne end of the canal we stopped at Ardrishaig, where we enjoyed bacon butties, and the following day, a good Scottish breakfast at the Rumbling Tum café. On leaving the canal we had a very gusty passage through Loch Fyne to Tarbert, another first for us, then Campbeltown, where new finger pontoons have been installed. Unfortunately the new facilities block had not yet opened.
We continued south, into the southerly winds, stopping for a few days in Peel, Isle of Man, before a long and bumpy ride to Holyhead, where we had another weather break. Sunshine returned in Pwllheli and Aberystwyth, but we were six days anchored at Fishguard, with strong wind and a rather choppy sea. We only ventured ashore once, when our loaf had almost disappeared, and what was left had patches of green. Returning to the boat in the tender was a very wet experience and getting the outboard motor back on to the stern rail was problematic, but eventually we managed it. We now had fresh bread and a good supply of stores from the Co-op, a long uphill walk from the harbour, so I suppose it was worth it. On July 15th there was a one-day weather window, and as we didn’t want to be stuck in Dale, we made an overnight passage to Padstow, a pleasant enough place to be - for a week, as it turned out. After waiting for suitable conditions to round Land’s End we left at 5 a.m. and with great relief tied up in Falmouth at 9 p.m. From here on things improved, and we had good passages to Fowey, Plymouth and Dartmouth. There we had another wait, with rain, then headed for Swanage with a strong following wind. Easterlies were beginning to crop up on the forecast, so we took our opportunity to reach Yarmouth, then Gosport while we could. Two days later the America’s Cup races were cancelled because of strong winds.
In addition to the adverse weather we had a few gear problems. At Dale the electric anchor winch stopped working. Michael was not able to fix it, so had to use the lever to operate the anchor manually. As we stayed in anchorages quite often this may account for him coming home a little lighter! In the galley, the inner pane of glass on the oven door became detached, but after a bit of thinking, and buying some very small nuts and bolts, Michael was able to fix this. Finally, the fridge stopped working at Holyhead. It hadn’t been keeping as cold as usual for some weeks, but now it was doing nothing, so we ate the most expensive food in it, and regretfully threw away the rest. From then on we had to shop frequently (not possible at Fishguard) or eat tinned food.
So what was good? Some of the weather hold-ups gave opportunities for enjoyment. From Weymouth we visited the swannery at Abbotsbury and saw the first cygnets to hatch, and also went to the sub-tropical gardens. At Bangor we took the train to Belfast for the excellent Titanic exhibition and at Padstow we were able to enjoy some walking and a round of putting. At Dartmouth we joined a guided tour of the Royal Britannia Naval College, a very interesting outing, well worth putting up with a wet dinghy ride in both directions.
At sea we saw more dolphins than ever before – the first pod between Fowey and Falmouth, but a constant escort in the English half of the Bristol Channel, in both directions. We saw a few seals, mainly off Ireland, some puffins, although not as many as we’d hoped, because of choppy conditions around Skomer (both ways!). We were impressed to see four Orcas off the Isle of Man, and delighted to see two otters at Craighouse. As usual, we enjoyed seeing guillemots, common and black, razorbills, gannets and this time lots of swallows, especially at Craobh, where they were nesting under some of the pontoons, and in the Crinan Canal. At Gometra we heard two cuckoos. When you add in the nine days or so of good sailing, with lovely views of the Treshnish Islands and Staffa, the Paps of Jura and the west country coastline, it makes you think – if this was a disappointing cruise, what is a good one like?