Coastal Skipper on the Clyde

Ann Brindle

Day 1: Geoff and I joined RAKI III, a Westerly Fulmar at Largs Yacht Haven after a quick sandwich lunch with Joyce. We enjoyed the sunshine while packing our gear into the boat, and met the rest of the crew. John and Stuart seemed friendly


Raki III

and helpful, and our instructor Colin was obviously a sailor of vast experience. We were warned that we would be assessed separately, and that Geoff should not help me out! A tin of beer helped break the ice; the tone was set – politically incorrect humour to be the order of the week! Eventually we set off towards Rothesay home of the famous Victorian toilets – famous also for being the home of the sad late Lena Zavaroni. The crew of Raki enjoyed a gentle evening in the sun, sipping wine while the Skipper’s fish supper defrosted and then cooked. Later on, very sleepy (we had been up since the crack of dawn) we repaired to the local hostelry and were joined by the crews from the other 4 boats. The first night aboard was only disturbed by John’s subdued snoring and a loud crash as part of my bunk fell to the floor when I turned over!Day 2: (Easter Sunday). Colin made us a huge cooked breakfast. I was “skipper of the day” and so was excused cooking and other domestic duties. Great! There was little wind, so, after much practice at picking up moorings and reversing, we motored up the East Kyle (of Bute) where I had to calculate whether or not we could make the tidal gate at Burnt Island! It was actually neaps and a tidal range of only 3 metres, so I reckon this was a fake problem. I also had to contend with a simulated fuel supply problem and the “Germans mining the main channel”. We anchored at Caladh Harbour for lunch (a lovely spot), during which the rain became very heavy – a taste of things to come. We started on the Mint Crisps (from Mother for Easter) and Colin’s mini eggs.



After lunch we made our way down the West Kyle under engine power towards Tarbert and discovered an uncharted starboard hand buoy (our chart was not up to date). We sailed the last leg of the journey, on a slow “training run” with several gybes. We passed through a school of porpoises, lovely. We ghosted slowly under Genoa into Tarbert (a beautiful enclosed natural harbour) and put the engine on for the final approach.The main channel into Tarbert had also been “mined”, which necessitated a last minute change of approach, involving a chicane around the hidden rocks. We berthed one out on the pontoon, and were later joined by Flamingo (Quentin’s boat) and Kookaburra (Tony’s boat). Enjoyed a late supper, after smoked salmon starters with hot toddy. Geoff had to do a talk on FIRE aboard a yacht. Wandered ashore to The Tarbert for more tales of derring do in a force 9. Joined the crews from Flamingo and Kookaburra in The Vic and exchanged stories of the day. It was a beautiful warm quiet night.

Day 3: Easter Monday. Woke at 7 and had a good shower ashore. The kipper lady was there as usual. There was more cloud, but the sun still put in an occasional appearance. The breeze was SE but forecast to increase to 5/6 NE during the night. John was skipper for the day, and was expected to do a “blind” navigation from below decks. We headed for Lochranza a small harbour on the North of Arran for lunch, then sailed (when possible) and motored to Carradale Bay for afternoon tea. (The Skipper in his introductory briefing had promised we would eat well on his boat, and we certainly did!). The sky clouded over, but we missed most of the rain clouds. Our overnight destination – Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre. Ominously, none of the other boats elected to follow us south – did they know something we didn’t?

We arrived there after 7, and had a large Chilli supper. I had to give a talk and chose “heavy weather sailing”. (One of my areas of least experience.) The advice for females intending to go sailing in heavy weather was – book a hair appointment! Campbeltown is a grey stone working town, and it always seems to rain there. We were tied up opposite to a yacht which had sailed from Northern Ireland, with a friendly crew. The crew of Raki ended up in the Ardshiel Hotel for some serious talking and returned to the boat after 11 to batten down the hatches for the forecast gale, with wind backing from SE to NE overnight. We were too “relaxed” to turn the boat around on the pontoon.

Day 4: As forecast, during the night the wind swung to NE and increased, blowing the rain into the cockpit. If we closed the hatch and put the duck boards in we got wet from condensation dripping from the ceiling, Stuart was nominated skipper for the day, and assumed we would be staying put! Wrong! (Note to visitors to Campbeltown: The Royal Hotel at the top of the pontoon offers a hot shower with a white fluffy towel in exchange for a donation to the lifeboat).

Before starting the serious passage sailing, we did some “pontoon bashing” and I was pleased to discover the manoeuvrability of a Westerly Fulmar with an inboard diesel engine compared to a Sigma 8 with an outboard. We had to park the boat down-wind alongside the pontoon in front of a gin palace (with concerned occupants) and stop near enough for the crew to step ashore with warps, and avoid hitting the rough fishing boat in front! I particularly enjoyed the subsequent 3-point turn manoeuvre to turn the boat in its own length.

We eventually started off (with some foreboding) for Lamlash on the far side of Arran in the lee of Holy Island, about 25 miles away. When we emerged from the shelter of Campbeltown Loch, we discovered the seas were rougher and the wind fiercer than we (the students) expected. We put in a 2nd reef, as the wind increased to 30 knots. We fetched towards Pladda, a small island off the southern tip of Arran, and were soon cold and wet. The rain lashed down and John was starting to regret having kippers for breakfast. The waves were giving the boat a lot of lee-way, so we hardened up to close-hauled and bashed our way to windward, playing the main when the wind gusted over 30 knots, occasionally touching 40.

The waves were especially choppy off Pladda, and it seemed to take forever to beat up to Holy Island seeking the entrance to the southern channel. The skipper regaled us with tales of “them that dies will be the lucky ones”, and the full repertoire of animal noises. Most impressive of all was the seal. The trip took 7 hours, and it was only as we motor-sailed the last few miles into Lamlash that I realised we had not eaten nor had a drink all that time!

We picked up a mooring in our by now expert fashion. The mooring was very exposed and the boat rolled like a pig and it was now that I started to feel ill and could not do justice to Geoff’s spaghetti bolognese. I scuttled into my damp sleeping bag, and left the others to move the boat to the lee of Holy Island (renamed kelp island) where it took them 3 goes to get the pick to hold. All retired by 9.30, but it was 1am before my hands and feet became warm. I was half-wakened later during the night by the sound of an engine, and thought the monks were coming to get us for a ritual sacrifice (in fact a ketch anchored in the next bay).

Next Day: Woke about 7 – my turn for galley duty. I cooked bacon, mushrooms & eggs and we set off reluctantly about 10 am towards Lochgoilhead. Wind on the nose again, surprisingly less than the previous day, only between 20 and 30 knots, but the rain was relentless and really hurt our faces. Sang some daft songs to try and keep our spirits up. Songs by Paul McCartney were especially popular as we imagined him living on his comfortable estate just over the hills.

We tacked back and forth near West Kilbride for an hour or so before the skipper relented and put the engine on to the sound of hoorays. As we entered the Marina at Largs, the wind strength gusted to 43 knots and we almost crash landed! The trip had taken 5 hours to Largs, so we were flexible and put Lochgoilhead on hold. We all had a hot shower. The rain still continued in torrents – all gear either wet or damp. We had sailed in a gale and managed OK!

We met up with the crew of Kiwi and found out they had been suffering too, but in a different way. The heads on their boat had blocked, and they had been using a bucket for two days. The crew had been grounded in Largs and living on another boat while the problem was sorted.

That evening we visited the new Largs Sailing Club building. (£60,000+ Sports Lottery Grant). LSC members made us very welcome. The rain continued.

Thursday? (lost count of days). Wind dropped to 2/3, and we set off with our skipper unwell in his bunk. Crew extremely competent by now. We had a very gentle sail, coaxing the boat along on a training run towards Lochgoilhead. The rain stopped at last, and we caught glimpses of the sun. We ate a light lunch as we sailed, and put the motor on afterwards as the wind continued light. We had a good look at the submarine base on Loch Long, and wondered at the boredom of the job of those manning the guard boats at each side of the (ugly) military zone.



As we reached the entrance to Loch Goil we were passed by Flamingo. They followed the sectored light up to Carrick Castle, but we continued on up the Loch. We passed more military hardware on the loch spoiling the scenery, and finally picked up a mooring under sail. We had hot pies and custard prepared by Colin. The rubber dinghy was retrieved and inflated and Stuart rowed us ashore for a bar meal. We were greeted by a blast of hot air from the bar which had an open fire. We peeled off our wet outer garments and steamed gently. Our faces glowed red as we all sat and enjoyed the heat.

We eventually forced ourselves to leave (after some wishful talk of a night ashore in a dry warm bed and fluffy white towels) and rowed back to RAKI. A beautiful place and a fine evening. Worth a return visit.

We set off about 8 for a night passage to Rhu near Helensburgh. John was to navigate, as he had never done a night sail before. The air became very cold, and there was no wind, so we motored. As we approached the junction between Loch Long and the Clyde, the lights were very confusing, and John wished he had taken some directional bearings. Eventually we found the correct green light, after nearly running aground, and headed north towards Rhu. We all learned a lot from this exercise. We then had to follow a series of sectored lights. We motored through the narrows at Rhu and picked up a red mooring buoy at midnight (torch at the ready). We enjoyed smoked salmon with digestive biscuits and a hot toddy then listened to the shipping forecast. During the night the boat rocked violently, and we surmised a sub had passed nearby.

Raki alongside at Millport

Raki alongside at Millport

Next day: Friday. Awoke to sunlight and moderate wind. Had a look at Drum (Simon le Bon’s huge racing machine) as we set off early towards Millport on Great Cumbrae and a promised demonstration of a helicopter rescue. Saw a sub in the distance making its way up Loch Long with its escort ship. Managed to dodge all the ferries crossing the estuary. Not much shipping here (compared with the Tyne) for such a wide waterway leading to Glasgow. The wind dropped further and we motor sailed. The crew took a running fix on the power station chimney at Inver Kip and we eventually reached Millport. Used pilot to safely reach the blue mooring buoys. Skipper prepared another excellent lunch which we ate in the cockpit in the warm sunshine surrounded by vocal eider ducks and herring gulls, with seals basking on the rocks nearby. Heaven. The heli display was planned for 2pm and Kiwi and Flamingo also moored nearby to await the event. We all relaxed and the skipper gave instructions to awake him when the helicopter arrived. We eventually gave up waiting and headed back to Largs, after a short visit ashore where we tied up to the pier. A bit disappointing, Millport looks better from the sea.

Motored back to Largs and started clearing up the boat. Enjoyed one last night on the boat and much exchanging of tales with all the other students during our evening ashore. Left for home the next morning looking forward to a dry bed, but with some great memories and a huge confidence boost (and an RYA Coastal Skipper Certificate!).