Ten of the Best — we’ve reached the top four

Stuart Craigs collection of 10 favourite sailings has already embraced a stunning variety of landscape and experience, contrasting big ferries and small, short crossings and long, stormy weather and brilliant calm. The closer Stuart gets to his chart-topper, the more kaleidoscopic his voyages become. The countdown has now reached numbers four and three.

mast-225x300 2No.4  Isle of Arran — ‘Campbeltown to Ardrossan’ 25 August 2013

Several factors combined to make this one of my favourite cruises. Isle of Arran had been removed from Islay duties now that Finlaggan was in service, and had taken over from Saturn as secondary Arran vessel. By 2013 summer traffic to Arran had built up to such a degree that there were many occasions when Caledonian Isles couldn’t cope — so the ageing Isle of Arran came to the rescue. To inject a bit of zest into her travails she was also given the role of introducing an experimental summer service between Campbeltown and Ardrossan. I had to try this out.

How would I get to Campbeltown? Well I believe it is the town in the UK that is furthest from a railway station, so that option was out. So I took the bike. I set off the day before my intended sailing, the bike loaded with tent, panniers and various accoutrements which gave me the appearance of a one-man band.

Isle of Arran Campbeltown Loch

Isle of Arran in Campbeltown Loch, with Davaar Island behind

Despite my burning desire to film Isle of Arran’s arrival at Campbeltown I managed unwittingly to jettison my video-camera out of my pannier during my breezy and vertiginous descent of the Boguillie into Lochranza. At my campsite that evening the discovery of my loss caused me much despair.

My gloom lasted until the following morning, when the owner of the campsite informed me that my loss had indeed been discovered – by an eagle-eyed walker. Camera and its owner reunited, with much self-scolding, I happily crossed to Claonaig aboard Loch Tarbert and headed south down the quieter east side of Kintyre.

It is a hard cycle to Campbeltown, especially if hauling a tent along, but the sun was out and the summer air was filled with expectation.

The arrival of one of my ‘happy attacks’ (a family appellation) coincided with Isle of Arran’s appearance into Campbeltown Loch. She was here, so was I and so was my camera. This happy trio sailed away from the pier into a glorious summer evening.

Pladda-225x300 2This was my first sailing from Campbeltown for around fifteen years, and Isle of Arran, with her ample, if somewhat piecemeal and oxidised deck space, seemed the ideal ship from which to enjoy the spectacular views of the south end of Arran. One rarely gets to see these rockscapes so close. The bright green patchwork of fields rising up from the shore, the drama of Bennan Head’s cliffs, the reassuring sight of Pladda (pictured right) and the materialisation of Holy Isle as we subtly turned the corner into the Clyde were collectively stunning, especially when backlit by the strong, summer sunlight.

Ardrossan drew nearer, from a different angle from normal. A quick twist and we were in the harbour. Isle of Arran’s three year trial on this route must have been deemed a success for she still sails to Campbeltown at weekends. Take my word for it, it is a delightful sailing, but you don’t need to cycle down the length of the peninsula – try taking the train!

N0. 3  Balmoral — ‘Millport around Cumbrae’ 16 May 1999

I am sure you are all holding your breath as we near the final countdown — I can hardly wait myself! Well this one was a stunner. Some may recall the date: it was the day of a unique encounter between that classic motor ship Balmoral and that well-kent paddle steamer Waverley.

Waverley and Balmoral at Millport 16 May 1999

Waverley and Balmoral at Millport on 16 May 1999. Copyright Susan Forrest

Sunny Millport was chosen as the rendezvous and both ladies turned up as scheduled, like elderly aunts invited to a tea-party. Waverley had taken me downstream from Glasgow that morning, via Greenock, Helensburgh and Largs. Balmoral had left Campbeltown early and called in at Girvan, Ayr and Brodick on her way up river.

Waverley The paddler berthed first, and the pier burst into life when her consort berthed alongside her. Passengers thronged off one or the other ship. Steamer nutters jockeyed for pole position. Cumbraen tourists, hands in short pockets, watched bemused, wondering what all the fuss was about.

As both vessels were going to circumnavigate Great Cumbrae this was an unparalleled opportunity to sail on either vessel and watch the other cruise alongside. I would have liked to have sailed on both at the same time – but that wasn’t possible. My chums and I jumped ship onto Balmoral and giggled as the respective captains discussed the order of service. “I’ll just follow you,” seemed to be the collective decision. Off we sailed, clockwise.

The next 50 minutes were a total nautical joy. There were views of Waverley on the move which I had never seen before. She hugged our stern, the attenuated sheer of her bow slicing through Balmoral’s wake as if to say “this is how you do it”. Balmoral would edge ahead only as much as Waverley let her. Semaphore flags were hoisted by both vessels proclaiming spurious maritime plights.

PaddlerAll around there were shouts of enthusiasts’ joy, tooting from whistles and lums, and the omnipotent swish of the surf as the two ships now sailed side-by-side. A spinning paddle-wheel, coursing through the water with such vigour is an awesome sight, only witnessed at such close proximity on rare occasions such as this.

We knew we were experiencing something special this day. Will we ever see the like again?

The two ships had met before, but as I write this, Balmoral’s fate hangs in the balance and Millport’s Old Pier is closed. The experience of that sail back in 1999 has reminded me of how important it is to have these ships sailing. Their future depends on us.

Do you have favourite sailings which, like Stuart Craigs, linger in the memory? Please write something about them and well publish your account — no longer than 200 words per sailing, and no more than three sailings per person. Send them, along with any photographs of the occasion, to info@crsc.org.uk

Waverley alongside Balmoral at Millport Old Pier

Balmoral and Waverley side-by-side at Millport Old Pier on 16 May 1999. Copyright Susan Forrest

Ten of the Best — the countdown begins

Ten of the Best — Nos. 8 and 7

Ten of the Best — Nos. 6 and 5

Favourite Sailings — now it’s your turn

Favourite Sailings — Six Lochs, Barra, Small Isles