Category Archives: Scotland

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.

Sailing On



This is what the remains of thirty years of boat projects looks like.

Moving house is pretty traumatic after such a long time in the same place but sorting through failed projects, the remains of successful projects and all those pieces you have saved because one day they will come in handy, is a bit of a nightmare. That one day seldom came but still the bits piled up, spurred on by the exhorbitant cost of timber, plywood and adhesives and encouraged by a surplus of storage space.

On the bright side many happy memories came flooding back, a laminated tiller from a GP14, another from a Flying Fifteen and lots of bits from eleven years ownership of Crunluath . There are experimental lamination projects, patterns for the tricky bits to avoid spoiling expensive marine ply and hardwoods, half a lifetime of evenings and weekends spent crafting the latest boat or part of boat. There were frustrations of course and minor disasters but most memories were of happy times sailing the completed boat: scaring ourselves silly in big seas and high winds sailing a GP14 at National Championships and a never to be forgotten sail at Cowes for the Flying Fifteen’s 50th Anniversary with the paint still drying as we launched, ending the week swanking it on the Platform of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

In recent years there have been balmy evenings at anchor in the Burnt Islands listening to the sounds of almost nothing at all or swinging from a mooring at Lochranza whilst the seals sang and the land breeze brought a whiff of malt whisky from the distillery.

It might be just a pile of wood to you but its a skip full of memories for me.

Its time to sail on from the house I have called home for so long but Crunluath is still around, looking a bit neglected this season but we’ll soon put that right with a touch of TLC and a glass of malt. Now where are those shed brochures?

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.


Fulani, another Honeybee rescued

Chris Brown contacted me a while ago about his boat Fulani which he believed to be a Honeybee.

William Boag Bermudan Sloop 2


It was not until recently that I came across a set of photographs of a Boag built boat on a broker’s website which I had downloaded several years ago. to my suprise this turned out to be Fulani .

The broker’s description said it was built in 1966, a year after my own boat, Crunluath. From the photos it does look almost identical to Crunluath  apart from the bowsprit and modern forehatch. Some boats had a bowsprit added to improve weather helm but I am pretty sure this was not original equipment.

Chris has been working on the boat for three years and no doubt hopes to be afloat soon!

I do wonder if this boat might have been called Tarpon as I do know a boat of this name was built by the Boag yard. If you know about this boat or Tarpon do get in touch.

Cold Comfort Clyde


Cold light of dawn

Choosing the coldest night of the winter to be on board Crunluath might not seem the most sensible of decisions but at this time of year one has to make the best of the limited number of weather windows available and two days of dry if cold weather were forecast this week.
It has been three weeks since my last visit and with more gales and snow possibly on the way a general checkup seemed wise. I also needed to refit the starter motor and alternator after repairing the starter. I am particularly proud of getting it going again and saved a good £100’s worth of professional attention.
Refitting was a real pain, the heat exchanger and hoses have to be removed to get access and with the engine in the narrow part of the bilge towards the stern this is a problem, failing eyesight doesn’t help with glasses falling off or being put askew by the awkward angles and limited space. I always intended to hinge the cooking and sink sections of the galley to provide easier access but never got one of those illusive round tuits necessary for such work. The issue is that most boat engines are converted from small industrial engines used in building yards for dumper trucks or cement mixers, all easily maintained by lifting the cover on site or putting the unit at a comfortable height in a workshop. Some boat engines such as the Beta have most service points at the front of the engine for ease of service but most are just plain difficult. My Vetus is a very economical and reliable engine but I wish it were easier to work on. I managed to lose a jubilee clip fastening one of the hoses, I had no parts left over but there was no sign of the missing clip and a walk to the chandlery was necessary for a replacement. I reckon there is some kind of worm on the boat which sucks up any parts carelessly laid down and devours them; they probably breed them at the chandlery and send the out on the pontoons to drum up business!
Despite the weather I have been comfortable enough on board, sweat generated by grovelling in the engine space kept me warm by day and the faithful Eberspächer did a sterling job in the evening. These lorry and bus cab blown air heaters are equally reliable but expensive to buy and repair as I discovered a few years ago when my own botched repair attempt had to be fixed by the professionals. The boat came with the heater when I bought it otherwise I would probably not have installed one and would now be shiffering or heading back home.
I had hoped for a short sailing trip after fixing the engine but with winds set to increase steadily staying put seems prudent, especially as there is no life jacket on board. Dawn looked promising but cold when I woke but a hearty breakfast at the bistro looked attractive.
Despite this disappointment it has been good to be aboard and dream about balmy days of summer ahead, after a week of stress even the cold comfort of a winter Clyde feels good.

In the Deep Mid-winter

IMG_0588According to my memory in the deep mid winter frosty winds made moan.

Well this deep mid winter they have roared. Accompanied by high water springs they have pounded the Clyde coast but Crunluath has come through unscathed, my anti-snow protection has not had a test but it has rejected most of the rain which is a help. Despite the stress on mooring ropes it is certainly far better to be afloat rather than ashore. I have further problems with the starter which go back to last year’s flooding but I think I have it working again and will test it soon.

My fellow wooden boat owner Neil has spent the winter afloat aboard his Hillyard further seaward down the pontoon and reports some swell in the marina during the worst of the gales but has otherwise survived intact.

Largs Marina staff have done a great job keeping everyone safe and updates via the Largs Marina Facebook page have been welcome, combined with a new live weather station from the Scottish Sailing Institute althoughcombined with a Twitter feed from Ardrossan Coastguard it may have made me a bit paranoid about weather conditions

We both hope to get a bit of time afloat this winter, last February provided a little weather window so I live in hope.

I have had a bit more information about other boats of the designer of the Honeybee, R.A.Balfour. Northele, built by Berthon to a Balfour design in 1949 for the grandfather of Tony Burton. Another Balfour design Dodo V1 may be still afloat in the USA, it is a 51ft. boat so if you have any information please send me a message.

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,

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.

Clyde Wildlife

Basking Shark

Basking Shark

Sailing around the Clyde for the last ten year means I have accumulated a lengthy tick list of birds and beasts seen from my boat.

On a recent trip to Loch Ranza, Isle of Arran, I added a long awaited species to the list, a Basking Shark, over Whiting Bank off Bute at the south end of Loch Fyne.  It was a pretty fine specimen over half the length of my 8.4 metre boat. I logged it’s position and have reported it to the Shark Trust together with a photograph.

Birds are my commonest sighting of course and perhaps my favourite with it’s spectacular plunges from 50 feet up is the Gannet. I was photographing Gannets when the shark showed up, mistaken at first for a seal, another of my most common sightings. The stiff winged Manx Shearwaters were skimming low over Loch Fyne at the same time but they are very difficult to photograph, particularly when you are attempting to sail a boat at the same time; the auto tiller helps but I still do not have an in focus photo.



Over the years I have spotted quite a number of Harbour Porpoises but their quick roll over with a puff of breath is usually all you see and hear. They are known as Puffing Pigs, very descriptive, they puff, they are chubby and when they get close you can smell them!

A year or two back a Bottle Nosed Dolphin entertained many boaters off Fairlie, leaping clear of the water in the Hunterston Channel.

Bottle Nosed Dolphin

Bottle Nosed Dolphin

Both porpoises and sharks seem to prefer glassy conditions or perhaps that’s when they are most easily seen.

It was fairly calm when I saw the shark which approached with a boat’s length several times but as almost always on a trip to Loch Ranza the wind piped up closer to the Cock of Arran and I finished up beating into Kilbrannan Sound in a force four gusting five. It was much the same when I left the following morning which resulted in a lively run with shortened sail until the Bute shore was approached and the wind eased, but no more sharks.

It seem astounding that these magnificent fish were hunted until the 1990’s, they must have been easy targets with their trustuing nature. Gavin Maxwell, noted naturalist and author of, “Ring of Bright Water“, had a shark oil business in the Sound of Sleat.

Young Guillimots abound at this time of year squeaking away in little groups and I saw Eider Ducks, Cormorants, Sandwich Terns (off Millport) and a variety of gulls en route.