Category: boatyard

Ready for launch

The bottom scraping is now complete and fresh antifouling paint applied. (In reality all that has occurred is an exchange of layers of costly, but old paint for more expensive new ones but we boat-owners do this sort of thing, willingly, year after year.) Ready-for-the-water4Once Cirrus’ sails are bent on she takes on that fresh, ready-for-the-water look again, but regrettably not before Kate climbs on board over the stern and falls foul of the boom as she stands up on the deck, cracking her head on a sharp edge protruding beneath it. This is an embarrassing thing to do at the best of times but whilst the boat is still on dry land it takes some explaining to understand how this could happen. The boom was lashed up for winter, not in its normal position, and Kate’s momentary lack of attention, whilst not damaging the boom Just kidding, has left her with a nasty cut and mild concussion. All my fault, of course.

All is now ready for when, over Easter, Cirrus will be lifted gently back into her natural element and we can go sailing again. We are both (Kate included despite her altercation with the boom), keen to explore further the fabulous area we live in and we can only hope that the weather will be kind enough to us so we can make a start.

Kate’s poorly head prevents her from joining me and friends David and Hilary on a long walk along the sea cliffs down at the Mull, the headland at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula. Sanda and Ailsa CraigTo get to the start we drive along the scary bit of single-track that leads to the Mull until we reach a point where we can cut across rough country towards the sea. From this angle the volcanic plug of Ailsa Craig appears to be just behind Sanda Island although in reality they are separated by many miles across the Firth of Clyde. It is a ‘too bright, too soon’ day and by 10.30 in the morning the sun has retreated south to a thin strip on the horizon but the three of us launch ourselves across Borgadale Water, traversing around the hillside until we find the ruins of the dun, an ancient fortified settlement standing on a high point which still today affords good visibility across the Channel to Ireland. While the sky is overcast and the view is predominantly grey, the greys come in so many shades that there is an ethereal feel to the place, haunted as it is by its past.Sron Uamha fort

We now traverse west on difficult terrain following the line of the cliff as best we can, past another ancient monument, the fort at Sròn Uamha (try saying it like ‘uva’), the southernmost point of the Mull, where we stop to eat our lunch within the 2000 year-old walls of what must once have been an imposing stronghold. No less than three defensive walls once protected this place on the landward side and vertical sea cliffs running along the seaward edge still form a natural barrier second to none.

Walking on we arrive at a point where the inland crags of An Gobhann descend to meet the sea cliffs. There is only one passing point here, a grassy slope beneath a sheer rock face with another steep drop to the sea on the left. With no alternative apart from retracing our footsteps across miles of open country, we tread cautiously onwards to reach the relative safety of slightly more level ground just around the corner. Hilary on An GoghannStrictly for the goats, this one.

What I find most intriguing about this whole area is that there is evidence on the ground, even to our untrained eyes, that a considerable settlement existed here, amongst the cliffs along the shore, on terrain which most of us would regard as totally inhospitable. These people cultivated crops on the few reasonably flat patches, they kept livestock, built fortified dwellings; the marks of all of this are still evident on the landscape today. There must have been better, easier places to live but they chose this spot, for very good reasons, no doubt. We just can’t imagine what they were.

Over five hours after we started we are back at the car resting our weary legs. Somehow the forecast rain has held off although we were in cloud for a time on the top of the Mull above the lighthouse. This place attracts cloud like a moth to a flame so we consider ourselves very fortunate to come away dry. The ground is surprisingly dry just now after several weeks with no substantial rainfall at all. The air is still cool but spring is definitely coming now.

Scotland, one year on

A year ago on 19th March, Kate and I moved into a house in the remote village that is Carradale, a place previously unknown to us, in a country we had visited but not inhabited, and into an entirely new way of life. For most of our lives up to this point we had been what can best be described as ‘nomads’ – having neither house nor area which we could honestly describe as ‘home’, not belonging to any one place. Perhaps if you are born in a town which has a strong identity of its own then this sticks to you even after you leave – you will always be a Liverpudlian or a Londoner. Maybe those who maintain contact with old friends in the place they were brought up in find it easier to think of this location as part of their own origin. But neither Kate nor I have ever kept in touch with old school-friends and as we have moved about from one location to another over many years we have made and lost touch with so many friends that this has become more the norm than the exception.

Although many people do turn out as we have, others might regard our way of life as quite strange; they would feel comfortable only when close to ‘home’. For us, however, throughout our working lives, hardly had we begun to put down roots in one place when something would come along which caught the eye, an opportunity to change or to take up some employment opportunity, and we would grab at it and follow it across country, east to west, north and south.Birch twigs in Torrisdale1 By the time we came to retire from work we had decided, so we thought, that we would be content to travel about endlessly on our boat, settling only temporarily during the winter months to catch our breath and prepare for the next sailing season. And so it continued for the first few years, our lives orientated around sailing with escapes every so often to meet up with one or other of our widely scattered family. Then quite suddenly, twelve months ago, we woke up one day feeling unsettled by the fact that we did not have a permanent base on land to come back to…. and this is how we are now living in Carradale.

Remembering back to last year (and also reading the blog entries we posted then) Icicles above TorrisdaleI can see it was a relatively dry Carradale we arrived at with enough warmth and sunshine to tempt us out exploring along the seashore before we had finished unpacking. Both of us can recall staring in awe and wonder at the scenery around us. With the anniversary of our arrival still a few weeks away the ground still needs to warm up and it is clear to see that it is holding far more moisture this year, moisture that as I write still drops out of the clouds just as it has done for many weeks. At this point we really cannot say whether this is the norm and last year the exception or whether the reverse is true. But neither do we really care because what the last year has taught us is to regard the weather in this place as neither good not bad, but always exciting. We take comfort from the fact that the house we have bought here has stood for many years and seen off so many gales in its past that it will continue to keep us safe too. It has a pleasant solid feel to it.

Just the other day we took another plunge towards permanence here by inviting a solar power installer to fit photo-voltaic panels on our south-facing roof. More than almost anything else you can do to a property, this is a long term decision as the financial payback for the investment will not occur for many years (if ever). Nevertheless we feel that this is a change we must make; each time the sun shines it feels like we are wasting something. We know that being in Scotland, the power of the sun is less than in southern Britain, for example, and this means less electricity will be generated by our roof. To compensate, however, we live in an area which is pollution-free, our air arriving fresh off the Atlantic and often nicely scrubbed by nice clean rain. Torrisdale sheepClean air lets in more light, of course, so we can expect a better performance from our solar array than if we lived in a city. There are, so it seems, just too many variables for anyone to predict accurately how much benefit we will get once they are up and running. The best we can do is to measure what electricity we do get and smile smugly at our neighbours, most of whom will probably think we are slightly insane. One thing is certain, however. News of the installation will fly around this village like a wild rumour – news, good or bad, travels fast here – and it will be interesting to see what this leads to.

Twelve months ago Cirrus Cat languished miles away in a boatyard in Cornwall, lonely although not forgotten. This winter she rests in the marina car park in Tarbert so I have begun the long overdue task of scraping many layers of antifouling paint from her twin bottoms. Bottom scraping half doneBy any stretch of the imagination this is a miserable and thankless task as crouched between the hulls I work away with a scraper showering the ground with scrapings and filling the air with blue dust. I emerge after an hour or so stiff and sore, damp from lying on the ground and looking like an extra from a sci-fi movie. Using the tool two-handed I have to apply considerable pressure to cut my way through at least five or six layers of blue and several layers of black paint down to a white primer applied after the boat was epoxy treated many years ago. Trying to create a smooth surface whilst avoiding scratching the surface or cutting down too far, all the while kneeling or lying beneath the hull, is just about as physical a task as anyone would wish but this is the sort of punishment that all boat owners must endure for their hobby. Just part of the fun really!

The pressure is on now as we have been given a date for the lift-in, when a crane is booked, boats are lifted back into the water and the car park is restored to its summer use. Having this date will focus the minds of the owners of all the boats around us so we can expect company over the coming weeks as we all prepare for launching.

From land to sea

Visiting a big city like Glasgow is always something of a culture shock for us. Earlier in the day we were staggering along the road to the bus stop in Carradale with our giant suitcases, greeting our neighbours with a friendly word here and there, explaining to those who didn’t already know that we would be away from a while, then before we know it we are stepping down from a bus meeting the noise and the rush of a big city full on. People are strangers here. Nobody stops for a chat and often will not even step aside to let us pass along the pavement, overburdened though we are. We feel like aliens, strangely uncomfortable with our fellow humans.

We spend the night at the Travelodge as we have business to conduct in the city and Glasgow has the nearest branch of our bank. After checking in at the hotel we rush off to arrive just before closing time and, business completed, then relax and celebrate a little, eating out at Dino’s in Sauchiehall Street. This is a little island of Italian-ness and once inside, seated before the red and white chequered plastic table cloth, we can pretend that we have just stepped off an Italian village street. We can even order our meal in Italian, if we dare. The Spaghetti Napoli is a delicious thing to behold and the owner exudes excessive Italian charm right through the meal – what more could you ask for.

Cities are noisy places at night (everywhere is noisy compared to Carradale)Kate on the bus to Plymouth but despite this we sleep well and by mid-afternoon the following day we are in Birmingham and setting off on the last leg of our long journey. Puffy white clouds float about aimlessly above us as the day warms up and the fine weather continues; we are travelling south, towards the sun, and at each stop we notice a slight increase in warmth, degree by degree, until finally we arrive at our destination, Millbrook in Cornwall. Road to MillbrookHere we have barely set off with our luggage to walk the last mile down the lane to the boatyard when the yard owners, Pip and Debbie, pass by and kindly stop their car to take our bags for us. We are expected and they have made us feel less like strangers here in this foreign land.

Millbrook Lake is actually a tidal inlet off of the River Tamar which itself forms the boundary between Devon and Cornwall. The word ‘lake’ does not do this place any justice at all because for most of the day the water is absent and a muddy desert shimmers in the heat, quietly leaking an ever ripening smell which drifts across the boatyard where we are working to bring Cirrus Cat alive again. Fortunately there is plenty to be done so we ignore our senses for the moment; launch day is a weekend away and the anti-fouling paint has to go on, sails bent on spars and the engine run up. Considering that she has been lying here since October last year, the air inside the boat is quite fresh (a tribute to the ventilation) and everything we need to live comfortably aboard is soon unpacked or re-fitted in its place. We begin stocking up with food, connecting the instruments and other electrical equipment and brushing away ten months of dust where this has accumulated, ready for the land to sea transformation that is about to take place.

The heat is now oppressive and by afternoon it is sapping our energy. Activity begins to slow down a little as, with so little breeze, the temperature inside the boat rises to 29 degrees Celsius in the shelter of the boatyard. The moment will soon arrive when there will be cooling water lapping against the hull making things rather more comfortable on board.

Sunday is the day our son Mike arrives for a visit, with Yeovil’s newest inhabitants, Kate’s brother Peter and his wife Liz, who are now living in our renovated house there. Cirrus launch1We spend a hot but enjoyable day with them trying to deal with Liz’s apparent fears about whales rising up from the depths of the sea and tipping over our catamaran with one toss of the head (surely not!) then finally they return home to leave us alone to spend what will be our last night on land for many months.

Launch day finally arrives and a specially adapted trailer is slid between our hulls which jacks Cirrus clear of the ground. A tractor is hitched up and our home from home slowly trundles across the boatyard towards the slipway which leads… to the muddy expanse of Millbrook Lake.Cirrus waiting for the tide at Millbrook

Here we are deposited, gently, and abandoned for the rest of the day, forgotten by the world until the tide brings Cirrus’ natural element, water, to us. And before we know it we are floating away on a new adventure.

Soon Serious Sailing

Despite venturing onto the water on other people’s boats (thanks to Owen, Jim and Celia) we are sorely missing life aboard our own. Having spent so many months living aboard Cirrus Cat in recent years we just feel comfortable there, at home and relaxed. We can close ourselves in and feel cosy there whatever the weather is doing outside or we can up anchor and move somewhere else. We are starting to get excited now because very soon we will be back on board, sailing our boat away from her Cornish winter home.Arran panorama

A big sky over the Isle of Arran

We hear tales of a heat-wave in the south of England and when we compare this with the weather these last few months have given us up here in the Highlands it is almost as if we are about to travel to some exotic far-away country. But no matter how pleasant this warmth may be we also know that we will miss the vast open views, the clarity of the air, the people, the sheer wild exuberance of our home…Torrisdale Castle


…and the castles. This one is just along the road in Torrisdale, discretely tucked away from view, believe it or not!


So once again we are making travel plans, packing our bags with essentials and with all the things we feel we might need over the month or so that we are planning to be away. It is now some ten months since we sailed on Cirrus. She was then ‘winterised’, her vulnerable bits wrapped up against the cold, and many of our belongings were unloaded (into a hired car) as part of those preparations. But after so many months, can we now remember what is on board and what is not? We will be returning only with what we are able to carry as luggage on the bus to the boatyard, a pretty limited amount, and when you consider that we will need an assortment of clothes, the computer stuff (to maintain the blog), and as many tools as we can carry to deal with all those boat-related repair and maintenance jobs, our suitcases are beginning to bulge. Somehow we have to prepare for this one-way trip based on what we can remember we left behind. Did I leave my shorts on board ready for the expected hot weather? What about the sun-block? Am I going to need a saw or a drill? Which shoes to take? Have we got the mobile phone chargers? Film for the camera? (No, I’m only kidding. This is some sort of a flashback.)

Finally we take our leave. We will know soon enough whether we have got it right or wrong.


George cake cuttingNinety years ago this week, a baby boy to whom his parents gave two names entered the world; he was George Arthur. Ever since, for various complex reasons, there have been two distinct groups of people, one of which has always known him as George and the other, as Arthur.

Despite falling firmly in the George camp, Kate and I were honoured to be invited to join a distinguished group of ‘Arthurs’ proudly celebrating his birthday at a small dinner. The venue for this, the guest list and even the menu was organised and selected by himself. Throughout the day he had been showered with gifts, with cards and with best wishes although none of this prevented his first putting in a couple of hours gardening, raking up fallen leaves from his back lawn. The guests at the meal were his friends and his peers – hardly surprising, therefore, that we represented the younger contingent – and inevitably one begins to speculate on one’s own future at times like this. As we approach George’s age will we too have the energy to keep the garden tidy, the presence of mind to remember our birthday and the strength to cut a cake to celebrate it. Ben's birthday partyFinally, a few days after the meal, as companion to my mother, he jetted off for a few weeks’ holiday in Hawaii. I am greatly encouraged by his comment about needing to be equipped with shears to deal with the grass skirts out there. There’s plenty of life in him yet!

Also celebrating a birthday this week is our son Ben, considerably younger and far less sober than George, as can be seen in this picture. He is of an age when one just doesn’t ask too much about what he gets up to late at night – it is better not to know. One just has to hope that it is legal. All we know about his birthday is that he organised a ‘tea party’ for his friends and at some point this picture of him was posted on Facebook. And he is not likely to be jetting off to a Pacific island any time soon.

On our way back from the meal with George we popped in on friends Rich and Gerry and repossessed our long-abandoned cycle trailer, something we’ll be putting to good use around Yeovil when we need to transport building supplies. Sailing Barge Greta in FavershamThe mice who had lived for a time inside the body of the trailer while it languished in storage in Rich’s garage had left their bedding behind (along with one or two smaller gifts) but the wheels still spin happily and no harm has been done.

Then whilst away from home we found time to visit a few more old friends down in the mud-silted ditch they call Faversham Creek. There was a time when out sailing in this area we would regularly cross the paths of the sailing barges Greta, Lady of the Lea or Repertor during one of their match racing events in the Swale or the Thames estuary. On more than one occasion we found ourselves returning home to our mooring on the River Medway just when such a race was beginning or ending and steering smartly aside to avoid being crushed by one of these beautiful lumbering giants.

Stepping onto the quayside at Faversham today is like moving into another century, home as it is to so many of the surviving barges. This is one of the few places left in Britain where all the skills needed to maintain and sail these vessels are being kept alive. Each time we visit there is a new restoration project under way and our old favourites, like Greta, gleam with new paint. How all this activity is funded, how those working on these big restorations are paid for their efforts, is a mystery but I am certain that without the quay on Faversham Creek most of these hard-worked old ladies would be lost to us and the skyline of the east coast of England would be forever changed.

Finally on the subject of birthdays, one of our builders admitted having one of his own this week. Andrew has a talent many would admire, particularly those engaged like us on house improvement. With consummate ease he can lay a film of plaster on a wall, regardless of the angle, and produce a perfect surface, smoother than a baby’s bottom and minus the smells. Watching him closely as he runs his float over what we think is a finished section of wet plaster, we experience a mild panic that he is going to spoil the surface he has just created. But no. He slides his fingers over the surface to sense the moisture then glides on another layer, his efforts always bringing a slight improvement, even when it seems impossible to better what he has already done. The job is done and our steel beam now lies forever hidden. The illusion is complete.

Although we will be needing their help again elsewhere, the two brothers have now completed re-modelling our downstairs space so we must now crack on with the painting and decorating. We have run out of excuses now. The hard work starts here.

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