Windrift's Scottish Cruise

Club member Steve Parker's diary of a trip around Scotland:

As I write this story I still can’t believe that it happened and we actually did it, I still have a surreal feeling about it. Not that we did anything dramatic in the whole context of sailing adventures, far from it, but what we did do was fulfill our dream. The dream was to photograph Windrift, a Contessa 26, in Tobermory harbour. We have been there on many previous occasions but the real challenge was the journey.

After much planning and consulting with the experts (Roger Kennedy and JR) I planned to take 4 weeks annual leave and split the trip into 3 separate legs: - 1 week to go from Scarborough to Inverness, 2 weeks for the round trip from Inverness to Mull via the Caledonian Canal, leaving the final week to return to Scarborough.

Mick Bayes said he would sail the first leg from Scarborough to Inverness with me, my wife Alana would drive to Inverness for the middle two weeks allowing Mick to have return transport, he passed the car onto Tom Clark who drove up to meet us for the final leg home, allowing Alana return transport home.

Day 1, We planned to leave Scarborough on Friday 19th August 2005 at 1500 hours and sail to Eyemouth overnight and the following day in one, 115 nm. My theory being that we would be on an adrenaline high initially so why not make the most of it!

However the first law of sod states that the more important the journey the more unpredictable the weather, so due to poor weather, we finally left on Sunday morning 21st August at 06.00 hrs, this delay had used up all the spare days for the first leg before we had even set off, so we were on the back foot straight away. 65nm of motor sailing with a favourable wind and tide got us to Blyth on the first day and we enjoyed the hospitality of Blyth’s floating yacht club and a pontoon berth of £8 per night with no extras, great value for money.

Day 2 got us to Eyemouth, the weather was improving and we were treated to a display of synchronised diving all around the boat by gannets off the Farne Isles. Unfortunately the Autohelm packed up.

Day 3 we crossed the Firth of Forth and managed to get to Arbroath. Washing facilities are a bit grim but the local hospitality is good which is more than I can say for the smokies, an acquired taste?

Day 4 a strong wind warning (must be the smokies) stopped any progress today.

Day 5 the weather has eased and allowed us to get to Peterhead. A school of bottle nosed dolphins joined us for a while.

We just got tied up on the pontoons and a solo sailor and his dog came in muttering about the horrors of Rattray Head. I was under strict instructions from JR to obtain local knowledge on the best time to depart Peterhead to sail around the infamous Rattray Head.

Day 6 We took the best advice available but I think the weather was against us. We started off ok but eventually it was 2 reefs in the main and a tiny headsail, a 3-metre swell with a short sea made for a difficult passage. On the Windrift scale of washboards we have a 0 to a maximum of 4, today we had 3 in place, it should have been 4 as a freak wave filled the cockpit.

We had planned on Whitehills, but we pressed onto Lossiemouth as conditions improved, after 14 hours at sea all we wanted was a hot shower, dry clothes, food and drink, eventually we managed them all, finishing up in the Chinese restaurant for a banquet.

Day 7 its Saturday 27th August and we are back on schedule for Inverness. No dolphins to be seen off Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth, there was too much chop on the water to spot them. Then we go under the road bridge at Inverness and nearly get caught out by the tide rip as we drop the main sail before we turn to starboard and into the Sea-lock of the Caledonian canal, 50nm long, 29 locks and 10 bridges with a depth of 4.1m.

With all the paperwork complete, the lock keeper checks your insurance certificate and gives you a comprehensive skippers guide with charts, we paid £160 for a two week rover ticket that allowed us to travel on all three Scottish canals with no overnight berthing charges. Most of the canal system has pontoons with water and electric points. On the Caledonian all the locks are powered and operated by lock keeper’s during 08.00- 17.00 hours.

Alana’s waiting for Mick and I on the pontoon and the three of us have a celebratory meal together at the local pub before Mick heads off into the night and Alana settles down to life on Windrift.

Day 8 we depart the sea-lock and go through the swing rail bridge past Seaport marina and decide to press on through a flight of locks to Dochgarroch, prior to Loch Ness and stayed the night on the secluded pontoons.

Day 9 strong winds prevent us from sailing Loch Ness so we have a day off and catch the bus to Inverness for a spot of sightseeing.

Day 10 sailed Loch Ness with the wind against us, but enjoyed the experience of tacking down the Loch with only Eagles for company, spent the night in Fort Augustus.

Day 11 once again more stunning scenery of Loch Lochy and Loch Oich, followed by Neptune’s Staircase to Corpach, where we spent the night in the basin ready to depart the sea lock the following morning.

Day 12 out into the sea and Loch Linnhe, with views of Ben Nevis in the background. Past Fort William and the Coran ferry, which brought back the memories. Then it was around the corner and up the Sound of Mull, past Loch Aline and onto Tobermory for the night and what a night! We made it!

Day 13 chilled out in Tobermory

Day 14 back down the Sound of Mull to Oban for the night, our most expensive at £20.

Day 15 it may have been expensive in Oban, but we received some excellent local knowledge from the marina people that was priceless- leave Oban at 1hr before HW for Crinan. If you read all the pilot books about the Corriveckan and Dorus Mor tidal rips you would never go!

We left Oban at 06.00 hours and had a 6kt tide with us, it felt like we were sailing in a pan of boiling water, there were overfalls and whirl pools everywhere, fortunately the weather was perfect, sunshine and light winds. So we arrived at the Crinan sea-lock after an eventful 4 hours sail. The Crinan canal has 15 locks and 7 bridges, the depth is 2.8 metres.

Laid up in the sea lock basin is the “Vital Spark”, Parrahandy’s steam puffer.

The sea-lock keeper checked our paperwork was in order and gave us a skippers guide for the canal, however we passed through several locks that day before we realised that the locks on the Crinan are self-service. All the time I was thinking that standards were slipping compared to the Caledonian as the lock operatives didn’t wear a uniform, the lock operatives turned out to be a couple of lock enthusiasts on holiday!

We spent the night on a pontoon at Cairnbaan.

Day 16 more locks then finally out into Loch Gilp and onto East Loch Tarbert for the night.

Day 17 as we left Tarbert, Loch Fyne was like a mill pond, suddenly we were surrounded by porpoises, just playing around the boat for about half an hour before they got bored with us. The wind picked up and we had a great sail to Largs, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Day 18 the weather deteriorated, so we caught a bus to Greenock, primarily to get the films developed, but after all that time at sea, Greenock was to much of a culture shock and we couldn’t wait to leave it.

Day 19 sailed to Rothsay on Bute, a huge shoal of mackerel swam into the harbour and kept us entertained as they looked for the way back out to sea. The town looks tired but the refurbished Victorian toilet facilities manufactured by Mr Crapper are well worth a visit. Fresh winds blowing straight into the harbour made for an uncomfortable night on the pontoons.

Day 20 The sea conditions in the harbour were worse than outside, so we set off for Inverkip and had two hours of sea water being constantly thrown at us, mental note to buy a spray-hood for next time.

Day 21 Its Saturday 10th September, we leave Kip and head off up the Clyde to Bowling sea-lock passing a variety of unusual starboard buoys to keep you in the marked channel.

At Bowling we change crew, Tom Clark arrives in the car for Alana to go home in.

The Forth and Clyde canal is 31nm long and has 39 locks, the depth is 1.4mand the headroom is 3m.

That evening we lower the mast with the assistance of the lock keeper and his crane. The paper work is checked and we are given a skippers guide for the canal, you have an escorted passage on the Forth and Clyde canal with two and sometimes four lock keepers working the locks and bridges to allow you an easy and safe passage, especially around Mary Hills, where it’s traditional for the kids to throw stones at passing boats. This I was told goes back to the steam puffer days when the crews retaliated with coal and the kids gathered it up and took it home for the fire.

Top tip, only fly the St Andrews flag and travel on a weekday when they should be in school.

Day 22 we depart Bowling with our lock keepers, passing the drive by fish and chip shop conveniently placed on the canal bank and spend the night in Kirkintilloch.

Day 23 more locks and we pass next to the Falkirk wheel, which is on the Union Canal. We spend the night in the Carron Sea-lock. Looking for a pint and a meal we take a wrong turn and end up in Grangemouth, the capital of deep-fried whatever.

Day 24 out through the sea loch and along the tidal river Carron passing rows of Herons fishing on the mud flats and onto Grangemouth yacht club where the mast is erected, a bargain at £27.50.

We pressed on due to a favourable wind and tide, passing under the Forth rail bridge, for me this is more impressive than the Falkirk Wheel as you look up in wonder at all that Victorian engineering. The noise of the traffic on the Forth Road Bridge is alarming.

Two tugs were treading water after the bridge, waiting for something big to appear, we flew past under spinnaker in a fresh westerly wind. Unfortunately it got up a little too fresh and by the time we reached Torness Power Station we were in a Force 9, still we pressed on for Eyemouth and arrived at 8.30pm tired but happy with the progress. Unfortunately all the restaurants seem to close at 8.00pm so it was another deep-fried whatever.

Day 25 a strong wind warning signals a rest day for the boat and us.

Day 26 the weather improves and we set sail for Hartlepool. The passages are getting longer and the days are getting shorter, once again we arrive in the dark just making it through the lock gates before a gale comes through.

Day 27 another strong wind warning so we easily persuaded to have a rest day in Hartlepool. Enjoying the living theatre of the Small Craft Club.

Day 28 it’s the 17th September and the final stage of the trip and after completing 84 locks we only one more to go before we head out into the North Sea for home.

The second law of sod states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong and after 15 years of working without a problem the lock gates at Hartlepool broke down! Eventually they manually operated them and we reached Scarborough in 5.5 hours, a flood tide and a fresh nor-westerly pushing us on.

Arrived home with 761nm of fantastic memories.