Part I – Scotland – Malin
In mid July 2014 I joined my friend Alan on his 34 foot sailing yacht Tante Helena as part of his cruise around the UK. Alan had set off from Shotley Marina near Harwich in early June and had already sailed up the eastern coast of England and through the Caledonian canal to western Scotland. I joined the boat at Dunstaffnage near Oban.
Essex to Oban
In order to rendezvous with the boat I travelled to Glasgow by train the previous day and I was very pleased that the trains all ran to time without any problems. I checked into a hotel near the main Glasgow station and had some time to explore around George Square which was preparing for the Commonwealth Games.
The next day I took a coach from the nearby Buchanan bus station which took a scenic route around Loch Lomond before dropping me off a couple of hours later at Dunbeg, a short walk from Dunstsffnage marina. At this point I became aware how quickly the weather can deteriorate in western Scotland as I had left Glasgow in glorious summer sunshine, and it was now pouring with rain.
I phoned Alan to say I had arrived, and found him tackling the laundry, making good use of the time in port. I had expected to also meet Alan’s wife Geraldine at this point but unfortunately she had needed to return home with Mike and Myra (the previous crew) that morning as her mother was unwell. Alan showed me the charts and the outline plan for the next part of the cruise, hoping that Geraldine would be able to rejoin us in a couple of weeks.
We spent the rest of the afternoon getting ourselves and the boat ready and sheltering from the rain – it was one of the few times we used the heater to dry things out. Later in the afternoon a large fleet of boats from the West Highlands Yachting Week arrived; we thought they were going to have a big party but they didn’t disturb anyone. We ate supper on board an then were invited over to neighbouring yacht Inis Free for drinks and exchanging salty tales.
The weather was much improved by morning and we set off in smooth water and light winds along with the West Highlands Yachting Week fleet who were heading for Mull.
We turned south west towards the town of Oban under power, then the wind filled as we entered the Sound of Kerrera and we were able to sail.
We needed some careful navigation as we transited the narrow Sound of Luing with strong tides, overfalls and rocks to catch the unwary. The scenery was equally dramatic with the mountains of the Isle of Mull rising behind us and the rugged Isles of Luing, Lunga and Scarba to our sides. I took some photos of Inis Free who were going further round to Ardfern.
We made good progress from Craobh assisted by the strong tide and shot through the narrows in turbulent waters. The whirlpools of Corryvrekan are not far away! We caught a brief glimpse of a couple of dolphins. The water settled and became much shallower as we turned east towards Crinan. We had to wait for a couple of hours before entering the Crinan Canal as there was a hydraulic problem with the sea-lock gate.
To enter the canal basin we were crammed into the deep sea-lock along with three other boats. The tide was low so it took a long time to fill. We decided to spend the night in the basin at Crinan and it was a lovely spot.
The Crinan Canal cuts across the top of Kintyre from west to east, the purpose is to avoid the exposed western side of Kintyre.
We transited most of the distance in company of two other boats, one of which fortunately had a couple of energetic teenagers on board who were a great help taking lines and operating the lock gates. The other boat had a local ‘pilot’ on board to help who knew the system, but seemed in a bit of a hurry at times!
We had hoped to stop for lunch half way along but there was a lack of free pontoon spaces to stop at so we carried on with the other boats until we found a space near Lochgilphead. We were pleased to stop as the up-locks had been quite hard work, particularly with the strong wind that blew up at one point. We walked into the town, had a beer and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
The next morning we completed the last few down-locks ourselves as they were much easier and made our way out to sea at Ardrishaig.
It was an easy trip south along Lower Loch Fyne in relative shelter from the land and gentle scenery. We passed a number of fish farms which make up a considerable part of local industry.
Tarbert is a fishing harbour that has recently been granted European money to build a modern marina in order to encourage tourism. The new pontoons were certainly impressive.
As we approached the marina it started to rain and we were glad to have our lines taken by Peter, a yachtsman who Alan had met previously on the trip and had spotted us approaching the harbour. Peter joined us for supper and it was fun to catch up on experiences of the previous weeks. The next morning we explored the town and climbed up to the castle – our first encounter with the tale of Robert the Bruce.
We were able to sail about two thirds of the trip which took us through Kilbrannan Sound which runs between Kintyre and the Island of Arran. The difference in scenery between Kintyre’s rolling landscape and Arran’s mountains was striking. We caught glimpses of dolphins and seals as well as gannets and guillemots.
Campbeltown is a natural harbour guarded by Davaar Island and its lighthouse, built by the Stevenson brothers.
The harbour hosts a NATO refuelling station and a substantial fishing fleet. It has recently installed a pontoon for leisure boats which was much better than the concrete harbour wall we were expecting. Fees were paid at the local hotel, which of course also provided refreshment to the thirsty sailor.
We took a day off to explore Davaar Island which is accessible by causeway at low tide. There are seven caves on the island and largest has a painting of the crucifixion of Christ on the wall inside painted in 1887 by local artist Archibald MacKinnon after he had a vision in a dream.
We left Campbetown in the early morning sunshine a couple of hours before high water. The tide turned as we cleared Sanda Sound and we whizzed along past the Mull of Kintyre at 7-8 knots over the ground.
We soon crossed the shipping lanes (only one ship) and Fair Head began to appear on the horizon, but rather than head straight for the Northern Irish mainland we headed for the small island of Rathlin.