Our passage to Ireland

This year our passage to the start line would be different, a quick check on the chart plotter confirmed our hopes and beliefs that we wouldn’t have to make the usual trip south and that it was a shorter distance on the north about route. This would give us the opportunity to visit some new and different places, offering a new challenge, even before we get to the start line. We planned our route through the Caledonian Canal and down the west coast of Scotland to Wicklow on the east coast of Ireland. 

 We left Scarborough on the 2nd June, waving to family and friends who had come to see us off and motored on a completely still day until we arrived at Robin Hoods Bay, where the wind filled in and we could once again set sail and turn the noisy engine off!  We had a pleasant overnight sail and ate up the miles, crossing the Scottish border the following day, in pouring rain, in ever reducing visibility and once the fog finally closed in we decided to put into Eyemouth to dry off and wait for the fog to lift.  

We left Eyemouth, early the following morning and by daylight crossed the Firth of Forth, passing Bell Rock light house about lunchtime, carrying the tide until we hit Rattray Head, where we encountered strong tides against us and once again the fog closed in, after a quick check on our ETA, we realised we could not sail against the 6 knot tide in the approaches to Inverness and so diverted to Cromarty and picked up a mooring buoy for the night.

We left Cromarty the following morning like the proverbial cork out of a bottle, carried the tide all the way through the shallows to Inverness and the entrance to the Caledonian Canal. On the way through a particularly narrow part of the Moray Firth we were entertained by dolphins leaping 6 foot out of the water, herding and catching the migrating salmon.

The Caledonian Canal provides an alternative route to the west coast, engineered under the guidance of Thomas Telford, it goes from Inverness in the east, through Fort Augustus and Fort William to Corpach in the west. The canals join together three Lochs, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Locky and have a total of 29 locks to negotiate, it offers a passage of outstanding beauty but doesn’t come cheap!

Fort Augustus is a very busy tourist centre and whilst we were there, was host to hundreds of Japanese visitors, taking photos of everything that moved and everything that stood still, which included posing in front of Ruffian as we passed through the flight of locks. After taking three days and enjoying the scenery in perfect weather, we then delayed our re-start for a day due to bad weather (yet more fog and strong winds).

A big mistake! We searched Ruffian to find our large scale charts of the area but without success and a bus trip back to Fort William didn’t help either, we would have to navigate the rest of the journey using passage planning charts, something that didn’t fill us with enthusiasm!  

We finally exited the sea lock at Corpach to be welcomed by 25 to 30 knots on the nose and tacked through Corran Narrows to Dunstaffnage Marina, which has the most excellent shower facilities you could imagine! A trip to the chandlers still didn’t produce the charts we wanted.

Before we left the following day we engaged in conversation with somebody, from Whitby who knew our port manager, Captain Estill ……….. his boat is now kept in Inverkip!

 We sailed on to Loch Craignish and Adfern Marina, which is in the most idyllic setting imaginable, but as usual the tricky job of navigating through the rock strewn shores, didn’t exactly fill us with joy!

 What a pair of plonkers!  Whilst looking for something to wear, Emma found the charts we needed, large enough to show individual barnacles on the rocks and even unlit rocks for night passages!

The next day we had a fantastic sail all the way down the sound of Jura, passing the infamous Corryveckain and sailing through the tumultuous waters of Dorus Mor to Port Ellen on Islay, the most southerly of the Isles. The marina operates on an honesty policy with a box to put your money in for your showers and you pay at the local shop for your berth. (£14 per night including electricity and water).

As it was Friday 13th and Pete’s very superstitious, we decided to take a rest day and visit the famous whisky distillery on the Island, only to find that after a five mile hike, we had missed the tour (Friday 13th!) and so returned to Ruffian for a large gin and tonic! After our rest day at Port Ellen we departed at 3 am the following day, leaving Scotland behind and on to Bangor in Northern Ireland, taking great care to time our passage to avoid the huge tidal race to the north east of Ireland.

Our arrival coincided whilst their ‘Festival of the Sea’ was in full swing, with racing in the bay and a display of tall ships, beer tents, food tents and a great carnival atmosphere ashore, needless to say, our stay there went very quickly!

Nearly there now, only two more stops before Wicklow, the first was in Ardglass, just over the southern Irish boarder, a small but well sheltered marina to the south of Strangford Loch but with a lot easier approach. The second was in a huge marina with the largest Yacht Club in southern Ireland, namely Howth, the marina was full of big yachts, we felt quite small.

The following day in 35knots of wind, we arrived in Wicklow and were greeted with a cheery wave and a welcome from the race director, Dennis Noonan, who directed us to a safe berth up the river. That night we were treated to the full and legendary hospitality of the Irish and the next morning, crawled out of our bunks with matching hangovers!

Over the next couple of days, much to our surprise, every yacht was checked over by the RORC officials and further to our surprise, we didn’t meet the mandatory requirements! A trip to the local chandlers/ general store, soon put paid to that, with the purchase of a new 12 volt search light which would run off the yachts main batteries and once the paper work was completed, we were ready to go.