Tidal Challenges on the way from Plymouth to Oban

our route plym to oban

Plymouth to Oban –  fondly remembered as the treadmill challenge! (arrow marks Treadmill Channel)

Our annual trip from Plymouth to Oban is billed as an opportunity to put all your theory into practice and experience passage planning and passage making first hand.

This is how the passage worked out in the end:

Plymouth to Fowey 32 miles 6 hours, beating to windward Force 4

Fowey to Falmouth 46 miles 12 hours, close reach for 20 miles then to windward in Force 6

Day in Falmouth whilst it blew NW8 gusting 9

Falmouth to Duarte Bay, Sound of Mull 480 miles – 87 hours non-stop experiencing all wind conditions from flat calm to beating in wind over tide

Day sail to Oban – 2 hours 8 miles – downwind in a Force 3


So what did we learn?

Start with a good safety briefing – that includes a boat orientation – to make everyone feel at home and understand life on board.

Take precautions against seasickness, you never know when it will strike

The weather is key, get up to date weather forecasts and visualise how the wind strength and direction will affect the motion of your boat

DO NOT be in a rush to depart. If a wind shift is forecast, which will help you – wait for it and you will get to where you are going more comfortably.

Be Flexible – If you have to sit for a day waiting for weather – do it. Use the time productively to work out the tides and tidal gates along the way. Sleep, eat and prepare food in advance to have at sea if bumpy weather is expected.

On a long passage, once you have set off you cannot really alter what time you arrive at the next tidal gate but it is important to know which way the tide is running so that you can predict what the sea state might be – this can alter your decision of whether to go inshore or offshore

Know where the traffic separation schemes are to help you keep clear of the big stuff in poor visibility

Every passage has a nominal deadline, if the weather is bad then sometimes you just have to settle for being late, but if the weather is light with not enough wind, do not battle along sailing slowly but motor or motor sail to get you to a favourable place for the next expected wind direction.


Be prepared for the unexpected!

On our passage we had a most unusual occurrence. We were motoring in a flat sea just off the east coast of Ireland past Codling sand bank. There is an east cardinal buoy called Codling to keep you clear. As we approached in the dark we were looking for the buoy, and could start to see flashes from the place we expected the buoy to be – 3 flashes every 10 seconds, just as the chart suggests. Then, we were taken by surprise as the buoy flashed 5 flashes in 12 seconds before reverting to 3 every 10. This seemed to be random at first but eventually we reckoned that the buoy was flashing

3 in 10, 3 in 10, 3 in 10, 5 in 12, 2 in 10, 3 in 10, 3 in 10, 5 in 12 – consistently. Why – I don’t know, I’ve written to the Irish Lighthouse Authority and am waiting to hear what it might be..


We continued motoring and then motor sailing north from this buoy, and worked out that if we arrived at South Rock just off Strangford Lough at 1500, the tide would start running North in the North Channel – a good place and time to be so we altered our engine revs accordingly. The inshore forecast was for west or south west winds so this should make for a nice sail.

We arrived at the buoy just on time and could see from the GPS that the tide was slack and then starting to run with us – good timing. At the same time the wind started, but not from the SW as expected but the NNW, straight on our nose. The next 12 hours were spent beating, first with the tide and then against the tide – we made good progress with the tide and a favourable wind shift but against the tide progress was slow and led Dave to rename the North Channel, Treadmill Channel. After 12 hours of endless tacking the wind died again and it was with a sigh of relief that we started the engine and finally cleared the north end of the Mull of Galloway and worked out that we had time to get around the Mull of Kintyre with a fair tide.

treadmill channel

We popped across from the Mull of Kintyre to Islay and motored north through the sound against the last of the south going tide, giving us fair tide to head north west towards Oban. The lessons were not over yet, the only weather we had not had this trip was fog – so that was next. We spent our last 3 hours navigating using the radar and AIS in driving rain and poor visibility. The visibility cleared up enough for us to see where we were going as we entered Duarte Bay and dropped our anchor.


From the guest book

A great trip – my second with Lin and Richard. We had it all – 40 knot wind, dead calm, dolphins and so much fun in completely the right atmosphere of safety and enjoyment. Thanks for a truly great sailing trip I’ve learned so much under your guidance


5th Voyage (Iceland/Azores/Lofoten/Sweden/Oban) and have every reason to come back …even if we have to “pass” thro treadmill channel!


Off watch at 2300 with the Mull of Galloway and Port Patrick in view then 4 hours later in about the same place was the ‘crux’ of the voyage – all in all an excellent passage with a bit of everything


Rough winds and high waves, sometimes no wind and flat seas – every watch was a different surprise. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot – I can’t wait for the next trip with you.


Want to try it for yourself – we will definitely be sailing from Plymouth to Oban next year but you don’t have to wait that long. Our next Coastal Passage where you can put all your theory into practice is along the spectacular coastline of Norway from Bodo to Kristiansund in August – See the link and come and try it for yourself



Super Special OFFER – sail north to Norway now reduced to £980

2 last minute places available to sail with us from Oban to Bodo in Norway

30% off – now £980 for a 15 night trip, all inclusive once on board

Join us in Oban and sail north for 300 miles to the Shetland Islands.  After a brief stop sail a further 500 miles across to the Norwegian coastline.

We will creep inshore and sail the last 150 miles north amongst the islands.

Cross the Arctic Circle and stop at the Svartissen glacier.

Always hopeful of playing with dolphins on the bow

and in previous years we have seen whales

Before arriving in Bodo (photos from last year)

15 nights on board – join 30th May 1800, depart 14th June 1000.

Flights available from Bodo to London via Oslo for approx £120.  See www.jetcost.co.uk or www.skyscanner.net

More information on the Schedule page of our website

You will be expected to take a full part in the watch system, sailing the boat, and all other routine chores on board.

Booking is easy on line at our website but please remember that you are required to be medically and physically fit to sail with us.

By medically fit we mean that you must not be suffering from
any disability, epilepsy, diabetes, dizziness, asthma, angina or other
heart condition.

By physically fit enough we mean that we require you to be steady on your feet,
able to move around the boat and climb up and down the companionway
steps unassisted, able to climb into a top bunk (even though you may not
be allocated one) and be able to climb in and out of the dinghy (with a
ladder of course). We also expect that you have sufficient ‘grip’ to be able to hold on when the going gets tough.

Our usual age group on these trips is 18 – 65, If you fall outside this age range please contact us before booking.

We hope you can join us and are happy to anwer any questions if you want to give me a call on 07801 627660

Lin and Richard

Ocean Passages – Practicing our Navigating skills.

chart az plymGreat Circle Black, Rhumb line Red, Actual track Blue

We have just completed our longest passage of the year 1200 mile as the crow flies from Ponta Delgada in the Azores to Plymouth. It is not often that the weather allows you to go directly from A to B – so this trip we actually logged 1400 miles on the 10 day passage. So if we couldn’t go in a straight line – how did we choose which way to go and how did we find our way?

If you read the pilot charts and ocean passages for the world they suggest that in April first you will encounter light NE winds North of the Azores and then winds from the western sector from about 45N. It would seem logical to head north (even motoring) until you reach the westerly air flow.

Before arriving – Michael, who owns his own boat, had done lots of planning and brought with him his chart with the great circle route (black) and rhumb line (red) already marked on. We were aiming for an average of 5 knots made good or 120 miles per day and the rhumb line was divided accordingly. We mapped our progress on this chart every day at midday.

James, a Coastal Skipper, was interested to see how near you could get with dead reckoning – that is when you draw on a line for course steered and distance run without using the GPS – his dead reckoning track is in blue and over 1300 miles to Ushant he was only 10 miles out when we spotted the land

John, a Yachtmaster, was aiming to use the trip as a qualifying passage for Yachtmaster Ocean, so he wanted to see how accurate you could get with a sextant. He had never used a sextant before and rapidly found out that it is not as easy as it looks – it takes practice and patience when the boat is leaping up and down – however, we had a good amount of opportunities to practice and in the end the sextant positions were with about 5 nautical miles of the good old GPS.

Paul, a Day Skipper, just loved being at sea and was interested in making sense of the ever changing weather patterns – in fact he had sailed this passage with us twice before in the past.

(please note all names have been changed to protect identities)

To make the dead reckoning and the sextant sun run sun positions work accurately it is important to keep good records of the course steered and distance run – hourly entries in the log book ensured this and gave everybody something more to do on watch.

Our course was always dependent on the wind direction. For the first part of the trip we had wind from the ESE and as you can see from the blue line on the map we managed to sail close to the Rhumb line.   The second half of the trip we had winds from the NE (instead of from the west) and ended up beating. It was important for us to keep track of when the wind shifts would come. For this we downloaded twice daily Met Office synoptic charts using weatherfax and worked out that we had to head to the east before heading north we didn’t cross the Rhumb line again before reaching the Lizard!

We had made such good time on this passage we had plenty of time to spare so we made a stop in Falmouth to rest and recoup before our final leg to Plymouth.

So how did the guests find it

My first ocean crossing could not have been in better hands. Great boat, great crew, great company. Thank you for all your knowledge sharing and a fantastic experience

 My dream of a long Atlantic passage fulfilled, many, many unforgettable experience. A gale as usual, sunrises and sunsets, night skies seen from a new angle. Saw and learnt a lot about weather and passage planning. As a skipper of my own boat it has been a master class in ocean sailing

 Thanks for a fantastic 2 weeks I have learnt a lot and had a great time. Hope to be back with you in the future.

 Well that’s four trips and very nearly 5000 miles on Velvet Lady – looking forward to the next 5000!

If you fancy putting your navigation skills into practice coming up soon are 2 more milebuilding passages – The shorter, 500 miles from Plymouth to Oban which has now been reduced to £600 or the longer, 1100 miles North to Norway, Oban to Bodo