I’d first met Donald when he and I crewed aboard Avilion on The Chentlemens’ Cruise. He ‘phoned me last week and asked if I’d like to crew on his Bruce Roberts 34 Shard, on a cruise to Rathlin from Ardrossan. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to redeem my failure to reach Cork from the Solent a couple of weeks ago.
I joined Donald and Charlotte aboard in Clyde Marina, Ardrossan at 1900 on Thursday and we were under way in an hour or so. The wind was F4 on the nose (does this sound familiar?) and we tacked SW for Pladda on the southern tip of Arran in a lumpy sea. Excellent conditions for getting to know a new boat and I was allowed to monopolise the helm to begin with, using the excuse that I should get my hand in before sunset.
I was happy to find that Shard sails much like a bigger version of Silkie with a very similar long fin and skeg underwater profile. A slightly greater beam/length ratio means that she is not so tender initially but she yields to the puffs with much the same grace and the helm remains beautifully balanced. This is not something that can always be said of the good ship Silkie. The rudder had authority and she inspired confidence immediately. She could often be left to sail on the wind without a hand on the tiller for ten minutes or so despite the conditions.
Skipper wisely decided that it wasn’t a lone watch kind of wind and he and I stood the first as darkness fell. It wasn’t long before we had talked ourselves into anchoring for the rest of the night. We held port tack to sail in behind Holy Isle, dropped the hook off Lamlash at 0030 and turned in after a couple of drams in the cockpit.
An 0730 start on Friday saw us motorsailing down the east coast of Arran while we breakfasted. Rounding Pladda light let us sail the course to go south of Sanda in F3-4. Our timing was now a bit out and the current was against us so we gave the Mull a wide berth and began the slog across the North Channel against a couple of knots of current. The wind had fallen light and progress was hard won. Eventually the wind freshened again and the current relented but it was a couple of hours after slack water as we approached Rathlin Island.
This is less than ideal and it was with some trepidation that we scanned the horizon for the fearsome “slough na morra” as we entered Rathlin Sound. We saw the line of breakers soon enough and seamanlike precautions were taken aboard Shard. It seemed at first that the line was broken about a third of the way south of it’s northern end and (since we had to make a large clockwise circuit of the bay to follow the eddy) that we would be able to slip throught the gap. But we reckoned without the speed of the current that carried us towards them and it quickly became obvious that they couldn’t be avoided. We took them on the nose and although we seemed at times to be more nearly vertical than horizontal we were soon through, and much relieved.
We continued our circuitous approach to the miniature harbour which nestles inside the more recently constructed outer breakwater in the crook of the L-shaped island.
My guiding principle in these situations is that if there is any chance of grounding or collision then the skipper should helm his own boat but my pleas fell on deaf ears and I was “allowed the glory” of bringing her in. The inner harbour is so small that the berthed ferry must partially block the entrance. We squeezed through with less than a metre clearance and then had to make an immediate right-angled turn to starboard since the shore side of the harbour is too shallow for us. We were rafted alongside a 60yo converted wooden naval supply vessel Wilmiranda by 2130. A celebratory brandy was consumed as we tidied ourselves up and we were in the pub by 2200, just as the evening was beginning to warm up.
It was Rathlin’s festival week and this was the excuse for our trip since Donald had been invited to join the musicians in McCuaig’s bar. This really deserves a blog entry of its own but suffice it to say that Donald’s mandolin and bazouki made a fine contribution to the joyous ensemble and even I felt moved to join the singing occasionally. It had been a long day for us and we left early at 0300 (the party continued ’til after five) for a nightcap aboard. Why does that always seem like such a good idea?
An 0000 Sunday departure was planned so we allowed ourselves a late start on Saturday and the day was spent in a leisurely exploration of the island. The excellent wee museum was very informative and is definitely worth an hour or two of anyone’s time. It’s free but be sure to leave a donation. “Slough na morra” was translated here for me as “swallow of the sea” because of it’s habit of swallowing unwary vessels. The chip van is also highly recommended and was very professionally run (I’ve never before seen such an establishment use a temperature probe) by two friendly young ladies, one of whom had personally landed some of the fish that morning!
Friendly and welcoming doesn’t really do justice to the atmosphere of this island whose permanent population numbers less than a hundred souls. Our welcome may have been especially warm because of Donald’s contribution to the entertainments but it seemed impossible to walk more than 100m without stopping for a chat with someone. Graham was the accordian player and a regular visitor from Gigha in his stout wee converted open boat Jamie Boy which had originally been the Gigha foot passenger ferry.
The arrival of a centre-cockpit Westerly Corsair Slioch provided a particularly fine demonstration of seamanship. With a wonderfully delicate touch on the throttle her skipper berthed in the now very crowded harbour in a space only inches longer than Slioch herself using an impressive wind-powered ferry glide. Not to be outdone we decided to warp Shard around in preparation for our departure. Though they stopped short of applauding, I’m positive that the audience were at least entertained if not, perhaps, hugely impressed! After a couple of early evening pints I turned in for an hour or two, prior to our departure.
We slipped our lines at 0040 and set off motoring across a glassy bay in the absence of the forecast SW F3/4. We used a waypoint to keep us south of the TSS but a large vessel emerging from the TSS on a constant bearing for more than half an hour gave us an anxious time. Although we were the stand-on vessel, by the time we could see the whites of their eyes we decided it would be prudent to slow down. They probably altered for us at the same time and passed comfortably ahead.
Skipper went below for a nap and our next nocturnal encounter was off the Mull with HMS Monmouth whose Securite announcement on CH16 informed us that she was on a dived submarine excercise. Daybreak off Sanda was followed by breakfast and I went below for a couple of hours. By the time I awoke we were off Holy Isle and the forecast SW wind was putting in an appearance. We tried out Shard’s new twin headsail foil in the freshening breeze and our initial three knots on a dead run built to over six as we approached Ardrossan. We dropped one sail and rolled the genoa down to a scrap to slow down to let the ferry out and were safely back alongside by 1340.
Many thanks to Donald and Charlotte for a marvellous sail on the wonderful Shard. I’m now a fully paid up member of the Rathlin fan club and am already making plans to return on Silkie!
Miles this trip 140
Miles this season 641 (s/h 93)