Friday, September 29, 2023

ABC 2 - The Crinan Canal and the Clyde Puffer

The second of what may be an occasional series for "ABC" the Magazine of the parishes of Chesterton, Little Chesterton, Middleton Stoney and Wendlebury. Jan 2024 edition. With some additional pictures.

My track approaching and through the Canal in 2021.

Entering the Canal at Crinan.
I was storm bound in the Port Ellen marina Islay, had failed to reach St Kilda and was too late to get to a sailing event starting in Wales, so I decided to compensate by going through the Crinan Canal, a trip often recommended.

The canal runs for 9 miles between Crinan and Ardrishaig providing a short cut avoiding the often dangerous Mull of Kintyre, easing the trip between Glasgow, the Scottish islands and the coastal villages. 

The route was surveyed by James Watt in 1771 and built between 1794 and 1801 at a cost of £11m in today’s money, it opened in 1809 after being bailed out by the government following problems with the banks and a poor water supply. 

The canal can accommodate boats up to 88ft x 20ft with a freshwater draft of 8’ 10” (saltwater draft of about 8’ 5”), less in dry weather.

Steam vessels started to use it in the 1850s, the most common type in the late 1900s would become the Clyde Puffer; those of a certain age may remember the BBC series based on the short stories of Neil Munro, “The Tales of Para Handy” the devious skipper of the Puffer “Vital Spark”. 
Clyde Puffer VIC 32 (right) in the Crinan basin of the canal.
Originally the type was used only in fresh water, mainly the Clyde and Forth canal, and did not have condensers, steam went straight to the funnel which resulted in puffs of steam and smoke and a puffing sound. The name stuck when condensers were installed to recirculate fresh water so they could be used at sea. These vessels, a generic type rather than a standard design, made a huge difference to communities in the Islands and elsewhere, especially those without a good harbour. Flat bottomed, the Puffers would be beached on a falling tide and using their own derrick offload supplies and load with products to be exported then float off on the next tide.

During WWI Puffers were used to supply warships and in 1939 the navy needed more self-powered lighters to service the fleet. Rather than design anew, to avoid using major shipyards and for quick results the existing Puffer designs were used and orders placed with numerous small yards many of which had experience building them. Over 100 were built and were known by their VIC (Victualling Inshore Craft) number. Most of the surviving Puffers have had their steam engines replaced by diesel engines, VIC 32 pictured above in the canal is one of the few retaining the original coal fired steam engine.
Passing the second swing bridge after leaving Crinan.
Now canal staff operate the modern powered gates of the locks at each end of the Canal and the seven bridges, apart from that you are on your own to operate the eleven manual locks. That requires two people (now three are mandated if you don’t have a “Pilot”), one on the boat and one ashore. Being single handed I hired a “Pilot” who took and cast off my mooring lines, operated the lock, then went ahead on a push bike to do the same on the next lock.

In Lock 13 heading east and waiting for a boat in lock 12 coming
the other way.
The full story of this trip anti-clock wise around GB starts here, the passage through the canal with more words and pictures is here

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Why did the RYA drop splicing from the sylabus?

Years ago we taught basic splicing of 3 strand rope and basic whipping as part of both the the RYA dinghy and offshore syllabuses.

But no longer, and I have never really understood why. 

I just made up a new rope - chain - rope bridle, the rope to chain splices are the easiest there are and the eye splices are not much harder, by using a reel-end of 16mm rope (and 1 metre of new 10mm grade 40 chain) I saved about £90 or more than two thirds of the cost of buying it made up.

A rope - chain - rope bridle, ideal for mooring to a buoy with 
a ring or chain on the top or to a pile. The break load is over 5 tonnes.
Chaff protection at the fairleads will be added when I go to the boat. I
also have one with 8mm chain
that is easier to set up, especially
through chain.
Splicing braid on braid rope is more complicated but quite satisfying to do once you have cracked it and given the number of splices on a boat can save a lot of cash.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

ABC 1 - Sailing to St Kilda

The first of what may be an occasional series for "ABC" the Magazine of the  parishes of Chesterton, Little Chesterton, Middleton Stoney and Wendlebury, October 2023 edition with larger and additional pictures.

Although few get there, many cruising types have St Kilda on their “Bucket List”, partly the attraction is the landscape and the wildlife including unique species, one of the world’s largest Gannet colonies and the largest colonies of Fulmars and Puffins in Great Britain, all sadly now depleted by Bird Flu.

But mainly it is the challenge of getting there. First, it is a long way, especially for those of us sailing small boats solo from the south coast; then there is the weather and the rough seas.

The Sounds of Barra and Harris are the only way through the islands. Both are torturous with strong unpredictable tides and get dangerous in stronger winds that are frequent in the area, and in such conditions the ways round to the north or south don’t bare thinking about so, with few places of shelter on the west coast, a rare period of settled weather is needed to get to St Kilda. 

The NW part of the Stanton Channel through the Sound of Harris
The route from my anchorage to the Stanton 
Channel, the route from the south east is not
as complicated.
Then there is the island itself, 40 miles further out in the Atlantic at 57 Degrees 50 minutes North, it is subject to swell that can come from the Arctic or Canada or both at the same time. This can quickly make Village Bay, the only serious anchorage, untenable as can any easterly wind. To get there you therefore need an extended period of good weather over a wide area as did the original inhabitants of St Kilda who were frequently cut off for many months at a time.

In 2021 I hoped to include St Kilda in my second solo circumnavigation of GB but reaching Stornoway under time pressure to get to a sailing event in Wales, I skipped St Kilda and still missed the event. In 2022 I made a more determined effort, it took 39 days, to reach South Uist but weather systems developing in the Atlantic could have trapped me there for weeks, so I went to Plockton on the mainland (where the TV series Hamish Macbeth was filmed) and after 3 weeks, with no prospect of improvement I gave up and got home after 89 days.

In 2023 I set off again and made better time getting to Tobermory on Mull in 32 days. Prospects looked good so on the 19th May I crossed the Sea of the Hebrides to Vatersay at the southern end of the Western Isles.

Scottish waters are always good for seeing marine mammals, but this leg was exceptional; in 58 nautical miles I had 3 sightings of Minke Whales, more than in the previous 5 years together, there were Dolphins most of the way over and at least 200 in one super pod northwest of Coll, a pod of Killer Whales [fortunately, unlike their Iberian cousins, without a taste for boat rudders], a Basking Shark and Seals as I arrived in Vatersay Bay. 

A Minke Whale, this one in the Firth of Lorn on my return, it
was a good year for seeing whales, there were also many in the
sound of Harris (pics on the blog, link below)

With a weather window possibly opening the next week I headed north to The Sound of Harris via Barra, South and North Uist. Then I was off to St Kilda.

Arriving at the Village Bay anchorage, Hirta (St Kilda).
Hirta (aka St Kilda) is the largest of four islands and several stacks in the dual World Heritage Site and the only one to be inhabited. It is around 1,300 acres, about 78% of the total area of the archipelago. Initially inhabited at least 4,000 years ago, at the peak there were up to 180 people there, by 1851 it was down to 112 and the last 36 left in 1930 largely because of repeated illnesses brought on by increased external contact. Ironically, they were resettled to work with the Scottish Forestry Commission when some would never have seen a tree.  

One of the more accessible cleitean.
Life was extremely hard, fishing was limited by the lack of a harbour, rough seas and deep water locally also farming could produce little, so the main foods were sea birds and their eggs gathered swinging from ropes on sheer sea cliffs up to 1,400ft, the highest in UK. 

Food was stored in over a 1,300 “cleitean” unique small stone storage structures that litter the steep hill sides.

Some not so accessible Cleitean . Part of the ruined village and
accommodation for the contractors manning the tracking
station for the nearby missile firing range.
The trip took 76 days and covered 1,885 nautical miles (2,173 statute) and although it was generally cold until day 58, I only lost 11 days to the weather.

2023 Taransay to St Kilda
Slide show of pictures arriving and at St Kilda.

Monday, September 11, 2023

2023 8th September, A dash home, stats for 2023 and what to do in 2024.

I was all geared up for Guernsey on Thursday but the forecast was for very light winds and fog so, as mentioned in the previous post, I stayed put in Hope Cove; then just after 8 pm I got a phone call, The Lady Wife had fallen and broken her hip. 

So after a quick check of the tide atlas to make sure it was sensible to leave immediately, the anchor was weighed in about 10 minutes (when at anchor I keep the boat pretty much ready for sea with the engine ready to start in case of a dragging anchor or other emergency), it was a 20 hour motor back to the Solent. 

I was fortunate that on the neap tide I had an adverse current for only a couple of hours by which time I was almost at Start Point, thanks to the new anti-foul and a calm sea I was motoring easily at better than 6 knots, even with the dinghy in tow. I couldn't get past Portland on one tide but I did have a favourable tide past The Needles and through the Solent to be back on my mooring at 17:00.

The bad news was that most of the way, almost to The Needles Fairway buoy, there was mist and patchy fog, sometimes with visibility down to a cable or so, that meant I was on an intensive radar and visual watch all the way - very tiring.

It was too late to get home that night, even if I had not been exhausted, so after 9 hours kip I left early on Saturday morning with a long trek home by bus, hike, train and an hours walk (actually hobble is a better description) in 30 degrees because there were no taxies for at least that long. Then to cap it all the car had a puncture as I reached the hospital 

Not the end of season sail I had hoped for!

Waves, sometimes breaking, over the Shingles Bank although
there were no significant waves outside. A good reason to take
care in adverse conditions,

As happened on my final day of my sailing last year as I went up the Solent I was greeted by the Waverley paddle steamer (also seen in Milford Haven on my first cruise this year) and a Spitfire. 

The Paddle Steamer "Waverley" 
No mistaking the shape (or sound) of a Spitfire.
My track till midnight.
And the rest of the way to the Hamble

114 miles over the ground in 20.5 hours.

Stats for 2023



Hours at Sea

GPS N Miles

GPS S Miles

Days Sailing

Places Visited

Weather Bound

Marina or Buoy

At anchor

St Kilda






























33 places visited for the first time.

Stats for previous years and explanations here or from the top bar.


I do like to have a "mission" or goal when I sail, next years I think will either be round Ireland or more likely Shetland by a route that will be decided depending on the weather but probably west about so as not to arrive in Orkney and Shetland too early in the year. Wind permitting Sancerre will be dried out for a scrub on March 15th and I'll leave soon thereafter.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

2023 6th September, Days 31 - 32 Plymouth to The Yealm and Hope Cove

With light winds forecast for several days and the laundry done I decided to get out of the marina. First stop The Yealm. 

Mayflower Marina, a 3 room (ex bathrooms) flat in that block
will knock you back over £400k leasehold and pushing £3k a year
in fees and ground rent.
The Yealm entrance has a reputation for being difficult but in benign
conditions it requires care but is quite straightforward, except
perhaps for dodging a dozen boats leaving as I came in.
Just past the 2nd buoy marking the sand bar and about to turn
45 degrees left. More pics in the slide show below.
The Yealm is very crowded, a couple of spaces on buoys and
Pontoons were available but all would require rafting (and £) so
I did not stay and moved on to Hope Cove.
Leaving the Yealm, Bigbury Bay was very busy with a couple of
dozen boats in view, all heading east as the season drew to a close.
Hope Cove from the beach on Wednesday evening.

Thursday morning:

There is  plenty of wind at the moment but it is forecast to disappear well before I could get to Guernsey and worse there is a risk of fog around the Island tomorrow morning so I am staying put.
I went ashore for an ice cream and even went for a swim, but
not for long given how cold the water felt, perhaps its just me
getting old. Sancerre on the right.
Eighteen miles in four and a quarter hours.

2023 2 Mayflower to The Yelm and Hope Cove

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

2023 3rd September, Days 28 - 30 Hope Cove to Plymouth via Salcombe.

I was up early and headed to Salcombe.

Bolt Head when entering Salcombe in a vain attempt to get a
mooring without rafting up on a buoy.
Then bad news as I arrived, they were "rather busy" and only had a mooring if I rafted up on a buoy. I don't like rafting on a buoy at the best of times and certainly not in strong winds in an anchorage with a very strong tides. Of course the other boat(s) might leave, it was after all quite early in the day, but that could not be guaranteed and it was very busy with catamarans and monohulls rafted 3 to a buoy in places and more boats would likely arrive. 

So I decided to go back to Plymouth, hopefully to a marina so I could get some laundry done, with many boats about I rang ahead and reserved a berth at the Mayflower Marina for three nights. It was a very good sail back in fairly light winds that backed a few miles from the Great Mew Stone when the cruising chute went up.

Its always fun overtaking bigger boats, in this case a 15 meter
I did not want to risk crossing her bow in a fluky wind so had
to slow down and pass to windward.
Stonehouse barracks from Mayflower Marina.

2023 2 Hope Cove to Plymouth via Salcombe

29 miles in seven and a quarter hours.

Click here for The Yealm and back to Hope Cove.

2023 1st September, Days 26 and 27 Fowey to Cawsand and Hope Cove

The plan now was to position myself to get to the Channel Islands, probably initially Guernsey to meet up with fellow Jester John.

The first stop would be Cawsand on the west side of Plymouth Sound.

"Spirit of Adventure" about to enter Fowey for  the first time.
She is thought to be the largest ship ever to enter and
went in backwards with the help of 1 tug.
Sancerre in Cawsand Bay. I was still towing the dinghy so I went
ashore for some fresh food and an ice cream. I had thought to have
a swim but the water was so cold I chickened out.
Then Sabi arrived, now owned by fellow Jester sailor Bob,
a long chin wag and catch up ensued.

20 miles in 4 hours

To Hope Cove

With strong winds forecast in a couple of days I decided to head for Salcombe as a better start point for Guernsey and, given the likely variability of the winds direction, with better protection than the Jennycliff Bay anchorage in Plymouth Sound that had been my first thought. The next day was forecast to be decent so I initially headed for Hope Cove to anchor for the night.

A dolphin breaching, full screen will be required
to see it.
From the anchorage at Hope Cove after a pleasant sail from

2023 2 Fowey to Hope Cove

12 miles in 4 hours.

Click here for a good sail back to Plymouth.