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August 4, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Adventure – Week 8

My last taste of luxury for a while…

I had pretty much already decided in my head a while ago, but hadn’t yet admitted it to myself, that I would not circumnavigate. The main reason for this was that I’d rather spend the time sailing around the Hebrides than going down the East Coast. I would have liked to have gone through the Caledonian Canal, but I’ve been along the Great Glen a few times before, and it doesn’t hold a huge amount of interest for me, and I got a good experience going through the Crinan Canal, so it didn’t seem worth it. And while there are plenty of cool places to see on the East Coast, I think there’s far more places that I would just be impatiently sailing past on the long journey home. I think I always knew this was a likely outcome, ever since I’d changed my mind about the initial decision to sail anti-clockwise; the main reason for going clockwise was that I would get to the best bit (west coast Scotland) more directly. And if sailing around Britain was an important achievement for me, I’d rather do it via Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth, and perhaps I’ll do that another time.

So with the decision made, it was time to get exploring, and after leaving Oban I pointed to port and made for Loch Spelve on Mull. Luckily I’d put my socks on the right feet that morning…

I knew which way to turn.

I wanted to go to Loch Spelve because it looked interesting on the map, being a large sea loch with a very narrow entrance, surrounded by hills, and I wanted get off the boat and stretch my legs with some hillwalking. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. As I was struggling to catch what little wind there was, and not making much progress, I eventually gave in and turned the ignition. But after a while, the engine suddenly sputtered and died. This being the first time that had happened, my heart sank.

Struggling to sail or even dry laundry.

But there was no immediate concern, I had plenty of sea room and it was almost getting towards a Force 0, so I fired up the outboard and turned back. Luckily it wasn’t far to a convenient place to anchor, so I dropped the hook in Oitir Mhor Bay and got to work dismantling the companionway steps to access the engine and figure out what happened. Further attempts to restart the engine had failed: it would turn over on the starter motor but wouldn’t fire. However, after leaving it a short while, it would fire up, but then immediately die again, so I though it was a fuel supply problem. I checked the filters which seemed fine, and after doing what I always do when stumped (check the internet) it seemed that maybe it was an airlock in the fuel line. So I bled the fuel lines and sure enough the engine then ran fine. So there must be a small leak somewhere allowing air in. I fiddled with some of the connections, and tightened the hose clips, but I’m unsure if it fixed it. Time will tell I suppose, but now I have developed trust issues with “old faithful”.

By the time I’d put everything back together, it was evening so I just stayed put for the night. The next day the wind had swung round and the now the tide was against me, so after a brave but futile attempt to tack towards Loch Spelve, I had to admit defeat and so turned around and headed for the Sound of Mull. I had a quick stop at Duart Bay and had a jaunt ashore, but there wasn’t a great deal to see. Then I moved on to Scallastle Bay and anchored again, the reason I picked this spot is that nearby there were some hills I could climb. There is also a tern colony on the shore, so the place was pretty busy with bird life. The next day brought some pretty foul weather so I ended up staying inside the boat all day. Unfortunately, I was dismayed to find my gas bottle had been all used up and so I had to make do with cold food, and thus a good time was had by all. The boat isn’t big enough to carry a spare, and I was caught off guard by how quickly I had gone through the stuff. There was nowhere nearby to restock so I would just have to wait. In the meantime I set to work trying to fix the autopilot, as I had personally helmed every single nautical mile ever since entering Milford Haven.

How hard can it be?

The insides of the autopilot looked fine, but I had to admit I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and so just put it back together, although I did realise that the little rubber drive belt had stretched and the teeth were slipping on the cog, which is where the annoying clicking sound was coming from. I’d like to replace it, although at nearly £30 for a replacement off the internet it would have to wait. The next day the weather hadn’t improved much and the wind change was threatening to make the anchorage untenable so I decided to shift to Loch Aline. The topography of the Sound of Mull is such that the wind tends to funnel into it and follow the channel, and with the wind coming from an almost perpendicular angle I thought it must be about 50/50 whether it funnelled north or south. Of course, it funnelled South, because I wanted to go North. So once more I tacked upwind and went flying into Loch Aline on the flood tide and found a spot to anchor. The following day, the cloud cover had lifted and the rain had ceased so I got ashore to stretch my legs and strolled up the nearby hill. By the time I got to the top, the weather had improved markedly and I got a nice view from the top.

Looking south east to Kerrera.

I had failed to drink enough water though, to counteract the sudden decrease in the volume of tea I was consuming since the gas ran out, so by the time I got back down I was severely dehydrated and had the mother of all headaches. It was really hot and muggy and I was getting a bit of hayfever and when I got back to the boat, was thinking to myself that going ashore isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

This doesn’t look right…

When I set off the next day my headache still hadn’t abated which was unusual, considering the amount of water and paracetamol I had taken. Maybe it was caffeine withdrawal? The previous day had been the first day I could remember, perhaps the first day in my entire adult life, when I had not had a cup of tea. Anyway the wind wasn’t great and I couldn’t be bothered struggling to fight against it so I just motored up the sound, slumped in the cockpit feeling sorry for myself.

Thankfully, whatever I had done to the autopilot had fixed it, so it did the helming for me. Eventually I made it to Tobermory and mustered the energy to squeeze into about the only spot in the harbour not taken up by moorings, to drop the anchor. I went ashore and, seeing the length of the queue at the chippy, went into Co-op for some more reduced price bargains. It was too late to get a replacement gas bottle so I just got a bunch of cold sandwiches for dinner and a can of Irn-Bru for a quick hit of caffeine and turned in for the night, still with a pounding headache.

In the morning the headache had finally started to ease up a bit, so it was another sandwich for breakfast, then a walk around Tobermory followed by a glorious 6 minute shower at the harbour master building, which doubles as toilet block and aquarium, oddly. The aquarium is really small, but it runs on a catch and release basis which means that their livestock is only there for 4 weeks before being released. Local fishermen are the main suppliers of new livestock, it’s a pretty simple setup, with water being provided fresh from the sea outside on a flow-through arrangement with no filtration.

Inside the aquarium.

Before leaving Plymouth, I had managed to source a couple of second hand copies of the Clyde Cruising Club’s sailing directions for the west coast, but I was missing the one that covers everything north of Ardnamurchan Point, which is where I was headed next. Luckily, Tobermory has a small chandlery, with just such a publication available for purchase. Though it pained me to pay full price for a brand new one, I handed over my hard-earned; after all there is a ton of information inside and it didn’t cost much more than the price of staying one night on the pontoons here, and with my penchant for free anchoring, I reasoned that I’d so far saved enough on mooring costs to warrant this expenditure.

Tobermory is of course, a pretty place.

I remember being in Tobermory years before, and had foggy memories of the chippy being good, award-winning in fact, so I made sure to visit before leaving. However, I should have known better, as in my experience whenever a place, especially a chippy, is known as “award-winning”, it’s always rubbish. The chips from the dirty, greasy, nameless and poorly advertised places that all look the same, are always far superior. After my portion of dry, flavourless chips, and re-stocked with veggies and Calor gas, I weighed anchor and sailed off once more into the Sound of Mull, bound for Ardnamurchan Point. And once more, the wind was right in my face. A couple of hours later after some real lengthy tacks back and forth across the sound, I reached for the engine starter and took the direct approach.

Motor-sailing out of the Sound of Mull.

There was no drama as I passed around the most westerly point of the Scottish mainland, and soon I was heading in for the next anchorage- Sanna Bay. Many years before, I had been at the lighthouse on Ardnamurchan Point, and I remember seeing through a telescope, in the waters close by, several basking sharks, dolphins and a minke whale. Today however, there was bugger all to be seen. From the CCC sailing directions, Sanna Bay is understood to be a delightful sandy bay, but on the day I was there, it was grey and the wind was onshore, so I can’t say my night at anchor there was delightful, but it was uneventful and I was off again first thing in the morning. The wind was forecast to get quite vigorous in the afternoon, so I wanted to get to my next destination in good time. There is an abundance of options along this stretch of coastline, and I wanted to put in some distance northwards, but also not to stay out too long and get caught in the strong wind, so I settled on Loch nan Ceall, which is by Arisaig, along the railway line from Fort William to Mallaig that the Flying Scotsman steam train runs on (it’s got the Harry Potter bridge along it somewhere). I had been camping here when I was young, but all I can remember of it is midges, cleg bites and getting lost.

The channel into Loch nan Ceall.

The entrance requires some care, for obvious reasons when you look at the chart, but in reality if you follow the instructions in the CCC and aren’t a complete idiot, it’s not too bad. Although once through the rocky channel, there are still plenty of submerged rocks in the bay to be mindful of inside the loch itself.

Made it through!

The following day, gale force winds were forecast from the south so I headed to the bottom portion of the loch, known as Stuart’s Bay, to find a spot to anchor. I went for a walk ashore, although the bad weather was just starting to arrive and it was a wet, wild and windy walk. Through the night and the following day the winds were fierce, and being in the loch meant shelter from waves, but the wind was howling into the loch, and the boat was yawing around something terrible. Before leaving Plymouth, one of the many items on my to-do list was to make an anchor sail to help keep the boat pointing into the wind, but alas, I ran out of time. Anyway the wind wasn’t alarming, just distracting, and toward the end of the following day it had decreased considerably, and in the early evening disappeared completely, allowing me to go for another stroll ashore.

Anchored in Stuart’s Bay.

I couldn’t be bothered carrying the dinghy up the shore and was a bit cavalier in tying off the painter; I just wanted to get off the boat after spending the previous 24 hours cooked up inside.

I’ll just park this here.
Probably should have secured it better.

Another factor in my decision to not go down the East Coast was that I was considering going to Australia in September to join Ness who is going down under for a conference. This had been scheduled for a while now, and I had been umming and aahing about it, but finally I made the decision to do it, so while floating about at anchor in Loch nan Ceall I took the opportunity to use the good phone signal and troll through countless flight options on the various comparison websites and eventually booked my tickets. So now I have a deadline to meet, I have to be back by the end of the first week of September…

July 23, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 7

After riding out some bad weather at anchor in Lamlash Bay it was time to move on. It was another great sail to get over to Little Cumbrae. So far the sailing in Scotland was really good. I think being in the Clyde allowed for plenty of wind but sheltered the water from the Atlantic swell and the worst of the tides. And once again the wind swung around and allowed me to sail the whole way close hauled on one tack.

Approaching Little Cumbrae.

Arriving off the island I found a great little anchorage, and with the dinghy in tow it was easy to pop ashore for a look about.

Time to go exploring.

On the other side of the island there is an old abandoned lighthouse that I looked about inside, even going right up into the bit where the light used to be, although there’s nothing much left on the inside.

The path down to the abandoned lighthouse.
Always fancied being a lighthouse keeper.

It was pretty hot work and by the time I got back to the boat, I could do with a swim to cool off, but there were just too many jellyfish about to take it appealing. I’ve been seeing tons of jellyfish everywhere, seems like more than usual.

Ruining the fun for everyone.

After recovering from a touch of hayfever, I had a bit to eat and then rowed to the little island with the castle standing on it. I read that it was originally built to prevent poaching, although it seems a bit over the top for that sort of thing. Whatever its purpose, it wasn’t doing it anymore, and it was pretty cool to look around inside. It was generally in pretty good nick and the sort of place you would normally have to pay to enter.

View from up the castle.

Apparently this anchorage can be prone to bad swell rolling in, but luckily it was fine while I was there and I had a peaceful night. There was even an entertaining seal playing with/ trying to mount a fender/buoy.

Nice little nuclear power station in the background there.
Always some big monstrosity in the background here.

I was due another visit from my parents the following day, meeting up in Millport on the island of Big Cumbrae, so in the morning I motored into the bay and picked up a visitors mooring.

On with the engine once again.

We had a nice day looking about. There isn’t much to say about this place, it’s just a nice little picturesque town by the sea. The entrance requires some care due to proliferation of rocky islets in the bay, and there is the option of anchoring although the number of moorings makes this tricky so I just tied up to a visitor buoy. One thing of note: Millport is home to the world’s narrowest house!

Seen right here.

Soon it was time for my parents to get the bus home. I spent the night on the mooring, and the following day Ness was coming up to see me so I went into Largs Marina and got the train to Glasgow airport to meet her. Unfortunately her flight was delayed and it was Sunday so public transport was unavailable which left us with an expensive taxi ride back to the boat. This ended up being a lot more expensive than it should have been and we would have been better off just staying in a hotel and getting a bus the following day. Oh well.

After the previous few days glorious sunshine the weather really took a turn and threatened to make the whole week miserable. It rained through the night but cleared up long enough for us to walk up to Largs for a stop in Wetherspoons before getting some groceries in Morrisons. The rain had started again and we had tons to carry so we decided to get a taxi back to the marina, and then in the late afternoon we set off under grey skies. The original intention was to head up to an anchorage at the north end of Bute, but given the weather it seemed like the picturesque setting wouldn’t be worth the long trip up there, especially considering we wouldn’t be able to see it. The ultimate plan was to spend the week getting to Oban via the Crinan Canal, so the lengthy detour around the top of Bute didn’t seem suitable. So it was back to Little Cumbrae to anchor off the little castle once more, only this time in the rain.

Not as sunny as last time.

The next day was grey and windless. It didn’t rain too much though, so that was good. We stopped off at Millport to use the facilities and then got underway for Loch Fyne. It was a fairly long and uneventful journey, but the weather made the surroundings pretty eerie and atmospheric. The clouds were rolling in really low and thick and clinging to land, often completely obscuring everything.

Low clouds were lingering all day.
That’s the spirit.

The plan was to get to the start of the Crinan Canal at Ardrishaig but we wouldn’t get there until late, and Ardrishaig is a pretty dull place, so we stopped a few miles short at Tarbert. This place is much prettier, but it’s filled with a marina and various moorings and the seabed drops off very quickly from the shore so anchoring is tricky, but after a couple attempts I got us secured for the night. I had often wondered in the past why they called so many places in Scotland “Tarbert” or “Tarbet”, there seem to be tons of them, but here I learned that it comes from the Gaelic for “carrying across”, which makes perfect sense when you look at all the Tarberts on the map; they are always at very narrow parts of headlands or similar. Back in the day, boat folk would drag their boats overland to the water on the other side. If Scots had settled in Central America, Panama would definitely be called Tarbert. It made me wonder why they didn’t build a canal here instead of at Crinan as it would be a lot cheaper, although maybe it would still make the trip from Glasgow to the Hebrides too long. We rowed ashore and looked about for a bit and later returned to the mothership under attack from a small force of midges, but it wasn’t too bad really.

The next day it was a leisurely start as the entrance to the canal was only a few miles north and they didn’t open until 0830. In the end we arrived at 10:30 and motored right into the sea lock. There was a yacht just going into it in front of us; they had been waiting since 08:30 to get in but various issues with the lock gates had delayed entry, so we had timed it perfectly.

Entering the canal at Ardrishaig.
Waiting to fork over my cash for the transit license.

Although I used to live around here for a time, this was my first time in the canal, or any canal for that matter. I had read the skipper’s guide and seen a few episodes of Great Canal Journeys, so what more was there to know? Generally, two people is considered a bit shorthanded for this sort of thing, as you have to operate the locks yourself, but these guidelines are always conservative anyway so I wasn’t too fussed. And from what I had read, it seemed quite likely that we’d end up in the lock gates with other boats, so more hands make light work and all that. And as it turned out, every lock we went through was either with other boats or there happened to be a member of staff around to operate the gates for us anyway. I actually wanted to do the whole procedure of locking in and out with just the two of us, but I never got the chance! Damned people being too helpful all the time.

Put yer back intae it!

It was good fun going through the canal and a nice change of scenery, and also a blast from the past as I spent 6 months living by the side of canal several years ago. Things hadn’t changed a great deal since I was last here. Including the food in the hotel; it was still rubbish. However, I had read on the forums that things in the canal had been deteriorating and had heard similar in person from someone working there, and having seen it myself, I can see where things are starting to get a bit worn. Some of the lock gates leak quite badly and some of the sluices don’t work properly, and this year the maximum draught of passing vessels had been reduced due to silting. I get the impression that it’s all leading towards some sort of catastrophic failure like what happened to the Sutton Harbour swing bridge, only up here that means a much longer detour to get around the Mull of Kintyre instead of a small jaunt around the side of a harbour.

Berth for the night.

The next day it was more of the same, except it was mostly downhill now as we spent the night at the top of the canal. Going downhill is much better as there is less turbulence in the lock. A couple of times the day before, the boat had been difficult to control as it bounced around with the incoming water, and I was very aware of the proximity of the other two boats in the lock. On the downhill journey there was just one other boat in with us for most of it, although at one point, due to a poor decision by myself, one of our ropes caught around a cleat and the boat was left half hanging as the water level was dropping, but Ness sorted it out and all was well in the end. In one lock there seemed to be a family of frogs residing in the wall, not sure it was the best place for them, and in another some swallows had a nest in the loch gate itself.

Watch oot for the fenders pal!
It’s nice having crew…
…and a galley slave.

Eventually we made it into the basin at the other end, where we tied up and had a look about. The shortest transit licence still gives you up to 4 nights in the canal, and I would have liked to stay longer, but we had to keep moving to get to Oban in time.

I’m getting small boat syndrome.
In busier times.

So after a walk about, we got the boat ready for sea again and got the last sea lock of the day. The water in the lock was like glass, and filled right to the brim, and behind you could see the water off the sea which was much rougher, and it looked like one of those infinity pools you get in swanky resorts.

The infinity pool.
Out to sea once more.

The canal had been quite sheltered from the wind, and I was surprised we hadn’t had problems with midges (I keep trying to jinx myself). But now we were out in the open, there was a stiff breeze and we zipped away from Crinan in good time.

A good breeze to carry us away to Crinan.

We were actually a bit too early for the next tide gate, which was to get through Dorus Mor, although it was neap tides, so I thought I would try it anyway, against the tide. As we approached the wind picked up considerably so I had to put a reef in, but I think the wind maybe helped to flatten the waves a little as it was running with the tide and I managed to tack through the channel to the other side, even with the contrary tide still flowing. Close to the north shore I think we were actually catching an eddy as we seemed to be making unexpectedly good progress. This channel can be pretty rough at times, and it’s not far from the Corryvrekkan, but I approached it cautiously and all went well. I wouldn’t do that sort of thing on springs. We found an anchorage in Loch Beag, and settled in for the night with an episode of Hamish Macbeth, cause when in Rome…

The next day brought good winds again, and it was an early start as there was another tide gate to get through, this time it was the Sound of Luing. With it being neaps, it wasn’t too drastic, but we did manage to catch a good 1.5-2 knots of tide to carry us northwards. There was nobody else around at the start of the day, but by mid-morning, as I looked astern, I was surprised to see about 20 yachts all following suit and riding the north flowing tide as well. The majority of them caught up and overtook us throughout the morning, but they were all considerably larger. It’s still unusual seeing this many boats; for most of my journey so far the horizon has usually been clear of other sails.

Catching the tide in the Sound of Luing.

By now it was Saturday, and Ness was due to fly from Glasgow on Sunday, so I had planned on being in Oban the day before, but we decided to stop at an anchorage near Oban, which would give us time to do the last few miles in the morning, leaving enough time to catch the midday train from Oban to Glasgow. There’s a few options for anchoring around here, but we ended up going for a spot called Puilladobhrain, which is one of the most popular anchorages in Scotland, and it’s easy to see why. It’s perfectly sheltered, is very picturesque, close to Oban but feels very remote, it’s a sort walk over a little hill to a pub on the other side, and it also gets good phone signal! What’s not to love?

Och, the bonniness fair brings a tear to my eye.

However, all those things does mean it can get quite busy, but we arrived in the early afternoon so there was plenty of space for us. We took the short walk over the hill to the pub, where there is also the so-called “Bridge Over The Atlantic”. It’s a bit of a daft name really, but it’s a nice bridge, and the pub is good too. It’s called Tigh an Truish which means House of Trousers, because back in the day when kilts were outlawed, this is where the locals would change from trousers to kilts as they were going to the mainland.

The so-called Bridge over the Atlantic.
The sun sets over Puilladobhrain.

The next morning it took two hours to motor up to Oban where we got a berth on one of the new transit pontoons on the North Pier, which gave us just enough time to get some freshly cooked mussels and some chips before Ness had to catch her train. It was sad to see her go, but her departure coincided exactly with the arrival of my parents, who are using their free bus passes to get in as many visits as possible!

Another swanky marina.

We had the whole afternoon together, so we got some supplies for a picnic and seeing as it was a lovely day we motored down into Kerrerra Sound and got a nice spot to drop the hook for lunch.

On the way back in, I was a bit distracted chatting and forgot to listen out on the VHF for the ferry traffic information and had to gun it across Oban Bay to get out of the way of a rapidly departing CalMac ferry. We just had enough time to get some more mussels and squeeze in a pint at Wetherspoons before my parents caught the last bus back to Edinburgh.

Once again, I was by myself. It was a lovely evening as the sun set over Oban. I was planning on leaving the following day, and it was time to make the big decision. Was I going to turn to starboard and head for the Caledonian Canal to try and get down the East Coast, or turn to port and explore the Hebrides, ruling out any chance of circumnavigating?

Oban Bay.

July 23, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 6

It was another early start as I left Peel on the Isle of Man, bound for Portpatrick in Scotland. It was a grey day and the wind from the previous 24 hrs had well and truly passed. It was another one of those annoying days where the wind would come and go and blow from all over the place.

Leaving the Isle of Man.

It was fairly uneventful, although about half way across I did come across a sleeping grey seal, I was surprised to see how unconcerned he was. He woke up slightly, gave me a once over, looked pretty uninterested and went back to sleep. I don’t think he was sick, just a big bull seal who doesn’t give a shit about yachties.

Sleeping grey seal.

Ever since crossing the Bristol Channel my tiller pilot hasn’t worked, and I don’t know why. Being at the helm continuously hasn’t been that bad really, but on these long passages it’s nice to do something else once in a while, so I really must try and fix it. Anyway, eventually I could start to see a shape forming through the haze ahead. Scotland! And I found her just as I left her: dark and gloomy.

That’s Caledonia alright.

It was still a fair distance to go along the coast of the Rhins until I reached Portpatrick, but at least now I had something to look at. As I got level with Portpatrick it was down with sails, on with the engine and out with the fenders. There are leading marks that guide the way into the harbour, and from reading the almanac and the pilot’s guide I thought the entrance was going to be worse than this but it was ok. I guess clement conditions make all the difference, and it was easy to line up the two orange markers.

It was eerily quiet in the harbour, it had turned into one those days where the air is thick and sounds travel like nobody’s business. I could hear someone talking hundreds of metres away. And I could definitely hear the pigeons in the harbour wall who were grumbling at being evicted from their holes.

This is my turf pal!

Being back in the homeland, I had a real hankering for some traditional Scottish cuisine, namely tattie scones, so I made quick time up to the village to look for some grub, but alas the shops were all shut. There was a sign in one shop window advertising Scotland’s Best Tattie Scones (I’m sure every town has a shop with that sign). However, my parents were visiting me the next day so I made sure they brought some. Although I must confess when I got some of the “award winning” ones, they were indeed very good.

Tattie scones: way better than they look.

I spent the next couple of days hanging out with my parents who had a room in a hotel, which had a pretty good shower. I had been to this town before, apparently, in my younger days, although I was struggling to recall anything. It is a very nice little seaside town though and I recommend it for anyone passing though this area.

Fairhaven in a fair haven.

That night a strong wind blew through and I had to get up in the small hours to tend to the warps; I hadn’t set them up very well on my arrival. It was dark and I was bleary eyed but I didn’t fall off the wall so it was all good in the end.

It’s a long way down.

The following day was another blustery one as I said goodbye to my parents. I had been considering getting under way that evening but it was still pretty wild and so I gave in to my lazier instincts and just sat down and ate food instead. I did leave the next day, and it was still pretty windy and I got a really good push from the tide up to my next destination.

Clipping along to Loch Ryan.

It was a great day’s sail actually; it was just challenging enough to be fun but not too much to be overwhelming. I made the best progress to windward I’ve ever done, but that was largely down to the tide. I also got to sail on every point of sail which is the first time i’ve done that on this trip.

GPS track (it missed the start for some reason).

However, I sailed 35 miles in total to only put down 6 miles of northwards progress. But that’s fine, it was a good day. I ended the day at another anchorage, having negotiated my way past all the big ferries transiting Loch Ryan.

I had no reason to linger in Loch Ryan other than it’s free, so I got underway the next day and set course for the Isle of Arran. This took me right past Ailsa Craig which I had seen many times from shore, but never up close. It’s a pretty impressive lump of rock, an old plug from a volcano sticking straight up out of the water, and it’s where they get the granite for making curling stones!

Ailsa Craig.

I would have liked to anchor here for lunch or even go ashore, but it was getting on a bit and I was only halfway through the day’s journey so I just pressed on. With the wind direction being northwesterly I had been wondering if I’d be able to sail directly to Arran or if I’d have to put in a few tacks. Luckily the wind backed ever so slightly as I went, and sailing close-hauled I managed to point closer to Arran and ended up doing the whole thing on one tack. The wind was a steady F4/5 and it was another great sail. My original destination was Lamlash Harbour, but as I sailed past Pladda Island I thought it looked nice and so once again I changed my mind mid-journey and went there instead.

Anchored off Pladda Island.

The weather was lovey and it offered god shelter from the wind in the current conditions so I dropped anchor in the very clear water. There was a little fishing boat already anchored, and also a fisheries protection ship lurking around, it did a few laps past the island, looking like it was trying to intimidate the fishing boat. I think they must have succeeded cause eventually the fishing boat left, with the fisheries protection ship calling them up on the radio to ask them if they had been doing any fishing, because FYI it’s a Marine Protected Area. “Oh, of course not, sir. We wouldn’t dream of it.” was the answer from the fishing boat. “Yes, we didn’t think you would. Safe travels. Out.” Such a courteous exchange.

A wee jaunt ashore.

I blew up the dinghy and went for a stroll ashore. There was a lot of nesting seabirds near the main landing, so I went the long way around along the tidal zone to get up to the Lighthouse buildings for a look about. The following morning I woke up to grey skies and a bit of swell rolling in from an unexpected direction, so I didn’t hang about and got on with the day. I just wanted to finish the journey I had started the day before: getting to Lamlash Bay. I towed the dinghy along behind and it was a pretty good sail. I was quiet close to the land so the wind was being fickle, but i was in no rush and basically had all day to get there so I just did it the old fashioned way and didn’t lay a finger on the ignition key.

Approaching Lamlash Harbour.

Near the entrance to Lamlash Harbour (a natural harbour, more like a sound or a bay) there was a bit of a hilly promontory which diverted the wind somewhat. It meant I had to bear away slightly as I approached the entrance, sending me towards Holy Island, which ultimately meant I would probably have to start tacking right in the narrowest part of the entrance, but I was hoping the wind would be deflected the other way on the other side of the entrance, allowing me to point higher, and away from holy island. This proved to be the case and I managed to sail right up to anchorage, which was pretty satisfying and I got a fair bit of speed on. Once more, I hopped into the dinghy and went for some fresh supplies. At this point I’m pretty fed up with the out-of-date canned mysteries from Plymouth.


I usually try to check out a bit of the history of wherever I happen to be and apparently back in the day a Viking fleet anchored here to ride out a storm before heading over to Largs for a scrap with the locals. It seems like a natural anchorage and a decent place to shelter, but the landscape really sends some squalls through now and then. And these days the anchorage is actually just a field of moorings, plus the shore shelves steeply here so it was pretty tricky finding somewhere to anchor that wasn’t too far away from shore for rowing. My second day here was spent entirely onboard due to the bad weather and the distance from shore, but on the plus side I was treated to a cool rainbow.

Doubt there’s gold, it’s not the Isle of Man after all.

July 13, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 5

I needed to catch the early morning high tide to get out of the harbour in Bangor, which meant getting up at 3am, but it was already starting to get light. I motored off out into the Menai Strait, but at this point I still hadn’t decided if I was going direct to the Isle of Man, or just up to the most northerly point of Anglesey to spend the night before making the crossing the following day. I knew I had to go on of those days as there was nothing but northerly winds forecast for the rest of the week. Looking at the forecast the previous day, it wasn’t looking particularly great for either day, with very light north westerly winds eventually veering north. I wanted to get the most up to date forecast before making the decision, and so on I motored towards Puffin Sound whilst refreshing the various weather apps on my phone. Somewhere off Beaumaris I decided the conditions favoured making the crossing today, and so as I left Puffin Island to starboard I set course for the Isle of Man.

Leaving North Wales in the early morning gloom.

It was a long journey. I had to motor for about half of it, and there was zero wildlife to be seen, not even a gannet. One unexpected thing happened though when I heard the coastguard calling for Fairhaven on the VHF. They had no reason to be calling me, and I wondered how many boats with the same name could be around here, so it was with some trepidation that I replied. At this point I should note that I have been using a smartphone app that allows my family to see where I am via GPS, but of course this only works when there is phone signal. As I got further offshore apparently the little blip on the map that represents me simply disappeared. So my parents got worried and then decided to call up the coastguard, who promptly tried to get hold of me on the radio. It was lucky that I actually heard the radio, as on these long passages I tend to put headphones on and listen to music so don’t always hear the radio. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t responded….

Isle of Man at last.

Eventually I arrived at Castletown Bay around 7pm and dropped anchor off the harbour pier. I wanted to go into the harbour but was unsure there was enough water, I didn’t have much info on the place, the charts looked mighty rocky and I couldn’t get hold of the harbourmaster, so I didn’t risk it. Instead I inflated the dinghy and rowed ashore to stretch my legs and get some supplies.

This was my first time on the Isle of Man, and it seemed like an odd place. It was very quiet, there was hardly anyone around and it felt like the place was asleep. But it was nice enough, and clean too. In fact, the whole of the Isle of Man (that I went to) had the vibe of a former Great British coastal tourist hotspot, like so many that have gone a bit derelict thanks to EasyJet and the likes. But instead of getting all filthy and full of junkies, it’s still well looked after, bright and clean, although minus all the holidaymakers. But I could tell there is money here, not least because I could see it flying in on a private jet when anchored next to the airport. One thing I didn’t expect though, was to have no phone signal. Apparently Virgin mobile don’t allow roaming here, but luckily I had prepared with spare phones and SIM cards for different networks, and where Virgin failed, Vodafone succeeded.

Laundry time again.

After a night at anchor, I sailed the short hop round to Port St Mary and got a berth alongside the inner harbour wall. I was pleased to be here as the ground was hard sand and it dried out, which allowed me to have another look at the damned shaft anode. It had been rattling again, or at least something had been rattling, during the crossing from Wales. But it seemed fine, no sign of movement and the nuts and bolts were tight so I am still scratching my head with that one.

However, I was surprised to see how pitted it was already, considering it hadn’t been on all that long and the previous one wasn’t much more pitted. But I didn’t worry about it too much, it was roasting here and I had another place to look around. Port St Mary was a little busier than Castletown, but not exactly a bustling centre of civilisation.

Seemed pretty secure.

I spent two nights here and then it was time to get round the southern tip of the island through Calf Sound. Ideally I would go through here at slack water, but by the time there was enough water to leave the harbour, there would be a bit of current through the sound, but I didn’t have too many options and went for it anyway, and it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t bother to deflate the dinghy so towed it along behind, casting frequent glances back to make sure it held on for the ride.

Getting lumpy through the Calf Sound.

Before long I arrived at Port Erin and dropped anchor. There are the submerged remnants of an old breakwater in the bay that are marked with a green can, but have apparently still caught out the odd boat here and there, as the rudderless yacht on the harbour wall testified to. I was glad I had the dinghy ready to go so I could make a quick trip ashore to have a look around.

Anchored in Port Erin.

My time here was pretty uneventful and the following day I made the longer journey up to Peel. The coastline was pretty dramatic and the weather was nice (first time sailing in a t-shirt!), but the wind was very fickle and I was constantly trimming the sails.

Enjoying the sail to Peel.

I saw some Risso’s dolphins, which is a first for me. These guys get covered in scars as they grow older, due to fighting amongst themselves, and the older ones can look really pale thanks to all the scars. I saw one individual though that looked like an albino, he was so white. I suppose he must have just been a battle scarred hardcase.

The white whale dolphin.

Towards the end of my trip the wind had picked up considerably and being downwind of some pretty big hills I was getting some pretty strong squalls. I had thought about anchoring in the little bay between the main island and Saint Patrick’s Isle but when I got closer I could see it was getting gusts that were just a bit too strong for comfort, so I went round the corner to pick up a visitor mooring behind the breakwater but the wind and swell had too much north in them and the breakwater wasn’t offering much shelter.

Approaching Peel.

I decided I wanted to go into the inner harbour where there is a marina, but there was not yet enough water to allow access, and I cursed myself for getting here too early. I hadn’t planned on going into the marina, but knew it was a possibility; I should have planned to arrive at a better time to allow access. So I waited a few hours, and then a few hours more as the conditions were holding back the tide, and it was neaps as well so it wasn’t until late that I could get in. I’m generally trying to limit how often I go into marinas and harbours, just from a financial perspective, but it was getting pretty lump outside and I was starting to feel a bit grimy anyway so was glad to be inside.

At least I’ll get a shower.

I had initially wanted to leave Peel first thing and set sail for Scotland, but it was really blowing a hooley outside so I stayed put. It was nice to look around Peel anyway; it was probably the most interesting place I had been to on the Isle so far. There was a cool castle and a big hill to walk up, and the town didn’t seem so quiet and best of all if I stood outside the museum I got free Wifi!

Walking up the hill was a bit of a challenge at times due to wind. The weather was interesting actually, ’cause everywhere else on the west coast it seemed ok, but the spot in the Irish sea that the Isle of Man occupies was covered in a big blob of high wind, and the terrain was making it really ferocious in places. From up the hill, I could look out to sea far enough to actually see the areas of less wind; there was tons of shite water close in but much further out it looked ok, and I wondered to myself if I had should have set sail after all. But the first few miles would have been hellish. I could see the gusty downdraughts caused by the wind rushing down the slopes and between the hills there was really strong offshore winds.

A windy day.

Towards the evening the winds dissipated and I treated myself to a local delicacy: chips, cheese and gravy. The forecast for the following day was looking good, but getting pretty windy again after so it looked like it was my window to make the crossing to my homeland. I could hear my people calling…..

July 1, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 4

After my marathon sleep I was feeling refreshed and had a day in the marina to sort stuff out. Top of my list was to do some laundry. I had planned on doing it the old fashioned way, but decided to splash out on the proper laundry facilities, although I still insisted on air drying onboard. A quick trip to Lidl saw me resupplied and then I generally spent the day just reading and doing little jobs here and there. It was still pretty windy and I was glad to be hidden away in the marina. Although as I was entering the previous day, apparently the entrants in the Jester Challenge Race were just heading out, and I imagine they had a long night of upwind tacking in less than ideal conditions.

The laundry pile was getting out of control!

The next big obstacle on my journey was to get round the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, passing inside Bardsey Island, through Bardsey Sound. The chap next door to me in the marina was well versed in this, as this was his home cruising grounds, and he had some sheets of paper with tide information on it that he kindly gave to me (thanks!). It seems the trick here is to arrive quite a bit before the the tide turns in the main channel and catch a back-eddy which runs very close to the shore, passing between a rock known as Carreg Ddu and the mainland. Reading about this, it sounded quite fierce, and was described as having the same effect on the water as a blunt bowed container ship ploughing full steam ahead, which made sense when I looked at a satellite image of the area.

Crikey! That looks fierce.

But I had pretty good information and made sure to arrive at the bottleneck nice and early. There wasn’t much wind, and it was on the nose, so it was another journey on the engine. I was just drifting idle in Aberdare Bay waiting for the tide, getting a bit bored, so I went through a bit early. I got through the narrow passage just as it hit slack water, but just round the corner the tide in the main sound was still running, although it wasn’t too rough so I just pushed on. I tried to stick as close to the shore as I dared, but the rocks were mighty sharp looking.

Getting up close and personal.

A lot of the features around this area have some pretty savage sounding names, as they often do, like “Hells’ Mouth” and “Devil’s Ridge”, but I made it through without too much drama, although the wind had all but vanished so I motored on to the anchorage at Porth Dinllaen. This was a really nice little spot, well sheltered from the prevailing sou’westerlies and quite picturesque, but I only spent a short night there and was then onwards to the Menai Strait.

Zero knots of wind.

The next big obstacle was crossing the Caernarfon Bar, which needed to be done in favourable conditions, but the forecast was looking suitable for the day after, so I headed for a little anchorage called Pilot’s Cove at Llanddwyn island.

Great day for sailing.

It was a fantastic sail there, as I had stunning scenery on the starboard side, and the wind was a nice steady F4 for much of the journey, there was very little swell and the sun was shining, so a good time was had by all! There wasn’t much wildlife around, but the RAF were never too far away, and also various little stunt planes presumably practicing for some aerobatics displays.


I arrived at Pilot’s Cove around midday and nosed right into the bay to drop the hook. It’s quite a tight spot, and I wanted to go ashore, so I rowed my second anchor out on the dinghy and used it to hold the stern out such that the boat wouldn’t swing around in the bay. With her safely secured, I could spend some time stretching my legs ashore, and what a lovely place it was to be!

My own little haven.

I had been to this place before when I was at uni, but I couldn’t remember it being so nice. I thought about going for a swim, but there was an abundance of jellyfish around, and the stinging type no less.

One of many.

The good weather didn’t last though, by evening time a stronger wind had picked up and there was some swell running. Because I had come right into the bay, it wasn’t affecting me too much but another yacht had appeared at some point and it being much larger had to anchor further offshore. She was pitching up and down quite a bit, and before long she had motored off out of sight, presumably to seek shelter in Holyhead. Feeling pleased with myself for having such a small boat, I settled in for the night and made sure I had all the information for crossing the bar the next day. I was up early to make sure I would get to the entrance through the Caernarfon Bar in time. I had gotten the latest navigation info from the harbour master’s website, and plotted the waypoints into my phone’s chart plotter, and made a note of the bearings and distances between the channel marker buoys. There was a little more wind than I was hoping for, and I could see some wave crests turning white, but I decided to plough on anyway. It turned out to be ok, there was definitely quite a bit of turbulence, but there were no breakers and no serious calls for concern. I did realise that one of the buoys wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and I checked my coordinates, but I never figured out what that was all about.

Navigating the Caernarfon Bar.

Once I was into the Menai Strait, I made for the port of Caernarfon. There are two main options for berthing here: marina or harbour wall. Naturally I opted for the more rustic approach and headed into the harbour. This is in the mouth of the River Afon Seiont and to access it a swing bridge needs to be shifted out of the way. You are supposed to signal your desire to enter by blasting the Morse code for ‘B’ on your horn, but I don’t actually have a horn, so just raced in behind another boat that was entering in front of me. There is a traffic light system, but it seemed to just stay on red, and I wasn’t chastised for running the light so I guess they must play fast and loose with the regulations in these parts. After I tied up to the harbour wall with some lengthy ropes, I guesstimated the fall of the tide and adjusted accordingly, then looked around to take in my surroundings.

Tied up in front of the castle.

This was another very scenic spot to park the boat, right in front of the castle. I met up with a friend and we headed off to find the nearest boozer; we didn’t have to go far. It may have been the length of my ropes, or the beer in my belly, but for one reason or another I was pretty relaxed with leaving the boat unattended on a new harbour wall on a falling tide. After my friend headed off, I went back to the boat and found her lying at an angle, with the ropes fairly taut….

The ropes aren’t as tight as they look…

All was fine though, as the angle was simply the way the seabed sloped and the ropes had no slack but weren’t bar tight; any longer and the boat would be all over the place at high tide and any shorter she’d be abseiling. I treated myself to a KFC and stuffed some cushions under the mattress to level out the bed, and then passed out.

Bilge keelers everywhere.

The following morning, I had planned to depart, but I hadn’t fully worked out the tides for the next passage and due to my advancing years the previous night’s beers had made me less than enthusiastic for an early start. It was cheap to moor here, and it was a nice place, so I opted to stay another night and take my time planning the next step. The onwards journey would take me through the Swellies, which are a pretty notorious stretch of the Menai Strait which needed to be done properly. There are various leading lines that need to be followed to thread your way between the hidden rocks and timing is critical, so I got everything prepared properly. When the time came, it was pretty straightforward, although the rattling from the prop shaft had picked a terrible time to return.

Almost through the Swellies.
You can’t help but look…

Originally I had planned on continuing right through and heading up the east coast of Anglesey to anchor somewhere on the north coast to shorten the journey to the Isle of Man, but the weather wasn’t looking fabulous so at the last minute I headed into Bangor. I wanted to have another look at this damned anode to figure out what was going on before I made another big passage. With Bangor having a drying harbour I hoped I could access the prop shaft at low tide, but the bottom was far too muddy for that, and she sank into the mud right up to the tops of the keels. So once more, it was on with the wetsuit and into the water at high tide. The anode seemed pretty tight on the shaft, I certainly couldn’t wobble it around at all, and the nuts and bolts were tight, but I did manage to clinch them up a little more, so hoped that would be the end of it. And once again, I found myself sleeping at damn near 45 degrees…..

Maybe 45 is an exaggeration, but still…

June 23, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 3

Having decided to stick to the Welsh coast, I set out from Milford Haven on Thursday the 13th of June. It was only a short hop, and I was hoping to do most of the trip on one tack as soon as I got out to sea, but as always the wind was refusing to cooperate so I had to zigzag my way upwind once again, but I quite enjoyed it. It was only 5 miles or so and it was good to be sailing after spending 3 days cooped up in the boat at anchor.

I was bound for the South Haven of Skomer Island, which is little bay sheltered from any winds other than southerly. Skomer being a seabird mecca, I was welcomed to the anchorage by thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills and a few seals as well. This was a really nice little place, and you end up anchored really close to birds on the cliffs, and they didn’t seem to be put off by my presence. The only downside to all this birdlife flying around was the splattering the boat received….

The sacrificial anode I took off previously needed to be replaced, so in the morning I got out the still wet SCUBA gear and went under to fit the anode. I could have reused the old one as it had plenty of material left, but it wold still have the issue of the nut spinning.

Putting the new anode on.

Putting the new one on was fiddly, but luckily I didn’t drop anything and it went quite smoothly. Afterwards I went for a little swim around, but didn’t see much. I was hoping to see some big lobsters, which I did, albeit inside a fisherman’s trap.

The water was clear but only 11 degrees! Should have brought my drysuit.

On the way back to the boat, the GoPro fell off my head and I didn’t realise straight away, so it took me a while to search around and find it again. I checked out the anchor as well, and was interested to see that although the boat had swung almost 180 degrees with the change in wind direction, the anchor was still dug in the orientation I had originally set it the night before, and the boat was just lying to the weight of the 10m length of chain alone. It was also interesting to see how quickly the anchor must have set. My old CQR anchor would have probably ploughed the seabed for 10 metres before finally digging in, but from the lack of disturbed sand it looks like the new one dug in almost immediately.

Anchor dug in.

When I arrived back at the surface next to the boat, the sky was much greyer and the wind had picked up, and being south-westerly, it was making the anchorage untenable. This was not a surprise as it’s exactly what the forecast predicted, but I had planned to depart a bit earlier, so I got out of the water quick sharp and motored out of the anchorage before the wind got any stronger.

I had considered going around Skomer on the eastern side which would involve going through Jack Sound, which is rather narrow and rocky and gets some strong tides running through it, so I opted to go west. The sea was rough enough going this way so I was glad I had decided to not go through Jack Sound. I still had to negotiate another sound further up, Ramsey Sound, which has bit of a bottleneck halfway through as some rocks known as ”The Bitches” stick out into the channel.  

Look closely and you can see the Bitches…

But my timings were pretty good for this one and the Bitches stayed where they were so I cruised through at slack water and all was well. The next leg was towards Fishguard, and with the wind behind and the tide pushing me along I made good progress; for a while I was doing 9 knots over the ground!

As I arrived in Fishguard two lifeboats were heading out and there was a coastguard helicopter flying around, so someone somewhere must have been having a bad time although I never heard anything on VHF. After dropping anchor I was pretty hungry by this point so made an enormous meal and turned in for the night. I was awoken in the small hours by a ferocious southerly wind blasting through the anchorage, I did read in the almanac that southerly winds can funnel themselves down through the harbour, and certainly did that night.

The following morning I had to decide my next destination. I wanted to get from South Wales across Cardigan Bay to North Wales as quickly as possible, but the winds for that day were not conducive towards getting there. Even if I did, I would have to wait around anyway for the weather to improve to negotiate my way over the Caernarfon Bar and into the Menai Strait. I had wanted to go from Fishguard right up to Porth Dinllaen in one big leap, but in the end I decided to break the journey into smaller legs and headed up the coast to New Quay. The winds were very light to begin with so it took all day to make the 25 mile journey. On the way in though I was joined by some bottlenose dolphins, which are huge compared to the common dolphins I had seen so far. They swam around the anchorage for a while, and there were throngs of people on the shore trying to see them, but being on my boat I definitely got the best view!

These fellas are much bigger.

New Quay looked like a very nice place and I would have liked to go ashore, but I needed to set off at 5 the following morning and it was already getting late so I turned in. I was awoken somewhat earlier than expected, not by my alarm, but by the thumping of the boat on the ground. I had misjudged the tide and how much water there was under me. Hopping out of bed still in pyjamas I got up on deck pronto, got the engine on and moved out to some deeper water, and all was well. It was around 2.30 am at this point so I just stayed up and pottered around doing some chores on my to-do list and this made sure I got away from the anchorage on time, instead of just hitting the snooze button. The main reason I was leaving so early was due to some strong winds blowing in later on in the day and I wanted to get across Cardigan Bay before they arrived. I didn’t want to spend any longer in South Wales because as well as some bad weather rolling through, much of Cardigan Bay consists of yet another bloody MoD firing range which was definitely going live the following day (I got all my information in advance this time…)

Goose-winging it.

So off I sailed, bound for Abersoch. The day started nicely but with almost no wind, although slowly it started to build. I was sailing almost dead downwind so I poled out the genoa and goose-winged my way north. By lunchtime it was really blowing hard and I had the sails reefed down as far as they would go. Controlling the boat was getting to be a bit of a handful, but it was good fun as well and by far the fastest I had ever sailed downwind, which up until that point had always been a fairly boring, roly-poly affair.

Tearing along downwind.

When I arrived in Abersoch Bay, it turned out to be far too rough for anchoring. The boats on the moorings there were bouncing around all over the place, and it would have been a very uncomfortable couple of days, so I changed course and headed for Pwllheli to seek refuge in the fancy-pants marina. I called ahead to ask their opinion on entering the channel at low water, and they didn’t give me much confidence, but by this point I was really wanting to get somewhere sheltered. I ended up going for it, inching my way up the channel to the marina bang on low tide, and luckily made it through without any sudden jolts. My allocated berth was already occupied so I went to the next one down, got the boat tied up and breathed a sigh of relief. Almost as soon as I turned the engine off, the heavens opened up and it really hammered it down. I was very happy I made the decision to come in, instead of riding it out at anchor. I headed straight to the showers as it had been quite some time since my previous wash, excluding the short trips beneath the hull. The showers in Padstow were a bit lacklustre but Pwllheli’s plumbing did not disappoint. The shower was bloody marvellous! After that I headed off to the Wetherspoons to treat myself even more, then back to the boat and that night I slept for 12 hours straight.

June 19, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 2 (part 2)

Having never been to Padstow before, it turned out to be a very nice place. The harbour was nice and secure so I could relax a bit even knowing there was some foul weather on the way. For my first day in port though, the weather was amazing so I went for a stroll out to Stepper Point, picking up a delicious pasty along the way. From up high I could get a good view of the entrance to the estuary, including the Doom Bar, about which I was mildly apprehensive on the way in the night before and also gives its name to the popular brewed ale, which was news to me.

The infamous Doom Bar

The walk along the cliffs was pretty dramatic and there were lots of nesting seabirds to be seen, and also a pair of peregrine falcons. It was a fairly long walk and I was glad to have a refreshing pint of the afore mentioned beverage when I got back. 

Peregrine Falcons

I was happy to see the boat where I left her, having gone so far away but there wasn’t really much to be concerned about other than getting the right length of dock lines out to allow for the tide, although with the harbour being sealed at low water there wasn’t really much drop anyway.

Padstow harbour

Negotiating my way through throngs of inquisitive tourists (of which I suppose I am one) I got back onboard and rustled up some dinner. The bad weather arrived during the night and the following day was spent almost entirely inside the boat. There were a few leaks here and there but nothing too drastic, worse was the condensation. The temperature was hovering around 14C which I thought highly inappropriate for a summer month in Cornwall. 

Haute cuisine

I had planned on leaving the day after the gale came through, but after speaking to a fellow Scotsman with a boat, I decided to stay another day in harbour. After all, with the man being older and his boat being larger, I thought if he is staying put then I had better do the same. 

Surprisingly, I had used the engine a bit more than intended and I needed to refuel so after two visits to the fuel berth (the 2nd was due to me sailing off with the shower block key fob and having to pop back to throw it up the quayside to the harbourmaster). As I raised sail leaving Padstow I had to negotiate my way through a flotilla of Cornish Crabbers. 

Crabbers, Crabbers everywhere!

I was heading north east around Hartland Point to anchor off the small village of Clovelly. Once again, this looked like a really nice place, from my boat. I couldn’t go ashore as I arrived too late and there was more bad weather due, strong northerly winds and being exposed on the north Cornish coast I didn’t fancy my chances lingering here. I had planned to go further up the Bristol Channel to make the crossing at Ilfracombe but I wouldn’t get great shelter there with the forecast winds so I decided to make a longer journey across the channel where I was, much further out. 

Heading for Clovelly

Looking at the charts, I had eyeballed Lydstep Bay as a good place to anchor and ride out the weather, but only now, consulting the almanac I realised that the entire area north of me was covered by MoD firing ranges. I tried phoning them up, but being late Sunday evening there was nobody to talk to and the automated answer machine hadn’t been updated with the coming week’s schedule. I was planning on setting off at dawn the next day, but would try to call again. It was another bumpy night at anchor, and I setup the flopper stopper again to smooth things out. One thing that was bugging me though was some rattling coming from somewhere around the engine when under power, or even when the prop was free-spinning out of gear when sailing along. I had been messing around with engine alignment before leaving Plymouth and wondered if it was related. The other possibility was that the sacrificial anode bolted to the propeller shaft could be loose, so in the morning before setting off I got the SCUBA gear out and went under to inspect it. It seemed pretty tight, but one of the nuts wasn’t locating properly and was spinning as I tried to tighten the bolt, so I just took the whole thing off, to see if the noise would go away. Sure enough, as I motored away from Clovelly the noise had disappeared. 

It was pretty calm in the morning and I couldn’t get up the sails until I was fairly close to Lundy island. As it was a northerly wind, the wind wasn’t much use to me anyway, but I did bear away slightly to allow me to motorsail. Also, with it being a northerly wind it was pretty chilly!

Thought it was supposed to be summer… 

There was tons of wildlife around Lundy Island though, including a pod of common dolphins that followed me for quite a long time. 

Travelling companions

I had been trying to phone up the firing range to get some info, but by the time they had updated their answer machine I was too far offshore to get decent phone signal and I couldn’t understand what they were saying, the reception was just too poor. I was also too far away to radio apparently, or at least nobody would answer my calls. Either way, I couldn’t get any info about the firing times. It’s my understanding that it is not illegal to sail straight through an active range, but being a gentleman I decided to keep out of the area and go the long way round. The benefit to this was on that bearing I could go along under sail power alone. The disadvantage was that it would take a long time, and the last thing I heard on the VHF was a gale warning issued for “later”. I decided that if it got bad, I could just head directly through the range, and so on I went, tacking upwind around the edge of the range. 

Skirting around the range

Eventually, I got better reception on the radio and overheard the range notifying the coastguard that firing was finished until 1930hrs, so I changed course and headed directly for Milford Haven. At this point the wind really picked up and I was reefed right down as far as I could. It got quite lively and I was getting some decent speed. 

Getting more lively in the Bristol Channel

The wind was getting really quite strong now and I was wondering about taking the sails down altogether. The course I was on was taking me too far to leeward of the entrance to Milford Haven, so I decided to bring the sails down and motor upwind to the entrance. At this point I heard the radio crackle to life: “Yacht 3 miles south of Linney head, yacht 3 miles south of Linney head this is Castlemartin range, over”. As it turned out, I misheard 1830hrs as 1930hrs, and the range was soon going live and they were none to pleased to find me splashing through the dangerzone. If the firing time had indeed been 1930 I would have made it though just in the nick of time, but as it stood, I had to alter course, for some reason I couldn’t quite fathom as it seemed to take me longer to get out of the range on this bearing. But I obeyed and motored on as instructed. It was really quite rough by now and I was getting horrendous spray coming over the top of the boat. I had forgotten to stow away the cockpit cushions and although they are somewhat weather resistant compared to the interior cushions, they are not meant for this kind of punishment and got a proper salty soaking (they are still drying out now, a week later). 

Eventually I got through the east channel into Milford Haven and was heading towards Sandy Haven Bay as this place was recommended as an anchorage if the wind was anything slightly east of north, which it was. However on the way there, I spied a better looking spot, that wasn’t named on the chart, but it was a lot closer, and had nice high cliffs to the north. I was hoping the cliffs would send the worst of the wind overhead, and sure enough, when I dropped anchor I found myself safely tucked away in my own nice little haven.

Nice and sheltered underneath the cliffs

I ended up spending 3 nights in Milford Haven, mostly just passing time waiting on the right weather window. I had a hard time deciding how to proceed: whether to go north along the Welsh coast or turn westwards and hop over to the Irish coast. The benefits of heading to Ireland are many, but mostly it means you can travel a on a long coastline sheltered from the prevailing southwesterlies all the way to Scotland. The main disadvantage was that I don’t have any paper charts for Ireland and the weather wasn’t especially conducive to the initial crossing across the Irish Sea, so I opted to stay on the Welsh coast for my journey north. I was getting a bit fed up being stuck in the boat at anchor anyway, so I made a fuel stop in the marina, which involved going through the lock gate, and then made my way out of the Haven, bound for Skomer Island….

Entering the marina

June 13, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 2

The weather in Coverack deteriorated during the night and I woke up to some rather grey skies and boisterous swell coming round the corner into the anchorage, which put me in high spirits for the day ahead. After struggling to put some breakfast together and wolfing it down, I weighed anchor, put the sails up and got underway to catch the tide around the Lizard. 

The weather already wasn’t especially pleasant, even though the forecast didn’t set any alarm bells off, but as luck would have it the worst of it occurred right when I was in the thick of the tidal races going round the Lizard. I had timed it to go round at slack water, but it was still plenty rough and the squalls that passed through couldn’t have picked a worse time really. This was my first time out in big seas and the little boat was getting thrown around all over the place. I kept the engine running and had the sails reefed down and just soldiered on as best I could. I had thought about turning back but by this point I was halfway round and the ebb tide would start flowing so I’d be fighting that on the way back. I reminded myself of a great Churchill line “If you are going through hell…keep going!” and so with my chin up I pressed on. The sky was very dark, visibility had dropped down to a few hundred metres and I felt like I was in a little world of my own out there bouncing around. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I had many clouds, but the only positive thing here was that the heavy downpour seemed to flattening the waves a little. The sea was getting very confused and hard to negotiate under sail so I took the sails down and pressed on under engine power. 

Just after passing the lizard.

Eventually, after rehearsing the Mayday procedures in my head a few times, I got through to the other-side, the skies cleared up and the seas smoothed out considerably. I took some videos of my passage, but watching them back, it doesn’t seem as extreme as it felt. I’ve heard that sailors always over-estimate the size of waves when they are in them, and thought that was a bit odd, but now I understand it a bit better. Whenever I’ve seen photos of the seas around Cape Horn I’ve thought “that’s not so bad”, but I think I’ll appreciate them a little better now. 

I had seen another yacht going round at the same time as me and caught glimpses of it through the spray, getting thrown around. It was a larger boat than mine, but seemed to be pitching up and down and thrown every which way something fierce. I could see that same boat now as I was setting course for Newlyn. It seemed to be heading for Land’s End to do both headbands in a oner, and I considered doing the same but by the time I reached it, the tide would not be in my favour. The wind had basically buggered off completely now so I motored the long hours towards Newlyn but with the sails up to dry them off.

Rafted up in Newlyn.

When I arrived I found all the berths occupied and so rafted up alongside a larger boat and headed off for a shower. Dartmouth Marina, this place ain’t. But it was nice and sunny now so I took a walk along to Penzance and visited the largest Lidl I’ve ever seen. 

Newlyn’s infinitely long pontoon…

The following morning it was time to do battle once more, this time with Land’s End. I had read that the Lizard is generally worse, and so I was fairly relaxed and made good progress under sail. But once more, as I approached the point of no return, the wind went haywire and the seas rose up. I had planned on taking the inner passage; the books said this was a good option, in settled conditions. I decided that the conditions were decidedly unsettled and seeing an awful lot of white water east of the Longships, headed further offshore. For the next hour or so I just clung on tightly and rode it out, thinking about how much fun I was having and marvelling at the weather’s tendency to dish out the good stuff at the most opportune moments, but at least this time it wasn’t raining. 

Longships Lighthouse.

Once again, I was shaken up and spat out on the other side. The skies cleared and the way ahead flattened out. Now the tide was flowing north east, carrying me towards St Ives. I was making pretty good time and remembering how far I still had to go and it was already well into June, I decided to press on and watched St Ives go by on the starboard side. It looked lovely.

On the way to Padstow – glad that cloud is all the way over there!

I set course for Padstow and got out the almanac to see what the story was with this place, as I had not planned on going that far in one day. The forecast had some pretty strong winds coming and according to the almanac the only real shelter was in the harbour, which had tidal restrictions. Working it out in my head, I was going to be hard pressed to get there in time to get into the harbour, and with the wind slowly disappearing, it was time to open up the throttle. It was a long way, but the sun was shining and some dolphins joined me for a bit so the journey wasn’t so bad. I made the questionable decision to shorten the journey by passing between and the Quies Rocks and Travose Head, and ended up dodging endless lobster pots whilst getting rough treatment from the tidal races. I called up the Harbourmaster, but I was too late to get into the harbour. He saw me racing down the channel though as darkness was falling and being a nice chap, he let me spend the night on the outer pontoon and gave me keys to the shower block. With some bad weather coming in the next 24 hours I was glad to be where I was and was able to get into the harbour the following morning.

This has turned into quite a lengthy post, and this is only half of the story for this past week. As I type this I’m at anchor in Milford Haven sheltering from yet more bad weather, but I’m aware that the attention spans of some SPBA members may be under strain at this point so I’ll do another post soon about the journey across the Bristol Channel (spoilers: more bad weather).

June 4, 2019
by spba2018

Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 1

Well I set off eventually on Sunday 26th May, for my Grand Voyage, to try and sail around the UK (or get as far as possible). This was a bit later than I wanted, but better late than never. I had tried to leave the day before but had some engine trouble and headed back to the mooring for the night. After fixing the problems I decided to sail my way over to Cawsand Bay to anchor for the night, it was a fairly blustery day and the first proper sail of the day, and it was a pretty messy affair, hopefully nobody was watching me too closely….

It’s important to look good on the high seas.

My night at Cawsand was my first time using a new anchor that I bought; a 7kg Manson Supreme to replace the original 7kg CQR that came with the boat. I was quite pleased with how quickly it dug in compared with the old anchor and I had a pretty comfortable night.

The next day I made my way around Rame head and headed for some port on the other side of Whitsand Bay, but I hadn’t yet made up my mind which one. I was thinking possibly either Looe, Polperro, Fowey, Mevagissey but in the end I opted for a little bay just south of Mevagissey called Portmellon. The water here was very clear and I could easily see the anchor set in the sand below. Just before I left Plymouth I had stocked up on a variety of canned food from a wholesaler’s on the outskirts of town, well known for selling out-of-date items, and it was at this point I began to question the wisdom of this move as I spent all of the 3rd day at anchor in Portmellon with stomach issues.

Feeling better the next day I headed towards Falmouth, and it was a fantastic day sailing. With sunny skies and blowing a F3/4 from the south west I made good progress westwards, albeit close hauled. In fact ever since I left Plymouth I had been heading straight upwind, which was a bit annoying but a good chance for me to practice helming and trimming the sails. I decided on the way to not go all the way to Falmouth but to anchor off Porthscatho, but a couple miles off the wind really picked up and suddenly I was struggling to make any progress upwind at all. Looking at my GPS track it was clear that when I tacked, I was just turning around 180 degrees and retracing my steps. Eventually after a wasted mile or two I got better at trimming the sails and started making progress upwind. I refused to put the engine on until I was almost within anchoring range, after all if I wanted to motor I would have bought a speedboat. I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up but at least I’ll save a few £££’s on diesel….

Alongside in Falmouth.

After a fairly sleepless night bouncing around in the swell I headed for Falmouth in the morning and got a spot in the marina. I arrived very early so I had plenty of time to look around, have a shower etc. My girlfriend Ness joined me in the evening (her journey via train sounded almost as arduous as my own) and we dined al fresco on the poop deck, so to speak. The next day we went to the maritime museum (always recommended) and then headed up river to spend the night.

Nice little anchorage up the River Fal.

The next day was fairly dreary so we just hung around in the river and then in the late afternoon headed upriver to Truro on the rising tide. In the upper reaches the navigable portion of the channel is very narrow but clearly marked with posts. In Truro we found ourselves in a pub called the Old Ale house, where there are barrels of free monkey nuts and apparently it’s the done thing to just chuck the shells on the floor, which of course I obligingly did.

Making a right mess!

In the evening the berth alongside the pontoon dried out completely and we ended up stuck in the mud at a somewhat uncomfortable angle for the night. Ness had to go back to work the following morning and I caught the early tide back down the river.

Deep in the Truro mud.

There was no wind at all in the upper reaches and going down the river was like gliding on glass. Passing Falmouth I got the sails up and headed south to Coverack, upwind all the way, naturally. In fact I’m starting to think some higher power has taken a dislike to my intentions and is actively trying to blow me back to Plymouth. Looking at the forecast for Wednesday, when I want to get around Land’s End, it seems their intentions aren’t changing anytime soon.

Water like glass.

As I write this I’m anchored off Coverack, and the swell has been fairly boisterous, so I’ve got a “flopper-stopper” rigged and also set up an anchor bridle arrangement to get the boat pointing more into the swell instead of the wind. It seems to be working well.

So far, so good. It’s been fun so far, not too tiring or anything and some really nice days. I am making rather slow progress though, maybe the weather will be more favourable once I get around the corner into the Bristol Channel…..

This is just taking the piss now!