RYA Practical Cruise, Clyde – Skua

Kevin Milburn

Three Five Men in a Boat

Saturday 22nd April.

The crew

Steve, Ben, Tony and Rob

It took three and a half hours to drive to Largs marina where I met up with the rest of the crew of Skua, a 37ft Bavaria. Rob, Ben and Steve all had a lot of cruising experience prior to the start of the course and I had only the day skipper course (which I’d completed in 2004) and a lot of dinghy sailing. It was obvious that the others had a lot of know-how. After a safety and vessel familiarisation briefing, we stowed our gear and Tony (our instructor), informed us of what lay ahead. We looked at the weather forecast (S4/5 occasionally 6, but fine with light winds on Sunday ) and decided to set off for Holy Loch. Once in the new marina there, Tony cooked a delicious dinner which went down well with the obligatory G&Ts.

Sunday 23rd April

Holy Loch

The head of Holy Loch from the marina

The morning dawned bright as forecast and we practised coming alongside pontoons with both ahead and astern approaches, the others doing a lot better than me. I’d never had any experience at the wheel, as dinghies tend to use a tiller.

Steve was first to be given a blind navigation exercise, pretending the weather was foggy despite the glorious sunshine. With little information other than that on the chart, the depth and the log readings, Steve managed to successfully navigate from the marina to his objective – the South Cardinal at the entrance to the loch. With relief he emerged victorious from his trial and we sailed on to Ardentinny in Loch Long for a lunch break. Then on to Rhu, recovering a “bucket overboard” several times on the way. Off the marina at Rhu we stemmed the tide to pick up a buoy under sail, during which manoeuvre I managed to loose the boat hook! Thinking it had sunk without trace, I resigned myself to buying a new one. Then, at the stern, it appeared floating! Quickly we launched the tender and I was dispatched by my crewmates to retrieve it. After dinner we rested up before the night exercise to Rothesay.

The first half of the sail, as far as the Cloch Light, went well for Steve and Rob, with Ben and me taking over the navigation for the second part to Rothesay. First time back at the navigation table in 2 years, it was obvious that I needed a lot more practice. With Ben’s calm approach and Tony’s help we managed to find the harbour and come alongside a pontoon safely.

Monday 24th April


Alongside in Rothesay

Ardlamont Point

Rounding Ardlamont Point in rain

From Rothesay we set course for the East Kyle of Bute with me skippering. After safely negotiating the Burnt Isles, and a trip round the little island at Caladh Harbour, we anchored for lunch in Blackfarland Bay. There, Rob prepared a passage plan to take us to Tarbet.

This started with sailing the anchor out and then a long windy beat down the West Kyle with 2 reefs in the main and the third reef rove in case we needed it. The seas were rather more lumpy round Ardlamont Point and by the time we settled on a broad reach to Tarbet, the wind had got up to force 6 with occasional bigish waves to match. Despite the rain, Tony said that he’d never been to Tarbet without the sun making an appearance. The next morning we weren’t disappointed.

Steve enjoying the beat down the west Kyle

Steve enjoying the beat down the west Kyle

Tuesday 25th April

Ready to slip

Genoa backed, ready to slip

Otter Narrows

Close hauled near Otter Narrows. Bob, Ben and me

More pontoon bashing, this time under sail, then Steve was asked to take us across Loch Fyne to sail round behind a little island off Bhuic Bay and then back across to pick up a mooring buoy in the bay north of Barmore Island. Steve made a great job of getting us there, giving us a very close up view of a drying rock as we were tacking south of the island. We moored under the suspicious gaze of a fisherman on the shore who was keeping a close eye on his line. After a cuppa soup and sandwich lunch, Ben was appointed skipper for a sail to a red can buoy just past the Otter Narrows, a drying spit of land at the head of Lower Loch Fyne, and then on to Ardrishaig at the entrance to the Crinan Canal. We came alongside the high stone walls of the sea loch just after low water, rigging bow and stern lines as well as springs fore and aft to take account of the rise and fall of the tide during the night. Unfortunately, the pub in Ardrishaig had no real ale, but it was nice and cosy and the Guinness was much appreciated.

Wednesday 26th April

Loch Ranza

Steve admiring the view in Loch Ranza

With the loch keeper wanting us out of the way before 0800 I had to reverse the boat out of the sea loch, following the narrow channel while keeping a close eye on the depth. Back to Tarbet for lunch and supplies, short tacking through the narrow entrance into the harbour. More sailing on and off pontoons and jetties, then off to Loch Ranza, with me skippering. Suddenly it was deemed to be foggy again and without being able to leave the cabin, (curtains shut so I couldn’t see out) I spent a very nervous hour or so, wondering if we were going to run aground. According to my cunning plan we would head west once we reached the 30 m contour on the north coast of Arran. This required lots of short tacking along the coast, each time taking us back to the shallow water contour depth I’d set for turning. At last the dangerous spit off the loch entrance was declared to be in sight, followed soon after by the large ferry mooring buoy. The “fog” cleared as quickly as it had come and we sailed onto a mooring buoy under the fantastic mountain scenery. After dinner, the tender was lowered and off we went to the pub, for Tony’s real ale. Coming back, the outboard refused to start and after a bit of paddling Rob remarked that the kill-cord was missing! I’d taken it from the motor to prevent someone taking the tender (when you come from Wallsend you tend not to trust many people with things like that).

Thursday 27th April

St Ninian's Bay

Jay anchoring next to us in St Ninian’s Bay

St Ninian's Bay

Morning stillness in St Ninian’s Bay

Rob and Steve had asked to take the RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Offshore exam at the end of the week. Both had a lot of sea-miles under their belts, but they found the exercises to be valuable preparation: recovering buckets over-board, anchoring and mooring under sail and engine, dead reckoning, clearing lines, simulated fog navigation, running fixes and three point fixes. The latter came in handy when Rob’s task was to calculate the tide to see if we could safely sail over Shearwater Rock just south of Inchmarnock Sound – and then to do it! We anchored under sail (is there any other way?) in Saint Ninian’s Bay, rigging a bridle to prevent anchor snatch. Don and his crew in Jay joined us briefly before they set off on a night exercise. After dinner, Steve was asked to give a talk on GPS and I managed a few words on maintaining a diesel engine. Tony gave a rendition of the “Lambton Worm” and other Geordie folk songs!

Friday 28th April

Last sailing day. We woke to a magic panorama all around us with a warming sun and a glassy sea. After breakfast a light breeze built up and Ben took us off to anchor in Callum’s Hole at the south end of Bute for lunch. Then, despite the bright sunshine and by now fresh breeze the “fog” descended again and he had to find the South Cardinal buoy off Millport with only 100m visibility. This done he took us through the rocky passage into Millport where we picked up a mooring for a cup of tea. Rob was advised that fog was about to fall for the fourth and final time and that he had to navigate us out of the bay. He did this with great success, then it was a direct course back to Largs.

Dinner at Largs

Friday evening dinner at Largs

Back in the marina there was a final bit of pontoon bashing before the evening meal organised by RNYC ashore. The meal was a great way to catch up with the other crews and skippers, talking through their experiences and sharing ours.
Although the 7-day course had ended, Saturday was the big day for Steve and Rob, with the examiner due to arrive at 1300. I said my farewells early, exchanged contact details, wished them both good luck, and headed off home.

I’m glad to say that all four of us were awarded Coastal Skipper practical course completion certificates. To be honest, I personally learnt a great deal this week and appreciate Tony’s enduring patience with us all, especially with me who constantly tried to sail the boat like a dinghy. Yes I did get the hang of the wheel in the end!!

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all the instructors for their personal time, volunteering to progress individual’s skills, some taking time off work and others time away from their own boats.

Did Steve and Rob Pass the MCA exam? With flying colours!