Monday, 16 May 2016

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Return from Luing

Political mooring post
For the fourteenth year the muster people duly assembled for a weekend of serious sailing, eating and culture. It's not every small island that can host a proper ceilidh with turns that included a Telemann flute concerto, but Luing is special that way.

This year the sun shone and a steady wind blew, ideal conditions for the fleet of little boats to reach South down to one of our favourite bays a mile or so North of the Dorus Mor. On the yellow Kelpie I shipped along an illustrious crew, the guru from Bernisdale himself handling the jib, Judie and Phoenix on the bailers. After lunch the wind freshened and we had a fast circumnavigation of Shuna back to base, to unwind a bit before the festivities. Sunday was more of the same, with Clare and Tina working the ship, a picnic on Eilean Gamhna and a really hard beat back home, as the weather was returning to the usual West coast pattern. As usual the weekend finished with some intellectual stimulation in the form of diverse lectures on coracle building, open boat sailing, chaos theory and such like topics.

The change in the weather had been predicted, so the ship was left ashore and recovered on the Friday. Buses are few in Argyll, but friendly neighbours aplenty. There was a funeral at Kilbrandon and our kindly minister gave me a lift to the graveyard, from where it was only half an hour's brisk walk to the ferry. (The old kirk contains some of the finest stained glass windows in Scotland, by the wonderful Douglas Strachan.)

Kilbrandon Kirk on a sunny morning
The wee ferry at Cuan

It didn't take a lot to persuade Richard Pierce to join me for the sail across and the voyage back. It was the best sail of the year so far, sparkling seas and a steady wind giving us a reach across. A couple of hours later the wind had veered a bit and Richard had another reach back, covering the seven miles in about an hour and a quarter in his flying machine.

Reaching down Shuna Sound

Past Degnish Point

Home, at rest

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Return to the Sea (and blogging)

The last couple of years have been extremely busy for me, as I have been involved in establishing a fine art gallery in Glasgow, see As a result I've hardly been sailing and have had little time for blogging.

Both of my yachts, Stroma and Juni, are for sail, through , which doesn't mean the end of yachting for me, but a change of course. It's forty years since I became the guardian of Stroma and I no longer have the strength or the nerve to get the most out of her. Juni is an absolute delight, a mahogany gem on the water. Now that she's restored to a reasonable condition I feel that I have done my duty by her and hope that she'll find her way to a peaceful mooring at the foot of someone's garden in a nice part of the World.

The old adage was a foot (waterline) for each year of age, but that probably always was complete rubbish and certainly is now in our austere age when virtually nobody sails with a paid crew. In my view it makes good sense to reduce the size of the boat to keep it manageable.  I marvel at the faith of elderly folk in the use of hydraulics to weigh anchor and electric winches to get in massive genoas. I'd far rather sacrifice a little comfort and speed by keeping the ship small enough to work safely without such things and mainly single-handed, as most of my sailing is destined to be solitary.

I've been checking out Francois Vivier's Beniguet , which looks just about right for the purpose. Any comments would be appreciated.

Meanwhile Scottish Coastal Rowing continues to spread. I've mainly been rowing with the Isle of Seil's Selkie but I'm now getting involved in the new Glasgow Coastal Rowing Club, which currently hasn't a website, but can be found on Facebook.

And the lovely historic Isle of Luing continues to exert its pull. Last weekend a couple of dozen small skiffs, wherries and similar classic shapes were to be seen thrashing about in a stiff breeze in the wonderful stretch of water North of Crinan. the photograph at the top of this post shows my Kelpie charging along on a reach with self at the helm, Iain Oughtred forward and Judy and Phoenix bailing, the old Ensign of Scotland on the sail and the Toberonochy Dolphin flying at the stern.

photo courtesy of Mark Robertson

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Pendana's Cruise, Part Two

On arrival at Whitehaven Beach we were amazed at not only its length but also its shinning white sand.

Whitehaven Beach runs a staggering four nautical miles and draws tourists and boaters like bees to honey.

That being said, at three plus nautical miles in length there is plenty of room for everyone and everyone can have their own little piece of paradise for the day, week, month or year!

Whitehaven Beach claims to have the whitest sands of any beach in the world and while a claim that is held to be true I am not sure that there aren’t many more beaches in the world with white sand (the very beautiful Hyams Beach on the south coast of New South Wales with its pristine white sand springs easily to mind, for example), after-all surely white is white? In fact, the sand at Whitehaven is not really sand but rather silica (quartz sand). Silica doesn’t retain heat which makes walking on it a pleasurable experience.

It is thought the incredibly fine silica sand on Whitehaven was brought to the beach via prevailing currents over millions of years as there is no silica present in any rocks which surround it.

Bianca and Abi on Whitehaven beach!

During our time in the Whitsundays we decided to take on some fuel in preparation for our return trip. I can attest that Shute Harbour has the cheapest fuel on the Whitsundays being almost $1.00 per gallon / 26 cents per litre cheaper than the rather pricey Abel Point Marina.

After plenty of relaxing at anchor we decided to move once more and head for a place called Nara Inlet.

Nara Inlet is described as being like the Fiords in Norway and while I see some resemblance we were missing the snow-capped mountains. Nara Inlet on Hook Island in the Whitsundays boasts some very old Aboriginal cave paintings.

In the steep wooded hills around the inlet there are a number of 'caves', really rock overhangs, which show signs of Aboriginal habitation going back some eight thousand years and in one of these at the northern end of the inlet there are Aboriginal paintings. While there are locals who say these were painted as a hoax by early tourist operators, experts from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Office of Heritage and the Arts are satisfied they are genuine, though it is possible some touching-up has been done. In 1987 the National Parks and Wildlife Service erected a fence and boardwalk to protect this particular cave and the paintings as much from the local goat population as well as human interference.

Once anchored safely in Nara Inlet we decided that it was time to tender to the site where these cave painting were. As we motored towards the small beach which led to the caves we were in awe of the scenery we saw along the way, truly beautiful.

Once at the beach we secured our tender and headed up towards the steps which led to the cave. Once we had climbed the 44 million steps (well, that is what it felt like!) the art was very impressive and made the journey well worth it. With story boards and audio telling the story of the Ngaro people from long ago, we all felt as if we had stepped back in time.

Truly amazed at how well preserved the art was.

The rock formations were extraordinary
With time ever marching on we decided to head for Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island is a truly remarkable place and as Pendana arrived at Dent Passage and turned to Port to line up with the entrance markers of the marina we were through the entrance and tied up on the end of “D” arm in what seemed like seconds. Orange juice and fresh coffee on the brew and helloooo Hamilton Island!!!

Link above is a 360 degree of Pendana at Hamilton Island Marina.

Pendana heading south towards Hamilton Island early in the morning.

After relaxing a little it was time to collect our electric buggy that we had leased for our stay. Basically, all of Hamilton Island is car free and other than the odd bus ferrying tourists around and/or council vehicles, the only other mode of transport is by foot or golf buggy and while I thought of these two alternatives seriously (for about a millisecond) I decided the buggy would be best!!

Rush hour on Hamilton Island.

After we had spent enough time on Hamilton Island we decided to try our luck and head south for Shaw Island in the morning as we were all very keen to truly get away from it all after the high tourist numbers on Hamilton Island.

Shaw Island is well south of Hamilton Island and outside the area where hire yachts can travel so I for one was looking forward to a little less crowded anchorage. After a pleasant three hour run south we arrived at what was a truly magnificent island which was away from it all.

Beautiful Shaw Island.

Shaw Island lies south of the famous Lindeman Island and is once again paradise on earth. Deserted beaches, fine white sand, calm crystal clear waters and a peacefulness that is hard to put into words. It reminded me of that lovely feeling I had as a child, wrapped up in bed all snug as a bug in a rug, listening the rain fall on our roof. The feeling of calm, safety and tranquillity was overwhelming and Shaw Island delivered in spades.

The beautiful Whitsundays is truly a place that all boaters should visit. It’s a remarkable place with words and photos only being able to convey a fraction of its beauty and sense of serenity. Pendana is now home in Sydney waters after a six month trip away, covering some 2,500nms/4,689klms or in other words the same distance as Sydney to Samoa, London to Nova Scotia (Canada) or New York to French Guiana (South America). I must say that the overall journey was a wonderful experience and one that we all enjoyed and other than 24 hours of some pretty nasty weather off the Fraser Island coast (+5 metre seas) we did in the main have perfect conditions for the entire time we were away.

If you decide to head for the Whitsundays then I can highly recommend Hamilton Island Marina as it is the best marina for long or short stays without doubt. Shute Harbour is by far the cheapest for fuel and however much time you plan to spend in this part of the world, it won’t be long enough. Both Claire and I commented that we could easily spend a few years in this area and not see it all.

More information on Pendana can be found at

And now for something completely different!

A six month voyage of discovery!

The owners of Pendana, a Nordhavn 62 decided to embark on a six month, 2,500nm round trip from Sydney, Australia up to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands which is often referred to as the third best cruising grounds in the world, after the Bahamas and Mediterranean.

Departing Sydney, Australia, Pendana departed carrying enough fuel and spares to see her make landfall in Hawaii if the need should arise. As a nasty cold front was closing in on Sydney her departure was not with clear blue skies overhead but rather dark, ominous clouds forming out to sea just to the south east of Sydney Heads. Realising they would be able to sneak ahead of the large cloud front and take advantage of the following seas she headed out, for what everyone aboard hoped to be, an adventure of a lifetime!

On board for the journey were Pendana’s owners James and Claire Ellingford, their two children Abi and Bianca aged 13yrs and 9yrs together with regular crew member and general all round nice guy, Captain Mark James. James Ellingford has always maintained that any run over twenty four hours requires three crew as being tired on watch is not a smart thing to do while at sea. With the appropriate crew you have the freedom of running a four hour on, eight hour off watch cycle which allows for all to remain well rested and alert for whatever situation may arise. Mistakes happen when people are tired.

Pendana’s first day at sea saw her humming along doing a steady 9.3kts, consuming a very respectable 18 litres of fuel an hour in what were far more reasonable conditions than had been forecasted. She faced 14kt winds, two meter following seas with a generous eleven second period.

Pendana departing in less than ideal conditions.

As some would know June is the whale migration season where the whales from the Southern Ocean migrate north to warmer waters north along the east coast of Australia. By complete chance once Pendana was clear of the heads a very large barnacled hump back whale surfaced within about eight feet from Pendana’s starboard side amidships as if wishing us well on our journey north.

The first leg of our Pendana’s trip north from Sydney is to Lady Musgrave Island which is a large coral cay with, I might add, an alarmingly narrow entrance. From Lady Musgrave, Pendana will then head further north to the Percy Group of Islands on advice from a fellow mariner who said that Middle Percy is hands down the best of the Whitsundays! Following from the Percy Group Pendana will head further north to explore the more traditional islands of Hayman, Hamilton, Hook, Shaw and as many of the seventy islands in the Whitsunday group as possible.

The Whitsundays are comprised of 74 islands within a 40 nautical mile radius on Australia’s northeast coast, with Hamilton Island being the largest of the six islands that are inhabited. These tropical islands offer deserted, fine sand beaches, lush bushland, and remarkable flora, fauna and sea life. The Great Barrier Reef which is literally on the Whitsundays doorstep is, in fact, one of the world’s seven natural wonders stretching over 2,300 kilometres and covering some 350,000 square kilometres (nearly the size of Germany) consisting of a myriad of lagoons, atolls, sand cays and coral outcrops that simply must be experienced to be able to be fully appreciated.

After a little over three days at sea Pendana had arrived at Lady Musgrave Island and all any of us on board could say was, WOW! The lagoon’s amazing colours and beauty are world class. Boasting an abundance of coral, fish and turtles the lagoons water is very similar to that in the Bahamas or Nice, in the South of France. Crystal clear deep turquoise blue water that is simply incredible. For snorkelling enthusiasts Lady Musgrave Island is one of the most rewarding destinations in the Great Barrier Reef, with a diverse variety of fish and coral species creating the perfect underwater setting for those lucky enough to get to enjoy it!

The entrance into Lady Musgrove was narrow but well-marked with two starboard makers, one port marker and an isolated danger marker once inside. Any error in going through the entrance would be met with catastrophic consequences as the coral walls drop for metres below the surface of the water.

Once we’d had enough of Lady Musgrave Island we departed and headed further north to Middle Percy Island where we arrived early morning. Middle Percy, without any doubt, was in a word, sensational and certainly a must-stop for all who find themselves in this area! First charted by Matthew Flinders, and named after the Duke of Northumberland, Middle Percy is the quintessential tropical island. Palm trees (complete with coconuts) white sand, crystal clear blue water, butterflies, starfish, seals and dolphins to boot.

Middle Percy was the last remaining leasehold island off the Queensland coast. However, this is no longer the case with a Queensland government department now managing the island and ensuring it is kept in its pristine state. The island is still bound to a tradition of providing fresh water and supplies to passing seafarers. Past leaseholders have always helped mariners in trouble and assisted with emergency repairs over the many years and as such seafarers feel a real sense of home when stepping ashore.

Middle Percy also holds the tradition where seafarers young and old leave memorabilia from their boats under an old rustic A-Frame set just back from the beach. It is absolutely incredible to look at the variety of items left over the years by visitors to Middle Percy, everything from messages in bottles, oars, clothing, barometers, flags, life buoys, engravings on wood, and more, abound with vessel and crew names and years of those lucky enough to have spent time on this lovely island.

Pendana’s owners prepare to leave behind a life ring.
Middle Percy’s A-Frame.

Spending more time than we should in paradise, which was Middle Percy Island we decided it was time to make the short, 160nm run north to Cid Harbour which was by all accounts a very safe, well protected anchorage on the west side of Whitsunday Island.

Cid Harbour
One thing that has struck all of us is how un-Australian the Whitsundays actually appear to be; we would all swear that when motoring around the islands that the appearance of them is more akin to cruising in Canada than Australia and while one would expect to see the islands littered with various species of gum trees (indigenous Australian tree) nothing could be further from the truth. Norfolk Pines are the order of the day! Islands with sheer cliff faces, steep hillsides slanting acutely down into the blue/green waters, covered in rich, dark green Norfolk Pines right down to the absolute edge making the whole experience rather surreal. We all thought that one wouldn’t be surprised to see a Canadian brown bear leaping from the land in search of lunch but alas, not to be. I must say that it is an incredibly beautiful part of the world and some of those attractions lie in its complete difference to the mainland.

After spending time exploring in and around Cid Harbour we decided to move Pendana to the very beautiful Whitehaven Beach so that we could drop anchor, have lunch and then go for a swim in the afternoon.

Whitehaven Beach is on the east side of Whitsunday Island and with confidence building after successfully navigating the narrow entrance of Lady Musgrave, we decided to travel through the narrow passage between Hook and Whitsunday Islands which is also the most convenient route to take paying particular attention to the effect of tides and current.

In this part of the world tides flood (incoming) to the south and ebb (out-going) to the north and can create strong currents up to 9kts in some parts so after checking with my new best friend, the Queensland tide table book, we were confident that our arrival in the passage between islands would be at almost slack tide making the effects of current null and void. With Claire at the helm it was clear that while the current was not a problem there were certainly times when Pendana would yaw off course due to the current’s residual effects but as always, Pendana handled it with ease correcting as she went.

Passage between Hook and Whitsunday Island.
This is part 1 of James Ellingford's account of his family's wonderful voyage to Paradise. Part 2 will follow shortly.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Over sixty skiffs and counting

The Isle of Luing community launched skiff number sixty last weekend and the Selkies were there to salute her, with their new flag floating in the gentle breeze. 

The row down from Balvicar was a light paddle of three and a half miles down tide with a following zephyr.  

The only hazard the Belnahua, who has right of way.

The Gill of Melfort came by road to the ferry and missed the lovely trip down, but had a nice row across the Sound.

One of our surviving fellow creatures, who has so far escaped the fish farm's rifles. 

Rowing is back in strength it seems.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Bilderglug Report and a Sombre Postcript

Bilderglug 2014 showed how much fun you can have when it’s really cold and wet. The ditty bag my Swedish friends Petter and Birgitta gave me has a legend which translates “my little boat makes me awful wet round the middle when it’s stonking”, which just about sums up this year’s highly secret muster in a tiny village on a small much perforated island somewhere.

At least having the Kelpie there in advance meant that I could drive round in comfort and warmth. It was good to get the tent up and the chefs in charge of the enormous Friday feast really surpassed themselves.

Saturday was fun, charging about in a brisk wind and rain with the borrowed Mrs D while Mr D gave his Flashboat a test drive under sail. Circumnavigating Right Island was followed by picnic on Shuna and a trip home round Wrong Island to base, with barbeque and ceilidh courtesy of Paul and Chris with squeezebox, clarsach and fiddle. Songs in sundry tongues from English to Russian, voices female and male, some classical flute solos and some poems and stories too. All good traditional stuff and this year two complete sets for the Jig, which means that sixteen can now do it and at this rate the whole company will be managing it by 2016.

Sunday was wet and cold, Mrs D had been reclaimed and so I was alone. It blew a bit, but not enough to make things interesting. It rained, then rained a bit more.

At lunchtime we visited Pol na Gille once again, in the shadow of cages licensed by the so-called Scottish Environment Protection Agency to hold about 2000 tonnes of salmon, up to half a million mature fish. My article published a year ago about the industrial pollution of the bay seemed to have produced a result, as most of the debris had been removed, no doubt because there’s now a new application in to ruin the bay round the corner with yet another fish farm. Here is the map showing the location:

A cold, wet, sombre Sunday ended with a warming evening of “lectures”, some of which may or may not be eventually published online.

Recovery of the Kelpie took place the following week with the aid of the buses and the ferry to the island, then a lift from Richard who took the photos at the top of this post.


Industrial fish farming is doing a lot of damage to the SNP and hence to the cause of Scottish independence, which is desperately sad, because I believe that whichever major party was in power we would see precisely the same destruction of the environment.

There was massive expansion under the previous Labour regime and while the Libdems and Tories will not get near to power in Scotland this century their few surviving placemen vote for the farms whenever they can. A pathetic example of this is Councillor Currie from the Isle of Islay, elected by a population which refuses to allow farms, but who felt he could safely vote for the one at Ardmaddy.

The policy seems to be driven by civil servants who have far too much power and who have become far too close to the industry for proper independent analysis of the issues. In case we the public find out what’s going on, under the freedom of information rules, government has decided not to require the industry to disclose data on subjects such as the prevalence of sea lice. No land-based industry would be allowed the same liberty.

Nobody expects politicians to care for the environment, but they should care for the fragile micro-economies in places like Seil, whose private sector businesses are entirely dependent on the quality of life and the visitor experience. Pollution from the farms put an end to recreational diving years ago, by wrecking many of the delicate life forms that exist below the surface. Placing colonies of caged salmon in most of the bays will put an end to the pleasure boating, kayaking and pottering that bring so many visitors. Killing or scaring off the local wildlife self-evidently puts paid to eco-tourism (officially over a dozen “rogue” seals were shot last year at Pol na Gille).

The proposed “farm” at Shuna Cottage will if allowed destroy the amenity of one of the last unspoilt anchorages and may mean the end of Bilderglug, which has done its bit for the local economy for the last twelve years. Comments can be registered with the local authority by following the link here:

Argyll and Bute planning portal

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water