Category: Crinan

The end of a difficult year

Last night neither Kate nor I slept well, our minds forever running over the events of the day before. The process of ‘letting go’ was proving to be much more difficult than we had foreseen. Yesterday Kate and I took our leave from a very treasured friend, the boat that has kept us safe at sea for the past thirteen years, the floating home we have always felt comfortable in, no matter where we were, no matter what the weather was doing outside.Cirrus Cat off North Foreland

When we first made the decision to sell Cirrus Cat around the middle of last year it had seemed such an obvious thing to do, brought on as it was by the changing circumstances in our lives recounted here, We always knew that a buyer was unlikely to be found quickly, given what we are told is the shaky state of the world economy, so we sat back and waited, thinking that time would allow us to adjust to the concept of her not being ours any more, of not having a sailing boat, not having this particular sailing boat. So when the day finally came when a man called Niclas crossed over from Sweden to take a look over (and under) our pride and joy we took this in our stride, telling ourselves how lucky we are that Cirrus would be going to a good home where she will be looked after and cherished. Until, that is, the moment came when the deal was done. Everything on board had been explained – how this works, how that fits together, what this rope is for, what that piece is for – and it was time for us to leave, time for us to wave farewell not just to our boat but also to this chunk of our lives. Time to walk away. Then it began to hurt.

It had been a tiring day. We had arranged with the harbourmaster in Tarbert to use the facilities of his port to dry out in the morning so that a year’s accumulation of barnacles could be scraped or blasted from Cirrus’ hull. She would not be going far with that lot on board. Goose barnacles up to 30mm in length had made the bottoms of the keels their home and they must have been very disappointed, even aggrieved, when the pressurised jet of fresh water stripped them from their anchorage. Ordinarily I would make a point of apologising to them for my behaviour but after an hour or so crawling about beneath the boat, in the rain, soaked with spray from the pressure-washer, I had little apology left in me. While we waited with Niclas, his brother Matz and son Simon for the tide to return and float us off we chatted (thankfully in English) about their plans for their new acquisition whilst showing them around the boat, letting them explore every nook and cranny and every piece of equipment they could find. When Cirrus began to float we fired up the engine and motored to out to sea for a short test sail, which proved to be a longer one, so that Niclas could see that everything worked as intended and happily Cirrus did not let us down once, despite the winter of relative neglect, proving once again why we have kept and loved this boat for so long.

Back on our marina berth, all that remained was to pass over the Bill of Sale and shake hands with the new owner. Suddenly we found ourselves without a reason to be on board, we were on someone else’s boat! Full realisation did not come until much later, in the early hours of the following day, when it began to occur to me that I had left our boat in the hands of someone with only a novice’s knowledge of her handling. Manoeuvring a catamaran, particularly at slow speeds and in a tight space, is a black art which I have, sometimes painfully, learnt over the years we have owned her. I can say, with no disrespect to Niclas, that nobody else has that knowledge. And yet he is about to embark on a passage back to Sweden which will start with a traverse of the Crinan Canal, a narrow yet busy waterway, with hazards to negotiate on either side. The wind will try to take charge, requiring rapid actions and precise solutions. What have I done, I thought, leaving our beloved Cirrus in the hands of someone so inexperienced in her moods?

By the time morning came our tired brains had more or less sorted themselves out, and we feel happier now about what we have done. We have begun the process of letting go, of moving on, looking forward to exploring the Highlands from the land instead of from the sea. In a few months time our son Mike will have had his last chemotherapy treatment session and a difficult year will, we hope, be at an end. It will be time to start reclaiming our lives for ourselves.

Mal & Graham at the Rest

The farewell to Cirrus comes soon after saying farewell to my mother, whose funeral took place earlier this month. Fashion dictates sober dress on an occasion such as this, something that does not come easily to either my brother Graham nor myself. I feel my mother would have appreciated the effort we made and would have seen humour in that together we could easily have been mistaken for a pair of Mafiosi.

And so to Christmas

Morning over Ailsa

A pre-Christmas dawn arrives gently to reveal Ailsa Craig sitting out there like the milestone it is, pointing the way so that our family can find their way to our house. When Christmas morning arrives, all our three sons are with us for the grand present opening and our living room floor gradually disappears beneath layers of discarded wrapping paper. Our lives follow convention (to this extent at least) and the sun makes an appearance too, low on the horizon but beaming right through the house.Naomi's jumper

For many weeks now Kate has been counting rows and clicking her knitting needles, working away to create a masterpiece in twisted wool for Ben’s girlfriend, Naomi. It fits her form perfectly and is received with so much delight that she would have worn it right through Christmas lunch had our house not been so warm. Our cast iron stove is lit every day to provide heat for the whole house and we are now burning our way through the log pile we stacked up under cover outside the back door twelve months ago. The ruddy glow inside helps us forget the cold and wet outside, the short days and the winter winds.

On Boxing Day our motor caravan, Ducky, comes into its own as a people transporter so we can visit the ancient capital of Dunadd, once the centre of power and commerce for this whole area, located today in the middle of a wilderness. It is a cold day, the wind cuts through us as we climb the twisting path to the top of the dun, but the reward is just to stand there and imagine the world as it was some 3000 years before, to put back the people, the houses, the trees too and the boats that brought in goods from across the known world and to let our minds try to make sense of the landscape spread out beneath us. View from Dunadd with lichen treeThere are marks and shapes down there that could tell us the story of the people who once lived here, if only we could read them, but in reality the impressions they left on the place have faded away to almost nothing. Maybe the most we have left from that time is in the blood of those living today who are descended from them, and no one can know whether they have this in them or not.

Cold as it is, our van’s new gas heater enables us to huddle inside and lunch in comfort beneath the dun. Without this we would have been driven away too soon and we would not have been able to offer tea and warmth to a gentleman called Bill who is visiting the dun on his own and looks like he needs company. He is full of tales of a long life working as a nurse in the military and tells us how he is drawn towards Seil Island, which lies beside the Firth of Lorn, and is a place where his late wife’s family came from. The conversation moves on and it isn’t long before between us we have put the world to rights, solving the energy crisis, voted on Scotland’s independence and misted up the van windows with good craic.

Before returning home, and just before the forecast rain arrives, we visit a few of the places along the Crinan canal where Cirrus spent so much time a few years ago. Bellanoch is unchanged, it was a quiet, damp place then and still remains so. The village of Crinan itself is as attractive to our eyes as it always has been so we drop in on friends Roger and Veronica who helped us through the summer and autumn of 2009 and whose simple philosophy for life we admire greatly. We gaze in admiration at their home beside the sea from which they can look out across the Sound of Jura and watch the sun as it sets, light their wood-burning stove and sit cosily as the weather blows by.

Off we set towards home and the heavens open on us just as we reach Tarbert, the single-track road along the coast of Kintyre becoming a challenge to navigate in the windswept darkness. Somehow we manage to miss the worst of the potholes and keep the wheels on the narrow strip of tarmac that leads us home to Carradale. Ben & Naomi on the shoreOur day out has taken us into the world as it was a few thousand years ago and then seamlessly back again to the present day.

Ben and Naomi stay with us here in Carradale for a few days more then load up their tiny car with all the musical instruments they brought with them, guitar, violin, mandolins, concertinas and of course Naomi’s harp. Incredibly the musicians’ car takes everything and we wave them farewell on another damp windy day. This Christmas has enabled us to renew our bonds with our scattered family and push aside the world outside, at least temporarily.

A week or so before Christmas my mother, despite having only just recovered from a mild chest infection, left Scotland and set off south on a long-planned voyage on a cruise liner heading for the sunshine-blessed Canary Islands. Saga SapphireThis might have seemed like a a good idea at the time of booking, to leave higher latitudes during that period when at midday the sun only rises high enough to skim the roof of the house across the street and when its rays make zero contribution to domestic heating bills, but sadly for her the holiday was to be cut short by yet more illness. Not long after the ship had left British waters and had endured the crossing of the notorious Bay of Biscay she was taken ill again. With only limited medical facilities on board the ship she soon found herself lying in a hospital in Casablanca, Morocco, probably the last place on earth she would have chosen to spend Christmas.

Back here in Scotland this news comes filtering through by phone so that throughout the holiday period we find ourselves waiting expectantly for calls from abroad with information on her condition, on how long she is likely to be incarcerated there and on whether her insurers can make arrangement to bring her home. From her perspective this whole episode must seem like the traveller’s worst nightmare; stranded in a foreign land where the languages spoken are not your own, the customs strange and disconcerting, discovering that your ship has left port without you; a far cry from the comforts of the luxury cruise she signed up for. Fortunately the excellent health insurance cover she took out before leaving and the helpfulness of the cruise company do succeed in bringing her back to Scotland, albeit on a rather roundabout route, and we now await news on her condition from the Glasgow hospital she now graces with her custom. 2013 is continuing, so it seems, to have a hospital-based theme to it.

Home at last – job done!

Cirrus Cat in the Crinan CanalOur delivery of Cirrus Cat to her new home was complete after we finished our passage of the Crinan Canal and then a day later tied her to a pontoon in Tarbert Harbour. What we started back at the beginning of July, launching the boat from a boatyard in Cornwall and sailing her anticlockwise around Britain to the west coast of Scotland, is now finished. Job Done!

On reflection, this was never going to be the most relaxed of sailing trips for us, largely because we always knew that the distance we had to cover was considerable, further in fact than we had ever previously sailed in one season. It was, first and foremost, a boat delivery trip and this was always in our minds. For this reason the trip never really became totally relaxing, it always had a more serious side to it, that of getting Cirrus close to home before the end of the sailing season. Setting off in July might have made the trip seem a little more pressured than it need have been but it did give us a wealth of new sailing experiences and a feeling of immense satisfaction over what we have achieved.

So was it worth it?

Well there were certainly a lot of fun moments and we do always feel very comfortable on board the boat – it is our home from home – so at no stage did we feel like giving up. What was most enjoyable was revisiting so many of the east coast harbours, places we visited in 2009 and many other places we have known for much longer. Once again we made friends along the way and met a lot of very charming people, preserving our good impressions of those that live in or around our coastal communities. On the downside, we did a little less sailing than we would have liked, making more use of the engine than we prefer to do because of the need to press on when the weather allowed us to do so. Along the way, as luck would have it, we managed to miss out on the best of the summer weather because by the time a heat-wave did arrive in the south of England, we were further north where we found cooler climes. But despite all this, yes, it was worthwhile doing the trip the long way round and we are secretly quite proud of what we have achieved.

Having now moved from boat to house we find ourselves having to re-learn old skills and to cope with the strangeness of things. Gull at Carradale PointFlushing the loo without operating a pump is a strange experience and watching television is an art we have seem to have lost somewhere along the way (we never could see the point of having one on board the boat). We struggle to find programmes that interest us enough to keep us in our seats. Outside I observe that the birds which visit our garden are puny specimens compared with those that soared past us at sea although they do make up for this lack of size by energetic movement undertaken at high speed. We are fortunate that the sea is not far from us here and it takes only a few minutes walking to put us back in a more familiar environment, amongst the rocks off Carradale Point where a gull sits patiently digesting its last meal. Warm rock at Carradale PointSea urchin at Carradale PointAs I scramble about over the sun-kissed lichen I notice a sea urchin waving its tentacles at me from just beneath the surface and I bend low to take its picture before spotting the yellow sponge-like creature cuddling up to it. These are the colours of nature at its best.

Cornwall to Scotland days 47 to 50

Day 47/48 – Our little adventure around the British Isles is almost over. We feel now that we are rapidly approaching the point at which we can say “That’s it, we’ve done it”. One issue still outstanding, however, is the small matter of deciding where Cirrus Cat will live permanently now that we have brought her to Scotland. Carradale Harbour (for those who don’t know it) is tiny and not suitable for us but there are plenty of other choices, marinas or moorings, to consider. Our brief couple of days back home have given us an opportunity to draw up some plans, even to begin thinking about where next year’s sailing season will take us.

It has been lovely to pop back to Carradale and meet up with our neighbours after so long away. Our outdoor life must have left us looking quite healthy – there have been a number of comments on this – and once again the warmth of the greetings is just great. Most surprising to us, who expect to do everything on the boat ourselves with little or no help from others, has been an offer of assistance from Brian and Audrey to help us with the locks on our transit of the Crinan Canal. This is no mean offer since most of the fifteen locks are operated manually by a vessel’s crew and the whole experience is a physical one, particularly for two people. It gets easier and quicker the more helpers you have, particularly if someone can go ahead and prepare the next lock before the boat leaves the last one.

After only one full day at home, mostly taken up with taming the garden vegetation before it overruns the house, we set off again, driving to Tarbert to take the first of only two buses to return to Dunstaffnage. This misses the most spectacular part of the journey, the views from the west coast of Kintyre, but it gets us back on board by mid afternoon and just before another brief rain shower lands on Cirrus’ decks.

Day 49 – We start our twenty-five mile passage to the start of the Crinan Canal just before the top of high water. Sound of Luing swirlsTiming here is quite critical because our route takes us through the notorious Sound of Luing where twice a day the water rushes first one way then the other at speeds which our boat finds hard to match. The trick here is to arrive at one end just as the tide begins to sweep our way, southbound, so that we are squirted through the narrow passage like water in a hose pipe. In reality this is a poor analogy because this land was shaped by giants and the Sound is at least a mile across at its narrowest point. Being in the middle of it we get no impression of the rate at which we are being carried along as Whirlpool in the Soundof Luingthe only evidence is the whirlpools which form on the surface, driven by upwelling currents as if one of those giants is waving his hands about far below us. The depths in the Sound vary from sixty to less than ten metres and in one spot an underwater hummock rises to within less than three metres of the surface. All these irregularities can produce dangerous conditions and overfalls, especially when combined with the giant winds which frequently blow here. Once again timing and a good boat are essentials here.

At the southern end of the Mal at CorryvreckanSound lie the Isles of Scarba and Jura, between which is the Gulf of Corryvreckan, a place we peer into as we pass by, from a comfortable distance. I try to stand in the way so that Kate cannot see through the narrow gap that causes all the fuss.

The wind has dropped and the sun has come out making it very hot, for a change, as we slip into the Crinan Canal and tie up for the night. It is still and quiet, the noisiest sound being made by the swallows which are out here in force for their evening meal of midges and other flying fodder.

Day 50 – Our Crinan lock operating team meet us at Bellanoch keen and eager to get started. Brian&Audrey in the CrinanAt the first lock they are ahead of us, smiling and waving us in, then they rush ahead to get the next one ready. Brian is on sluices, winding them open to let the water rush into the pound, while Audrey puts her back to the heavy lock gate which slowly closes behind us. These two are canal experts and work together as a well oiled machine. We cannot believe the rate we are moving through the canal. Surely this must be a record passage time?

We have to rein them in for a lunch stop at Cairnbaan then it’s off to Ardishaig for the last few locks before we exit the canal there and wave them farewell. Many thanks for all your hard work guys.

Tonight we are swinging to a mooring at Otter Ferry on Loch Fyne. It is cool here now and overcast, threatening rain but as yet it holds off. This is a sheltered, secure place to spend the night, to rest up after all our lock-related activities.

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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