Slate-Coloured Storm

Sailing isn’t a pass-time available to many, and one that either appeals or doesn’t; there’s no middle ground. You either love the prospect of carving through the granite-tinted water with nothing but the invisible air as propulsion, or you don’t. There’s the obvious restriction of having access to a yacht, which is why I’m so incredibly lucky to be the nephew of a man who does. This trip notches up my days of water based leisure to a robust 7, but it was very much the best of the bunch.

Being self-employed now affords me the flexibility to travel down to the marina earlier than I could before. A shocking misjudgement of management fingers on buttons prevented our first sailing trip from getting started early on a Friday; a mistaken holiday request decline leaving a trail of bitterness. Not this time, no Sir. Early Friday start, over to pick up D before heading down to the west coast where Yacht Jess is stationed, excuse me; berthed.

We got things sorted quickly and after final checks we pushed off from Largs Yacht Haven and pootled out into Largs Channel. The forecast was for zero wind and the boffins at the MET Office were correct; not a whisper of a thrill. However, counter to the rain and thunder predicted, there was just a dense muggy heat washing down the Channel and we remained dry as we made our way around Little Cumbrae and out into the Firth of Clyde. Not many yachts out and the weather, despite being a bit gloomy, offered spectacular views of Arran.

There’s something gently cathartic about being on a body of water; making slow progress and spending a vast amount of time looking around, drinking in the opulent visuals afforded by the west coast of our great country. You can feel the stresses and strains of daily life ebb away as you quickly realise that your phone has no signal, and you have nothing but your direction, watching out for fisherman’s pots or other boats to concern yourself with. That and drinking water. And not getting horrifically burnt. As we motored up alongside the mainland the weather started to break and the sun peeked out from behind the murk.

Our destination for Friday afternoon was Portavadie Marina; a beautiful wee nook that has some really great facilities and nice eateries. The last time we visited Portavadie with D was back in 2016 when we went with my Old Man and brother-in-law. We had a great sail up the west and as we approached Portavadie we set the boat up for motoring in towards the marina. I was stationed off the stern holding a rope, my brother-in-law off the bow, again with a rope. Dad was sitting doing faff all, with D piloting.

As we approached the pontoon D went to stick the yacht in reverse to kill the speed, but unfortunately the throttle linkage failed as he did so, sending the engine rapidly up to full speed ahead. The yacht lurched forward as he steered towards the jetty; the ropes-men shooting concerned looks at each other as we volleyed closer to the immovable jetty. Seconds later we made contact and Yacht Jess burst upwards as the bow carved a considerable notch in the jetty edge. I managed to get myself off the boat on to the pontoon and turn around to witness Jess making moves for another go at the jetty. Luckily a few bystanders stepped up and grabbed a few other ropes and we managed to tame the revving beast enough that D could shut the engine off and bring to rest what must have been quite a sight for those watching. It was soon sorted with swearing and some zip-ties, post-beers, and there’s not been a problem since. Which was why our approach this time was a bit more sombre an affair. D reversed Jess in, I stepped off, tied her up, problem free.

We quickly got ourselves settled and ready for dinner at The Lodge; a wee restaurant a short walk around the back of the Marina. We sat outside drinking beer and wine, basking in our surprisingly brilliant journey from Largs, as the sun pulsed downwards a final bake of our weathered skins. Food arrived quickly; the seafood platter for D (“it’s brilliant – do you like mussels? No? Well it’s basically salmon then”) and a burger for me. Very tasty. Soon the smokers started their inexcusable ignition at the next table and the midges arrived, so we reluctantly headed inside for another drink before heading around to the bar at the main building. A drink and a flaccid chocolate fondant later, we made back to the boat for more drinks and then bed, ready for what was set to be the worst day of weather predicted; we will get “very wet,” said D.

We were making our way up to Otter Ferry, which D explained wasn’t anything to do with otters. From the moment we awoke (and reluctantly at that) the sky was a light blue, quickly darkening to a beautiful cobalt. We were not looking out at the stormy skies we had expected. Yet again we were motoring, with a little bit more wind today than yesterday but unfortunately for us, the wind was behind us. So I spent most of the trip up to the marker buoy breathing in diesel fumes as D pottered about the boat. Hey ho. It was relentlessly hot as a result and we were both feeling the effects quickly. By the time we got to the marker buoy at the top of Loch Fyne we were very much ready for the breeze, and as we about-faced around the sandbank towards Otter Ferry, the cool air was suddenly in our faces and we were very much thankful.

Otter Ferry is a hidden treasure. A strip of beech on the south bank of Loch Fyne hidden behind trees, makes way for a few buildings and a jetty. We approach, me at the helm, D with a pole ready to catch the mooring; we keep missing it due to excessive speed until D proffers that I try reverse gear as we approach. The yacht is finally moored off-shore and we row over to the jetty in a boat designed for two small ladies. D takes the oars on the way in, with me set for the row back. By this point it’s an absolutely scorching day and we are both ready for a bit of shade and some seafood delights at The Oystercatcher.

I opt for my favourite dish, cullen skink, with D going straight for a pot of mussels. A couple of pints of refreshing soda lime and we are all set for a very enjoyable lunch, looking out towards Castleton, where my Auntie and Uncle used to live. We watch some more yachts approach and depart. An ambulance comes flying past with blue lights on; a road that must have taken at least an hour to arrive where we were from the main road. It carried on past us towards what we assumed was self-catering lodges. It returned 30 minutes later lights off, both paramedics in the front; we conclude it can only be one of two outcomes; either emergency averted or too late.

We finished up and got back in the dingy as out in front of us another dingy, this one similarly sized but powered and acting as a make-shift taxi, was flailing about like a lunatic. The direction I was facing to row was opposite to where we were going, so I couldn’t really see very much, but as the howling rubber boat came horsing around behind us, I saw that half of his dingy was deflated. It was brilliant watching him unsuspectingly get closer and closer to taking on water, and longer and longer we loitered to see if he’d end up in the water. Unfortunately for us, he noticed and managed to get it inflated again, only to have it deflate slowly as more people embarked on their trip to shore. We departed before we found out the fate of the soggy dingy, but was very funny nonetheless.

We headed back to Portavadie, taking in the sunshine and enjoying how dry we remained despite the forecast. An uneventful trip back down and we arrived to a rather dark and gloomy East; the thunderstorm we should have experienced earlier in the day was fast approaching us now. We got moored up, tidied up and D fitted a tarp over the back of the yacht, allowing us to sit out as the wind picked up and a cool breeze washed over us; the distant rumbling of thunder keeping us interested. The rain soon started and we watched a pretty good lightning show, drinking our drinks and enjoying the cool air. Some of D’s friends went past unexpectedly and we offered to catch them in the bar later.

Another nice meal at The Lodge followed by a quick drink at the bar. We were both pretty tired despite the lack of sailing; the sun takes its own toll. We settled in to listen to a Radiolab podcast in the boat but the wi-fi was shocking, so we said goodnight and had an early night. The midges were out in force and eating everything in sight. Hopefully not too many would be around as the air cooled, but when I awoke in the morning I was bitten to bits.

The final day it looked a bit more settled. We got ourselves fed and watered, bidding Portavadie a fond farewell around 10:30am, heading southwards back to Largs. We had the mainsail up pretty much all of the way and got a small shunt along but nothing noteworthy in the pure sailing front. Arriving back at Largs around 2:30pm, we got the boat ready for a month of inactivity (D is on a roadtrip around France, the lucky bastard) and then used up the remaining provisions for lunch, before heading home again.

What a brilliant weekend. There is literally nothing like west-coast sea air. It’s therapeutic. You breathe life back into your soul; D mentioned that the sea air here has o-zone in it. O-zone! Whatever it is, I absolutely love being out on the water with him and I hope it’s not another year before I get back out there again. Yacht Jess is a vessel that brings peace and joy, and I lap it up every time. Shame we didn’t get much sailing done; silently slicing through that water is a feeling unlike no other.

Till next time.