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.

Lochranza

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.

Summary

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. 

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