I have to confess that, when I used to read of a
sailing club planning a cruise to the Lower Clyde, a massive question
mark hovered over my head. Why would anyone want to sail around a dirty,
polluted river between lines of sadly derelict shipyards, rusting hulks
and decaying wharves, testament to the long gone supremacy of the area.
How wrong can anyone be! Greenock seawards must be one of the World's
great cruising spots. Spectacular scenery, virtually no tidal flow,
accessible harbours and friendly people. True, the area has more than
its fair share of weather and the midges can be annoying, but these pale
into insignificance. Navigation is straightforward, with anything closer
than about 20m to the surface clearly marked. Sinister nuclear subs,
after all, ply this area, sometimes visibly, sometimes out of sight.
Porpoises playfully put on a show a few metres away and seals can be
mistaken for a floating log, before diving below the boat to throw the
depth gadget into confusion. The chart shows 90m of water, the echo
sounder 3m - 5m - 1.2m, alarm buzzing frantically then back to real
depth. Either a seal or a solid shoal of fish. I just hope it wasn't the
Navy not noticing Trilobite on the sonar.
I'd sat around for several weeks in drought afflicted Suffolk, while the
wettest May in the history of the planet seemed to go on forever.
Suddenly the 15 day forecast showed wall to wall dryness for the Firth
of Clyde. Making my way up the A1, I hoped they were right. The folks at
Largs Yacht Haven were most welcoming and directed me to a berth and
free parking for the trailer and car. Trilobite slid into the water
enthusiastically, as if anticipating her adventure. A couple of days
shakedown saw us anchor off a sandy beach in a mirror sea. The next day
to get bounced around so vigorously that I was wary of the foredeck,
even with safety line clipped on, trying to pick up a mooring in
Millport Bay. I gave up, deciding that it would be a rough night and
retreated back to the security of Largs.
Kip Marina is home to yachts bigger than my house, but each of the
several times I approached a pontoon, someone would trot over and catch
the bow rope. The yachting community, I concluded, are among the
friendliest, least judgemental of folk. Usually I can make a perfect
approach for it to turn rapidly into a total pig's ear in the last
metre, but everyone else seemed to be capable of the same and
anticipated the issues.
"Holy Lock Marina, Holy Lock Marina, Holy Lock
Marina, this is Yacht Trilobite, Trilobite, Trilobite, over."
It was the first time I'd use the handheld VHF and half expected
not to gain a response, but a warm Scottish accent responded
"Requesting a visitor berth for two nights, please. Over"
"Just come into one of the empty berths and make yourself at
home. Come up to the office when you're ready. Over."
Holy Loch, once the site of US weapons of mass destruction, is
now a peaceful, stunningly beautiful haven, sheltered from South
Westerlies. A sharp Easterly F6 sprang up, keeping me pinned
down for a couple of days, but the hills overlooking the loch
provided recreation and a wooded route into Dunoon, with its
cafes and supermarkets. This wasn't ever going to be sailing day
after day. Retirement means the space to be able to relax and
wait for a fine day before moving on.
Being used to the narrow confines of the
Norfolk Broads, meant that the Clyde, at this point several
miles wide, seemed like an ocean and it has waves! What had my
eyes out on stalks in the first few days, soon became routine,
though never distained. The Caprice gained my confidence and
even the bow wave from relatively fast moving shipping gave her
no concerns. Calmac ferries seem to appear from nowhere and I
concluded they were to be given a wide berth. Forget 'power
gives way to sail', it just ain't going to happen. No, to be
fair, the Great Cumbrae ferry did go round me when I was
somewhat becalmed, drinking coffee, along with a number of other
yachts, sails impotently hanging in folds.
Our first foreign port, as against a
commercial marina, was Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Narrow
wooden finger pontoons close to the ferry bounced around
alarmingly until late in the evening, but Rothesay is a
delightful little town and agricultural Bute a laid back corner
of Scotland, with none of the tourist frenzy of the Highlands.
I have a pathological hatred of midges, having been a climber
and walker all my life and still have nightmares about them from
camping on the beach in Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye. Up there in
August, grown men are reduced to tears and nervous breakdowns
not at all uncommon. The Skye midges regard 100% Deet as a
delicacy. I'd sort of forgotten this in my enthusiasm to sail,
but the reality is that only the Olympians among them manage to
reach a mooring out on the water. One muggy night in Helensburgh
at Rhu Marina they were a little troublesome, but a breeze soon
sprung up and they were confined to base.
The chart is a simplified version of the cruise and three weeks
later, I found myself, suddenly, back in Largs. A colossal boat
hoist and a couple of helpful workers lifted us back onto the
trailer. Hopefully, I asked them if it showed the weight of
Trilobite. In a matter of fact way they commented that a smaller
boat, anything under about 5 tonnes, didn't really register.
We may be small, but my goodness, we are versatile.