Checking out of the hotel near Glasgow Airport and collecting Dr. Stephen Williams, my only crew for this week, we embarked on the drive back to Oban. The scenery was pleasant and unspoilt with a coffee stop in the pretty town of Inveraray where the author of the Para Handy short stories was born and where the (renamed) Vital Spark is moored but looking sorry for herself in a poor state of repair.
With the Mull of Kintyre between us and the Clyde and only the two of us on board, we had some decisions to make. The Crinan Canal which is a shortcut through the top of the Mull is unlike the Caledonian Canal in that it is smaller and the locks are not ‘manned’ so it is necessary for crews to work the gates and sluices themselves. Our luck changed when we made contact with some old friends who used to live in Ascot and who retired and moved back to Scotland 12 years ago.
Paul and Mary Smyth built a new house on the family farm at the head of Loch Craignish and we met up in the Galley of the Lorne pub in Ardfern where we had moored. They gave us a tour of their wonderful house and farm showing us the ancient Cairn and Standing Stone which aligns between the ‘paps’ on Jura and the sun on midsummers day.
Moreover, they volunteered to crew through the Crinan and their help was invaluable. Overnight in Cairnbaan, halfway through the canal, we eat on board but the experience was overshadowed (literally) by the clouds of midges. Spraying the pests under the sprayhood while we replaced the wash boards, we were greeted in the morning by a carpet of dead insects to be hoovered up. It seems the problem is particularly bad this year following a mild wet winter and spring. Paul and Mary returned the next day with a bottle of Avon ‘Skin so Soft’, it being the midge repellent of choice of the Forestry staff. They cautioned however that the formula may have recently changed and that it may not now be as effective. Their old bottle worked very well though!
Paul and Mary stayed with us for the final reaches and locks of the canal and we at least had a sail down Loch Fyne to East Loch Tarbert where they left us after a few beers on the harbour front. Big thanks to them as the Crinan passage would have been infinitely more difficult without them.
In conversation, they told us about a new marina at Portavadie on the other side of Loch Fyne. They said that they routinely took the ferry from Tarbert to the excellent restaurant in the marina. Intrigued and faced with little wind, we ghosted across the Loch to take a look and spend the night. En-route, Stephen caught a solitary mackerel but, having gutted it, we put it in the freezer for later, more were needed for a meal.
Portavadie is a strange place. A deep water Loch had been protected by breakwaters in an attempt to attract rig construction. This function had never been adopted and fortunes have been spent converting it into a ‘ritzy’ marina with glass and stainless steel apartments and facilities. The marina is currently utilised to no more than 20% capacity but it is heavily staffed and the degree of effort is probably best crystallised by noting that, in the very plush facilities, there are hair straighteners in the gents! The landscaping of the marina area which is still going on appears to include the erection of their own ‘faux’ standing stones overlooking Loch Fyne, how very contrived!
A gentle drift down the loch to lunch in Loch Ranza on the Isle of Arran failed to yield any more mackerel but the afternoon brought a little more wind and a very enjoyable beat up West Kyle inside Bute to an overnight mooring buoy off Kames.
Light unfavourable winds on Friday morning recommended a gentle motor through the beautiful Kyles, past the ‘Burnt Islands’ and on to moor in Rothesay Harbour for lunch and a look around the town.
Dodging the ferry comings and goings, we made our way up the Clyde to Holy Loch to overnight in the marina. Holy Loch was a submarine base for the US Navy between 1962 and 1992 and the piers, now incorporated into the marina, were built by the US Navy. There is no other residual signs of military occupation and it is a very pretty location. A taxi ride to the recommended Coylet Inn on the land locked Loch Eck turned out to be well worth the trouble.
A sprightly reach in deteriorating weather on Saturday morning cemented good memories of a very enjoyable week and it was with a degree of sadness that we said goodbye, Stephen taking a taxi to the airport.
The Clyde area offers such a variety of excellent sailing to the cruising yachtsman. Long flat sheltered reaches, quiet out of the way anchorages and with an abundance of visitor mooring buoys it is delightfully un-stressful. It really deserves more than a week and I certainly have reasons to return.
With my new crew arriving on Sunday evening, I can take it easy, catch up on the cleaning, washing and victualing while planning what adventures the weather will recommend next week.