RYA Practical Cruise – Flamingo

Gordon Bellerby

We were a motley bunch, the crew of yacht Flamingo. Jason a policeman, John a surgeon, Jim a radio engineer and myself a farmer, all doing Day Skipper, and then there was Pete, our instructor, whose long and varied life had encompassed most of our individual skills and more. We were ready for anything the Clyde could throw at us, or so we thought.

This illusion was soon shattered on the first afternoon as we set forth out of Largs. We had managed to extricate ourselves from the marina into the Clyde without hitting anything or anybody – this was rather to our amazement after a hefty briefing from Pete as to how the wind was blowing too strong in all the wrong directions for our departure. We then learnt our first lesson of the week – that a good sense of smell is a must for any would-be sailor. A whiff of hot engine was first sniffed by John (obviously an attribute acquired whilst slaving over overheating patients). The engine was stopped immediately and a consultation between John, Jason and Pete ensued as to what to do next. Jim and I were told to sail up and down the Clyde (“and for God’s sake don’t hit anything”) whilst John and Jason proceeded to undertake an investigation of the engine, ably assisted by Pete. A broken water pump impeller was soon diagnosed and a return to Largs for repair was inevitable. A visit from the resident engineer in Largs soon had the engine running smooth and sweet, ready for the next days adventure.

Many skills were learnt and hopefully honed over the next few days, from man overboard recovery to mooring up to buoys in beautiful lonely bays, inflating, launching and going ashore in the yacht’s dinghy (and more importantly navigating back in the pitch dark), coming alongside and casting off from jetties, and navigating in poor visibility using contour lines.

For me, though, the highlight of the week was night sailing. We had planned to leave Rothesay at 10.00 pm on the second last day for our night sail, but high winds and heavy seas meant our departure had to be postponed. It was still blowing a force six when we finally set sail at 2.00 am the following morning. Our course was to take us out of Rothesay, up the Clyde into Loch Long and finally into Loch Goil. I found it fascinating to navigate in the dark by just using flashing buoys, preplanned courses to steer and time. We finally arrived in Loch Goil where we anchored in front of a ruined castle and enjoyed a well-earned breakfast.

It was still a lively force six on our return back down Loch Goil. A thrilling two or three hours of tacking back and forth across the loch ensued. A valuable lesson was learnt that we should not be over-canvassed in those conditions as a few gusts overpowered the tiller on one or two occasions. Pete allowed this to happen to demonstrate to us just how far the boat can heal over safely before righting itself (a reef in the main and a little less genoa made for a much more manageable and faster boat ).

Around 11.00 am a submarine was spotted in the distance making steady progress up the loch towards us. The radio burst into life telling all interested parties to go to channel 86 for further information on the sub’s activities. This we duly did and learned that it would be playing games in that area for the next eleven hours and to keep clear. On passing the sub whilst still tacking back and forth, some of its crew came onto the conning tower and gave us a cheery wave. Again the radio burst into life – it was the sub telling us that we were obviously enjoying ourselves and not impeding them in anyway and wishing us happy sailing. This was much to our relief as we thought we were in for a boll….ing. Sadly, after another hour or so of thrilling sailing but not much progress down the loch, the sails were dropped and the engine started for the long trek back to Largs.

All in all, I had a great week and learnt a great deal. My thanks to Pete for his faultless instruction and for regaling us all with his many sailing stories and tales of his life in the army, to John and Jason for skilfully navigating us through the week and being such friendly shipmates and to Jim, my long suffering bunk mate, who had to put up with me for the week and never lost his wonderful Irish sense of humour. Thanks also to John for the accompanying photos.

Kyles of Bute

Peter and Jason, with shades of the “Boyhood of Raleigh”, in Caladh Harbour, Kyles of Bute.


“I see no ships”. Pete and me with binoculars, Jim taking care of the helm

Loch Ranza

John and the castle at Loch Ranza. The stern of Jay, another of the RNYC boats, is visible behind.


Flamingo in beautiful Tarbet, bathed in the afternoon sunlight.

Fresh winds

Fresh winds against a backdrop of Arran.


Jim ready to pass up the painter. Pete and me behind.