Hello Crazysails friends,
Long time, no blog!
As Facebook friends will have no doubt seen, we have made it to bonnie (wet) Scotland and can confirm there is a jaw dropping abundance of amazing scenery in the Western Isles but an almost total lack of good communication links to share the experience with you, so it has been a little while since our last post. In this blog we want to share with you a little of our journey from Ireland to the Crinan Canal. We are now in a place called Ardfern on Loch Craignish sorting our some electrical problems with our instruments – but more of that in the next blog!
Bangor to Campbeltown (55. 42 41 degrees N, 5.60 54 degrees W), Talbert (55.86 32 degrees N, 5.41 56 degrees W) and the Crinan Canal (56.09 08 degrees N, 5.55 84 degrees W)
July 8th – 12th
We said farewell to Ireland on a breezy, sunny morning and headed off for the Mull of Kintyre, which we could already see as a shadowy outline on the horizon, just off to the northeast of Bangor. We passed brightly coloured houses and attractive scenery as we left Belfast Lough, saying farewell to the north eastern Northern Irish coastline.
The forecast, yet again, proved to be less than accurate and instead of the promised smooth seas and light winds from the west, we had winds of around 16-20, gusting up to about 25, coming from the south east. The sea was also moderate rather than smooth, with a continuous chop from about half way over but the sun was shining! We sailed with a reef in the mainsail at first but then dropped the mainsail and sailed the latter half with a reefed genoa, which steadied the boat and helped it through the choppy waters. As we made progress the familiar cup cake shape of Ailsa Craig appeared shrouded in mist and no matter how near or far we were from it, it maintained this slightly dreamlike quality. We made good progress but as we neared Campbeltown, on the south west of Kintyre, the skies clouded over with familiar, ominous blackness and we were pleased to reach the shelter of the harbour.
Commendations to Campbeltown for the excellent quality of their pontoons and also for the basic but clean and spacious shower facilities, which provided an unlimited supply of lovely hot water. Thank you to the harbour authorities too, for supporting our National Autistic Society sailing challenge – very kind and appreciated. We ate at the only place that looked reasonable which was The Royal Hotel, opposite the pontoons and we were very pleasantly surprised with a lovely atmosphere and excellent food – indeed we enjoyed one of our favourite meals of our trip there. Nowhere looks their best in the wind and rain, and Campbeltown was no different, but a quick look around indicated that this was a slightly run down little town, set in beautiful surroundings but in need of some tlc and an injection into the local economy, The exception the rather dated looking but very impressive hardware shop, comparable to Hayling Hardware (for Hayling friends) and just like an Aladdin’s cave with everything you could want in several different sizes, colours, shapes etc; needless to say Simon visited there several times and even won over the rather dour lady who ran it. The rain cleared during the evening to reveal the beautiful hillsides and we even had seals playing around at the end of the pier and the people were very friendly and helpful so our stay was a good welcome to Scotland , despite the weather!
Campbeltown to Tarbert
We left Campbeltown on Sunday and made our way up to Tarbert which was around 35 miles up the coast and on the banks of Lock Fyne. On the way we sailed along the western side of Arran, whose granite mountains and spectacular scenery took our breath away. Next, to the east of us was Bute but compared to Arran, this seemed rather flat and featureless, so we pressed on to Tarbert. Having negotiated our way through several small islands which are in front of the actual harbour entrance we arrived in a much bigger marina area than we expected. Again the pontoons were solid and of really good quality – non sailors may wonder why I have mentioned this feature about Campbeltown and now Tarbert but it is surprising how many spindly, narrow or wobbly pontoons you come across in different places and these were a pleasure to land and tie up against.
Tarbert, is a small picturesque harbour, surrounded by hills and greenery with the ruin of castle on the hillside and houses built in the hills around the harbour. The Lock Fyne Gallery has some beautiful pictures painted by local artists and I just had to purchase a couple (unframed) to go with those I had bought in St Ives, to remind us of our journey. A look in the local whisky shop showed it’s true that the Scots keep their best (and most expensive) whisky at home – a mere £140 seemed to be the average price for a bottle! Needless to say, we left it in the shop – maybe next time! Even pretty Tarbert, though, had some properties which showed a need for some investment in the area – but though a shame, this does not detract from the fact it is a great stop off point, before heading to the Crinan Canal.
Tarbert to the Crinan Canal
Having decided we would aim to get through the Crinan Canal over the next couple of days and through to the Western Isles, we set off up Loch Fyne to Ardroshaig. This small uninspirational place is the entry point through the sea lock into the canal. Although it is reckoned an experienced crew can get through all the locks on the canal in around 6 hours, the licence to use the canal actually lasts 4 days and most people seemed to spend 1-2 nights stopping off somewhere along the route. There is an option to have an an ‘assisted passage’, which means you have a couple of students who accompany you on their bikes down the tow path and they operate the locks, which, other than the final sea locks and a couple of bridges, are otherwise unmanned. Before we met someone from Campbeltown, who suggested an assisted passage would be useful for us as there was only the two of us, it hadn’t occurred to us that we wouldn’t manage on our own. I was reminded of when having Sophie (child no1) the subject of pain relief was mentioned – rather naively, it had never occurred to me that I would need pain relief; I did! The assisted passage through the Crinan, was very similar; I hadn’t thought about needing it but welcome it we certainly did – thanks to Tom and Hannah from the Yot helpers who were our canal pain relief (sorry can’t recall the actual company full name). Indeed, if I had to make two absolute recommendations about this trip they would be don’t sleep on the visitors buoys outside St Ives Harbour unless it’s a still evening and do book the assisted passage in the Crinan Canal, unless you have an experienced crew of 3-4.
Once out from Ardrishaig and into the canal the scenery became very green and calm and we decided to stop for the night at a place called Cairnbann, which was close to where the ancient Kings of Scotland had their base. There was little there apart from a boat yard and a hotel, where we ate that evening. Of course, we had the mandatory rain and hurried back from the hotel under the umbrella. The grey cloud, rain and the fact our instruments were starting to play up meant Simon (who is not a northerner and used to poor weather, like me) began to feel that maybe Scotland wouldn’t live up to our expectations however the next day dawned brightly, the sun definitely put its hat on and came out to play. The rest of the canal journey was magical, through beautiful scenery, trees came right to the water’s edge and the sunlight cast its dappled light through them on the water, as we made our way through the final locks. Although the midges came out in Cairnbann and in the locks, we were prepared with mossie hatch covers on all the boat openings and lots of Avon Skin so Soft (another recommendation) for us, so weren’t bitten at all.
We arrived in the Crinan basin around 4.30pm, the sun was still shining brightly, the sky was blue and what a breathtaking sight awaited us as we berthed the boat against a stone jetty by the lock and gazed out across to the Western isles – I have rarely seen anything so truly beautiful – this is what we had hoped and sailed so far to see. The sunshine lasted into the evening, when we enjoyed a wedding anniversary meal at the Seafood Bar at the edge of the basin. Crinan will always be one of our most lasting and most beautiful memories and despite the continuing instrument challenges, we finally felt we had arrived in the Scotland we had hoped to see.
Unfortunately, a combination of WordPress having a bit of a go slow downloading photos and the poor internet here means I haven’t been able to upload the best of the photos – but there’s always another time!
Next time: Crinan to Ardfern, rain, wind and more rain and instrument troubles continue! Please keep following and supporting our travels, best wishes to all our CrazySails friends.