Heatwave in the South, pouring at Loch Lomond after we left Glasgow for Oban by train. Out to boat at Ardoran in a downpour and brought alongside to load. Hot till yesterday, said taxi driver – Scotland!
Sunny day, light breeze, perfect for a walk along the canal. Loch Crinan and the River Add are a delightful contrast of rocky shore, sandy estuary and saltings, and the woods near Crinan are said to be part of the old Argyll temperate rainforest.
We went back to Poulldabhrain to wait for the tide to get into Loch Feochan, choosing the inside route up Shuna Sound and through Cuan Sound, a narrow and bending short cut, exploring a bit of Loch Melfort on the way as well. One of Bob Bradfield’s charts covers Cuan, and very useful it is. The tide runs so fast (and the boat with it) that it is hard work to identify marks fast enough.
Just enough time in Poulladobhrain for a gin and tonic to relax – to recover from tracking down which fuse had gone on the instrument power feed, just as we most needed an echo sounder before tackling the Feochan entrance, which is nearby. The tide runs in for four hours and out for eight, and we went in at two hours after low water as the tide was turning up into the loch. At that point it would already have risen somewhat. We only had 0.6 metres under the keel at one point, which felt a bit tight with rocks nearby.
Passage notes: 24 miles, 5.5 hours, V 2-3, visibility good – sunny. Cuan Sound tide very fast, so pay close attention first time to pilot book. ApproachingSeil Sound from south, be alert to two dangerous rocks near entrance to Cuan Sound. Some boats went confidently right inshore of both of them but maybe unwise for a newcomer.
A fine day’s sail down the Sounds of Kerrera and Luing and across to Crinan, where we picked up a mooring close to the boatyard pontoon (for £15) and went ashore for drinks and a walk round the village. Crinan Hotel has a traditional pub at the side, and good food.
The boatyard at Crinan is restoring one of the famous Clyde puffers, tiny ships that traded around the Hebrides and could be beached to land cargoes. They were made famous in the Para Handy stories, featuring the puffer ‘Vital Spark.’ A still-working puffer has been given that name, but the Crinan boat looks as if it needs a lot more work.
We had planned to go from Arisaig or perhaps Canna round the West of Mull to Iona, past Staff and Fingal’s Cave, but the weather was doubtful for the exposed anchorages on that side of the island so we decided to head back down the Sound of Mull again and maybe make a dash for Iona from the other direction the following day. However, half way down Tony had a call to go home to deal with a family emergency, so we diverted to Oban, first stopping at one of the best known anchorages on the Argyll coast, the tiny, tucked away Puilladobhrain.
This is the point to mention the excellent large scale charts produced of West of Scotland anchorages by Bill Bradfield using his own new surveys. Judging by a talk he gave to the Cruising Association in London in February, amateur surveying has become a passion with him, and he must now be very close to being a full professional judging by the quality of what he produces. His charts come with lots of health warnings, but we found them very accurate the dozen or so times we used them. They are available from Antares Charts.
We stayed at Oban Marina, where five years before we wintered Pepper, and Tony caught the train south early the next morning. Oban Marina, which is attractive and has a free ferry service to the town, seems to be rather more expensive than last time we were there in 2007-8, though it was still full this summer.
All the yards near Oban (including Ardoran, which is very close – a £10 taxi ride or 15 minutes by car down a winding lane – have the advantage of the railway. Though it is nearly three hours to Glasgow, the time passes rapidly, because it is one of the great scenic railway journeys Oban is the.home of the best seafood stall anywhere, on the quay, facing the ferry terminal, where mussels, scallops, crabs, lobsters, prawns and other shellfish are served ready to eat at benches outside. (Following the example of a group of Japanese tourists, I persuaded myself to have a bowl of mussels for breakfast – excellent idea.)
Passage notes: 41 miles, 8 hours including lunch stop at Puilladobhrain, max NW 5 min NW 3, drizzle then sun. Antares charts extremely accurate, as they were in the half dozen other places we tried them.
Unpleasant weather was forecast so we decided to explore nearby lochs, and dropped the idea of going past Ardnamurchan to revisit Arisaig and Loch Moidart. For lunch, we went into the delightful Loch Droma Buidhe (or Drumbie), which is found through a narrow entrance, almost invisible until you reach it, but opening out into a very pretty anchorage.Then we wound our way up the delightful Loch Suinart to Strontian, at the head, and then back to Salen, a village with recently installed pontoons where we spent the night, after dinner at a pub with excellent food, a short walk away.
Passage notes: 28 miles, 6.25 hours, including lunch stop in Loch na Droma Buidhe (Drumbuie) and exploring to Strontium, near the head of Loch Suinart. Max wind W 4, min, NW 2, visibility mainly good with sunny periods. Usual cautions about chart and chartplotter accuracy around here, so used handbearing compass, but with hindsight (as it were) the plotter track looked pretty accfurate and could be relied on for coming out again, even in the narrow entrance to Drumbuie, where there is a rock at the inside end.
David Fairhall joined Tony and Peter for a few days commissioning cruise, first to Tobermory in a brisk southwesterly up the Sound of Mull. This was after negotiating the interestingly shallow, narrow and winding exit from Loch Feochan (reminiscent of the east coast rivers of Suffolk and Essex where we used to be based.) We were retracing our steps from last year, when we went from Oban up past Ardnamurchan to Rhum, Arisaig and Loch Moidart among other places.
The Sound of Mull has interesting wind shifts – the pilot book says it is perfectly possible for it to blow in opposite directions in the north and south of the sound at the same time.
Passage notes: 28 miles, 5 hours, max SSW 5, min SSW 4, pontoons expensive in Tobermory. The budget option is anchoring off or a buoy.
We arrived at Ardoran Marine on 4 May to stay at one of the three chalets the boatyard owns, with a few days fitting out planned. (Peter, Christine, Tony, Elaine and Nigel). Ardoran stores boats in an old quarry behind the main workshop, and we found Spring Fever in excellent condition, dry inside and well cared for, with the anti-fouling done ( a present to ourselves because of the 500 mile drive to reach her.) All the work we commissioned had been done well, and problems we had during commissioning were sorted out immediately at fair prices, so we certainly recommend the yard. It was also very friendly, and in a beautiful position on Loch Feochan. The chalets would be good for a holiday even without a boat. The owners run the boatyard alongside their farm, which includes a herd of highland cattle,
The ancient Furlex had finally given up at the end of the season with a large crack in one of the main castings, so a new one had been fitted by Owen Sails of Oban by the time we arrived. The wind, depth and speed instruments were also playing up and we bought a new Raymarine set at the London Boat Show at a discount, and brought them up to fit ourselves. Because we needed to have a bracket made for the anemoneter at the top of the mast, the job dragged on several days, so we were not ready to launch until Wednesday the 8th, and we launched twice! We made an elementary mistake, and forgot to check the seacocks properly. The main heads outlet turned out to be jammed tight in the open position, at which point we brought Spring Fever ashore again and the yard changed the seacock, which turned out to be in much worse condition than we had imagined from the slight stiffness the previous year.
Once upon a time, it seemed fun to be on a plunging foredeck, with green seawater hitting you in the face, running through the gaps in your oilskins and down into your boots as you struggled to change sails. But there is a point at which you have to admit, even to yourself, that all that hard work is not very sensible any more, and certainly no longer enjoyable: oilskins wet inside are not very nice.
At any age, tiredness is among the most dangerous risks at sea; it is particularly so for what you might call slightly older than average sailors. Fatigue builds up during a passage and will be at its most acute when approaching the destination, just as decisions have to be made and manoeuvres undertaken in waters near shore that are likely to be close to dangers, and often unfamiliar.
So we focus on gear and procedures that reduce effort at sea to the absolute minimum compatible with good seamanship. Below is our list, but further suggestions are very welcome.
Roller headsail reefing (of course).
All mainsail reefing back to cockpit. If slab reefing, luff as well as leech lines led back, and the lines colour coded and rope clutches labelled. In mast reefing is the other option, of course.
All other lines that are regularly used led back to the cockpit, making a total of about a dozen in our boat.
Third reef lines permanently rigged, since they are only likely to be used when the going gets really tough, when working at the mast is the last thing you want to do.
Gybe preventers rigged semi-permanently. Ours are in two sections each side: a nylon pair to give shock resistance about 10 feet long run from the aft end of the boom to the forward end where they are tied when not in use; two long polypropylene lines run from a block at the aft end of the cockpit near the secondary winches through the spaces under the main foredeck cleat (to maximise friction) and back outside the shrouds. They are tied to the shrouds with a clove hitch when not in use, and undone then tied with a bowline to the eye splices on the nylon line on the boom when needed. Sailing downwind or on a broad reach when the waves get up, both preventers are kept rigged and ready.
We sail most of the time with the number 3 genoa and rarely get out the number 1. We bought a new No 3 with extra heavy cloth so that it will perform without too much distortion when half rolled up, which is not too far away from the size of the storm sail, which is notoriously hard work and time consuming to rig on a sloop without an inner forestay. The boat is an easily driven cruiser racer that in any case needs to be reefed early to sail reasonably upright, so we only really notice the absence of the number 1 genoa in winds of less than force 4. The smaller sail is far easier to tack and far more manageable when the going gets rough.
Other sails: we resist the temptation to use the spinnaker, which is extremely hard work for a short-handed crew. But we keep the spinnaker pole rigged with the pole lift on and the forward end tied down on the deck whenever there is likely to be downwind sailing, so it is ready with minimum effort if the genoa has to be poled out.
We talk about, but haven’t got round to because of the cost, a cruising chute with a snuffer instead of the spinnaker.
A good autopilot. Replacing an old and unreliable pilot with a new Raymarine wheelpilot has been one of the best labour saving investments we have made. It enormously reduces the workload on passage, because the new machine can cope with much tougher conditions. Steering by hand is for very rough weather when the autopilot is straining and also of course for those great times when it is real fun to do it and the crew is competing to take the helm.
Cockpit chartplotter. This is a huge saver of effort, as long as routes and strategies are planned in advance at the chart table on paper charts or a larger chartplotter, because the cockpit instrument screen is quite small, which can lead to mistakes when programmed in a hurry. Routes, once worked through, can be very quickly transferred. We have a laptop with a GPS as a backup plotter; the large and very clear laptop screen is easier than paper for route planning (though we still use paper as well).
In combination with a deck log ( just a small notebook) the cockpit plotter much reduces the number of visits to the chart table during a watch. With short-handed sailing, clambering up and down to the chart table to work every hour can be very tiring, especially in rough weather. All the essentials can be noted equally well from the plotter and cockpit instruments. The skipper will have the basic information required for the chart table if there is an electrical failure. We’re going to try a waterproof walkers’ notebook and pen from Rohan (£6.50). Work at the chart table will be needed, but much less often. We don’t usually mark up the paper charts as we go, but we have the information to switch to them quickly.
Windlass/anchor winch – a manual one is absolutely essential, even for a small boat, to protect backs from strain. For the moment we are doing without an electric windlass, but it would be even better, for obvious reasons. Problem we have not solved yet: best to have an arrangement that allows the windlass to pull the anchor inboard so it does not have to be lifted while leaning over the bow (the cause of a serious back injury to a 70-ish friend on a 30 footer – his back never recovered). We may have to modify the bow roller, which is too small.
Food for passages of up to 36 hours: meals are soup and ready made supermarket sandwiches and rolls in packets, which last longer. The only cooking is heating the soup.
Removable inner forestay to make rigging a storm sail easier.
New radar with cockpit display.