Monday, 12 September 2011

Crinan Classic Boat Festival - Part II

The Crinan Classics attract an interesting fleet of yachts and this year there were several old favourites including two of the boats in our Class 2, Macaria and Zaleda.

Macaria is a lovely old yawl designed by Peter Dickie and built by his yard in Tarbert in 1922. The design shows the very strong influence of Albert Strange, who had been a close friend of the Dickie family and designed several yachts that were built by them. Macaria at 34 feet is a little larger than Cherub III, Strange's own yacht built by Dickies in 1910, smaller than Quest II, a 44 foot Strange design from 1907 and about the same size as Sheila II from 1910. All are comfortable, canoe-sterned cruising yachts with a surprising turn of speed.


I had seen Macaria around the West coast for years before I ended up doing some yacht restoration at Renfrew and found myself alongside Macaria when the late Gordon Findlay had her. I got a good chance to see her at close quarters and marvel at the quality of her build, in particular the internal joinery work. Later a modern near-replica of Macaria was built, but failed to capture the Strange-inspired magic and reach the level of the Dickie's craftsmanship.

Zaleda was designed by James McGruer, built by his firm and launched in 1966. The Seven Metres emerged after the Cruiser Eights were proving too expensive to attract clients, but being built to the same exacting standards and still quite big at 35 feet plus they were also expensive and proved to be the last of the "class" boats built without regard to economy. Only five were ever built.


Zaleda's first owner was Douglas Nisbet, whose father George was the first owner of my Stroma. Douglas's nephew Bill Hogg acquired her a few years ago and had her perfectly restored at Silvers. Stroma was of course built by a previous generation of McGruers, being launched in 1929, so the boats are related.

Zaleda in a breeze

Friday was a bright sunny day with little promise of wind, so we were spared a long slow beat North into Loch Craignish and given instead a short one from the start at the Black Rock to Eilean nan Coinean (Coney Island) off the entrance to Loch Craignish followed by a short reach South and then a run back to the start, followed by another short turn round two buoys nearer home. In the event it was so calm after the start that the course was shortened to end after the run.

Zaleda got off to a great start and sailed faultlessly round the course, easily saving her handicap over the rest of us and carrying off the prize.

As often happens the wind increased after the course was shortened and as we crossed the line the Truant flew past and challenged us to a mini-race round the second circuit. Foolishly we accepted and so were beaten twice, while everyone else was only beaten once.

We consoled ourselves by reflecting that we had enjoyed a lovely sail, reminding ourselves that it's no loss what a friend gets and that, anyway, you take part in these things for the joy of seeing beautiful boats in action.

One of the best things about the Crinan Festival is the social atmosphere. This year to the pipe band aboard the puffer VIC 32 and the splendid traditional ceilidh in the cowshed were added the delights of the Madrigirls from Glasgow University, who sang throughout the weekend. The well-known and talented model-builder David Spy entertained some of us with an illustrated biographical talk about his art and how he graduated to it from full-sized boat building. Added to all this of course is the joy of talking about boats endlessly in one of our prettiest and most historical spots.

We had arranged to be joined for the next two days by Mary Ray, who with her husband owns Stroma's sister Bernera. During one of the social events of the evening our complement grew even further, promising a very congenial crew for the Saturday race.

arrival of new crew Fiona

Saturday was again lovely and sunny, with little wind. The start was delayed a bit, partly to let boats lock out of the canal, but this was to cause problems for some later as the committee failed to also delay the tide. We had a moderate start and then a gentle drift to the West to turn a mark laid off Eilean na Cille, the "island of the little (monk's) cell" about two miles into the Sound of Jura.

Salty sea dogettes Jude and Fiona
As we neared the mark the wind failed and we could see the boats in front getting caught in the North-going flood. They included Macaria, which had been sailed  brilliantly for a heavy boat in a calm. We all kept still and quiet, sails nice and loose and keeping the boat heeled gently, as we stemmed the tide and made it into the shallow water inshore of the mark, with less tide. The problem is always - when to tack? Too soon and you join the others drifting North on the wrong side of the mark; too late and you let others through. We probably got it about right and started to breath again when we cleared the mark. It was nice to admire Zaleda's nice varnished hull shining in the sunshine behind us. We had a long broad reach back to the Black Rock, then some triangular circuits closer to Crinan to do.

The skipper tries to concentrate
The wind now started to fill in and we made it into a ruffled belt on the water, where we were soon careening along at a couple of knots. Of course Zaleda soon had her spinnaker up and cruised past us.

Handicap racing in calm weather is unfair on the faster yachts, because while everyone is sitting in the calm and hardly moving the slower boats are clocking up time. Zaleda had a lot to do to overcome this and didn't quite manage, although she was first over the line by a good distance.

On the Sunday, for the Ladies Race, we had more wind, but another sunny day. Was this really the West of Scotland? The only sad thing was that the salty sea dogettes had had to go home for a party!

Sunday's crew

Mary gave us a perfect start and cleared us away so well that when we tacked onto port we were able to clear the entire fleet. Behind us there seemed to be tense scenes as boats on starboard were closing the boatyard shore and calling for water. There was quite a bit of shouting, which all proves how competitive ladies can be.

The wind kept up all day and we had a pleasant, relatively stress-free day, Mary keeping us out of trouble while John and I crewed the ship. Zaleda crossed the line first, making it a hat-trick, but once again she didn't quite save her handicap. Mary was given a nice framed poster for her trouble.

The Festival was now at an end, but the forecast suggested that we could look forward to a good sail home on the Monday, promising a brisk South-easterly. It was good that Mary's husband Arup could join us for the sail home, as Bernera has been out of commission waiting for her new mast after the last one broke.

Just as for the trip down we had a single reef, on the grounds that it's easier to shake one out underway than to tie one in. In the event the reduced sail was just right for the conditions and we had a fast reach home, this time with wind and tide in harmony.

rolling home in a breeze


  1. Hi Ewan, mpj1952 here. You sent me an e-mail asking to post a photo I took of Macaria at the Crinan Classic Boat Festival in July this year.
    Go ahead, it's nice to be asked!
    Best wishes and keep on blogging – you've got some lovely photos and I can only wish I had more time to read your posts.

  2. Hi Margret

    Thanks for this. Trouble is I can't download pics from flickr, because they ask for a copyright fee upfront (which it seems they don't give to you) so could you maybe email the pic to me on I think Macaria's owners would like to see it btw.




The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water