Chents' Cruise

Here's a writeup about the Chentleman's Cruise 2006 (cc2006). I understand that it's called the "chentleman's" cruise as posh Scottish people would pronounce "gentleman" with a "ch". It started as a blokes-only cruise but now in its 4th year there are some women and swmbo's who come along too.

As well as this fairly useless info, I learnt lots of other stuff from jimi during the nine-hour drive from Southern England towards the west coast of Scotland. Eventually, I put on cheap CD of Scottish bagpipe music and he hummed along happily.

Lots of boaty sights on the M6, a lorry with a ships prop, and an immaculate lake launch.

Jimi was very keen to drive. He's a very good driver but I am a useless and nervy passenger, especially since the car was only 15 hours old when I picked him up at Parahandy's place near Oxford . Para was very cheesed off that he wouldn't be going this year due to family commitments, but he loaned us a toolbox and told of numerous likely mechanical problems aboard Claymore.

I've hardly been to Scotland before except on brief business visits. Like lots of places away from southeast UK , the people have time to chat and to look out for others - even with complete strangers. We picked up Longjohnsadler at Glasgow airport, and did a supermarket shop as we neared Loch Melfort. I queued for more shopping on top of the stuff they got, and left a £20 note on the counter as I was about to dash back to get some cheese. "I wouldn't leave a £20 note there!" said the old lady behind me in the queue. The nice checkout girl and two other pensioners in front agreed that leaving the £20 note on the counter was a very bad idea. But there wasn't anyone around except them.

Loch Melfort is open to the sea, but protected and calm. It's a fabulous setting with high hills all around perhaps 500 feet high or more. Beautiful in long lazy evening sunshine. In fact, the weather held good the whole weekend with no rain at all until the final evening.

There's a busy yard ashore and a small pontoon which can take half a dozen boats alongside and rafted out, but for most of the season the boats sit on moorings in the bay. Claysie had organised for the marina staff to bring the boat to the pontoon in readiness. He's very camera shy, though.

 

Once unpacked, the first job we'd been given by phone from Claysie was to retrieve and inflate the dinghy from the locked dinghy pound. But the office was shut. I asked someone how we might get in, and the chap immediately loaned me a key. Not sure what the point of the padlock was if everyone gives anyone a key, but heyho. I pumped up the dinghy about four times, each time the valve on one side failing. Bodgeable, but a bit hopeless.

Claysie arrived with his friend Muzzy (steve) completing the crew of five aboard Claymore with LJS, jim and me. Jimi made an ingenious spagetti dish for tea, somehow managing to actually stick together the individual strands to form an unusual pasta-block pie, very clever. At 9pm Claysie drove us all to a pub in Oban 10ish miles away and we met some of the others on the cruise.

Webcraft is quite youthful - he looks and sounds very internetty. He isn't Scottish-sounding but lives nearby. Sgeir is a big friendly giant and very Scottish indeed. Both had their swmbo's along. Machurley (mac- Hurley) is also Scottish-sounding, and lightly-built, just right for his 22footer.

Back at the boat after the pub I was very keen to test some malt whisky which I had brought along. Jimi and Claysie went pale at the thought, apparently recalling a recent horrible whisky-fuelled evening into the early hours. It turned out that it was at least a year ago, or perhaps two years since, but very vivid, and they turned in. So LJS and I had a little taste test, and decided that the Glenfiddich was nicer than the Laphroig, or it might have been the other way around, I can't remember.

 

Next morning, perhaps a little stung by my breakfast comments on scuttlebutt, jimi also made breakfast. Excellent. We set off down the loch shortly after in bright sunshine and clear blue sky. Someone said later than Scotland was showing off to us. Breathtaking scenery. It an hour or so for the gps to wake up, though.

Claymore is a 30foot motorsailor. It has a deep center cockpit with ingenious canopy cruelly referred to in some quarters as a "conservatory". It does keep the cold out though, with plenty of space. There also loads of lounging space on the aft deck too, especially since we forgot the outboard, damnit.

 

Imagine setting out into a vast and beautiful inland sea area and seeing three just other boats in the first hour. Fantastic. One of them was Avilion, the second crusie boat who joined us as we followed the switchbacks through the Cuan Sound and out towards more open sea towards Mull. Two more boats were now visible a couple of miles distant, which we knew must be the others on the Cruise, Sgeir's "Shard" and Machurley's "Silkie".

The wind picked up from the North West, engine off, sails up and we were shielded by the coast. An hour or so later the wind was up to 25knots and the coast a bit more distant - we'd have to tack and tack again upwind to our target 25-30 miles away. Claysie the Cruise Director was snoozing, the sun shone and we pounded along upwind at 6 knots.

The mutinous VHF call came from Silkie to say that they weren't making much headway in the rougher sea. The cruise director was roused. A revolt in the fleet! Despite goading from me and jimi, Claysie decided not to instigate disciplinary charges against Silkie, and agreed a change of plan. We'd all bear away and go to the island of Colonsay instead, an easier beam reach les than 10 miles to the south west.

Avilion came past us and we closed the island, an excellent site. I took some pictures, which are all rubbish, of course.

Then a call from Shard a mile or so behind us. He'd heard a strange noise under his cockpit, from the prop, daren't use the engine and so can't get into the port. We offer to tow him in alongside, and he readily accepts.

In calm water on the west coast of Colonsay we tied Shard alongside Claymore. Unfortunately, we didn't have a salvage contract on board, so Sgeir still owns the boat. Claysie's mate Muzzy piloted the makeshift catamaran to a smooth landing and a round of applause.

 

Once all tied up, which took no more than 40 minutes, I was keen to help get Shard sorted, or at least have the mechanical problem diagnosed before the light fell and the assembled crew had too many post-sailing drinks for boatfixing.

Sgeir is very calm about his busted boat. He announced that before any boatfixing he has to get all the stuff out of the quarter berth, and before all that he has to finish his drink. Eventually, he finds a torch and we take a look. Sgeir tells us the grim details of the horrible, thundering noise whilst at sea. He'd never heard it before and it sounds quite terminal - perhaps the gearbox has failed, but all the bits seem to be in place. Can he really have smashed the gearbox internals by sailing too fast? I asked him if he had tried the engine whilst at sea. No, he wisely couldn't risk it. So has he tried since, closer inland? No. Now safely tied up, we could drop it in gear and see, maybe? He's doubtful, but agrees. The boat nudges forwards and back on its warps. It works perfectly. I'm (nearly) a hero for "fixing" the engine/gearbox problem by telling him to turn it on.

Colonsay might be the about size of Guernsey but with only a hundred or so inhabitants. Our small harbour hamlet of Scalasaig has a few houses and an hotel 500 yards up the hill. Jimi and I took a walk to explore. We had an ice cream at the general store, the shopkeeper chatted with us, and I skimmed some stones on the loch, after which Scalasaig was pretty much fully explored. Very serene and peaceful, though.

Jimi is very fitness-concious, and decides he'll go for a run. Do I want to come along? No, I flippin well don't. But I help determine a route for him, which seems to be about three miles around and back to the port. Two hours later, we've had loads of drinks on Sharrd and tea is ready. Jimi returns splattered with mud, and says it was more like eight miles. Hee hee.

Time to go to the pub, which is all newly decorated in "Shaker" style with wooden floors and smart shades of blue and white. The dartboard beckons after a couple of pints. I "got out" from about 70, but LJS convincingly won the series ahead of me and jimi. Claysie joined in at one stage and threw his darts freestyle, jimi lead him away to safety, but Claysie was miffed at being denied more darts.

With a very fully funded kitty we had a few quiet drinks, followed by half a dozen veruy noisy ones. The manager isn't very pleased at our behaviour as we leave at closing time, and he apparently says something offensive to one of the girls. Scottish legend has it that she bopped him on the nose, but I didn't see anything, and the evening became very blurred. At one point ten people had drinks on board Silke - quite good for 22footer though a bit soggy underfoot. I seem to recall somebody making breakfast, although that could have been the following morning. The next morning was calm as we motored south into a narrow sound and around the southern edge of of the island of Jura. More wild and spectacular scenery, with a wreck on a craggy coast and a lonely distillery in a small coastal village as we pass.

We make a lunch stop at Craighouse, on Jura , mooring up with plank and fenders. On the other side of the pier there's a brand new lifeboat and handily for us, Steve/muzzy (no idea why it's "Muzzy") is Coxswain of the Fleetwood lifeboat, introduces himself and we're shown around without delay. The others are amazed at the giant engines, but being motorboaty I'm secretly a bit arsey about it. No carpet, no dishwasher, a lousy 27knots from 2x 1400hp, and a measly 5000 litres tank. Huh! The lifeboat crew chat happily and laughingly say that they hope we don't meet again.

As we leave, jimi wonders if we should buy them a drink. I mutter that if they're already getting paid to swoosh around on a free massive boat they can buy their own sodding drinks.

As others have a hearty lunch, I decide to investigate ashore and have a coca-cola based lunch in the pub with a view of the bay. The crew of Avilion are there, and the skipper (Donald - everyone in Scotland is called Donald, apparently, even if that isn't their name, although often it is) is pondering over whether to have another half. The view is spoiled by jimi shambling past to buy some pop.

I join him, and we cast off to leave Craighouse, just in time meet Shard and Silkie who stop on their way in. Time to move on, says Claysie. Mrs Sgeir was frustrated at missing Craighouse - she'd never been and this was the day she hoped at last to make a visit. Thwarted again.

More loud discussions between the three boats milling around the entrance ensued, this time about the evening destination. The Cruise Director announced it would be Ardfern, but Sgeir and Webcraft seemed to prefer another port. As a newbie to the area I couldn't usefully join in, but it was clear that the Cruise Director's authority was being challenged far too frequently.

"Just shoot them, Claysie, don't stand for this!" I suggested. "Get a gun and shootem, or just one of them, and there'll never be any more dissent, ever!"

 

Claysie didn't have a gun and neither did I, but he prevailed and we set a course for Adfern 10 miles or so up another sea loch. Another highland massacre was narrowly averted.

Light airs from the port quarter triggered a dash to get Claymore's kite rigged. Naturally, the wind died to zero. It had to come down. As soon as it was snuffed the wind rose to 10 knots. Dang. More unrigging of kite, we eventually put up the ornery sails and chased after the others who had left with the breeze. Claymore had a quiet word with me about the parachute - I was clearly very mistaken in describing it as "green" when it is quite definitely "grey". He kindly forgave my glaring error, and we agreed not to discuss the matter again.

 

I took a turn at the helm as the wind built to around 25knots. I did try to encourage the crew to put on more speed but they seemed unenthusiastic. Nether LJS nor jimi would sit on the rail, nor were they keen on my suggestions of running off the water to save weight, or chuck the others overboard. You can't trapeze on an 8 ton boat, they scoffed. I sulked a bit. Cos I mean, 400kilos of people is 5% of the weight so putting that at one side or the other has got to make a difference, hasn't it? Then they started suggested reefing, to wind me up some more. Pah!

But the others did agree to try and slow down the others by putting out various vhf calls to Shard saying that they'd found lots of oil in the sea and perhaps it was his gearbox? Later, we announced that we'd decided our engine was broken, and although we hadn't tried anything could they please come and tow us in? Shard made some other calls to Silkie saying he could hear Claymore as we were probably so far behind we were out of range. Harumph!

Adfern is a beautiful marina at the head of a loch. Good for up to 60 footers or perhaps even bigger, the boats are all quite new, smart and Lymingtonish. They seem to have avoided the benjenbav deluge to date, so the boats are all different from each other and it's well worth a good look round the pontoons. Princess Anne keeps her boat here, a Rustler 36, and we have a look. LJS says she can't be here at the moment otherwise there's be helicopters scanning us as we arrived and lots more security bods.

On our way to the supermarket a hundred yards outside the marina, Claysie tells me of his Brief Encounter with HRH, in the chandlers when he was returning with a broken galley appliance. Princes Anne was in the chandlers as well, he told me, and started up a conversation with him by saying she'd recently bought the very same item, and hers is faulty as well. Their eyes meet and there's an immediate bond between fellow sailors. Claysie asked if hers has got a big crack and short of a screw, and I imagine that it was this clumsy remark (and not the looming security police) which largely explains why he isn't HRH Claysie and never will be.

Early evening is the time that our skipper has decided that the assembled crew will have champagne and delicate canapés made by Steve earlier in the day. All delightfully sophisticated as we relax with a glass of fizz. Webcraft arrives unannounced and is clearly quite a lounge lizard - he sweeps up handfuls of delicate canapés and stuffs them in his gob. However, they soon make up and are obviously old friends, really.

My turn to cook tonight, and I've decided to really test my skills as a chef by making Corned Beef Hash. It shouldn't take more than half an hour. Ninety minutes later as the others return from the pub it's just about ready. I may have overestimated the quantities, but they all ate it so either they were hopelessly drunk, again, or it could actually have been quite nice. Fray Bentos corned beef, of course.

Another long blurry evening, again on Silkie, and also involving whisky. The next morning LJS reported that drinks-wise we'd finished the last of that bottle of port the previous evening. Actually I had only bought the stuff in Ardfern, but it sounds better to say we "finished the last of it" as though the bottle had lasted six months instead of six hours.

Last day, a little overcast, it's back to Loch Melfort. We could have stayed out elsewhere but a gale is forecast Monday or Tuesday. There's the choice of lunch stops surely, though? I'm keen at the idea of a short stop a Croabh Haven, Claysie less so: "We'll have to prat about with lines and fenders and all that rubbish!" he says, to which I answer that he'll have to do that quite lot anyway, it's a flippin boat, innit?

We set the fenders on stbd side, and Claysie decides that we'll drive in and choose our spot, rather than risk call on vhf and perhaps have to shift fenders.

Ashore, the lady up at the reception building announces that a short stay is £8. She stays at the far end of the office as she says this, wary of our reaction. But by then I had successfully used the loos for the first time in several days, and £8 won't even cover the call-out charge for the plumber they probably now need. I pay the £8. LJS and I go to the pub. Claysie and the others again daren't go into a pub for fear of inadvertently having six lagers each. LJS and I have orange juice and cokes, and I avenge the darts drubbing on Colonsay by thrashing him six-nil at pool. More lovely views from the pub, again.

Back to Loch Melfort. I am trusted with the helm, weave in gently and switch the engine off the moment we have lines ashore. I always think looks pretty slick and calms everyone down too, rather than the motor rumbling away. Okay, it saves juice, mainly.

The final night banquet is at the Tish and Trousih (?) anyway, a pub, about 15miles away. Actually, after the 1745 rebellion was brutally put down, wearing kilts was outlawed on the mainland. This pub was somewhere that highlanders could change into and out of their kilt. No kilts tonight though, unfortunately, but plenty of jolly songs and, well, you had to be there. Sgeir and Claysie gave fine performances, and then showed me up by knowing all the verses to "On Ilkley Moor baht'at" as well.

Oh and of course tons of other boaty fun stuff happened, as it always does. I've hardly told you the half of it. Brilliant trip.

Matt - May 2006

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