Leaving the canal, we were back to the challenging life at sea. Cruising through the locks and the canal in chilly weather was rather peaceful, even though it was hard to keep the toes and hands warm. But as soon as we got out of the canal, the challenges with timing tidal streams and winds begun again. We were starting to learn how the tides work already in Shetland and the east coast, but here on the west coast of Britain the tides are even more profound.
Before we left Corpach, Jens went to the coast guard office and asked about the tides and if there was some specific area to be concerned about. That´s when we first heard of Corran Narrows, 8 Nm southwest of Corpach. The narrowest part is less than 180 meters wide, and that makes the tidal streams very strong. Approximately every six hour the tide change direction and when that happens there is about one hour of slack water where there are no streams. This is the tricky part for sailors like us that often want to sail for more than six hours, no matter how you twist and turn the stream is always against you at some point.
We knew the tidal streams were against us but since we needed to wait for the canal office to open and let us out the last lock. However, we hoped at least to avoid the strongest streams which occurred around noon. So we left Corpach 9.30 and tried to sail as fast as we could to the narrows, but the little wind we had was at our nose and we arrived in the worst possible timing. But of course, we still wanted to have a go – with sails and motor it should be possible, right? No. Of course they have a line ferry at the narrowest part that we needed to keep clear of, but once we managed to do that the troubles begun (see picture below, point 1) . With the tide against us and the wind still by the nose we started to zigzag across the bay. First with the motor on half speed, and then as it begun to narrow we used almost full power. Jens was at the helm, working his ass off to try to sail as efficiently as possible, while I was navigating and making sure we wouldn´t run aground. Each time we made a tack, I could see how we were sliding backwards, and before it was time to turn again we had only gained a few meters in the direction we wanted (2). When it felt like we were almost through, we actually didn’t go anything forward, just backwards.
We were beaten by the tide.
Now there wasn’t any harbor close by, so while we turned around on some fast downwind sailing we had to make a plan B. We had seen some buoys as we passed by earlier just before the narrow, and decided to try and throw a rope against the big yellow buoy (3) that Jens guessed was meant for larger ships waiting. On the second try, we managed to get a rope around it and Jens was busy tying up the rope when I saw the ferry going straight in our direction, getting too close for comfort. I shouted at Jens – I think we might have to get loose; the ferry’s coming straight at us! One of the guys at the ferry started to wave his arms in a cross and we dropped the rope as they came closer. We couldn´t really hear what they were screaming at us, so we called them up at the radio.
Turns out that was their mooring buoy used when the ferry was done for the day. They told us that the grey buoys further down were courtesy buoys and we decided to moor there until the tide streams changed direction (4). We had four hours of rest before we made the second try at Corran Narrows.
The second try to go through the tide was in our favour. It was getting dark but we had no problem to get through Corran Narrows. Just after getting through we realized that the wind had picked up a little more than we anticipated. While it was not any danger in proceeding, it was a little uneasy tacking in the strong wind with the waves slamming against the bow in the dark (5). It also meant that we weren´t making so much progress. It was not worth it.
We were beaten by the wind.
So, once again we went back to the grey buoy and tied up the boat for the night (4). This time a dinghy came up to us, and once we were settled the man handed us the rope we had been forced to leave at the yellow buoy – it was one of the men from the ferry that picked it up for us (we couldn’t find it when we passed the buoy the second time). We cooked up some dinner and spent the evening cuddled up in the sofa watching TV-series.
Finally, we could not only pass Corran Narrows but also continue southwest from there. With the wind against us we still weren’t making much progress so we didn’t expect to get far. But in the end, we got a better angle at the wind and managed to get all the way to Craobh Marina just before dark. The sailing to Craobh was not without challenges either. With the tidal streams against us on some parts and wind by the nose most of the time we were making very slow progress. It is a bit challenging realizing that you are sailing in a little more than 1 knot and still be motivated 😉
As the wind picked up and we got a better angle, we got up to 5-7 knots and passed by Dunstaffnage where we had intended to stay for the night. As we were passing some narrow parts where islands came close to the mainland, such as the Sound of Luing, we could tell that the tides were strong. Zooming in at the chart we read: “Strong tidal streams. Streams setting through the gulf of Corryvreckan are very dangerous.” This time we had the tides with us, and it was a weird feeling to cruise by in 10 knots with very little wind in the sails. You can also see the fast streams by the look of the water. In these places small waves appear that are rather steep, but parts of the sea are also completely blank. We also did see a couple of swirls in the water, you definitely don’t want to pass those, since they do a pretty good job in changing the direction of the boat.
Croabh marina had a small shop and a restaurant/pub next door. We spent the evening trying out their ales and using their WIFI. It was rather pricey to stay the night, so we decided to continue to Ardfern marina on the other side of the headland.
What were we thinking sailing in the Great Britain in November? That was the question on our minds as the rain poured down outside. My next question was to Jens – Are you sure we should leave the warm comfort of the marina to sail in this weather? Jens decided that I should stay inside and “not get wet” while he sailed around the headland to the next marina. So, I served him cookies and called Ardfern marina while Jens got so soaked that the water dripped from the gloves (this is one of the reasons why it is so hard to keep the boat dry inside). We arrived a few hours later just as it became dark, and woke up to another rainy day.
We spent one more day in Ardfern as the wind was still southwesterly, and managed to dry up the boat, take a walk in the village, do some grocery shopping and buy a connector so Jens could finish the installation of the VHF radio. The weather forecast was not looking good. The winds were getting stronger, and it looked like we would have to stay in shelter for most of the week. We decided to leave for Gigha island as soon as the tides were in our favour, which was the next morning at 6 o´clock.
Jens took the first watch, and it was rather messy water and wind the first hours of the day. Still, we managed to cruise up to 7 knots and by the time I came up and served breakfast we had already went one third of the leg to Gigha. We were feeling ambitious, and started to discuss that we should change our route and straight go to Ireland at once? After lunch, it felt nice to steer in sunshine for once. But the calm weather changed quickly, the wind picked up again and since we had the wind by our nose we had to bounce up and down the waves trying not to drift too close to the island. Jens were feeling a bit seasick, and I was getting frustrated that we made so little progress, the waves were getting bigger and decreased our speed every time they hit the bow. Since neither of us was at our best moods, and the prognosis said that the wind would pick up to at least 13 m/s in a few hours (with gusts up to 17 m/s), we decided to go back to the original plan and go around the island to the harbour on the east side.
After the boat was tied up to the pier we took a walk up to the hotel to pay for the mooring and have a pint before taking the boat out to the buoy to spend the night. It might have been one of the longest nights in my life, trying to sleep with all the noises from the heavy wind, the ropes, the pouring rain and all the stuff inside the boat we hadn´t packed good enough. But the harbour is still rather protected from wind and waves, and we will stay here until the wind decrease to a reasonable speed again.
Keep your fingers crossed that we can leave soon!