When the going gets tough…

Crunluath July 2016
Crunluath July 2016
…the tough get going. Guess I am not one of the tough then.
Last summer Crunluath’s cabin port side warped, probably owing to sun exposure on the same side for the last 15 plus years. A nasty split opened up and I was for some time at a loss to know what to do about it. It is one of the disadvantages of a marina mooring, on a swinging mooring the boat is never exposed to the sun on one side only.
After attempting various temporary cures I decided a spell ashore and some serious woodwork was required. I set off with good intentions but the job did not go smoothly and time marched on. Other jobs cropped up, real life got in the way of boat maintenance and before I knew it the summer was gone, autumn set in and the winter loomed.
At this point the tough would have got going; I lost heart, let things slide and got thoroughly depressed. Wooden boats to not suffer things sliding and have no sympathy at all for depression. A plan had to be put in place.
Varnished wood had to be reduced to a minimum. Keeping a boat more than two hours drive from home has always been a problem, old age is setting in, me and the boat, this was no time for further procrastination. A coat of white paint on the cabin and cockpit sides didn’t look half so bad as I feared. It should make maintenance easier and may, as my son pointed out, reflect sunlight and reduce further warping.
A year has passed but we are afloat again, upgraded pumping systems have cleared the post launch leaks and the prospect of actually sailing before too long is cheering. Most things work, the boat is still work in progress but aren’t all wooden boats and at least there is progress.
Right now the rain has eased but the wind is howling, marina’s are noisy places in a blow, Wales has just lost a miserable game of football and the country is on a leaderless course to the dogs but hey my boat floats and doesn’t leak… much…the pump has just kicked in! The Clyde looks as glorious as it ever did and there is sailing to be enjoyed. What’s not to like as the modern generation says?

They think it’s all over, it isn’t now.

Crunluath at MillportOh what happened to you,

Whatever happened to me.

What became of the people we used to be?

It happens to us all, even The Likely Lads. (60’s/ 70’s sitcom characters. Theme tune lyrics above) Suddenly it seems it might be all over, well it isn’t now. (misquote Wolstenholme 1966) There’s time for another push to keep the old boat afloat; that’s vessel and skipper.

I had just settled down with a dram and Classic FM when a ping from the ipad heralded a tweet from Iain McAllister reminding me of his blog post about the 1968 Tobermory Race.Iain also drew my attention to a comment from the granddaughter of the builder of Crunluath, William Boag. She said how she remembered the launchings in Largs and how Iain’s blog had made her smile.  We have never met but I guess we are about the same age, we have an invisible connection through her grandfather.

It’s memories like this that keep me me going, even when it seems it could well be all over. The last nine months have been the hardest yet keeping Crunluath and me sailing. William Boag and his sons did a great job on Crunluath but surely she was never expected to last this long, 51 ears this spring. Neither did I. I have outlived my Dad by 14 years already, past my best before date, but not yet at the sell by date I trust.

Put aside ideas ideas about giving up Crunluath my daughter wrote to me earlier this year. This was after I sent her a comment from Dylan Winter about a 92 year old yottie sailing the Humber. I’ll try.

Back to basics, I have been struggling with neglect, paintwork to attend to and crucially bilge pump replacement and reinstallation to fix. Engine electrics are a constant bugbear probably because modern engines are marine conversions of engines designed to power building machinery and the like where the chance of swamping or corrosion by salt water is remote.

Storm Katie is battering the south of England as I write, it’s only March, stay calm and keep preparing. KISS, keep it simple, stupid. A principal I try hard to follow. There may be troubles ahead But…

Before they ask us to pay the bill
And while we still have the chance
Let’s face the music and dance.


The Unvarnished Truth



Moving house and maintaining an old wooden boat do not mix…fact!

The plan to keep Crunluath afloat last winter worked fine for the hull but the superstructure has not weathered well, indeed cracks have appeared in the cabin sides with a bit of warping. No doubt a combination of freezing and warm weather in close proximity plus a lack of revarnishing and general maintenance;have caused the problem.

Boring everyday activities such as packing, throwing stuff out, giving stuff away, throwing more stuff out; unpacking, sorting, throwing more stuff out, organising carpets, putting up curtain rails etc.etc.etc. all added to the neglect.  There is one thing you cannot do with wooden boats and that is neglect them.

Early spring weather did not favour maintenance and I succumbed to arranging a spot of shore leave for Crunluath at the end of June, hardly ideal but needs must…  A few days of scraping and sanding have put right most of the ravages of the weather but the decision was taken to cut down on the amount of varnished wood and to paint the cabin side white leaving varnish only on the capping pieces. The decision was made easier by looking first at a photo of a 75 year old Vertue owned by wooden boat guru and author of ,The Trouble With Old Boats, Adrian Morgan. His boat had painted cabin sides, if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for me I thought. A look at a few other Vertue photos revealed several more with similar painted cabins.

A visit further up my pontoon to a fellow wooden boat owner showed me it could look good, Neal’s beautiful 10 ton Hillyard sloop convinced me it could work.

So the deed is done or at least started, the undercoat is on and it looks…well ok, perhaps not quite right but it works.  It’s all white now!



February Resolution

(null)Portencross Castle

I have never been keen on New Year resolutions, they normally fail before the end of January. One possible alternative is not to make a resolution until February and back date it to the beginning of the year.
I did that today during a sail around Great Cumbrae. My resolution is to sail in every month of 2015. Successive short sails in the first two months have given me the incentive. It’s not a big decision but my days of winters ashore are over, Crunluath is the better for it despite some minor damage and some serious wear on mooring ropes during last month’s gales.
After a spectacular drive up the M74 through snow covered Southern Uplands, Largs was as usual snow free and basking in weak but warm February sunshine. With next to no wind I opted to motor south hoping to meet some wind south of Hunterston. A glassy sea and increasing cloud created a dramatic view down the Hunterston channel to Portencross Castle, (photo above) one of two castles guarding this entrance to the Clyde. The other on Wee Cumbrae is not open to the public but some gallant efforts by volunteer enthusiasts have resulted in some restoration at Portencross.
Through the Tann the wind veered to the west and Crunluath tramped along.

Looking north up the Clyde the Arrocher Alps and Ben Lomond appeared startlingly closer and higher than normal, one of the unique joys of off season sailing.

Apart from fishing boats and the Cumbrae ferry only one other boat was out, a traditional wooden motor cruiser moored at Largs Yacht Haven.
To be fair it was a weekday and only the professionals, the unemployed and the retired were free to enjoy the pleasure of winter sailing.
Oddly it is back to student days for me, our university sailing season was in the winter, fifty years on I am back frostbiting! I recommend it.

Ice Patrol



There is no doubt about it, snatching an hour’s sailing from the jaws of winter is the most satisfying thing a yottie can do between October and March.

A visit to Crunluath on Sunday in between gales and ice ostensibly to repair possible damage was too good a chance to miss; clear blue skies, a gentle breeze and views of snowcovered mountains from Arran to Arrocher. Only the windsurfers and me were out to witness the Clyde at its best.

Peel Ports pilot boat Gantock headed down channel from its tempoary berth at Largs Yacht Haven to take off a pilot  on a collier leaving Hunterston coaling jetty. Not a bad way to go to work even if you are having to work on Sunday, it certainly beats an afternoon on the tills at Tesco.

Just a genoa, initially only partly unfurled, was enough to see 2 knots on the log but on the return trip from the Cumbrae shore we hit 5.1kn. I seem to remember reading an article in a yachting magazine some years ago about winter wind feeling stronger despite recording the same speed as summer winds, something to do with air density at lower temperatures being higher. It certainly felt like it as I struggled to furl the foresail as we approached the marina.

A twitchy few gusts conspired to make my approach to the pontoon unreasonably difficult, perhaps the absence of many boats from their regular berths owing to dredging operations, meant a less than sheltered approach. After a bit of manual warping I got Crunluath safely alongside. Meanwhile the dredging barge was making its way through the marina using a strange coracle like action. The digger doing the dredging used its shovel to pull the barge along with an auxiliary tender at the stern for additional steering. It all looked rather weird. Largs marina has not been dredged since it was built 30 years ago, aparently increasing affluence has led to ever larger and deeper draught boats which are touching bottom at times. Serves em right, they shouldn’t carry so much gin!



The only ice I encountered was on the sidedeck.Casting off was a delicate balletic operation but disaster was narrowly averted.

Back to basics?



Weather and flagging energy levels conspired to persuade me to get Crunluath back in the water before I had completed intended work on the cabin top and deck. Hood and fittings, the hatch kennel and hand rails have been removed for work at home. I had time to fill a few screw holes but the rest of the work will have to wait.
One of the unintended by products of my procrastination is how much sleeker Crunluath looks without all the extras we now consider essential for modern sailing: no fence around the edge of the boat, no hood blocking the view from the cockpit,. I am tempted to keep it this way but I suspect I will weaken as soon as we are plugging into a choppy sou-wester off Garroch Head. Safety rails I have always thought to be of dubious value for anyone more than two feet tall: a secure grip, coupled with a harness and strong clip on points has got to be safer. I'll see what I feel comfortable with but I hope to try a few trips in, ” low drag” mode.
Either way there is a lot of work to do but the positive side of only one month ashore was no leaks upon relaunching. A few fine days should boost the enthusiasm.


Under the Cabin Lamp

imageWhen I first became interested in sailing as a kid, not that I did any actual sailing, it was all in the books of Arthur Ransome, Joshua Slocum, Maurice Griffiths and the wonderfully named Sir Alker Tripp. My yachts were confined to the boating lake in Firth Park, weird balsa wood hard chine contraptions which I thought were the cutting edge of model boat design. They might well have been, just a pity my workmanship was not good enough to match my design skills.

Sheffield City Libraries, god bless em, had an amazing set of sailing books considering the city is about as far from the sea as you can get. I reckon the City Librarian in the 1950’s was a closet or even actual yottie. No, this was the era of staunch socialism in Sheffield he could never have admitted to something as posh as sailing. Neither could I. I had to resort to reading Yachting Monthly in the Reading Room of the Central Library and saving pocket money to buy an occasional copy of Yachts and Yachting from Mrs Applebaum’s shop.
Any way, back to Sir Alker Tripp. His book, Under the Cabin Lamp, was really a collection of writings from his back pages articles in Yachting World. It was sumptuously produced in large format with fine bindings, water colours and pen and ink illustrations. It related simple tales of sailing trips and yarns between old salts at anchor in a sheltered creek with a glass of whisky in their hand and very likely a cabin filled with the smoke of pipes and oil lamps.
I recently bought a copy of his book, costing slightly more in real terms than it had on publication. I have enjoyed reminiscing about a youth long gone and have been thankful that for the last eleven years I have had a cosy cabin in my own little ship, though minus the pipe and oil lamp smoke. I have had the occasional evening yarning with old sailors and tonight have good company with a glass of malt, wind in the rigging and an old boat’s creaks and groans, or are they my own bones complaining about yesterday’s activities in the garden?
John Hill, master boat builder and repairer of Crunluath last year, told me that you don’t need company when you have a boat, it speaks to you. A bit fanciful but true. I have run through the film featured in my last post about the Tobermory Race of 1968 and thought of Crunluath, “… heeled under full sail and beating into the Sound of Mull in the sunshine of a summer’s day” as G.F. Findlay said in his review of the Honeybee design in 1959. On board in 1968 a 15 year old boy, Gordon, son of Crunluath’s second owner, undoubtedly excited, probably sometimes scared and occasionally proud of being allowed to take the helm.
He has never told me about this experience, but Crunluath has.


Crunluath on film

Photo of the 1968 Tobermory race at Crinan by George Gibb, Clyde Cruising Club / Peggy Bawn Press

In  1968 Crunluath took part in the Clyde Cruising Club’s Tobermory Race from Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute to Tobermory, Isle of Mull via the Crinan canal. Crunluath had what in film terms might be called a walk on part in a film of the race. Well more of a motor past part in fact making two brief appearances in the thirty minute film.

Recently the excellently entertaining Peggy Bawn Press has unearthed the film made by BBC Scotland, showing the race. You can see it here,  http://peggybawn.wordpress.com/

Gordon remembers the race. “Its me on the foredeck coming into the Sea lock at Crinan age 15 !!

The BBC decided they would create a film of the famous Tobermory Race and Magnus Magnusson was the narrator aboard Lola. We still have a copy somewhere. It was a good year with moderate NE winds which made Tobermory a bit uncomfortable but enabled us to visit the West Coast of Mull, Staffa , Iona and Tinkers Hole.

It was a hard beat through the Torran rocks in poor visibility (without GPS etc ) but the faithful Crunluath kept us safe and home to calmer waters at Ardfern.”

You can get a glimpse of her and the young Gordon in the film at approximately 1.21 minutes and 15.25 minutes.

The Peggy Bawn Press blog has a wealth of information about sailing and yachts on the Clyde and in Ireland and in addition to the film of this race there is a a description of the creation of the film by director Louis Miller.

Refected Glory



The Clyde  is alive with beautiful wooden boats this year after the recently ended  Fife Regatta.

One of the most elegant of the Fifes is one of the last to be built at Fairlie, Solway Maidcompleted in the 1950’s after a wartime delay in building. She was built for the Carr family, millers and bakers in Cumbria, famous for Carrs Water Biscuits.

She is shown here at Lamlash, Arran with the Honeybee Jane. Photo by Jimmie Hill Jane’s current owner.

Clyde Classic


Crunluath got to mix in some grand company at the weekend, Fifes, Watsons, McGruers, Mylnes and Herreshoff’s, all great names in the panoply of yacht design and build. The Clyde Classic Regatta and Design Symposium at Rhu was a heady mix of pink yachting pants and Tung Oil varnish.

DSCF4529I did not enter the regatta but got a sail in Maid of Lorn (right) a delightful 1909 Mylne canoe yawl. The throat halyard gave way as the mainsail was hoisted so we made do with jib and mizzen and had a comfortable sail in at times boistrous conditions whilst the racers disappeared west to Holy Loch.


DSC_3385Conditions deteriorated on Sunday so few ventured out. The 80′ Fife ketch Kentra was pinned to the dock by a force six north-westerly and at times there was a danger of being blown off the pontoon, but that might have been the after effect of the previous evening’s whisky tasting.

Across the marina I spotted a familiar shaped  huil without its’ mast. This turned out to be the Honeybee Sanday which had been thought to have been abandoned at Inverness but is being brought back to life by an enthusiastic family. Keeping a wooden boat in trim is a full time job at times and few have the time or the money to achieve perfection but something keeps us going. It is perhaps as Sanday’s owner said the fact that you get so many admiring comments wherever you go with a wooden boat.