Monday 31 July
A nod to another landmark today, familiar from listening to the coastal weather forecast: Ardnamurchan Point. We didn’t so much round the headland as view it a distance astern, as we reached Northwest through the Sound of Rhum past the Small Isles of Muck and Eigg. Headed by Kinloch Castle, Loch Scresort on Rhum was already busy and we had to forego our ideal position in the anchorage.
Four more yachts squeezed in after us, but none carried noisy crews. Our evening was punctuated instead by rain, jiggy motion and enough breeze to make the windgen whine.
Sunday 30 July
A dramatic improvement to the weather must be capitalized on in this part of the world, so out came sticks and rucksacks, and on went walking boots. Setting off on their hike, the crew passed local trip boats, loading with passengers eager to put their long-lensed cameras to capturing seals, puffins and Fingal’s Cave on nearby Staffa. My people had the beautiful views up Loch Tuath towards the Treshnish Isles to themselves, enjoying along the way encounters with geese and grey wagtails, buzzards, harebells (Scottish bluebells) and ragged robin, the fragrance of wet bracken and meadowsweet, black goats and a majestic horned ram.
They followed the river a little way up and down its course, marveling at the mesmerizing power of the peaty water, forming pools that would make wonderful wild swimming on a hot day, between a chain of waterfalls that finally fall over the cliff to the sea below.
On their return, they immediately disappeared in the tender, over to the Boathouse for a late lunch of local seafood and Colonsay beer, and when they finally rolled home obviously felt a bit guilty at neglecting me, as all was washed and watered inside and out. Keen to avoid another night’s expense for very little at Ulva Ferry, we set off carefully through Ulva Sound, spotting two gorgeous Atlantic seal pups basking in the low evening sun. We found a comfortable anchorage off Ardalun House in Soriby Bay, under a spectacular sunset at the end of a beautiful day.
Saturday 29 July
A very wet day demanded the relief of cabin fever, and the crew of neighbouring Mälo yacht Whisper seemed glad to come aboard for a change of scene and a perusal of our scant offering of ‘new’ games. A delightful family enjoying (?) an extended Hebridean Adventure cruise, it was our pleasure to make new friends – an acquaintance that would prove to be more than transient…
Friday 28 July
The crew decided to brave/ignore the weather and motorsail with just the staysail the few miles to Ulva Ferry across Loch Scridain. It was murky (dreich) with good-sized Atlantic rollers coming in behind us on the wind, but Mate was able to admire two huge waterfalls dropping straight over the cliff edge to the sea at the foot of Ben More on Mull, while Skipper hooked three mackerel of varying sizes. I surfed off the last roller through the gap between Inch Kenneth and the rocky islets off Cragaig Bay on Ulva, and suddenly it was calmer and drier, and Mate handed over the helm to begin organizing lines and fenders for our arrival. They were soon enjoying fresh wine-poached mackerel for supper.
Wednesday 26 – Thursday 27 July
This proved to be as good a spot as the chart had promised for shelter while a series of strong winds blew through. The crew kept themselves amused with some of the jobs on the endless list, and some work on needlecraft projects.
During a brief lull they moved me a little closer to Bunessan, in order to land the tender at the fish quay for a pleasant stretch of the legs ashore. It was late in the afternoon, but neither the tiny Spar nor the Argyll Arms had much to recommend them.
Tuesday 25 July
Mate had read that the best time to visit Iona Abbey was early in the morning or late in the afternoon, outside trip boats’ visiting hours, and a good day’s (motor)sailing brought us into the turquoise calm waters of the Sound of Iona on a warm, sunny late afternoon. The anchor went down into water clear enough to see it lie snugly on the white sandy seabed, and the crew went ashore to stroll through the grounds of the ruined nunnery on the way to the iconic Abbey.
This is a very special place, and Mate was moved by the spiritual atmosphere of centuries of Christian worship and retreat centred on this unadorned, high- ceilinged building. Although the church was mostly empty of people, she could almost hear the monastic plainsong resonating from the thick stone walls.
After a brief pause to sample the local refreshment, we made our way up the Sound and around onto the North coast of the Ross of Mull, to anchor off Bunessan in Loch na Làthaich.
Monday 24 July
In urgent need of fresh water to refill my tanks, Mate once again deployed her nerves of steel to navigate me back through the shallow narrows and out into the Sound of Jura to ease onto a close reach for Colonsay. Uncooperative winds necessitated Trevver joining us to make landfall alongside a much smaller boat on the inland end of a high pier used by the Calmac ferries…when the wind allows, apparently. At least approaching at low water meant my crew could see just how shallow it was.
They went ashore to explore the main settlement of Scalasaig, finding a well-stocked general store, a tempting craft shop and an intriguing bookshop. On their return the tide had risen enough to make watering easier, and by now two more yachts were trying to join the party. We managed to disentangle ourselves, and headed around the corner to an anchorage on Oronsay, the next island South. By local standards, it was fairly crowded, but we found a spot, albeit not particularly sheltered, and settled down under a pretty sunset.
Sunday 23 July
A forecast of strong winds deterred my crew from setting back out to sea, and instead they opted to motor l’arrêt further up the loch to find its uppermost reaches. Although my little sister struggled against the opposing current in the narrow entrance above my anchorage, the channel is theoretically navigable by larger vessels, as evidenced by several pairs of leading marks installed by no less a sailor than the great ‘Blondie’ Hasler. She was humbled to follow in the wake of a man famous for a (mythical) bet on a race across the Atlantic against Sir Francis Chichester.
Once into the ‘inner sanctum’ the current lessened, and an interesting potter took them up to a wide shallow pool with a number of moorings. However, it was near low water and there didn’t seem to be anywhere to land to explore further ashore, so Mate clung to a moored rowing boat while Skipper topped up the fuel tank, and then they paddled some of the way back to enjoy the silence.
Saturday 22 July
The day began with a sense of déjà vu, except the wind was tricksy and Mate ran me gently aground while Skipper was retrieving the anchor. Thank goodness for a lifting centreboard – as it was winched up, I managed to wiggle myself free and we headed back down the loch, past the seal colony near the entrance, and collecting another wave from the bridge of another large CalMac ferry, the Hebridean Isles.
We had a lovely broad reach across the top of the Sound of Gigha, listening in to a rescue incident somewhere South of our position, and keeping clear as the Islay lifeboat sped out of the Sound to attend the shout.
The wind veered and was heading us too far North, so we gybed to surf down some biggish rollers to pick up the North-flowing tide through the Sound of Islay. The crew spotted no sign of water at Port Askaig, so we flew on, touching 10 knots just before we popped out of the North end of the Sound into lumpy seas and nasty gusts. Skipper fought to bring my large mainsail down to third reef, which slowed me down dramatically but made helming more manageable. The blue cargo ship, Isis, registered in Douglas and familiar from Wicklow, passed on her way down the Sound.
Once inside Jura’s Loch Tarbert we were glad of the detail shown on the chart plotter, as we wove through rocks and islets, past a busy anchoring pool deep into the head of the main navigable water. We found an empty bay in front of an uninhabited bothy, and tucked in close with a small seal colony outside of us, at first evidenced by their sounds alone – an eerie, mournful call.
Happy hour revealed an additional jib sheet dangling over the bow with a ragged end: it had dropped off the guard rail and caught in the propeller blades, where the cutter had once again done sterling work…oops.
Peace descended as the song of larks climbed into the blue sky of a true wilderness anchorage.
Friday 21 July
An 0600 alarm call ensured my reluctant crew were ready for a passage West for Islay and Jura, but they’d been unable to find a weather forecast and set off ‘blind’. Running under staysail alone we were most of the way back down the loch when they picked up “gale warning, Malin” from the radio, and even in this sheltered water the wind was already feeling unpleasant, so we turned around sharply, furled the sail, messily as it was flapping wildly, and slogged back through heavy rain to where we started.
To the relief of both, the anchor set first time, wet foul weather gear was soon stripped off and coffee and toast was served below. The wind soon dropped away, but it rained steadily all day.