Sunday, 19 July 2015

Tarbert Traditional Boat Festival

There are many tarberts in Scotland. The word means an ithsmus or boat porterage. The best known separates the Kintyre peninsula from Knapdale. West Loch Tarbert is a remote anchorage but East Loch Tarbert has a fine village, fish dock and marina. I have been there twice before, once years ago in a charter yacht and then on Bonify during the Round Britain in 2013. This year the traditional boat festival fell in the middle of a two week cruise on Robinetta. When we were planning our holidays we didn't know where Robinetta would be. We hoped to visit the Outer Hebrides in May but expected to be somewhere closer to the Clyde.

Then we ended up leaving Robinetta in Stornoway and arranging to keep her in Fairlie for the winter. So we wanted to be in the Clyde but were 180 nm away. We weren't sure we wanted to try to get to the festival, or just sail. When we got to Stornoway the weather was fine but with not much wind so we decided to motor sail south and keep our options open.

We called the organisers and got a programme. It sounded relaxed and fun. The tiller pilot was doing most of the work so we had two long enjoyable days getting to Crinan and then got to Cairbaan on Thursday night. On Friday the wind was a strong southerly. Perfectly wrong. We fought it down to Tarbert. We think we were the only boat to leave the canal that day.

We arrived in Tarbert to a great welcome. Most boats had arrived the day before to avoid the strong winds. There was a grand collection of boats, both local and visitors. The biggest was Cruinneag III, a beautiful varnished bermudan cutter ketch built in Tarbert by Dickies in 1936. The smallest was a Drascombe Skaithe. The two boats from farthest afield were Lassie of Chester, a Nobby from Bangor and a motor cruiser from Wisbech. At least four boats were from Arran, Pequita a Twister from Lamlash and three boats from Lochranza, a Hillyard 2 1/2  tonner, a Memory 19 and a larger old wooden yacht. Local boats included festival organiser Hans Kok's 1918 gaff ketch Makkemok. As well as many sailing vessels there was a good selection of converted fishing boats One must not forget the longship Freydis hand built by festival organiser Phil Robertson for his other event, the Viking Festival. Saturday's barbecue was a fund raiser for Phil's aspiration to take her to Norway to participate in festivals there.

The primary public purpose of the event is to give locals and tourists the opportunity to walk around and look at the boats and talk to the owners. We spent most of Saturday and part of Sunday morning aboard with our hastily scribbled sign showing people around and answering questions.

For the participating crews it was mostly about the craic, but also about sharing skills and knowledge. Douglas, a lad from Loch Ranza had just migrated from dinghies to his first larger boat, a Memory 19 called Odyssey which had not been looked after by her previous owner. He had been shown how to sail gaff rig by his friend Robert a self declared 'sea gypsy' with Storm Petrel, a tiny Hillyard. I helped Douglas set up his bobstay tension and when the wind died there was a big topsail debate. The general feeling was that it was too big to sheet.

There was a boat moored on our pontoon flying an OGA 50 flag but somehow we never got to meet the folks on board.

We had a reception on Friday evening with good music from local musicians and a fine ceilidh with country dancing and rock covers on Saturday night. It poured with rain and the midges were out in force but we had a grand time.

Saturday afternoon also saw a greasy pole competition and the village raft race.  Those able to get out to the end of the greasy pole, grab a bottle and bring it back won a bottle of whisky. The hard part was turning round after getting the bottle, but a few managed it.

On Sunday morning, many nursing sore heads, we gathered for a great breakfast in the Tarbert Hotel which some will remember from the RBC for its kippers. A low key prize giving completed the formal proceedings but it was agreed by vote that we would do a sail past in the loch. The weather was starting to clear up as we left the pontoon and although it was still cloudy we had a good breeze and lovely backdrops to the collected boats. After an hour we scattered to home ports or next destinations.
Cruinneag III

Swn y Mor

Lassie of Chester

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