Dark Mode On / Off

Practical Stuff and Beautiful Light in Scotland

So we have been very quiet for the last few weeks because we have been busy with preparations, provisioning and planning. We have also been busy in that weird sailing way, where you get a little drowsy because of sleeping at odd times, and sleeping lightly at anchor with strange noises due to shifting winds tides and currents, and anticipating the anchor alarm telling us the boat is on the move.

Mull of Kintyre at sunset

A couple of weeks ago we departed from Ballycastle in Northern Ireland in the early evening and had a calm crossing over to Campbeltown harbour in Scotland. It’s always interesting passing the Mull of Kintyre, our planning was perfectly timed to take advantage of the tidal current but for a short period we were moving almost sideways at over 5 knots. The following morning we had planned to go into town before catching the tidal current pushing us towards Portavadie, but the wind had picked up and we were on a mooring buoy of unknown condition so we decided not to leave the boat.

We needed to get back to Portavadie to collect various parcels, some containing the parts that were needed to fix what we had broken in Ireland, some containing letters for Steve, a few missing flags and our new Snow Bear stickers. We had a lovely couple of nights at Portavadie, although Sarah was a little disappointed that the sauna was out of order. We then headed over to Tarbert to visit the newly reopened Starfish restaurant and had a delightful evening. We were also celebrating forming a new company together but more news about this soon.

We also finally took the time to walk to the historic ruins of an old castle, that is towering over the town.

Passing days anchoring around Tighnabruaich

Steve needed to get a routine blood test and stock up on medicines for several months. His change of diet has made his doctor very happy as his tests are so much better now. He also continues to slowly loose weight and is now below 90KG for the first time since his 20s. As a result he now has two less drugs to take every day and they dispensed 9 months supply rather than the usual 6. But we had to hang around for a few days for the test results and the medicines to arrive.

Those days were spent anchoring in the Kyles of Bute. We found a beautiful anchorage next to the Omidale Hunting Lodge and also tried to find the otter at the private graveyard island again (but it was gone).

Omnidale Hunting Lodge

After a few days hanging around, the medicines arrived and we could take the dinghy into Tighnabruaich to pick up enough medicin to supply an army. Steve also checked in on his apartment while we were there.

Snow Bear moored seen from Tignhabruiach
Portavadie seen far away from the sea

We went back to say goodbye to the lovely town of Tarbert enjoying the chance to eat another great meal at the Starfish and to stock up on some essential food.

Tarbert night light

Organising things on a boat always get a little bit more complicated as it is hard to say when you will arrive at place and because things are never at the same place and you also have to get there while things are open and busses are running and all these kinds of obstacles.

After we had topped up the tanks with diesel in Portavadie, we could finally set off to go north. Except for the fact that shortcut, known as the Crinan Canal, was closed for restoration. So we actually had to go south and around the Mull of Kintyre before we could make progress north.

The Mull of Kintyre is one of those places that has to be carefully planned because of the turbulence in the water. We had the choice between going around at night and then sail 20 nm north before being able to anchor because that area is so troubled with swells and turbulence. Or we could anchor for the night and go around at 11 am the next day. We decided on a nice sleep at the anchorage at the privately owned Sanda Island. When there is an option is sleep at night in coastal waters we often choose that as its sometimes impossible to spot poorly marked fishing pots when sailing at night.

Crinan Canal

The next day we had light winds but lots of current with us, so we continued all the way up Crinan Loch and anchored close to the entrance to the Canal. Luckily, we got a chance to try the canal last year in our way to Svalbard.

Snow Bear anchored and a sunset

The Scottish Canals are fantastic to experience and it is crazy that they built them almost 250 years ago by hand. In total they built more than 137 miles (220 km) and the Crinan is the smallest and only 9 miles. The trip through is very idyllic (until you have to manually run to the locks and open and close them) and the lock keepers are so friendly and helpful. Sarah talked to one, who said is was the best job as you got to speak to all sorts of people on their way on adventure.

But is also take some planning as you need to know how to manage the lines while the masses of water enter or leave the locks, ideally you need at least two people aboard and you need to check your insurance covers you for the transit as well. The Scottish Canals have made this guide for the Crinan Canal.

We ended up eating at the Crinan Hotel Seafood bar and that was a bit like stepping into an episode of Faulty Towers. We spotted Basil, Polly and Manuel, It was very funny but also quite good food. Sarah had a shrimp cocktail which she can’t remember having had since the 90’s, but it tasted so good with quality local shrimps and thick thousand islands dressing.

Anchoring at an otter and seal paradise

The Scottish waters around the islands are filled with turbulence, waves and whirlpools because of the strong tidal currents. It is strange to sail into water that looks like it is boiling and feeling the force from the currents pushing the boat around, and in this area there is one of the strongest whirlpools in the world. We were lucky to experience the strongest whirlpool in Bodø, Norway last year, which was a surprisingly big experience

We decided to pass through and anchor in Caun Sound which is a narrow but short channel between the islands of Seil and Luing. We dropped anchor for the night half way through at a beautiful but tricky spot with a very narrow entrance and strong whirlpools pulling in the boat in different directions and 3 knots of current pushing us. It was well worth the nerve-wracking entrance as we were suddenly in completely calm waters filled with otters and seals.

Sarah saw the chance to get another otter encounter and jumped on the SUP. The seals were not up for this and quickly moved from their sunbathing position to the water and swam away. The otter seemed more curious, but suddenly it was gone as well. However Steve could see it from the boat, and it was playfully jumping around behind the paddle board behind Sarahs back.

Moving on to Oban

The trip to Oban from the anchorage really start to show some of the fantastic nature in Scotland and the mountains brings memories back to northern Norway and Svalbard. When looking at them there are barely any trees or houses, but miles and miles of greatness.


  1. Daniel Frickelton
    Daniel Frickelton

    Yes, the northern light is very special. A whole school of Danish painters discovered the special properties of the light around Skagen at the northern tip of Jutland. They hung out there around the turn of the 20th century. Check out Krøjer and Skagensmalerne (Skagen painters) if you’re interested. Better still, you could sail to Skagen and check out the museum.

    1. Sarah Pedersen

      Hi Daniel
      I am from Denmark and yes Skagen is a great place. I sailed there on another boat 4-5 years ago!

Please leave a comment, we love to get your feedback...