It's been a pretty mixed season for the Stromas, as we have had some pretty awful weather and when it's been nice and sunny there's usually been too much wind for social sailing. The storm in May had an unsettling effect and maybe we have not really wanted to be far away from our very secure hide-out at the head of a sheltered little sea-loch. As I write this we're waiting for yet another blow and Poor Little Tam, the poet, has just sent a message "woe that ever I was born, to suffer the horrors of ex-hurricane Katia." And Stroma is still afloat, waiting patiently to be taken out. She was a bit happier in the picture above, waiting for a little Danish Oil to freshen up the toe-rails.
What we missed on quantity was made up for in quality however. Sometimes one grabs a few days of utterly idyllic sailing in perfect conditions of wind and sun, beautiful scenery and good company and such an episode makes the whole business of looking after an old boat worth while.
This happened for us in early July, when we went South to the fifth Crinan Classic Boat Festival, organised by Mike Dalglish and Ross Ryan. I was in two minds about going, because the previous four events have taken place in conditions that verged on survival at times. Last year's event was a horror. Given a bad forecast Stroma was left on her mooring and we took the Kelpie down by road, only to take her home a few days later after managing less than an hours sailing, or more accurately hanging on for dear life and frenziedly bailing.
This year I didn't have my usual crew, as they were all attending a wedding. Young John Wilson, who hadn't come along since 2006 (see An Innocent Pursuit), managed to prize himself away from wife, son and horse and come along. (He's not so young maybe, since we have been sailing together off and on since the early 1980s, but at least he's a bit younger than me.)
Thursday 30 June was a lovely day with a blustery West-north-westerly. It was too good a day to waste waiting for the tide, so we got underway in the late morning. I reasoned that it would take us a while to get down South against the tide to the Dorus Mhor and if there wasn't enough wind to push us through once we got there we would just have to sail about until slack water.
Under one reef in the main we had a fast but comfortable sail South and arrived at the Dorus Mhor even earlier than expected. We could see our destination a couple of miles away on the other side of a mass of water boiling up against us. After a quick conference we decided not to hang about for slack water but to chance going through. Soon we were charging into the channel on an extremely broad reach on Starboard tack.
We were now presented with a tricky choice. Holding to the North side, near Craignish Point, would keep us out of the main stream, but ran the risk of a tidal eddy grabbing Stroma and giving us an accidental gybe, but keeping a safe angle to the breeze would soon bring us into an adverse stream running at about five knots. The solution was to go on towards the edge of the stronger stream, then gybe and reach back to the North side. Gybing in a breeze, when the skipper steers and issues commands, one hand hauls in the main-sheet, another tends to the running backstays and someone else looks after the jib-sheets is really quite easy. It's less fun when there are only two of you on board. Making sure you don't lose the mast is the priority, so our efforts weren't tidy. A few minutes later we had to gybe again, as we were now closing the Craignish shore at a great rate and it was obvious that we couldn't clear the point into Loch Craignish. Invigorated by the gybes and minus some pride and a couple of slides from the sail-track we were then clear of the worst of the tide and running fast to our favoured anchoring spot.
By late afternoon our ship was sitting nicely a hundred metres or so off the entrance to the canal and we were looking forward to the Festival's delights, not least of which are meeting old friends, making new ones and sampling the fine Bruichladdich that is a feature of these events.