Chris’s Sailing Blog

Skerries Lighthouse to Port, sailing Daisy around Anglesey

For a meeting icebreaker, a colleague once said “Chris Goes Sailing.”. Hence the rather naff working title for this blog.

I have been messing about in boats of one sort or another since early childhood.  The boats have ranged from kayaks and small dinghies, through more esoteric craft like Indian Ocean outriggers and a long tail “Cordless Canoe”, to various owned and chartered sailing cruisers and a couple of Sail Training vessels. The voyages have ranged from inland lakes and waterways to Britain’s wonderfully varied coastal waters and the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. 

So why blog about it? Why not….?

This blog started as a random collection of pieces. Gradually a rough structure has emerged. 

  • Contessa 32 White Knight of Purbeck, is the boat we currently share and in which we are gradually sailing around Britain. The posts tell of our journey from the initial search for a boat through the first season sailing Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, the winter refit and continue our peregrination through the Clyde and on down through the Irish Sea to Wales. The story continues…………..
  • The Cornish Shrimper Daisy was in our care for 8 years and provided many adventures, some of which are fit for telling including our exploits around Anglesey and the Clyde. 
  • There have also been adventures In Other Boats including a Cordless Drill powered folding kayak “Kleppie & the Long Tail”, Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger in which we competed in the Sail Caledonia Great Glen Raid in 2008. Also some cruises in chartered yachts.
  • The Miscellaneous Scribbles are just that, a collection of posts on a wider range of  subjects. 
  • The Merganser Voyages are recollections and photographs of our family exploring the English and Welsh canal network in the 1960s

I hope you enjoy it. 

Introducing the Merganser Voyages

The Merganser Voyages actually started in another boat. Goosander was a twin keel 14′ Midshipman plywood sailing cruiser built by my Dad in our garage. Dad had this idea of taking his family sailing in the nearby Lake District. I was about 4 at the time, my sister Kathryn was 3.

Goosander I under construction Whitsun – Oct 1965

Then after some early sails on Ullswater and Windermere, Mum and Dad went off for a cruise up the Llangollen Canal (without kids) and were captivated. Dad realised it would be an ideal way of exploring Britain with a young family at 4mph during his long summer holidays from his job as a teacher. If we got fractious or bored we could always be put on the towpath and told to walk.

His timing perfectly captured the end of the commercial era of canals in the 1960s, but came before they became popular tourist destinations with the large hire fleets of steel narrowboats by the mid 1970s.

Holiday on Canals. Summer 1966. Llangollen Canal. Goosander crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Merganser was a GRP Norman 17. 16’9″ long with a 2 berth cabin that Dad bought as an empty shell. He fitted her out with a rudimentary galley including a two burner primus stove and a plastic washing up bowl and whale water pump. There was a small locker for hanging our tooth brushes and another for cutlery. He even managed to fit in a very narrow wardrobe just big enough for his smart jacket and trousers, and a secure secret locker just big enough for his camera. Though we has an “Elsan” chemical toilet in the cabin, we only used it on the River Thames where “Bucket and Chuck-it” was banned. Kath and I slept in the cockpit under a folding canvas pram hood. Lighting was from a paraffin lamp. Motive power came from a Swedish Crescent 9hp engine which had a small generator which powered a car head lamp for use in tunnels. With her road trailer she could be towed to and retrieved from any part of the canal network from our home in Cumberland.

Merganser on the drive, getting ready for adventure.

For 5 years between 1966 and 1971 we explored the English and Welsh Canals, reaching nearly all the parts of the network which were open at the time. Dad recorded our voyages with his trusty Pentax camera on colour slides. Also in his log books (currently missing) and in his neat annotations in the margins of the British Waterways blue “Cruising Guides”. In these posts I hope to combine Dad’s slides and notes I can find with our somewhat shaky family recollections of the Gossander and Merganser voyages.

A few years ago my little brother Donald undertook the mammoth task of digitising Dad’s slides. He does not appear in these posts because it all happened before he was born.

Dad died in April 2020 after 20 years of slow decline with vascular dementia.

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

The swallows were lining the telegraph wires as we started contemplating a winter berth. Comparing prices, Conwy would be an expensive option for the winter. With Covid restrictions tightening again a passage to Victoria Dock, Caernarfon was agreed.  Covid near misses and alerts ment several changes of potential crew during the week. At last a negative covid test result for Elin and Jonathan’s priority to stay Covid free to be part of the Commissioning Team for RRS Sir David Attenborough made the final crew Chris, Ian & Elin.

It was the end of September and an early start for what would turn into an eventful day. The winds had started to drop after the overnight gales. But a chill wind from the North persisted, Autumn is approaching.

After chatting with the owner of another Contessa 32 in Conwy who had only just launched after an extended winter refit, we left Conwy Marina for our winter berth. There was a stiff wind in the channel gusting into F6 with wind over tide. Turning for the reach out to the Fairway Buoy the chop eased as the swell thundered on the protecting banks to windward.  But with Conwy Fairway Buoy abeam and no protection the ground swell increased with larger waves at intervals. We cleared Penmaenmawr and with the wind against the tidal stream coming out of the straits, the swell got steeper. Close reaching with full genoa and a single reefed main we aimed to clear Puffin Island. Then a large wave broke against the genoa pulling out the tack. Elin on the helm had us quickly furling the genoa to continue under engine and main.

Close reaching past the Duchman’s Bank

Turning around the West side of Puffin Island with the main sheeted in to minimize the risk of  damage from a crash gybe, we were running before large waves as we approached Penmon Point, the Tuddyn Ddu lighthouse and the entrance to the Menai Straits channel.  A jet ski was having great fun playing in the breakers ahead as we turned into Straits channel. A few minutes later as we drew closer, we could see the Jet Skiers waving from the water, clearly in trouble and drifting across the narrowest part of the channel towards the sand banks. We closed to assist.

With our throwing line we were able to secure the Jet Ski and we picked up the first Jet Skier “Simon” fairly easily. But by this stage he was already very cold and vomiting sea water, he also seemed a bit confused. We then backed up the throwing line with a mooring warp tied by Simon’s mate to the handlebars of the Jet Ski. The swell was still considerable in the narrow channel between Tuddyn Ddu and the beacon off Puffin Island and worse further out. As the Jet Ski sheared off and capsized, Simon’s mate fell off into the water and was soon out of reach.

Ian sent the MAYDAY call to Holyhead Coastguard as I tried to turn White Knight around. Elin was everywhere, pointing to the jetskier in the water and sorting warps. The drag from the shearing Jet Ski made turning difficult, but I managed to use the mainsail to assist the turn.  

Within a few minutes we managed to regain contact and get the second Jet Skier “Dean” on board. He seemed in better condition than Simon but was concerned that his phone and car keys were still in the Jet Ski. We updated the Coastguard that we had both on board and the Jet Ski in tow heading for Beaumaris. However, as it would take over an hour for us to get there and as Simon was still not in a good way Beaumaris Lifeboat was dispatched. Steering remained difficult with the Jet Ski shearing off sideways. Elin was dolling out warm drinks, coats and a space blanket while Ian continued monitoring Simon and Dean’s condition.

Above Buoy B1 and at last out of the worst of the swell, the mooring line to the jet ski handlebars became detached and the throw line quickly chafed through. We decided to stand by the jet ski until the Lifeboat arrived rather than attempt to reattach the tow.

The Lifeboat with its covid masked crew, was on scene less than 25 minutes after our initial MAYDAY call. Simon was very cold, still confused and clammy so, after covid checks, was immediate transferred to the lifeboat with Dr Ian for a rapid evacuation to Beaumaris and a waiting ambulance. Or was Ian really just wanting to have a trip on the Atlantic 85 B Class Lifeboat?

We stood by the Jet ski with Dean still on White Knight holding tight to the pushpit andvomiting regularly. Gradually we were drifting past Buoy B2 towards Dutchman’s Bank, monitoring depth as we drifted onto the edge of the deep-water channel.

The Lifeboat returned in time to collect Dean and recover the Jet Ski getting a tow line to the eye below the jet ski’s bows before we hit the sand.

Beaumaris RNLI’s Atlantic Class B IRB with the stricken jet ski in tow.

 I tidied up, washed away the worst of the vomit as we resumed passage up the Strait. Elin elated, steering and texting her friends and family reassuring them that everybody was OK and reminding every body that she was still wanting to join the Lifeboats.

I nipped below for a comfort break then felt the slight slowing lurch as we ran into the soft sand between buoys B6 & B8. Elin had not noticed the bend in the channel. It was quickly clear that going ahead would put us further onto the sands and the prop walk in reverse was also pulling us further on. Heeling only allowed the wind to blow us even further on. So as it was close to low water with no swell it was out with the kedge to await the return of the tide.

Elin wants me to point out that “it was not her fault” and there were several other factors at play:

  • Previously (nearing high water) we had been able to cut this corner without incident, but the tide had dropped significantly while we were sorting out the jet ski incident,
  • She was distracted as she was still washing vomit from the cockpit and she was following the lifeboat which had apparently safely cut the corner,
  • The sand banks had shifted further into the channel
  •  The adrenaline high was kicking in
  • The skipper was not in the cockpit at the time. 
  • The shallow water alarm had not been activated.

I rang Ian to say we would be a bit delayed. He happened to be standing next to the Coastguard. The lifeboat was dispatched back to tow us clear.  After getting their tow rope cleared from around their prop, the Lifeboat, along with all our weight on the boom and shrouds to heel us, used its 230 HP to pull us clear. All a bit embarrassing.  The old moto, “No good deed goes unpunished” proved just as true at sea as in office politics. 

Coming alongside Beaumaris Pier old friend and Coastguard “Trigger” was on hand to take warps and add to the chaff. We finished clearing up after the grounding and collected Ian. Simon and Dean were by now deemed OK after having been checked over by the Ambulance crew. Somebody had given them a lift to collect their car and trailer.

Departing Beaumaris, we put a call through to Holyhead Coast Guard to thank them for their assistance and were thanked in return. Meanwhile the Coastguard crew were legging it up the pier then with blue lights and sirens heading off on another shout. A few moments later we were called back by Holyhead Coastguard, another boat was “in trouble off Gallows Point. Could we assist?” A RIB had been spotted aground on the sands on the mainland shore. We saw them and a jet skier was already assisting. We relayed progress to the Coastguard, but it was too shallow for us to approach any closer. Eventually the jet skier managed to tow the rib back out to deeper water and get it started again.

We picked up a large mooring off Menai Bridge for lunch and a snooze. Elin watched Benidorm on her I Phone while Ian caught up on E Mails. So we generally relaxed to await the tide to pass through the Swellies. By this time the local paper had got hold of the story and could not resist the headline “White Knight to the Rescue”

The Swellies is the most treacherous section of the Menai Strait. A medieval document states: In that arm of the see that departeth between this island Mon and North Wales is a swelowe that draweth to schippes that seileth and sweloweth hem yn, as doth Scylla and Charybdis – therefore we may nouzt seile by this swalowe but slily at the full see.

The reference to the Greek sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis who inhabited a whirlpool in the straits of Messina is apt, capturing the essence of the tightest bits of the channel with the seething waters sucking the unwary between the rocks and shoals with little control of their steering;

The sea monster Charybdis was believed to live under a small rock on one side of a narrow channel. Opposite her was Scylla, another sea monster, that lived inside a much larger rock. The sides of the strait were within an arrow-shot of each other, and sailors attempting to avoid one of them would come in reach of the other. To be “between Scylla and Charybdis” therefore means to be presented with two opposite dangers, the task being to find a route that avoids both. Three times a day, Charybdis swallowed a huge amount of water, before belching it back out again, creating large whirlpools capable of dragging a ship underwater

Thank goodness for the now (hopefully) reliable Green Donkey in its stable beneath the companion way steps.

Slack water in the Menai Straits is a moving entity as the tides flow around the island of Anglesey and into each end of the straits at different times, initially from the south. “HW” slack moves from the North to reach the Swellies about 2.5 hours before HW Liverpool, the tide continuing to rise for another hour fed from the north, by which time the current can reach 4-5 knots. The ideal time for southbound boats to traverse is just before slack water with a north flowing current to give steerage without having much speed over the ground.

We dropped the mooring and headed under Telford’s great suspension bridge and through the Swellies, avoiding the Platters (North and South) Swelly Rock, Prices Point Shoals, Cribbin Rock and the Chicken Rock before breaking out under Stephenson’s box girder bridge less than a mile later and on into the southern Straits.

And Relax………

Felin Heli abeam and the sun dropping behind the clouds towards the horizon. News of our exploits was spreading, friends on holiday in Yorkshire started posting congratulatory comments on anti-social media. Oh, for the days before 24 hour rolling news. Past Plas Menai the sandbanks have grown substantially since the chart was last updated, with bouyage adjusted accordingly.

We entered Victoria Dock Caernarfon just before sunset securing to our winter berth to coil down and return home. A masked Jonathan giving us a lift back to Conwy to collect the car.

Sun Setting as we approach Caernarfon

With Covid rising again it was time to start winterizing White Knight.

Notes on Upgrading White Knight’s Navigation Systems

Starting point.

When we bought our Contessa 32 White Knight her electronic navigation instruments were largely original. Some were not working; others were becoming unreliable. So upgrading the navigation systems was a significant part of our early refit budget.

White Knight’s Navigatorium was well appointed for its time. The teak faced chart table was still in good condition, regularly polished and covered with a canvas cloth when not in use. The crew very quickly learned and adopted the draughtsman’s creed of not to use it for cooking, drinks and eating.  The chart locker under the desk lid gets used for storing many other small things people want to “put out of the way but handy”. Regular rummaging, spring, summer, autumn and winter decluttering is gradually getting the melee under control.  Mounted above the chart table was a pair of Stowe Navigator display units and an antiquated Furuno GPS. The original VHF Radio predated GDMS but had an external speaker in the cockpit which was not working.  A NASA Navtex was out of sight in the quarter berth and the original (and much modified) switch panel beside the navigator’s seat. The domestic and engine batteries were secured beneath the Navigator’s seat with the selector switch on the front panel. Safety equipment including grab bags, flare packs and lifelines get stowed in the locker under the chart table.

Starting point, Chart table with 1970s Stowe instruments, 1980s VHF and 1990s Feruno GPS

The compass is a Plastimo Contest bulkhead mounted with an internal light. It worked, the lens was clear, and it seemed to be reasonably well adjusted when checked. There was no need to change it.

The electronic instruments were a set of late 1970s Stowe Navigator series with depth sounder, log and wind sensors, a pair of displays at the chart table and repeaters including a wind direction display in a pod over the main companion way.  The wind instruments did not work and there was no obvious fault in the wiring. The depth sounder worked well with an in-hull sensor in the forward locker. The log also worked for speed but kept losing its memory of overall distance covered.  The through-hull paddle wheel sensor was mounted to starboard of the leading edge of the keel in the heads compartment.

Starting point, Pod with 1970s Stowe depth, wind and log. Almost new Raymarine Chart Plotter AKA “The Mutts”

The Furuno GPS had been set up in the 1990s to link to a laptop and link to the tiller pilot however the system belonged to a bygone stage of GPS development and had been abandoned in-situ, superseded by Jeff’s chart plotters. For many years Jeff had sailed White Knight with a handheld Raymarine GPS 40 with a small colour chart screen mounted on a small bracket by the hatch. He had upgraded to a Raymarine A Series 9 inch Chart Plotter which he mounted on the sliding hatch. It was in prime position to be seen from the helm and block the view of the Stowe instruments in the pod. The whole electronics system predated any form of network like NMEA 0183.

What do we really need?

I have never been a fan of being totally reliant upon electronic equipment at sea. My “hierarchy of need” is

  1. First and foremost: Can I sense it myself without any instruments at all i.e. sight, sound, smell, taste or feel? In familiar water one rarely needs anything else. Polynesian navigators crossed oceans finding tiny islands without artificial aids to their navigation, but with huge skill and depth of oral knowledge. 
  2. Stand-alone easily repaired aids to senses: burgee or windex, magnetic compass, hand bearing compass, sight tube for fuel level, lead line, clock, barometer. Backed up with paper charts, almanacs, pilot books, plotting instruments and good data on the boat’s performance. I am not yet confident to navigate with a sextant but do enjoy playing with one.  Yachtsmen successfully cruised the globe with this level of navigation aids well into the later part of the 20th century. 
  3. Stand-alone electronics: echo sounder, I loved the old Seafarer flashing diode echo sounder because it was so simple, robust, reliable and easy to repair. Like an analogue watch, one can gauge the depth at a glance without having to read a digital display.  A transistor radio for time signals and weather reports. Handheld GPSs with spare batteries. Handheld VHF radio. This was our standard set up for many years on our Cornish Shrimper Daisy when sailing the Irish Sea and Clyde.
  4. A Hardwired Networked system:  To minimise the risk of a single failure bringing down the whole network in designing the new hardwired system, I made sure that each of our main networked instruments can either work totally independently or revert to a standalone aid if all the others fail.
  5. Wifi / Blutooth: data to remote displays, laptops, I Phones, I Pads, Tablets, Smart Watches etc. Definitely not “Essential” but fun to play with for those who are so inclined.

After several years of chartering boats and sailing Daisy I have built up my personal carry on board navigation tool bag. It comprises; handheld VHF radio, Garmin 72 GPS and Iris 50 hand bearing compass, pencils, eraser, dividers, Bretton plotter and pocket logbook. It also includes Imray charts, pilot books and almanacs. In addition we all had our IPhones and an I Pad each loaded with Imray chart plotters, tide data and various weather forecasting apps. I have also dabbled with a notebook computer with Sea Clear and Open CPN chart plotters linked to a blutooth GPD module. So if all else failed this bag of tricks could get us through.

Round 1: Initial Upgrades and replacing what did not work

Our first upgrade was to remove the old VHF radio and the Furuno GPS and replace them with a new B&G V60 GDMS VHF radio with built in GPS and AIS receiver. The existing cabling and aerial were tested and found to be OK. The external speaker did not work so was left for another day. We carried a handheld VHF radio in the cockpit.

There is a lot of debate about where to fit a chart plotter. Jeff’s preference was to mount his to be visible in the cockpit on the companionway hatch under the spray hood. This makes a lot of sense for shorthanded sailing particularly in the cooler wetter climes of Scotland and the west coast. Others prefer to keep their Chart plotter at the chart table and rely on a tablet or I pad in the cockpit. This may be OK for larger crews and in the warmer climes of the Mediterranean or for soft southern navigation.  An IPad would not last long exposed to Scottish or Welsh rain no matter how well ruggedized.  We kept with Jeff’s choice.

Crossing the Firth of Lorne in fog. AIS on the radio gave a crumb of comfort.

This set up served us well for our first cruises around the Inner Hebrides and into the Clyde.

Round 2: Building the hard wired NMEA 2000 Network

With White Knight ashore for her first major winter refit for 20 years and with the mast down we were able to check out the aged Stowe wind sensors. We could also start to plan our new instrument layout and how we could start to link them together. First priority was to link the AIS to the Raymarine Chart Plotter to display targets on the one screen, also to be able to cancel the alarm from the cockpit. If this had been the limit of the improvements, it could have been achieved with a NMEA 0183 link between the VHF and the Chart Plotter. But the Chart Plotter had a much greater range of untapped functionality and we had also made some savings in the budget so we decided to take the plunge and install new wind, depth and log sensors to link to the Chart Plotter.

To help plan the network I drew out a single line diagram of the existing system and then started to plan in various upgrade options. Key considerations at this stage were;

  • The positions of each of the sensors on the boat (Mast head, through hull fittings, GPS aerials, engine sensors) 
  • The locations where we would need to access which data (chart table, cockpit and elsewhere)
  • Also, what systems may in the future be driven from the network e.g. tiller pilot.

Using this diagram I was able to plan out cable routes, lengths and connection points to drop cables.

NMEA 0183, NMEA 200 or Raymarine Seatalk? NMEA 0183 is gradually being superseded by NMEA 2000 protocol instruments. The Chart plotter and the VHF supported both NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 but since we were primarily replacing the analogue Stowe Navigator instruments it made sense to go straight to a NMEA 2000 network. Raymarine Seatalk is essentially a NMEA 2000 compatible data stream but uses slightly different connectors between the instruments and the backbone. All other manufacturers use compatible “Micro C” connectors.  Our Raymarine chart plotter came with a Seatalk to Micro C NMEA 2000 interface cable so we decided to adopt NMEA 2000 backbone and connectors as our standard for the network.  A B&G combined depth, log, and wind instruments with a Triton2 multi-functional display (MFD) and a basic NMEA 2000 backbone package was on special offer as a winter deal from Cactus Marine at a relatively attractive price.

I decided, for the initial installation, to keep the Stowe depth and log sensors and chart table displays as an independent back up system.

Over three weekends and a Covid Lockdown I installed the basic network. The first weekend was spent removing the pod and Stowe repeaters, pulling back all the disused cabling and pulling through the basic backbone cabling.  A fiddly job best done without anybody else around to distract or hear the language. By the end of the first weekend I had connected the Chart plotter to the VHF and proved the AIS interface worked. The power of the Chart plotter as an all singing MFD was demonstrated. We rechristened the Chart Plotter the “Mutts Nuts” in deference to Jonathan’s dog who had recently been castrated.

The next weekend was spent installing the new sensors. To mount the Airmar combined depth and log in the Contessa’s deeply vee’d hull we bought a specialist bronze through hull fitting from Jeremy Rogers Yachts. Boring a 50mm diameter hole vertically below the water line was a big step. It then took quite a bit of rasping and cleaning to make a good snug fit with roughened sides ready to receive the fitting and a bead of marine epoxy to bed it in. Being a cold day the epoxy took several hours to cure and had to be propped from below. Meanwhile Ian & Jonathan tackled the wind instruments. The old Stowe sensors were well and truly corroded on. But with oil, heat, brute force, ignorance and a grinder the screws were eventually removed.  The cable was pulled back along with a mousing line ready for the new cable. The new mast head mounting bracket was relatively easy to fit. But the cable connectors would not fit down the mast track. B&G’s technical department were not able to advise what size field connectors we would need to replace them. They were smaller than the NMEA200 standard “Micro C” connectors. Eventually, running out of time, we cut off the lower connector with about 300mm of cable as a tail, as this would need to be reconnected inside the cabin, we had time and spare cable to work out a suitable fix.   The new cable slipped easily down the mast.  Jonathan took the pod, Mutts and Triton2 MFD home to make a new deeply varnished dashboard to take the new instruments.  A few days later we entered the first Covid Lockdown.

With lockdown eased it was only a few hours work to refit the pod, pull through and secure the backbone cable for the Triton MFD and the Mutts. Then tidy up the rest of the cabling and make the final connections to make sure it all worked. The through hull fitting was wet tested as we launched. No leaks, whoopee! and the depth looked reasonable, even better. Reconnecting the cut wind sensor cable was slightly trickier. All the advice was to use a field connector, if you can get one, even so it would be tricky. My brother, an electronics fiend, initially suggested using “breadboard” and soldering the very fine wires. But then suggested the wonderfully named “heat shrink butt connectors” as a more water-resistant solution and easily sourced via Amazon. I also brought some larger diameter heat shrink rope end protector to add an additional layer of protection over the butt connectors.  An electric hot air paint stripper provided sufficient heat to do the job.  All cabled up and switched on, the network all worked together.

Varnished Dashboard with linked instruments displaying on MFDs Triton and “The Mutts”

Calibration took place through our shakedown cruise around Loch Fyne. The depth was initially calibrated to match the Stowe depth gauge. The set point Zero was a seemingly random depth somewhere between the water line and the sensor head. We quickly found that the keel depth was 1.4m below the set point. Standing instruction to all helms “maintain a minimum 2m on the depth sounder”.   Initially the log over read by 30%, however the Triton2 includes a calibration to allow the through the water speed to be calibrated to the GPS. A few runs at slack water up Loch Fyne gave reasonably consistent results. We checked the log again using the distance markers off Arran. Wind angle seemed to set well right from the start. We had no way of doing an accurate measure of wind speed at the top of the mast but the readings seemed about right when checked against a hand held anemometer at deck level.  

Calibrating the Log Loch Fyne

With all the instruments talking with each other, reasonably calibrated and good displays for the helm. The Navigator was in nerd heaven for our summer cruises and delivery trip from Scotland to North Wales.   The Triton2 display next to the chart plotter was scrolled through all its many displays. Favoured display on passage was GPS position, course to next waypoint CMG and ETA.  Closing the coast the combined depth and speed display was favoured. The wind displays were called up regularly, particularly wind speed history as squalls came through. The chart plotter with AIS overlay provided reassurance particularly when visibility decreased. A short coming with the Raymarine A Series touch screen display emerges in wet weather when the touch screen controls stop working. MFDs with hard controls like the B&G Triton2 and Zeus do not suffer with this problem. 

The Navigator’s tools were stowed in a teak rack for the pencils and dividers. A teak box for the sighting compass was secured where it could be reached from the cockpit and a teak binocular box was also secured beside the chart table.  

A paper deck log (Aldard Coles Pocket Logbook) and marked up Imray passage chart were kept on the chart table along with the passage plan and an A4 spiral bound note book for radio traffic, shipping forecasts and rough notes. The fair log is kept in an A4 loose leaf folder. At this time there were no shelves suitable for A4 books and folders so they were kept in the Navigation bag, or added to the melee in the chart locker.

With this set up we completed our second summer of cruises and the delivery trip from Scotland to North Wales.

Round 3: Chart Table

With the helm adequately supplied with data it was time to consider the next round of improvements to the navigation systems. At the chart table the Navigator was being left without access to data as the Stowe displays started to become unreliable.  The small display of GPS and AIS data on the VHF was adequate but not easy to read with wet glasses and a lively motion. As a quick fix the new VHF had initially been mounted on top of the box with the Stowe displays, all of which was held to the bulkhead with a single screw. All rather wobbly and annoying. We were also finding that the Navigator was as likely to nip below and work standing at the end of the chart table as to sit facing the desk. So visibility of displays needed to work both ways.

One of my pet hates is loose fittings and dangling cabling, especially around a Navigation Station. The Contessa being a 1970s design tends to heal at 20 to 30 degrees when sailing to windward “in the groove”.  Moving around the boat safely under these conditions requires reliable grab points. As a rough guide anything a crew member may grab to prevent a fall needs to be secure, and all loose items need to have secure stowage. So in tidying up the Chart table, cables needed to be managed out of sight and secured. Accessible stowage was also needed for the charts, log books and A4 folders.

I started by relocating the VHF under the side deck to the side of the chart table. To replace the Stowe displays I got another B&G Triton2 MFD on offer from Cactus Marine. This was mounted in a marine ply box under the VHF which also kept the NMEA 2000 connectors and cables safely secured out of sight. In this location the MFD is clearly visible to a Navigator either standing at the end of the chart table or seated. The box also holds the chart table flexilight. This arrangement also kept enough space for A4 folders, almanacs and pilot books to be stowed in the cubby hole at the side of the chart table.

Tidy and Modernised Chart Table

Round 4: Going Wi-Fi

A feature of the Raymarine A series chart plotter is that it can be linked via wifi to an IPhone using the RayView app to replicate the screen or to an IPad using the RayControl App to control the display remotely. But, this could be confusing to a helm piloting up a narrow channel while the Navigator was using the app to scroll screens and do some other navigation tasks.

Giving the Navigator independent access to the NMEA data would be an advantage. The old Furuno GPS has included a RS323 to USB link to a laptop which, with suitable software like SeaClear, could be used as a chart plotter and possibly even control the tiller pilot. Electronics have advanced significantly in the 20+ years since the Furuno system had been installed on White Knight. Open CPN seems to be the laptop navigator’s weapon of choice these days combining raster chart data with AIS overlays and a wide range of navigation functions. Tablet computer Apps are now widely and cheaply available that can display all the NMEA data in a range of formats. Navionics and Imray Chart plotter apps have the full functionality of their Chart Plotter MFD equivalents.   Programming geeks are developing new functionality all the time. Self-writing logbooks, data analytics, push button polars, the geeks are at work. All that is needed is a way to link the NMEA network to the laptop or tablet.

I chose an Actisense W2K-1 NMEA2000 to Wi-Fi Gateway again on offer from Cactus Marine. This rugged device is little larger than a credit card, about 10mm thick and includes a micro SD card which depending on how it is configured can record about 16 days of NMEA data before over writing the oldest data. Using a NMEA2000 T piece connector it can be easily added to a NMEA200 network. The Wi-Fi access is secure and password protected but does not connect to the World Wide Web. 

With a couple of minutes work sorting out the configurations I had Open CPN running on my old Netbook with GPS and AIS data from the NMEA network. I also setup my IPad to stream the NMEA data into Imray Instruments app. This app allows the user to configure their own instrument panels from a wide selection of options. With the Wi-Fi I can access this from anywhere on board.

Removing the Stowe instruments from the bulkhead leaves room for an IPad holder above the Chart table, close to a USB charging point.

Round 5: Where Next?

AIS Transponder: For the sailing we have done to date with White Knight the AIS Receiver built into the B&G V60 Radio has certainly been a valuable aid to navigation. We have not (so far) felt the need to be transmitting AIS data in the relatively quiet waters of the West of Scotland and a Covid Locked down Irish Sea. It is a real pain coming into a marina with so many AIS targets of parked yachts alarming and distracting the helm from the job in hand. Part of the joy of sailing is to get away from it all. Having family able to track our every move and get worried if they can’t see us on their mobile phone 24/7 is a mixed blessing that would not have occurred to sailors even a few years ago.  

Moving to the busier waters of the southern Irish Sea and English Channel, the safety driven argument for an AIS Transponder increases rapidly. Many vessels are now relying more and more on AIS rather than visual lookout and radar to spot potential collisions.  The mixed blessings of the family Marine Traffic watchers pale into insignificance when compared to 70,000 tonnes of bulk carrier travelling towards one at 20+ knots.

Had we known that the B&G V60B with built in AIS Transponder was coming we may have held off, but decisions are always made with what is known at the time. “If only” is after all the saddest word combination in the English language. Good NMEA 2000 Class B AIS Transponders are now available for about £600, with a VHF splitter these can be wired into the main VHF aerial. Alternatively a separate aerial would reduce the reliance on a single point of failure.  I will probably go for the splitter to get maximum range from the mast head aerial with the boxed emergency aerial kept in the chart locker just in case.

MOB Devices and Personal Locator Beacons are amazing devices in extremis. I would prefer myself and my crew not to go over the side and get into that sort of situation in the first place. A controlled dose of the fear that turns brown and smelly will I hope teach the crew to move more carefully and clip on so as not go OB.

Back to basics. We recently had an interesting exchange on WhatsApp after posting a photo of us passing through the notorious Swellies in the Menai Straits. The eagle eyed viewer spotted that the Chart plotter was in plain sight and commented that he thought we would have been glad to have it on. On the contrary we were not using it. We were navigating through these treacherous waters using the same transits described by the Caernarfon Pilots for bringing far bigger vessels through between the rocks and under Telford and Stephenson’s mighty bridges. 

Just as when driving down a motorway, I spend far more time watching the road and other traffic than glancing at the dials, these amazing aids to navigation are just that, aids.

Mark One Eyeball Navigation. Following the Transits Through the Swellies. West Abutment of Stephenson’s bridge in line with the small day mark on Prices Point gives a clearance transit for the Platters, and the Swellies Rock
Under Mr Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge

Preparing to “Go Foreign” Part 1: Sorting out the Paperwork

We are planning to go to Ireland when Covid restrictions allow but, Post- Brexit, Ireland is now considered “Foreign” to British Flagged vessels.  

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, White Knight , as a “British Flagged” vessel, is supposedly free to navigate the High Seas within the laws of our Flag State. So after many years of almost unimpeded travel around European waters, now if we can expect our documentation to be scrutinised.

An insurance certificate and Ofcom radio licence with an out of date certificate of registry may have just about sufficed in the carefree days of almost unimpeded travel around European waters before Brexit. In those heady days a customs & revenue check was unlikely, unless the country’s coast watchers were out for a bit of fun.  But the populace voted that freedom away.

Now that the UK is a “Third Country” to our nearest and dearest neighbours and we try to “Go Foreign” suspicion could become automatic. Proper documentation including up to date registry can be expected and demanded by any Third Country’s border force. Upon returning to the UK our own Customs and Excise can expect and demand proof of VAT history or insist VAT be paid. It was time to sort out the ship’s papers.

The RYA gives advice : – https://www.rya.org.uk/knowledge-advice/boating-abroad/Pages/paperwork.aspx

In short we needed:-

  • Registration document
  • Ship Radio Licence
  • Insurance documents (requirements vary by country)
  • Voyage Log
  • Evidence of eligibility for relief from VAT and import duty (to facilitate your return to the UK)

With a 40-year-old pleasure boat that has gone through at least 4 or 5 changes of ownership the chances of having all the original documentation are slim. All we had to start with were our bill of sale, a copy of a bill of sale drawn up 20 years before at the last change of ownership and an out of date certificate of registry. It was time to go on a treasure hunt.

We knew that White Knight had originally belonged to the Royal Armoured Corps Yacht Club. There were some vague details in the Club’s online history but a letter to the club’s secretary drew no response. The Contessa Owner’s Association had some basic details on its boat register including its original name “White Knight II” and a cryptic note “Misplaced in JRs book 644 after 651”. Armed with these vague details I contacted Jeremy Rogers Ltd, who were able to provide a letter confirming Boat Make, Name, Hull, Number Sail Number and details from the original invoice including the vital confirmation that VAT had been paid when White Knight had been built.

The original CO sail number did not match the numbers on our sails, but a quick call to the RYA Registration department confirmed that our sails were correctly displaying the RYA Sail numbers allocated to the RACYC in 1979. The RYA register was updated with our details, no need to change the sail numbers.

The next challenge was updating the United Kingdom Certificate of Registry Part 1 issued under the “Merchant Shipping Act 1995” and “The Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Regulations 1993 as amended.” The old certificate we found in the chart locker was years out of date, but I sent an innocent enquiry to the Registry of Shipping and Seamen, Cardiff with a scan of the old certificate. A very helpful Officer of the Registry replied confirming that White Knight was still Part 1 registered but the registration was due to expire, good timing there. The officer also confirmed however that

  1. the engine in the boat was not the engine recorded on the register,
  2. the Port of Registry was Poole, not Southampton as shown on the transom and
  3. that our Bill of Sale was not sufficient evidence of the change of ownership because it was not in the MCA required Deed of Transfer format,
  4. also that fees were payable to update each of the incorrect details. 

The MCA Bill of Sale / Deed of Transfer was easily sorted out filling out three sets of the correct forms, one for each of the new owners setting out their shares in the boat and confirming that they were all British Nationals. These were sent to the previous owner to sign and return. I then scanned and e mailed these to the Register of Shipping along with a “Declaration of Eligibility” confirming the names, addresses and nationality / citizenship of all the shareholders, the number of 64th shares allocated to each and appointing a “Managing Owner” signed by all the shareholders.

The Engine was more troublesome. Ideally when the engine had been changed the owner would have simply sent a copy of the invoice confirming the engine details to the Register. But in our case, this had not happened. When had the engine been changed and by whom? I contacted the 2x previous owner who confirmed that the current engine had been fitted before he bought the boat and that he had never had any paperwork about the engine change.  Without the ideal documentation the helpful chap at the Register said they would accept a “Surveyors Certificate of Survey for Tonnage and Measurement of a Vessel Under 24 Meters (Excluding Fishing Vessels”, but it would have to be undertaken by a Yacht Brokers, Designers & Surveyors Association (YBDSA) Accredited Surveyor and reported on a YBDSA form, administered and registered by the YBDSA. There was another fee plus expenses to make this happen. I rang Colin, the surveyor who had undertaken the pre-sale survey. Normally this would have required another survey but as we were now in another Covid lockdown and the boat was no longer just up the road from him, but 500miles and three Covid locked borders away from him.   Colin had a chat with the YBDSA and came up with a solution. He would prepare the form based on the previous registration with his recent survey notes and photos of the engine to provide the new details. The fee payable would be only the administration fee to the YBDSA.  Result. The forms were duly completed, administered and sent to the Register of Shipping.

We did think of changing the Port of Registry to our new home port of Caernarfon, but this would have involved yet another round of form filling and fees. We decided to change the lettering on the transom from Southampton to Poole instead.

Three weeks and a load of paperwork, form filling and chasing around, our new “United Kingdom Certificate of Registry (Part 1)” was issued electronically, printed out and laminated for the Ships Papers.

The spectre of VAT “Returned Goods“ came lumbering over the horizon as the Brexit talks ground towards the final rounds of brinksmanship.  These complex rules are designed for the temporary export and return of goods like exhibition display material but are also applied to boats. Reading through the regulations it appeared that in addition to confirming that VAT had been paid somewhere and at some time, we may also have to prove the boat was in UK Territorial Waters at the end of the Brexit Transition Period. 23:00UT on 31 December 2020, covid locked-down in Caernarfon Harbour, we could not get near White Knight at the critical moment. But we had a marina receipt covering winter storage and we knew the White Knight would be visible on CCTV. A copy of both bits of evidence was added to the Ships Papers.

A few sheets of paper in a clear folder is not much to show for all the effort. How about a special ensign? A “Red Ensign” is the standard mark of a “British Flagged Vessel”. The Union Flag, Welsh Dragon, Saltire or Jolly Roger are not.  Again those ever helpful educators at the RYA have produced guidance:  https://www.rya.org.uk/knowledge-advice/regulations/Pages/flag-etiquette.aspx  

As members of the Royal Welsh Yacht Club we can be granted a “Permit” to fly a defaced Blue Ensign in accordance with a Warrant issued to the RWYC under Section 73 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 (and the amendment to the RWYC’s Warrant issued by the Secretary of State for Defence dated 8 February 1985). In short, fill in the application form, provide proof of UK Part 1 Registration, sign that we have read understood and will comply with the permit conditions. Bingo we have a permit and a wonderful Defaced Blue Ensign to hang on the back of White Knight.

Result: Ships Papers and a Defaced Blue Ensign

Reflections on the Shrimper Years

With a heavy heart we sold our beloved Cornish Shrimper Daisy last autumn. We have owned Daisy since 2012 and during those 8 years we had many adventures in her. Some of the more fitting tails have been published here on the blog, others remain best untold. She has delivered just what we wanted and more. So how did we come to buy a Cornish Shrimper in the first place and then get so lucky?

A very cold wet wind over tide passage through the Menai Straits in Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger convinced us that at our age we were ready for a boat with a small cabin, somewhere to get out of the weather and keep warm. The requirements agreed for the new boat were: –

  • Good looking, trailable boat, capable of coastal sailing and fun.
  • Small cabin, with cooking space to brew up and get out of the weather.
  • Not excessively expensive to buy but would hold value.
  • Inexpensive to run. Swing half tide mooring rather than expensive marina.
  • Easy to store at minimum cost

Sam Llewellyn’s Minimum Boat series in PBO struck a chord with our thinking.

Many of the 1960s and 70s trailer sailers by this stage were little more than mouldy money pits and easy to dismiss. The Drascombe Coaster and Cruiser were considered but did not quite hit the mark. The Cape Cutter 19 was very new and expensive but had a lot of desirable features. We kept coming back to the Mark 1 Shrimpers. For about a year I had tracked the Shrimper Ownere Association web site ( https://www.shrimperowners.org/ ) For Sale pages comparing; age, condition, inventory and asking price. Our wish-list refined, and a curve emerged. Going through Ken’s Technical pages, the common faults gave me a great checklist for when the search started in earnest. In early 2012 Sam’s Shrimper, the eponymous Daisy, came on the market. Being closer than the next nearest candidate in Perthshire, we arranged a viewing.   

Even as Shrimpers go, Daisy is a bit special. She was fitted out in Germany to a very high standard by her Engineer first owner Axel. Teak cockpit, foredeck and main hatch, numerous fixtures and fittings, mahogany shelves abounded, and a custom-built toolbox formed a step into the cabin. The hull and rig were well maintained with none of the regular problems. The engine was a beast of an 8HP Mariner with a cowling modified to not quite fit under the tiller. The inventory included spare sails, a cruising shute, 2 cockpit tents, a meths stove, fold down chart table and a host of other goodies.  The piggyback trailer included guide poles and a widow-maker winch. A deal was reached, funds transferred, and Daisy came into our care.

South Stack astern

Our first season was spent on the Menai Straits, day and weekend sailing getting to know Daisy and the tides and shallows of her new home. Our second season was more adventurous from the start. Launching in a snowstorm, then sailing round Anglesey for the first time. Also, I had a weekend trip with my 10-year-old daughter Elin along the North Coast, she loved it. The Beast started to give problems but nothing serious.

2014 was a big year. Our first major trip was an attempt to sail across the Irish Sea to Dublin, however foul weather forced a change of destination to join other club boats sailing down the Llyn Peninsular. The club race back from Porth Dinllaen astounded all of the bigger boats as Daisy romped in ahead of boats nearly half as long again and took the race on handicap by a considerable margin. Off the wind under full sail and working the tide Daisy flew over Caernarfon Bar, Gordon crawling along the bowsprit untangling the furling line. The competitive Sigma 33 owner was even more grumpy than usual that night.

Next destination was Scotland. Those thieves of time; bad weather, wrong tides, family and work commitments meant we had to abandon our original plan of sailing North via the Isle of Man. Back on the trailer, home for a quick refit, then the long trail north to Largs. Elin and I then had a week sailing around Bute and the Clyde before Gordon and family joined us for the Commonwealth Games Flotilla into the middle of Glasgow with hundreds of other boats.  

Gordon and family kept Daisy in Port Bannatyne on Bute for the remainder of the season with family trips around the Clyde and a solo trip up Loch Fyne for the Inveraray Music Festival. We towed Dasiy back to Wales for her winter refit on my drive.

In 2015 I set myself the target of going for my Yachtmaster certificate. The mutinous Beast was finally left ashore being replaced with a Seagull Silver Century . This all brought a new dimension to Daisy sailing; improving seamanship, boat handling under sail, precise navigation through the invisible channels over the Menai mud flats and reducing reliance on the brute power of the Beast. All good practice for the September Yachtmaster exam. Yes a Shrimper owner can become a Yachtmaster

Sailing with a Seagull,

Disaster struck at the end of the season when Daisy’s mooring broke in a North East gale. Gary “The Glass” repaired the damage to the hull and brought her back to life over the winter. Repairing Cornish Shrimpers is relatively straight forward with their solid GRP lay-up, easy lines to follow and an excellent original build quality. With her new Awgrip black paint and white boot line Daisy was back “Better than new”. We only just resisted Gary’s suggestion of adding a gold cove line.

2016 had us back on the Menai Straits, but with my daughter’s dinghy sailing campaigns starting to take off, we only managed a few day sails. Late in the season Gordon traded the undependable Beast and a restored Seagull for a more appropriate Tohatsu 6hp sail drive outboard.  I spent much of 2017 as a Topper Roady, only using Daisy as a floating base for the Topper Nationals in Pwllheli. This was not a roaring success as the weather was foul nearly all week and I was fighting a sever cough.  Sharing a cramped damp boat with an exhausted but elated teen racer and her wet sailing gear was not the best environment under the circumstances, even if Daisy was “cooler than a tent”.

Gordon was by this time starting to relocate back to Scotland and took Daisy to her new base on Holy Loch while Elin worked through GBR squads and National events to the Topper World Championships in China. With our children becoming independent, Jan and I can sail together again.  Jan never really took to the bucket and crouching to cook, so her requirements for standing headroom, “proper heads” and a “proper cooker” have now been met in an old Contessa 32 which we are gradually sailing around Britain.

Would I have another Shrimper? Yes. Everywhere we went with Daisy she was admired as a beautiful boat. Even broken on the beach the love shone through. Even the grumpy Sigma racer admitted (through gritted teeth) that she had style. We could sail her like a large dinghy or as a little ship, across seas or up muddy creeks. Minimal running costs meant that even in the fallow years she was never a drain sitting wrapped up in the barn. One spar per winter was the major maintenance programme. Her diminutive size meant re-commissioning was a quick job; a wipe over with a damp rag, a coat or two of teak oil, a touch up of varnish and a bit of beeswax polish around the cabin. One tin of antifouling took a few minutes to apply.  With a Shrimper the fun quotient is very high.

My next Shrimper will probably be a retirement refurbishment project, but that is a few years away yet.

Daisy on her mooring near Beaumaris Photo by Gordon MacKellar

Of Saints and Spirits: A cruise around the Inner Hebrides

The Idea

In his youth my Dad had read and been captivated by  Dr R B Carslaw’s  account of sailing the western isles during the 1920s and 30s with his large and growing family. “Leaves from Rowan’s Logs” was oft referred to as much for its descriptions of place as its wonderfully caustic observations on the trials and tribulations of sailing with growing children. As a result of Dad’s captivation, I was introduced to the west of Scotland as a small child. First camping, using canoes to explore the lochs, then as the eldest son of a family of five, squeezed into a 20 foot long sailing cruiser for 2-3 weeks at a time. In the 1970s I was told this was not an unusual holiday. The Inner Hebrides infused my soul, and then lay dormant for many years. But, occasionally, a sunset through clouds would stir a memory of the islands.

The Saints: In 1976 National Geographic magazine ran an article about a team led by Tim Severin sailing across the Atlantic in a leather boat similar to the curraghs still used on the west coast of Ireland. I, like many of the crew, had read and been hooked by Tim Severin’s book. His tale of the research, design, building, and trials of the leather curragh being as fascinating as the log of the journey. He described how a stepping stone route from Ireland through the Hebrides, to the Faeroes, Iceland, past Greenland into the ice and eventually to Newfoundland matched the ancient account of the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. As time passed I became aware of the voyages of other early Irish Saints through the western isles which paralleled the Irish “Scotti” colonisation of what we now call Scotland. Sailing the western isles in small light weight boats has a very long and inspiring history.

The Spirits: Whisky goes with the Hebrides. The idea of a cruise to visit some of the distilleries of Mull, Islay and Jura quickly captured the imaginations of the crew. So if excuse be needed, what better than to follow in the wake of the saints and explore the spirits of the Inner Hebrides. A few hints dropped at a significant birthday party were all that was needed to get the crew following the scent.

The “Plan”

We chartered a Moody 31 “True Blue of Hamble” from Alba Sailing at Dunstaffnage Marine North of Oban. With Ian & Martin planning to join us part way through the week, the rough plan was to sail the Inner Hebrides. First up the Sound of Mull and if conditions permitted poke our noses round Ardnamuchan, picking up some heather on the way. Then south, through the islands to Iona and on to Islay and Colonsay. We arranged to meet Ian & Martin in Crinan then sail back to Craighouse to visit the Jura Distillery. The remainder of the cruise was to be spent working our way north through the islands up the Sound of Jura and out into the Firth of Lorne back to Dunstaffnage.

As the bard put it “The best laid plans of mice and men gan oft agley” The following log is compiled, edited and expurgated from the deck log and other recollections of the cruise.

Day 1: North Wales to Carlisle, early start loading gear for three into the Golf and on the road to get past Thelwall before the morning jam.

At Carlisle the Skipper took a detour to sort out parental domestics while the Mate and Crew went to Morrison’s for victuals. An hour later a large trolley overflowing with stores was being loaded onto the checkout belt, the cashier wondering how we would fit so much stores in a small boat, Mate wondering how we would fit it into an even smaller car. Crew wondering whether he could hold onto the car roof all the way to Oban. We offered to close the windows on his fingers if his grip started to slip. Then the checkout belt broke under the load and the cashier suggested putting some food back. A bit of reorganising and the stores were all squeezed into the Golf, and later repacked around the Crew.

From Carlisle to Oban, The roads get more open and emptier as we head north over Beattock then close in again as we  drop down through Glasgow and over the Erskin Bridge, bringing back childhood memories of the bridge being built and left part complete for a year with drooping ends. Through Dumbarton and out onto the road to the highlands. Stopped at the Drovers Inn to impress the Crew with the collection of stuffed animals including the bear. There we picked up haggis and cheese melts for lunch on the go. Another change of drivers for the road north to Crianlarich then west down towards Oban. Passed by three pink bikers in tutus raising money for “Breast Way Round”.

Arrived at Dunstaffnage for the hand over of Moody 31 “True Blue of Hamble” from Tim the Engineer. Loaded and stowed the gear and stores. Time for a chill out in the Wide Mouthed Frog with a beer & snacks.

Refreshed we secured for sea, cast off and reversed out of our berth (always a moment of faith with a strange boat) then motored out into Firth of Lorne. Winds very light and on the nose so motored past our first Stevenson Lighthouse, Eilean Musdile, on the southern tip of Lismore. A lone porpoise played in the overfalls as we headed up the Sound of Mull past Duart Castle (with an enormous coach parked next to it), Craignure, Ardtornish Bay with a couple of yachts at anchor. Crew captivated by the clouds, photographing reflections and the sunset over Ardtornish Castle. Then in the gloaming passed through the narrows to Loch Aline and an anchorage for the night.

Sunset Clouds, Sound of Mull

A late dinner and a whisky completed the first stage of relaxation from work to cruising mode.

Day 2: A slow start and gentle breakfast prepared by the Crew before raising the anchor and motoring out though the narrows, back into the Sound of Mull. Bright sunshine, sails up but wind light and on the nose so motor sailed up the Sound of Mull towards Tobermory admiring the scenery and large new holiday homes on the Morvern shore. Picked up an appalling weather forecast for “Jubilee weekend in The South” and the Mate’s mum’s reassurance we were in for the best weather in the UK.

Late morning and we turned into Tobermory Bay now well supplied with Visitor moorings and pontoons that were but a dream last time I came this way 35 years ago. The distillery was closed due to lack of water and the visitor’s centre had closed for lunch so we wandered up the brightly painted high street to the Post Office for Tobermory Cat postcards, past posters for “Curry Cruises” and onto Brown’s. Brown’s is difficult to describe being a miniature general superstore. A shop which stocks everything imaginable from mousetraps to Airfix models, plaster of Paris, to musical instruments and tools to fine whiskys. Bought a bottle of 12 year old Tobermory Whisky, 12v multi socket, fishing lines and that rarest of finds a PP9 battery to run the ancient echo sounder on our Shrimper “Daisy”.


We picked up some pies from the bakery for lunch and wandered back in time for the reopening of the Distillery Shop. Amongst other reminiscences and spirits they sell wooden USBs, which impressed the Mate.

In blazing sunshine and very light wind we motored towards Ardnamurchan, past another Stevenson lighthouse on Ardmore point. As we broke out of the Sound of Mull the wind picked up at last so sails up and motor off to sail around Ardnamurchan Point. More porpoises were playing under the cliffs and rafts of guillemots mixed with other sea birds drifted by then scooted out of our way.

As we rounded the point we had a clear view past the small isles up the Sound of Sleat round to Barra and past Coll to Tiree.

Waverly passing Ardnamurchan, True Blue at anchor in Sana Bay

An evening sail past Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and gently drifting on into the sunset, we couldn’t decide where to anchor, so we decided instead to sail on into the night. Past pitch black Coll back lit by the orange twilight, we missing the blue flash and sailed on through the night past Tiree towards the beckoning flash of the Skerryvore light.

, Alan Stevenson’s Egyptian style Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Day 3: After midnight the wind increased to F6 and backed NE. At 03:30 we reefed at the change of watch as the Skipper took over from the Mate.  The Crew tucked himself deep into the lee berth as, 7 miles from Seryyvore light, we tacked and close hauled off to the East. Skipper standing watch alone tacked North for an hour before tacking back East away from Tiree towards the faint smudge of Iona on the horizon . Dark mutterings from the Crew at each change of tack were followed later in the day by an apology from the Mate for not pointing out the lee cloths.

As the night wore on instruments started to fail, first the auto helm, then the plotter. Despite turning off all unnecessary power, started to get wild readings from the echo sounder. Back up onto the windward rail, tiller extension in hand as twilight turned to half light and the Dutchman’s Cap became clearer to windward. Sunrise over Mull, Iona becoming clearer, nearer and dead ahead on 100o. A slight backing of the wind and Skipper was able to keep the ferocious Riedh Eilean group of rocks safely to leeward. But not enough to clear the Eilean Annraidh rocks which guard the north west entrance to the Sound of Iona.

Three tacks in quick succession woke the crew as the Skipper worked around Eilean Annraidh rocks before bearing away into the Sound of Iona. The engine could not be started because all the batteries were flat. Considering the options we thought it unwise to anchor off Iona as we would be more likely to get the battery charged on Mull. We anchored under sail off Fionnphort and then slept.

The Crew, with less sleep to catch up on than the rest of the crew, arranged to borrow a generator from the dive boat anchored next to us. Restarting the engine with great relief we exchanged working batteries for the remains of the bottle of Tobermory Whisky.

Motored over to Iona and landed at Martyrs beach, the scene of a massacre of Irish monks by Viking raiders in the 9th century. As we wandered up through Baile Mor towards the cathedral, we passed the beautifully simple parish church designed by Thomas Telford and built in 1828. This was the first church on Iona after the abandoning of the cathedral in the 16th century.

Iona Parish Church, built in 1828 to a design by Thomas Telford

Exploring the cathedral the Skipper found the watch tower by the main door to the cathedral with its unusual serrated window and recalled the tale told by a mischievous guide to a 9 year old version of the Skipper…..

When the Benedictine monks ran the monastery in the 12th century they used to have a monk on lookout for visitors and raiders. One night the duty monk heard scraping footsteps coming up the stairs and saw the devil coming up the stairs to get him. The only way out was through the window. So the serrations are the groves left by his ribs as he made his escape.

The present guide had not heard the tale but swapped it for the tale of St Oran, after whom the chapel in the burial ground is named.

St Oran was one of St Columba’s followers who accompanied his leader into exile from Ireland. When the monks established the monastery they wanted to dedicate a burial ground but had no body, so Oran volunteered to be buried alive. Three days later Columba wanted to look upon the face of his old friend again, so ordered the monks to dig open the grave. When the lid was removed Oran sat up and started telling the monks how death was not at all the fiery pit of demons he had been told about. On the contrary he found it to be a wonderful place of quiet contemplation. Hearing this heresy Columba was furious and had Oran quickly reburied.

The Jubilee spirit was abroad in Baile Mor with posters of the Queen (with a safety pin through her nose) advertising a Jubilee BBQ lunch. By the time we rolled up the food was long gone, eaten within the first hour by more ravenous revellers.

Returning to Martyrs Beach the tide was in and the dinghy was missing, a hurried search found the dinghy secured to the pier and dark mutterings from everybody who thought (with 20:20 hindsight) the tide might reach the place we had left the dinghy but didn’t like to say. Two strokes of ill “luck”, what more could go wrong?

Dingle Curragh recently arrived on Iona, little changed from the curraghs used by the Irish Monks in the 7th Century

We consoled ourselves with Ice Creams, chatted with a boatman and admired the curragh which had just been rowed over from Ireland, as a robed pilgrim and his girlfriend carried a large wooden cross onto the Cal Mac ferry back to Fionnphort. Another day normal for Iona.

An afternoon cruise out to Staffa after the last tripper boat had retuned, was rewarded with the additional joys of a minke whale, puffins, guillemots, eider ducks and porpoises.

The Mate and Crew landed on Staffa and explored Fingal’s cave. With no secure anchorage the Skipper circled the island passing through rafts of puffins, passing close to the SW rocks in 30+m of water. The swell caused huge echoing booms as waves hit the back of the Boat Cave. A group of sea kayakers left heading NE towards Ulva.

Staffa with “Fingal’s Cave” and the “Boat Cave”

Heading back towards Iona we watched for the whales without luck. Exploring the Bulls Hole we found it exposed to the northerly wind so headed south to find our way into Tinker’s Hole. Despite lookouts and a very slow speed we touched bottom on our way through the rocks. The echo sounder apparently showed 2m clear depth of water below the keel. With nine yacht’s in Tinker’s Hole, one anchored in the fairway, space was tight. The Mate redeemed some pride with excellent berthing reversing slowly into a slot with a line ashore to the rocks.

The sunset firing the pink granite brought forth the quote of the evening: “Disney could not have done it better.”

Tinkers Hole: -“Disney could not have done it better.”

Day 4: Quote of the Day: Of the man who dreams in the night you have nothing to fear. BUT beware the man who dreams in the day, for he has the power to make his dreams come true.

Mate & Crew dived to inspect and photograph the keel. Crew in wetsuit, Mate chose a more traditional approach. The inspection only found some minor paint damage near a previous significant rust filled ding. There were no other signs of damage to the keel. Skipper rechecked the keel bolts, no signs of damage or leakage.

Working our way out, inshore of the Torran Rocks, we made passage across the South of Mull in a flat calm. Skipper invested time trying to find the leak in the inflatable dinghy’s tubes, without success. Caught the Crew dozing at the helm and reminded him in the old days this was a flogging offence.

We anchored for lunch by the old landing on Eileach an Naoimh, before exploring St Brendan’s monastery established some 20 years before Columba founded Iona. Climbing to the top of the Island we passed the ancient grave reputed to be of Eithne, princess of Leinster, sister of St Brendan, and mother of St Columba. It is easy to see how the Garvelach islands got the Celtic name of Hinba “The Isles of the Sea”, being in a commanding position for coastal traffic heading to the Firth of Lorne or out around Mull to the outer Islands.  Close enough to the colonising High King’s court at Dunadd, yet far enough away to give the monks some of the isolation they craved. The tail of Corrievreckan’s flood tide eddies are visible far out into the Firth of Lorne. Close to the monastery are the well preserved and famous semidetached beehive cells.    

Eileach an Naoimh or Hinba: The Isles of the Sea
Double beehive cell
Gulf of Corrievereckan in the distance

To head inside the islands for the Sound of Jura we had a choice of Cuan Sound to the North, the Sound of Luing, The Grey Dogs or the Gulf of Corrievereckan to the South. All of which are tide gates needing either slack water or the start of the ebb. By the time we had finished exploring Eileach an Naoimh and got ourselves back on board we had only an hour of flood left so Cuan Sound and the Sound of Luing were becoming less ideal. Corrievereckan with its fearsome reputation holds a fascination. Conditions were ideal, calm, 5 miles at 5 knots and we would be entering the Gulf on turn of tide. Other yachts were also heading for the mighty maw. Setting all plain sail and motoring we set course. Skipper and Mate in turn read the pilot books, double checking tidal calculations, the Mate recalling as a child climbing over Scarba to look down on the whirlpool at full flood tide flow. With millions of tons of water squeezed through the gulf up, over and around the submerged stack close to the Scarba shore creating a fearsome standing wave with eddies shed from each side mixing with the incoming swell of a South Westerly gale, they left a small boy with an awe inspiring image of the power of the sea.   

As we approached, the last disturbances of the flood tide eddies played lazily with the keel. Heading for mid channel we entered, with wide grins and taking photos like Japanese tourists. We turned to take a closer look at the boils of water just starting to build over the submerged stack, as gannets and terns dived for fish. Then out into the Sound of Jura with porpoises playing in the rip. Beware the man who dreams in the day, for he has the power to make his dreams come true.

Approaching Corrievereckan at slack water

Into the Sound of Shuna the Crew tried fishing but kept catching weed.

In through the rocks to the anchorage at Ardinamir for the night. After dinner we went for water at Ardinamir Farm. The elderly resident couple confirmed Mrs McLachlan’s visitors books had been archived by CCC and they no longer keep a book. The farm and byres are now very different from the spartan farm Mrs McLachlan kept last time I visited in 1978. Now they are well appointed holiday homes.

We walked over the hill to Cullipool in time to catch sunset from the ridge then in through the village for the lighting of the Jubilee Beacon on the hill above. Fossicking on the beach we found fools gold in amongst the slates and took a couple of stones for the Skipper’s youngest daughter.

Sunset over Culliport, Mull, Fladda and the Garvelachs

Day 5: An early start from Ardinamire to catch the tide gate at Dorus Mhor, we were followed out into the Sound of Shuna by a small fishing boat. The weather was calm with a thin overcast as we passed through the swirls of the Dorus Mhor and the turn to Port up Loch Craignish to Ardfern. The appalling Jubilee weather from the south was moving north.

Ardfern gave us the chance to refill the water tanks, clean the boat and then the Skipper treated the crew to hot showers. Altruism or self preservation?  The sun broke through and we hauled the Crew up the mast to fix a flag halyard to the starboard cross trees.  Wandered up the village for lunch & camera battery charging at the Galley of Lorne. Then the postprandial snooze lasted well into the afternoon. A text landing from Crew 2 with his ETA at Crinan woke the slumberous.

As we departed the main VHF was not being picked up by the Yacht harbour, again the domestic batteries came under suspicion. Fortunately the hand held radios were both working. Motoring to Crinan put some charge back into the domestic battery.

Arrival of the Dragon and the rain, Crinan

Just as we arrived in Crinan to pick up Crew 2 it started to drizzle the rain approaching from the south. Picked up a mooring then a quick buzz around in the tender (successfully repaired at Ardnamire). Two loads, one of stores and kit the other for Crew. Kit was roughly stowed. We dropped the mooring and motored off in light rain. Out into the Firth of Lorne and south towards the MacCormig Islands with porpoises and dolphins playing around boat. Approaching the islands we had to ferry glide to cross the ebbing tide.

Twilight found us pirouetting around the tiny inlet trying to find a suitable spot to anchor without fouling an Alban Vega from Northern Ireland.

Crew 1 promoted to Chef; – Dinner of hand made burgers with oven roast chips, Granny Happ’s jubilee buns, red wine and a nip of whisky rounded off a gently satisfying day.

Day 6: After breakfast we landed on Eilean Mor, St MacCormig’s Island. MacCormig was reputed to be another one of Columba’s 12 companions. With a wayward nature and forever seeking his own white martyrdom, in a desert space in the ocean, he became known as “MacCormig of the Sea”. Eilean Mor was where he isolated himself as a hermit, using a cave at the south western end of the island as his place of contemplation or Cell. Following the Viking age Reginald Sommerled, First Lord of the Isles, set up a chapel on Eilean Mor as at many other Celtic Christian sites including the monastery and abbey on Iona, and the chapel on Eileach an Naoimh invoking the memory of a golden age of Alba before the Viking’s colonisation. Eilean Mor is now owned by the Scottish National Party.      

We landed just after the strimming gang arrived by RIB. Walking up past the new visitor’s centre built in the style of a black house with a turf roof, on to the 14th Century Chapel built by Sommerled First Lord of the Isles, which has also seen use as an illicit distillery and farm house.     

McCormig’s Cross, Eilean Mor

Over the top of the island past the cross lies MacCormig’s Cave. The original entrance has collapsed but a narrow cleft in the roof gives an awkward drop into the cave. The Chef went first then had a struggle getting out again; the Skipper and the Mate could not resist the challenge. Carved into the cave’s walls are an ancient cross and a “marigold” dated by archaeologists back to the 8th Century. Imagine an Irish Celtic hermit monk contemplating his god and carving these images. Bridging up out of the cave, the age and experience of the Skipper and Mate matched the youthful vigour of the Chef.     Terns, hooded crows, gulls, guillemots, oystercatchers with their haunting whistle, turn stones, curlew and a host of other seabirds flock to the islands.  

Carved into the cave’s walls are an ancient cross and a “marigold” dated by archaeologists back to the 8th Century

Made passage for Jura. Tidal calculations to set a course to steer, ferry gliding across a mirror sea, passing just north of the Skervuile rock and lighthouse. Into Craighouse Bay by the entrance south of Eilean nan Gabhar.

Craighouse, Jura

Picked up one of the many spare visitor’s moorings, then ashore to pay the mooring fee and for lunch at the Jura Hotel (Haggis Panini or salmon salad). Watching the sea kayakers paddling across the bay towards Corrievreckan, we contemplated the selection on “Jean’s Fresh Fish” van as the mobile bank was passing through.

Of course being Jura we could not miss out on the distillery tour and tasting the wonderful array of Jura Whisky. Production was just finishing with the last casks being filled before the summer maintenance shut down.

Dropping the mooring we headed south on the last of the ebb towards the Sound of Islay, catching the first of the flood off McArthurs head. Too late to call in at Port Askaig (Caol Ila) and Bunnahabhain distilleries for another tour, but able to admire the increasingly remote and unspoiled western coast of Jura with its Paps.

Paps of Jura from the Sound of Islay

As we approached the northern end of the Sound of Islay the wind started to pick up so sails up and a gentle sail into Loch Tarbert (Jura) in glorious sunshine. Seals bobbed off the rocks as we made our way in through the islands and rocks following Blondie Hasslar’s leading marks into the middle loch. Three other boats had already bagged the preferred anchorages, so we tucked in by Eilean Ard to watch red deer grazing on the upper slopes of Clach an Rain.

The chef went skimming off in the tender to go mussel hunting on the drying rocks but was attacked and beaten off by Seagulls. Dinner was Pesto Chicken with pasta, followed by a walk up the hill in the gloaming.  

On the last trip back the outboard ran out of fuel. So the Mate and the Chef had the joy of refuelling in the dark, adrift while the stars and planets whirled overhead un-dimmed by street lights or any other man made distraction and the moon rose over the shoulder of Clach an Rain.

Day 7: As we crawled on deck into the morning sun we noticed an old yacht with a wooden pilot house sailing out of the Cumhann Beag narrows from the upper loch and across middle Loch Tarbert. Under an enormous saltire cruising chute it made its way through the Cumhann Mhor narrows and out to sea.  We followed under engine through the Cumhann Mhor narrows before raising sail, then breakfasted of bacon butties and kippers as we left Loch Tarbert.

A two hour passage brought us to Scarrisaig on Colonsay for diesel.  The anchorage at Scarrisaig was exposed, with a swell and uncertain holding the Skipper stayed on board while the crew went for stores and diesel. The war memorial had 16 names from Great War from a very small community. The store was closed until 2pm for lunch so the crew returned for theirs, passing a fishing boat with a large whale vertebrae on board. After lunch a quick trip to the stores for diesel (£1.71 per litre). Harbour dues were paid into the honesty box then off for the Firth of Lorne.

Chef Bearing Away, trying to better 7.6 knots

As we beat up between Colonsay and Jura towards the Garvelachs wind built to F 6 + gusting 7. The Chef was proud to reach 7.6 knots in 1.5 m swell with spray over bows and with the wind speed peaking at 32 knots.

We approached the Garvelachs as the rain set in. There was no shelter to be had on Eileach an Naoimh with the wind funnelling straight through the anchorage, so we bore away for Lunga. Tucking into the relative shelter of Camas a Mhor Fhir for the night, the Grey Dogs thundering half a mile to leeward. At deck level we were out of the wind. It was a different story at the mast head.

A late dinner of the Mate’s Spanish Omelette and a dram. With rain showers cutting the deck we discussed the merits of breathable waterproofs. The Mate mused ruefully on the advantages of a set of waterproofs in which he could breathe, unlike his current set bought 30 years before in his svelte youth.  

Sleep with the wind howling in the top of the rigging is relative. As the wind rose the snoring eased, and then as the howling in the rigging eased the snoring picked up again. Snoring alternated with wind in the rigging for most of the night.

Day 8: By morning the domestic batteries had drained again. Fortunately the engine batteries were ok and we were able to put some charge back into the domestics. After breakfast with high winds overhead we set off beating through the islands, out into the Firth of Lorne. On a beat back from Mull the Mate topped 8.1 knots, much to the disgust of the Chef. Gradually the wind decreasing from F6 to 5 to 3 to 0.

For lunch we nipped into Puilladobhrian, then trying to see into Clachan Sound, Skipper on the helm, we gently touched bottom with 2m showing on the depth sounder. So much for the offset. The Mate felt vindicated for his grounding approaching the Tinker’s Hole. A quick blast of reverse and we were off.  Up through the Sound of Kerrera to dodge the Cal Mac ferries in Oban Bay.

Back to Dunstaffnage Bay and dodging the Eider duck we approached our second along side mooring of the cruise. Balancing wind, tide and throttle we got away with a “perfect approach”.

We were closely followed by a Westerly 41 full of French extreme sports men who, loudly feigning uncertainty and confusion, executed another “perfect mooring” next to us. Visions of a night disturbed by over enthusiastic youth started to form as they proceeded with unloading their cargo of climbing gear, Para-gliders, surf boards, musical instruments (including violins, guitars and a full drum kit) and began carefully checking and sorting it before loading it into their converted fire tender. One of the climbers gracefully bounced up and balanced on a fence to take photos as the tide rose around the wheels of the fire tender. The tide receding inches before doing any damage.  The graceful movement was explained when we learned later that this was no ordinary group of youth, but a troupe of acrobats from Circe de Soleil.

After clearing the boat, a night off for the Chef with a superb dinner in Wide Mouthed Frog watching the sun set over the Morven shore. It doesn’t get much better than that.


Aiming for Wales, a passage through Covid.

Week 1 “Jan’s Gastronomic Odyssey Around Loch Fyne”

The idea for Jan’s Gastronomic Cruise around Loch Fyne was seeded as we repeatedly drove around the loch heading for Croabh. Once seeded the idea germinated as we came through the Crinan Canal to Loch Fyne in summer 2019. Elin threw in her love of the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Why not sail there?     Other gastronomic delights in the area came to mind; The Fish & Chip shop in East Loch Tarbert, a prized destination when I was a child. The Arran Distillery Loch Ranza, Nardinis famous art deco ice cream parlour in Largs. Gordon’s recommendation the Creggan Inn.

Through the long days of the first Covid Lockdown and with the Whisky Cruise postponed, the potential gastronomic delights of Loch Fyne developed. Throw in the incredible beauty of the area and almost limitless anchorages and sheltered waters. Would a week be long enough?

This first week of our summer cruise combined the “Gastronomic Odyssey” with a thorough shake down before we were to head south for the Irish Sea and Wales. 

After being hauled up our mast to refit wind vanes, anemometers, radar reflectors and a broken flag halyard, then being paid to do the same on a neighbouring, Elin took her boyfriend Scott off to the Marina’s restaurant for a slap up burger. Jan and I headed into Largs for fish and chips sitting in the car on the sea front. 

Next morning, round Great Cumbre and up the beautiful Kyles of Bute through the Burnt Islands via Wreck Bay passage and onto Cladagh Harbour. Elin pointing out to Scott the lions mane jelly fish wafting slowly by. As re-crossing to the Burnt Islands we were in the midst of a pod of porpoises fishing.  Coming back down the East Kyle a phone call to Port Banatyne Marina confirmed they were full, so we returned for our first night at anchor in Cladagh Harbour. Scott & Elin went snorkelling then had cockpit showers to clear the salt. A putter round the island in the tender to find a landing for some exploring.  

Cladagh Harbour

Sunday dawned with a rising gusty wind coming over the hills. Out in Loch Riddon the fluky winds boxed the compass before giving us a lively beat down the West Kyle then out into Inchmarnock Water and lower Loch Fyne. Ideal conditions to try White Knight and her new reefing system in F6+. Carving through the water with full genoa and single reefed main and 9 knots showing on the log (doubt that somehow but it feels good). Wind instruments giving AWA, TWA, AWS, Trend and a host of other new data in multiple formats. Nerd heaven here we come. 

Heading into Loch Fyne the AIS was warning of the departure of the Portavadie to East Loch Tarbert ferry. Crossed ahead of the ferry then tacked for East Loch Tarbert.

East Loch Tarbert Marina

The marina is a new addition to East Loch Tarbert, Well it has been built since I last stayed the night in the mid-1970s, no more need to anchor in the bay and row ashore. Now a friendly marina with good shore side facilities at a reasonable price a short walk from the town’s shops. After a bit of paddle boarding the crew demanded feeding, so off around the town to forage. Restaurants either closed or open to bookings in advance only, so a Fish & Chips supper, one of our childhood treats and still as good as ever. 

East Loch Tarbert

East Loch Tarbert was our base for the next couple of nights with a day sail to Loch Ranza and our first gastro stop, the Arran Distillery to stock up the drinks cabinet.


Hot breakfast rolls from the deli on the quay before heading south for Arran. A much calmer day to start off as we sailed out of East Loch Tarbert into the Loch and along the Kintyre shore. As we broke out to cross Kilbrannan sound the NW wind picked up blowing directly into Loch Ranza. Two yachts in front of us fluffed the mooring pick up. Slick work by the crew and a good mooring pick up, relief. A quick lunch then inflated the dinghy for the choppy transfer to shore, leaving the pump on board.  The short walk to the distillery was only a couple of miles much to the chagrin of the crew, the mate kept her peace. As we walked a car drew up. “Good to see you back again” came the call. He must have a good memory; it is over 40 years since I was last here. More likely the easing of lockdown was much appreciated.

Loch Ranza Castle

The Arran distillery is a relative youngster built in the 1995. Cautiously reopening as lockdown eased the distillery tour was limited to the shop with a tasting of any of their single malts we were seriously interested in. We finally homed in on the 10 year old as a gift to Ian for all his work on the fore cabin. A set of 6 self-levelling glasses for the drink’s cabinet and a few other knickknacks were added to the skipper’s invoice. 

Returning to the dinghy it had part deflated, somebody had inadvertently loosened a valves on the crossing to shore. Skipper and mate made the first crossing in the flexible flubber, re-inflated the dinghy then collected the crew. Lesson learned, always carry the pump.

A grey crossing back to East Loch Tarbert with Elin demonstrating her skills as a blindfold helm. Boyfriend suitably impressed. A chance to fine adjust, tune and secure the standing rigging.

 Loch Fyne

After more breakfast rolls from the deli, a flat calm gave us the opportunity to give the engine a long run up Loch Fyne and a chance to calibrate the instruments. 9 knots on the log came down to 6 knots when calibrated against the GPS. Doesn’t feel quite as impressive but gives a more reliable base for the navigation. A passing trawler inspired the crew to get the fishing rod out. The corroded weight soon broke free but the paravane kept the hooks deep and veering.

Trawling Loch Fyne

Up Loch Fyne through the Otter Narrows, then up to Loch Gaire where we took a detour to take and send some photos of Gordon’s Uncle Wallace’s Southerly Asagai.  Back into the main loch for some MoB practice and on up though the Minard Narrows and on to Inverary. We anchored off the quay in sight of the Duke of Argyle’s impressive castle.  

An old puffer, the “Vital Spark” lies forlorn against the quay awaiting another jaunt with the eponymous Para Handy and his motley crew “three men and an enchuneer” all lovingly created by Neil Munro, a son of Inverary.  A tentative wander around the shops, masked against the virus, all respectfully ‘social distancing’. Essentials of food, also some fishing lures and a small whisky for Grandma. The shop keepers grateful of the tentative tourists who were gradually returning by motorbike and car but ‘respecting the destination’.   

Returning four miles back down Loch Fyne we picked up a visitor’s mooring off the Creggan Inn, free with our pre booked meals. Time to top up the water tanks from the tap at the back of the Inn, several ferry trips in the dinghy before getting into tidy clothes for dinner.  Juicy steaks in a socially distanced dining space. Luscious deserts and tea then back on board for a quiet night on the visitor’s mooring. 

A dreicht morning greeted me as I climbed the companion way steps

A driecht morning of steady drizzle and calm entailed another morning under engine heading to the visitor moorings at the top of Loch Fyne and a short walk to the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. The smell of the smoke houses permeated as far as the moorings, so the walk was genuinely short and the anticipation long.

Crisis. All seats in the restaurant were pre-booked for the next week and a half. The crew was infuriated and letting her feelings rip. Dreamed of for weeks in advance through the months of lock-down, the disappointment was immense.  As compensation we took a shellfish platter back on board for a socially isolated lunch. 

With fresh oysters, steaming langoustines, three types of smoked salmon (one kept for later), fresh soda bread and lemon mayonnaise, the disappointment eased slightly.

After lunch a bit of manoeuvring and mooring practice for the crew, before heading back down the Loch as the clouds lifted.

Early afternoon came the first sign of the engine problems which were to dominate the next few days. The crew noticed that the hot water was very hot.

Nearing East Loch Tarbert, the temperature warning light came on in the final approach. Throttling back, we kept going for the last few minutes to the marina.  Removing some weed from the sea water inlet strainer and reducing the leak from the seawater impeller were the obvious fixes.

A slow morning checking over the engine, fudging a seal on the seawater pump and chatting with friends from the 2014 Commonwealth Games Flotilla.

Arran (again)

We sailed for Brodick on Arran ordering new screws for the seawater impeller from DDZ at Largs on route. On the North East shore of Arran are the measured mile markers used by the big ships.

Log Check off Arran measured miles: – Log reading 55.4, 56.3 and 57.2. Under reading by 10% but corrected for tide seemed close enough. We did not reverse the route.

Crazy golf in Broddick

We sailed close by Brodick Castle with its fabulous Victorian tropical gardens. The crew were more interested in a playing a round of crazy golf than botany. Skipper and mate relaxed with a cup of tea.

After dinner, a night sail to Kilchatten Bay on Bute with the crew in charge. The engine temperature warning light came on within a few minutes, so engine off and a pleasant sail into the night. Skipper dozing below. Final approach into a very dark shelving bay looking for the non-existent visitor’s moorings. Smart work by the crew had us anchored before midnight in time for a whisky night cap.

An early morning motor to Largs Yacht Haven, temperature warning light blazing. There appeared to be a flow of cooling water through the exhaust, but the engine block was still getting very warm.  To help dump heat we ran out our remining drinking water through the calorifier.

There were no Engineers available to look at the engine but with the advice from Volvo Penta dealer over the next two days I gradually dismantled, cleaned out and reassembled the seawater cooling system and heat exchanger.

Mean while the replacement crew were on route from Wales expecting to depart on Leg 2 around lunch time Saturday. No pressure.

Engine repairs Round 1: Sea water cooling pump and Exhaust Elbow:-

  • Replaced screws and resealed sea water cooling water pump.
  • Removed checked and cleaned the exhaust elbow and thermostat.
  • Thermostat moves when dropped in hot water. All appeared ok.
  • Called Ian to bring the spare exhaust elbow from the spare engine.
  • Reassembled the engine and test run, still overheating.
Exploded view of the cooling system. Copyright: Volvo Penta web site

Week 2 “The Nightmare of the Green Donkey”

In theory week 2 was to be a straightforward delivery trip to get White Knight home to North Wales. But the challenges for the skipper included balancing the wish to get south and home to Wales, with a questionable engine, also the dynamics of the new crew Jonathan and Jess full of excitement and youthful vigour replacing Jan and Scott. An excited but inexperienced new crew full of anticipation and the anxieties that go with it. A new mate; a long-standing friend, co-owner of White Knight, a young naval architect also experienced on sail training ships. But an unknown entity to me on a small yacht. Then Elin, staying on for her second week, competent on top form, but missing her recently departed boyfriend. Throw in a deteriorating weather forecast and growls from the Sottish Nationalist about closing the border again. No pressure.

We managed to divert the impending crew and gain an hour by suggesting a shopping trip to Duncan’s Yacht Chandlers in Glasgow.  Meanwhile my first job of the morning was to remove  and clean the heat exchanger, before reassembling it all again hopefully working reliably.  

Round 2: Heat Exchanger

  • Buy a socket set rather than rely on the spanner set.
  • Removed heat exchanger then take it to the bench to open it up, clean out the muddy crust, replace seized nuts and reassembled it.
  • With the cooling water drained give the engine a good flush, before reassembling it all again. A fiddly job in the hard to reach crevices of the engine locker.
  • Finally reassembled with fresh bolts, nuts and seals the engine was tested again.  A steady stream of cooling water coming through the exhaust.

Just as I was refitting the heat exchanger and an old bolt was refusing to bite, the new crew arrived for Week 2. But first finish reassembling the donkey and an engine test on tick over in the marina. All seemed ok, but oh how we were being deceived by the malevolent green donkey.

With the engine reassembled and the cabin cleared up the new crew started loading their dunnage and food. Skipper, trying to avoid the unavoidable chaos, sloped off for a hot shower, late lunch and a mug of tea, then returned to chaos. A few helpful hints on where stuff could be stowed allowed order to eventually be restored. 

Next the crew safety briefing and a rough outline of the plan for the trip and the many options and constraints to be balanced. The rough idea was to introduce Jonathan & Jess to the delights of cruising White Knight through the beautiful Kyles of Bute, before crossing to Arran, down Kilbrannan Sound to Campbelltown, our departure point for the Antrim coast. The third leg would follow the Ulster coast to Ardglass before crossing directly to North Wales. The Isle of Man was closed to visitors with no landing permitted.  

The first leg was the short hop  east to Port Bannatyne on Bute for the night.  Filled water and fuel tanks. 40l of fuel and 30 engine hours since last fill so 40/30 = 1.33 l/hr then a gentle motor sail across to Bute, the engine apparently behaving.

The engine temperature warning light killed that plan next morning as we made our way through the drizzle up the East Kyle.

Sailing back past Rothsay the day brightened ………

That was until we hit the vomit inducing swell crossing between Bute and the southern tip of Little Cumbre. Smiles returned as we swung into the shelter of the Cumbrae islands into the Hunterston channel.

Back to Largs and

Engine Repairs Round Three: –

  • Stripping down checking, flushing and reassembly of the freshwater side of the cooling system. The freshwater pump showed no signs of problems.
  • A conversation with Dino of DDZ Marine produced a box of spares and suggesting trying a new thermostat and restricting the flow to the calorifier.  The new thermostat moved far more easily than its predecessor.
  • We gave the engine another thorough flushing with fresh water dislodging years of corrosion residue.
  • After installing the new thermostat and clamping down the calorifier hose, an hour’s engine running check showed no problems.  

Had we really got to the root cause of the problem? Years of crud slowly building up throughout both the seawater and freshwater cooling systems and ultimately a thermostat which kept jamming?  Taking a cautious approach, we re-planed our route south to keep to the Scottish mainland shore before committing ourselves to the Irish Sea crossing.

Another grey start was lifted by a common dolphin with a nick in its dorsal fin closely inspecting the boat and Elin’s poached eggs with smoked salmon breakfast.  A minor leak from the engine cooling system was quickly fixed.

As we headed south the joy ebbed as the weather thickened to rain and just over a mile’s visibility and the wind increased. Passing bolt holes at Ardrossan, Troon and Ayr, we decided to bail out at Girvan.

A call to the harbour master recommended waiting until half tide at 15:00 before making the harbour entrance. So we headed out towards Ailsa Craig and waited for an hour for the tide to rise. Mal ’de Mare hitting the crew with the relentless wind and swell rising too.

Two bundles of misery huddled together in the back of the cockpit, occasionally leaning over the rail before returning to their contemplations.

Approaching the coast and its shoals we hove-to under engine and backed reefed genoa to survey the run into Girvan Harbour. The lee shore swells building over the shoals with the wind. Time to go for it. Surfing in under bare poles over the shoals at 4.5 knots, with the engine in reverse tick over to slow our approach. Crew’s knuckles white. On in through the narrow harbour entrance. Crew on deck rapidly fixing lines & fenders. A swift turn and a perfect landing on the available windward berth only slightly marred by a tangled line. The engine was behaving.

Adrenalin and hot tea combined with a safe harbour quickly cured the mal de mare.  Jess’ superb fish pie with a bottle of wine for dinner as the rigging screamed in the ever-rising wind. We slept well.

Tuesday was spent wind bound in Girvan.

Jonathan took on the task of sorting out the bosun’s locker AKA “Jeff’s Shed”. A quarter was old packs of hardened glue and other spent material, AKA “bin fodder”. Another quarter was duplicates, and spares which would not be used except during the winter refit, bagged up to go home to the store. The remainder was boxed up into new recycled plastic takeaway containers and the cracked old ones recycled.   New Velcro was applied to the cushions to stop them sliding when healed. We also topped up the antifreeze.

With a reasonable 4g signal I managed to catch up on work. A MS Teams morning call with the team and a collaborative planning meeting, knock back the emails and move a few issues forward. Work appeased, Elin and I then went for a walk around the town, discovering the hardware store to pick up a few more necessaries; more anti-freeze and a hose pipe. Then cautiously into a social distancing café for tea and cream buns. J&J went off for their own walk to Asda.

Dinner a superb fish supper from the harbour fish bar washed down with another bottle of wine.

With an updated weather forecast, we started contemplated passage plans for tomorrow: – Northern Ireland strongly rejected by Elin in case we ran into an ex-flame. Scottish coast preferred in case of engine problems with its land route home, but with a strong southerly forecast once around the Mull of Galloway would make shelter a rare commodity before the Cumbrian coast. The Isle of Man was the most direct route home, but the island was locked down with no landing permitted and the forecast for Thursday rapidly oscillating between benign and unpleasant.

Reviewing the options next morning, the destination for the day was left open. Nobody trusted the engine to perform reliably and a port of refuge on the Scottish / English mainland may be desirable. With 5 & 6 in the forecast, particularly around the Isle of Man caution was called for. Elin was still against going to Bangor in Northern Ireland as her old flame was now known to be in town (the wonders of social media). The quickest route to North Wales would be via an overnight stop at the Isle of Man, provided we were not gale bound. But Elin and Jess were both keen to be able to get home to their own beds as swiftly as possible and not to be stranded on any islands. Isle of Whithorn was a strong possibility on the Galloway coast but exposed to the South. Little Ross Island and Kirckubright were possibilities beyond. Local advice was to aim for Peel

There was still a significant onshore swell as we broke out of Girvan harbour and turned south again heading for the Rhin’s of Galloway.  Clawing off the coast the swell reduced and the sun broke through.

Corsewall Point

As we approached Corsewall Point at the north end of the Rhins of Galloway the tide turned favourable to carry us down through the North Channel. A glorious afternoon with a good tide past one of Dad’s favourite harbours, Port Patrick and on to the Mull with its fearsome tidal race, arriving in time for slack water.

Off the Mull of Galloway the crew agreed that the quickest way to their beds was to head south to Peel.  Leaving the decision so late ment an hour clawing against the new flood tide to get sufficient offing to get across the tide and down the west coast of the Isle of Man. Shelter from the southerly wind on the exposed East coast of Man would be difficult without landing.

Entering behind the shelter of Peel breakwater just after sunset we picked up a mooring for the night. Secure and sheltered from the rising wind it was Jess’s first night afloat on White Knight that was not in a marina. Spaghetti Bolognaises for dinner and a good night’s sleep. Forecast still oscillating, but appeared to be better if we could get East once past the Calf of Man.

The early forecast on Thursday morning was still confused and complex. but after an early and rough start there was just a chance of better conditions if we kept East of the rhumb line to Anglesey. We were heading out into a fierce swell and head wind but with the tide under us. All strapped on with lifelines as White Knight bucked, reared and sliced south.

Half an hour out and I looked below to see the hatches from the cabin sole floating in an inch of water. Handing the tiller to Jonathan I quietly nipped below to switch the bilge pump on and check for leaks. Tasting the water, it was salty but warm, no obvious leaks from the seacocks.  Shining a torch into the engine locker, water was spraying around the stern gland. The pumps were beating the incoming water.  Time to turn around and head back to Peel.

A call to Isle of Man Marine Operations to let them know we were returning to Peel and may need to enter the inner harbour or dry out. We agreed there was no need at this stage to notify the Coastguard as the pump was dealing with the water, but the harbour was closed for Covid.  Back on the mooring and a hand into the engine locker located the problem, the exhaust muffler was leaking, and the water was being thrown around by the drive shaft. It took a few minutes to remove the box and find a couple of gouges where the box had become dislodged and lain on the drive shaft.

A crew revolt was averted by a pot of tea and breakfast, after which we called the harbour master who managed to find us some quick curing epoxy and delivered it to us. Excellent, friendly service. We look forward to returning when covid allows.

14:00 and off again. The swell was slightly reduced but the tide was still foul. Off Elby Point we set the double reefed main and genoa and headed offshore. Rounding the Calf of Man the tide carried us east of the rhumb line and the wind and swell eased to a beautiful evening sail across to Anglesey. Ragged clouds and murk spoke of worse to the west.

02:00 and we arrived in Holyhead. Shore crew waiting to return the sea crew home to their beds.

Calmer seas and Wales in sight

Jan & I returned to Holyhead on Friday evening to top up the fuel tank and sail White Knight around the North coast of Anglesey heading for Conwy on the early tide Saturday morning.

A delightful sail for a grey day. Just the two of us, nobody else to worry about. The tide under our keel, gannets and terns divebombing for fish a few feet away. Light winds across Conwy Bay, engine on or off? Need to make the tide gate on Conwy Marina. Engine back on as we feel our way up the river past the sand banks and shoals.  Tide sluicing out as we crept past the Beacons jetty then the sharp turn across the tide into the Marina.  A quick hunt for the allocated berth then moored up.

Conwy was to be White Knight’s new home, at least for a couple of months.  The crew returning to clear and clean the ship.  More terrifying than anything else we had experienced over the last couple of weeks, emerging into the courtyard at the marina there were loads of people crammed in milling around. Social distancing and wearing face coverings seemed irrelevant to them. So very different from the “respect the destination”we had experienced in Scotland and the Isle of Man.

We refuelled to full with 32l so in addition to the topping up at Holyhead, total refuelling 52 l used in 37 engine hours = 1.4l/hr. Slightly higher than the 1.3 l/hr used up Loch Fyne, but conditions were worse so the engine was working harder.


After all the winter work, frustration of the three months of amazing sailing weather lost to Covid, the joy of finally getting afloat and completing the winter refit, White Knight was ready for our first proper cruise of 2020. The gastronomic cruise around Loch Fyne, a family holiday we had dreamed of. 

Despite the problems with the engine, this trip got us very familiar with the little green donkey which lives under the companion way step and showed us that repairing it was very straight forward, almost a joy to work on, if we had to. By the start of the delivery cruise the main problem with the thermostat had been fixed, though we remained suitably sceptical about the reliability of the green donkey. The leak in the water lock / muffler may have been dripping for some time. The pitching off the Isle of Man may have worsened the leak but it was only that the bilge pump was accidentally switched off that we found it. The temporary fix held until a new water lock could be fitted and secured.

The delivery trip was a challenge for the less experienced members of the crew but ultimately one which brought great experience to build upon. We became more familiar with White Knight’s capability also gaining the performance data to be able to plan future trips with more confidence. 

Winter Refit and a Looming Pandemic

From our first viewing we knew that our Contessa 32 White Knight would need a substantial winter refit over the first winter and a smaller refit the second winter. All the boats we looked at would have needed one. White Knight’s happened to be the refit which could be managed without compromising our sailing time too much. Following the survey and our first season fixing urgent actions and deferring nice to haves, we had pulled together a long work list. But was it all for the first winter refit? In best Project Management style, it was time to set an Aim and some supporting Objectives

The aim of this refit was: To address all the remaining “advisory” issues highlighted in the pre-purchase survey and make White Knight safe and fit for the coming season, with a view to staying afloat for up to 18 months and leaving the mast up for up to 3 years.

Next the objectives: Working through the work list; Some bits would need professionals (rigging replacement and Gas safety work), most of the rest we could do ourselves with White Knight ashore in an appropriate boat yard (engine servicing, replacing the exhaust pipe, servicing sea cocks, doubling and replacing hose clips, navigation instruments and electric, painting, varnishing and anti-fouling). Some things could be taken home (cleaning and servicing all removable bits, replacing as necessary).

The next question was where? As we wanted to so some more sailing in Scotland in 2020 we did not want to bring White Knight home to Wales just yet. Croabh was six and a half hours drive from home, the Clyde a mere four and a half. On the Clyde we checked out several boat yards, in the end settling on Fairley Quay near Largs because it allowed us sleep on board in the open yard but offered inside storage for a repainting if we needed it. On site were Fairley Riggers along with boat builders, canvas crafters, marine engineers and a small chandlery backed up by the larger chandlery at Kip all with 10% discount. The Volvo agent, DDZ Marine, was near by at Largs YH. Mast removal and re-stepping along with hire of a cradle came as part of the package at a competitive price.

At the end of September, after an oil and oil filter change, Ian, Sue and I sailed White Knight down from Kip to Fairley Quay arriving at the appointed time to be hoisted and our first chance to get a proper look at White Knight below the water line.

Jet washing and our first chance to inspect White Knight below the water line

A quick jet wash, then after being settled in a cradle we unloaded sails, spray hood, dinghies, life raft, outboard, cushions (except the saloon seats) and a host of other stuff into the waiting cars. Then started the cleaning, vacuuming into the crevices, degreasing the galley and winterising the engine. A temporary plywood cover was made for the battery box to allow somebody to work on the electrical panel and chart table without having to sit directly on the batteries. We also arranged for the rigging to be checked over and a quote for replacement along with getting contact details of all the other trades we may need.

For the next couple of months all the work was managed from home including building Jonathan a workshop for all the wood working projects he had planned (but only after he had finished refurbishing his new house). The new teak grating for the cockpit could wait until after the house had been decorated. The riggers inspected and condemned the at least 20-year-old rigging.

It was the end of November before Ian and I managed to get north again. A leak in the anchor locker grp lining had rotted all the supporting woodwork. Ian took on the task of cutting out the rotten woodwork and rebuilding the anchor locker. This also involved removing the linings from the fore cabin, a job we had hoped to leave until the second winter. One job which defeated us was removing the pencil anode from the engine block, but a long list of minor works was knocked off.

Ian masked and goggled, head down cutting out the rotten woodwork from the anchor locker.

Scott the gas fitter quoted for replacing all the aging pipe work regulator and valves up to gas safety certificate standard. The issue was installing a low-level vent for the gas locker. The gas locker is low in the cockpit and with a low freeboard boat would often go below the waterline. The existing locker vented to the cockpit. Running a vent pipeline through the lazarette would be vulnerable to water locking and being knocked off. An exchange of e mails with Jeremy Rogers Yachts the builders did not come up with a better solution. In the end Scott wrote out a qualified Gas Safety Certificate, highlighting the vent to cockpit arrangement, and following a brief discussion with the insurers this was accepted as the least-worst solution.

In mid-January I managed to fit in a flying visit, successfully removing the pencil anode fitting with a reversed half inch socket. The fitting was taken home to remove and replace the last remains of the old anode. I also investigated fix why the cockpit was not draining (a sea cock had been left closed), review options for draining the gas locker overboard, drilled out for USB charging point in fore cabin, and knocked off a short list of other minor works.

Ian and Jonathan returned in early February for Ian to make progress on the anchor locker rebuild. While Jonathan worked through the sea cocks and removed the exhaust hose. The through hull fitting was looking suspect with a badly corroded bolt. The replacement hose did not fit. By mid-February it was starting to become apparent that there was a looming pandemic on its way.

Reviewing the budget and to do list along revealed that with a few savings by doing more work ourselves and with the mast down meant we were able to start installing a NMEA 2000 set of instruments starting with a wind vane and combined log depth sounder. This would also enable the AIS in the radio to be linked to the Raymarine plotter above the companion way. I headed north at the end of February to remove all the redundant instruments and cabling and start installing the NMEA 2000 Backbone and transducer cabling. I brought the companion way garage home for Jonathan to start modifying the instrument pod to take a new B&G Triton MFD and the existing Raymarine chart plotter. Interfacing the chart plotter with the other instruments moved it from being a mere chart plotter to an all singing all dancing information centre which, via a wifi link, could be read and manipulated from an IPad or phone. “The Mutts Nuts” was christened.

The following weekend Jonathan, Ian and I headed north again to try to complete the winter refit work. By this time it was clear that the pandemic was likely to be disruptive but we pressed on with our plans to launch by Easter. We nearly completed the anchor locker resealing & rebuild and completed most of the work on the mast including hauling through the new sensor cable for the NMEA 2000 instruments. There was also the heart in mouth job of drilling a large hole below the waterline for the transducer through-hull fitting. Then the agonising wait while the epoxy filler hardened sealing the bronze fitting to the hull. Would it keep out the water? The mast was now ready for refitting. Typically we were achieving 60-80% of what we had planned for each visit.

Then the Covid Lockdown hit.
It was decreed that we should all work from home and stop socialising face to face. There was to be no travel more than 5 miles from home and no staying on board for months. The Scottish and Welsh borders were closed.

Fortunately, we had taken a few jobs home; Jonathan was able to make a new face plate for the instrument panel in the pod. Ian made some new head lining panels and cleaned all the cushions with a carpet shampoo cleaner. I could clean and measure all sheets & warps, service the outboard, repair the sail cover and make up new mooring warps and fender lanyards. But three and a half months of the best sailing spring weather for years slipped by un-used. The planned cruise to the whiskey islands was toasted on a zoom call as it slipped back to the unfinished business list. Virtual cruises were planned with live weather conditions. The sun shone but the long slow frustrating lock down was extended and held.

Then finally at the beginning of July there came the first signs of easing.

To kick start the work we hired Quay Marine to complete the exhaust pipe refit while the yard re-stepped the mast.

Within 24 hours of the Scottish and Welsh borders being reopened I was across them with a trailer load of kit and a long list, to spend 3 socially isolated days completing enough of the jobs to get White Knight launched. More GRP to complete the anchor locker, then clear the lining glue from the fore cabin sides ready for painting with Damboline. Up-sizing the trunking, and refitting the hatch garage resplendent with Jonathan’s 12 coats of Epifanes varnished face plate, I was able to complete the NMEA 2000 installation & testing along with other bits of electrical work. Removal, cleaning and re-seal the leaking fore hatch was a sticky messy horrible job. Next refit the engine impeller and test the engine for launching. Tighten the rigging and a host of other minor jobs. Mean while two coats of anti-fouling were put on by one of the yard hands. With the main works completed it was time to start cleaning up. Collecting all the tools, off-cuts, empty boxes, half empty tins of unguents, paint and rubbish then carry them down the ladder to car, trailer or skip as appropriate. A thorough vacuum clean and wipe over of interior then a light rub down and oil / polish interior woodwork and another deep vacuum clean of all the cushions. A very satisfying dinner was followed by a good night’s sleep.

I was up at 6am to put on the final coat of anti-fouling. The weather forecast was marginal for a mid-day launch with an onshore wind. Keep on with the preparations. So began the reloading with the anchor chain & anchor, rigging the boom, sort out running rigging, fitting sails & covers. A new gas bottle, cushions, dinghy, life raft, all ropes & fenders, danbuoy, life ring, outboard, fuel & water all being hauled up the ladder and stowed. By noon on the third day the bills had been paid and we were ready to launch.

After a shaky launch into an on-shore swell and the straps refusing to sink White Knight was at last afloat and free again. The first visiting yacht to arrive at Largs Yacht Haven after the lock down.

Ian took over to complete the last bits, fitting the new linings to the fore cabin including a wonderful set of head linings on new backing boards. Replacing the pristine cushions, steralising the water tank, Cetol to all the brightwork and refitting the curtains. In the July sunshine the boating world was coming back to life and adventure beckoned. White Knight was ready.

Its the Crinan Canal for me

It was time to bring White Knight into the Clyde for her first major refit for nearly 20 years. Our summer around the islands of the Inner Hebrides had got us used to her foibles and the survey listed several advisory items which the insurers insisted were resolved before the 2020 season. This included a gas safety certificate, changing the aged standing rigging and servicing all the sea cocks. There was also a longer list of nice to haves to address. From Croabh to the Clyde we had two reasonable options, around the Mull of Kintyre or through the Crinan Canal.

In the words of a song sung by Neill Munro’s  Dan MacPhail “Enchuneer” of The Vital Spark

The Crinan Canal for me,

I don’t like the wild raging sea

Them big foamin’ breakers

Wad gie ye the shakers

The Crinan Canal for me.

A bit of history:- The Crinan Canal was built to provide a short cut for commercial sailing and fishing vessels between the industrialised region around Glasgow to the West Highland villages and islands, avoiding the notorious Mull of Kintyre. The canal was designed by Civil Engineer John Rennie with work starting in 1794. In the early years the canal was beset with problems including; finance, poor weather, labour shortages. After the Canal was opened in 1801 the problems continued with bank and reservoir collapses.  Thomas Telford was commissioned to assess the problems and suggested improvements to the locks, and some parts of the canal were redesigned including the swing bridges which were replaced in cast iron in 1816.  Today the canal remains a popular route for leisure craft between the Firth of Clyde and the west coast of Scotland, used by nearly 2,000 boats annually.

White Knight’s Delivery Trip to Kip via Crinan Canal and Loch Fyne

23 August 2019: Jan, Elin and I drove up to Croabh from North Wales, arriving 20:45 just in time for a late dinner in the Lord of the Isles.

24 August: Loaded, victualled and final dues paid at the Marina, we removed the fenders from the berth and liberated a piece of old sail cloth from the skip to protect White Knight’s topsides in the Canal. It was a cold grey start with spray over the decks as motored down to Dorus Mor.

That film has a lot to answer for

Calling ahead the Lock keepers opened the sea lock ready for us. The sun finally broke through the murk as we entered Crinan Sea Lock. With lines secured the lock filled lifting us to the canal basin. Time to nip to the office and pay our dues, £124 for passage through the canal with a discount for a return trip within 12 months. A short break in the canal basin while Elin admired a small dog and we grabbed a mug of tea.

The sea lock and next lock were both manned and set in our favour, so we passed quickly onto the long pound. With the bridges maned we did not have to wait long to pass through. Wonderful scenery and serene, the Crinan Canal certainly lived up to its reputation as “the most beautiful short cut in Britain”. The views across the salt marshes gave way to the wider wetlands around Dun Add seat of the kings of Dal Riata.

Arriving at lunch time the main flight of locks was DIY. A large yacht ahead of us left all the locks set against us. It was heavy going working the locks while Jan and Elin steered the boat and tended lines. A Lock Keeper finally appeared as we came through the next to top lock but was not very helpful. He was more interested in chatting up the passing ladies. My back starting to feel it as we came through the last up lock. As the midges started to bite, Elin blagged some mosquito repellent from an Australian couple in a nearby motor home.

We just missed the day’s racing at the Mid Argyle Radio Sailing club in the reservoir by the top lock. Water levels in the short top pound were getting low at the end of a long day. Starting the decent we were able to get through two locks before we were stopped by the lock keeper for the night at Cairnbran.

End of a long day

All very tired, stiff aching and a bit grumpy. Hot showers in the lock keeper’s hut were followed by a restorative dinner in the Cairnbran Hotel.

25 August

Through Lock 6 and 7 as soon as the loch keeper left the lock keys and unlocked the gates.

Dew on the decks bodes well for the day

After an easy run we were held for an hour at Ardrishaig top lock for road traffic through the lower locks and bridge openings. The very helpful lock keeper suggested Jan & Elin take the opportunity to go to Morrisons and stock up with food. We rafted through the final locks with 2 other boats.

Leaving Ardrishaig Sea Lock and the Crinan Canal we broke out into a flat calm in Loch Fyne.

Out of the sea lock

An unplanned MOB practice when a fender broke loose.  Dolphins were playing around the channel markers as we streamed the log. Elin took to the boom for a doze in the sunshine as we made our way slowly down Loch Fyne.

Gently down a calm Loch Fyne

We looked into East Loch Tarbert harbor for future reference. The new marina looked very welcoming, but we did not stop.

A light SW wind carried us across Lower Loch Fyne towards the Kyles of Bute.  Rounding Ardlamont Point we set the Spinnaker for the first time. Then had a fine spinnaker run up the West Kyle to Tighnabuaich then wind dropped. Time to recover the spinnaker. Something which will need more practice to perfect.

Spinnaker run up the West Kyle

From Tighnabuaich we motor sailed up to Caladh Harbour and the Burnt Islands, doffing our caps to the Maids of Bute as we passed. The wind dropped so we motored down East Kyle to Port Bannatyne.

Port Bannatyne Marina is a very friendly place with loads of people just wanting to chat. The facilities are clean, warm and unfussy. Last time Elin and I visited Port Banatyne was in our Cornish Shrimper Daisy in 2014 before we joined the Commonwealth Games Flotilla. A boat we had met on that trip Ancaster iV was in the marina but unfortunately nobody was on board.

26 August

Breakfast at the Port Banatyne Post Office Café with its stunning views up Loch Striven and its George VI post box

Breakfast at Port Bannatyne Post Office

Departing in a light South Westerly the wind increased as we crossed Rothsey Bay. By the time we rounded Toward point it was blowing F5 gusting 6 and the swell was rising. After the calm waters of the Canal and Loch Fyne the mal de mare reared its ugly face.  

The chance for a sail around Great Cumbre was rejected. Elin was keen to head home and secure her collage place. So we sailed direct for Kip Marina. Furling the sails in a lively swell off the old jetty for Inverkip Power Station was challenging before heading for the calm of the marina. We were quickly moved from the visitor pontoon onto the main marina. There was no additional charge as our berth at Croabh was already paid for. Elin quickly made up for the saving with a visit to the on-site chandlers.

After a quick tidy up Jan & Elin caught the train home to arrange an interview and confirm Elin’s college place.   With peace descended I was left for a quiet evening’s working through the “to do” list and dinner at the marina restaurant.

27 August

My brother Donald and his sons visited in the morning. After a breakfast of bacon grill butties, part of the boys missing education, we went for a short sail up the Clyde to the Cloch lighthouse then back to Inverkip.

Afternoon saw us back on the road to Croabh to collect the car and the new cooker. Lunch at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar en-route. Donald & the boys then headed onto Fort William to climb Ben Nevis.

I spent the evening installing the new cooker, removing the U/S refrigeration unit and relocating the spare battery in its place. The Fish and Chip supper was not particularly nice.

28 August: Home.


Shaking Down the New Boat

From agreeing the deal on the 29 June, it took a couple of weeks to sort out a survey, arrange insurance (subject to survey). transfer funds (subject to verbal survey report), arrange leave and acquire the most urgent bits of replacement kit including a new B&G V60 VHF radio with built in AIS receiver. The first trip would be a “Shakedown”, the main objectives of which would be:

  • Rummage Ship: Jeff had left White Knight with a very full inventory with lockers stuffed to overflowing. So, task 1 was to Rummage and clear out all the lockers moving tins of paint, spare sails and accumulated stuff to the van to give Jan the chance to do a thorough clean and make space for our dunnage.
  • Urgent Fixes: I needed to install the new VHF Radio, a USB charging point and a host of other minor stuff. We also needed to thoroughly check the boat and her equipment from the truck of the mast to the bottom of the bilges. The verbal survey had highlighted a few things that needed sorting out. This would take at least one day if not two.
  • A Shakedown sail: to test and understand how White Knight works, check over the engine etc. Then a few days going a bit further; maybe up the Firth of Lorne, around Mull, through Corriebwreckan. Maybe even a side trip to Loch Craignish and Ardfern before returning to Croabh.
  • Finally start pulling together the next “to do” list.

On Thursday 11 July 2019 I headed north with Jan & Elin for the “Shakedown Cruise”. All excitement as we crossed the Scottish border, over Beatock and down the Clyde valley through Glasgow. We pulled over in Dumbarton to download the survey and e mail it onto the insurers. They were happy, and we were insured. E mailed Jeff to let him know. Jan took over the driving, on up Loch Lomond to Tarbert then hang a left over the low pass to Arrochar then the long haul up and over the Rest & Be Thankful pass to Cairndow and the Loch Fyne Oyster bar. Last leg down Loch Fyne through Inverary to Loch Gilphead then over the isthmus by the Crinan Canal, past Dun Add  and on to Croabh, the new boat and dinner in the Lord of the Isles.

12 July

Jan & Elin set off early to Oban for victuals, etc.  Leaving the skipper un-distracted to start working his way through the ship and a long list of “maintenance” and fitting out tasks.

First on the list was to replace the antediluvian VHF radio. I found that the old radio was not working because the cockpit extension speaker would not work, something for the “not essential now so fix later” list. To get the old radio out I had to removed a shelf unit by the chart table to gain access, then feel for the fixing screws holding the old radio. Next the wiring had to be freed up. Three quarters of an hour later the old radio was out. The Furno GPS including the spare wiring for a laptop connection was far easier. I checked the wiring to VHF antenna, and signal strength using adaptors and a pair of handheld VHF radios. All seemed to be working OK.

Next to install the new B&G V60 radio with built in MSSI and AIS. I was not able to install it where the old radio was fitted as it clashes with chart table lid. So found a new home on the top of the instrument box. Re-routed the wiring and cabled up. Up to the chandlers again for zip ties to tidy up the cables,  then switched on. It powers up, whoopee. Programmed in MMSI etc. All seems to work OK, AIS proximity alarms coming in from other boats in the marina and out in the Loch.

Next I tried to find out why the anemometer was not working. Checked wiring to mast head instruments following Stowe’s instructions. No faults found. Found a loose screened cable in the instrument box with blue core. May this be the anemometer feed? Can’t be sure. Do without and move on. Something else for the “not essential now, so fix later” list.

I continued to rummage ship. Clearing space in the cabin lockers that Jeff had filled with spare sails, maintenance gear and all sorts of other stuff.

Knob on gas regulator loose. Back to the chandlers for epoxy glue. Fridge not working. Can’t find any reason why not. Do without. Yet another thing for the “not essential now, so fix later list”. Jan had left a pile of freezer blocks with the Marina.

Jan and Elin came back from their shopping trip surprised at how little I have managed to get done. Jan cleaned & stowed galley and generally tidied up below while I got started on the Cockpit lockers and hauled rummage up to the van.

Elin inflated cleaned and checked the dinghy. Inflatable floor does not hold air, leaking valve, but otherwise all seemed ok. The spare valve wrapped in PTFE tape was slightly better but did not seem to make a complete fix so yet another thing for the “not essential now, so fix later list”. A quick row round and a quick check that the outboard works. All fine.

I hauled Elin up the mast to check fittings and locate the source of rainwater coming down the cables. Elin hugely satisfied.

There was no petrol (or spare can) for the outboard so a 40 mile return trip to the nearest garage in Loch Gilphead to buy 5l of petrol, probably using more than 5l of diesel to get 5l petrol.

Late dinner on board followed by a game of Uno.

Overall the essentials seem to work ok. The “not essential now, so fix later” list is now covering 2 pages.

13 July

Time to go sailing. An early start with the mate and crew itching to get underway.

Filled the water tank, to overflow into the bilges. Bilge pump working. Filled the 25 l spare water carrier. Final stowage of gear from the car, food and the freezer packs into the cool box.

Engine fired up and settled, then pulled off the berth in reverse. Always a heart in the mouth moment going astern for the first time on a new boat. Strong prop-walk kicked the stern to starboard, but at low engine revs the rudder was soon back in control. A slow turn onto fuel berth, manoeuvre successful, instructions whispered, no fuss. Relief. 15 l to “fill” the fuel tank, or at least blow back some fuel.   The watch glass (plastic pipe) was too crudded up to be legible. Another candidate for the “not essential now, so fix later” list.

Departed Croabh Haven around the south end of Shona and Luing. Strong tides carried us North through Sound of Luing, With the sails up we were carried sideways through the overfalls out of the North end of the Sound past Fladda. A red hulled Contessa 32 under spinnaker was just beating the tide heading south for Sound of Luing.

With the crew demanding food and the mate on the helm I nipped below and found the hot water tap running. The pump was not switched off. No idea how long it had been running for or how much water we had lost. Lesson 1 ALWAYS switch off the water pump when not in use. At least the water was hot so the calorifier was working.

Our first two attempts at tacking were not pretty, Lesson 2: With a large overlapping genoa the tack needs to be sailed through then held while the crew get the sheet in before easing onto the new course.

With Duart Castle abeam we started adjusting the mainsail trim to meet the exacting demands of the Topper sailor. At which point my treasured sailing cap flew over the side and sank before a MOB manoeuvre could be instigated, much to the joy of the Mate and Crew. 

Closing the Morven shore, we gybed around rather inelegantly, recovered and headed up into the Sound of Mull.  With the wind freshening as it funnelled through the Sound of Mull we worked on improving tacking the genoa. In the grove White Knight was holding 6 knots to windward without really trying. Her motion was sea kindly, slicing through the wind over tide chop.  Seals bobbed up as we passed Glas Eilean.

A quick check of the pilot book to confirm the leading marks as we made for the narrow entrance to Loch Aline. Dropped sail outside then made for the narrows. All the pontoons on the new marina were full, much to the distress of the crew who wanted a run ashore. Heading up the Loch we took the next to last visitor’s mooring, closely followed by a Nicholson 32 which bagged the last. The crew disappeared into the fore cabin to sulk while I launched the tender. I had a quiet run ashore, paid the dues for the visitor mooring and had a hot shower. £1 for 4 minutes.  Then a burble round in the tender and a chance to snap some photos of White Knight in the evening calm.

14 July

Ashore to use the facilities then an early morning walk into the village past the optical glass silica sand mine and the ferry landing then up to the village store which was closed being Sunday. Back at the marina people were gathering for the annual swimming race across loch.

We departed before the race blocked our passage and headed North West up the Sound of Mull into a light head wind. We motored the first hour to recharge the batteries, then started sailing. The Crew demonstrating all her Topper experience showing “how it should be done”. A better hoist on the main and resetting the genoa cars improved the trimming. Practice was improving our tacking, holding turn while the genoa was sheeted in.

The AIS alarm sounded regularly as we wove between yachts which were either motoring up the sound or running before the wid. Cal Mac ferries steamed majestically by, all in the clear sunshine between the wooded banks of the Sound capped by purple mountain tops. A light plane shattering the piece as it took off from the Mull airfield. Skimming low before heading south east.

The piece was shattered again a few minutes later “MAYDAY relay, MAYDAY Relay”: A light plane was reported as ditching in the Sound of Mull between Loch Aline and Glas Eileanan, some 4 miles back the way we had come.  Tobermoray & Oban lifeboats were launched. Yachts closer to the scene were diverted, then reports started to come through that plane had only skimmed surface then taken off again. Then reports that the plane was inbound for Oban Airport, then had safely landed. The lifeboats and Rescue Helicopter were stood down.

AIS CPA alarm kept pinging off regularly as yachts and ferries plied past us.

As we were approaching Tobermory we were able to FaceTime our daughter and friends in Shropshire, all fans of Balamory. So much for the remote Highlands.

Entering Tobermoray we managed to get a space on the Visitor’s pontoons next to another Contessa 32 Leyla. Hot showers then shopping for a Mackerel line for Elin, followed by dinner at the excellent Fish Restaurant on the steamer quay. Elin’s first Oyster and a shellfish sharing platter.

The day was rounded off with a digestive of cheeses and Tobermory whiskey, chatting with other boaters about the days excitements while the youngsters played Uno with Elin.

15 July

The morning was spent food shopping at the Co Op, including ice for the cool box, then onto the amazing Brown’s general store and off license for glue. A spare kill cord for the outboard was acquired from chandlers. Sandwiches & pasties from a small baker’s store.

Light winds and a tight reversing exit from the pontoons set the first challenge of the day, executed without problems.  We motored up the Sound of Mull to Ardmore Point where we found the wind, then sailed. Three dolphins passed close by heading into the Sound of Mull, just where the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust app suggested we were likely to see them.  

Elin, fishing, hooked a large fish, but as she reeled it in it got away.

Jan on the helm kept tweaking the sails in the light breeze getting closer to the Tradewind 35 ahead of us.  “I am not racing” she claimed, until we had clearly outpaced then passed Seriol.  

We tacked for Iona and the wind died away to nothing. We were motoring the rest of the way with the tide giving a helping hand. Guillemots and their chicks were joined by Puffins as we approached Staffa

We anchored in Martyrs Bay Iona. For the skipper and crew to go ashore and visit Iona and the Abbey. Elin found a wishing font and wished for fair winds. 

Crossing the sound, we anchored in Bulls Hole for the night. Then the water tank ran out. With only 5 gallons from the spare canister plus 6l of bottled spring water, we washed up in sea water with a splash of fresh water to rinse.  Lesson Learned: always have spare water on board.  

16 July

A murky start. Grey skies above the mist. We motored round to Tinkers Hole then out behind the fearsome Torran Rocks immortalised by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel Kidnapped as the “Stoneyard” where Davie Balfor and Alan Brech’s ship was wrecked. Balfour was washed ashore onto the island or Erriad. Stephenson knew the area well from his time supervising the construction of the Dubh Artach lighthouse designed by his father Thomas.   

As we passed out from behind the Torran Rocks the wind died, and visibility decreased. We remined in fog all the way across the Firth of Lorne, using the AIS to track nearby transmitters while keeping watch for other vessels.

Jura emerging from the fog, our first sighting of anything solid for 3 hours

The fog gradually cleared as we approached the Garvellach Islands. Stopped to fish and were passed by a porpoise and seals. Not a bite.  

Anchoring in between the rocks by Eileach an Naoimh, St Brendan’s Hinba (Islands of the Sea) monastery we had a lunch of hot pasties, before setting off again to catch the tide for Loch Craignish. Crossing towards the Gulf of Corryvreckan Elin’s fishing line caught in lobster pot buoys. Not a problem but an opportunity for MOB practice. With the fishing line successfully recovered we headed for the “Great Whirlpool and Race”

Arriving about an hour before slack water we were in time to play in the last of the over falls, much to the disgust of the rib ride jockeys with their customers hyped up for danger.  A family on a small yacht waving and following the same course through the standing wave rather blew their hype.

Pushing on through to the Sound of Jura against the last of the flood then onto the Dorus Mor to arrive bang on slack water.  From entrance to Loch Craignish I radioed Ardfern Yacht Haven for a berth (5 miles), a clear transmission, so a good test that the radio works.  

By the time we arrived, all the easy berths had been taken. The only berth remaining was tight in ahead of the fuel berth. A textbook slow approach and mooring, Lines passed (not thrown) to helpful bystanders. Elin rather enamoured with the hunk who made sure he took her line.  Hot showers, and a walk to the Galley of Lorne in Ardfern village for dinner.   

17 July

Rain Rain Rain.

Into the chandlers to pay the marina fees, search for more bits and to try on oilskin coats. Jan’s old oilskin coat is leaking. To some keep control of the cash flow we agreed Jan would wear my coat and I would use my old nearly waterproof crew jacket.

The engine was tricky to start. No obvious reason though the battery may be a bit low and the heater plugs were not given the full 12 seconds. A tight manoeuvre to get off the pontoon reversing against the spring to pull the bows clear, then a 3 point turn in the very narrow channel. Prop wash worked to advantage.

Rain Rain Rain Rain, beautiful rain

Tried to use the Genoa only at mouth of Loch Craingish but Elin wants full sail. Through the Dorus Mor overfalls on a broad reach, then a goosewing run to Shuna, and broad reach to Croabh. Wind 5 gusting 6 rain all the way. A lively restart of the engine off Croabh, roll genoa, and drop main. Then rigging warps & fenders, before coming onto marina. Slow textbook landing.

Rain Rain Rain. Unloading and cleaning in heavy rain, followed by dinner in Lord of the Isles to escape the rain and ahead of the planned early start for the drive home. It was not to be.

18 July

Rain, showers, finished clearing and cleaning the boat, loading car then found Jan had left her handbag in the Lord of the Isles. Not open until 11:30 so plans for an early start dashed. Elin started protesting over missing her breakfast at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, So we went to the Post Office café in Killochmelfort for bacon butties. After collecting Jan’s handbag we started the long drive home.  Lunch at Loch Fyne Oyster Bar.  Home 19:00

Overall the Shakedown cruise went well. The weather was the best that Scotland can deliver. The boat performed above expectations and the “to do” list moved forwards from essentials to nice to haves. Jan reconnected with sailing in a boat she can enjoy sailing. Elin had her eyes opened to the wonders of the West Coast of Scotland and big boat sailing.