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Unfinished business

Around the middle of July last year Kate and I were still on a mission to sail around the British Isles, an entirely self-imposed target but one we felt we could achieve during that year, even given our rather leisurely attitude to sailing and a somewhat snail-like progress. So on 19th July 2009 Cirrus Cat arrived at an important milestone, the entrance to the Crinan Canal, and we entered this passageway fully expecting to leave the Western Isles behind us and to move on into an area of water commonly just referred to as The Clyde. This was to be our gateway to southern Scotland and the south of England. However for reasons explained in this blog back in August last year, we never made it further than Bellanoch, a small settlement only half a mile into the canal, where we moored for far too long awaiting medical attention for my hernia.

This time round I have a fully functioning set of body parts, although as we entered the Crinan Canal for the second time last week there was still a slight worry that history might repeat itself before we got beyond last year’s furthest point. Kate and I both held our breaths as Bellanoch Bridge was swung slowly aside for us to pass so we could continue motoring onwards to the flight of five locks which take boats up to the highest point of the canal. Such reminiscences were soon forgotten, however, as Kate began to open sluices and push the enormous lock gates aside so I could steer Cirrus into the next watery cavern. Nine locks later (five up and four down) we nudged gently alongside a pontoon and said ‘No more!’ having passed both our physical and mental watersheds. This time we knew we were moving on. We have unfinished business with this canal and with the west coast of Britain.

A couple of days on and we are attached to a mooring buoy in Upper Loch Fyne at a place called Otter Ferry. Rather disappointingly this place is not heavily populated with small furry mammals – the ‘otter’ in the name is a corruption of ‘an oitir’ which refers to a long sand spit extending out into the loch – but it is a quiet and unspoilt place, a few houses and a pub which tries to capture its trade by providing temptingly free moorings for passing yachts.

After two nights we move on to visit Portavadie where some thirty years ago a small bay was hollowed out and deepened for the construction of oil rigs. As it turned out nothing was ever built here and today the bay holds one of the newest marinas on the Clyde, a place where we had been told to expect shower facilities better than anything else in the area, perhaps in all Britain. Life afloat changes one’s priorities and somehow the thought of endless hot water achieved just by rotating a knob soon begins to take on a whole new significance. Fortunately we were not to be disappointed here so after a thorough sluicing I decided to give Cirrus’ decks a similar wash, to remove the accumulated grit and dirt deposited on us as we came though the canal. Not for the first time I discovered just how much deck there is on a catamaran.

Summer has finally arrived here in Scotland, just as it has throughout the UK so our sailing now needs to be tempered with caution. Although our faces and hands are deeply suntanned, the first outing for pale legs and arms can always be something to regret at this time of year. But we have found another island to explore, Arran, so nothing can keep us indoors for long.

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