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Passage from Tarbert to Campbeltown

We slip back easily into ‘Preparing to set sail’ mode – engine on, depth and wind instruments switched on, plus the chartplotter and radio – then cast off our mooring lines and reverse away from the Tarbert pontoon. Work is going on here this morning to put a line of new pontoons in place, expanding the marina to accommodate more boats, so next time we visit we will hardly recognise the place.

For our first sail of the season we have chosen a quiet sort of day with predictable light winds so as not to test our strength or abilities at a time when the air is still quite cool. If we can combine this with a little gentle sun tanning of our faces and hands then this will be even better as it will give us a first layer of protection against summer sunshine. Kate on the deck in Loch FyneWe had driven to Campbeltown earlier in the day, to place the car there ready for our return, then caught the bus which runs along the west coast road into Tarbert. Kate pops into the Co-op to stock up with fresh food and by 10:30 am we are just about ready to go. As Cirrus leaves the harbour we comfortably slip into our normal roles on board, me on the helm and Kate coiling ropes and stowing away the fenders, just as we are used to. We move out into a light breeze across Loch Fyne but this fades as the wind struggles to make up its mind on what to do for the day. Our genoa is unrolled, optimistically, but in the end (and as the forecast predicted it would be) the passage south from Tarbert to Campbeltown Loch is largely a gentle spinnaker run downwind. In Kilbrannan Sound the wind is usually blowing one of two ways, either north or south, as it is channelled by the mountains of Arran on one side and Kintyre on the other, so it is no surprise to have to set up the spinnaker pole for downwind sailing on this occasion. Soon the sun comes out and we are drifting along at about four knots, binoculars out, ready to examine closely all the places we have visited on the land from this new angle. Despite sailing extensively in these waters this is our first time through the Sound and we are keen to pass close to Carradale if we can, to see what our small village looks like from the sea. Port Righ from the seaBut neither of us fancy too much fiddling about with the sails today so the straightest course will be our best.

Some hours later after drifting slowly past Skipness Castle and Grogport, Carradale Harbour comes into view, interesting to see, although there is nobody about to wave at. Further on at Port Righ (royal port), the bay stays hidden from the north east until the last moment when it suddenly opens to reveal the cove where a king once stopped for shelter, Robert the Bruce, so the story goes. Then moving further south we pass Torrisdale where our picture is snapped, albeit from a distance away, by Celia and Jim from their house on the hill. In fact all the way down the Sound, being the only boat around under sail, we are consciousCirrus sailing down Kilbrannan - click to enlarge that we are being observed by those we know. Our neighbour Pat, returning from Campbeltown on the bus, tells us later that she spotted our red hull out at sea and our friend David also noticed our passing from his house in Peninver. This all adds a little spice to the voyage and prompts us to keep the sails set well, this being the nautical equivalent of combing your hair before going out.

The Isle of Arran seen from our angle close to the water looks like a sleeping giant, the southern slopes being the legs and the mountains at the northern end being a broad chest heaving upward. Few visitors get to see the mountains all with their tops clear of cloud and even less will see it from our position. Today the air is sharp and clear, no haze or mist about, and the sky is a grand canvas across which dramatic shapes and colours have been splashed. To the south of us now we can see the islet of Ailsa Craig, ‘Paddy’s Milestone’ as it is affectionately known, sticking out of the sea like the nose of some giant who fell asleep here long ago. The shape is echoed by cliffs on Davaar Island which lies further west, hardly surprising since these are all that is left of long-extinct, pre ice-age volcanoes.

Our passage speed slows as the wind fades with the onset of evening so the spinnaker is taken down and we fire up the engine again, motoring the last few miles to pick up our mooring in Campbeltown Loch. Again this is a tried and tested procedure for us so there is no rushing about, just a slow approach so that Kate can secure a rope to our round, soft plastic buoy, then my job is to finish off and make secure. This is now Cirrus’ home – she will spend the rest of the year afloat here.

As the temperature slides lower we light our cabin heater and cook a meal before bedding down for our first night of the season on board just as the sun drops neatly down behind the war memorial on shore making a dramatic picture to feast our eyes on.Campbeltown war memorial sunset

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