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.

Simple Pleasures


One of the delights of arriving at Millport, capital of Great Cumbrae in the summer is the afternoon serenade by a pipe band and the evening arrival of the paddle steamer Waverley.

i was there a few weeks ago together with Honeybees Seilean, moored a couple of buoys away and Mudjekeewiss in the east bay on her mooring, good to see her afloat again.

i went ashore for a few supplies and bought a mint ice cream from one of Millport’s traditional, ok old fashioned, cafés. Most things about Millport are outdated, even run down in places, but the town seems to thrive, it’s appeal is that it doesn’t change and a steady stream of visitors continue to enjoy what you might think we’re long forgotten pleasures

i have been following with increasing dismay the shambles of the currant America’s Cup. Years ago I had the impression that this was the pinnacle of yachting, but a few decades laterr I realise that it is the simple pleasures that Maurice Griffiths, Des Sleightholm and others espoused is the real world of sailing.

The seals were singing after the Waverley had departed, not quite as tuneful as the pipe band but a all part of the old fashioned charm.

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.

My time with the rich and famous

You do get a better class of ensign in the marina when the Fife Regatta is in town, and a better class of Merc in the car park. Owners of those in the first half of the alphabet need not apply, so that’s me out.

I spent four days watching from afar whilst the rain poured down and the wind roared. I did however get a good deal of work done so now I have a boat that looks bit more like a boat and less like a building site.
Thursday was wild but sunny, later I spoke to Jim Thom, skipper of Kentra. ” Crews on some of the smaller boats had biblical experiences” , he said. I am fairly sure I spotted Bob Fisher nipping ashore for a quick tip ashore for a change of underpants after Mignon had hit 13.5 knots on the way home.
The glow of 10 coats of varnish might spread to us lesser wooden boat owners, it’s always good to have something to aspire to.

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.


Clyde Classic

wp054d8f9a_05_06Off to Rhu this weekend for the Clyde Classic Regatta and Design Symposium. There will be no racing for Crunluath but the Symposium has some interesting speakers and should be an enjoyable event. It used to be known as the McGruer Regatta but has widened its’ appeal this year, possibly to attract some of the Fife Regatta entrants.

It’s a bit daunting to mix it with some of the best maintained boats on the Clyde but I will try not to lower the tone too much, although I am tempted to put up a sign saying, “Building Site Keep Out”!

It’s my first visit to the Gareloch and a forecast force 4 from the west should make for a good passage north from Largs.