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.

Day 15 – Fort Augustus to Laggan Locks

We were slightly worried that we wouldn’t get the first flight up this morning but we were the last boat in of six. It is a very good job that we moved the boat last night so we were closer to the front of the waiting pontoons because it does appear that this decides your position. Not when you arrived. So we might have arrived the previous afternoon but if someone cheekily pushes to the front on arrival they’ll beat you into the loch.

Typical of the conditions since Stonehaven it was wet and windy, the strongest winds saved for when we were motoring down Loch Oich. Thankfully the swing bridges and locks worked perfectly and we were soon moored up, with shore power at Laggan Locks. Very briefly the thick grey clouds became thinner white ones and we enjoyed lunch in the cockpit. Before normal service was resumed, the boom tent came out, and the rain started.

Given that we were finished by 2:30pm we decide to walk part of the Great Glen Way. In the end the round trip was about 10 miles. Then Pam managed to rustle up a great evening meal with the very limited ingredients that I still have on board. We really need to find a supermarket.

Day 14 – Down Loch Ness

Unrelentingly bad weather in Scotland is making this trip far too much of an endurance test. I was looking forward to the 20 mile trip along Loch Ness, but 30-35kt winds on the bow and unremitting rain made this yet another day of endurance with very little fun.

When we got to Fort Augustus at the South West end of Loch Ness we planed to go up the flight of locks. We radioed the lock-keeper and he said that the next lock up was approximately 4:30pm. Since it was about 2:15pm at the time we went for an explore and a pub lunch. Got back to the boat shortly after 3:30pm and radioed to confirm the time only to be told that because we weren’t there at 3:30pm and a commercial vessel wanted to come down, the next flight up would 9am the next day. We were less than impressed. At the bottom we had no shore power, but at the top there was shore power and that is why we wanted to overnight at the top not the bottom. Given that the night time temperatures drop to 8 degrees having shore power Papillon has an electric kettle, toaster, heating and water heating. Hardly the lap of luxury at the best of times shore power makes somewhere cold, wet and windy a lot more bearable.

I’ve made the decision that Oban is my final port and that after that the boat goes up for sale. Rivers and the Med appeal and the Western Isles on a 40-50 footer with a group of guys but not on a 24 footer solo. I’ve had a lot of fun doing short weekend sails on Papillon, but she is simply too small for an extended trip.

Day 13 – Inverness to Dochgarroch

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday was an endurance test. Today was fun. It was so, so good to meet up with my wife Pam in Inverness Marina last night and this morning we woke to bright sunshine. A shower, a trip to the fuel berth and an hour later we were entering the Caledonian Canal. Built for the navy in the 19th century the income of the canal now comes from leisure craft. All locks are manned and the lock keepers couldn’t be more helpful.

We went past the initial marina where a lot of boats stay overnight and headed through two swing bridges and a flight of locks to arrive at the locks at Dochgarroch. The very helpful lock keeper told us to moor on the pontoon and plug into shore power for an overnight berth. However the berths said they were reserved. Pam walked back to the loch and he immediately explained that the reserve signs were to be ignored and feel free to plugin. Pam said the shore power bollards had locking covers, but it turned out they were actually not locked. So we have showers, toilets, shore power.

Caught the bus into Inverness and enjoyed a meal and stocked up on some provisions for the following day.

Day 12 – Whitehills to Inverness

This was a long, long day. Too long. It started quite well, but endless 25kt wind squalls and long periods of torrential rain reminded me that there must be better hobbies! My stomach was suffering from all the motion of the last few days. I was in awe of those who can cross oceans or even sail around the world. The further into the trip I go the more I realise that 4-5 hours is my limit. Beyond that it is more endurance than fun.

Day 11 – Whitehills

Since I’m heading West and the wind was blowing at 15-20kts from the West today it was a day in port. Walk round to Banff which has a little marina not mentioned in my pilot book. So it must be fairly new. An internet search shows it opened in 2007, so my pilot book is 10 years out of date!

It’s going to be a long sail to Inverness tomorrow, at least 12 hours. So booked into a B & B for a few hours on dry land. It is quite a treat to not be at the mercy of the weather, cocooned inside a stone building.

I need to be at the boat for 7:30am so assumed that I wouldn’t be able to have breakfast but the very helpful, Swiss, owner is making me breakfast at 6:30.


Day 10 – Peterhead to Whitehills

The plan was to set off at 2pm and so arrive at Rattray Head at slack just as the tide turned Northward. Woke at 6am and checked the weather, fairly strong on shore winds and heavy rain were forecast for the afternoon. Yet up to midday the weather was clear and the winds light. I decided to set off, knowing that I only had two hours of favourable tide before it turned against me. I knew it was going to be slow and I was correct the trip took about two hours longer than it would with tide in my favour.

It became very cold and wet and I really started to question why I was doing this! At around 4pm I tied up at Whitehills and spoke to the harbour master. Checking the weather it looks like the wind will be on the bow all day tomorrow so I’ve decided to stay in port tomorrow and carry on to Inverness in a long day on Saturday. Currently the weather for Saturday is an off shore wind that would give me a slight sea and should push the boat along at a nice pace. Nevertheless I will be looking at a 12 hour day. I’m getting a little tired of these long days and looking forward to seeing my wife Pam in Inverness. Pam is joining me for the Caledonian Canal. We have 5 days to complete 66 miles whereas on Saturday I have a single day for 58 miles. Roll on shorter trips. I have no desire to cross an ocean, four to five hour days are my optimum.

On the plus side Rattray Head is now behind me and that is a great relief. It was fairly benign today but the trip overall was fairly lumpy with an easterly wind blowing down the Moray Firth while the tide was against me. Wind over tide, that is wind blowing the opposite way to the tide, always gives a confused sea state.