MicroAdventures Sailing Scotland

We’ve Got That Sinking Feeling

Kirstie takes the helm
Written by Kirstie Pelling

We’ve Got That Sinking Feeling

A life on the ocean waves
Day 4 Portovadie – Largs

Stuart and I sneak off to the posh toilets for a shower, and then back to the bar for an early morning coffee, leaving the two instructors to babysit. When we come back there is breakfast on the table and the kids are dressed. Phil and Simon have passed their competent parenting certificate. Today I am hoping to master competent crew. But it’s not to be.

There’s a puddle in the cabin

Half an hour into sailing, Cameron notices “a bit of a puddle” in the cabin. Five minutes later we all have that sinking feeling.  The two instructors are downstairs, shouting at us to pump away at the bilge pump. I am at the helm. On my own.

I still haven’t mastered the points of sailing. I make Stuart take the wheel, and I take the bilge pump handle. Cameron and I do shifts on the bilge pump, trying to clear the water out of the boat. The bilge pump isn’t working. Matthew hand pumps water from the centre of the boat into a bucket. Two buckets a minute. Phil gives the the bucket to me and I throw it over the side and pass it back. Simon is calm as he passes up the emergency grab bag, containing radio, flares and smoke canister, and then he lets the coastguard know we are in trouble.

Family Sailing

Is everyone enjoying themselves?

A prop shaft sized hole in the boat

It seems the propeller has come out, taking with it the prop shaft. There is a prop shaft sized hole in the boat. Phil is cutting a bung while Simon has his hand over the hole. The coastguard alerts the RNLI because we have a four year old on board.

“Cup of tea?” asks Simon.

I’m a dedicated fan of having a hot drink at any time. But now?


“Really. We’ve put a bung in…we’re not sinking any more. We just have to work out how we’re going to get back to Largs.”

RNLI approaching yacht in distress

RNLI approaching yacht in distress – they’re coming

And now the RNLI are coming

Cameron spots a red boat in the distance. Its crew are wearing helmets and outfits that look like space suits. They pull up beside us and two of them climb on board.

RNLI rescue - boarding the yacht

RNLI rescue – boarding the yacht. They’re here….

“Cup of tea?”asks Simon.


“Really. We’ve put a bung in and stopped the sinking.”

RNLI rescue - boarding the yacht

RNLI rescue. We’re coming aboard…

Saved by a bung?

“Well done for carrying a bung,” says the RNLI man. “Most boats don’t.”

He takes our details down with the pink Piglet pen from the pound shop. Satisfied we aren’t going to sink, they power away. Unfortunately the RNLI man takes Piglet with him in the pocket of his space suit.

RNLI aboard for rescue

All looks safe enough here…

Time for a brew on the way home

We now have the task of getting back to Largs. We have to do that on sail power alone as the motor won’t work. Luckily there is wind. And thankfully the kettle works on gas. We have another cup of tea. It takes a further six hours and several more cups of tea to get back to Largs Marina amid deteriorating weather. Stuart takes the helm and I hang out with the kids and Phil, who asks the children if they can do a reef knot. They all swiftly do one.

“They’re very good granny knots,” says Simon.

“Dad taught us them,” say the kids, proudly. I smugly do a correct reef knot and hope a ‘points of sailing’ quiz won’t follow.

Young boy takes the helm on family learn to sail course in Scotland

Still time for a little tuition

High and dry

We are towed into the marina and lifted high out of the water by a large crane. There is no propeller or prop shaft to be seen.

Yacht being lifted out of the water in Largs Marina

That’s the end of that course then!

We go for chips in town. We need to sit inside and warm up. The adrenine rush of the day has left me with a headache. The chip shop counter is inside a curry house. We have fish and chips with Indian tomato relish. We take fish and chips back to Simon and Phil who are sitting in the boat by the water, about ten foot off the ground. We have to winch Hannah up with a rope and life jacket. The rest of us climb a ladder. We sleep soundly, without water, wind or sail noise, hoping that no one needs the toilet in the night. In our floating hotel that no longer floats.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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