We had a couple of lovely light sunny days in Lough Swilly. Most of the time involved getting John Joe and Margaret back into sailing mood. Their boat had a new engine which limited sailing during the winter and work demands had prevented much sailing since the installation was completed. So we headed out for a two spins in light airs to remind them how to set and maximise the sailplan. With spectacular vistas all around and calm seas, it was a great end to Colm and Anne's trip and a great start to Anne's. Siobhan and Leita joined us for a light sail on Suckin' Diesel which was a pleasant last spin before leaving the Swilly on the morning tide. Margaret was nervous about the passage around Malin Head which is famed for being bumpy, especially with wind against tide. But as it turned out, we motored into a light easterly breeze with only a little lumpiness around Malin Head. The last hour and a half we even had breeze enough to sail close hauled the last few miles into Portrush. I was personally very relieved that the first trip for John Joe and Margaret was so ideal. Margaret slept most of the way around and arrived happy and glad to have done the trip. John Joe had Eddie on board to help but, from our regular radio conversations, I knew that all was good on board during the trip.
We had a celebratory dinner on board SD to celebrate the success and those on board Margaret Louise were on for a bit of a challenge on the morrow. From Portrush the choice was to follow along the coast, past the Giants Causeway to Rathlin or to make the direct passage to Islay in Scotland, 30 miles away across open sea. They decided the direct spin was on and so we set off with an East or Souteast 4-5 forecast. Initially, the winds were light but the filled once we were 5 miles offshore and we were romping along close hauled at 6+ knots under staysail, yankee and a singly reefed main. Half way across the wind was up to the top end of 5 and gusting into 6. We were under double reefed main and the log was regularily reading 8 knots, maxing out at 8.4 knots on a beam reach. Now that was real sailing, the fastest regular speed of the summer. It must be Anne's influence. !! It was also a real test for the mainsail repair which had partly undone on the way into the Swilly. But it seemed that Colm's repair was holding well.
On arriving, we found the small marina in Port Ellen fairly full. But in a good breeze, we managed to make a tight handbrake turn into a berth. Anne was on the ball and got the midship line on in a flash and then we were safely secured. With a blow forecast for that night and the following day, there were plenty of boats taking refuge (in the whisky probably!!). We managed to find a berth for Margaret Louise who were motor sailing at this stage and arrived a hour after us. Again, the arrival was celebrated with a feed before going for a stroll and a pint or two. Margaret was really pleased with herself. The conditions had been noticably stronger that the previous day but still she coped well, surprising herself at how much she had enjoyed the whole experience so far. John Joe's increased confidence was visible all over his face and he was ready for the challenge of the return without having us nearby. I for one, felt he was well up for it.
The predicted blow came in late that night and the following day the two crews went exploring. Anne and I got out our bicycles and cycled off to visit the distilleries. We had a lovely cycle following the coast before going back to Ardbeg, which I had visited with Derek and Teresa the year before. Anne and I did the tour, which was interesting, followed by a wee dram or two. On the way back we popped into Lagavulin to buy some of theirs and before you knew it, we were settling down to venison steaks with the others. A great day all around exploring what Islay had to offer. The following day Anne and I went on the bikes out to the American Monument on the remote Mull of Oa, to the west of Port Ellen. A hilly cycle led to great views in the rain out to the Mull of Kintyre on the Scottish mainland and at times to Rathlin. The spin back was faster, being mostly downhill. Arriving back fairly soaked, we of course needed a "wee dram" to warm ourselves up (for medicinal purposes). Anne's spectacular mango chicken ended another great day for both crews on Islay.
Lots of rain came in that evening and into the night. The morning forcast saw lighter winds coming in and
John Joe decided to take his opportunity to make a move back to Portrush. We went through all the
possibilities but he was happy to go, demonstrating his confidence. Well done John Joe !! A phone call an
hour out confirmed that they were going well in rainy but settled conditions. Anne and I stayed on another
day in Islay (How Romantic !!!!) and we were even kind enough to entertain the locals by attempting to play
our version of tennis. Our spectators were very kind by not laughing too much !!
But soon our stay on Islay was over and after stocking up with whiskey, we headed back across to Ballycastle in
Northern Ireland. There we met up with Kevin and Liz with their kids for a spin out to Rathlin. The forecast
was for light winds and sun, ideal for exploring this island. As it turned out, we were able to sail slowly across
and we spent a rainy night relaxing on board after a good feed. The following morning we walked to the
bird sanctuary at the west lighthouse. The land on Rathlin is much better for farming than Tory or Islay
and you could understand how these people were able to survive quite well and with a regular ferry service to
the mainland only 5 miles away, winters probably weren't too isolating.
But soon enough it was all over and the family had to head back to the mainland for a crew change. Sadly for me, Anne was leaving in the morning. The trip with her was great this time as she got to do some really varied sailing and really started to see what is so special about cruising. I will miss having her on board (to keep the dodgy skipper in check !). I was joined by Brian and Joanne from Edinburgh. I had met Brian in Tobermory last year and he was keen to show his wife what this sailing stuff was all about. The plan was to head across to the Mull of Kintyre and into the Firth of Clyde for a week or so. The Firth is a large wide bay with lots of small harbours and anchorages, mostly sheltered from the swell. It is an ideal place to introduce someone to cruising. Our first day was a motorsail on flat seas past the Mull and into Campbelltown. Comfortable conditions allowed our visitors to gently get their sea legs. The only complaint was the lack of winds and the drizzle which set in that evening. But at least we were across and were safe no matter what conditions arose.
The next day we had a good forecast but on going out there was little wind and a slightly sloppy sail. But on
heading further north the wind rose on the nose. When we got ready to set sail I noticed that the patch on
the main was coming away a bit again and the decision was made to drop the main altogether as it
was coming away even more. This was a pity as we couldnt tack or use the main to stabilise the boat. Instead we
were motoring into steep choppy seas. Joanne enjoyed the conditions despite feeling queasy, good on you girl !!
So when we arrived into Tarbert, Brian and I had to replace the mainsail, which was beyond repairing in
my opinion, with the original lighter one which came with the boat. Luckily, despite not having seen the
light of day in 6 years, it was in good enough condition to use. The following day it proved to be ok in the
light airs we had for the first couple of hours on our way to the Kyles of Bute. A Kyle is a channel
between an island and the mainland, I think. Anyway the Kyles of Bute are very scenic and dotted with
lovely houses/mansions along its mainland shore. We anchored for lunch in a small gap between an island and the
mainland near the top of the Kyle in perfect tranquility. That night we tied up in Rothesay, a Victorian
seaside town on the Isle of Bute. The evening was blessed with the arrival of the Waverly, the oldest steam
powered paddle steamer in the UK which does regular trips from Glasgow. A real sight !!
From Rothesay, we motored in light winds past the Isle of Bute and the Cumbrae Islands, setting sail for the last 7 miles towards Troon in light winds. We took the opportunity of the conditions to some man overboard practice which was great fun. But we knew that it would be the last sailing for a bit as a blow was forecast so we would be stuck for at least a day. This meant some repairs and cleaning, combined with chilling out in the rain. And of course planning the next stage of the trip.......