Raptor UK canoe sailing

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16 - 21 May 2010

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the Royal Navy's Trident submarine fleet, is located in Gareloch and the entire loch is a Dockyard Port under the jurisdiction of the Queen's Harbour Master and with various Bylaws restricting access. I had done some research on the Internet and also bought Martin Lawrence's 'The Yachtsman's Pilot - Clyde to Colonsay' and thought I was clear on what those restrictions were. Page 48 of the Pilot states:
"At Faslane Base, 2-3 miles north of the narrows on the east shore, a prohibited area from which all craft are excluded extends 150 metres from the piers and floating dock."

Leaving for Gareloch.

This 150 metre figure seemed to be confirmed by this extract from Admiralty Sailing Directions West Coast of Scotland 2004 edition:
9. No ... private vessel, ... shall: (c) be moored or anchored within 150m of any of Her Majesty's naval moorings, jetties, floating docks, ... save with the licence in writing of the Queen's Harbour Master and in accordance with any conditions attached thereto;"
however, note that this only applies to mooring or anchoring, not making passage. The Admiralty Sailing Directions go on to say:
8. Protected Areas at Faslane and at Coulport are indicated on the charts.
9. In respect of the Protected Areas no person shall: (b) Enter, or pass through or over or remain in or over either of the Protected Areas without authority or permission."
I didn't buy marine charts for the expedition as they are expensive and, I thought, unnecessary for daylight pilotage in a sailing canoe. I have since learned that, as well as aiding navigation, charts have an important legal function. The Faslane Protected Area is marked on the relevant chart and, if I'd bought one, I would have seen that the information given in the Pilot was incorrect. It might be a little pedantic, but Martin Lawrence refers to "a prohibited area" near Faslane Base, while the chart and Admiralty Sailing Directions use the term 'Protected Area'. Secondly, it would appear to be a misleading simplification to say that this "extends 150 metres from the piers and floating dock". The chart shows that at times the Faslane Protected Area is almost double this distance.

As we rounded Rosneath Point and passed Green Island, I called the Queen's Harbour Master (call sign 'QHM') on my VHF handheld radio and let him know about our intended passage, as

Rhu Narrows ahead.

Passing Rosneath.

MoD Police RIB visit.

advised on the Royal Navy's own website. We were asked to keep well to the western side of Rhu Narrows and out of the restricted area by Faslane. As we approached the Narrows an MoD Police Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), with two military personnel on board, approached, stopping by each of us in turn and taking down our personal details (name, address, date and place of birth etc.) before asking if we were aware of the Restricted Areas by Faslane. Of course we all said, "Yes", so were allowed on our way. The whole process was very quick: probably no more than 2-3 minutes each and no doubt our details were checked once they returned to their base.

Interestingly we weren't asked about our knowledge of Protected Areas, only of Restricted Areas (there is a difference). Gareloch Restricted Areas cannot be entered when relevant signals are displayed at various locations, during submarine movements etc. These signals consist of a red over two vertical green lights together with a red flag with white diagonal bar. The Faslane Restricted Area leaves a narrow gap on the west of Gareloch for navigation, while the Restricted Channel at Rhu Narrows leaves a small gap either side, suitable for shallow draft vessels such as ours. When these signals are not displayed, vessels can enter Restricted Areas. Entry into Protected Areas, by contrast, is prohibited at all times. No signals were displayed during our trip to Gareloch, so the applicable 'no-go' zone for our passage was the smaller Protected Area. I believe the above interpretation is correct but it is possible that during submarine movements the MoD Police would block any navigation through Rhu Narrows, even outside of the Restricted Channel.

Shortly after paddling through Rhu Narrows, the wind suddenly hit us with surprising force from the southwest, so we made rapid progress for the next 3 km (2 miles). I headed for a beach on the western shore of Gareloch, arriving at 12:10 p.m., and we stopped there for lunch. After a 1-hour

Gareloch lunch break.

Andy nears beach.

North Gareloch view.

Faslane view.

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