Day 26 – Kirkcudbright to Maryport

Kirkcudbright is a lovely small town but I had to leave early the following morning as I was meeting up with my wife Pam in Maryport that afternoon. The river entrance dries and so I left the berth at 5:30am to anchor in the bay waiting for a fair tide into Maryport. The weather continued to be hot and sunny.

I lifted the anchor at 10:45am and headed to my final destination. The wind allowed me to sail across the Solway and I arrived at Maryport at 2:15 just after the gate opened.

The adventure was complete, the journey from Whitby, via the Calendonian Canal to Maryport was a long journey but it put a smile on my face to know that the journey I abandoned last year after relentlessly bad weather was now completed. The weather this year had been about as near to perfect as it was possible to be and the journey was without mishap. The boat performed perfectly. Arriving at Maryport felt like a homecoming as Reg, one of the team at the marina, greeted me and took my lines.

Day 25 – Bangor to Kirkcudbright

The day started very early, I was leaving the marina shortly after 3:30am. The weather was great except the very light wind was on the bow. I motored along Belfast Lough to pass the Copeland Islands just before 5am. The next landfall was The Mull of Galloway, a combination of tide and lack of wind meant the trip across took until 11am, about an hour late and so a small sea had developed at the Mull. But given the tide was now in my favour I was quickly passed the worst and on the way to Whitehorn, I decided that I could make the pontoons at Kirkcudbright before the tide had dropped to far and the trip up the river would be impossible.

I was passing the lighthouse at Ross Island at 4pm and motored down the river to be tied up on the pontoons at 5:30pm after a 14 hour trip. Rather shattered I had a shower and enjoyed a Steak Pie at The Selkirk Arms.

Rather surprisingly later that evening England beat Columbia in the World Cup after a penalty shoot-out.

Day 24 – Glenarm to Bangor

Slipped the berth at 9am with a F3/4 wind behind me. I sail down the coast with uptown 3kts of favourable tide. First hour was under a bank of cloud but the sun soon came out. It was slightly lumpy compared to the last few days, but nothing to speak of.

Passed the ferry enroute from Lough Larne to Stranraer, and the Stenalines coming into Belfast Lough.

Spotted a couple of seals of Black Head. Was tied up in Bangor Marina not long after 1pm.

Day 23 – Port Ellen to Glenarm

The day started early, leaving the berth at 5:30am. Poor visibility meant checking the plotter just to exit the harbour. Yesterday the coast of Ireland was clearly visible while walking the three distilleries walk. Today I didn’t see Ireland until I was less than 1 mile away!

Visibility meant that it was a nervous passage across the North Channel traffic separation zone. Listening out for fog horns which I heard several of. Such a simple way of avoiding collisions at sea but it still works great in poor visibility.

Eventually around 11am the weather cleared and careful tide planning payed off. Tides in the channel run at 4kts at the main part of tide at Springs. I’m a day after Springs today so I enjoyed over the ground speeds of 9kts on my boat that on engine goes at just under 5kts. I was engine all day in very light winds.

The wind lifted in the last hour of the trip and it was behind me, so I enjoyed a brief period of actually sailing!

Glenarm is a lovely small marina, and after tucking into lunch I enjoyed a walk around the forest.

Day 22 – Port Ellen to Arbeg by foot!

Great day today enjoying the distillery walk from Port Ellen to Ardbeg in perfect weather. If you haven’t done it then grab the ferry from Kennacraig on Kintyre and have a great day. The walk is by the side of the road, fairly flat and tarmacced to if you are on bikes it is really easy. I did 22,000 steps going there and back.

Couldn’t resist the tour at Laphroaig since this is a tipple that I enjoy. The guide was great. First time I’ve seen the malting stage on a distillery tour. You get a glass and 3 drams and the tour for a bargain £10 and I helped myself to 2 complementary coffees.

Continued on my way to Ardbeg passing Lagavulin on the way. Ardbeg has a simply excellent and reasonably priced cafe.

I came back the same way in rising temperatures and couldn’t pass the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen without buying a cold lager.

Weather forecast for tomorrow still great, might even get the sails out! Only minus is an early start, alarm on 5am for a 6am departure, Tides on the Irish side of the North Channel peak at 4kts and my boat peaks at 5kts, 1 kt is simply not an option, hence the start time, to get a fair tide into Glenarm.

Day 20 – Dunstaffnage to Craobh Haven

Over a year has elapsed. Papillon has sat patiently at the marina in Dunstaffnage waiting for new owner. Just one person looked at her in a year and after much deliberation I decided to continue my trip.

I drove up to Oban with my wife Pam in unbelievably good weather. Temperatures in the high twenties for day after day and very light winds. We had a couple of days in a hotel in Oban while the boatyard prepared Papillon for re-launching. She went in yesterday and we gave her a good clean and made ready for the trip.

I set off this morning at 8am after saying goodbye to Pam who drove back to our home in Saddleworth.

It was warm and still leaving the marina and it was a fabulous trip down to the marina at Craobh Haven, pronounced Crewve. Passing the island of Kerrera to port and continuing South passed Seil Island and Easdale. At the Southern tip of Seil Island I took Cuan Sound between Seil and Luing and then headed down to the marina. I was given berth B24 and was soon tied up and enjoying lunch on board. The sun is so strong I put the boom tent up to act as a bimini, allowing me to hide in the shade.

Tomorrow it is a longer trip to Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay. Early start at 6am to get the best of the tide.

Day 19 Dunstaffnage to Oban

Two weeks of stress and boat motion has left me feeling pretty dire. At 2pm I got a taxi into Oban and booked into the Sutherland Guest House. I write this after spending a much needed night on dry land. Stomach is still feeling less than perfect but I hope to force some breakfast down. Dosed up on Lucozade last night and at least that gave me a little energy.

I can’t begin to imagine the resolve and will that someone who travels long distances in small boats must have. After nearly three weeks on Papillon, two of them in dreadful weather, I needed to be able to walk around.

Well at least I tried and was found wanting. I think I’m happy that I tried but I think that might take a little more time to have elapsed before I can look back with some fond memories. Certainly not an end to my sailing. But sailing from now on will be on nothing less than a 40 footer and with at least 4 people on board and somewhere warm. For most of the last two weeks I’ve motored into 20-35kt winds, temperature around 12 degrees and non-stop rain. Nothing compared to those hardy souls that cross oceans but too much for me.

If you have been then thanks for following the trip.

Day 18 – Corpach to Dunstaffnage, Oban

We locked out at 9am following a large tall ship into the lock. The Flying Dutchman struggled to get off the wall in the wind, but 30mins later we were both in the lock. Out of the lock we tied up on the holding pontoon and I said my goodbyes to Pam. She was catching the train at 11:20 from the station that is actually next to the lock. The train comes from Mallaig and onto Glasgow.

Lock Linnie was flat as I motored, yet again, into 15-20kt winds. The rain started after about 30 mins and then kept up all day. I have so many clothes on I look like the Michelin man. There is no doubt that this is only for masochists. At first I was punching an adverse tide and sometimes making less than 3 kts. But around an hour after my 10:30am departure the tide was in my favour. I made Corpach Narrows at around 12:15 and raced through on the ebb tide. At times doing 7kts. Wind over tide made the South side of the narrows quite lumpy for a mile or so.

The next point of interest was Shuna Island about 8 miles ahead, but with visibility down to 2 miles I was relying on GPS for my direction finding. Thankfully about 90 minutes later I was passing Shuna and so going into the trickiest bit of navigation. For about 15 minutes the wind dropped and visibility improved to 3 or 4 miles. But, inevitably, this was short lived and I was back to 25 kts on the bow and half mile visibility. This is not conducive to a relaxed sail when you are passing between islands in a relatively narrow channel that you have never visited before.

Thankfully the trusty engine and GPS got me through and I could turn slightly East into Dunstaffnage harbour. The turn allowed me a few minutes of actual sailing. The jib adding nearly 2 kts to the boats speed. I was surprised just how quick the sail across the bay was and in a few minutes I was motoring into the harbour.

Dunstaffnage is a natural harbour sheltered on nearly every side by land and an island. A castle overlooks the entrance. I called up the marina and was allocated C11 and moments later I was tied up promising never to put myself into such a risky position ever again. The last two weeks has totally shaken my confidence. I spoke to Hamish, the harbour master, and the boat comes out of the water on Monday, today is Friday, and goes up for sale.

Day 17 – Into Corpach Basin

The weather continues to be cold, wet and windy. The plan was to just lock down Neptune’s Staircase today and tie up at Corpach Reach, then do the double locks and the sea lock tomorrow.

We locked down the staircase with three other boats and the very helpful lock keepers walked our stern line down through each lock. There are a total of eight locks in the staircase and about halfway down a terrific cafe and bistro at The Moorings Hotel. Places to eat and drink are not very regular on the canal. Bear in mind it is the Highlands here and the population is tiny. Fort Augustus is busy but other than that you have to search out places to eat. If you’re doing the canal then I can really recommend The Moorings.

When we reached Corpach we spoke to the lock-keeper who wanted to get us down the double lock into the basin. But not until 1pm. This affected our plans as we had intended to catch the train from Corpach into Fort William at 11:20am. So we had a couple of hours in the boat hiding from the relentless rain. It feels like it has been raining now for nearly two weeks.

Down the double lock we were pleased to find we had shore power in the basin. My little boat is a lot more comfortable in cold conditions on shore power as I can have the electric heater on and we also then have an electric kettle and toaster and a TV.

The next train to Fort William was at 5:15 and we went for a walk in the rain back to the cafe at the staircase to kill some time. Fort William is worth a visit. We had a meal at the Wetherspoons there but I couldn’t keep it down and was sick for the fourth time this trip. Pam said in the 36 years we’ve been married that she couldn’t recall me ever being sick and I think she’s right. The stress and the boat motion has left me with no appetite.

I’ve decided that tomorrow is my last trip in the boat. Solo sailing in a small boat around the UK is too much for this sedentary office worker. For my health I need to cut the trip short. I’ve arranged to sell the boat once I reach Dunstaffnage Marina near Oban. She’ll be coming out of the water and going onto hard standing until she finds a new owner.

Day 16 – Laggan Locks to Neptune’s Staircase

At last a dry calm day after 10 days of strong winds and torrential rain. We set off down Laggan Locks at about 9:30am and the helpful lock-keeper from Burnley locked us down on our own. The locks are huge and it seems ridiculous that my tiny boat takes up a lock. But the lock-keepers are happy to oblige. This was our first lock down on the trip and down is easier than up.

The wonderfully named Loch Lochy was the main part of the trip it’s about 9 miles long and was peaceful and calm. Admittedly the wind that we had was totally on the bow, but we’re heading South West so that’s no surprise. Re-entering the canal takes a little navigation and we passed a lighthouse to port, left, and were soon coming upon another lock. Again we were soon in the lock on our own and then passed a swing bridge before we were en-route to the top of Neptune’s Staircase our target for the day.

Lot’s of planning is going into Friday’s trip, the day after tomorrow, when I am solo again and heading for Oban down Loch Linnie. Tides run at 2kts at the North end so I really have to go with the tide for this. It needs to be a 11am departure and Pam’s train leaves at 11:21am from the sea lock. We’re going to head down the last 3 locks and drop Pam off on the waiting pontoon around 9am. At this stage wind looks light. Fingers crossed.

On reaching Oban I’ve booked into a hotel for a few days to recuperate. It has been a gruelling trip since Stonehaven and I need a few days of pampering to recover my strength.