After a peaceful night at anchor in Kiloran Bay on Colonsay, I had a lazy morning waiting for the tide to turn in favour. When the time was right, I hoisted the main and sailed off the anchor. The tide gave me a good boost and it didn’t take long to get around the north end of Colonsay. The wind was supposed to swing around to allow me to then sail down the opposite side of Colonsay, but it never quite got all the way around. I was starting to tack, working my way to windward so I could stop at the main settlement on the island. But I’d also been here on holiday when I was a young lad, but I’d never been to Jura, so I scrapped the tacking and aimed for Jura instead. It was a fair distance off, but the wind and tide was in my favour, and I let the auto-helm do most of the work while I made some lunch.
It was a good day, and as I drew closer to Jura I could see some of the interesting geology the place is renowned for. There are tons of caves, and loads of raised beaches, which used to be at sea level, but are now considerably higher. I tacked my way into Loch Tarbert (yet another Tarbert…). This loch goes in quite far, almost all the way to the other side of the island, and there are quite a few rocks and islands to manoeuvre around. There are plenty of leading marks to help they wary navigator find his way.
I had thought about going all the way to the end, where I would get the benefit of the bilge keels in the drying “Top Pool”, but weighing up the weather, the tides, and what I actually wanted to do, I decided to stop halfway. The next day I went for a
jaunt up the hills and admired the scenery.
There were, however, a ferocious number of clegs around. I made sure to cover up, and made it through without any of them finding their target, but they sure tried. Every time I stopped to catch my breath I could see them silently rising from the heather en masse to make their attack.
It certainly kept me going. As a younger man, I used to tackle hills by just going straight up. I don’t know if it’s cause I’m getting older, or it’s the experience of sailing, but I’ve started taking the edge off by zig-zagging my way uphill. This is the way you’re supposed to do it, and it makes a difference. It just take a lot longer.
At the top, I had a good view of the Paps of Jura (no I haven’t been at sea for too long, that’s what they’re called).
Once again, I had taken some soap and spare clothes with me so I could use some of Scotland’s finest freshwater and have another wilderness wash. Luckily there weren’t many clegs about, but the midges certainly made themselves known.
The next day it was time to harness the wind and tide and get myself down to Islay. It was a good run going down the Sound of Islay; with the tide pushing me along I was making 9 knots for most of it. This was another great day’s sailing where I got to go along on every point of sail, finally tacking upwind to get into Islay Harbour. I had wanted to anchor, but it didn’t look very suitable and it was due to get pretty windy soon, so I took a berth on one the pontoons.
On the sail here I went past three whisky distillery’s in a row, each one of them I could have anchored in front of, but decided not to. Now I wished I had, as I made the trek along the road for a visit. I don’t have a particularly refined whisky palate, the stuff is so damn expensive I can’t afford to drink enough to figure out which one I like best. But you’re not a real man unless you have a favourite single malt, so with that in mind I went along to the Lagavulin distillery to see how much a bottle cost. £57 pounds for the standard one as it turns out. Bugger that. This is why I favour the second cheapest bottle out of Lidl (£14, but a *sniff* blended whisky). Turns out though, that the Lidl’s budget bottle won a “world’s best” award! Of course I mentioned none of this to the people in the distillery, but made sure to get myself one of the complimentary drams and retreat to the “reading room”.
There were some interesting books to peruse while I nursed my dram of whisky as long as was reasonable. One book on Canna had a pretty good take on the prison/castle/thing that I had climbed up.
It was a long walk back to the boat, but what a stunning day it was. It was going to be foul weather the next day, but it was hard to believe on a day like this. I had to remind myself of the adage “the calm before the storm”.
Sure enough, the next day it was foul, so I spent most of it indoors, typing these blog posts and enjoying the shower. I was a bit concerned by the long term forecast as it looked like the foul weather was going to continue for 4 days, and I really didn’t want to spend that time tied up to a pontoon, as I’d rack up quite a bill. Luckily, the weather eased up for the morning of one of those days so I seized the opportunity and headed south for Rathlin Island, just off the northern coast of Northern Ireland. It was a fairly drab journey done mostly on the engine. There was some pretty impressive swell ruling through, and with the huge tidal currents to be found around here, I had to point the boat considerably further to the side of where I actually wanted to go.
Eventually I got round to the southern side of the island where the shelter was, admiring the scenery on the way. According to the almanac, there is a spot to anchor inside the outer breakwaters of the harbour here. When I arrived, I floated around a bit scratching my head in puzzlement as I tried to figure out where it was, cause there seemed to be a great big ferry in the way. It turns out, that the almanac either wasn’t updated very well, or they build new ferry terminals real quick in these parts. Either way, the spot I wanted to anchor in was occupied, so there was nothing for it but to take up another pontoon berth. I pondered how my bank balance was doing as I secured the warps. The main reason I had made the dash here was to avoid racking up bills in Islay, but here I was again on another pontoon, and it was even more expensive here! Well there wasn’t much for it, the weather was coming in, and I’d have to stay put for a
couple of days.
I spent my time here walking around the clifftops, having a few pints in the pub, and sheltering from the weather. I was treated to a pretty impressive aerial display by a pair of peregrine falcons, and looked for choughs, but didn’t find any. I also watched the ferocious overfalls that form around the island when the tide is running, and made sure to carefully work out when I would leave so as to not get
caught in the whirlpool of Slough-na-more.
Once again, I was up pretty early to catch the tide. I wanted to sail down to the Isle of Coll, and the forecasted wind wasn’t particularly strong so I thought I’d use the tide as much as possible. I sailed off the anchor, threading my way between the other anchored boats, the occupants of most I think were still fast asleep. There wasn’t a lot of wind, but enough and I did about 2 knots quietly gliding through the harbour. Once I’d gotten around Rum it was a broad reach all the way to Coll and with the winds being light, I decided to hoist the cruising chute. This was only the second time I’d ever used it, but I managed to get it up and running without too much trouble. The conditions were perfect for it, I was making an average of about 3.5 knots and it is was easy going.
At one point some minke whales appeared quite close to the boat. This was the first time I’d seen them on the trip, and the first time I’d ever seen them up close. It was quite a surprise and also one of the few times I spoke to myself, exclaiming in words that aren’t suitable for print. I also saw a pair of dolphins racing through the water, clearly on a mission. I wondered what they were up to and scanned the area ahead of them and saw a couple of porpoises surfaced and reckoned the dolphins were going over to give them a hard time, which they are known to do. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful until I started to get close to Coll and was wondering about taking down the chute.
I decided to keep it flying to get through a gap between the north end of Coll and some off-lying rocks, although this meant pointing the boat more downwind and it was a precise business trying to steer for the gap whilst also not pointing so far downwind that the mainsail’s wind shadow would collapse the chute. Once I made it through, I turned further into the wind and then the boat was rocketing along. Then the wind started to pick up. I wondered again about taking down the chute, but I was making good speed and some other yachts had converged behind me, all headed the same way. They were all much bigger and I quite liked being out in front, although I noted I was the only one flying a spinnaker. The gusts were increasing now and the boat was becoming difficult to control. In hindsight I should have already taken the chute down but instead pressed on, enjoying the speed. Very quickly though, the boat was heeling over alarmingly and virtually sailing sideways, so I decided to take it down in a hurry. Stupidly, I forgot to undo the little bit of string that held the excess halyard coil, and so when I let off the halyard, it jammed. Then I let off the tackline and that jammed too (cheap rope). Then I let off the sheet to try and pull the whole thing in, but ended up with the chute flying literally like a kite, way out on the end of the ropes.
I grabbed the rigging knife and was about to cut the halyard because I just wanted the damn thing free so I could pull the spinnaker in, but I paused. If I cut the halyard, the whole thing would run through the block at the top of the mast, leaving me unable to fly the spinnaker again without another trip up the mast to thread it back through. I went up the mast in May before leaving Plymouth and I didn’t fancy going back up there again. Instead, I cut the string holding the coil, and managed to free up the tangle before the lot whipped through my hands. Now the spinnaker collapsed and started flapping about like a flag in a hurricane. I was surprised at how far away it was. Since it wasn’t filling, I could pull it in and bundle it down through the hatch. Suddenly everything was much calmer.
As I was collecting myself, I noticed the other boats sailing right past me, and I felt somewhat embarrassed about the spectacle I had just treated them to, but it must have at least been good entertainment for them. After this mayhem, I unfurled the genoa and then it was a relatively straightforward sail to the anchorage off Arinagour in Loch Eatharna. The wind had picked up quite a bit by now and I was happy to be safely anchored.
The next day I had breakfast surrounded by seals, typed up one of these blogs and decided to hire a bike to explore the island. Naturally, I wanted to get my money’s worth so I cycled just about everywhere. It was sweaty work on a hot day but I found a beach, which I had all to myself and went for a swim, which was fantastic.
I had been to Coll on holiday when I was a kid, and snippets of it were coming back to me, but mostly I just remembered the general look of the place. It’s like each of the Hebridean Islands has it’s own unique character which makes it different to the others. Coll is very low lying and rocky, with plenty of white sandy beaches.
That evening I went to the ceilidh in the local town hall. It wasn’t what I was hoping for though, ended up being more like a school dance and whilst chatting to a few folk, I lost my voice pretty quickly. Having not spoken out loud a great deal lately, I think my vocal chords were surprised at being used in a noisy place.
The weather was good the next day, but without much wind. Still, I wanted to move on so it was on with the engine and up with the anchor. As I was motoring my way south, I heard on the radio another yacht nearby was asking the coastguard for assistance as their engine had broken down and there was no wind for sailing. There was quite a bit of tide running and they were drifting at 2 knots, but a local powerboat heard the call and obliged them with a lift back to one of moorings. I imagine this is the situation I would have been in when I left Oban, if I hadn’t had the outboard engine to fall back on.
I was bound for the southern end of Mull, but I made a couple of stops on the way there. The first was a small group of islands called the Treshnish Isles. They are known for their seabirds and made a nice pit stop. I was surprised to see a few Puffins still here coming and going from their burrows, since I hadn’t seen many elsewhere. Some of them were starting to lose the colours in their bills as they change into their winter plumage after the breeding season. I could get pretty close to them, and there was also a family of Shags nesting right next to the path which didn’t seem fussed about me at all.
The tide was starting to run pretty strongly between the islands and it was a tough row back out to the mothership. Underway again, it wasn’t long before I made another stop, at Staffa Island. I’d never been here before, but it has to be one of the most famous of the Hebridean islands thanks to its weird looking basalt columns and Fingal’s Cave, famed for it’s acoustics. There was quite a bit of swell at the landing stage, as usual I suspect, and it is a very poor place to anchor so I didn’t go ashore for long. I had the place all to myself though, which meant I could go right into Fingal’s Cave and give it the old Pavarotti routine to test out the acoustics. Even with my hoarse vocal chords, the echoey sounds were impressive.
Some wind had developed so I could sail the final leg of the journey towards the Ross of Mull. I was trying to decide where to spend the night. Initially I was going to stay on the north side, but the tide was in my favour for going through the Sound of Iona, or at least part of it. The tide runs pretty strongly through here and it requires some careful navigation right in the middle, so I compromised and went partly into the sound before turning off into a little spot called Bull Hole. It was pretty windy overnight and the following morning, and it was one of those grey miserable days when I awoke. It would have been nice to visit Iona, but the weather wasn’t really suitable for it, and I’m not that fussed about old religious buildings anyway so I set off for Colonsay. Upon exiting the Sound of Iona, there is a proliferation of treacherous half hidden rocks known as the Torran Rocks and looking at the charts, it’s the stuff of nightmares. I gave them all a wide berth and the wind was on the nose again, so it was a dull morning motoring through the greyness.
Eventually I was clear of the rocks and pointed the right way for raising sail. It was pretty slow going though so I tried a bit of fishing with the paravane that Mick gave me (thanks again!) but just ended up catching seaweed.
It was a really slow day. After what felt like an eternity, I was at last approaching Kiloran Bay on the north end of Colonsay and things started to pick up. A bit more wind developed, so I picked up some speed, and then a pod of bottlenose dolphins joined me.
Looking back, I noticed I had also hooked a fish! I think the dolphins were hunting mackerel, they seemed to be chasing something into the bay, and this is probably why I caught one. It made up for a pretty boring day. Once I had anchored, I watched the dolphins for a bit. They seemed to be herding the fish into a corner of the bay where some rocks formed a sort of bottleneck which must have concentrated the shoal. I chopped a couple of fillets from the mackerel for dinner, and very tasty they were too.
Having decided to not stay a second night in Loch na Culce, I fired up the engine and negotiated my way back out past the lurking menace of hidden rocks. My next destination was the small island of Soay, only 3 miles away. I stuck quite close in to the base of the mountains on my way there, and seeing as there was virtually no wind, there were no violent squalls to contend with. There was also no reason to raise sail so I motored the whole way. I spotted a couple of sea eagles perched on the rocks quite low down, and struggled to take a photo of them, not easy when you’re holding a phone to a pair of binoculars bouncing around on a little boat, so I won’t be winning any wildlife photography contests.
Soay is an interesting place, with another tricky entrance into the natural harbour over a small bar which dries at low spring tides. Helpfully there are some leading line makers to allow for the perfect entry. Safely inside, I dropped anchor and relaxed in
the knowledge that the boat was safe in here.
One reason I chose to come here was due to the derelict shark factory set up here in the 1940s by Gavin Maxwell, of aforementioned Ring of Bright Water fame. This guy has a reputation as a hero of wildlife, but apparently back in the day when he tried to turn the hunting of basking sharks into a commercial industry; the waters in this harbour used to turn red and the place stank with the corpses of festering sharks. It sounded pretty brutal, not least because basking sharks are supposed to be pretty hard to kill and he tried out all sorts of “techniques” including opening up on them with a WW2 machine gun. Fortunately for the sharks, the business failed and he moved away to go play with otters, but there is still some of the old equipment lying around to see, and the ruins of the former HQ. It was pretty strange picturing the place back when there was hustle and bustle, but it feels kind of eerie today. Apparently the bar across the entrance to the harbour was part of the reason the enterprise failed due to the
restrictions on when boats could enter.
I was surprised to hear some voices nearby, and at first I thought they were in my head, but then suddenly 4 gore-tex clad old ladies emerged from the bracken. Turns out they had come from one of the small “adventure” cruise ships that are based in the Hebrides, which I think only take 12 passengers and which was anchored on the other side of the island. We got to talking, and it turned out they had been out to St Kilda, where I used to work, and they were outraged by the large cruise ships that visit there, depositing boat loads of tourists onto the island. They didn’t seem to recognise the irony in that they were doing exactly the same thing, but on a much smaller, more exclusive and presumably much more expensive
I was up early the next morning to catch the tide out over the harbour bar. My destination was the island of Canna, but I wanted to make a quick stop at an interesting archaeology site, called Rubh an Dunain, also known as the “Viking canal”. This is a small freshwater loch which is connected to the sea by a small man-made canal which is potentially very old indeed. If the tide had been all the way in, I could have just about rowed my dinghy all the
way to the loch.
As I was leaving here the wind was just starting to appear, so I decided to sail off the anchor. I ended up on the wrong tack, headed straight into the shore. The wind was very light, and tried tacking before I had much speed on, which failed, and instead of putting the engine on, I held course straight for the rocks ahead to build up enough speed to get through the tack and then sail away out of the bay. It was still a little early and I was a bit groggy, but the little hit of adrenaline got me going. I set course for Canna, but it was pretty slow going, and frustrating at times as the wind never really got going and I eventually resorted to using the engine. It was pretty grey throughout and the visibility was down to about 2 miles so I couldn’t admire the scenery. As I drew closer, it started to lift and I could see Canna ahead.
Canna has a great anchorage in a nice natural harbour with good holding in sand, so as usual I ignored the mooring buoys. Just as I dropped the anchor the heavens opened up and I thought myself lucky as I retreated down below just in time. A couple of hours later it was suddenly nice and sunny so I went ashore for a look about. There is this pretty cool old castle type structure on a little rocky hill that may have been built as a sort of prison by some old noble guy back in the day for his wife, who he was very….protective of.
The whole thing is starting to look pretty precarious perched up there and some of the masonry has clearly dislodged and rolled down the slope, and the path leading up to it is not for the faint hearted. I wondered if I should have gone up, when it
was time to come back down.
The next day was sunny and windless so I went for a walk up in the hills. It’s steep, but the ground is easy to walk on due to all the grazing. There used to be a lot of rats on Canna, which had decimated the seabird population but a few years ago they brought in some experts from New Zealand to clear them all out (the rats, not the birds). One side effect of this was an explosion in the rabbit population, which now have to be controlled. But it makes for nice short grass which is pretty easy underfoot. The views from up top were of course stunning, especially on a day like this. There was a pair of Golden Eagles hanging around as well, I think they sent most of the day grounded seeing as there was very little wind.
In the evening I rowed over to the island of Sanday which forms the other half of the harbour, and strolled over to the cliffs to see if there were any puffins about. There were a few, but most had left the colony it seems. There were, however, plenty of Great Skuas aka Bonxies about, and I remember these guys well from my time on St Kilda. There must be no other animal in the UK more brazen than these birds. The defence of their territory is unrelenting, and if you wander anywhere near one, you are in for an onslaught of aerial terror. They are pretty big, and when they come tearing down from above in a steep dive like a stuka divebomber, you really feel like maybe we aren’t the top of the food chain after all. That being said, they generally don’t make contact, especially if you maintain eye contact with them on the final approach. Although I have been thumped pretty good in the past. Best just make sure you’re not stood near a cliff edge when they attack.
All in all, it had been a pretty exceptional week, but it was time to put in some miles southwards. I would have liked to explore some of the other small isles of Muck, Eigg and Rum, but I thought I’d better give myself a big margin for error in case I end up getting weatherbound.
Sailing away from Arisaig there was a heatwave
forecast, not that there was any indication of it where I was.
I was also expecting the winds to be fairly light so I hadn’t deflated and stowed the dinghy. I regretted this later. Passing back through the rocky channel I realised the winds were quite a bit stronger than forecast, but carried on under full sail nonetheless. I soon hove-to and put a reef in, and even then I was picking up more speed than I was happy with, having the dinghy in tow. The sea was steep as well and the dinghy began ploughing nose down into the waves and getting awash. I tried playing with the lengths of the two painters, but this wasn’t very successful and I was concerned about the integrity of the attachment points on the dinghy itself, so I hove-to again and deflated the dinghy, unceremoniously stuffing it into the cockpit; I didn’t fancy rolling it up to stow it on the foredeck in these conditions. With the dinghy safely onboard in an un-seamanlke manner, I was a bit more relaxed and carried on, but soon I had to put in another reef as it was starting to blow real hard. There was much alarmingly loud flapping of sails and I felt a bit overwhelmed but got things settled down and soon the worst of it passed, just as I was drawing level with Mallaig on my way north into the Sound of Sleat. I had decided that I would go up to Plockton, and that this would be my most northerly destination, then it would be time to turn back.
I sailed past Knoydart, which is an area I’ve always wanted to go explore, but never have, on account of it being really hard to get to. It’s the only part of the UK mainland that you can’t get to by car; i.e. it has roads, they are just not connected to the rest of the UK road network, you have to go by boat. I pondered this as I sailed right past.
I was unsure where to stay for the night, and had considered stopping at Sandaig, which is the setting of the book Ring of Bright Water, but when I arrived there it was still pretty early in the day, and with my September deadline in mind, I decided to press on and get as far that day as possible, especially as the tide was in my favour. I ended going right up into East Loch Alsh, passing a few mountains I had climbed in the past when working for the RSPB, looking for ring ouzels. I’d had decent wind for the 20+ miles from Arising to Loch Alsh, but when I arrived in the loch, I was in the wind shadow of the mountains, so I made pretty slow progress inching eastwards. It had been a long day, so I decided to crack open a lukewarm one.
I decided I’d anchor in a little spot called Totaig, it
sounded nice from the description in the Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions.
On my way there, I started to feel itchy, which soon turned painful; my back
started to really sting. Feeling around, wondering what the hell was going on,
it seems a little flying red ant had somehow gotten down the back of my shirt
and promptly went to town.
Happily, the stinging sensation didn’t last long, and I
was soon back to looking at the scenery as I worked towards the end of the
I picked my spot and dropped anchor. It had been a long
day, but I had a quick row to the shore and a look around before I made some
dinner, can’t remember what, and then turned in.
The next day I was determined to make Plockton so I set
off, and there was a fair bit of wind to use. Around the mountains, it can be
quite flaky, coming and going and some pretty severe squalls can come out of
A further obstacle in Loch Alsh seems to be a wild
proliferation of lobster pots everywhere, I’ve never seen so many in one place,
it was like doing a slalom. But they are well marked. In fact, ever since
getting around Land’s End, I haven’t seen a single one marked with a
half-submerged invisible float, milk bottle or black buoy. I soon had to put a
reef in as I made my way past Kyle. I had wanted to stop here for a shower, but
the conditions didn’t favour anchoring so I just continued through the Skye
Bridge, hoping there would be some in Plockton
I looked on the bridge fondly as I passed, remembering from past adventures when I was hitchhiking through here and slept under the bridge one
night like a hobo. Anyway, once I was away from the mountains I could turn
downwind and things were quite smooth from then on.
At this time of year, all the guillemots have fledged
off the cliffs; the male parents call the young ones into the water from below,
which they obey by jumping off the cliff before they even have their adult
plumage, so they can’t fly. After landing with a plop, they then go out to sea
with their dads to learn how to fish. Now as I sailed along, I was seeing tons
of these father-son bonding trips.
I arrived in Plockton, and naturally, anchored up. I
rowed ashore and looked around trying to find the spot where a photo was taken
of me as a wee nipper. Finding the spot, I tried to recreate it, but I was
balancing my phone on my bag, which was balanced on the dinghy, and it kept
falling over and wasn’t easy.
Some bloke was looking at me in puzzlement as I
struggled with the composition. I got chatting to him, he was a local, and we
shot the shit for a while, but most importantly he told where to get a shower.
Bizarrely, there is a gin bar which has a shower that sailors can use, for a
small fee of £5.
Feeling refreshed, I had a beer, and then went for a
look around. I can’t remember anything from my time here as a bairn, but I do
recognise some landmarks from the classic 90s TV show Hamish Macbeth, although
strangely the village of Plockton doesn’t seem to be capitalising on it like
New Zealand with Lord of the Rings.
I had no real reason to stay in Plockton, and I started
to get that feeling you get as a child when you climb too far up a tree and
realise you’ve got somehow get back down. It’s a long way back to Plymouth.
Plus, the heatwave was beginning, and I’d prefer to be out sailing where I can
get a cooling breeze. So off I sailed, pulling up an inordinate amount of
seaweed with the anchor, to the alarm of some Frenchies who had anchored
nearby, presumably also being too tight to pay the morning fees.
It was a fantastic start to the day, and the sailing
was easy. It occurred to me that this was the first time I was retracing my
steps (apart from when I was sailing very badly upwind), however I think on my
southwards journey I’ll go almost the whole way without revisiting any place I
stopped at on the way up, with a couple of exceptions perhaps, like Newlyn.
Although maybe I’ll go to Penzance instead, cause they are rip-off merchants in
I almost managed to sail back through the Skye Bridge,
but there wasn’t quite enough wind so it was on with the engine, just for the
bottleneck. Once I was through there was enough wind again, in fact I soon had
to put another reef in and then I had to pick my way through the minefield of lobster
pots. Approaching the entrance to Kyle Rhea, the tide was starting to run, and
I shot through here like nobody’s business.
That night, I anchored up in Isleornsay and then the following day made my way back down through the Sound of Sleat.
Unfortunately the wind was not in my favour, nor the
tide, and I had a hard time of it tacking back and forth across the sound,
trying to find the most favourable angle of wind, which kept shifting about.
I refused to put the engine on and eventually made it
round the point to head downwind on the other side of the peninsula, bound for
the Cuillins. Only now, the wind disappeared, because of course it had. So it
was on with the engine. Then it came back, then went. This went on for a while,
but I managed to goosewing most of the way there.
I was heading for Loch Scavaig, for a spectacular anchorage that I had seen before, years before I was into boats, when I was doing the RSPB job up in the mountains.
I remember looking down on this place from above and
thinking how nice it would be to visit in a boat. And now here I was! As I drew
closer however, the wind seemed to get funnelled in by the mountains and it was
getting pretty strong. The anchorage itself is called Loch na Cuilce, and the admiralty
chart isn’t a great deal of help here, although the pertinent rocks are marked
on it. The chart in the CCC book is better, but I was still nervous about it,
especially as the wind was pushing me along even with the sails down.
The most important thing is to stick close in to the islet on the final entrance as there are submerged rocks in the middle of what appears to be the
entrance. I only had a rough idea of where they were, so I kept well over
towards the islet.
I was dubious about the feasibility of this anchorage given the current conditions. The wind was blasting right in and there was a bit of swell running too, but there was another yacht already in there, and from watching it’s mast against the backdrop of mountains, it didn’t appear to be bouncing around much at all so I went for it. And as I got round the corner, I found the water to be pretty smooth and the wind wasn’t too bad, and forecast to only get better anyway. And what a dramatic place to anchor!
I promptly blew up the dinghy and went ashore, to have a look around, but mostly to take photos. The geography of this place is pretty unique; in amongst the mountains close to the sea loch there is a freshwater loch, and there is a very short little river through which drains into the sea.
It was still pretty windy and I thought I might get
blown off a cliff trying to take more photos, so I retreated to the boat. There
was a very unbothered deer browsing the shoreline.
By this time, the rocks in the entrance were showing in
the falling tide, so I could get a good look at where they lay. A visiting
yacht the following day would have probably paid good money for such a view, as
will soon be demonstrated…
The following morning the other yacht that was sharing
the anchorage with me departed, and for a brief while I had the place to
I wanted to get a bit of exercise so I got my hiking
boots on and off I went up one the mountains. It was a bit more overcast than
the day before and soon started to rain, but that didn’t bother me much, at
least I wouldn’t overheat. There were a few deer on the way, which again either
weren’t bothered by my presence, or were far enough upwind to not realise I was
overdue for another shower.
Before long, I got to the top, although the cloud cover
was pretty low and I couldn’t see a whole lot. I could however make out the
anchorage, and I could see another yacht arriving. They appeared to be heading
straight for the middle of the entrance, which I thought a poor decision
considering the presence of rocks, but I could see they had people on the bow
and the rocks looked like they were showing; I could certainly see them from
But they didn’t alter course, and they went slowly, but
seemingly deliberately, straight into the rocks. It was a pretty big boat, so
maybe the messages didn’t get back to the helm in time. Whatever the reason,
they went back out, then came back in successfully, and anchored, no damage
done it appeared, at least that’s what they said when I spoke to them later.
I didn’t have much in the way of a packed lunch, just a
tin of stuffed vine leaves from my favourite budget supermarket.
Unlike the day before, there was barely a breath of wind, and of all places, it was on top of this mountain that the midges finally appeared. I had been getting concerned that I wasn’t getting the full Scotland experience, after all I had barely even seen a midge since I entered Scottish waters and I was wondering what had happened to the country since I had been away. I wasn’t very well prepared for a day out in the mountains, but one thing I did have with me was a midge net.
By the time I had gotten back down I was pretty well soaked through, but still wanted to have a wash, in the loch. I had brought a towel and clean clothes etc. although it seemed a bit pointless using them seeing as I would just get soaked again anyway, but I took the opportunity to go for a dip and wash off the funk.
Feeling invigorated, I headed back to the boat and rustled
up some dinner. It was only about mid-afternoon, so I decided to move on
instead of staying for a second night.
I’ll have to put the rest of the week in another blog
post, as this has turned into a rather long one, but hopefully it will appease
Jake who has been on at me for an update like an angry news editor.
I had pretty much already decided in my head a while
ago, but hadn’t yet admitted it to myself, that I would not circumnavigate. The
main reason for this was that I’d rather spend the time sailing around the
Hebrides than going down the East Coast. I would have liked to have gone
through the Caledonian Canal, but I’ve been along the Great Glen a few times
before, and it doesn’t hold a huge amount of interest for me, and I got a good
experience going through the Crinan Canal, so it didn’t seem worth it. And
while there are plenty of cool places to see on the East Coast, I think there’s
far more places that I would just be impatiently sailing past on the long
journey home. I think I always knew this was a likely outcome, ever since I’d
changed my mind about the initial decision to sail anti-clockwise; the main
reason for going clockwise was that I would get to the best bit (west coast
Scotland) more directly. And if sailing around Britain was an important
achievement for me, I’d rather do it via Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth, and
perhaps I’ll do that another time.
So with the decision made, it was time to get
exploring, and after leaving Oban I pointed to port and made for Loch Spelve on
Mull. Luckily I’d put my socks on the right feet that morning…
I wanted to go to Loch Spelve because it looked interesting on the map, being a large sea loch with a very narrow entrance, surrounded by hills, and I wanted get off the boat and stretch my legs with some hillwalking. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. As I was struggling to catch what little wind there was, and not making much progress, I eventually gave in and turned the ignition. But after a while, the engine suddenly sputtered and died. This being the first time that had happened, my heart sank.
But there was no immediate concern, I had plenty of sea room and it was almost getting towards a Force 0, so I fired up the outboard and turned back. Luckily it wasn’t far to a convenient place to anchor, so I dropped the hook in Oitir Mhor Bay and got to work dismantling the companionway steps to access the engine and figure out what happened. Further attempts to restart the engine had failed: it would turn over on the starter motor but wouldn’t fire. However, after leaving it a short while, it would fire up, but then immediately die again, so I though it was a fuel supply problem. I checked the filters which seemed fine, and after doing what I always do when stumped (check the internet) it seemed that maybe it was an airlock in the fuel line. So I bled the fuel lines and sure enough the engine then ran fine. So there must be a small leak somewhere allowing air in. I fiddled with some of the connections, and tightened the hose clips, but I’m unsure if it fixed it. Time will tell I suppose, but now I have developed trust issues with “old
By the time I’d put everything back together, it was evening so I just stayed put for the night. The next day the wind had swung round and the now the tide was against me, so after a brave but futile attempt to tack towards Loch Spelve, I had to admit defeat and so turned around and headed for the Sound of Mull. I had a quick stop at Duart Bay and had a jaunt ashore, but there wasn’t a great deal to see. Then I moved on to Scallastle Bay and anchored again, the reason I picked this spot is that nearby there were some hills I could climb. There is also a tern colony on the shore, so the place was pretty busy with bird life. The next day brought some pretty foul weather so I ended up staying inside the boat all day. Unfortunately, I was dismayed to find my gas bottle had been all used up and so I had to make do with cold food, and thus a good time was had by all. The boat isn’t big enough to carry a spare, and I was caught off guard by how quickly I had gone through the stuff. There was nowhere nearby to restock so I would just have to wait. In the meantime I set to work trying to fix the autopilot, as I had personally helmed every single nautical mile ever since entering Milford Haven.
The insides of the autopilot looked fine, but I had to
admit I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and so just put it back together,
although I did realise that the little rubber drive belt had stretched and the
teeth were slipping on the cog, which is where the annoying clicking sound was
coming from. I’d like to replace it, although at nearly £30 for a replacement
off the internet it would have to wait. The next day the weather hadn’t
improved much and the wind change was threatening to make the anchorage
untenable so I decided to shift to Loch Aline. The topography of the Sound of Mull
is such that the wind tends to funnel into it and follow the channel, and with
the wind coming from an almost perpendicular angle I thought it must be about
50/50 whether it funnelled north or south. Of course, it funnelled South,
because I wanted to go North. So once more I tacked upwind and went flying into
Loch Aline on the flood tide and found a spot to anchor. The following day, the
cloud cover had lifted and the rain had ceased so I got ashore to stretch my
legs and strolled up the nearby hill. By the time I got to the top, the weather
had improved markedly and I got a nice view from the top.
I had failed to drink enough water though, to
counteract the sudden decrease in the volume of tea I was consuming since the
gas ran out, so by the time I got back down I was severely dehydrated and had
the mother of all headaches. It was really hot and muggy and I was getting a
bit of hayfever and when I got back to the boat, was thinking to myself that going
ashore isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
When I set off the next day my headache still hadn’t
abated which was unusual, considering the amount of water and paracetamol I had
taken. Maybe it was caffeine withdrawal? The previous day had been the first
day I could remember, perhaps the first day in my entire adult life, when I had
not had a cup of tea. Anyway the wind wasn’t great and I couldn’t be bothered
struggling to fight against it so I just motored up the sound, slumped in the
cockpit feeling sorry for myself.
Thankfully, whatever I had done to the autopilot had fixed it, so it did the helming for me. Eventually I made it to Tobermory and mustered the energy to squeeze into about the only spot in the harbour not taken up by moorings, to drop the anchor. I went ashore and, seeing the length of the queue at the chippy, went into Co-op for some more reduced price bargains. It was too late to get a replacement gas bottle so I just got a bunch of cold sandwiches for dinner and a can of Irn-Bru for a quick hit of caffeine and turned in for the night, still with a pounding headache.
In the morning the headache had finally started to ease
up a bit, so it was another sandwich for breakfast, then a walk around
Tobermory followed by a glorious 6 minute shower at the harbour master
building, which doubles as toilet block and aquarium, oddly. The aquarium is
really small, but it runs on a catch and release basis which means that their
livestock is only there for 4 weeks before being released. Local fishermen are
the main suppliers of new livestock, it’s a pretty simple setup, with water
being provided fresh from the sea outside on a flow-through arrangement with no
Before leaving Plymouth, I had managed to source a couple of second hand copies of the Clyde Cruising Club’s sailing directions for the west coast, but I was missing the one that covers everything north of Ardnamurchan Point, which is where I was headed next. Luckily, Tobermory has a small chandlery, with just such a publication available for purchase. Though it pained me to pay full price for a brand new one, I handed over my hard-earned; after all there is a ton of information inside and it didn’t cost much more than the price of staying one night on the pontoons here, and with my penchant for free anchoring, I reasoned that I’d so far saved enough on mooring costs to warrant this expenditure.
I remember being in Tobermory years before, and had foggy memories of the chippy being good, award-winning in fact, so I made sure to visit before leaving. However, I should have known better, as in my experience whenever a place, especially a chippy, is known as “award-winning”, it’s always rubbish. The chips from the dirty, greasy, nameless and poorly advertised places that all look the same, are always far superior. After my portion of dry, flavourless chips, and re-stocked with veggies and Calor gas, I weighed anchor and sailed off once more into the Sound of Mull, bound for Ardnamurchan Point. And once more, the wind was right in my face. A couple of hours later after some real lengthy tacks back and forth across the sound, I reached for the engine starter and took the direct approach.
There was no drama as I passed around the most westerly point of the Scottish mainland, and soon I was heading in for the next anchorage- Sanna Bay. Many years before, I had been at the lighthouse on Ardnamurchan Point, and I remember seeing through a telescope, in the waters close by, several basking sharks, dolphins and a minke whale. Today however, there was bugger all to be seen. From the CCC sailing directions, Sanna Bay is understood to be a delightful sandy bay, but on the day I was there, it was grey and the wind was onshore, so I can’t say my night at anchor there was delightful, but it was uneventful and I was off again first thing in the morning. The wind was forecast to get quite vigorous in the afternoon, so I wanted to get to my next destination in good time. There is an abundance of options along this stretch of coastline, and I wanted to put in some distance northwards, but also not to stay out too long and get caught in the strong wind, so I settled on Loch nan Ceall, which is by Arisaig, along the railway line from Fort William to Mallaig that the Flying Scotsman steam train runs on (it’s got the Harry Potter bridge along it somewhere). I had been camping here when I was young, but all I can remember of it is midges, cleg bites and getting lost.
The entrance requires some care, for obvious reasons
when you look at the chart, but in reality if you follow the instructions in
the CCC and aren’t a complete idiot, it’s not too bad. Although once through
the rocky channel, there are still plenty of submerged rocks in the bay to be
mindful of inside the loch itself.
The following day, gale force winds were forecast from the south so I headed to the bottom portion of the loch, known as Stuart’s Bay, to find a spot to anchor. I went for a walk ashore, although the bad weather was just starting to arrive and it was a wet, wild and windy walk. Through the night and the following day the winds were fierce, and being in the loch meant shelter from waves, but the wind was howling into the loch, and the boat was yawing around something terrible. Before leaving Plymouth, one of the many items on my to-do list was to make an anchor sail to help keep the boat pointing into the wind, but alas, I ran out of time. Anyway the wind wasn’t alarming, just distracting, and toward the end of the following day it had decreased considerably, and in the early evening disappeared completely, allowing me to go for another stroll ashore.
I couldn’t be bothered carrying the dinghy up the shore and was a bit cavalier in tying off the painter; I just wanted to get off the boat after
spending the previous 24 hours cooked up inside.
Another factor in my decision to not go down the East
Coast was that I was considering going to Australia in September to join Ness
who is going down under for a conference. This had been scheduled for a while
now, and I had been umming and aahing about it, but finally I made the decision
to do it, so while floating about at anchor in Loch nan Ceall I took the
opportunity to use the good phone signal and troll through countless flight
options on the various comparison websites and eventually booked my tickets. So
now I have a deadline to meet, I have to be back by the end of the first week
After riding out some bad weather at anchor in Lamlash Bay it was time to move on. It was another great sail to get over to Little Cumbrae. So far the sailing in Scotland was really good. I think being in the Clyde allowed for plenty of wind but sheltered the water from the Atlantic swell and the worst of the tides. And once again the wind swung around and allowed me to sail the whole way close hauled on one tack.
Arriving off the island I found a great little
anchorage, and with the dinghy in tow it was easy to pop ashore for a look
On the other side of the island there is an old
abandoned lighthouse that I looked about inside, even going right up into the
bit where the light used to be, although there’s nothing much left on the inside.
It was pretty hot work and by the time I got back to
the boat, I could do with a swim to cool off, but there were just too many
jellyfish about to take it appealing. I’ve been seeing tons of jellyfish everywhere,
seems like more than usual.
After recovering from a touch of hayfever, I had a bit
to eat and then rowed to the little island with the castle standing on it. I
read that it was originally built to prevent poaching, although it seems a bit
over the top for that sort of thing. Whatever its purpose, it wasn’t doing it
anymore, and it was pretty cool to look around inside. It was generally in
pretty good nick and the sort of place you would normally have to pay to enter.
Apparently this anchorage can be prone to bad swell
rolling in, but luckily it was fine while I was there and I had a peaceful
night. There was even an entertaining seal playing with/ trying to mount a
I was due another visit from my parents the following
day, meeting up in Millport on the island of Big Cumbrae, so in the morning I
motored into the bay and picked up a visitors mooring.
We had a nice day looking about. There isn’t much to say about this place, it’s just a nice little picturesque town by the sea. The entrance requires some care due to proliferation of rocky islets in the bay, and there is the option of anchoring although the number of moorings makes this tricky so I just tied up to a visitor buoy. One thing of note: Millport is home to the world’s narrowest house!
Soon it was time for my parents to get the bus home. I
spent the night on the mooring, and the following day Ness was coming up to see
me so I went into Largs Marina and got the train to Glasgow airport to meet
her. Unfortunately her flight was delayed and it was Sunday so public transport
was unavailable which left us with an expensive taxi ride back to the boat.
This ended up being a lot more expensive than it should have been and we would
have been better off just staying in a hotel and getting a bus the following
day. Oh well.
After the previous few days glorious sunshine the
weather really took a turn and threatened to make the whole week miserable. It
rained through the night but cleared up long enough for us to walk up to Largs
for a stop in Wetherspoons before getting some groceries in Morrisons. The rain
had started again and we had tons to carry so we decided to get a taxi back to
the marina, and then in the late afternoon we set off under grey skies. The
original intention was to head up to an anchorage at the north end of Bute, but
given the weather it seemed like the picturesque setting wouldn’t be worth the
long trip up there, especially considering we wouldn’t be able to see it. The ultimate
plan was to spend the week getting to Oban via the Crinan Canal, so the lengthy
detour around the top of Bute didn’t seem suitable. So it was back to Little
Cumbrae to anchor off the little castle once more, only this time in the rain.
The next day was grey and windless. It didn’t rain too
much though, so that was good. We stopped off at Millport to use the facilities
and then got underway for Loch Fyne. It was a fairly long and uneventful
journey, but the weather made the surroundings pretty eerie and atmospheric.
The clouds were rolling in really low and thick and clinging to land, often
completely obscuring everything.
The plan was to get to the start of the Crinan Canal at Ardrishaig but we wouldn’t get there until late, and Ardrishaig is a pretty dull place, so we stopped a few miles short at Tarbert. This place is much prettier, but it’s filled with a marina and various moorings and the seabed drops off very quickly from the shore so anchoring is tricky, but after a couple attempts I got us secured for the night. I had often wondered in the past why they called so many places in Scotland “Tarbert” or “Tarbet”, there seem to be tons of them, but here I learned that it comes from the Gaelic for “carrying across”, which makes perfect sense when you look at all the Tarberts on the map; they are always at very narrow parts of headlands or similar. Back in the day, boat folk would drag their boats overland to the water on the other side. If Scots had settled in Central America, Panama would definitely be called Tarbert. It made me wonder why they didn’t build a canal here instead of at Crinan as it would be a lot cheaper, although maybe it would still make the trip from Glasgow to the Hebrides too long. We rowed ashore and looked about for a bit and later returned to the mothership under attack from a small force of midges, but it wasn’t too bad really.
The next day it was a leisurely start as the entrance to the canal was only a few miles north and they didn’t open until 0830. In the end we arrived at 10:30 and motored right into the sea lock. There was a yacht just going into it in front of us; they had been waiting since 08:30 to get in but various issues with the lock gates had delayed entry, so we had timed it perfectly.
Although I used to live around here for a time, this was my first time in the canal, or any canal for that matter. I had read the skipper’s guide and seen a few episodes of Great Canal Journeys, so what more was there to know? Generally, two people is considered a bit shorthanded for this sort of thing, as you have to operate the locks yourself, but these guidelines are always conservative anyway so I wasn’t too fussed. And from what I had read, it seemed quite likely that we’d end up in the lock gates with other boats, so more hands make light work and all that. And as it turned out, every lock we went through was either with other boats or there happened to be a member of staff around to operate the gates for us anyway. I actually wanted to do the whole procedure of locking in and out with just the two of us, but I never got the
chance! Damned people being too helpful all the time.
It was good fun going through the canal and a nice
change of scenery, and also a blast from the past as I spent 6 months living by
the side of canal several years ago. Things hadn’t changed a great deal since I
was last here. Including the food in the hotel; it was still rubbish. However,
I had read on the forums that things in the canal had been deteriorating and
had heard similar in person from someone working there, and having seen it
myself, I can see where things are starting to get a bit worn. Some of the lock
gates leak quite badly and some of the sluices don’t work properly, and this
year the maximum draught of passing vessels had been reduced due to silting. I
get the impression that it’s all leading towards some sort of catastrophic
failure like what happened to the Sutton Harbour swing bridge, only up here
that means a much longer detour to get around the Mull of Kintyre instead of a
small jaunt around the side of a harbour.
The next day it was more of the same, except it was
mostly downhill now as we spent the night at the top of the canal. Going
downhill is much better as there is less turbulence in the lock. A couple of
times the day before, the boat had been difficult to control as it bounced
around with the incoming water, and I was very aware of the proximity of the
other two boats in the lock. On the downhill journey there was just one other
boat in with us for most of it, although at one point, due to a poor decision
by myself, one of our ropes caught around a cleat and the boat was left half hanging
as the water level was dropping, but Ness sorted it out and all was well in the
end. In one lock there seemed to be a family of frogs residing in the wall, not
sure it was the best place for them, and in another some swallows had a nest in
the loch gate itself.
Eventually we made it into the basin at the other end,
where we tied up and had a look about. The shortest transit licence still gives
you up to 4 nights in the canal, and I would have liked to stay longer, but we
had to keep moving to get to Oban in time.
So after a walk about, we got the boat ready for sea
again and got the last sea lock of the day. The water in the lock was like
glass, and filled right to the brim, and behind you could see the water off the
sea which was much rougher, and it looked like one of those infinity pools you
get in swanky resorts.
The canal had been quite sheltered from the wind, and I
was surprised we hadn’t had problems with midges (I keep trying to jinx
myself). But now we were out in the open, there was a stiff breeze and we
zipped away from Crinan in good time.
We were actually a bit too early for the next tide gate, which was to get through Dorus Mor, although it was neap tides, so I thought I would try it
anyway, against the tide. As we approached the wind picked up considerably so I
had to put a reef in, but I think the wind maybe helped to flatten the waves a
little as it was running with the tide and I managed to tack through the
channel to the other side, even with the contrary tide still flowing. Close to
the north shore I think we were actually catching an eddy as we seemed to be
making unexpectedly good progress. This channel can be pretty rough at times,
and it’s not far from the Corryvrekkan, but I approached it cautiously and all
went well. I wouldn’t do that sort of thing on springs. We found an anchorage
in Loch Beag, and settled in for the night with an episode of Hamish Macbeth,
cause when in Rome…
The next day brought good winds again, and it was an early start as there was another tide gate to get through, this time it was the Sound of Luing. With it being neaps, it wasn’t too drastic, but we did manage to catch a good 1.5-2 knots of tide to carry us northwards. There was nobody else around at the start of the day, but by mid-morning, as I looked astern, I was surprised to see about 20 yachts all following suit and riding the north flowing tide as well. The majority of them caught up and overtook us throughout the morning, but they were all considerably larger. It’s still unusual seeing this many boats; for most of my journey so far the horizon has usually been clear of other sails.
By now it was Saturday, and Ness was due to fly from
Glasgow on Sunday, so I had planned on being in Oban the day before, but we
decided to stop at an anchorage near Oban, which would give us time to do the
last few miles in the morning, leaving enough time to catch the midday train
from Oban to Glasgow. There’s a few options for anchoring around here, but we
ended up going for a spot called Puilladobhrain, which is one of the most
popular anchorages in Scotland, and it’s easy to see why. It’s perfectly
sheltered, is very picturesque, close to Oban but feels very remote, it’s a
sort walk over a little hill to a pub on the other side, and it also gets good
phone signal! What’s not to love?
However, all those things does mean it can get quite
busy, but we arrived in the early afternoon so there was plenty of space for
us. We took the short walk over the hill to the pub, where there is also the
so-called “Bridge Over The Atlantic”. It’s a bit of a daft name really, but it’s
a nice bridge, and the pub is good too. It’s called Tigh an Truish which means
House of Trousers, because back in the day when kilts were outlawed, this is
where the locals would change from trousers to kilts as they were going to the
The next morning it took two hours to motor up to Oban
where we got a berth on one of the new transit pontoons on the North Pier,
which gave us just enough time to get some freshly cooked mussels and some
chips before Ness had to catch her train. It was sad to see her go, but her departure
coincided exactly with the arrival of my parents, who are using their free bus
passes to get in as many visits as possible!
We had the whole afternoon together, so we got some
supplies for a picnic and seeing as it was a lovely day we motored down into
Kerrerra Sound and got a nice spot to drop the hook for lunch.
On the way back in, I was a bit distracted chatting and
forgot to listen out on the VHF for the ferry traffic information and had to
gun it across Oban Bay to get out of the way of a rapidly departing CalMac
ferry. We just had enough time to get some more mussels and squeeze in a pint
at Wetherspoons before my parents caught the last bus back to Edinburgh.
Once again, I was by myself. It was a lovely evening as the sun set over Oban. I was planning on leaving the following day, and it was time to make the big decision. Was I going to turn to starboard and head for the Caledonian Canal to try and get down the East Coast, or turn to port and explore the Hebrides, ruling out any chance of circumnavigating?
It was another early start as I left Peel on the Isle of Man, bound for Portpatrick in Scotland. It was a grey day and the wind from the previous 24 hrs had well and truly passed. It was another one of those annoying days where the wind would come and go and blow from all over the place.
It was fairly uneventful, although about half way
across I did come across a sleeping grey seal, I was surprised to see how
unconcerned he was. He woke up slightly, gave me a once over, looked pretty
uninterested and went back to sleep. I don’t think he was sick, just a big bull
seal who doesn’t give a shit about yachties.
Ever since crossing the Bristol Channel my tiller pilot
hasn’t worked, and I don’t know why. Being at the helm continuously hasn’t been
that bad really, but on these long passages it’s nice to do something else once
in a while, so I really must try and fix it. Anyway, eventually I could start
to see a shape forming through the haze ahead. Scotland! And I found her just
as I left her: dark and gloomy.
It was still a fair distance to go along the coast of
the Rhins until I reached Portpatrick, but at least now I had something to look
at. As I got level with Portpatrick it was down with sails, on with the engine
and out with the fenders. There are leading marks that guide the way into the
harbour, and from reading the almanac and the pilot’s guide I thought the
entrance was going to be worse than this but it was ok. I guess clement
conditions make all the difference, and it was easy to line up the two orange
It was eerily quiet in the harbour, it had turned into one those days where the air is thick and sounds travel like nobody’s business. I could hear
someone talking hundreds of metres away. And I could definitely hear the
pigeons in the harbour wall who were grumbling at being evicted from their
Being back in the homeland, I had a real hankering for some traditional Scottish cuisine, namely tattie scones, so I made quick time up to the village to look for some grub, but alas the shops were all shut. There was a sign in one shop window advertising Scotland’s Best Tattie Scones (I’m sure every town has a shop with that sign). However, my parents were visiting me the next day so I made sure they brought some. Although I must confess when I got some of the “award winning” ones, they were indeed very good.
I spent the next couple of days hanging out with my
parents who had a room in a hotel, which had a pretty good shower. I had been
to this town before, apparently, in my younger days, although I was struggling
to recall anything. It is a very nice little seaside town though and I
recommend it for anyone passing though this area.
That night a strong wind blew through and I had to get
up in the small hours to tend to the warps; I hadn’t set them up very well on
my arrival. It was dark and I was bleary eyed but I didn’t fall off the wall so
it was all good in the end.
The following day was another blustery one as I said
goodbye to my parents. I had been considering getting under way that evening
but it was still pretty wild and so I gave in to my lazier instincts and just
sat down and ate food instead. I did leave the next day, and it was still pretty
windy and I got a really good push from the tide up to my next destination.
It was a great day’s sail actually; it was just
challenging enough to be fun but not too much to be overwhelming. I made the
best progress to windward I’ve ever done, but that was largely down to the
tide. I also got to sail on every point of sail which is the first time i’ve
done that on this trip.
However, I sailed 35 miles in total to only put down 6
miles of northwards progress. But that’s fine, it was a good day. I ended the
day at another anchorage, having negotiated my way past all the big ferries
transiting Loch Ryan.
I had no reason to linger in Loch Ryan other than it’s
free, so I got underway the next day and set course for the Isle of Arran. This
took me right past Ailsa Craig which I had seen many times from shore, but
never up close. It’s a pretty impressive lump of rock, an old plug from a
volcano sticking straight up out of the water, and it’s where they get the
granite for making curling stones!
I would have liked to anchor here for lunch or even go
ashore, but it was getting on a bit and I was only halfway through the day’s
journey so I just pressed on. With the wind direction being northwesterly I had
been wondering if I’d be able to sail directly to Arran or if I’d have to put
in a few tacks. Luckily the wind backed ever so slightly as I went, and sailing
close-hauled I managed to point closer to Arran and ended up doing the whole
thing on one tack. The wind was a steady F4/5 and it was another great sail. My
original destination was Lamlash Harbour, but as I sailed past Pladda Island I
thought it looked nice and so once again I changed my mind mid-journey and went
The weather was lovey and it offered god shelter from the wind in the current conditions so I dropped anchor in the very clear water. There was a
little fishing boat already anchored, and also a fisheries protection ship
lurking around, it did a few laps past the island, looking like it was trying
to intimidate the fishing boat. I think they must have succeeded cause
eventually the fishing boat left, with the fisheries protection ship calling
them up on the radio to ask them if they had been doing any fishing, because
FYI it’s a Marine Protected Area. “Oh, of course not, sir. We wouldn’t dream of
it.” was the answer from the fishing boat. “Yes, we didn’t think you would.
Safe travels. Out.” Such a courteous exchange.
I blew up the dinghy and went for a stroll ashore.
There was a lot of nesting seabirds near the main landing, so I went the long
way around along the tidal zone to get up to the Lighthouse buildings for a
look about. The following morning I woke up to grey skies and a bit of swell
rolling in from an unexpected direction, so I didn’t hang about and got on with
the day. I just wanted to finish the journey I had started the day before:
getting to Lamlash Bay. I towed the dinghy along behind and it was a pretty
good sail. I was quiet close to the land so the wind was being fickle, but i
was in no rush and basically had all day to get there so I just did it the old
fashioned way and didn’t lay a finger on the ignition key.
Near the entrance to Lamlash Harbour (a natural harbour, more like a sound or a bay) there was a bit of a hilly promontory which diverted the wind somewhat. It meant I had to bear away slightly as I approached the entrance, sending me towards Holy Island, which ultimately meant I would probably have to start tacking right in the narrowest part of the entrance, but I was hoping the wind would be deflected the other way on the other side of the entrance, allowing me to point higher, and away from holy island. This proved to be the case and I managed to sail right up to anchorage, which was pretty satisfying and I got a fair bit of speed on. Once more, I hopped into the dinghy and went for some fresh supplies. At this point I’m pretty fed up with the out-of-date canned mysteries from Plymouth.
I usually try to check out a bit of the history of
wherever I happen to be and apparently back in the day a Viking fleet anchored
here to ride out a storm before heading over to Largs for a scrap with the
locals. It seems like a natural anchorage and a decent place to shelter, but
the landscape really sends some squalls through now and then. And these days
the anchorage is actually just a field of moorings, plus the shore shelves
steeply here so it was pretty tricky finding somewhere to anchor that wasn’t
too far away from shore for rowing. My second day here was spent entirely
onboard due to the bad weather and the distance from shore, but on the plus
side I was treated to a cool rainbow.
I needed to catch the early morning high tide to get out of the harbour in Bangor, which meant getting up at 3am, but it was already starting to get light. I motored off out into the Menai Strait, but at this point I still hadn’t decided if I was going direct to the Isle of Man, or just up to the most northerly point of Anglesey to spend the night before making the crossing the following day. I knew I had to go on of those days as there was nothing but northerly winds forecast for the rest of the week. Looking at the forecast the previous day, it wasn’t looking particularly great for either day, with very light north westerly winds eventually veering north. I wanted to get the most up to date forecast before making the decision, and so on I motored towards Puffin Sound whilst refreshing the various weather apps on my phone. Somewhere off Beaumaris I decided the conditions favoured making the crossing today, and so as I left Puffin Island to starboard I set course for the Isle of Man.
It was a long journey. I had to motor for about half of
it, and there was zero wildlife to be seen, not even a gannet. One unexpected
thing happened though when I heard the coastguard calling for Fairhaven on the
VHF. They had no reason to be calling me, and I wondered how many boats with the
same name could be around here, so it was with some trepidation that I replied.
At this point I should note that I have been using a smartphone app that allows
my family to see where I am via GPS, but of course this only works when there
is phone signal. As I got further offshore apparently the little blip on the
map that represents me simply disappeared. So my parents got worried and then
decided to call up the coastguard, who promptly tried to get hold of me on the
radio. It was lucky that I actually heard the radio, as on these long passages
I tend to put headphones on and listen to music so don’t always hear the radio.
I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t responded….
Eventually I arrived at Castletown Bay around 7pm and
dropped anchor off the harbour pier. I wanted to go into the harbour but was
unsure there was enough water, I didn’t have much info on the place, the charts
looked mighty rocky and I couldn’t get hold of the harbourmaster, so I didn’t risk
it. Instead I inflated the dinghy and rowed ashore to stretch my legs and get
This was my first time on the Isle of Man, and it seemed like an odd place. It was very quiet, there was hardly anyone around and it felt like the place was asleep. But it was nice enough, and clean too. In fact, the whole of the Isle of Man (that I went to) had the vibe of a former Great British coastal tourist hotspot, like so many that have gone a bit derelict thanks to EasyJet and the likes. But instead of getting all filthy and full of junkies, it’s still well looked after, bright and clean, although minus all the holidaymakers. But I could tell
there is money here, not least because I could see it flying in on a private
jet when anchored next to the airport. One thing I didn’t expect though, was to
have no phone signal. Apparently Virgin mobile don’t allow roaming here, but
luckily I had prepared with spare phones and SIM cards for different networks,
and where Virgin failed, Vodafone succeeded.
After a night at anchor, I sailed the short hop round
to Port St Mary and got a berth alongside the inner harbour wall. I was pleased
to be here as the ground was hard sand and it dried out, which allowed me to
have another look at the damned shaft anode. It had been rattling again, or at
least something had been rattling, during the crossing from Wales. But it
seemed fine, no sign of movement and the nuts and bolts were tight so I am
still scratching my head with that one.
However, I was surprised to see how pitted it was
already, considering it hadn’t been on all that long and the previous one wasn’t
much more pitted. But I didn’t worry about it too much, it was roasting here
and I had another place to look around. Port St Mary was a little busier than Castletown,
but not exactly a bustling centre of civilisation.
I spent two nights here and then it was time to get round the southern tip of the island through Calf Sound. Ideally I would go through here at slack water, but by the time there was enough water to leave the harbour, there would be a bit of current through the sound, but I didn’t have too many options and went for it anyway, and it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t bother to deflate the dinghy so towed it along behind, casting frequent glances back to make sure it held on for the ride.
Before long I arrived at Port Erin and dropped anchor.
There are the submerged remnants of an old breakwater in the bay that are
marked with a green can, but have apparently still caught out the odd boat here
and there, as the rudderless yacht on the harbour wall testified to. I was glad
I had the dinghy ready to go so I could make a quick trip ashore to have a look
My time here was pretty uneventful and the following
day I made the longer journey up to Peel. The coastline was pretty dramatic and
the weather was nice (first time sailing in a t-shirt!), but the wind was very
fickle and I was constantly trimming the sails.
I saw some Risso’s dolphins, which is a first for me.
These guys get covered in scars as they grow older, due to fighting amongst
themselves, and the older ones can look really pale thanks to all the scars. I
saw one individual though that looked like an albino, he was so white. I
suppose he must have just been a battle scarred hardcase.
Towards the end of my trip the wind had picked up considerably and being downwind of some pretty big hills I was getting some pretty strong squalls. I had thought about anchoring in the little bay between the main island and Saint Patrick’s Isle but when I got closer I could see it was getting gusts that were just a bit too strong for comfort, so I went round the corner to pick up a visitor mooring behind the breakwater but the wind and swell had too much north in them and the breakwater wasn’t offering much shelter.
I decided I wanted to go into the inner harbour where there is a marina, but there was not yet enough water to allow access, and I cursed myself for getting here too early. I hadn’t planned on going into the marina, but knew it was a possibility; I should have planned to arrive at a better time to allow access. So I waited a few hours, and then a few hours more as the conditions were holding back the tide, and it was neaps as well so it wasn’t until late that I could get in. I’m generally trying to limit how often I go into marinas and harbours, just from a financial perspective, but it was getting pretty lump outside and I was starting to feel a bit grimy anyway so was glad to be inside.
I had initially wanted to leave Peel first thing and
set sail for Scotland, but it was really blowing a hooley outside so I stayed
put. It was nice to look around Peel anyway; it was probably the most interesting
place I had been to on the Isle so far. There was a cool castle and a big hill
to walk up, and the town didn’t seem so quiet and best of all if I stood
outside the museum I got free Wifi!
Walking up the hill was a bit of a challenge at times due to wind. The weather was interesting actually, ’cause everywhere else on the west coast it seemed ok, but the spot in the Irish sea that the Isle of Man occupies was covered in a big blob of high wind, and the terrain was making it really ferocious in places. From up the hill, I could look out to sea far enough to actually see the areas of less wind; there was tons of shite water close in but much further out it looked ok, and I wondered to myself if I had should have set sail after all. But the first few miles would have been hellish. I could see the gusty downdraughts caused by the wind rushing down the slopes and between the hills there was really strong offshore winds.
Towards the evening the winds dissipated and I treated
myself to a local delicacy: chips, cheese and gravy. The forecast for the
following day was looking good, but getting pretty windy again after so it
looked like it was my window to make the crossing to my homeland. I could hear
my people calling…..
After my marathon sleep I was feeling refreshed and had a day in the marina to sort stuff out. Top of my list was to do some laundry. I had planned on doing it the old fashioned way, but decided to splash out on the proper laundry facilities, although I still insisted on air drying onboard. A quick trip to Lidl saw me resupplied and then I generally spent the day just reading and doing little jobs here and there. It was still pretty windy and I was glad to be hidden away in the marina. Although as I was entering the previous day, apparently the entrants in the Jester Challenge Race were just heading out, and I imagine they had a long night of upwind tacking in less than ideal conditions.
The next big obstacle on my journey was to get round the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, passing inside Bardsey Island, through Bardsey Sound. The chap next door to me in the marina was well versed in this, as this was his home cruising grounds, and he had some sheets of paper with tide information on it that he kindly gave to me (thanks!). It seems the trick here is to arrive quite a bit before the the tide turns in the main channel and catch a back-eddy which runs very close to the shore, passing between a rock known as Carreg Ddu and the mainland. Reading about this, it sounded quite fierce, and was described as having the same effect on the water as a blunt bowed container ship ploughing full steam ahead, which made sense when I looked at a satellite image of the area.
But I had pretty good information and made sure to
arrive at the bottleneck nice and early. There wasn’t much wind, and it was on
the nose, so it was another journey on the engine. I was just drifting idle in
Aberdare Bay waiting for the tide, getting a bit bored, so I went through a bit
early. I got through the narrow passage just as it hit slack water, but just
round the corner the tide in the main sound was still running, although it wasn’t
too rough so I just pushed on. I tried to stick as close to the shore as I
dared, but the rocks were mighty sharp looking.
A lot of the features around this area have some pretty savage sounding names, as they often do, like “Hells’ Mouth” and “Devil’s Ridge”, but I made it through without too much drama, although the wind had all but vanished so I motored on to the anchorage at Porth Dinllaen. This was a really nice little spot, well sheltered from the prevailing sou’westerlies and quite picturesque, but I only spent a short night there and was then onwards to the Menai Strait.
The next big obstacle was crossing the Caernarfon Bar,
which needed to be done in favourable conditions, but the forecast was looking
suitable for the day after, so I headed for a little anchorage called Pilot’s
Cove at Llanddwyn island.
It was a fantastic sail there, as I had stunning
scenery on the starboard side, and the wind was a nice steady F4 for much of
the journey, there was very little swell and the sun was shining, so a good
time was had by all! There wasn’t much wildlife around, but the RAF were never
too far away, and also various little stunt planes presumably practicing for
some aerobatics displays.
I arrived at Pilot’s Cove around midday and nosed right
into the bay to drop the hook. It’s quite a tight spot, and I wanted to go
ashore, so I rowed my second anchor out on the dinghy and used it to hold the
stern out such that the boat wouldn’t swing around in the bay. With her safely
secured, I could spend some time stretching my legs ashore, and what a lovely
place it was to be!
I had been to this place before when I was at uni, but I couldn’t remember it being so nice. I thought about going for a swim, but there was an abundance of jellyfish around, and the stinging type no less.
The good weather didn’t last though, by evening time a stronger wind had picked up and there was some swell running. Because I had come right into the bay, it wasn’t affecting me too much but another yacht had appeared at some point and it being much larger had to anchor further offshore. She was pitching up and down quite a bit, and before long she had motored off out of sight, presumably to seek shelter in Holyhead. Feeling pleased with myself for having such a small boat, I settled in for the night and made sure I had all the information for crossing the bar the next day. I was up early to make sure I would get to the entrance through the Caernarfon Bar in time. I had gotten the latest navigation info from the harbour master’s website, and plotted the waypoints into my phone’s chart plotter, and made a note of the bearings and distances between the channel marker buoys. There was a little more wind than I was hoping for, and I could see some wave crests turning white, but I decided to plough on anyway. It turned out to be ok, there was definitely quite a bit of turbulence, but there were no breakers and no serious calls for concern. I did realise that one of the buoys wasn’t where it was supposed to be, and I checked my coordinates, but I never figured out what that was all about.
Once I was into the Menai Strait, I made for the port of Caernarfon. There are two main options for berthing here: marina or harbour wall. Naturally I opted for the more rustic approach and headed into the harbour. This is in the mouth of the River Afon Seiont and to access it a swing bridge needs to be shifted out of the way. You are supposed to signal your desire to enter by blasting the Morse code for ‘B’ on your horn, but I don’t actually have a horn, so just raced in behind another boat that was entering in front of me. There is a traffic light system, but it seemed to just stay on red, and I wasn’t chastised for running the light so I guess they must play fast and loose with the regulations in these parts. After I tied up to the harbour wall with some lengthy ropes, I guesstimated the fall of the tide and adjusted accordingly, then looked around to take in my surroundings.
This was another very scenic spot to park the boat, right in front of the castle. I met up with a friend and we headed off to find the nearest boozer; we didn’t have to go far. It may have been the length of my ropes, or the beer in my belly, but for one reason or another I was pretty relaxed with leaving the boat unattended on a new harbour wall on a falling tide. After my friend headed off, I went back to the boat and found her lying at an angle, with the ropes fairly taut….
All was fine though, as the angle was simply the way the seabed sloped and the ropes had no slack but weren’t bar tight; any longer and the boat would be all over the place at high tide and any shorter she’d be abseiling. I treated myself to a KFC and stuffed some cushions under the mattress to level out the bed, and then passed out.
The following morning, I had planned to depart, but I
hadn’t fully worked out the tides for the next passage and due to my advancing
years the previous night’s beers had made me less than enthusiastic for an
early start. It was cheap to moor here, and it was a nice place, so I opted to
stay another night and take my time planning the next step. The onwards journey
would take me through the Swellies, which are a pretty notorious stretch of the
Menai Strait which needed to be done properly. There are various leading lines
that need to be followed to thread your way between the hidden rocks and timing
is critical, so I got everything prepared properly. When the time came, it was
pretty straightforward, although the rattling from the prop shaft had picked a
terrible time to return.
Originally I had planned on continuing right through and heading up the east coast of Anglesey to anchor somewhere on the north coast to shorten the journey to the Isle of Man, but the weather wasn’t looking fabulous so at the last minute I headed into Bangor. I wanted to have another look at this damned anode to figure out what was going on before I made another big passage. With Bangor having a drying harbour I hoped I could access the prop shaft at low tide, but the bottom was far too muddy for that, and she sank into the mud right up to the tops of the keels. So once more, it was on with the wetsuit and into the water at high tide. The anode seemed pretty tight on the shaft, I certainly couldn’t wobble it around at all, and the nuts and bolts were tight, but I did manage to clinch them up a little more, so hoped that would be the end of it. And once again, I found myself sleeping at damn near 45 degrees…..
Having decided to stick to the Welsh coast, I set out from Milford Haven on Thursday the 13th of June. It was only a short hop, and I was hoping to do most of the trip on one tack as soon as I got out to sea, but as always the wind was refusing to cooperate so I had to zigzag my way upwind once again, but I quite enjoyed it. It was only 5 miles or so and it was good to be sailing after spending 3 days cooped up in the boat at anchor.
I was bound for the South Haven of Skomer Island, which is little bay sheltered from any winds other than southerly. Skomer being a seabird mecca, I was welcomed to the anchorage by thousands of puffins, guillemots and razorbills and a few seals as well. This was a really nice little place, and you end up anchored really close to birds on the cliffs, and they didn’t seem to be put off by my presence. The only downside to all this birdlife flying around was the splattering the boat received….
The sacrificial anode I took off previously needed to be replaced, so in the morning I got out the still wet SCUBA gear and went under to fit the anode. I could have reused the old one as it had plenty of material left, but it wold still have the issue of the nut spinning.
Putting the new one on was fiddly, but luckily I didn’t drop anything and it went quite smoothly. Afterwards I went for a little swim around, but didn’t see much. I was hoping to see some big lobsters, which I did, albeit inside a fisherman’s trap.
On the way back to the boat, the GoPro fell off my head and I didn’t realise straight away, so it took me a while to search around and find it again. I checked out the anchor as well, and was interested to see that although the boat had swung almost 180 degrees with the change in wind direction, the anchor was still dug in the orientation I had originally set it the night before, and the boat was just lying to the weight of the 10m length of chain alone. It was also interesting to see how quickly the anchor must have set. My old CQR anchor would have probably ploughed the seabed for 10 metres before finally digging in, but from the lack of disturbed sand it looks like the new one dug in almost immediately.
When I arrived back at the surface next to the boat, the sky was much greyer and the wind had picked up, and being south-westerly, it was making the anchorage untenable. This was not a surprise as it’s exactly what the forecast predicted, but I had planned to depart a bit earlier, so I got out of the water quick sharp and motored out of the anchorage before the wind got any stronger.
I had considered going around Skomer on the eastern side which would involve going through Jack Sound, which is rather narrow and rocky and gets some strong tides running through it, so I opted to go west. The sea was rough enough going this way so I was glad I had decided to not go through Jack Sound. I still had to negotiate another sound further up, Ramsey Sound, which has bit of a bottleneck halfway through as some rocks known as ”The Bitches” stick out into the channel.
But my timings were pretty good for this one and the Bitches stayed where they were so I cruised through at slack water and all was well. The next leg was towards Fishguard, and with the wind behind and the tide pushing me along I made good progress; for a while I was doing 9 knots over the ground!
As I arrived in Fishguard two lifeboats were heading out and there was a coastguard helicopter flying around, so someone somewhere must have been having a bad time although I never heard anything on VHF. After dropping anchor I was pretty hungry by this point so made an enormous meal and turned in for the night. I was awoken in the small hours by a ferocious southerly wind blasting through the anchorage, I did read in the almanac that southerly winds can funnel themselves down through the harbour, and certainly did that night.
The following morning I had to decide my next destination. I wanted to get from South Wales across Cardigan Bay to North Wales as quickly as possible, but the winds for that day were not conducive towards getting there. Even if I did, I would have to wait around anyway for the weather to improve to negotiate my way over the Caernarfon Bar and into the Menai Strait. I had wanted to go from Fishguard right up to Porth Dinllaen in one big leap, but in the end I decided to break the journey into smaller legs and headed up the coast to New Quay. The winds were very light to begin with so it took all day to make the 25 mile journey. On the way in though I was joined by some bottlenose dolphins, which are huge compared to the common dolphins I had seen so far. They swam around the anchorage for a while, and there were throngs of people on the shore trying to see them, but being on my boat I definitely got the best view!
New Quay looked like a very nice place and I would have liked to go ashore, but I needed to set off at 5 the following morning and it was already getting late so I turned in. I was awoken somewhat earlier than expected, not by my alarm, but by the thumping of the boat on the ground. I had misjudged the tide and how much water there was under me. Hopping out of bed still in pyjamas I got up on deck pronto, got the engine on and moved out to some deeper water, and all was well. It was around 2.30 am at this point so I just stayed up and pottered around doing some chores on my to-do list and this made sure I got away from the anchorage on time, instead of just hitting the snooze button. The main reason I was leaving so early was due to some strong winds blowing in later on in the day and I wanted to get across Cardigan Bay before they arrived. I didn’t want to spend any longer in South Wales because as well as some bad weather rolling through, much of Cardigan Bay consists of yet another bloody MoD firing range which was definitely going live the following day (I got all my information in advance this time…)
So off I sailed, bound for Abersoch. The day started nicely but with almost no wind, although slowly it started to build. I was sailing almost dead downwind so I poled out the genoa and goose-winged my way north. By lunchtime it was really blowing hard and I had the sails reefed down as far as they would go. Controlling the boat was getting to be a bit of a handful, but it was good fun as well and by far the fastest I had ever sailed downwind, which up until that point had always been a fairly boring, roly-poly affair.
When I arrived in Abersoch Bay, it turned out to be far too rough for anchoring. The boats on the moorings there were bouncing around all over the place, and it would have been a very uncomfortable couple of days, so I changed course and headed for Pwllheli to seek refuge in the fancy-pants marina. I called ahead to ask their opinion on entering the channel at low water, and they didn’t give me much confidence, but by this point I was really wanting to get somewhere sheltered. I ended up going for it, inching my way up the channel to the marina bang on low tide, and luckily made it through without any sudden jolts. My allocated berth was already occupied so I went to the next one down, got the boat tied up and breathed a sigh of relief. Almost as soon as I turned the engine off, the heavens opened up and it really hammered it down. I was very happy I made the decision to come in, instead of riding it out at anchor. I headed straight to the showers as it had been quite some time since my previous wash, excluding the short trips beneath the hull. The showers in Padstow were a bit lacklustre but Pwllheli’s plumbing did not disappoint. The shower was bloody marvellous! After that I headed off to the Wetherspoons to treat myself even more, then back to the boat and that night I slept for 12 hours straight.