After a lovely night anchored at Rothesay there was a gentle breeze blowing from the southeast which was perfect for my trip up East Kyle. I had several places on my radar to visit and none of them were very far and the prospect of short little hops was appealing. By mid morning I was itching to go but had to wait for the tide. However, I was nervous and had spent an hour looking at the books and the chart for the next little leg. When I was in Dun Laoghaire I met a Scottish guy who was on duty in the Harbour Master’s office when I went to pay my bill. At that time I had Mum and Sarah with me and I think this next part is akin to the strange phenomina of blokes not being willing to ask for directions. It was clear that sitting in front of me was a Scottish sailor who very probably had vast experience of everything related to sailing in Scotland. However, there wasn’t one part of me that wished to join the dots and say ‘I’m on my way to Scotland, do you have any thoughts, recommendations or advice please’? It’s that strange penis thing again I guess. Well, step forward the Old Doris (my Mum)!
I had predicted this but at the age of 42 I still felt embarrassed when Mum piped up ‘You’re on your way to Scotland aren’t you Mark’ in a voice that had me at about ten years old. Yes Mum, now shut it, I will happily pay the bill and then walk away without benefiting from any of the knowledge that is freely available right in front on me, I thought.
My Mum obviously used her powers of telepathy and gave me a knowing sarcastic head wobble that told me she knew exactly what I was thinking and that, quite frankly, she didn’t give a toss! Again, probably a penis thing but I never like to be wrong or worse, be exposed as being wrong but on this occasion I was happy to be taught that not all 74 year olds smell of wee and have no idea what is going on outside of their six foot radius of familiarity and comfort because there began a valuable insight into the very part of Scotland that I was planning on passing through. Sometimes, I concede, Mum’s do know best.
This guy had lots to say and thankfully had the decency to write it down in English which ensured that it was indeed useful rather than a ten minute session of polite head nodding punctuated with several generic responses of ‘yes, ok, right, that sounds good’, the upshot of which would have been a total and utter waste of everyone’s time.
He said that the trip up East Kyle was a ‘fockin beauty’ and whilst the Kyle itself represents no navigational difficulties, at the top before it becomes the West Kyle there are some small islands called the Burnt Islands. These sit right in the middle and seriously constrict the tidal flow which causes it to speed up in order to squeeze through the gap. My trip adviser had told me that he went through there on a 25ft sailing boat doing 5 knots boat speed but the speed over the ground figure given by the GPS was 15 knots, therefore 10 knots of tide through a very narrow gap with less than a stones throw to each rocky side. Unless you are on a powerboat there is no way of going against this flow so it’s about timing. Timing the tide on most occasions is simply about reading the tide table and seeing that the tide changes at, say, midday and before midday it is going East and after, West. Therefore, if you want to go West you leave at midday. Easy. However, as with so many of the places around West Scotland it’s not that simple. The Isle of Bute is in the middle with West Kyle on one side and East Kyle the other so when the tide is coming in the water is moving up each Kyle at the same time and the two streams collide in the vicinity of the Burnt Islands The strongest flow bullies the weaker one and causes the flow on the weaker side to run back over itself which in turn causes much disturbed water and with the right conditions (or wrong) can make it totally impassable. The precise time and place at which these tides collide along the Kyle is dependent on weather factors like wind speed and direction and also what position the sun/moon are in which have an effect of the height of tides and therefore the speed and strength of the tidal flow. Asleep now? Helloooooo????
What this all means is that books, charts and weather need to be looked at all of which will allow you to make a best guess at where you should be and when. Yes, there is science but it still comes down to a best guess after considering all the variables.
I made my plan and sailed up the Kyle three hours before high water because to me it looked like the tide would change and go the other way about two hours before high water and take me through the gap. This was a nice little practice session for me and whilst my calculations were not spot on they weren’t bad. When I got there the tide hadn’t started to go the other way but it had stopped and the two tidal flows were nose to nose having a stand off waiting for the other to give way. So, pretty much no tidal flow and I pushed through in calm waters at normal speed. My first potential tidal race completed without drama. Happy with that.
I ended up anchored off a place call Kames where I was so close in I could pretty much look into the living room of the nearest house. I had a beer in the Kames Hotel, walked Max and then headed back to Fiesta to do some fishing. My fishing fortunes have changed since being in Scotland. This isn’t the result of any improvement in my skills. Instead it seems that at the moment Scottish waters are replete with Mackerel. I would say that almost every other cast in Rosethay and Kames resulted in two or three very good size Mackerel jumping on the line.
I’m not a big fish eater and genuinely cannot understand why anyone walks passed a fish counter in a supermarket and thinks ‘Mmmm, that smells good, let’s eat some fish’. To me it smells dead and anything but fresh so it’s always been a no go for me. However, via a few separate channels of encouragement I have given it a go and the last time I had Mackerel was in Wales with Russ, Conners and Joycey back in 2012 when Conners caught some off the rocks and they went on the BBQ a few hours later. With some reticence I tried some and actually quite liked it but a full 5 years later and I still hadn’t had another try. The other issue is that I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to living things and the thought of killing a fish did not sit comfortably with me. I know this is hypocritical because if you eat meat or anything else that was once alive then you cannot be blind to the fact that it has given it’s life to be on your plate.
It took about 30 good mackerel being caught and let go again before I finally decided that I was having one for dinner but now that I had released about 30, how on earth do you decide which poor little f*cker gets it? Three on the line at once; why should two go free and one get killed? This troubled me for some time until I reeled in my line with two really good mackerel on and as I lifted them onboard, the one at the top got free of the hook and went back into the deep. Well, there you go – I suppose that’s close enough to natural selection. The strong one has done one, the weaker one fallen to the back of the pack and is now going to be eaten.
I felt guilty and a bit sad about what I had done right up until the part when I ate him. F*ck me backwards with a fisherman’s gaff, it was awesome!!! Sea to stomach in about 45 minutes and just beautiful. I felt better about it instantly. If you are going to kill and eat something, you should at least love it so it hasn’t died in vain. I think this is how I would feel if someone was going to eat me although my last request would be to offer myself as toothless (please) rare sausage starter so we both got something out of it. Sorry, I digress.
After Kames I went South, had a lovely sail and turned right to enter Loch Fyne. Going North in Loch Fyne I found a beautiful little anchorage north of Tarbert Harbour. There’s a small peninsula with two anchorages, one to the North and one South and both protected from the West by the mountains and when tucked right up to the shoreline you are also protected to the East so you can shelter from all wind directions in one of these two bays.
Having absolutely no mobile phone service was frustrating for all of about 5 minutes and thereafter it was fantastic! I stayed there for two nights. The day I arrived was beautiful, the following day it p*ssed down ALL day and the day after it was beautiful again. A gale was forecast and given the choice I will always run for the shelter of a marina and Portavadie Marina was only 6 miles away so on Sunday I left the anchorage in a force 6 to 7 and sailed the 6 mile hop to the shelter of Portavadie.
Ok, quick bit of info. Portavadie was once a facility for constructing massive oil rigs. They were assembled and then towed out to position in the North Sea.
For some reason they stopped building them here and the site sat vacant until some bright spark decided that this big plot of land complete with a basin blasted out of rock where the rigs were floated out was a perfect site ready to be cleaned up and redeveloped into a marina, spa, luxury apartments and holiday lets. It’s beautiful but the photos at the end speak for themselves I think.
On approaching the entrance there are some rocks and fish farms to avoid and then you need to go through a gap between the two original concrete pillars that support the harbour wall. The gap doesn’t look very big and with a fair amount of motion from the waves it’s a bit daunting. Not for the fist time in my life I was thinking ‘How am I going to fit something this big into a gap that small’ only to realise once in opening that in actual fact I could get in there sideways. Oh well, another example of the difference between belief and reality.….
Yesterday was simply lovely. A perfect Scottish summer day and this time I do actually mean sunshine and cloud free too! I got the mountain bike out and did the hardest 8 mile ride of my life. It seems that whichever way you leave this marina there is a mountain to climb. Almost an hour and a half of gruelling climbing in the lowest gear I’ve got doing about walking pace followed by ten minutes of exhilarating downhill back to the marina. That was enough – exercise done!
To reward myself for my hard work I went to the spa where there is an absolutely fantastic bath temperature infinity pool overlooking the loch where I drifted off into a heavenly zen like state from which I was only roused when the lifeguard tapped me on the shoulder and told me to put my shorts back on. Ok, that’s not actually true but she did tap me on the shoulder because I had my eyes shut, was sitting on a ledge with my nose just above the water and hadn’t moved for 15 minutes. Good to see them doing their job although I would say that if I hadn’t been ok they probably would have been about 14 minutes too late!
Honestly, this place is fantastic. Who would have believed that it would be worth spending the millions on this that must have been spent? Someone was very smart though because it works and it’s not just people from the marina using the spa. There were lots of locals turning up to use it too but at 12 quid a swim I can only assume it’s an annual treat for them.
Lastly, in a cruel twist of fate the only place I can pick up any 3/4g here is around the corner near a place where there is a fish farm and the local hang out for a few billion of Scotland’s midges population so I’m off there now to try and upload this followed by a trip to the local hospital to pick up a few bags of O negative…….
Sailing up the East Kyle towards Burnt Islands
Kames and a decent Mackerel although this one still swims as far as I knowPerfectly protected anchorage complete with no mobile phone reception. The castle on the North side of the peninsula and it’s anchorage
Sailing to Portavadie, pretty deep out there, the entrance to the marina and the extent of my climb on the bike