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.
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