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Ian McNee’s Grand Voyage – Week 11

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.

Colonsay to Jura

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.

Or you can just use a chart plotter.

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.

Bad for sailing, good for walking.

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.

Better luck next time.

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.

Tacking on land.

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).

Misty Paps.

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.

Time for another wilderness wash.
Anchored in Loch Tarbert.

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”.

Both the whisky and the reading room were better than expected – and totally free!

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.

Yep – just like that it was.

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”.

I only take photos of good weather.
Quaint little natural harbour.

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.

The strange rocks of Rathlin Island.

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.

Some pretty impressive cliffs around here.
And the tattie scones are square!

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.

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