Oban, 9th June2012

Into the North

The end of work and preparing the boat occupied Anne and I for the last week before the off. Stocking up on food was a priority as we would be sometimes a long way from shops once we got to the Scottish Islands. We planned to meet onFfriday after work and get set up for a departure on the following morning. I was free on Friday so was able to do all the last minute things. Anne arrived and we went for a quiet pint with Joe, Sindy, Simon and Norden who were all very jealous of us heading off the next morning. We were looking at a 7am departure with a forecast of east to northeast moderate winds so closehauled the whole way. The Sunday looked like being stronger winds from the same direction but easing on the Monday.

We didn't stay too late in the pub as we had an early start the next day with a 50 mile passage ahead. I checked the forecast on the tv and saw that the stronger winds were now forecast to come in by lunchtime on Saturday and increase to force 5-7 by evening. That changed our plans substantially, we now had to leave immediately and go with lighter winds through the night or wait until things eased probably in 2 or 3 days. We decided to go for it and left at 9.30pm into light winds where we motorsailed on calm seas, allowing both of us to rest for a bit. The winds stayed light from the east, coming around to the northeast ahead of the advancing blow. The cloudline behind us indicated the advancing front which we anticipated bringing the wind later in the day. We got in to the small marina in Ardglass at 7am, both tired after a long night and a busy week at work and spent the rest of the day resting. As the day went on, sunshine and breezes gave way to cold and strong winds gusting over 25 knots at times in the marina. Many boats were moving as it was a bank holiday in Ireland as well as the UK for the Queen's diamond jubilee. So that evening there was lots of hubbub as we tried to help tired crews tie up in the tiny marina. One big boat got it all wrong and hit a rock before the entrance and scarpered back out to sea. Poor them we thought. Meanwhile Suckin' Diesel was tied up snug and all we had to do was decide what to do on the second day weatherbound in Ardglass.

The Sunday dawned still windy and overcast but with a forecast for winds starting to ease later in the day. Anne and I took out the bikes and decided to head off to Strangford village 9 miles away. We were against the wind for most of it, but the views were lovely, especially the view from Shore road of the Narrows at the entrance to Strangford Lough. The village is a conservation area and has lovely colourful houses around the small harbour, quite different from the normally more austere greys you often see in the North. We had a lovely home made pizza in a pub with a pint of cider which restored our energy for the homeward spin. With the wind at our backs, the trip back was easier, though not having cycled for ages, my backside was not happy with it........

The weather news was now for winds easing away to light before coming in from the southeast from Wednesday. Anne and I had to decide on our route from here: either follow the North Irish coast, across to Rathlin, Jura etc, or else into the Firth of Clyde and through the Crinan Canal. The blow forecast for Thursday made us think of being in the Crinan but when we found some great hillwalking routes on the internet in the Clyde area, that decided it for us. So on a sunny morning we motorsailed on a dying breeze up the Irish Sea and across on glassy seas towards Scotland. Initially we thought of going into Cairnryan but as conditions were so calm, we continued on past it to Sanda Island just off the Mull of Kintyre coast. It is a spot that I have passed on a number of occasions but very settled conditions like the ones we had are needed to consider anchoring there overnight. We dropped the hook at 7 pm and went ashore for a stroll across the island to the lighthouse on the southern side which has a remarkable natural arch beside it. Real photo opportunity you might say but Wally here forgot to charge the digital camera so you all have to rely on my description instead.

A breeze started at 6am and a little swell crept into the anchorage which woke up the grumpy skipper. We were planning to leave at 8am anyway, to take the strong tide around the Mull and make best use of the weaker stream between the Mull and the Isle of Arran. We set the cruising chute which was very pleasant but the wind was really too light to sail at 4 knots. On starting the engine, we smelt buring and found the main fuse had blown for some reason and the alternator was overheating as a result. We killed the engine and went back to sailing. We left the engine bay open for a half hour to let the alternator cool down, hoping that we had stopped the engine before any damage was done. Luckily, we had a spare fuse and spare alternator onboard. On restarting the engine, we found no damage had been done except to our hearts. It is a nervous feeling losing all power in light winds 2 miles offshore. Anyway, we learnt the lesson that maybe we need to install a bigger fuse......

Anyhow we made into Lochranza with engine/alternator and nervous systems intact. We picked up a visitors mooring wth none of the drama that ensued the last time the Junior Skipper atttempted this daring deed .Those of you who read this log reguarly will remember that I ( Anne ) fell overboard on that last occasion some years ago. We then dinghied onto Arran for a cracking walk following hill, dale and coastline to end with a welcome cider at the local hostelry. Aarran merited its advertising : Scotland in miniature. Highly recommended.

We were due an early start the next am and woke to low cloud and drizzle BUT there was some welcome wind so we set sail for Ardrishaig at the top end of the Mull of Kintyre to access the Crinian canal as a short cut to Oban and hopefuly avoid the forecasted poor weather. Thankfully there were no boats queing to enter the canal because it's VERY tight manouevering and the Junior Skipper had to step up to the plate as the Senior Skipper was elected to do the grunt work of opening and closing (when politely reminded!) the 14 locks involved and taking charge of all the lines required to secure the boat within each lock.

All went well for locks 1 ( assisted) 2,3 4 as Suckin' Diesel had each lock to herself. The Junior Skipper finally getting the hang of the usefulness of the bow thruster and the art of driving very s l o w l y. At lock 5,6,7,8,9,10 we had the company of a 25 ft Scottish boat. I feared for them but despite my trepidations all went well. WHEW!!!!! Suckin' Diesel 's hydrovane almost kissed their anchor in one lock but it was a forbidden love and it was denied!!!

At lock 10 Dunardry both boats tied up ( well away from one another) for the night and the crew of SD went for a well earned walk along the canal.. As Junior Skipper I have to say I am enjoying this experience of manouerving the boat without having to take tide and wind into account but blimey will I sleep well tonight! PS bring your ray gun for the Killer Scottish Midges if you're coming..they're CANNIBALS.

After a good night sleeep, Anne and I went for a walk along the canal on an overcast morning before moving the boat down the last 3 locks that we would have to manage ourselves. As it turned out, there were 3 lock keepers around, and they were very helpful making the manouvering easier. The wind had got up a bit from behind us which made entering the locks a bit trickier. But Anne managed well going nice and slow which is easier said than done with a following wind. The trickiest lock was one where there were 2 boats coming out which we and another boat had to pass to go in, all within a gap of 100 metres between the two locks. But all worked well. We then had to navigate 2 miles past two swing bridges which had to be opened for us, before arriving at Crinan. The canal at this point is very narrow and we used a fog horn to signal before each bend. This caused extra work for the man operating the bridge as he kept thinking that we were approaching the bridge so he opened it for us each time. Woops ....... Approaching Crinan basin, Anne found that the bowthruster, which had become her best friend, had stopped working, right when she needed it most. Anyway, we got the boat turned without it but there were some nerves visible I must say doing a tricky manoeuvre in a very tight space with a good breeze blowing. We had a pleasant night there followed by a lovely walk in the morning through the woodland behind the canal basin. We had great views from the heights of the islands ahead of us once we left the canal. The wind which had been strong for 2 days was easing a bit. Yet again, Ireland was getting hammered with gale force winds while we were not suffering at all. Anyway, we headed out of the canal back into the sea among the islands. The wind allowed us to sail close hauled in gusty conditions at first, all the way up the Sound of Luing, only dying as we approached Kerrera Island and Oban. We anchored, both tired but glad to have completed a very complete week of sailing, walking and other experiences.........