Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Monday, 31 May 2021

Completing the Crinal Canal and the sun shines at last!

The midges turned out to be no problem, thankfully - it's early in the season, after all - and the remaining transit of the canal was a great experience. The two lock-keepers for the final 'uphill' section at Cairnbaan were really friendly and helpful and we earned Brownie points by letting a couple of yachts who were in a hurry (complete with paid 'pilot' to do all the hard work for them, where's the fun in that?) overtake us. We were very happy to take it steadily and enjoy the experience - heaving on the gates and winding the sluices is all part of the fun.

The 'downhill' locks are easier (no massive turbulence in the chamber unlike the previous ones) and again the lock-keepers made life very easy of us. 

These locks are more closely spaced in a 'staircase' of 5 chambers, each with a holding pond in between

Bravo and Maunie are a reasonably tight fit!

Our final night destination was the Crinan Basin, with just one final lock before the sea. The weather finally has turned into summer and this was a great spot to enjoy the views.

Maunie tucked into the top left corner of the basin, Bravo two boats behind.

The canal is used by all sorts of vessels but Bravo is probably one of the bigger sailing yachts to make the transit. There's a draught (depth) limit of only 2.1 metres - we saw a least depth of 2.2m at one point - and most big sailing yachts have deep keels; the fresh water in the canal also makes boats float about 10cm lower than in sea water. Adam & Cindi were able to retract Bravo's lifting keel, however, to get through with ease.

We were delighted to see a boat at the other end of the scale come through the locks. An intrepid couple of blokes had launched their ancient wooden Wayfarer dinghy (just 16ft) in Portpatrick and were heading up to Fort William, through the Caledonian Canal to Inverness and then south to Berwick on Tweed.

Graham did lots of his early dinghy sailing in a Wayfarer (sail number 918). Panacea is probably 50 years old.

We are now anchored in the beautiful natural harbour of Puilladohbrain (pronounced Puldoran, it means Pool of the Otter) just south of Oban. It's become rather too popular at the weekends so we didn't venture into the inner section, crowded with 12 boats already at anchor, and instead enjoyed the peace of the outer end. 

Looking south, with the island of Seil to the left. Maunie and Bravo in the foreground

Today has dawned bright, sunny and windless so a walk ashore this morning is on the plan. We're hoping a sea breeze will kick in this afternoon to take us up the Sound of Mull.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

It's just turned into a canal holiday!

 We're now in the Crinan Canal, a short-cut built in the early 1800's to save an 80-mile trip around the often stormy Mull of Kintyre.

We did an overnight at the little port of Tarbert in Loch Fyne. Tarbert means peninsula in Gaelic so there are lots of Tarbets around here; it's important to be clear which one you mean to avoid navigational embarrassment! The village has obviously been hit by the Covid lockdowns, since it relies on tourism to a big extent; the Anchor and Tarbert Hotels look pretty permanently closed but the yachting facilities have been improved with a big extension to the marina and very smart new loos and showers.

Bravo and Maunie at the outer end of the closest pontoon.

We celebrated Cindi's birthday with a really excellent seafood dinner at the Starfish Restaurant and had a great evening.

The Crinan Canal goes from Ardrishaig to Crinan and is only about 8 miles long. It does, however, have 14 locks and, once through the initial sea lock, the water is fresh and dark, peaty-brown. Major refurbishment works at Ardrishaig - new lock gates and repairs to the lock chambers - were supposed to have been completed in March  but are still far from finished so the engineering contractors had to lock us through, manually pushing the heavy lock gates and their, as yet non-functional, hydraulic rams.

It was a tight fit for Maunie and Bravo to share a lock and the water gets fairly turbulent when the sluices are opened up:

So far, it's been great fun, though slightly scary at times. Today we have 4 more uphill locks and 5 downhill locks ahead of us; without engineers in orange boiler suits to help us, the two crews will work together to operate the locks.

The next four locks await!

Finally, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the forecast is for sunshine (yes, we remember that) for the next 4 or 5 days. The bad news is that there are midges here!

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Maybe not such a good weather window!

The theme of this trip so far has definitely been ‘find a weather window and go for it, before the next bloody gale’. After a lovely few days catching up with Graham's family, our next challenge was to round the Mull of Galloway (another headland with some big tidal races developing off its tip) to get round into the sheltered waters of the Firth of Clyde.

Days of adverse north-westerly winds lay ahead but we spotted an opportunity for Sunday – a brisk south to south-easterly, perfect for rounding the Mull, which would abruptly die mid-afternoon as a front passed over us. Different weather forecasting models all seemed to be in full agreement with each other, all promising average wind speeds at the Mull of 23-25 knots, so we decided that this would be a fast but potentially bumpy passage and Graham’s dad jumped at the chance to join us on the 100nm trip up to Troon.

There are, sadly, no photos of the rounding of the Mull of Galloway, mainly because we were fully occupied with the vital task of hanging on and trying to steer the bucking boat through some awesome seas. Forget 23-25 knots, we saw a peak gust of 44 (a full gale) and huge, confused waves as the favourable tide flushed us past the point. We made it safely through, if a little battered and bruised, but Graham said afterwards “I , for one, will not be doing that again!”.

As promised, almost as soon as we were through the maelstrom, the wind abruptly died so we motored northwards in calm seas and even flew the spinnaker for a short while.

Hard to believe there was a full gale 4 hours earlier! Bravo motors past Arran

3 nights in the fantastic Troon Yacht Haven gave us time to rinse the salt from the boat, our clothes and ourselves and to recover from the drama of the passage. Geoff got the train home and Colin, an old sailing friend from the boat Ithaka, joined us for an excellent if somewhat alcoholic night – drinks on Maunie and supper aboard Bravo.

We are now in the beginning of the spectacular Scottish cruising grounds. We motored, in almost flat calm, up to the Kyles of Bute, with a moment to alter course to avoid a US Navy supply ship (called, rather unimaginatively, ‘Supply’) coming out of the Clyde at 18 knots.

We’ve anchored in a beautiful natural harbour called An Caladh and were treated to a magical rainbow as sudden rain-dumps punctuated an otherwise beautiful evening.

An Caladh, looking SW into West Kyle

Adam & Cindi enjoying an anchor beer on the back step

Today we’ll head round to the yachties' Mecca of East Loch Tarbert before embarking on the mini adventure of the Crinan Canal over the weekend.


Saturday, 22 May 2021

Heading to Scotland, ahead of a Force 9 Gale!

Passage planning - working out sailing routes that will avoid horrible wind or sea conditions and will allow us to arrive at sensible times - is a vital part of the navigator's life. We'd sheltered in Falmouth for a few days as strong winds and heavy rain rolled over us but were desperate to head towards Scotland. An ominous forecast for a few days ahead concentrated our minds:

This was for Thursday but ahead of it was the slimmest of weather windows to complete  a substantial 2-day passage around Land's End and up to the Solway Firth

So we left Falmouth on Monday evening, just as it was getting dark, to head west. The conditions turned out to be pretty perfect (too little wind at times, if we have to be picky) but we had a brilliant passage up to the little port of Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kircoobree) which is only a few miles from Graham's parents' home. 

Again we sailed in company with Bravo all the way:

Sailing north past Holyhead in Anglesey

We had dolphin playing in the bow waves of both boats for hours as we headed toward the Isle of Man

Motor-sailing in the evening light

Hard to believe that there'd be a Force 8-9 gale in less than 18 hours!

We arrived ahead of schedule so anchored off the entrance of the River Dee before motoring up to the harbour at first light on the rising tide. In spite of the early hour, Graham's folks, Helen & Geoff, were waiting for us on the pontoon, camera in hand.

Sure enough, the gale rolled in later that day, accompanied by huge amounts of rain but it has now settled down and dried out so we flew the drone this morning:

Just enough space for Maunie and Bravo on the pontoon

It's been lovely to catch up with family after the Covid-enforced absence and, weather permitting, Geoff will join us for the next passage - around the Mull of Galloway and up to Troon. It's going to be windy again, naturally!

Click HERE for a short video of the highlights of the trip

Friday, 14 May 2021

Cracking sailing and some great photo opportunities

As forecast, Wednesday dawned sunny but windless so our anchorage at the entrance to Bow Creek looked particularly lovely.

Looking towards Bow Creek at high tide

Bravo in the early morning sunshine

We knew that the 35nm passage west towards the River Yealm would see light winds and the arrival of some heavy rain but the initial beat out to Start Point had just enough breeze to keep us moving at 3-4 knots. It also seemed to be the perfect opportunity to try the drone as we sailed.

Maunie gently sailing west

My respect for the Volvo Ocean Race on board reporters who would capture amazing drone video footage as the boats were doing about 25 knots was even greater after this little trial - getting the drone to within Dianne's grasp was harder than we expected.

Once we reached Start Point the wind died and the rain arrived so both crews enjoyed the luxury of the shelter in their pilot houses, whilst we kept a close watch for lobster pot buoys.

On the visitors' pontoon on the Yealm after a very wet night.
The 52ft aluminium Bravo rather dwarfs the 38 ft Maunie.

Thursday promised an altogether different sailing experience for the 41nm sail to Falmouth - a brisk Force 5-6 NW promised a close reach and some exhilarating sailing. Definitely no drone flying, be we managed some great boat-to-boat photos as Bravo steadily overtook us, reveling in the conditions.

A second reef added as Bravo passed us and the wind increased further (Cindi is at the mast handling the reefing lines) - we reefed at the same time

Adam reciprocated with these shots of Maunie, who looked altogether smaller in the 1.5 - 2m swell.

Dive, Dive, Dive!

A gust hits us and the mainsail is eased to spill wind - definitely time for the second reef!

Diving, again

She does pop up again after every wave, thankfully!

Though these photos look quite dramatic, life of board was remarkably comfortable. A lot more so than for this solo sailor we passed:

This was a Hunter Horizon 23 (the same length as our first Gentoo so we could appreciate the bouncing he was experiencing in the lively swell) and it just didn't look quite right. The fenders slapping at the side of the hull were an odd sight and he was sailing at only 2-3 knots under just a small headsail. We waved at him but got no response and Adam tried hailing him on Channel 16 without success; however he seemed to be in control, didn't want to attract our attention and was on course for Falmouth but he'd be lucky to get in much before dark at his slow speed.

Adam and I chatted on the radio and both felt a little uneasy about what we'd seen so I called Falmouth Coastguard just to log our sighting. They were very professional and thanked us for the report and I emailed them the photo as it allowed us to identify the boat name as Pipsqueak. The Coastguard called him several times without response so we just hope he made it safely into port. 

We're now safely in Falmouth and will be here for a few day as yet another low pressure system, with strong westerly winds, sweeps over us. There are worse places to be stuck but it's becoming a tad frustrating to watch the forecast and try to find a weather window to get round the Lizard and Land's End.