Friday, February 28, 2014

Sad ships and wrecks at Rosneath Pier.

We crossed Rosneath Bay in a flat calm. Another MOD Police launch  made her way slowly and steadily up to the Rhu narrows. It is not always so calm here. The Sugar  Boat is not the only wreck in these waters. In 1947, the motor launch Ocean sheltered here from atrocious wind over tide conditions off Rosneath Point. After a while she tried to round the point again but foundered and 20 people drowned.

At Rosneath Pier we came across MV Saturn. She was one of three "streaker" ferries in the Calmac Clyde fleet.

We often saw her on our sea kayaking trips. This was in January 2010 off Dunoon. Sadly she has sailed off into the sunset as far as Calmac is concerned, just like the Inverkip power station chimney which was demolished in July 2013, MV Saturn is no longer part of the Dunoon scene.

So Saturn is slowly deteriorating at Rosneath pier, how her star has faded. Now she shares a berth with the sad remains of ...

 ,,,the tank barge Furness Fisher. She was nearly 100m long and was originally built in the Netherlands in 1955 as a Rhine barge.

She was sold to a buyer in Lerwick in about 1976 but was based in Liverpool since 1982. She is currently being broken up and was only about half her original length when we saw her.

Also tied up at the Rosneath Pier was this sad old fishing boat. Ruaridh Morrison at West Coast Fishing Boats (Past and Present) thinks she is the "LK purser Zephyr built by Forbes in Sandhaven mid 70's, I'm 100 per cent sure of her builders but stand to be corrected on the name."

 We paddled under Rosneath Pier and...

...came across the ferry MV Isle of Cumbrae.

Again we have crossed wakes with the MV Isle of Cumbrae many times such as in Oban in March 2010....

...and crossing between Portavadie and Tarbert on a summer evening in June 2013. I hope she is just resting rather than waiting to be broken up.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The sea was flatter than Argyll's Bowling Green.

The calls of the Rosneath curlews were drowned out by the approaching thrum of heavy diesel engines. It was SD Reliable, an azimuth tractor drive tug, which is capable of handling the largest warships.

The tug passed quickly leaving the wooded shores of the headland at Robert Ness in silence, apart from a blackbird in early song.

The peace did not last long as a MOD Police RIB sped up the Gare Loch towards the Rhu narrows.

Ignoring a large caravan park on our left, we paddled across a glassy Rosneath Bay. Beyond the Rhu narrows, the Gare Loch was backed by the snow streaked peaks of Argyll. These are locally known as Argyll's Bowling Green but as you can see there must be a degree of irony in thus describing such a mountainous  switchback. Perhaps the eponymous Duke was so mighty that he could play bowls in the mountains? Perhaps some sarcasm was intended by implying the Duke's lands were so poor and mountainous that this lumpy ridge was his the best ground? Alternatively, the literalists argue that the name comes from a phonetic translation of  the Gaelic "Baile na Greine" (village of the sunny pasture) but that just refers to a tiny strip of land at the foot of the mountains.

I will finish by saying, without a hint of irony, that the sea was flatter than Argyll's Bowling Green.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Curlews and Guinness in Culwatty Bay.

As we passed Green Isle we were amazed by the birdlife. There were large flocks of oyster catchers and these curlews but...

...we also saw eider duck and widgeon.

In some ways I was glad for calm conditions as I had not paddled for 7 months and despite much physiotherapy my operated shoulder is still weaker than the other. After months of confinement it felt really good to be back on the water but my, it was hungry work...

...time for some luncheon.

We found a lovely cove off Culwatty Bay, which was framed by some conglomerate ledges.

As we ate our sandwiches we had a celebratory can of Guinness while we sat on a ledge with mussel shells at our feet and the calls of the curlews in our ears. It was hard to believe we were in the Upper Firth of Clyde and surrounded by towns and industry..

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Our compass needles gave hardly a flicker.

 A little breeze got up as we left the wreck of the MV Captayannis and we wasted no time... hoisting the sails. Despite low pressure all around the west coast of Scotland, the wind didn't stay or get up as hoped and sadly... turned into a flat calm. This had its advantages as we spotted black guillemot, guilliemot and razorbills on the crossing.

We were not the only ones doing some spotting. An MOD Police launch and 4 MOD Police RIBs  had given us the once over as we crossed the shipping channel from the wreck of the Sugar boat. Their job is to escort Royal Naval vessels to and from HMS Neptune at Faslane in the Gare Loch. They also escort too curious others from the premises.

A momentary blink of sun lit up Helensburgh (from where we had embarked) but we were headed for the Rosneath peninsula where we made landfall at...

  ...MOD Rosneath at the Green Isle.  This facility offers electromagnetic signature services to ships and submarines at both 9m and 20m depths in the channel just offshore. Our compass needles gave hardly a flicker and so we passed on feeling completely un-degaussed but in need of some luncheon.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Betwixt and between two points on the Clyde.

Before we left the wreck of the MV Capytannis we savoured her fine position in the Firth of Clyde. Away to the west the Firth divides into three. On the left the exit to the open sea, Straight ahead the entrance to the Holy Loch and to the right, the entrance to Loch Long.The two points pointing together on the cardinal buoy mean it is safe to pass to its west.

The cranes of Greenock's container terminal rose into the mist to the south. Sugar refining, which brought the Sugar Boat to Greenock, began here in 1765. At one time Greenock had 12 sugar refineries but Tate and Lyle, the last, closed in 1997. Since then there have been no more sugar boats on the Clyde.

To the east lay the dark outline of Ardmore Point beyond which,.the Clyde stretches  upstream to Glasgow. Ardmore Point lies on the Highland Boundary Fault.which separates the Central Lowlands of Scotland from the Highlands. Ardmore has some very interesting geology including ancient conglomerate rocks. These are also found away...

...on Rosneath Point, which is on the opposite side of the outer entrance to the Gare Loch. The ancient rocks between the two points were cut away by the glacier which formed the Gare Loch in the relatively recent geological past.

The Highland Boundary Fault stretches right across Scotland and this view is taken from further NE along the fault. It is looking SW from the summit of Conic Hill across the islands of Loch Lomond. The fault line can be easily seen and Ardmore Point is just behind the hill beyond the islands. Both Conic Hill and the islands share the same...

...conglomerate rocks that are found at Ardmore and Rosneath Points. Conglomerate rocks were formed when Scotland was situated about the equator.The various sized pebbles that are trapped in the sedimentary sandstone are mostly greenish schist and whitish quartz.

Interestingly Loch Lomond, which is now a fresh water loch, was once a sea loch off the Firth of Clyde (just like the Gare Loch and Loch Long are today). After the last Ice Age, sea levels were higher and sea water covered the lip (that is 9m above sea level) that retainsLoch Lomond today. As sea levels dropped, Loch Lomond was cut off from the sea, isolating many shoals of marine fish. As the water gradually became fresher most of the sea fish died out but some survived and gradually evolved to live in what is now totally fresh water. These are called powan a freash water "herring" which are descended from a common salt water ancestor of present day herring in the sea. Powan are found in only a handful of lochs and lakes in the British Isles. They are only naturally found in one other Scottish loch, Loch Eck, which once connected to the Firth of Clyde through the Holy Loch. Each of the British Powan species is genetically distinct as they have been isolated from each other since they were trapped in their loch or lake.

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Pesda guide North & East Coasts of Scotland Sea Kayaking by Doug Cooper

This new Pesda Press sea kayaking guide book, North and East Coasts of Scotland will be published on 1st March 2014. It covers from Cape Wrath to Berwick upon Tweed. It is written by Doug Cooper who is Head of Paddlesports at Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre at Glenmore Lodge. I have not seen it yet but Doug's other two Pesda Books are classics: Scottish Sea Kayaking and  Sea Kayak Handling and Rough Water Handling.

I used to live in Dingwall and Edinburgh in the north and east of Scotland respectively and have done a fair bit of sailing and a little kayaking on this fabulous coast. Look out for Doug's book!

PS my own much delayed Pesda guide to the west and south west coasts of Scotland (from Mallaig to Gretna) is back on course. Unfortunately 5 major surgical and medical incidents since 2009 and subsequent ingestion of strong painkillers has rather blunted my creative writing but all the coastline has been paddled and all the photos have been taken and I am writing again..

Sandpipers on the Sugar Boat.

Before we left the wreck of the MV Captayannis (the Sugar Boat)  we spotted a number of ...

...sandpipers hopping round the barnacles on the wreck's stern.

When we got closer we realised there were two separate species. We saw dunlin in their winter plumage and...

...they were accompanied by purple sandpipers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The wreck of MV Captayannis, the Sugar Boat, and the sweet waters of the Clyde.

We had arrived at the wreck of the MV Captayannis. She was a Greek merchantman and on the night of 27/28th January 1974 she was anchored at the Tail of the Bank off Greenock. She was waiting to enter the James Watt dock to offload a cargo of raw sugar from Portuguese East Africa for Greenock's Tate and Lyle sugar refinery. I was staying in Glasgow at the time and I well remember the violence of the storm that got up that night. I could hardly walk from Hillhead underground station in Byres Road to Glasgow University's Dalrymple Hall, off the Great Western Road.
© Paul Strathdee
Paul Strathdee has posted this photo taken by Robin Wilson of MV Captayannis in 1973 over on It shows the Captyannis entering the James Watt dock in Greenock to discharge a load of sugar on one of her previous voyages to the port

During that wild night, the Captayannis broke free from her anchor and the storm drove her downwind towards the BP tanker, British Light, which was also lying at anchor. Before she hit the bow of the tanker the Capytayannis's hull hit the tanker's anchor chains, which gashed her hull beneath the waterline. The Captayaniss drifted on, leaving the tanker unscathed, but she was already sinking.

Captain Theodorakis Ionnis started the Capytyaniss's engines with the initial intention of running north to the shelter of the Gare Loch but the ship was sinking fast, so he ran her aground on a sandbank to the east of the deep water channel. Fortunately there was no loss of life.The tug Labrador and ferry MV Rover came alongside and all 29 on board were saved. The Capytayannis settled with a heel to port before tipping right over onto her port side. Due to an ownership/insurance dispute, no one claimed responsibility for the ship and she has lain on the sand bank ever since. Fortunately Captain Ionnis had run her well away from the shipping channels  and she does not pose a risk to shipping. Even at high tide she is still above water and her outline is now a familiar part of the Clyde seascape, where she is universally known as "the Sugar Boat".

This photo (from another day) shows the bulk carrier MV SeaLand Performance (on the right) anchored at the Tail of the Bank. You can see the hull of the Captayannis in the distance, beyond her port side.

It was a strange feeling to be paddling along the deck of  ship from stern to bow. She is in surprisingly good condition as her hull points into the direction of the worst of the weather. However, her thinner deck plates have started to rust through. This hole leads down to the engine room and there was still a slight whiff of oil even after 40 years!

 Moving forward we came to her wooden decking which was...

 ...still in remarkable condition. The MV Captayannis was originally called the MV Norden and was built in Denmark in 1946. Sad though her wreck is, at least the Captayannis is still relatively intact. It is almost certain that her contemporaries have long since been broken up.
Photographer PWR has posted this photo of her as MV Norden over on

We slowly worked our way forwards along her aft deck  and under the remaining shroud for her aft mast towards her...

...midships superstructure.

This windlass would originally have lifted cargo via the derricks attached to the mast.

This hatch's cover has long gone.

Near horizontal ladders lead up to what was once the upper decks of her superstructure.

Forward of the superstructure we came to the long foredeck. The submerged fore mast was still supported by three shrouds on her upper, starboard side.

At low tide it is possible to paddle inside her forecastle which is still topped... mooring bollards.

At last we reached the bow where...

...the fine lines of the Captayannis's...

...stem could still be seen stretching away to her...

...stern some 127.4m away. She looked like a dead, beached whale from this angle but there was no sign of the fatal rips in her hull. These are deep under water on her port side. Her beam was 17.1m and she was about 2/3 submerged when we were there, so there was about 11m of water. However even at chart datum, there is still 7m of water.

As the tide swirled the brown waters of the Clyde round the Sugar Boat's  hull, we thought of that stormy night when the Clyde's waters had never been sweeter.