RYA Practical Cruise – Kookaburra

Keith Cameron

Saturday May 28

Bob and I were first to arrive in a very wet car park at Craobh Marina. We chatted with the owners of Kookaburra, the Jeanneau Sunrise 34 that was to be our home for the next week, while we waited for the rest of the squad to turn up. We were the overflow from the earlier course held out of Largs in April: Bruce, a wannabe Coastal Skipper, Bob and me as wannabe Day Skippers and Ken as wannabe Competent Crew. We were lucky; we would get better weather and better surroundings for our week. This area cannot be beaten for sailing; it has everything, islands, rocks, strong tides, channels, loads of little anchorages and no queues or crowds. After our excellent evening meal on board (skipper’s treat) the rain had eased off in time for a stroll over to the pub for a pint. I am told that I snore much better after liquid refreshment and so did one other crew member, as we found out.

Sunday May 29

I was up at 0500 for a wander around the marina. The view from the high ground south of the marina was amazing, straight through the Corryvreckan. It all looked so tranquil. Once the late risers turned out and had some breakfast, Tony (our skipper) got his whip out, wiped the dust off it and put it away again. We started off with mooring practice in the marina. We were not that bad, but after a short while we were approached by a representative of the marina management and asked to cease our activities. Some nervous boat owner must have thought “insurance premium”, taken fright and complained, or it may have been the sight of the skipper purchasing a large fender from the chandler’s that did it. Evicted on our first day – a good start. Time to move out and let the adventure begin.

Loch Craignish

Bruce and a view of the anchorage at En Gabhar, Loch Craignish.

Bruce got first crack at the chartwork heading south down towards the Dorus Mhor. Dodging hazards with thought provoking names like Hutchison Rock and McIsaac Rock, I wondered what they had done to deserve having a rock called after them? First time through Dorus Mhor – not a problem. Through the gap, over towards Crinnan and hang a left behind Liath Sgeir Mhor and up Loch Craignish to our anchorage by En Gabhar (“Goat Island”) for the night. “Wot a spot”. We watched a pair of eagles course the ridge to the east before they turned in for the night as well.

Monday May 30

A beautiful morning. My turn to be skipper and it’s up anchor (it’s amazing how heavy an anchor can get when it is loaded with kelp) and off up the loch to Ardfern Marina for more bumps and grinds and to make use of their facilities. A few minutes into the passage the skipper decreed ” Let there be fog” and lo, a fog bank appeared. Sitting below at a chart with plotter and dividers watching the sounder and log, I had the privilege of navigating the boat to Ardfern, where the “fog” lifted as quickly as it had arrived. As we approached the pontoon the skipper had a strange look in his eyes, then someone shouted “fenders”. Oops. A quick U-turn to get the fenders and mooring lines rigged. Once settled alongside, the shower facilities were tested to the max by the whole crew. Very friendly office staff in Ardfern. No charge for an hour or so’s berthing and only £3.00 for an electric hook-up to charge Tony’s laptop. Time to go again! Lines prepared to depart under sail and another “oops” – the bow line slipped out of my fingers and the wind quite happily blew the bows off the pontoon, out of reach. They skipper slipped the stern line and calmly left me on the pontoon. He did relent and came back to pick me up though.

Passage planning

Me planning planning the passage to Ardfern – “fog expected” despite blue skies!

We had a great sail back down to the Dorus Mhor and north up through the Sound of Luing, where my hat blew off. That was the first of many M.O.B. practices. Bob got the job of navigating the next stretch, all the way up to our anchorage in Puilladobhrain for dinner; and he got that job too. What a marvellous evening to enjoy this beautiful anchorage. Well fed and well wrapped up, at 2330 we were away again on our night sail around Kerrera and into Oban harbour. Leading lights, cardinal buoys, Oban’s got them all. We had a late cruise around the harbour and picked up a visitor’s buoy for what remained of the night.





Bruce, me, Bob and Tony (from L to R) in the anchorage at Puilladobhrain.

Night sail to Oban

Ken pointing out a leading light during our night sail to Oban.Tuesday May 31


Bob clearing seaweed from the anchor as we leave En Gabhar in Loch Craignish.

Tuesday May 31

‘Twas a sunny and windless morning for a motor down Kerrera Sound. Ken’s turn at the chart table. The channel buoys half way down the sound have to be thought about because there’s a lump of rock between them. Get them mixed up and you are liable to loose some gel coat – ask the Navy, they know.

Onwards, south to our next challenge, the route between Easdale and Seil Island. It’s marked on the chart as “foul” and that about sums it up. The leading marks are worn down to sea level and the old pier is falling apart. Once through the narrow passage into the bay, buoy and bucket exercises took us to slack water for the navigation of Cuan Sound. Balvicar for lunch and a few going about and gybing exercises in the lovely evening sun in Loch Melfort. So far, so good, but the forecast was for rain and strong easterlies the next day. So we moored up for the night on the pontoon at Kilmelford.

Wednesday June 1

passage planning

Ken, Bob and Bruce putting shorebased theory to the test – calculating how much clearance we could expect going in to Ardinamir.

Rain and strong easterlies materialised as promised in the morning. So did almost flat batteries and no alternator output. The skipper phoned up for a sparky who promptly arrived at 1700 hrs which left us the whole day to practice the M.O.B. lift-outs using the spinnaker halyard and a block and tackle. We also brushed up on our weather forecasting using Tony’s laptop. Bob and I had a stroll in the rain to the shop for some milk, tea bags and some medicinal whisky. By teatime the rain was easing and the sparky had done his stuff. It was all down to a corroded terminal on the red ignition bulb. Not wanting to be moored to the pontoon for another night we considered the possibility of an anchorage called Ardinamir where there was 1 metre or less on the entrance at low water. We drew 1.8 metres so after a few “secondary port” calculations it was unanimously decided we could just scrape in if we hurried. We got in, and in the morning we got out again and watched the bottom go by thanks to the clear water.

Thursday June 2

We left Ardinamir using a white painted mark on the rocks as a back bearing, and the post marking the rocks kept well to port. Not a problem for Geordie sailors. We headed across to the bay at the north end of Shuna for some practice at anchoring under sail. The two yachts already there must have seen the red “L” plate on the bows and they both departed quite quickly. Another exercise ticked off. Away again for another beat down the Sound with me at the chart table. A few clearing lines for good old Hutchinson rock and McIsaac rock and a general “keep an eye open for the Corryvrecken” ( I still don’t think I got too close), and we were down to the Dorus Mhor again. Somebody mentioned a cup of tea and our first major crisis of the week developed. We were out of gas, so an unscheduled repeat visit to Ardfern marina was called for. Once a full gas bottle bottle had been obtained (and quick showers at the Marina) we had to use the stern spring, a fender and a few astern revs on the engine to get the bows away from the dock. The wind had picked up and was quite squally. It had us well heeled over a few times on the trip down Loch Craignish. Heading south past Crinnan the wind dropped and we finished the trip on the engine. Looking at the chart there was some seriously deep water passing under the keel here. Down to 208 metres in one spot just off the little bay where we anchored for the night (Carsaig bay). We were gently rocked to sleep by the short swell on the beam, and we were ready for it.

Friday June 3

The last full day dawned to a fresh southerly breeze. A hearty breakfast of boiled egg on a spring (novel form of eggcup we found on Kookaburra) with fresh cooked ciabatta bread and butter. Somebody must have mentioned the dinghy, until now rolled up out of harms way on the cabin top. “Ah ha” thought the skipper. Ken and Bob were given the job of inflating and launching this little craft. The outboard was fitted to the little transom, fired up and, zoom, off it went carrying Ken, Bob and Tony to find a sheltered spot for rowing practice. There was not a huge amount of freeboard and even less when the bung popped out and the boat started filling up. Tony took a bootfull before he got the bung replaced. When they got back, Ken’s thumb was leaking blood where he had nipped it between the ends of the oars, but we all had a laugh. The dinghy and outboard were swiftly returned to their original resting places, anchor up and away again.

I was lucky; I got the helm for the last decent sail. Bob was the navigator. We were all amazed at the effects of the current just west of Dorus Mhor. The tide was pushing up the sound and creating mass of swirling boils and rips. I really had to hang on to the tiller at one point and the noise in the cabin was awesome. I think this was the highlight of the trip for me (the food wasn’t bad either). When the wind almost faded away we had lunch and some practice picking up a mooring (spill and fill) in ***Bay, halfway up the Sound of Shuna, making use of the last few hours of our time. We even spotted a pair of dolphins working their way north around the bay. More back bearings and clearing bearings for Bruce as he navigated around the final reef back into Craobh Haven for our last night’s shower and feed. It was almost over. It had been a good week: instructive and a laugh a minute. Thanks Tony.