West Coast Cruise
This had been an adventure both myself and wife Erika had wanted to do for some time and when the opportunity arose for us to explore further afield we grabbed it with both hands.
The trip was to take a week and our journey was to cover the Crinan Canal, Dhors Mhor and the Cuan sounds arriving in Oban at some point in the week.
Our friends Robert and Elisabeth Aldam, who are also Aqua star owners have a 430 name of Scavaig home berth Portavardie, decided to join us where we would meet up at the Canal Basin in Ardrishaig.
Our first morning Monday 9th May 2016 Kip Marina – dawned bright and sunny with a strong easterly breeze. Erika and I, with the grateful assistance of John Robertson of Seatrek Marine Services set off from our base with course heading of Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne. We had agreed to meet Robert and Elisabeth around 1600hrs for entry into the Canal.
The journey was magical with blue skies and seas with a strong wind astern for most of the way. Passing Rothesay, Kyles of Bute, and Tighnabruich, crossing the top of Arran and into Loch Fyne where the wind strengthened with gusts in excess of 40 knots, breaking white tops with no swell, it was comfortable cruising.
We arrived in Ardrishaig at 15.45 to see ‘Scavaig’ already in the sea lock being lifted ready to go through. With the wind conditions as they were we decided to hold off from the pier until it was our turn to be called into the lock? At 1700 we entered Ardrishaig basin where we moored up for the night in preparation for our epic journey through the Crinan Canal the following day. That evening, we visited Yot Spot restaurant in Pier Square, where we were served a delicious Haddock Mornay. The following morning we were to meet up with Yot Spot staff again in a different capacity.
Tuesday 10th May 2016 – Ardrishaig Basin Crinan Canal – This had been a long held ambition to transit the canal and visit some of the outer islands in the magnificent cruising area off the west coast; Taking into account that we are in our 70’s as are Robert and Elisabeth we were somewhat apprehensive about the 12 locks which have to be manually operated. Robert had made enquiries about assisted passages and found ‘Yot Spot’ who offered this service, which proved extremely helpful with the business of opening and closing of gates and cycling ahead to ensure the locks were ready for entry.
The weather was good again on Tuesday but still with that strong easterly breeze. John’s knowledge of the locks was invaluable and his skill of working the ropes fore and aft and also some lock gates greatly contributed to a smooth passage. The scenery was stunning with fresh cherry blossoms, vibrant shades of green and birdsong making it a memorable experience. We made it to the pontoons above lock 14 around 1500 where we moored for the night and took the opportunity to top up the water tank and wash down the coating of salt spray from Loch Fyne. It is worth mentioning that the canal system does not supply hoses as with a lot of the marinas these days it is down to the vessels themselves to bring their own hoses.
Dinner had been booked at the Crinan Hotel where we were served a 6 course meal beautifully prepared and with a spectacular sun set going down behind the Corryvechan around 9.30 it was the perfect end to an amazing day.
Crinan is a small fishing village supported by the hotel, restaurant and café; the Crinan boatyard which offers full facilities, chandlery and a bunk house for owners working on their boats. Run by John Dunlop and Derek Smart you can be assured of a great service. This makes for a good stopping place at the end of a long day.
Wednesday 11th May 2016 Crinan Basin – With a sunny and bright start with an even stronger north easterly wind, John chatted to the lock keepers to arrange our passage through, but he (John) wisely advised us to wait until afternoon when wind and tide would be behind us. This gave us the opportunity to walk along the canal path, stocking up with delicious sandwiches from the café and plotting the course to Oban.
On leaving the sea lock it was necessary to keep the power on to prevent being blown sideways and then we waited for Robert and Elisabeth to come through. The Dorus Mhor is a set of whirl pools just outside of Crinan sea lock and we made our way through them avoiding the more turbulent water, motoring past Craignish Point, through the islands and up the Sound of Luing past Easdale and Seil Island before entering the Sound of Kerrera and into the marina opposite the town of Oban.
We had radioed ahead to Oban Marina to confirm our berths for 2 nights and water taxi to the town for a meal only to be told both services were closing at 5pm. This caused some consternation as our ETA was 17.30 and no food available on Kerrera Island! However, after contacting John’s wife Lesley who had made the reservations all was sorted, with instructions to help ourselves to vacant berths. Transport was arranged for 18.00, this worked well and we sere soon at our table at EE.USK just a few metres away from the water taxi steps. Even though we were comparatively early the restaurant was very busy with a good variety of delicious dishes.
Cruising the west coast
from Crinan to Oban
Transport back was arranged for 2030 and we were pleased to find strong signals for telephone and WIFI at the marina. We made arrangements with the helpful taxi helmsman to take us across at a similar time next evening. Incidentally he was the owner of an earlier Aquastar 38 and was planning a trip to Norway.
Thursday 12th May 2016 Oban Marina – Another lovely day with lighter winds greeted us when we woke and we made way to Lochaline Harbour, opposite the island of Mull, for lunch. Oban is a busy ferry port so it is sometimes necessary to wait for vessels coming in and out of the harbour before crossing the shipping lanes.
The entrance to Lochaline is a buoyed channel with a Calmac Ferry Jetty just inside. Further down the loch at Lochaline Harbour there are pontoons and an honesty box for visitors. Once ashore, we took a stroll into the village via a pleasant coastal walk. Here we had lunch at the special White House Hotel, where the food is superb and beautifully presented.
Friday 13th May 2016 Oban Marina – Being intrepid explorers we weren’t put off by Friday 13th superstitions and even though the cloud cover was more than in previous days it remained dry. We had an unhurried passage back to Crinan Sea Lock, cruising past the Islands that we had seen going up; arriving back into the Canal around 1400 with both boats safely moored at 1500 above Loch 14. With a return to the Crinan hotel for dinner and more photographs of the sun setting we retired to our berths tired and happy, looking forward to our last day as a team the following day.
Saturday 14th May 2016 Crinan basin – The sun was bright and we were all up early ready to transit the canal to Ardrishaig. At our arrival to Loch 13 we were met by the boys from Yot Spot who safely guided us through the magnificent scenery to Lock 2 here we waited our turn to enter the Sea Lock and out into Loch Fyne. Erika and I were greatly impressed with how well Robert and Elisabeth coped with the manoeuvring into the locks and working the ropes on their boats where as we had the benefit of John’s help to guide us through. We made a quick dash to Portavardie Marina, which is ‘Scavaig’s’ home port, where we moored up for the night. A good meal in the restaurant then fond farewells to our lovely companions who we had shared so much together, in what had been a fantastic and memorable 6 days.
Sunday 15th May 2016 Portavardie Marina – An early start this morning with bright sunshine and Loch Fyne looking its best as we made our way back to Kip.
It had been an unforgettable experience made so much better by the help and guidance of John and our grateful thanks to him for making this, such a special trip.
Skipper ‘Erika – Jo 111’
Aquastar Azure 48