Midsummer in Stockholm

Given that the weather until now had been sunny and dry, we were very much looking forward to celebrating Midsummer, a Swedish (and Finnish) tradition, celebrated extensively in both countries on the Saturday falling closest to 24th June.

But our arrival at Navishamn Marina in Stockholm was damp and complicated by the challenge of having to moor ‘bows-to’ while picking up a stern buoy, which we have previously and studiously avoided, for various reasons.  One, we prefer anchoring where possible; two, we try to go ‘alongside’ if we do go into a marina deep enough for us; three, we do not have a bow-thruster and Pipistrelle is heavy to manoeuvre.   Another ‘first’ to chalk up then.  Shore assistance magically appeared, warps were handed over, and Pipistrelle secured.  However, getting off from the bow, on to the pontoon and back on again proved a stretch too far, and a neighbouring boat lent us a special bow boarding ladder, widely used throughout Scandinavia.  Needless to say, we now have one of our own – photo to follow.   The owners of said ladder, Cathy and Jacques from Switzerland on a yacht called Freja, promptly invited us on board for a glass of wine – we obviously looked as though we needed one!   A convivial time followed on their immaculate Discovery 55, and we discovered surprising and unsurprising coincidences.  Unsurprisingly, they, like we, know the original owners of Discovery Yachts in Southampton (see A Morning with Discovery Yachts).  But astoundingly, they are great friends with Lars and Anna-Maria Lemby’s daughter who we had met briefly earlier in the week (see previous blog)!

Enough preamble!

Midsummer’s Eve itself dawned cold and wet, but cleared early afternoon so we took advantage of the window of opportunity and walked the short distance to the Skansen Open Air Museum, the recommended location in Stockholm to enjoy festivities.

Here, as in all towns and villages throughout the land, the famous Midsummer Pole (the English equivalent is our Maypole) decorated with flowers and leaves would be today’s main attraction.  Either to dance and sing traditional songs, or just to spectate, crowds gathered round the tall pole which had been raised earlier.

Opened in 1891 by Artur Hazelius, Skansen is the largest museum of its kind in the world with houses, farm buildings, churches and towers from the whole of Sweden rebuilt on the site, a hill overlooking Stockholm.

Coming Soon … ‘Stockholm out to Impress’

To see exactly where we are click on Pipistrelle’s Journey and Where Are We Now?

Posted in Scandinavia, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Into The Baltic

Eventually the weather relented.  We enjoyed a northwesterly wind to take us the 60 nm from Klintholm to Ystad, on the  south coast of Sweden, famous for the Kurt Wallander mysteries.

Thus in early June began our cruise of the Baltic.  We have sailed on the West Coast four times now and thoroughly enjoyed it but never had the opportunity to sail the east coast towards Stockholm, its archipelagos, or venture further east.  As Bob says, the Baltic is ‘unfinished business’ and 2018 is the year to explore!

After one night in Ystad we continued towards Karlskrona, via the delightfully welcoming small marina on the island of Hanö, where we had reserved a berth by telephone.  VHF is used very little in Scandinavia we’ve found.

Interesting for us is that between 1810 and 1812 the Royal Navy used Hanö as its base during its operations in the Baltic.  Here we found the English Seaman’s Graveyard.  In 1972 the Royal Navy constructed a big wooden cross on the site.  Still today British warships visit the island occasionally to pay tribute to the fifteen sailors’ graves.

Karlskrona has a rich history.  Stockholm is ice bound during the winter, so being further south and well protected, Karlskrona became the prime naval port in the 17th century, and has an excellent museum telling the story.  Sweden was also a dominant power in the Baltic from the 16th century onwards, with major battles being fought against other Baltic countries.  The Kungsholm Fortress, with its own circular harbour, and Drottningskärs Citadel have guarded the entrance to the city for centuries.

Our next stop was Kalmar, a major port on the mainland with a large marina and the island of Öland to the east.

An imposing castle protecting the harbour in the 17th and 18th centuries has been extremely well preserved.  This and the city were well worth the visit.

The next anchorage at Kiddeh island came highly recommended by another English cruiser.  For the first time the Navionics chart on our Android Tablet differed from the Navionics chart on his iPhone, to the extent that soundings in the narrow entrance were not shown on the Tablet.  Navionics provided some help by email, but it did not solve the problem, but we successfully navigated the entrance in 3m of water. Not a big margin for error as we draw 2.2m!  But what a stunning spot, especially after the busy marina of Kalmar.

We continued sailing almost every day in favourable winds from the south, stopping in idyllic, protected anchorages, with good holding in mud.  That is, until we stopped just short of Nynäshamn, in Valsviken Bay, where a Navionics user had left a mark on the chart inside the 3m contour stating there was an unmarked sea cable going from the shore, straight out to sea.  So we carefully anchored some way clear of where we thought the cable might be, but come the morning and weighing anchor, there was the cable!  We managed to get a rope around it and then clear the anchor, releasing the cable.  In Sweden we have now read many reports of others who have also caught unmarked sea cables in their anchors.

Nynäshamn was a pleasant marina break where we lay alongside on a visitors’ pontoon, with the southerly wind pushing us off, and making our departure easy.  Again we found enjoyable walks to the south along the coastline.

Having missed the CA rally which had started in Nynashamn, we decided to visit the different islands anyway.  Our first stop was Utö, anchoring in a delightful position between a beautiful church and the small local ferry terminal.  Using the dinghy to visit the village further up the channel, we walked to the windmill built by a Dutchman in 1791 from where the views over islands in the Stockholm archipelago are magnificent on a clear day.  We also walked to the south coast, and admired the beautiful inlets, even in the cold northerly wind!  We were incredibly fortunate to meet Lars Goran Karlsson, whose family has a summer house on the island, and had moored his Omega 42 yacht close to us.  He was following in our wake to Stockholm to take part in the AF Offshore Race the following weekend from Stockholm, around Gotland and back to Sandhamn.

We had been in touch with another Lars, Lars Lemby, a longstanding member of the Offshore Cruising Club (Overlord).  He lives just behind the Laennersta Baatklub on the outskirts of Stockholm and was leaving on the 23rd June to join John Porter on White Eagle in Oban.  So we cut short exploration of other islands and spent a very pleasant 24 hours with him and his wife Anna-Maria, having berthed Pipistrelle on the hammerhead at the Boat Club.  Our next stop was the Navishamnen Marina in Stockholm, from where we were able to spend a week exploring Stockholm over Midsummer.

PS. We’re still well behind the pace at the time of writing, so catch up on our whereabouts by clicking on Pipistrelle’s Journey and Where Are We Now?

Posted in Scandinavia, Sweden | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Return – May 2018

A month on board has turned into two(ish), with the first of the promised blog updates here.  Baltic cruising is very different from our previous sailing experiences and extremely enjoyable so far in mostly unseasonably glorious weather.  In eight weeks it has rained little, unfortunately leaving the countryside parched.  None of the Scandinavians we have met can remember the months of May or June being so sunny and warm for a very long time.

To take up our story then …

We returned to Denmark on May 8th, to be reunited with Pipistrelle at Søholm Yacht Services, in the rural location of Nybøl Nor.  It was a relief to find her in much the same state as we had left her last October, though both the 24 & 12v battery chargers had been replaced during the winter.  They were 18 years old!  Having received quotes for both antifouling and polishing the topsides, Bob decided that for the first time since Portugal in 2009, we had better things to do with £2,000, and so spent 3 days working on the hull (he’s clearly cheap labour)!

Alternative accommodation and road transport were vital during that time.  Full use was made of the rental car we hired on arrival at Hamburg airport and of the impressive facilities at our Airbnb in Alnor, close to the boatyard in Søholm.

Pipistrelle was relaunched on 16th May, and with most of the recommissioning tasks complete, we finally left Søholm a week later to anchor in a sheltered spot a couple of miles away for one night.  This was mainly to fit the two headsails safely with Pipistrelle ‘head to wind’.  We also played logistics, with a dinghy ride back to Søholm for Elaine to collect the car and drive to nearby Marina Minde, await Bob turning up in same dinghy to go together back to Pipistrelle and sail her into the marina!  Here we made final preparations and having victualled for the umpteenth time in Flensburg, Germany, where everything is much cheaper than in Denmark, were ready to get some miles under the keel again.

We had joined the Cruising Association (CA), who were holding a Stockholm Rally at the beginning of June, and whilst we made good progress east through the islands of Denmark, anchoring three times overnight (at Bagenkop, Femø and Harbølle) our plans for sailing on to Ystad in southern Sweden went out of the window with the arrival of easterlies.  Instead of a hard beat for hours to achieve 60 nm, we put into Klintholm on the island of Møn, the last harbour going north before either turning NW towards Copenhagen, or NE towards Ystad.

There we stayed for what turned out to be ten days in its safe marina.   There are many places to visit nearby, together with enjoyable strolls along sandy beaches in any weather, a good way to relax after a day’s work on Pipistrelle (yes, always something to clean, polish, repair, renew!).

The Danish equivalent of the White Cliffs of Dover are the chalk cliffs of Møns Klint which stretch for 6km with up to 120m drop in places and offer pleasant walking through woodland with splendid views into the Baltic.  We chose a bright sunny day for our afternoon excursion by (expensive) public bus.

And finally, one spectacular Danish sunset at Klintholm.

Click on our Where Are We Now? and Pipistrelle’s Journey pages for more brief updates!

Posted in Denmark, Scandinavia | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Ahoy from Scandinavia!

We returned to Pipistrelle over a month ago now, and it’s so good to be afloat in 2018.

Click on our Where Are We Now? and Pipistrelle’s Journey pages for further updates!

The blog lives again with a full account of what’s been going on to follow soon.  Meanwhile, a few photos to whet the appetite.


Posted in Denmark, Scandinavia, Sweden | Tagged , ,

Destination Denmark

Having chosen to store Pipistrelle for the winter at a yard in Southern Denmark close to the German border at Flensburg, we began our cruise through the Danish islands.  The plan was to sail from Sweden and reach Søholm Yacht Services at Nybøl near Egernsund as quickly as possible, but with some stops on the way.  In fact it took us longer than we thought because of … yes, wind and weather!

Leaving Marstrand in Sweden on a cool damp morning, we sailed the 35 nm to Østerby on the island of Laesø which we had last visited on Overlord 14 years ago (that same trip mentioned in relation to Norway).  Unsurprisingly we didn’t recognise the marina, but do have vague recollections of going alongside the fishing harbour.  No matter!

By now we were used to paying our fee by credit card at the nearby machine.  Boat length and length of stay tapped in, a coloured ‘parking ticket’ appears, is taken back to the boat and displayed by being looped round the guardrail.  Scandinavian efficiency!

Next day which we knew was going to be dry, we hired bikes to explore the island and ended up cycling 26 km!  Not bad going, but it’s along cycle paths, all flat, and there was no wind.  We had a look around Hedvigs Hus – one of the unique dwellings dating back to the 1600s with its thick seaweed roof.  Why seaweed?  With no trees or straw on the island at the time, the inhabitants used their initiative, found seaweed and driftwood on the seashore and built their houses accordingly.  There are now under 20 left on the whole island.

Lunch was at the Laesø Caféen in Byrum where we tried the typical Danish fish dish of ‘Stjerneskud’, which was delicious.  Thus fortified, we had a look at the church dating from the 1200’s which was unfortunately closed, and then set off again to the Laesø Saltworks.

The island produced salt since 1008, but ceased in the 1800’s and it wasn’t until 1991 when a seething hut was reconstructed, and salt production began again.  It is possible in Laesø because a very salty brine is formed some 2 metres down in the sand, which has a salt concentration of 15% compared to 2-3% in the Kattegat. Our visit gave us the opportunity to see the liquid bubbling away in stainless steel tanks heated by wood burning ovens.  Interestingly the stainless has to be of the highest grade – 316 – the same quality used on Pipistrelle!  This is manufacturing on a small scale but it is gaining in popularity and becoming known as the ‘gourmet of salts’.  We were surprised to find a delegation from the Lion Saltworks Museum in Northwich, UK, having a serious meeting to learn how to emulate what has been done here, and begin making salt again in Cheshire.

After one more day on Laesø (when it rained), we set off to Grenå, where we stayed for one night and then sailed on to Ballen on the east of Samsø before heading to the small marina of Reersø which is on the west of the island of Zealand with Copenhagen on the east, overlooking the Great Belt.  This is one of the three Danish straits separating the main islands that make up the country.  We were met by our friends Lisbeth and Christian (their yacht is ‘Pura Vida’), which was just as well, as the marina is not designed for yachts of our size, but we managed to get alongside safely in a protected spot sheltered from the forecast strong winds.

Reersø used to be an island before the causeway was raised above sea level, and it is a delightful spot, with many old thatched cottages which reminded us of home, and walks along the coastline and across farmland.  We also had a very enjoyable evening of Danish ‘hygge’ at Christian and Lisbeth’s beautiful home, overlooking Reersø Bay.

We weathered the named storm ‘Aileen’ which caused damage in the UK, and at the first opportunity, set sail south down the Great Belt, as we were running out of time to get to Søholm.  Inevitably the forecast was not strictly accurate, and after a good start with sunshine and favourable current, we then had head winds, and found ourselves dodging supertankers and other shipping using the two channels available.  Power does not give way to sail here!

We finished up motoring for the last 10nm, and then had a heavy rainstorm so we stood off before making our entrance to Spodsbjerg Marina, on the island of Langeland.  Once inside we were able to tie up comfortably, in a position which would provide an easy exit.  This marina predominantly caters for leisure fishing boats, and a rally had been arranged for the weekend we were there.  The weather was not conducive to continuing south, so after getting ourselves organised, we enjoyed a walk along the coast and inland around the many fresh water lakes.

Having planned to make Bagenkop on the west of Langeland the next stop, we left Spodsbjerg, rounded the southern tip of the island in warm sunshine.  Along with lack of adverse wind and current, it was a no brainer to continuing west to Sønderborg, meaning a full day of sailing, but then only a short hop to Søholm.

We were able to moor alongside the quay in the Allsund Channel, have a look around the old town and 12th century castle and naturally buy final provisions to keep us going on arrival at Søholm, which is only 3 hours away.

The lifting bridge at Egernsund into the Nybøl Nor opens hourly each day from 08.30, so we left Sønderborg hoping to arrive in time for 12.30, but we knew it would be tight.  We arrived 10 minutes late, but the staff could see us from a distance, so delayed the opening for us to catch up with the other yachts going through!  How amazingly helpful!

The yard is only some 20 minutes from the bridge.  Søholm run a very professional operation, specialising in the storage of boats both inside their heated and unheated halls without masts, and outside with or without masts in place.  Mads Søholm was waiting to squeeze us into a slot on their waiting pontoon, and took our lines.

Almost immediately behind us we found the windfall yacht A.R., previously known as ‘Lively’ when the British owned her, and now renamed A.R.  In Michael Cudmore’s book, ‘The Windfall Yachts’, she is variously described as being 125 or 150 sq mtrs!  She is now in beautiful condition and owned by a German couple for the last 35 years.  She had her masts removed and is stored indoors.  We look forward to meeting the owners again when we return – the talk will obviously be of A.R., Overlord and Sea Scamp among others, all of them windfall yachts!  Here a few photos …

From then on, we were extremely busy preparing Pipistrelle for haul out.  We had opted for storage outside, with the mast in place.  For the first time we had to winterise the boat for sub zero temperatures, and rain that might freeze.  This not only meant replacing the fresh water in the generator and Yanmar with 50/50 antifreeze, but also the seawater cooling, together with the air conditioning, now used for heat, the watermaker using Glycerine, and the two heads, with the grey tank being totally emptied.  A lot to think about, together with canvas covers on deck. There was then the multitude of other jobs from organising car hire (from Flensburg), accommodation ashore (in nearby Gråsten), flights home (from Hamburg), eking out and eating all the remaining perishable food (anywhere), washing and drying machine loads of laundry (off site) and cleaning the interior.   We lifted at the end of the first week, when we moved off Pipistrelle, and throughout, we found the yard incredibly efficient, helpful and careful.  Our thanks are due to the team of Mads, Flemming, Susanne and Festus.

Pipistrelle is now resting in this tranquil spot until next May, when we will return to Denmark to take her on another journey!


Posted in Denmark, Scandinavia | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Pipistrelle in Sweden!

Making landfall in Västra Göteland in our own yacht towards the end of August was very special.  Our first cruise in the area was in 2003 (yes, the Overlord trip already referred to!).  Our friends Ingemar and Ann-Britt had invited us to sail with them on Lady Ann III on two separate occasions, and it was with them that we really discovered this marvellous sailing area with its granite rock formations and ever-changing scenery.

See our blogs from 2014 and 2016:

It’s Here! Summer Sun 1 – Sweden

Happy New Year 2017! (Interlude in Sweden 2016)

Hunnebostrand has much to offer in the summer season with plentiful marina berths of all sizes, as well as anchoring.  Off the boat, there is good hiking in many different directions.  As with Norway, our arrival at the end of August heralded end of summer so we saw the little shops and boutiques opening at the weekend only.  Ingemar and Ann-Britt’s summer house is nearby at Ulebergshamn, which for us was a dinghy ride away, and we were invited for the evening feasting on shrimps ordered and collected straight from the fisherman!  After more socialising with them and in and around the (private) marina where we had been fortunate enough to have been offered an unoccupied berth, we felt we had to move on southwards while the weather was still reasonable.

Leaving the nearby Sote Kanal behind us, which we had been through a couple of times before, so felt like old hands, we headed for Lysekil with its imposing church, an easy 17 nm sail away.  Again, thanks to our visit here last year, we knew the ropes and went straight into the less crowded and more protected Fisherman’s marina.  Next day, Sunday, along with many local sailors enjoying pleasant weekend weather, we threaded our way between the islands to the west of Orust before heading out to more open sea and approaching Marstrand from the northwest.  Compared to the last time we were here it was quiet and we were even able to go alongside in the marina where we stayed overnight.

Unfortunately by evening the weather had closed in.  It turned cool, damp and windy and we wanted to go out for a meal!  Eventually, we found the one and only restaurant that was open ‘Hamnkrogen’ – across the channel on the opposite island!  The frequent ferry service made access easy and we were there within 10 minutes!

After just a week in Sweden we slipped our lines, took down the Swedish courtesy flag and set sail for Denmark.


Posted in Scandinavia, Sweden | Tagged , , , ,

Notes from Norway

An Overlord trip brought us to Norway in 2003 when we explored the Oslo Fjord, so in Kristiansand we decided that, not having sailed in this area before, and without any immediately pressing deadlines, we would spend a few days cruising up the east coast.  A good decision as it turned out, before heading across to Västra Göteland in Sweden which we know and love.

Strangely to us, the season here appears to end in August!  We arrived on the 22nd and already everything seemed closed down.  Few boats in the marina, office closed, no machine issuing tickets (the norm in Scandinavia) and all very quiet, so we had a free berth and power!

The next day in gloriously warm sunshine we slipped lines but had to motor to Revesand near Arendal where we anchored for the night.  Quite a pretty spot but again no one else around apart from a Wednesday evening racing fleet (worldwide that event!).  Fickle as ever, the weather changed … still no wind but rain!

Nonetheless we set off, taking the inshore route under a 25m bridge (our mast height is 22.5m), past an oil rig under maintenance, out to the open sea again before reaching the charming village of Lyngør nestled amongst a group of small islands and moored alongside the only pontoon.

A grey afternoon …

A grey afternoon, but we went to the only small grocery store which was open, to be served by a Portuguese student!  Walking around the village was interesting but the following day on the recommendation of a Norwegian sailing couple, we motored a whole mile to do something we’d never done before … mooring Scandinavian style, against a sheer rock face!!  It is difficult to get more idyllic than that, especially as the weather decided to show itself off at its best!

Again, on recommendation we headed North once more towards the island of Jumfroland or ‘the island of the Virgin’ in Norwegian.  Close to the mainland at Kragerø, it being the weekend and fine, it was busy.  We managed to go alongside on a sort of hammerhead and in fact stayed for two nights.  Paying at the ticket machine took some working out and once we were ‘official’ we set off on a walking expedition.  As the island is small and flat, it was easy terrain.

It is fascinating, as it was originally part of the seabed, and created as a glacial moraine, which then rose from the seabed.  Consequently sizeable areas are comprised of large round stones, which obviously do not support any vegetation, in contrast to some extremely fertile areas.  In the middle of the island there are two big lighthouses, one old, one new, that can be seen all round for a considerable distance.  We enjoyed our walks, the north eastern end comprised of solid rock and a pebbly shoreline, and the south western end having pleasant beaches.  The whole island protects the Kragerø archipelago which in itself is an ideal sailing ground with so many sheltered islands.  How often on our travels have we come across areas we would love to explore further, if we had known about them earlier and had built in considerable ‘buffer’ time.  This was one definitely of them, but unfortunately time was not on our side!

With a good weather window for the passage to Hunnebostrand, Sweden, we left the small marina to anchor in the lee of the island, making it easier for an early departure the next morning (ie fenders and mooring lines already safely stowed, just the anchor to weigh!).

The weather gods were with us, and we had an enjoyable if chilly 60 mile day sail with the wind on the beam, arriving late afternoon to continue our cruise in the land of the Vikings.







Posted in Norway, Scandinavia | Tagged , , ,

Unscheduled Landfall

Starting with our departure from Inverness Marina on Thursday 17th August, this turned out to be no ordinary passage.

With 80 nm ahead of us to reach the busy fishing port of Fraserburgh in a day sail, and slipping lines just before daybreak, we plugged the current through the narrows between the Chanonry Point Lighthouse to port and the fortress of Fort George to starboard.  Similar to the Devon coastline and so different from the Scottish west coast with its cuillins and munros, we sailed past Lossiemouth, Banff, Macduff, and finally to ‘FB’ where a hammerhead pontoon had been reserved for us in the small Marina amongst assorted fishing vessels.  Why Fraserbrough?  To take delivery of the boom vang that had been under repair in Falmouth (long story) and we’d had couriered to Scotland.  It was also a good way to break down the North Sea crossing.

The day started fine and ended dry but cool.  We had made good time though motor sailed most of the way.   Not so the following morning!  It rained solidly and blew the whole day.   A very bleak place in no sunshine even in August – hard to imagine in winter.  Going ashore for a few provisions involved donning full wet weather gear and boots!

As predicted Saturday dawned with not a cloud in the sky and a westerly wind.  The Fraserbrough world looked brighter.  Good time to leave on the 400nm passage to Sweden – 3 days at sea.

Day 1 was lovely sailing weather, but we stowed the mainsail, and sailed under genoa alone – sunshine, a puffin on the water, a pod of dolphins swimming with us for hours and a superb sunset.  We also spotted 5 floating wind turbines, that were not shown on Navionics, so passed the info on to Navionics, who have now updated their North Sea chart, and expressed their thanks.  However, the BP Forties Oilfield was shown – the brightly lit platforms an amazing sight at night!

Day 2 was grey, rainy and boisterous.  30kn winds, rolly, heavy seas with 3m swell and unpleasant outside.  Thankfully the Wauquiez pilot saloon came into its own again – with all round visibility we can run watches from below, only needing to venture into the cockpit to trim sails.  So we were ‘inside’ for Day 2, watching waves crashing over the deck and into the cockpit.

Day 3 though bright, brought with it little or no easing of breeze until the afternoon.  We could see the Norwegian coastline all day about 20nm to our north, with Kristiansand to port.  Towards evening the wind died and we relaxed a little with another glorious sunset to the west.  Now in the Skagerrak we looked forward to a pleasant last night at sea with about 100 nm to run.

An ominous dark sky developed.  In the distance, it lit up at regular intervals – sheet lightning followed by bright forks hitting the sea.  Call us paranoid, but having been subjected to three strikes, we were on our guard!  Radar on, we watched, changed course away from the lightning, then quickly decided our best and safest option was to motor back out to sea and run before the storm.  (Even our friends Ingemar and Ann-Britt could see it from their summer house on the hill in Ulebergshamn!)  After an hour, it had subsided, but on turning back onto our heading for Sweden, not only was the wind at 26kn, but was on the nose too and we were making 3.5kn at 2000 rpm!

Another discussion followed – again a ‘no brainer’ – to alter course with the wind on our beam for 40nm which would take us to ….


So totally unscheduled, we arrived off Kristiansand at breakfast time to be met by Customs in a rib!  All very friendly, but they did come on board to check our passports, ship’s papers and to have a look around.  After a passage though, the interior below decks is never in a fit state to receive visitors!

We finally went alongside at the visitors’ marina in perfect weather to plan a short stay in The Land of the Midnight Sun.


Posted in Great Britain, Norway, Scotland | Tagged , ,

Locks and Lochs

The Caledonian Canal – 7th to 12th August 2017

While moored near the western exit of the Crinan Canal (see Heading North …), we watched a yacht about the same size as Pipistrelle, going through the last lock.  Crewed by a couple, they had arranged pulleys for their light lines, with both forward and aft mooring lines operated from their cockpit.  We replicated this on Pipistrelle, though as we had additional crew, the forward line stayed on the bow.  The major advantage is that there is no chafe on the lines they are fed in or out.  The other important factor is to use light lines, like the weight of a halyard, instead of normal warps.

On leaving Oban, we headed west across the Firth of Lorn, passing the castle at Duart Point on the Isle of Mull.  There is so much that is spectacular about Scotland, and this castle brought back many memories of our passages in 2008.  From there we motor sailed NE along the Lynn of Morvern, through the Corran Narrows in pouring rain, and then into Loch Linnhe as far as Fort William.  In view of the inclement weather we ditched our plans for entering the Caledonian Canal before it closed for the night at 18.00, and instead picked up a nearby mooring.

Fortunately, the rain had moved on by the following morning, and we arrived at Corpach Sea Lock at 08.00.  The gates were open, with handlers on the lock to take our lines.  After completing checking in formalities and paying the fee, we were all set.  Going through those first locks was straightforward, and the swing bridge had been opened for our arrival.

Thomas Telford was the Scottish engineer responsible for building the Canal, connecting the Scottish east and west coasts and making passages for wooden boats safer than navigating around the Pentland Firth and Cape Wrath.  Construction began in 1803, but was not finished until 1822.  The Caledonian has a sister in the Göta Canal in Sweden, also constructed by Telford, and a twin in Canada.  Corpach is the first of 29 locks on the canal which is 60 miles long, but three lochs or lakes account for two thirds of its length.  Once through the first two locks, directly ahead is the dramatic view of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Britain at 1345m or 4413ft.

Banavie Locks, or Neptune’s Staircase, a flight of 8 locks, the longest and widest staircase in Britain, takes the Canal up 20m.  Having two extra crew on board paid dividends, as both Lars and Edvard were ashore walking the lines up the locks, securing them to hooks at each lock.  We then motored for 6 miles until we reached the two locks at Gairlochy, and moored up in Loch Lochy for the first night.  We were able to walk a fair distance eastwards close to the loch, through the forestry commission woods.  Facilities at each of our overnight stops were good, with much needed hot showers, and avoided the need to use the holding tank.

The following day we motored 10 miles through Loch Lochy in gorgeous sunshine, with the mountains around Ben Nevis in the distance.  The views in the first half of the Canal are spectacular on both sides.

We then had a short section of canal and another swing bridge to negotiate, before entering Loch Oich, some 4 miles in length, and another swing bridge at the far end, and then meeting our friend and Lock Keeper, Mat Phipps at Cullochy Lock.

Part of the so-called ‘Middle Section’, this has to be the most beautiful of all the locks, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, and under Mat’s competent guidance and work, we hope that in time the Caledonian Canal management will recognise this as being one of the best locks on the Canal.  We had time to enjoy tea with Mat on the pontoon, but unfortunately, we did not stay overnight, as there are no facilities here, but instead moved on to Kytra Lock, and then moored overnight at the top of the Fort Augustus flight of locks.

Mat’s parents, Gill and Ken, then arrived, having flown up that day, and we all had a very convivial supper ashore.  Unlike most of the other stops, Fort Augustus is a tourist attraction, with several cafes, restaurants, craft shops and quaint buildings.  Disappointingly, the Museum was closed for refurbishment during the summer months, due to reopen this autumn.

The following day, 9th August, we went down the Fort Augustus flight of five locks and swing bridge in the afternoon, and on into Loch Ness. This most famous of the lochs is just over 20 miles long, contains the greatest volume of fresh water in Britain, and is deeper than the North Sea at 250m.

Unfortunately, we had to motor due to lack of wind, and even then, did not manage to spot the fabled monster!  It was a stunning experience with lots to see, including Urquhart Castle which we were to visit overland the next day!  In the Canal at the far end we towed a yacht out of the mud where it had somehow got stuck.  Manoeuvring Pipistrelle in circles in the narrow Canal was not the easiest of tasks!  We moored for the night at pretty Dochgarroch, and all seven of us enjoyed supper at the nearby very popular Oakwood Restaurant.

The 10th was a lay day.  Joined by Mat on his day off, Gill and Ken took us out in their hire car to visit Urquhart Castle which dates back to the 13th century, and was in use until c1692.  Its history and battles for supremacy between the different clans is superbly portrayed by Historic Environment Scotland, and reminded us of the excellent work the New Zealanders have done to explain their history to visitors.  We started off by watching a film explaining the background, which had a spectacular ending when the curtains opened onto the magnificent vista of the castle and Loch Ness.  The audience gasped and applauded.  A visit is needed to understand the impact!  We then explored the castle grounds and the remaining buildings with their stunning views over Loch Ness.

We then stopped at Abriachan Gardens, which also overlook Loch Ness.  This is more of a family property where the owners not only have a nursery, but also a large variety of shrubs, plants and flowers displayed in their 4 acre hillside garden with its winding paths.  It was an extremely enjoyable visit with plenty of photo opportunities.

Finishing off with a return to the Oakwood Restaurant, it was just as good as the previous night, and provided a fitting end to a great day with Gill, Ken and Mat.

Friday 11th August was Mat’s day off, and we were delighted to welcome him on board for a busman’s holiday helping crew Pipistrelle from Dochgarroch Lock.  Showing him locks from a different perspective, we went 5 miles to Caley Marina, near Inverness, where boat parts we had ordered were waiting for us at the chandlery. Surprising was the vast range of what we would term offshore and ocean-going stock – in a canal!

Unfortunately, because of time constraints, Mat left us before we descended the Muirtown flight of four locks, to a swing bridge, and then Seaport Marina, which in fact is still in the Canal.  The descent went well, and we moored in the marina, which is within walking distance of a couple of supermarkets and Inverness City Centre.

Our Canal transit ended when we went through the Clachnaharry Works Lock, and then the Sea Lock before berthing at Inverness Marina, a few miles away.

Our six-days in the Caledonian Canal were enjoyable and memorable, the scenery stunning, and an experience we will never forget.  As ever, we could have lingered longer.  We found each lock special in its own right, enhanced of course by friendly, helpful lock keepers.  They assist not only the likes of us, but many holidaymakers who may have hired a canal boat for the first time.  The Canal is popular too with kayakers who paddle steadfastly through the lochs and then carry their craft over the locks to bivouac somewhere on route.  At the other end of the spectrum in the Middle Section are the big sightseeing boats.

We took the opportunity to explore Inverness, and also to watch the new film ‘Dunkirk’ – interesting from an historical perspective but definitely not in the light entertainment category.  Edvard and Lars returned to Sweden from Inverness, we were grateful to them for their help in transiting the Canal.  We also carried out essential maintenance, and our next stop was Fraserburgh to collect the boom vang which had been shipped from Falmouth.

The story in the Land of the Purple Heather continues …

Posted in Great Britain, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Heading North …

… towards the Land of the Purple Heather

(just a reminder that to get full benefit of the photos, just tap or click on each image to enlarge to your liking!)


After three weeks back home, Elaine rejoined Bob and Pipistrelle on 19th July at Howth Marina, flying from Southampton to Dublin, from the warmth of Southern England to the rain on the Emerald Isle!

A quick weather check and conversation with local sailors the following morning confirmed there was no time to linger in Howth if we were to catch the ‘window’ and start heading northwards.  So we slipped our lines at lunchtime and set off towards Bangor, Northern Ireland from where it would be ideal to cross to Scotland.  At a distance of 90nm, Bangor was just an overnight sail away.  All began well if a little damp with a couple of rainbows thrown in, and of course there was plenty of shipping around in the Irish Sea on our night watches.  The wind and heavy rain came up on the approach to Bangor early the next morning, with visibility of about 100 m, so we anchored in Ballyholme Bay, preferring to enter the nearby marina in calmer conditions the following day.

We stayed for a couple of days and did a bit of local exploration on foot around what was once a popular Victorian seaside resort and still an attractive town, but unfortunately did not have time to venture into Belfast as we needed to press on northwards.

Judging the right time to leave Bangor on a favourable tide and get round the Mull of Kintyre with its fierce current in our favour demanded some thought.  We wanted to get to Ardminish on the island of Gigha in a day, a new destination for us and the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides.  Once safely at anchor, we both agreed how delightful it was to be back in the land of the purple heather after eight years, despite or because of the weather!

We were fortunate to walk around the local Achamore Gardens on a bright, rainless day.  Unfortunately, now no longer manicured, they are still colourful and have belonged to the local community since 2002.   The house is separately owned and currently for sale for anyone who would like a 14 bedroomed mansion in a peaceful location for the price of an expensive flat in London.

From Gigha we crossed to Craighouse on Jura, and moored in the shadow of the small whisky distillery and hotel where we had dinner one evening.  Here we reminisced about our two visits to the island as part of the Classic Malts Cruise eight years ago when we visited the distillery and enjoyed a private ‘nosing’ or tasting on board Pipistrelle.

Working our way north, we had a lively sail to Crinan where we anchored in the protected bay just west of the Canal entrance and used the dinghy to get ashore.  Watching the yachts in the sea lock gave us a few pointers and tips for handling Pipistrelle in our upcoming transit of the Caledonian Canal, and walking along the scenic towpath we saw just how narrow the Canal is in places.  Highly recommended comes the Seafood Bar of the Crinan Hotel with its fresh seafood dishes and cosy atmosphere overlooking the Canal.

And so on up to Oban Marina on the island of Kerrera.  A fairly tricky sail taking the inshore route which we did, weighing anchor at dawn to get the current through the Dorus Mor, on up between Scarba and Luing, past Fladda, the island of Seil and the Sound of Kerrera to the marina opposite the town of Oban.  With precision navigation required most of the way, the tablet showing our position on the Navionics chart was firmly in its holder in the cockpit.

What a friendly welcome we received on Kerrera!  The marina has changed hands since we were last there, new owners having taken over just four months previously.  They are succeeding in turning it around from neglect.  The team is multi-talented, from being on reception, to driving the complementary ferry shuttle to get us from the island to the North Pier in town, taking lines for arriving yachts, working behind the bar in the small restaurant or waiting at table in the evening, which all gives it a family feel.

As with the Seafood Bar at Crinan, we followed the recommendation of sailing friends to have a meal at the Seafood Temple in Oban.  We weren’t disappointed!  Within walking distance of the town, this tiny family run restaurant is located in what used to be the park pavilion (aka facilities!) with glorious sea views and serves fresh top quality Scottish seafood – a delicious treat!  As was the pre-dinner drink we enjoyed at the Manor House Hotel.

The Classic Malts Cruise started here with a reception at the distillery and parade of sail around Oban Harbour.   This time we booked a distillery tour, a tasting and a few purchases once Edvard and Lars had joined us.

To look back on our Scottish adventures of 2008 go to:

Scotland The Brave

The Mull Circumnavigation and of course, most importantly

The Classic Malts Cruise – Whisky Galore

Posted in Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , ,