Return to Ailsa Craig
Practical Boat Owner|February 2021
Andrew Morton and daughter spend an idyllic day island hopping in the Firth of Clyde
Andrew Morton

Ailsa Craig, or Paddy’s Milestone, is a spectacular volcanic plug situated in the Firth of Clyde, roughly half-way between Belfast and Glasgow, hence its Irish name, and the Gaelic is translated as Fairy Rock.

It tempted me many years ago in my kayak, before I was wealthy enough to own a ‘big boat’. In 2005 I set off from Girvan in a racing kayak, on a personal and unrecorded challenge, to paddle the 8.3 miles to the island, climb to the top, 1,000ft up, and then return. The trip took me four hours one morning, in glorious sunshine and calm seas – a pocket adventure. The only error I made was not looking back on the way there to pick landmarks. So, when I set off on my return to Girvan, I hadn’t a clue where I was going, as the coastline was so unremarkable and uniform. No compass, of course. Silly boy.

Time to go back

By 2020, a return journey was long overdue, but this time the choice of transport was Tiptoe, my 76CA Finnmaster motorboat, a much softer option for a much older man.

My daughter and I set off at 2pm in bright sunshine from Largs, to motor to Girvan on Saturday 28 September with a following Force 3/4 wind, at an economic 6.5 knots (4 litres per hour) and with sun all the way – a beautiful, gentle cruise, alone, out in the open ocean, with nothing but the ubiquitous gulls and guillemots, and occasional sparkling white gannet for company.

We arrived at Girvan marina just before 6pm as the sun was setting behind Ailsa Craig. I organised fish and chips, while Emily walked out to the harbour mouth to take pictures of the setting sun.

We’d phoned Tom, the harbourmaster, before we left, and he was most helpful. He told us there was plenty of space at the marina, which had been dredged recently, and had at least a metre at LAT (the tidal range varies between 2m and 3m).

“Just walk off the pontoon, through the magnetic gate, and pay your dues using the parking meter,” he added. “It will print your ticket with codes for the marina gate and the facilities – it’s all automated.”

Indeed, the facilities were superb, and we met Anne, one of four who keep them in such pristine condition. The hot shower the next morning was most welcome, and all just a few metres from the pontoons.

Overnighting in Girvan

Girvan might appear a rather tired little town, like many on the Clyde coast which have lost their allure over the past 60 years, as air travel to sunnier climes has tempted many to jet abroad. But it has to be said, much has been done recently to make it attractive to visitors, with play parks, a broad esplanade, a clean, broad beach, the splendid little marina, and a smart new community facility by the harbour called The Quay Zone.

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