RYA Practical Cruise, Clyde – Dipper

Angus Robson

Those abandoning all hope were

  • Mike Bradley- Course Skipper
  • Mike Shipway- Coastal Skipper Practical
  • Chris Eggett- Coastal Skipper Practical
  • James Robson- Competent Crew
  • Angus Robson- Competent Crew
  • Our Vessel Dipper a 38ft Jeanneau Sunshine class

Sat 16th April

Arrived Largs  12.30 and met with the lovely Avril from Flamingo Charters, from whom myself and James had hired the waterproofs for the week. A bargain at £25 for the week as even good quality hiking waterproofs are not really the correct design.

Had absolutely tonnes of gear to put on board as myself and James had never done such a week before. Would we be soaked wet through every day and therefore need dry clothes to last the week? Not even sure what we  would need for food. James and I were on dinner scheduled for Monday and Tuesday respectively so we opted for bringing along pre cooked frozen food in an ice box filled with ice packs. This was on the assumption that if we didn’t open the box until absolutely necessary, we would still have safe food to eat. I suppose anything longer than the 4 days then you might be availing yourself of  the services of Her Majesty’s search and rescue helicopter to take the poisoned crew members safely to shore.

Having arrived early we were first on board. Skipper nicked the starboard aft cabin, James, the port aft and myself the Royal state cabin up the bow end just past the life jacket locker and door to the cavernous “heads” (We will come back to this later as with hindsight, this was probably a mistake). This meant the other two poor chaps were going to have to bunk up in the general living quarters.

Tip -If you want the best cabin then get there early or maybe you could do it by random selection

Eventually we managed to store what was probably enough provisions for an extended campaign to retake some islands from the Dutch East Indies company. There is actually more storage space than you imagine, it just takes a bit of thinking. The Dipper was fabulous looking racing boat which belittled its tardis properties below deck

A quick run through safety aspects and the format of the course, we were underway at 3.00pm and soon put to sail. A wind of 10 knots took us down the  Isle of Bute towards the Northern tip Of Arran and then westwards into the lower reaches of Loch Fyne, ultimately heading for East Loch Tarbert. Fabulous scenery as always in this part of the world

Myself and James, the other competent crew member,  were given plenty of time at the helm, in addition to our general rope duties whilst tacking with the genoa sail. Weather was  “canny not bad at all” “ lets hope it stays like this all week”. A number of submarines spotted en-route and the odd porpoise.  Skipper produced his signature dish for dinner which was thoroughly appreciated and eaten on deck so as not to miss anything.  Arrived in Tarbert way after dark, which gave Chris  his first shot at taking us into a harbour in darkness. The entrance was very tricky and narrow but thankfully all the anticipated sequential  navigation lights were working as planned. Finally tied up at 11.30 pm and I have to say “ bloody frozen to the core”. As competent  crew members, I think our excitement for  what we were experiencing  probably  overlooked the fact that we were staying on deck  for much longer  periods than some of the more experienced crew. We were very well wrapped in terms of thermals and still felt the cold

Tip– Get yourself down below now and again to stop yourself getting too cold- even if it means you offering to make a hot drink for everyone  more often than normal.

Toilets on the marina at Tarbert were very clean and very warm. Came straight back and climbed straight into bed knackered. That had been a long day after a  tough week at work. Slept like a condemned man- freezing cold- don’t underestimate how cold you are going to be if you don’t get warm first before retiring. Wish I had even brought 2 sleeping bags now. Bursting all night but didn’t want to wake the others in the main cabin- successfully plaited legs all night but then had to get up. Thought if I am disturbing the crew, the least I can do is put the kettle on-

Tip– Find and check all switches and isolators before setting off and in daylight and make sure every crew member is aware.

Tried to get credit cards for the electric meters on the pontoons but couldn’t seem to get them to register with the meter. Was duly informed by the harbour master 2 hours later that she “sometimes has tae shove it in around 32 times before anything happens”  No comment from the crew. Got some nice pics of Tarbert at first light.

Finally got the kettle on and all had some breakfast. Quick tidy up and a small recce of Tarbert harbour. Not much to report- very quiet.

Yacht Dipper

Yacht Dipper

Made good the boat after all checks to engine and instruments. No wind so Skipper gave us each some practice at bringing the boat alongside a pontoon, jumping off and tying off  bow and stern lines as well as springs. Left Tarbert at around 11.00 am under motor as no wind. Got a good look at how tricky the entrance had been in the dark. Sailed up the west side of Loch Fyne. Rounded a peninsular at the very  stately Stonefields Hotel. Fabulous location but apparently not matched by the customers reviews. Picked up a buoy (first time for everything) using a weighted rope over the buoy whilst carefully not overrunning it with the keel of the boat. Approach had to very measured under motor. Some degree of skill required and this was flat calm. After this northward to Ardrishaig to get some practice at  mooring  on a high wall of the Crinan Canal (closed on Sunday). We made this look quite straightforward- beginning to shape up like a crew now. Bid our retreat- nice little harbour though.

Headed off to the east side to Otter Ferry taking care to navigate a huge submerged spit which became evident at low tide. As part of competent crew  myself and  James were tasked with blowing up a dinghy and successfully demonstrating our ability to row ashore. This we managed with  our dignity intact even though the dinghy did not  possess a seat with which to row from. Kneeling made it a bit more awkward.  As we left our crew members to discuss navigation skills we finally reached the shore. “ Twas then I realised,  we were not alone on our island”. We were quickly arrested by the  hastily arranged home guard and forcibly dragged off to immigration against our will. During intense questioning in the Oystercatcher pub we were then forced to drink 2 pints of Ushers finest from Glasgow, before being released without charge. The return journey to the yacht was somewhat more circuitous- can’t figure out why- must have been a strong tide. Navigation crew  were now looking at us with disgust at our impudence. The commander was easily turned though with the production of a bag of Tyrrels crisps, purloined from  our unfortunate experience with immigration.

Commander decided it would be good practice for  one of the skippers to do some  simulated fog navigation so they were confined to the chart table and were only allowed to the foot of the hatch stairs to shout out heading and speed instructions to the helm. God speed to Tarbert men! More fabulous scenery on the way back through the simulated fog. Found our favourite spot and had another leg stretch around the harbour. Massive scallops being sorted by fishermen in the harbour. Not for us rough and ready sailors though- tins at the ready men. Washed down with 2 bottles of red though. Put the worlds to rights after the meal and then collapsed into bed knackered. Did have some heat before bed time though which helped but still cold later on. Woke 6.00 am Monday morning- no sign of  life from crew so wrote in journal. Decided I needed an  en-suite upgrade  to save waking the rest of the crew. Crew stirred at 7.50- cuppa time,  Shower time- Ahhhh human again, into town but disaster!- baker is no longer there “ ooo ya wee bas*****! – so no  Scottish baps for breakfast.

Back for brekky and made good the boat without any orders been given. Maybe the commander was secretly testing our aptitude here or maybe he had his own secret baker over in West Loch Tarbert. Another beautiful day in paradise, harbour very busy with fishing boats. We certainly felt their wash when they came in late during the night. Left the picturesque harbour and quickly got sails up making 5.5 knots with 6 knots of wind heading south east. Then out of no-where, the doldrums. Nothing else for it but kettle on and flapjacks. Did some man overboard drills with “Duncan the dummy” . A very good exercise though. Commander decided to take us up the West Kyle towards Tighnabruaich- Stunning scenery even without any wind. This is the life! Passed close by a very charming bay at Caladh Harbour at the southern end of Loch Ridden before turning east through the Burnt Isles and onward to Colintraive . Fabulous houses overlooking the loch and what brilliant weather, some people were sunbathing on the shore. No chance of wind but who cares. Had another fog simulated voyage onwards to Rothesay. We remained on deck with the commander and below decks someone found a game of “Mullet Power” Top trumps. The Commander then proceeded to wipe the decks with us and cleaned up. Was it luck or did he have a sneaky mullet himself in the 70’s- will we ever know the truth. On approach to Rothesay we radioed ahead and were told that the 3 red lights if showing meant that the ferry would be approaching and that we would not be allowed to enter the harbour behind the ferry landing. The ferry duly arrived and we then held position until we spotted 2 green lights and  1 white. Tentatively we radioed once more to the harbour control, to confirm whether  green and 1 white meant we could proceed with caution as the Reeds skippers manual said there would be 3 green. The reply came back  something like the following; “ Oh we divnae dae 3 green lights here- We only dae the 2 green lights and thats all yeez iz gettin- take it or leave it- Over!” Can’t argue with that really so in we went.

Some concern as to the amount of free draft we would have as there was a particularly  low tide scheduled  that night. Ran ashore for  raid on the coop before closing and some of the red stuff. Rothesay has obviously seen better day as a Victorian town, but some parts  such as the parklands were still very well maintained. Couldn’t help but notice  the influence of the Zavaroni ( “Mamma- He’s making eyes at me” ) dynasty. They seemed to own a fair old proportion of the  businesses and they even played her classic tune on the local radio. Maybe there was a Zavaroni FM. Had a great meal  and drinks in the cockpit- T-shirts in April at 7.00pm. Sun went down and so did the wine. Craic was fierce on the boat until bed time. Everyone looked knackered- maybe some warmth and sleep tonight. Hopefully Caledonian Macbrayne don’t start before 6.00 am. It’s tough being a light sleeper on a small boat.

Tues 6.00 am

Mike went up to undo our mast clothes-line which was carefully erected the night before to ensure we didn’t topple towards our neighbours yacht, should  we take the  aground. We had actually settled into the silts but were stable enough. Thank goodness we cancelled the ceilidh band, the night before.

Seagulls finally stopped when a harbour maintenance crew began drilling into the harbour wall at 6.50am with a Jules Verne sized drill- Bless em! Made good use of the restored Victorian netty- a must visit for a shower.

Left Rothesay loaded with  booty from the electric Bakery. Champion ! and a bacon roll before the off. Sailed not far to Kames bay to practice an anchorage exercise. Have to say Dipper is a beautiful boat but the anchor system was definitely designed to lose a few fingers each time you used it. Appeared to get snagged but finally released ourselves by putting the boat hard astern.

Proceeded to head up to Holy Loch under sail at 5 knots, ran ‘goose winged’ into West bay on a course of 30 degrees past the Cantocks and then gybed into Holy Loch itself. Practiced some man overboard under sail by crash tacking the boat. Motored on to Rhu Marina to purchase some more diesel and a chance to have dinner in the marina. Another glorious night.

Rhu Marina

Rhu Marina at Sunset

Shame we had to go to work after this! Another night sail back down the Clyde for a buoy Mooring off Millport on the southern  tip of  Cumbrae. Freezing sail down . Lots of buoys and shipping to look out for. Plenty of confusion with lights on shore from the Hunterston terminals. Came into Millport just before midnight- not all buoys illuminated  as per the almanac. Found a suitable visitor’s buoy and tied off. Quite a good nights sleep despite feeling cold again. Note to self- don’t go to bed cold!!


Woke late but had a breakfast of scotch pancakes. Surrounded by seals basking on the islands guarding the harbour. Noticed a workman’s lorry parked in front of the navigation lights we were looking for last night. Made ready and headed off for Arran. Glassy sea but picture perfect. Moored off in Lamlash Bay- absolutely fabulous lunch in the sunshine- didn’t want to leave. On towards Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre, arrived near sunset. Proceeded with great  caution as  marker system appeared very confusing. Struck an underwater  obstruction  which sent the chief  petty officer sprawling  through the cabin below. He almost lost an ear on a half opened can of Tesco Chicken. After regaining our dignity we then proceeded into the harbour much to the amusement of  the other boats who were filled with people obviously dying for us to strike the same obstruction.

Had a quick walk about town and then back for the Chiefs dinner with his ear now safely re-attached. A tinned extravaganza at this stage of the voyage but washed down with plentiful supplies


Up at 8.30 and kettle on and tea on a sunshine morning in Campbeltown.  Headed ashore en-mass in search of a greasy spoon diner to be rewarded with a full Scottish with square sausage- just the dogs dangly bits. Then a welcome shower in the ‘Aqualibra’  a joint building of the Library and swimming pool. A very nice new building. Found a garden shrine  dedicated to ‘Our Linda’  – Oh mist rolling in from the sea. Decided a trip to Scotland could not be complete without a nougat wafer ice-cream and a game of putt. To our delights the putting green was open this early in the season but alas, the first  green had grass tall enough to hide a dancing party of Masai warriors. No putt today then. Bought some supplies to clean the heads- 5 blokes on a wobbly platform for a week does not bode well.  Nearly caused an international standoff by daring to ask the butcher if we could taste his black pudding before purchasing. “ Not a chance Pal !”

Set sail at 2.00pm towards Troon. Commander had been  following the  weather keenly in the hope we would get a final days sail up the coast to Largs.  Get those thermals  on for a night entry into Troon. Sea like glass heading east towards Pladda Island on the southern tip of Arran. German u-boat 33 sunk by depth charges here in 1940. Very ghostly trip as hardly any  other traffic so  the noise from other  diesel vessels carried tremendous distances.

Not far out from the shelter of Arran the wind started to pick up. Hello, time for sails mateys!. Very soon though we were in 26 knot winds with variable direction. Had a go at the helm which proved more difficult  than normal in the squally conditions. A great thrill though on a broad reach- this is what we had came for! Started to head north-east towards Troon staying west of Holy Island. A keen lookout was needed for smaller fishing vessels in the dark on the choppy seas. Chris managed to make a very welcome stew at very high speed 9 knots at times. Port side  rail well in the water now. He emerged fairly unscathed from the cabin apart from lightly blanching his crown jewels on a few occasions. “Hold a steady course number 1”. Radioed ahead to Troon and were advised to stand off for the impending arrival of the P&O ferry from Ireland. Held position for nearly 1 hour under motor. Sails had been dropped a long back when the wind was up at 28 knots and starting to overpower the boat. The wind was quite cutting and we were willing the yellow flashing light to go off. Seemed to have lost radio contact with Troon Harbour. Finally allowed in after the ferry- now very dark. Inner navigation lights within the harbour were not functioning but there was just enough background light to make out the obstacles. Very cold again, needed a bottle of Muriel ( the now recognised weapon of choice) to war up before bed and a wee dram of Gelnmorangie. Lots of traffic noise from the Roll on – Roll off lorries and the wind now howling through the rigging of the other boats. Another condemned mans sleep- possibly the worst to date.


Dipper sailing

Dipper sailing

Woke up at 8.30, extremely bleary eyed. Very posh marina at Troon, doubt they would have let us in  during daylight!. Off out at 11.00 am  – a good force 4-5 north easterly blowing. Perfect for a rip up the coast. Reefed in to No1 reef on the mainsail, but subsequently had to stall the sails and reef in to number 2 position. Didn’t get another chance on the helm but excellent fun. This was fair tramping along now.

Only got a hour or two up the coast though when someone up there switched off the wind. What a swizz. Nothing else for it  but to motor  the rest of the way up to Largs, not before a stop off at the sailing school on Cumbrae for some more practice at coming along side a marina. Seemed quite deflated that it was all over and we were heading back into Largs.

A great week, fierce craic from start to finish, and some excellent company. If you have ever thought about doing it, this is a brilliant introduction to coastal sailing.

Dipper's crew

Dipper’s crew