Morvern Lines – 4.6.20

The restored Blue Dragon at the Dragon School in Oxford. Photograph the Dragon School.

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Charles Cotterell Lynam wrote three books about his sailing adventures – the original Log of the Blue Dragon; the Log of Blue Dragon II and To Norway and the North Cape in Blue Dragon II. Here we publish the second instalment about his adventures on the West Coast.

Charles C Lynam’s logs of the Blue Dragon are by far the best description of West Coast cruising a century ago.  The first yacht had no engine and was propelled by oars, sails or carried along by the tide. She was built by Theo Smith at Medley, Port Meadow in 1891. Her first voyage took her down the Thames, along the south coast, round Land’s End and up to Oban via the Isle of Man where Lynam, known simply as ‘Skipper’, went to school.  When they reached Ardrishaig she was pulled through the Crinan Canal by hand and by horse. There was accommodation aboard for four adults and a boy, although tents were carried and used at a few anchorages.

On an expedition from Oban they visited Heisker, five miles south west of Canna, and watched the 128ft high lighthouse, designed by David and Charles Stevenson,  being built by Oban contractor, Messrs D & J MacDougall, warning of the presence of the Mills Rocks.  On the same cruise they called at Rum and from their anchorage in Loch Scresort,  saw Sir George Bullough’s Kinloch Castle taking shape, recording in the log that it might be imposing on the banks of the Thames, but utterly out of place at the foot of Halival and Askerval. A similar caustic remark was made about Duart Castle on August 9, 1922: ‘…we set sail [from Cardingmill Bay] and with a nice northerly breeze passed Lismore Light, and just got the end of the tide past Duart Castle, now an ugly modern building, all the old ruin having disappeared, a d—d shame!’ Ardtornish House at the head of Loch Aline, fared no better but there was no criticism of Connel bridge or the Ballachulish railway which were under construction at the same time.

Loch Etive was a favourite destination, but once Skipper misjudged the tide and recorded, ‘The Falls of Lora were in full roar, the tide being almost low. Hugging the south shore I was whirled along head to wind, which ought to have been aft, the dinghy led the way, and down the swirling decline went the Blue Dragon, stern first; only a few yards off was the great green waterfall over the central rock.’

I remember a similar incident in the 1980s when John Foster Yeoman, who pioneered the Glensanda Quarry, accompanied by Oban boat builder Donnie Currie, came bouncing down these falls in like manner in the Rose of Devon. Fortunately, this sturdy Salcombe built, 30ft wooden motor cruiser, was well planked and only pride and not the hull was dented, but it was touch and go and I was glad I had turned down an invitation to join their picnic.

Blue Dragon often arrived in places in the dark, which sometimes created groundings but no serious damage was done other than on one occasion.  Each morning all aboard were more or less compelled to leap over the side.  There were few slackers regardless of the conditions even during winter and Christmas cruises – shades of cold showers and early morning runs for Gordonstoun and other public school pupils.  They had no weather forecast to go by – just a barometer, compass and a towing log. For picking up friends and crew at various ports they used letters, telegrams and wires, and made occasional telephone calls when a box could be found. The Skipper and Blue Dragon became so well known in Oban and along the West Coast that  selections of her logs were regularly published in the Oban Times.

Almost all excisions were centred on Oban where the yacht was left with John and Neil Munro at their Kerrera yard when Lynam went south after the school holidays. There were trips to Eigg, Loch Nevis, Loch Hourn, Mallaig, Armadale and down to Crinan. He didn’t much like going to Jura, Colonsay or Coll. A visit was made to the Summer Isles, taking in the Shiants and the Outer Hebrides from Barra to Stornoway. He made friends readily, but as he did not speak Gaelic, language was sometimes a problem. But for all that he wrote, ‘As always, we experienced the heartiest welcome and the truest hospitality from the Highlander, whether of old or new acquaintance’.

His favourite anchorages were; Little Horseshoe, Shuna, Tobermory, Loch Aline, Salen Loch Sunart and Loch Don.  When his family weren’t sailing with him the crew were mainly friends and colleagues. According to the logs they could be rather untidy and, when not sailing, played cards, drank whisky and washed up. There were many walks ashore to sketch, paint and buy newspapers, often trudging miles to find hotels for a bath and a meal.  They went to church services of various denominations and afterwards were entertained by the clergy who, in turn, were invited aboard to wine and dine on soup, lobsters, chops and drams. He used to say he had been through holes and narrows no yacht had ever been before, but never had a paid hand to help him and only once had to signal for a pilot.

Lynam’s last cruise on Blue Dragon 1 was in 1904. She was then sold for him by John Munro in the spring of 1905 to a Mr Cameron of Ardgour for £50 and replaced by another of the same name the following year. Lynam kept her in Scotland for several seasons and then sailed her to Norway and eventually all the way to the North Cape – a voyage which earned him the Challenge Cup of the Royal Cruising Club in 1912.  In the log of BD III he tells of visiting McGruer’s yard on the Gareloch in July 1922 specifically to see the original BD. She was for sale for £55 and was in good condition and by then had an engine.

The Blue Dragon being prepared for its road journey from Argyll to the Dragon School in Oxford. Photograph Douglas and Mary Lindsay.

I know nothing of Blue Dragon’s history from 1922 until 1980 when Oran Campbell, a keen sailor and a member of an Argyll family, found her lying on a beach in Tarbert a virtual wreck. Oran, who knew the yacht’s history, was determined to save her and bought and loaned her to a maritime museum in 1985.  It was not a success. The hull came back to Argyll in 2002 to be looked after by Douglas and Mary Lindsay, formerly of the Kerrera boatyard. In 2018, when the remains were almost past saving, the Dragon School agreed to have her.  She was transported south on the back of a lorry and has been carefully restored.

The Skipper died at sea on 26 October 1938 on board a cargo ship, the MV Alcinous of the Blue Funnel Line, on his way to Australia aged 80. The ship’s officer recorded the exact position and time of the burial, latitude 37.13 degrees north, longitude 11.107 degrees east. A fitting end for one who said:  ‘I love the sea and sea-folk. I love the west coast of Scotland, its islands and its people; and above all, I love the free life of the amateur cruiser’.