The final lap

It isn’t quite the last lap, as I’ve got to get home but there’s time for that.

My Jester friend cast off quietly and without fuss in the wee hours to continue his journey south towards the Hamble without disturbing me. That’s the thing about Jester types, self sufficient and contained, quietly gregarious amongst their own kind, always ready to assist each other, non judgemental, followers of the KISS principle. Its a select rather eccentric group and the first mate said I would miss the whole thing – but as with being a soldier, once a Jester always a Jester; the mindset doesn’t change.

Right now I am following the 2 remaining Jesters in the 2022 trans Atlantic Challenge. Bedogged by horrible weather, two of the 4 have retired and the 2 others are heading for the Azores to retire with various problems – the first ever Jester Challenge with no finishers. My Azores jaunt was 1640 miles one way and the thought of doubling that doesn’t bear thinking about; these guys are seriously tough and my heart goes out to them. To retire is good seamanship not failure.

Comforting to know the lifeboat is nearby

The clouds were magnificent over Bangor Tuesday morning, tumultuous and black, promising a miserable few hours so a mad dash (the word dash being relative) to town before it hit. I was in need, because my Ardglass sweet and sour remained lodged stubbornly in my dental nooks and crannies; having acquired tooth picks, I felt a chocolate éclair to be suitable reward. Sadly they only come in twos, so I had one for tea as well. Toothpicks and éclairs – Heaven.

Skipper wondering what’s happened to Pippin’s name

A little passage planning as the Bangor rain settled comfortably, rather like a dirty beanie atop a head. It wasn’t pukka Irish rain though as a wall would offer no protection – a brolly would be more use. There are such lovely names on this next route, like Ailsa Craig, Arran, Firth of Clyde and Isle of Bute and it was a pleasure to sprawl over the chart for a good look. The pity is that it will be dark for much of the interesting part, though the possibility of a submarine encounter added a frisson of excitement.

I’m heading past Arran and Bute, right a bit at Dunoon towards Helensburgh hoping little Rhu, my ultimate destination, will jump out at me in the early morning light. Keith, Pippin’s very patient new owner forwarded a flurry of information to help us on arrival, which was very helpful. More importantly he booked the steak restaurant.

From Belfast across the North Passage and on past Arran

Talking of charts, I have electronic charts on my plotter of course, but the satisfaction of opening a proper chart and transcribing your position on it in chinagraph cannot be matched by staring at a screen. It’s a good safety feature too, because in the unlikely event of electronic failure, you have a recent position clearly marked on the chart. It’s also something to do during long hours on passage.

I was in a bit of a panic before leaving, torn between common sense and a huge desire to stuff the near empty food lockers with grub, despite there being but a day and a half to go; it’s tough as I get nervous at the thought of empty lockers. Well you never know – I might get stuck on a desert island or have to barter with natives, though no native is going to have my Gentleman’s Relish or Bacon Grill. Period.

Interesting window position
Belfast CG HQ

I have a fractious relationship with weather in these parts and know only too well that if it gives something, it will take something else. My old mate Boreas, God of the north wind was in charge on departure day and whilst he teased with some sunshine, he snubbed my hopes by swinging irrevocably NE, precisely my heading across the North Passage. I was too tired and too ready for journey’s end to want to argue so gave extra special attention to the Yanmar, changing the secondary fuel filter amongst other checks, for he would be on duty much of the time.

Leaving Bangor

Wednesday 1245. I borrowed a couple of knarled old salt, my sort of age, to hold Pippin as I prepared to leave, though they tut tutted over her bow thruster until we exited smartly stern first and on our way with barely a thrust. Pippin nosed out of the marina into Belfast Lough, where I raised sail more in hope than expectation , and pointed in the direction of Stranraer and Isle of Arran beyond. An Asda salt and chilli chicken goujon wrap and a mug of lobster bisque served as a very satisfactory lunch.

I had to pinch myself as blue calm sea spread before me and the sunshine invited me outside, only Boreas spoilt the day as Miss Lemon and Hercule took us smartly across the North Passage. My old stomping ground islay, Gigha and kintyre stood clear to the north and the Corsewell coastline, my destination, ahead. Its never dull and I followed length conversations between Holyhead CG and yacht Anabella with an incapacitated skipper, struggling to make progress towards Holyhead.

Most un Belfast like weather

As the story unfolded it seemed he had suffered a stroke or concussion, serious whatever and his crew were inexperienced; sometime later, the CG tasked the Holyhead inshore lifeboat to gomto their assistance. I think I have witnessed incidents involving the RNLI on most of the legs of this trip, and I sympathise with any crew who encounter situations that require their help- it can happen to anyone, anytime.

Mid afternoon I dodged a pretty trawler and overhauled a yacht making less than 3 knots – 3 weeks aboard, with a pile of dirty washing in the forepeak, plus wishing to press on, it was no day for me to wallow in self righteous sailing mode. So the Yanmar sang its tune and and glorious scenery closed around us.

Stranraer ferry

Tea time and I turned to pass close to Ailsa Craig, a startling pointed feature towering 337 metres from the sea, aloof, uninhabited and yours for £1.5m. But with the nearest land 7.5 miles and much more to anywhere significant it could only appeal to a rich hermit. Somewhere in the foggy depths of my brain I recall this rock featuring in an Alistair McLean novel?

Ailsa craig

By contrast Arran, lying beyond, is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde at 167 Square miles and an imposing 874 metres above the sea. Bigger than Guernsey, but with 1/14th the population!

This is a beautiful cruising area and I sensed Pippin taking it all in – no more ocean bashing, instead civilised, gentle cruising with quiet nights at anchor deep in the bosom of beautiful landscape.

Right now I’m going on a locker hunt, in search of dinner so I’ll come back later……

By ajay290

4 comments on “The final lap

  1. You sound rather sad John. Will the new owners ask you aboard for future trips? I still remember the yummy tea you served up in Dublin marina when Sally and I dropped in to see you aboard. Xx

    • No sadness or regrets Sarah, just amazing memories. It’s a little far to come here for a sail, so I’ll be cracking on with my new, smaller adventures. Look after yourself

  2. Hi, John.

    Some stunning photos there, and in sunshine. In Scotland!

    Helensburgh was my first home, though I left when I was seven. I still managed to find the house, right on the road to Rhu Inn. What a name for a pub. I was on a West Coast cruise on Alan Donaldson’s boat, ‘Nomad’. He went Westabout around Ireland, as he had done it the easy way in the past. Thankfully, that was before he picked me up at Oban.

    Tahitienne is still ashore; the new engine is almost completely installed, but we are waiting for a propeller. It just might be because the old engine was left handed, and the new one is right handed, but that is just a guess.

    Not much of your sailing life left now, so make the most of it, you are in the best place for that. And keep your camera busy, you don’t get many opportunities like this.

    See you on the pontoon soon, I hope.

    Best wishes,


    Sent from my iPad


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