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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.