My trip around Britain, in words: Oban to Largs

Storm Ellen kept us gale-bound in Oban for 5 days. It was frustrating not to be making any progress, however, I was satisfied with having reached the milestone of the West coast of Scotland.

Our route down the West coast of the UK looked uncertain. Covid-19 border rules meant that I would not be able to follow my original plan to sail down the East coast of Ireland. My backup plan to sail South via the Isle of Man was also scuppered as the IOM’s borders were completely shut. This left me with no other option than to cross the North Channel to Northern Ireland and then come back across the Irish Sea to North Wales, two nasty stretches of water known for being treacherous at times. Even though it was still over a weeks’ worth of sailing away, I was already dreading it.

Just as the sun was coming up, on the sixth day in Oban, we cast off and headed for the Crinan Canal. This canal was much shorter than the Caledonian and the plan was to pass through it in a day, so I was up bright and early to make it to the canal by lunch time. The twenty-five nautical miles to Crinan were interesting. We were passing through an untouched part of the world and were surrounded by large vegetative islands which housed an abundance of wildlife.  It was an impressive sight. On the other hand, these same Islands were also infamous for having incredibly strong and sometimes quite unpredictable tidal races1. This meant that I had to calculate the tides correctly or I could be at real risk of being quite literally pushed onto the surrounding landmasses. At one point we had 7 knots of tide pushing us in between two islands! That was nearly twice the speed that my boat could motor at… I think I discovered the true meaning of “go with the flow” that morning!

By midday we were coming through the first lock of the Crinan Canal. The lock-keepers (who opened and closed the locks) were already aware that I wanted to get through in one day and they weren’t hanging around. They rose to the challenge, and five hours later we were out the other side! was very grateful to all the staff who had gone totally out of their way to help me get through the canal as swiftly as possible. It was because of this that I was able to carry on south to Tarbert that evening. The couple hours of sailing to Tarbert turned out to be the highlight of the day because, for once, I wasn’t alone! For the first time in the whole trip I was sailing in company. A friend of mine, who kept his boat nearby, had decided to come out and sail down to Tarbert with me. A real novelty! He also managed to get a brilliant photo of the Alchemy and I (pictured below).

The sun had just about set by the time we had arrived in Tarbert. It had been fourteen hours since leaving Oban. In my books, this was a big win because it put me in the best possible position to sail to Largs the next day… well, really it just meant I could wake up an hour later!

The following morning, I woke up to beaming sun and clear blue skies. I could already tell it was going to be an incredible day on the water. It was. Soon there was water glistening and reflecting light onto Alchemy’s hull, illuminating it, and bringing out its true colour. Not only was the sun doing wonders on the water, the land was practically glowing too! Alchemy and I enjoyed every moment of that day. I also caught my first mackerel of the trip (it was only small, so I decided to chuck it back)! We had had such a brilliant time that day that I was almost sorry when the time came to prep the boat to come into port again. In fact, I frequently found that I wasn’t the happiest when we were arriving at places. Each leg was an adventure, filled with moments that only I was living, they were unique to me. No one else knew what I had just experienced out on the water, making me feel somewhat detached when I came back to the reality that land brings.

It was a bit like this when I was coming into Largs. Mind, I was in a rather bad mood anyway. Stupid me had completely forgotten to eat all day. The effect of it went unnoticed when I was out on the water as the adrenaline was keeping me going, but wow, did I hit a brick wall when I got into the marina! I was grumbling, mumbling, unenthusiastic and tired! All I wanted was food – which came in the form of a delightful tin of beef ravioli! Treat of treats!


1Tidal races: Pinch-points around landmasses where tidal streams are accelerated resulting in the formation of waves, eddies (whirlpools) and hazardous currents.