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Sailing from Northern Ireland to Scotland – Cruising Season 2024 begins!

After what felt like a very long winter the time finally came to cast off the lines and head back out there again! This year we hope to sail the Clyde area of Scotland and we will be documenting our travels in the hope that they may be of help to others.

Our passage plan

Our first passage of the year would be taking us from Belfast in Northern Ireland, across the Irish Sea to Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula in Scotland, a distance of approximately 55nm according to Navionics. The weather was looking very benign with a predicted wind speed of just 7/8 knots from the east/southeast with sunshine and a pleasant temperature of 14°C to 17°C.

The tide in the Irish Sea was due to turn northbound at around 10am. The only real concern could be the tidal stream pushing us towards The Maidens and Hunter Rock, near Larne. Therefore we would need to keep an eye on our course and if necessary steer more east to avoid being dragged towards this. We set our waypoints as follows:

WP1 – 54°45.000N 5°40.000W – exit of Belfast Lough
WP2 – 54°50.000N 5°38.40W
WP3 – 55°03.600N 5°33.40W
WP4 – 55°15.000N 5°30.000W
WP5 – 55°22.000N 5°30.000W
WP6 – 55°26.000N 5°32.000W – entrance to Campbeltown Lough

Belfast Harbour can be particularly busy with many vessel movements and permission must be obtained from Belfast VTS (Channel 12) before you can depart the marina and enter the main Victoria Channel. You must call 15 minutes prior to your departure and once again when you’re ready to leave. We had initially planned on a departure of 7.30am however on checking the expected traffic on Belfast Harbour’s website we noticed that two cruise ships were due to arrive between 7.30am and 8.00am. Anticipating that this would cause us a delay to our departure we proposed trying to leave around 6.45am, just after the arrival of the Stena ferry from Birkenhead.

11 hours of motoring!

Yes that’s the gist of this passage – 11 hours of engine use!

Our departure plan had worked and we were granted permission to depart at 6.45am. It took about 2 hours to transit out and leave the limits of Belfast VTS, however we had dropped out of the main channel at buoy 6 to allow one of the incoming cruise ships plenty of room. Once we left the lough the wind dropped to just 4 knots and whilst we had both sails out there just wasn’t enough puff to make us sail.

It was a quiet day on the water. We spotted one other yacht, one motor cruiser and one dolphin. A ‘pan pan’ came across the radio however it was a few miles north west of our position, and we later heard that they had been successfully towed back to the mainland.

Despite having to motor it was nice to be back out on the water. Eventually the headland of the Kintyre peninsula and the rock formation of Ailsa Craig appeared on the horizon and the clouds began to disperse. At 3.00pm we were passing Sanda Island and the beauty of this coastline was really starting to present itself, if this is the start of Scotland then we’re in for a real treat!

Davaar Island Lighthouse

We approached Campbeltown Loch, leaving Davaar Island to port before entering the channel. We had read on Navily that there were three visitor mooring buoys and to our surprise there was one available. Happily tied on we launched the dinghy and headed into the marina.

There are no visitor mooring buoys!

After finding somewhere to squeeze the dinghy in at Campbeltown marina we called the phone number on the gate only to find out that there are no visitor mooring buoys in Campbeltown! Apparently they used to have some but they were sold a couple of years ago. Our options were to raft up in the marina, move to the anchorage or take a chance on the buoy. The anchorage to the east of the mooring buoys was very tight and there were a couple of boats already anchored, and the wind overnight was switching to the northwest so this would not have been ideal for the anchorage on the south side. By now it was 9.00pm and we were tired so we made the decision to stay put on the buoy and move first thing in the morning – thank you morning buoy owner and sorry we borrowed you for a night!

Our ‘borrowed mooring’ in Campbeltown!

So with the wind due to pick up over the next few days from the northwest our stay in Campbeltown was brief. A shame as it looks like a nice little town, and we’ve heard positive things about it. But not wanting to be in a marina we opted to move on the next day. Perhaps we’ll get the chance to come back again and anchor here when the conditions allow (or maybe they’ll put some more visitor buoys back here – we think that would be a good idea!).

But more importantly we had arrived safely and were ready to start sailing Scotland! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿


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