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Trip 11 - VIC 32

Vessel In need of Coal

The captain's word is law aboard the Clyde Puffer VIC 32 and so when he says load the coal, we loaded the coal into the bunkers or the puffer was going nowhere.  The boat was moved into the lock and a temporary chute erected to guide the coal into the scuttles and forty wheel barrows each side was shoveled to fill the bunkers.

Isle of Arran - Day 1

The Isle of Arran has been described as Scotland in miniature with its rugged mountains, rolling glens and tranquil atmosphere.  During the ferry crossing from Ardrossan I noticed there was a constant change in the weather too.  Calm and sunny one minute followed by heavy rain and strong winds blowing up the Firth of Clyde.  Leaving the ferry at Brodick we enjoyed a scenic drive across the island on the road known as 'The String' which runs between Bienn Nuis and A'Churach mountains, soon arriving at Blackwaterfoot to head south on the coast road to Lagg hotel near the southern tip of the island.

That afternoon was spent exploring the small villages dotted along the coastline starting at Lamlash.  There is a small ferry service for those wishing to visit Holy Island which just off the coast of Lamlash Bay.  The island is home to the Centre of World Peace and Health, a Buddist retreat and also a nature reserve to the south with wild ponies, goat and sheep.  We paid a visit to the RNLI station, with its Class B Atlantic 75 inshore Lifeboat, placing a small donation into the collection box, to help with the great work these dedicated volunteers do.  From Lamlash we drove along the coastline towards Whiting Bay through the squally rain which produced a beautiful rainbow over the grey sea.  Just after Kildonan we stopped at the roadside to view the isle of Ailsa Craig in the distance.  Now a bird sanctuary for gannets and increasing numbers of puffins it was once quarried to make 'Curling Stones' from the blue hone granite.

Isle of Arran -Day 2

Leaving the Lagg Hotel we headed north along the picturesque coast road, stopping on a number of occasions to admire the views over the Firth of Clyde towards the Mull of Kintyre with choppy seas and cloudy back drop. 

few miles after passing through Blackwaterfoot we found the small parking spot so we could have a walk across the moor to find the standing stones of Machrie.  These neolithic structures date back over 4500 years with excavations in the 1980's discovering elaborate timber structures and six stone circles with the most impressive being one with three tall sandstone slabs.  After exploring the stone circles we made our way back across the moor and continued our journey north toward Lochranza.

The road followed the coastline, passing through small villages whilst the mountains were now constantly in the background. 
The mountains consist of four peaks with Goatfell being the highest (2,866ft) on the eastern part of the island.  Arriving at Lochranza we waited  for the ferry to arrive from Claonaig
whilst enjoying a tasty sandwich from the local shop, so that we could make our way to Crinan and join the VIC 32.


The first part of the day was spent readying the VIC 32 for sea.  The tug berthed next to the vessel had to be moved and the puffer positioned in the lock to allow the coal to be loaded.  The pile of coal was manually loaded using shovels and wheel barrows, a total of forty each side, by us the paying passengers, or should I say the crew for the week.  The task seemed to bring everyone together as we knew we were not going anywhere until it was complete.

The puffer left the Crinan sea lock heading west through the turbulent waters around Craignish Point towards the Gulf of Corryvreckan, between the isles of Jura and Scarba, before turning north and heading between the isles of Shuna and Luing.
  Dropping anchor in the small bay we could see the Ardmaddy Castle on the shoreline.  The small dingy was lowered into the water and we were ferried across to the shore in groups of five.

Exploring the gardens around the grounds of the castle was very pleasant and relaxing with its contrast of sculpted rows of flower beds in the walled garden and wild woodland and babbling stream which meanders onwards to the sea. 

Everyone returned to the puffer and set sail for Loch Melfort to the south where w
e lay anchor overnight.  During our evening meal around the captains table from the shore line we could hear the sound of bagpipes playing, which Captain Nick explained was the local farmer who plays when the VIC 32 arrives.  In response Nick went to the wheel house and gave a rendition of 'Speed, Bonnie Boat' on the ships whistles.  A perfect end to a great day on board.


We made our way ashore in the dinghy and walked up the steep pathway through the farmyard to the main entrance of Arduaine Gardens.  Now owned and maintained by the National trust of Scotland this wonderful coastal garden has a large variety of plants including rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, Blue Tibetan poppies, giant Himalayan lilies and Chatham Island forget-me-nots.  Guided around by Nick along the meandering path we discovered lovely colourful flowers and interesting water gardens.  The path rises up to a viewpoint where that looks out over the sea and the many small islands including Shuna.

After having lunch back on board it was time to leave Loch Melfort and head to Toberonochy on the Isle of Luing.  The puffer anchored of the coast and we landed using the small dinghy again.  I was now getting accustomed to climbing over the side of the boat and into the rocking dinghy below.  The small harbour village with its whitewashed cottages and discarded slate beaches from the abandoned quarry was very picturesque.  We walked up to Kilchattan graveyard on the hillside with its ruined chapel and slate head stones reflecting the fact the island in made of the stuff.

We walked back to the village and down a narrow path to discover the large quarry with its steep terraced sides which was now filled with water.  Slate was taken by tramway to the nearby shore where it was dressed, and transferred onto ships at the pier until it closed around 1965.

When we arrived back at the harbour we climbed into the dinghy and navigated amongst the anchored boats whilst two model yachts were being sailed by a father and son from the shoreline.

From Toberonochy our voyage continued south pasted the Isle of Shuna towards Craignish Point where the vessel turned north up Loch Craignish and around the top of Eilean Righ (island), which is currently up for sale at a cost of £3 million.

Our day ended by returning to Crinan for the evening where we spent the evening in the hotel bar chatting and taste testing a variety of local whiskies.


Overnight the weather had changed, with the wind blowing in from the south the sea swell had risen.  The little boat left Crinan head long into the northerly wind blowing up the Sound of Jura.  I was on the stern deck looking at the grey skies when Captain Nick suggested I steered the vessel.  I climbed into the wheelhouse and stood behind the large wooden steering wheel.  Through the windows I could see the bow pitching up and down as the puffer rode each passing wave.  It was like riding a small roller coaster.  The wheel house of the puffer is positioned behind the funnel, due to the arrangement of the engine and boiler, making it difficult to see directly forward.  To keep a stead course I was constantly moving my position either side of the funnel to see out of the windows.  The vessel slowly made its way south along the coastline past the salmon fisheries and lobster nets.

After a number of hours I was relieved of my steering duties at went down to our cabin where I started to feel light headed because the ship was rolling around and I had no horizon to fix on.  I was soon back on deck and felt much better.  Eventually we rounded Danna Island and sailed into the shelter of Loch Sween.  The sea was now flat and calm all the way to Tayvallich, where we anchored in a sheltered bay outside the main harbour. 
Nick suggested that we take the small dinghy and go collect his motor yacht from its mooring in the harbour so he could ferry more people to the shore. So Peter and I volunteered to help him. The three of us climbed down the side of the VIC 32 and into the wooden dinghy and made our way through the rocks that form the harbour entrance to his boat. First of all we had to remove all the string that helps stop the gulls landing on the boat from the main rigging. Next Nick gave me a ships hook and asked me to unhook the buoy the boat was moored to. Leaning over the bow of the boat whilst concentrating on keeping my balance as the boat bobbed about I lifted the buoy out of the water and unhooked the rope.

Standing on the bow of the boat making our way back to the puffer I felt a sense of achievement that I had done something I had never done before. Steering the puffer in rough weather and sailing on a small yacht. Peter steered the yacht next to the puffer and I threw the mooring line aboard so it could be tied up alongside.   Nick made two trips back to harbour and we spent some time in the little village with its shop and inn.  Mo and I walked along the shoreline watching the boats bobbing on the water an some teenager jumping into the cold water, rather them than me.  The rain had started to fall again so we made our way to the Tayvallich Inn for a refreshing drink.  We sat at a table by the window watching the rain fall and Nick ferrying passengers back and too.  It was close to 6:30pm when we braved the wind and rain to get our ferry from Nick back to the VIC 32.  We huddled together in the small cabin sheltering from the rain whilst Nick was getting wet in the open cockpit as he steered the boat back to the puffer.

Isle of Jura

I rose from my slumber to a clear calm morning with blue skies and a flat sea.  Today the little puffer would be sailing across to the Isle of Jura.  The island is one of a group known as the Inner Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland.  Leaving Tayvallich we made our way back down Loch Sween and out into the open sea on a direct course to Craighouse at the southern end of Small Isle Bay.  The distinctive Paps of Jura, a range of three mountains, could be clearly seen from the moment we turned past Danna Island.  Their peaks engulfed in large fluffy white clouds hiding the cone shaped peaks.

The sail across the Sound was an opportunity to relax on board watching the beautiful scenery go by, with groups of birds skimming across the water and the occasional shark gliding by.  The Skervuile Lighthouse stands on a small rocky out crop, a sanctuary for sea birds and seals.  Built in 1865 and converted to automatic operation in 1945 to a high of 73ft above the sea, its light as a range of nine miles.

The boat slowly entered the harbour at Craighouse and tied up alongside the quay with the white buildings of the  Jura Hotel and Distillery in the background. 

After our on board lunch Nick suggested we join him on a guided walk of the area.  Our first stop was the small church along the only road on the island where in a small room at the back is a photo exhibition of island life through the ages. The walls displayed old images of farmers and crofters working the fields, whilst others posed for the camera in typical Victorian style.  Other photo's showed the islands day trippers arriving on the large steam ferry in their 'Sunday Best' clothing.  Continuing on with our walk we explored the abandoned hillside village with its small roofless stone houses.  Nick explained that the landlord owned the stone for the walls but the tenant owned the roof.  If the tenant was evicted then they would take the roof with them. 

Following the track beside the stream we came to the Kilearnadil graveyard containing the Campbell Mausoleum commemorating the members of the family from the island.  Another interesting grave stone was that of Gillouir MacCrain which is
said to have kept one hundred and eighty Christmases in his own house by the time he died in about 1646.  This my be due to the Julian and Gregorian calendars running along side each other, with different dates for Christmas from 1582 until full adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.  It had been and interesting and informative walk which finished at the hotel and a deserved drink in the beer garden.   

Bon Voyage

It was or last day aboard the VIC 32 and all that was too be done was to sail back to Crinan.  The weather was beautiful again with clear skies and calm seas.  All week we had enjoyed a hearty breakfast of cereal, toast and jams and today was no exception.  The mooring lines were cleared and the little boat slipped out of the harbour leaving a long trail of black smoke behind.  Engineer Lyle was looking for volunteers to help him out so I offered my services with cleaning out the ashes from the boiler.  He would fill the bucket down in the boiler room and I hauled it up on a block and tackle and emptied it over the stern.  Andy was also keen to help so we shared the duties, with him emptying whilst I hauled the bucket. 

With that task out of the way Mo and I paid a visit to the little shop set up on the dining table by Captain Nick to sell souvenirs of our holiday.  We browsed around  and finally bought a couple of mugs and a set of coasters each displaying a drawing of the VIC 32.  With all the proceeds going to the preservation of the boat I was only to willing to give my support in buying the items.  I also purchased a set of plans of the ship with the intention of building a model of it some day.

Time had flown by and the entrance to the Crinan canal was in front of us.  We waited for the lock gates to open and slow made our way inside.  Our journey was at an end and all the memories of the voyage came flooding back as the little boat slowly began to rise in the lock.  I looked around at the other crew members standing on deck thinking about the enjoyable time we had all had.  It had been a great little adventure.

Visit the VIC 32 Save the Puffer site and maybe you will have your own little adventure too.