A weather window

Friday 30 June

After a less than restful night, it was decided to take advantage of a lull in the wind to head back to the mainland, and the relative comfort of a marina. Mate helmed a good course at 6-7 knots under a single-reefed-main and staysail, and took me into the attractive Kilchattan Bay on the Southeast side of the Isle of Bute for a calm and peaceful lunch stop.

After an easy afternoon potter past the Cumbraes in the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, Kip Marina welcomed us in with clear instructions about where to berth, and with the offer of a good meal in the Chart Room, the onsite restaurant, with lovely views, of course, over the marina.

Wind strengthening

Thursday 29 June

Showers punctuated the steadily building wind, keeping my crew inside to knit, complete a book of puzzles and play Scrabble. Supper was not too shabby: gnocchi with a Bolognese sauce, salmon and stir fried leek, courgette and green beans, but tricky to eat with the spare hand hanging onto water and wine glasses. Finally catching an unfavourable weather forecast, we followed the example of the other yacht and moved to anchor in the lee of the island at the North shore of Lamlash Bay, where it was much calmer than the previous day.

A change of scene

Wednesday 28 June

We motored to the North of the bay to pick up a visitor’s mooring off Lamlash. It was dry so visibility was better, but windy so the sea was very bouncy. The mooring had no pick-up buoy, so Mate had to reverse me right up to it so Skipper could hang off my rear side deck to feed a warp (mooring rope) through the ring, and then walk it forward to secure at my bow so I lay into the wind. Cleverly, he realised it would be easier to fit the outboard engine to the transom of the tender while it was still on my back step, but she still tried to slide under my stern while my poor crew were trying to board, and they had a bumpy ride to tuck in behind the sailing club jetty where they climbed a short ladder to go ashore.

After all that, it was half day closing, and the only place still open was the Pier Head Tavern, good for a warming coffee and enough wifi to obtain a weather forecast. There was frustratingly little mobile phone signal.

Regaining the relative comfort of my solidity was not easy for Skipper, whose back was bumped against the step as he tried to slide up out of the tender, and then Mate let the lid of the engine locker go, against the side of his face. Fortunately he wasn’t permanently damaged from either incident, but Mate was shaken, and glad to slip to find better shelter in the lee of Holy Island, where she made amends by cooking him steak and jewelled rice.

So much for sunshine

Tuesday 27 June

It continued to rain, all day, often from such thick mist or low cloud that all land was obscured – what a contrast from yesterday. Skipper spent the day on the computer dealing with admin following the sale of their house (at last), while Mate busied herself in the galley: regular and gluten free sourdough loaves – the latter is known as ‘hit-and-miss bread’ because the sea was bouncing me around so much the electronic scales refused to read accurately and she had to best guess quantities; parkin, stewed gooseberries and baking apples with elderflower cordial, and lunch of puff pastry pizza topped with spinach, feta and green pesto at one end, and red pesto, toasted pine nuts and roast cherry tomatoes at the other end. Supper was long (Romano) peppers stuffed with savoury Quorn mince, with stir fried leek and savoy cabbage.

Holy Tomatoes

Monday 26 June

A calm day of hazy sunshine saw us motor thankfully away from Girvan and across to Ailsa Craig. We paused in a temporary, kelp-strewn anchorage off the East side for a tasty lunch of halloumi dipped in sesame seeds and griddled with red pepper, red chilli and garlic, piled into a warmed pitta bread with houmous, cucumber and sweet Spanish cherry tomatoes. It not being quite warm enough for a siesta, we were amused by the performing seal colony near the lighthouse, and then slid under the gannet granite: thousands of them, sharing this amazing natural formation of columns with guillemots and gulls, and wheeling overhead in the thermals. While not exactly peaceful, the sound was deep and gravelly, not cacophanous, and even the gulls’ calls seem less raucous in their natural environment than when heard in towns.

Finally Mate has ticked off one of her bucket list items, in seeing puffins off the Western side of the rock. They were absolutely adorable, much smaller than she expected and quite shy. We were able to drift among them as the sea was so calm, taking the opportunity for as many photos as possible.

This is not original, but is how she recorded in her journal those minutes with the puffins:

“Life is not about how many breaths you take, but about the moments that take your breath away.

This is the sort of experience we hoped for in embarking on this new way of life…after days of wind and cold in miserable little towns with unwelcoming harbours…this is what it’s all about.”

A kindly fellow sailor in Girvan had invited us to borrow his permanent mooring when we arrived in Lamlash Bay, between Arran and Holy Island, that evening. It proved a struggle as the rope was heavily encrusted with small mussels, but Skipper persevered and eventually I was securely tied on. Mate got on with supper, and afterwards they sat in my cockpit enjoying a stunning sunset and (in Mate’s case) a bit of knitting, until it started to rain.

Swimmies out

Sunday 25 June

In Mate’s opinion, one of the best features of Girvan was the brand new Quay Zone, a leisure complex incorporating a 25-metre swimming pool, gym, café and kids’ play zone. Although this is a private facility, she enjoyed a one-kilometre swim, thorough shower and hair wash, and treated herself to a cappuccino for her efforts, all for £5.60. She went on to earn yet more crew merits by taking Bertha the mile walk to Asda – Sunday opening hours are different North of the border, and she found she could have provisioned any time between 0800-2200. I can tell you it’s not her favourite supermarket, but she seemed to find enough to sustain them for a few more days, judging by how much Bertha was carrying back.

Meanwhile Skipper filled up my water tanks after de-birding my decks, again, and fixed a drawer in the galley that had temporarily vacated its designated position on passage one day recently. Mate rounded off the day with yet more laundry, in preparation for a few days ‘off grid’.

Boots on

Saturday 24 June

Having had a wander around town yesterday, and discovered the local version of the tourist information office in the Town House opposite the harbour, Mate organised them both to follow the Laggan Loch Walk up onto the moor behind the town. It was a pleasantly challenging five miles with good views and local hill cattle and sheep to entertain them on the way to the wind farm at the top. The weather stayed dry but cool in the wind. Skipper was drawn back to the kiosk at the South end of the beach for bacon rolls for lunch – their roaring trade indicated a good local recommendation. The wind remained through the night, preventing a restful sleep.

Service with a …

Friday 23 June

My crew eventually tracked down the unwilling relief harbourmaster, who was unable to take any payment. The marina is a council-run facility, but there’s been nobody in post so far this Summer, and when there is don’t expect them to work beyond standard civil service office hours. The laundry was cheap and efficient, and the showers and toilets clean and modern…if you can remember the system for accessing them. There was a large deposit of free power on the marina, but no wifi: we were told there was a problem across the whole area at the time.

It’s not (just) a tomato

Thursday 22 June

After a disturbed night, thanks to other boats’ engines running at all sorts of silly o’clocks, we left Portpatrick on the second half of the flood tide, which runs North, and found ourselves in a lumpy sea, so Skipper left Mate at the helm and went forward to retrieve lines and fenders. They decided to set the second reef in the mainsail with the staysail, but I was under-canvassed as most of the motion was ‘wind over tide’ – as usual, the wind was in the wrong direction. We made a long tack half way across the North Channel towards Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland, until eventually the wind began to back as forecast, and we tacked onto a direct course for Girvan.

The wind gradually decreased during the day, but after a brief nap, Mate awoke in need of Jimmy, presumably due to the bumpy start and lack of sleep. Skipper allowed her a second snooze to recover, and she woke for her watch feeling hungry and thirsty again – a good sign. Spells of warm sunshine were enjoyed as we diverted briefly for the Stranraer-Belfast ferry, and my crew watched the isolated granite mound of Ailsa Craig gradually enlarging as they approached the entrance to the Firth of Clyde, the island of Arran lying in the distance. The scenery was beginning to look picture-postcard Scottish, the rolling green hills marred only by ugly marks of human habitation – colours and lines that do nothing to blend into their much more attractive background.

There is a new-ish marina in Girvan, entered via a fairly narrow channel into the old fishing port: beware the sand bar at the entrance, and contrary currents. No welcome, warm or otherwise, here, but a helpful local watched us tie up alongside a sufficient length of pontoon and told my people the security code for the gate, so they were able to dash up to the harbour road for fish and chips before closing time. I got my happy hour eventually, and settled for the night in a tidy and shipshape fashion.

Midsummer’s Day

Wednesday 21 June

Hmm, grey, cool and cloudy, but the sun came out later, and Mate deemed it warm enough to don sandals (bare legs!) for a stroll around town and a drink at the Harbour Hotel, sitting outside in the sunshine. I was joined by two boats I’d met elsewhere on my travels.