Raptor UK canoe sailing

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16 - 21 May 2010

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break, we continued on our way. The wind was still strong and was now blowing straight up the loch, so we had a quick and enjoyable run to Garelochhead, where we arrived less than half an hour later. It was easy for us to keep well to the western side of the loch so we did not approach the Police launch that was on duty in front of Faslane. My maximum speed for the day (in fact for the entire expedition) was achieved during this run north: 10.3 knots. High water at Garelochhead would be at 4:26 p.m. so the tide was in full flood. I had jury-rigged my Bruce anchor with short rode to the front of my sidecar and used this to secure my boat.

Gareloch beach group.

Upper Gareloch.

Coffee break.

Garelochhead beach.

Beach stairway.

After ¾ hour at a nearby café, where I refilled my two water bottles, we returned to the beach. The Police RIB passed by, apparently checking up on us. We left Garelochhead at 2:50 p.m. and started back south against the last 1½ hours of the flood tide and a strong headwind, requiring us to sail close-hauled. After five tacks, I settled onto a starboard tack, heading for Carnban Point at the southerly end of Faslane. Andy was sailing to my starboard, a little further from Faslane. John was making slower progress some distance behind. As we approached Carnban Point, I noticed a submarine moored to the dockside with what looked like brightly coloured scaffolding around the conning tower. I was surprised that there were no Police launches or RIBs on guard as we passed. When I judged my distance from the dock to be about 150 metres, I tacked and headed across to the western shore of Gareloch. I looked back to check on Andy and saw a Police launch exit from Faslane and approach him. I decided to land my boat and wait for John to catch up but as I arrived at the beach an MoD RIB drew close and the crew asked me to join Andy at the launch, as they wanted to take down my details. I didn't argue (not a good idea with submachine gun-toting military personnel) but wondered why they needed my details again. The time was 3:30 p.m. As I drew near to the launch I saw Andy was already onboard. The Police asked me to moor my boat to the stern of the launch, where there was a dive platform. The crew passed me a couple of lines and I secured these around forward and aft iakos before boarding the launch. Once we were both on board, the Police informed us that we were being arrested for entering a Restricted Area (again, they didn't say "Protected Area"), despite saying that we were aware of the restrictions, and we were read our legal rights. I noticed some wide-eyed civilians seated in the upper cabin. After the police had cautioned us, they invited us down to the lower cabin to look at their charts, where the

Faslane Protected Area was marked. Digital charts for Gareloch and the other Upper Clyde lochs are available at the website. When I analysed my GPS track later (see far right), I saw that my original course (yellow arrows) had taken me to within 142 m of the Faslane dockside and that I'd been inside the Protected Area (east of the red line) for about five minutes.

Chart of Faslane area.

My track near Faslane.

While we were below, someone suddenly noticed that the launch was drifting dangerously close to the floating barrier surrounding the northern end of the base. Andy's boat was moored on the starboard side of the launch so mine was in most danger of being crushed, since the launch was drifting stern-first towards the barrier. We were asked if we wanted to be towed away from the barrier but we both preferred to make our own way clear, so I boarded my Raptor. Only then did I realise how close we were to the barrier, as one of the huge floating sections loomed up above me to the starboard. None of the launch's crew was standing by at the stern to release my mooring lines so Andy rushed to help. However, he'd only time to release one before the launch suddenly accelerated away from the barrier with me desperately hanging on to the dive platform to stop my boat from capsizing. Andy told me later that my Raptor came within inches of being crushed. Once we were away from immediate danger, the Police asked us to moor to a large buoy on the western side of the loch, as they were still waiting for our security checks to be completed, so we were not yet free to go. As I started sailing across the loch, the crew onboard one of the two RIBs that were assisting with the crisis drew close and pointed out the buoy again, directly upwind, and asked me to head straight for it. He was clearly not a sailor and I had to explain that I could only reach the buoy in a zigzag manner. We were therefore asked to forget the buoy and to moor our boats back to the launch, which by this time had disembarked its civilian passengers and drawn a safe distance away from the lee shore, and to board again. We learned later that the civilians were Rolls Royce contractors who were on a tour of the facility onboard the launch, which maybe explains why it was not on station as we entered the Protected Area.

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