Largs to Gigha

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Tue 7 May 2013 08:35

Largs-Oban-Caledonian Canal-Orkney-Fairisle-Shetland


The Launch


We drove up to Largs the second week in April in order to launch Suilven, a date set many months before.  We had been stranded in Grindon for 6 days by impassable snow drifts only two weeks earlier. News bulletins from Arran, only a few miles over the water from Largs told of even worse conditions than Grindon, left without electricity for almost a week. As we arrived at the boatyard, we could look over to Arran and see the island still covered in snow. Suilven had been stored under cover at Fairlie Marine, and had survived the winter in excellent condition, but now had to have her mast re-stepped, wired in, sails bent and then we were due to go back South again until the start of her summer voyage at the beginning of May. The weather forecast was not auspicious. ‘Are you going to put the mast in with this wind forecast?’ we were greeted with on arrival at the yard. As it turned out the wind didn’t pick up as much as feared and the mast was duly craned into position and the launch the following day, despite a robust wind, went well.


Unable to stay on the boat, we had booked ourselves into the rather swish Brisbane House Hotel on the seafront in Largs. A good pint of beer was sadly unobtainable in the town, but the magnificent gelateria/pizzeria, Nardini’s, in all its art deco glory, provided us with memorable meals on two nights, topped off with one of their fabulous ice-cream confections.


A brief lull in the wind on the third day, allowed us to put the sails up. This included our brand new mainsail which rather radically has vertical battens designed to give the sail a better shape, while still being able to be rolled into the mast. Systems checked as far as possible, we left Suilven until our return three weeks later for the start of her summer cruise up to Orkney and Shetland.


The Clyde mini-cruise

Over the years, we have had three seasons sailing the Scottish islands, but apart from a brief stop in Bute last year, have not explored any of the islands in the Clyde. We had plans to visit Great Cumbrae, just across the water from Largs, Arran which is promoted as the jewel in Scotland’s crown, and then the east side of the Mull of Kintyre.


We set off from Grindon in brilliant sunshine, and undertook a rather circuitous train journey which blissfully included a first class Virgin train journey from Birmingham to Glasgow. We had constant attention from Virgin staff offering us hot and cold drinks, hot and cold food, anything we wanted really.


We arrived in Largs to find the weather cold and overcast but with not much wind, which allowed us to adjust the fancy new vertical battens in our sail. This involves unfurling the whole sail, and then withdrawing the sail height, bendy battens and laying them along the deck where they roll disconcertingly under your feet as you lower the sail and fiddle around with the batten pockets before raising the whole sail again.


We set off the following morning in fine form, with the idea of nipping across to Millport in Great Cumbrae, launching the dinghy, going ashore and sampling the delights of this little island. Rain was forecast for later, but for the time being, all was well. Rounding the southern end of the island where the anchorage is, it didn’t take us long to come to the conclusion that with the wind in its current direction, there would be no shelter in Millport and decide to move straight on down to Arran, a few hours sail/motor further South. The forecast rain arrived as we moved South, eventually coming down in sheets. We managed to pick up a mooring off  Brodick, but in the penetrating cold and wet, there was no way we were going to launch the dinghy for the first time or indeed enjoy a visit to the island. We just hunkered down, got the heating going and resolved to visit Arran on our way back at the end of the season.                                                                                                                                                                                   


The following morning dawned crisp and bright with not a cloud in the sky, but it was still penetratingly cold. We had a slight glitch on our chart plotter which placed us firmly in Southern Chile. It looked like a fascinating coastline, not dissimilar to the West coast of Scotland, but alas, it was not where we actually were. The problem was resolved by switching the whole system off at the panel and re-booting – usually the best way to resolve issues like this. We had a great sail around the end of Arran. The wind was not too strong and the sea seemed flat, but as we crossed the charted overfalls, the boat started to pitch and toss in a rather dramatic manner. In any wind or tide it would be most unpleasant. From there we made our way across to Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula. This is a town situated almost literally in the middle of nowhere. It would be incredibly depressing but for the fact that everyone is so friendly and welcoming. An ex-mining town, whiskey producing town, fishing town and general centre of commerce, everything now seems to be passing it by. The high street has more than its fair share of empty shops, factory shops and charity shops, although a little square just off the main street sports no fewer than five pubs. One charming spot which does not feature in any of the guide books is a memorial garden to Linda McCartney. She and Paul McCartney used to come to Kintyre when their children were little, to get away from the pressures of celebrity and clearly Linda in particular was so popular locally that they have made the effort to create this little garden, graced by a bronze statue of her, donated by Paul McCartney. Somewhat surprisingly, the obvious place to eat in town, the Royal Hotel , at the end of the pier was completely booked up. Fish and chips proved to be a rather disappointing option, as was the ‘Live Music’ at the Feather’s Inn. The bar staff had to apologise because the live act failed to turn up.

So, back to the boat for an early night and an early start to tackle going round the Mull of Kintyre.


Rounding the Mull of Kintyre


The Mull of Kintyre has a fearsome reputation, on a par with going round the Pentland Firth. You have to time the tides absolutely right, in order to arrive at the rounding point, just as the tide picks up to 5 plus knots, and whips you along through overfalls, breaking waves and generally bouncy seas before spitting you out on the far side with the tide in the right direction to speed you on your way northwards again. That is its reputation, and although we were very lucky with the wind dying away and being at neap tides, the rounding was not without its emoting qualities. We steered close in to the cliffs in order to avoid the worst of the overfalls. This is clearly a bird paradise and we were accompanied by flights of gannets who glided effortlessly over the breaking waves against the backdrop of the cloud capped cliffs. At the point of rounding, we noticed the bobbing black heads of countless seals all around us. These turbulent waters were clearly very fishy places.



Once round, we had the wind behind us. We were able to deploy our new mainsail, goose-wing the yankee and make good time to our next destination, the island of Gigha.  This island now has numerous visitor moorings and as we were the first to arrive, were able to take our pick. The dinghy was launched for the first time this year. The outboard engine, bless it, started second pull and we were soon speeding across the water to the jetty. The island is now owned by the ‘community’ and there are signs of success, including some newish housing, and signs of struggle, including a closed community shop. One of the main challenges the community has taken on is the huge garden attached to Ardminish Lodge. It was created by Sir James Horlick of bedtime drink fame, and is full of fabulous specimen rhododendrons and camellias which were all in full flower at this time of year. It is obviously looked after, but caring for all the old hothouses and outbuildings is clearly a struggle. In a way the fact that so much of the garden is left in a ‘natural ‘ state is part of its charm.