A wet bank holiday…

Our friends Brian and Anne are down in Loch Aline and it would be wonderful to drop in there on our way to Oban, but the weather is wet, the wind is on the nose (isn’t it always?) and there are gales forecast for Tuesday. Reluctantly we decide that we need to make for Oban tonight to be sure of getting Lyn Ash and Yee Tak to their sleeper on time.

For a while we manage to make reasonable progress under sail, tacking down the loch, but the wind dies to a whisper and we turn to the trusty Thorneycroft once more. To our shame we pass Brian and Anne in Skoling without recognising them (so much for diligent watch-keeping).  We arrive in Oban Marina which is actually on Kerera Island but has the promise of electricity, water, wifi, bar/restaurant and an hourly water-taxi to Oban itself.

In the event, the water is limited (low rainfall), the electricity and showers are extra, the wifi temperamental, the bar and restaurant shut and the taxi 2 hourly booked in advance. Perhaps we are only grumpy because we are wet, but we have haggis (including veggie haggis) to look forward to and plenty of booze… Hopefully we’ll have a more positive post tomorrow and the marina staff are very helpful and apologetic.

Sunday 28th May…still in Tobermory

We have opted to stay here for the day and generally slob about in the sun, with just full Scottish breakfast (actually it is almost lunchtime), a tour round the Tobermory distillery to distract us

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…and the joys of essential laundry. It is funny to be here among tourists once more (…although surely we are just water-borne tourists?) having had glorious places like Rona, Scavaig and Canna almost to ourselves. Perhaps it was the sense of adventure, or the loneliness, because Tobermory is delightful against a backdrop of wooded hills and is certainly not in the crowded league of Poole or Lymington on a bank holiday weekend.

We also meet Bill and Rosemary on their Nauticat who are friends of Anne and Brian. Folk up here are, as we have said before so friendly and welcoming…

After dinner in the Mishnish, we finish the night sitting out watching a beautiful sunset…burning citronella candles to keep the midges at bay.

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Canna to Tobermory Saturday 27 May

 

The sea is glassy calm and there’s not a breath of wind and the Cal Mac ferry calls but seems to neither drop off or pick up. The Dutch tall ship also beats us up and out of the harbour…

We know that purists would say stay put and wait for fair winds, but…the diesel goes on and we motor out into the sound of Canna and slide down the west coast of Rum in the Sea of the Hebrides. It’s a gloomy day with poor visibility and Eigg and Muck are just about visible as the miles slip past. We followed the Cal Mac ferry out of Canna but it is soon out of sight and we wonder what else is out there…we soon have an answer as a coaster appears about a mile away. The radar goes on despite its thirst for electricity and provides some reassurance, although this is not like crossing the nautical motorway that is our home stretch of English Channel. The rain comes and flattens what little sea there is. We are approaching Ardnamurchan Point and prepare to toast this most westerly point of mainland UK when, rising majestically out of the calm depths, comes a Minke Whale…not the best photo, but its our Minke!!

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This sounds like we knew exactly what we were seeing, but we made an assumption (see below)…Our uncertainty does nothing to dispel the magic of the moment and we are all transfixed by this majestic creature cruising slowly northwards.

We have a double toast…to Ardnamurchan Point and to ‘our’ whale. The clouds lift and the final miles into Tobermory are a dream which could only be bettered by being able to sail…

We treat ourselves to a pontoon berth for the night with electricity hook-up, a ‘fix’ of wifi, water and some hot showers.

Seafood pasta on board is washed down with some of the Coop’s finest  and we put the world to rights on the back of the dregs of a bottle of scotch…a shame that the world wasn’t listening!!

An amazing gem and Rum…Thursday 25th and Friday 26th May

We wave goodbye to Skoling and with light winds make our way down the Sound of Sleat   heading towards the tiny Loch Scavaig as recommended for lunch stop by Brian and Anne.

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The entrance is tricky (especially with Lyn doing an impersonation of Kate Winslett) with lots of partly submerged rocks but we anchor in 3m almost completely surrounded by the towering peaks of the Cuillins.

There are parties of day trippers brought by small boats, but that doesn’t spoil the magic of this wild and desolate place. We walk up to Loch Coruisk past some waterfalls and find ourselves alone and in perfect peace….with only the gentle sound of our KitKat wrappers to disturb!

John does some “rock climbing” not to be out-done by Lyn in the naff impersonation stakes…

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The sail to Rum is glorious and not overly strenuous …

although over too soon and we cautiously nose towards the shallows with 20m of anchor chain at the ready. Our first attempt  at digging it in fails miserably and we bring up a huge gob (technical term) of mud and kelp. Some strenuous work with the boathook and a brush and we are ready for another try. This time it holds and we spend half an hour checking and re-checking bearings.

Eventually dinner, some scotch and scintillating conversation provide some reassurance that we’re going nowhere. A couple of other boats have followed us in and anchor in deeper water (presumably being without the comfort of our twin keels).

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“James…..JAMES” from Ashley at  2.30 in the morning brings a alarms going off and a worried face waking us wondering if we are about to crash into rocks. The alarms are right…we are in less than 1.7 m and we are 1.4m deep. What’s to worry…we’ve got 30cm to spare! The joy of a bilge keel boat is the relative freedom from depth anxiety (providing it is only mud below us). We turn off the alarms and return to the zzzs.

Rum is odd, but in a good way. In the morning we run ashore to discover showers, a bunkhouse/hostel and apparently 26 people living on the island. The grand old house/castle lies sadly unused these days…

even as a hotel it failed to thrive and the days when visitors were met by a fleet of Albion cars from the ferry are long gone. However there is a funny mix of almost alternative life-stylers here together with a little shop and post office and a community hall selling coffee and some freshly baked and still warm cakes. A poster advertises music tonight courtesy of Stoneage Jenga. We don’t know them but it sounds heavyish and thrashish enough to put off even us dedicated musos.

As we prepare to leave for Canna, the ferry arrives and at least 50-60 people get off (many with back packs) and a beat up old Mercedes van, presumably carrying Stoneage Jenga.

We watch the boat next to us failing to get their anchor up and then sending down their youngest and presumably most bidable person down to try to get a line on to release. Fortunately ours behaves and soon we are sailing out of the loch, leaving them still stuck firmly to the Rum shore.

The sail to Canna is a glorious reach at over 7kt in the sunshine and we even break out the sun cream. We’re not competitive….but we pull away from another boat not far behind ha! Canna is another tricky entrance, not at all obvious at first sight, but the harbour is simply stunning and soon we are rocking gently on a mooring and considering showers and dinner….

The harbour is actually between the islands of Sanday and Canna although there is a footbridge linking the two….built by the parish council to help children from Sanday get to school. There are also 3 churches/chapels…

Also with a population of just 26 we wonder what life on these islands outside the tourist season must be like. We are enjoying over 19 hours of daylight, but in the winter months…

The husband and wife owners of Café Canna run it during the season, and the rest of the time she is a graphic designer, able to work from home. Perhaps connectivity and on-line working/hi-tech could be the saviour of these very remote communities. We’ve booked ahead fortunately as it is full, but the food is great.

Just the tender to the boat is slightly heavier than when we started…

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Crew change…

We moaned about the Kyle facilities before and that hasn’t changed, but without a doubt the star of the show is Hughie  the pontoon manager who lives aboard his small motor cruiser there during the season. He is endlessly cheerful and helpful, always ready to take mooring lines and by the time we had landed he had already got 60L of diesel waiting for us. Great service, thanks Hughie.

The night is indeed rough but the morning brings some calmer weather and we meet Lyn and Ashley from the 11.30 train from Inverness, having travelled up on the sleeper. They must have crossed unseen paths with Chris in the night. With dreary drizzly weather we look around Kyle while waiting for the tide through Kyle Rhea…this doesn’t take long…sorry Kyle we wish you luck and better times.

We take the tide and sail for the first half an hour or so before turning into the inevitable headwind through Kyle Rhea. Even in the mist and gloom, the majesty of sailing between the imposing slopes of Skye on one side and the mainland on the other is inspiring. As the narrows open out, we get tantalising glimpses of peaks and glens which then disappear back into the gloom.

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Our destination tonight is Armedale on Skye where Brian and Anne are also waiting to meet us. They call us on VHF in the proper manner…”Heydays, Heydays Heydays this is the yacht Skoling, over.” This results in an immediate and  concerned  response from the Stornaway coastguard, before they realise that Heydays is a yacht and not a misheard emergency call. Perhaps we should change the name of our boat…

We spend a great evening with Brian and Anne who come over for some snacks, bringing with them a tin of Haggis which delights John and Yee Tak. They have written out for us a wonderful list of great anchorages (complete with details of un-published showers) and have taken such great care of us ever since we first met them in Peterhead last Autumn. We shall miss them as we trundle inexorably south and hope that they too will come south some time so we can repay their kindness.

Monday May 22. Planning is all very well….

The wind would take us easily to Stornaway and we are tempted to follow one of the other boats there in a blast up the Minch. However time and trains etc. so we plan a motor across the sound to have a look at Portree, before a nice fetch in a promised south westerly out of the sound and over to Plockton. The wind is strong and once out of our cosy inlet we start plugging a heavy sea building from the south. We hug the coast of Raasay for shelter before scuttling across to Portree.

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The intention is for a quick lunch then on….in the event, rainy squalls sweeping in across the mountains help us decide to stay in Portree and explore. Plenty of time to get the train from Kyle tomorrow!

 

Tuesday 23 May…What a glorious day to be alive…

The motor runs only briefly this morning, just to get us off the mooring (OK we could have sailed off…) and then we sail with a wonderful sou’westerly out from Portree, down past Raasay and then slipping across the top of Scalpay before the Skye bridge beckons once more. Just west of the bridge we join up our dots when we left Kyle with Chris just a few short days ago, having circumnavigated Raasay and Rona. Until now, most of our UK circumnavigation has been passage planning, but it has been great to have had a chance to just cruise and explore some of the most beautiful scenery  we have seen. Chris has said that at times it reminds her of her old homeland of British Columbia, with the starkness of both rock and wooded hills plunging into a (cold!) sea.

Footnote: This is being written as Chris begins the journey south again and we are trying to cheer John up with a particularly fine chocolaty dark beer.

Sunday May 21…Rona

We need to start making some general move towards our eventual date with a train at Kyle, but winds are all in the south (ish). Brian and Anne on Skoling have recommended Acarseid Mhor on Rona and we can at least get most of the way there under sail. A double reefed main and full genoa has Heydays shooting out of the Loch at over 7 knots in a steady force 5 with gusts across the deck over 30knots. We consider a smaller genny but Heydays is taking it all in her stride. Skye in front, Rona to port, the Hebrides off to starboard in the distance. Only occasionally does Heydays bury her nose in a breaker, then shake it off all over us in a glorious surge of speed and spray.

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The entry into the tiny harbour is tortuous and rocky, but inside all is peace and tranquillity with just another 4 boats already anchored.

The visitors mooring buoy is vacant and we pick it up for the night, glad to pay the £10 to the caretaker at the lodge. In the centre of the little inlet is an island, home to dozens of seals and a few birds. As the evening draws on, they muck about in the water and several come over and check us out  as we make our way back from a walk on Rona itself.

 

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There are only two people who live here, plus a couple of holiday cottages, one of which is occupied at the moment by the island’s owner (Mrs Jensen from Denmark). The track across the island is very hilly but 45 minutes gets us to the now abandoned settlement in the centre. One barn has been re-roofed in corrugated sheeting and has a few old artefacts and some newspaper cuttings together with some old pictures of the long-gone inhabitants. It has a rather sad feel in many ways and a reminder of how vulnerable the old ways of living are to modern pressures…not for us, but still a sense of loss.

On the way back to the boat, a red deer eyes us cautiously from among the trees, almost perfectly camouflaged in his domain. Of the rest of his herd (we assume he is not alone) there is no sign, although the Lodge sells freezer pack of venison…!

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This is truly a magical place and we feel lucky and privileged to be able to come here with just us and at most a dozen others on the island.

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