Category: weather

Dublin and back

Like much of the British Isles, Carradale is experiencing a spell of unusually hot and calm weather, much to the chagrin of anyone choosing to go away on a holiday abroad at this time.

Carradale from Grogport

In the midst of this heat wave I receive a telephone call from a friend asking if I am free to assist in delivering a sailing boat from Dublin to Campbeltown, Ireland to Scotland. Having so recently parted with Cirrus, thus kissing goodbye to any chance of going sailing on my own boat, I jump at the opportunity this offers without a second thought. And learning that my services are required to help navigate and lend a hand on deck, raising and trimming the exotically made sails of a high performance racer, an X-Yacht, makes this all the more interesting.

For those not in the know, which means anyone in the world of yacht racing who has been asleep for the past thirty odd years, the Danish company X-Yachts has never manufactured anything else but boats specifically designed for the keenest of racers, high performance machines built with a view to speed around a sailing course. Ryan & Owen with TrixOne could deduce from this that crew comforts would be sparse on such a vessel, excess weight sacrificed for sailing performance, human needs taking second place, but fortunately for me the more modern boats have interior fittings and furnishings which match their sailing performance and make them a pretty good choice for someone who wants the best of both worlds – speed and comfort.

So it is that after half a day of travel by road and sea I find myself in a marina in Malahide (just outside Dublin) stepping on board to find my berth on Trix, a rather beautiful ex-racer. Owen, his wife Joanna, son Ryan and I soon find ourselves preparing for the voyage, tracking down the many sails and the various other bits of equipment which at one time or another some keen owner had seen fit to store on shore in the quest for improving performance, stocking up with food and other essentials and finding somewhere to stow everything on board in such a way that we can still stretch out our bodies in sleep. In all it takes the four of us two full days of preparation but finally we sort out how enough of the electronic equipment works to make it safe to leave and have run up and checked over the engine. By then the tides will only let us leave at the unholy hour of four the morning, this being the time when there is enough water for our two metre draught to slide out of the river to the sea.

There is a cool and rather clammy feel to the air at this hour but despite this Ryan, Joanna & Owen on Trixwe sniff expectantly for a gentle breeze so that we can hoist some of the exotic sailcloth we have on board and see what this boat can do, not too much wind, of course, but a little of the ‘light and variable’ that was in the forecast. Experience tells me however, and this passage now serves to confirm this, that when the weatherman uses this phrase he is really trying to say ‘take the dog for a walk and forget sailing today’! For three days we glide northwards along the Irish coast accompanied by the put-put sound of our engine, the sails adding nothing to our boat speed. Each day early morning chills are soon replaced by scorching sun, for which we are grateful, but the only wind passing over the boat is that made by our own passage through the still air. Not until we are much closer to home, at Glenarm in Northern Ireland, does the air begin to move at all.

The point of stopping here is that our trip coincides with the Cushendall Sailing Club’s annual combined race day and we are soon joined there by other boats from Campbeltown for a sailing race between the two clubs. On Trix, however, realisation soon dawns that were are going to be raising sail and competing in the race on an untried and untested boat. We will be tacking the boat for the very first time only after the race has started, on arriving at the first turning mark of the course. And there is some wind. Will we be up to it and what chance can we possibly have against the other fully trained and highly competitive crews?

Our motivation is intense as we harden in the sheets at the start line and Trix takes off like a scalded cat, barely in control at first, but then gradually as the race progresses the crew find their places and we get into the swing of things. It soon becomes clear that this is indeed a very fast boat, one that can out-sail most others of a similar size given proper handling. After a poor start, one boat after another slips behind us; we slide softly by trying to keep the smug expressions from our faces. Amazingly by the time the finish line is in sight we have crept up to second position although right on our stern now we can hear the bubbling forefoot of our closest rival, their black reaching sail straining forward. With such a small crew, we had made the decision to forgo the use of a spinnaker and we are now being overtaken rapidly with only fifty or so metres to go. Somehow we hang on, giving no quarter, to take second place honours across the line and give us all the buzz of excitement that racers everywhere will know. On handicap we are knocked down to 7th place overall but at least we can be proud that we had made a strong contribution to Campbeltown Sailing Club winning the race series, the first time for some years.

I would like to say that the final leg of sailing trip was as calm and uneventful as the first but on the day after the race we have to cross the dreaded North Channel, that twelve mile wide strip of sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland which funnels and accelerates the tides flowing into and out of the Irish Sea. We set off off early, motoring with no wind at all, but once clear of the land the breeze fills in and the sea starts to jump about in an alarming way as it so often does here. Changing to a smaller headsail under these conditions is a real challenge but between us we manage go get it done and plodding on, we arrive safely back in Campbeltown in bright sunshine by the middle of the day. Many thanks to Owen and his family for putting up with me and for giving me the sailing fix I needed. Gaffer by Copeland Island

They said it couldn’t happen

But they were all wrong. Somehow singled out for rough treatment, our little corner of Scotland has just been hit by a natural catastrophe on a scale few can imagine and even less could have predicted. Exposed as we are to westerly winds, power outages are not uncommon for us on Kintyre, but this time things have fallen apart in a much grander way. Just one night of wind and snow was enough to bring down so much of our electrical power infrastructure that repair is now counted in weeks instead of hours or days. All road communications with the peninsula have been blocked by massive drifts of snow and the weight of what fell has been sufficient to break steel and wooden support poles like they were twigs so that power cables now lie draped across the landscape.

Filmed in the immediate aftermath of the storm

As an army of workers tries to repair this damage, our village and indeed the whole area, discovers what modern life is like when the electricity disappears. This is not just like turning back the clock. This is far worse, because today we are reliant on electrical power for everything. We have very few backup systems in place to see us through and those that exist only have a limited lifespan. In our village those houses that have them are using open fires, burning stocks of coal and wood. Elsewhere most residents are equipped with emergency gas heaters and cookers, but for how long? Bottled gas is brought in by road, as are most other things, and with the roads being blocked gas heaters must be turned down low to conserve precious fuel. At first even the telephones failed but with the system having backup generators the phones soon came back on. Generators run on fuel, of course, so how long before this runs out? Even getting money, cash, to buy what little is left in the shops, is difficult – cash machines need power – and shops can only sell they goods if they abandon their electronic tills and revert to pen and paper.

Fortunately there is one thing that continues to function through all this – the community. This needs no electrical power to keep it going. It is the ultimate support mechanism that ticks over all the time and when it is really needed everyone plays their part.

Ducky at CraigendmuirWith Kate and I away visiting Mike in Glasgow we hear about the disruption only belatedly when the telephones are first restored to working. My mother is alone in her Carradale home but her gas heater is keeping her warm and our neighbours are looking after her, we are told. Despite this good news we are torn between meeting our family’s needs and Kate sets off to try to reach home leaving me caravanning in the cold so that I can keep Mike company. Kate finds that her bus is unable to travel beyond Tarbert, a town some twenty five miles from home, but now separated from it by impassable snow drifts. She is forced to find accommodation there until things improve but all the time the easterly wind continues to blow its freezing air across Scotland.

The extent of the disaster is hard to comprehend from a distance and information hard to come by but it takes Kate two more days before the roads are cleared sufficiently and she is able finally to pass through. She travels with other displaced Carradale residents (a couple returning from their holidays in Spain) and on her reaching home at least now we have regained some control over this part of our lives. Our house breathes sighs of relief as the coal burning stove is lit, soon roaring away bringing comfort, warmth, and even some normality to our world.

Here in Glasgow, each day I set off in the cold on my double-bus journey across the city to Mike’s hospital. Glasgow Kelvin museumSuch places are run for the patients and not, it has to be said, geared towards those visiting. Nor should they be, I suppose. I am confined to seeing our son an hour here and there at set times of the day so for the rest I try to gain what pleasure I can from the dominating sandstone architecture that gives this place its character. The River Kelvin which cuts through the western part of the city, lends its name to one such structure, now a museum, that tries to hide itself behind bare branches in the park that surrounds it. Within the Kelvingrove I find an eclectic collection that celebrates Scotland and all that is Scottish, but gently so, without any fuss. I discover that the ubiquitous credit card reader is a Scottish invention and that the Glasgow Boys were not short-trousered hooligans but a group of artists whose vast and varied canvases take up a whole room here. All terribly interesting, although I am finding it difficult to tear my eyes away from the building itself with its multi-tiered towers each capped with a grey helmet that makes me think the builder didn’t really know how to finish it off. The entire west side of Glasgow seems to be built from the same reddish stone and on the same grand scale as this, refurbished tenements that are now enjoying a revival in popularity second to none. Despite my being here on another pretext, I find myself strangely grateful for this opportunity to explore and get to know the city in this way. 

Latest news on Mike’s recovery

Mike is never one to put his emotions on public view and as he struggles to come to terms with his situation whilst coping with an extended stay in hospital and discomfort on a level few would find easy, he remains impressively positive. Medically speaking his recovery is going well – nurses and doctors alike are genuinely pleased with his progress as he is made to walk unsteadily about the ward. But it may yet be a week before he is well enough to leave hospital and back home is where he wants to be. If there was anything we could do to get him there sooner then we would do it.

Time off on Cirrus

We start our wee break on Cirrus (not a holiday, of course, as retired people don’t get these) by having a close encounter with a paddle steamer, none other than the newly restored steamship, Waverley.Waverley leaving Campbeltown She was making a brief stop in Campbeltown, just as the steamers would have done a hundred years ago, and her departure, reversing away from the quay at speed, her decks lined with waving passengers, was exactly how it would have been on any of the Clyde steamers. Out in the centre of the loch she performs the nautical equivalent of a handbrake turn before steaming off south (forwards) around the Mull and heading off north to Oban. As it happens we time our own departure just before she got underway and thus we have the best view possible of this little slice of living history.

The rest of the day passes more gently as we drift north trying to persuade Cirrus’ sails that there is enough of a breeze to fill them. Unlike on our two previous encounters with Kilbrannan Sound, both in strong winds, we now have a chance to sail and then motor close by the shore, dipping our twin bows into each bay in turn. First we pass the ruins of Kildonan Dun, where we are surprised to note how the tiny Ross Island creates a good sheltered bay, an attractive place for the ancient people who settled here to build and set up their home. The relationship between land and sea is not evident from on shore – only from a boat does this place become a logical stopping point.

Saddell castle from the bayAt Saddell Bay the castle peeps out from the corner in fine style as we creep in as close as our echo sounder tells us is safe. The sun beats down on us as we cross Torrisdale Bay then finally we slip slowly to anchor in Carradale Bay, just a short distance from our home. Three and a half metres of water is all that separates us from the bottom but it feels like we are in a world of our own here, bobbling gently up and down on the slight swell. Those on land are no doubt suffering the midges, which are particularly troublesome just now whenever the wind falls light, but these little insects are poor flyers so we have every hope that they find it difficult to cross the short stretch of water that separates us from land; and so it proves.

After a peaceful night we wake early to find the motion of the boat has changed. Now Cirrus is wobbling from side to side as waves pass beneath her although the wind is still very light. Whatever is happening it is getting uncomfortable so we decide to leave, early though it is, but as soon as we leave the shelter of the bay the true wind hits us, a north-easterly blast at 15 to 20 knots, and the waves driven by this are rolling down Kilbrannan Sound. The nearest shelter from this wind is Lochranza on Arran, some 10 miles away, so we motor upwind as best we can and attach ourselves to a blue visitor buoy there. This place, which lies west of the most mountainous part of the Isle of Arran, has a reputation for ‘williwaws’, strong wind gusts which can occur to the lee of high ground, and these now sweep down on us throughout the rest of the day and through the night, creating much noise and fuss. Cirrus takes all this in her stride, however, so we feel safe and secure.

The following day is a Sunday, and to our surprise we notice buses running on their usual routes around the island. So after pumping up the dinghy we scuttle ashore and soon find ourselves on our way south to the settlement of Blackwaterfoot which lies in the Lowland part of the island. Like Bute, Arran is also bisected by the Highland/Lowland divide and the character of the south of each island is typical of the Lowlands in both places. There are steep cliffs of red sandstone here, identical in every way to the rocks we noticed just south of Rothesay on Bute only a few weeks ago yet the two islands are separated by the waters of the Clyde. Kings cave on ArranIn both cases these are all old sea cliffs, formed before the land rose up above its present level and on Arran around 6,000 years ago the ancient sea cut massive caves, one of which was reputed to have been once used as a hiding place by Robert the Bruce. This would have been around the same time as he visited Port Righ (royal port) just across the Sound in Carradale. Of course Uamh an Righ, or King’s cave as it is locally known, is bound to have seen human habitation prior to King Robert’s time, it being such an obvious choice for someone needing shelter from the elements but lacking the time or the skills to build. This imbues the place with almost mystical significance, in my view. Of what other places of human habitation can it be said that so little has changed. The walls, the floor, the smoke-stained ceiling, are all exactly as our ancestors left them. Beach pebble towersAnd as if to emphasise this quality just along the shore only a short distance from the cave there is a ‘grove’ of stone cairns, each stone magically balanced on the one beneath and somehow surviving despite the ravages of wind and rain. Created by some unknown artist, perhaps, or else by ancient man and lying undisturbed ever since. And maybe there is some critical alignment of the stones that I missed for out across the sea to the south lies Sanda Island off the tip of Kintyre and beyond this, Ireland, another country. Arran is full of mystery, it seems.

When the morning brings us lighter winds we motor off across Inchmarnock Water to the island of the same name. Uninhabited, unless you count the cattle, there is a small cove on the eastern shore in which a boat like ours can drop an anchor so the crew can eat their lunch. We take shelter from the powerful sun for a time then raise sail to float away northwards again up the West Kyle. White sails are now to be seen in most directions, although this place can never be called crowded, but as the Kyle narrows we begin to wonder whether our chosen anchorage at An Caladh will be full. Not to worry, of course, for there is always Wreck Bay on the ‘Buttock’ of Bute with space for us to drop the anchor, pause to ensure it is well dug in, then settle down for the night.

Come the morning, Cirrus is still in exactly the same place, which is always a comfort when you are attached to the land only by a slim length of chain. The day started cool so we light our diesel heater (the same troublesome stove we were swearing at only a few weeks ago but which now has a ‘New, Improved’ chimney attachment to carry the waste gases higher than ever before into less turbulent air) and just as it was supposed to, the temperature inside our boat begins to rise. A heron lands with perfect grace on the edge of the shore beside us then stands motionless waiting for fish to come its way. This is the most patient of birds and lives by proving the adage, ‘Dinner always comes to those who wait’ and is a treat to see at close quarters.

Our local weather forecast promises some south-easterlies so a plan is hatched that might give us some decent sailing a little later and we motor off down the East Kyle towards Rothesay.Ocean Countess in Rothesay Imagine our surprise on arrival, however, to find the substantial Victorian houses here dwarfed by a mighty cruise ship, the Ocean Countess, which has dropped its own anchor in the bay. I wonder whether the captain goes through the same procedure as us when anchoring – let the boat run back until jerked to a halt by the anchor biting into the sea bed, let out some more chain, check the boat has enough room to swing, set a depth alarm, light the anchor light – or does he just give orders and let someone else worry about these things. I rather fancy things might be dealt with rather differently on a ship of this scale.

After passing Rothesay, Bute’s principal harbour, there are two more islands, Great and Little Cumbrae which we motor past because the wind has not as yet performed as the forecaster promised. Indeed we soon begin to feel he was having a little joke with us for instead of a ‘south-easterly backing easterly’ the wind is set firmly in the south, exactly the direction we had decided we might like to head. Since beating upwind is not something we choose to do with any relish, and having the whole of the Clyde at our disposal from which to pick an alternative destination, we bear away (a nautical term for steering away from the direction from which the wind is coming) for Lochranza and soon find ourselves charging along at 7.5 knots with all our sails straining hard. Massive dark clouds blot out the horizon and are creeping ever closer so that by the time we pick up a mooring in Lochranza the rain has overtaken us.Lochranza swan

Thus it continues throughout the night and early morning, to the disappointment of many, no doubt, who would have arisen early to try to catch sight of the transit of Venus across the face of sun. Our own position, with Arran’s biggest hills to the east of us, gives us no chance at all of seeing anything close to the horizon no matter how clear the sky.

So instead of Venus, here is a nice picture of a swan.

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

Launch day visitors

Sycamore budsThere can be few other signs that shout ‘Spring!’ more loudly than the unfurling of leaf buds and tree flowers, the creases all falling out as they swell to full size ready for another action-packed summer of photosynthesis. It is an amazing process to watch in action on a large scale too, this gradual greening up of the landscape, all starting from tiny buds of life sprouting from otherwise lifeless twigs.

For boat owners, however, spring is all about launch-day, the day the boat is lowered into the briny after being closed up for many months during the winter. This is what signifies a new beginning, a new sailing season. Tarbert Harbour lift-inCirrus  Cat stands ready onshore, freshly smooth-painted, as thick canvas lifting strops are wrapped around her hull. Then as the crane-driver inches in the cable and the tension increases there is a loud creaking sound as the load comes on – nothing to worry about really but alarming if you have never heard it before – and slowly we rise from the ground. From on board the sensation of movement is almost undetectable as we swing out over the water to descend gently into the boat’s natural element. This is always a nervous time for boat owners and friends Rich and Gerry who have come to visit for a week help us by remaining calm, taking pictures of the event for posterity.

Cirrus just launched

We are lucky with the launch weather, almost no wind and dry as well, at least until later in the day, so soon we are motoring around the marina to a berth, tying up to a pontoon and the kettle is on for a cuppa. A short while later Graham & Cheryl arrive, more friends of ours on their way home from holidaying in Wester Ross, then by mid afternoon we are moving on to the next item on the busy agenda, a meal out in Campbeltown followed by a ‘Tasting’ of some fine Springbank malt whiskies at the Sailing Club. It is dark by the time we arrive home, floating on a peat-flavoured cloud of alcohol (well most of us), barely capable of coherent thought but delightfully satiated.Seal at Southend

Rich & Gerry’s visit here has been an enjoyably relaxing experience for us (we hope it has been the same for them) despite each day seeming to fill up with activity almost without us trying. They have taken in their stride winning the Carradale weekly village quiz, Scottish country dancing in the village hall, circular walks around the village both in the rain and not, my driving along some of our more exciting single-track roads, single malt whisky consumption to near-excess, walks along miles of muddy tracks and pathways, irregular meal times tempered by countless cups of tea, and finally an evening-full of the Sicilian detective, Inspector Montalbano, on television. View from foghorn at the MullThey are hooked, by the way, as indeed are we.

On Rich and Gerry’s final day with us we all visit The Mull at the tip of the Kintyre peninsula, from where the cliffs of Northern Ireland’s County Antrim can be seen clearly just twelve miles away. Indeed Rich’s excitement is largely because he last saw this place from the other side. The forecast rain held off and the wind just sneaked along the cliffs instead of blasting us off our feet as it can do here. Rain showers came and went in a way that we could watch them drift away Ireland-wards like strange blurry waterfalls, out of focus and drifting slowly over the sea. Through the windows of the old, now disused, signal house the noise of the sea wafts upwards and echoes around the rusting steelwork, all that remains of the horn that once used to shout out a warning across the sea. This is now a redundant piece of equipment since fog signals all around Britain have been silent for some years now. They are no longer deemed necessary in an age when ships are fitted with so many electronic aids to navigation and their crew are all inside where they would not hear the signal anyway. So this rusting monument stands idle, silently watching the waves through its empty windows and when the fog comes its voice is no louder than the noise of the wind through its pipes.

Visiting friends have now taken their leave of us, flying south to the corner of England where it rarely rains and hose-pipes are things confined to the shed, never to see the light of day. Rather like paying car parking charges, a shortage of rain water is something quite hard for us to comprehend, living where we do. Not that we mind this. Having a little too much water seems a far more comfortable state of affairs than having too little of it and having to pay to park a car now just seems like a distant memory. I used to think that cutting the grass was an equally pointless activity until I realised that grass is a plant that needs to be trimmed down low, it cannot survive any other way. If it is left uncut then the land on which it grows will sprout taller plants which will shade the grass, leaving it without light. So grass and grazing must always go together and the lawnmower is really a grazing machine, made necessary because we have removed the natural grazers by fencing them out. Take the fence away and the grass will be grazed naturally, or at least it will where we live. Apologies for the rambling. It must be the time of year.

The sharper-eyed may have already spotted the new feature on this site where the banner picture in the strip on the top of the page changes each time you visit. The page will now randomly select one of our favourite pictures each time it is refreshed (Press F5). Feel free to explore these.

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