East Coast and River Tay Trip

August 14, 2017 in Longer Trips by Colin

As is often the case, this trip started out as something else. I had planned to take the CAT through the Caledonian canal as a reconnaissance trip for future customer sailing holidays and my wife was scheduled to join me for the transit.

However, the long term weather forecast wasn’t looking promising so I decided to explore the Tay instead for the same purpose.

Day 1 – Quick solo trip to Anstruther:

13:30 After a last minute sail repair (thanks Chic Medley at the Sail Doctor), I made it out of Port Edgar and headed for Anstruther.

I sailed under the bridges and past the inner islands at 7 knots with a favourable warm wind. There is so much to see on this section of the Forth including the three bridges, Inchgarvie, Inchcolm, Inchmickery and Inchkeith islands with Edinburgh on the South shore and small villages like Aberdour on the North.

Passing Largo Bay, minutes after posting some smug sunny pictures, the wind swung 180 degrees and increased to 25/30 knots on the nose. I had to get the sails down QUICKLY. I motored from Elie up to Anstruther, past the oil rigs that temporarily call the Forth home, with a few puffins for company. The river is much wider on this section (over 10 miles) as it opens up to the East Neuk of Fife on the North shore and East Lothian on the South. The Bass Rock and the Isle of May are constant features as you sail East.

I arrived in Anstruther at 20:00, 3.5 hours before high tide, and noted a depth gauge reading of zero as I scraped into the pontoons in the inner harbour. Obviously I headed straight to the fish & chip shop, took a few marketing pictures and enjoyed a sunset around 22:00.









Day 2 – Quick solo trip to Tayport:

09:00 As soon as the boat was afloat I left the harbour and had a strong wind on the nose for an hour as I routed towards Fife Ness. Passing Crail, the Isle of May and lots of fishing boats en route, I had to avoid the many lobster pots that have been laid around the mouth of the river. At 10:15 I eventually got the sails up to cross St Andrews Bay at 5 knots with 12 knots of wind.

Around 12:30 I rounded the Tay Bar outer marker and made my way West against a strong tide but was rewarded with half an hour of dolphin entertainment.

The tides in the Tay are very strong and I was conscious that I needed to get into Tayport before the water disappeared. I was struggling to do 3.5 knots even with both engines on full power but thankfully they didn’t overheat with the exertion. I was followed into Tayport by the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust yacht which did a better job of keeping the sails up before also having to resort to engine power.

Passing Tayport Pile Light (built 1845) I entered the harbour entrance at 14:30 with 3m of tide and after a quick call to Phil at Tayport I was sorted out with a berth on the West wall.

Day 3 – Quick solo trip to Perth

The Tay is the longest river in Scotland at 120 miles with its source near Ben Lui (nice climb if you haven’t ticked off that Munro) in Tyndrum. I only sailed up the first 30 miles as it is non-navigable by anything with a deep draft or tall mast above Perth. By 10:00 there was enough water to leave Tayport harbour and avoid the large sand bank at the entrance (stay East near the harbour wall when entering or leaving). Once in the main channel you get a good view of the jack up rigs on the North shore and the next obstacles are obvious: did I check the mast height correctly?

Despite the constant rain, I had a nice run up the river. You do have to be careful with navigation as some markers are unclear and the route is not intuitive. The chart plotter & Navionics App were both pretty accurate and a good guide up the river. I also had a backup passage plan thanks to the guys at Perth harbour.

Newburgh looks nice from the river with its series of piers and the scenery is fantastic. It seems strange sailing through the countryside with the hills in the distance..

I had been told that new pontoons had been installed under the Friarton bridge and was pleased to see when I arrived at 13:30 that they looked perfect for an overnight stay. When I docked the boat I met Jim Findlay from the Willowgate activity centre and he kindly made me a coffee and gave me a tour of the new facility (for further information, see: Tay and Earn Trust). He then had to give me the bad news that I couldn’t stay on the pontoon overnight as the contractors hadn’t officially handed it over so there were health and safety / liability issues.

14:00 Now I had a problem as it was too late to safely navigate back down the river so I called John Taylor at Perth harbour who very kindly said I could stay there for the night. Plan B was to anchor in the Willow channel. I anchored in the harbour at 14:30 and tied the stern to the harbour wall.

When my wife arrived that evening to join the boat the tide was out and it was pouring with rain so we had to lower a bike, suitcase, several bags and of course “the hair dryer” by rope from the harbour wall.

Day 4 / Part 1 – Perth to Tayport

We woke to a bright sunny morning and planned to leave two hours before high tide to make Tayport whilst it still had water. High tide is one hour later in Perth than in Dundee.

At 13:00 we left the harbour and motored down to Friarton bridge. The weather was kinder than it had been on the up river leg so we could appreciate the views but the wind was still on the nose so we had to keep the engine on for the next couple of hours. It was unusual sailing next to the M90 motorway for a while.









(The catering seems to have improved today.)

Eventually the wind moved to the South and we got the sails up although it was starting to look a bit dark. The bad weather was coming.

I dropped the sails to pass under the rail bridge just in case I got my calculations wrong. It would have been difficult to stop anyway given the speed of the outgoing tide that was now running but it made me feel better. We had around 3M mast clearance but from the ground it looked tight!
The pictures aren’t clear but the V&A is taking shape and I am sure this whole area will be more interesting as things develop.

Day 4 / Part 2 – Tayport to Anstruther

By 17:00 the latest forecast wasn’t good for the next two days so I decided to carry on to Anstruther as I figured it would be a better base for a couple of nights, although that meant another 6 hours before we could dock.

So, we sailed past Tayport Lighthouse and Broughty Castle back to the outer Tay. The waves were getting bigger all the time and by this point, regretting that she hadn’t taken the seasickness tablets, Mhairi had to go and lie down. It does seem to take forever to reach the outer marker and you have to try very hard to resist the temptation to take a shortcut South across the bar and risk losing a rudder or worse, particularly in a heavy sea.

Passing the South cardinal you can see the tide running at a good 3 to 4 knots. Tentsmuir forest runs along the South coast for some time and the bar extends out for a couple of miles, off which you can see the water breaking in the distance. Groups of seals congregate on its isolated outer banks.

20:00 Eventually the wind was favourable, a good SW which was promising for the leg back across St Andrews bay. After a quick check to make sure my wife was still breathing I got the sails up and pointed at Fife Ness.

I had a good sail across St Andrews bay but the waves got bigger and bigger and by the time we reached Fife Ness I was looking forward to the harbour myself 🙂

After rounding Fife Ness it was a straight Westerly so I spent an hour motoring into a heavy sea whilst trying to avoid the many lobster pots which have been laid in that area. They are very difficult to spot late at night and run all the way down the North shore to the harbour entrance. With the Isle of May to Port and Crail to Starboard it wasn’t far to go now. I managed to get into Anstruther and by 23:10 was docked for the night. Unfortunately Mhairi got up five minutes too early and had to lose her lunch!

Day 5  – Anstruther to Perth by bike and train.

We awoke to a bright but very windy Anstruther and Mhairi felt the need for an unconventional breakfast of chips, mayonnaise and coke to replenish her losses!

No sailing today. It turned into a cycle trip to retrieve Mhairi’s car from Perth. She seemed much more excited about this method of transport, although the harbour master thought we were mad and suggested a bus instead. I enjoyed the cycle via Crail to St Andrews but when we reached Leuchars I suggested the train given the 30 knots + Westerly wind. So we crossed the Tay again by train and then car.

Day 6  – The Bass Rock, a good test for the sickness tablets

Fully loaded with travel sickness tablets, Mhairi agreed to a 4 hour circumnavigation of the Bass Rock from our new home in Anstruther. The waves were huge and the winds were around 30 knots. A great high speed run accross the river (approximately 10 miles at this point). The Bass looks great as always and fantastic to see all the gannets and puffins en route. And, the tablets worked!

Back to Anstruther for a meal and some live music in The Bank venue.

Day 7  – Sail up the Forth to find HMS Queen Elizabeth

Mhairi drove home first thing and having heard that the first aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was leaving its birth place today, I decided to go and find it. I had a good run up the river passing Kinghorn late afternoon and found the carrier docked to the West of the Forth bridges. After having a chat with the river police I was allowed to get surprisingly close when circumnavigating the ship.

After waiting for the low tide that night I managed to negotiate pole position to video the carrier going through the Rail Bridge (See our Facebook page for that). You can see us here from the BBC footage on the South shore.

A great end to the week.

Colin Henderson, Edinburgh Boat Charters Ltd