Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Joy of Cruising

Ardfern Parish Church
In the past few days we’ve been privileged to watch a Buzzard sitting on a sign close to the shore (Loch Spelve last Wednesday morning) and, on a walk into the countryside near Ardfern, Loch Craignish, seen a tiny bird (possibly a White Throat or a Reed Warbler according to our bird book) sitting on the back of her much larger and noisy offspring to drop food into its gape… it took us a few moments to realise we were watching a baby cuckoo being fed. There was a golden eagle wheeling over high open ground close by the shore as we left Loch Spelve. And we’ve also been bitten (drawing blood) by large dull brown flies apparently called Cleggs resulting in nasty wheals that itch for days. Finally we've scratched our heads too at some of the spots both sheep and cattle have managed to reach, green places at the bottom of steep cliffs.

Buzzard on a sign, Loch Spelve
Bird watching, tree and flower identification, plus amazing rock formations causing tidal eddies which in turn have added several knots to our speed, together with the stunning Highland scenery have turned the past four weeks into an unforgettable and varied cruise. Our list of lochs and islands enjoyed is lengthy – Loch Creran, Aline, Spelve, Miodart, Melfort and probably some I’ve forgotten. The islands of Mull, Tiree & Jura and others we’ve simply sailed round or past like Coll, both Shuna's, Lismore and Easdale. The charts, almanac and pilot guide are well thumbed and a special mention must be given to Hamish Haswell-Smith’s “The Scottish Islands” which has enriched our experience with advice on where to anchor, history, geology and wildlife information. For now we are back in Oban at the island of Kerrara which is where the marina is. Time to recuperate for Susie’s back, and time to catch up on a few more boat jobs and the laundry (the latter we conveniently forgot whilst enjoying ourselves but now have several machine loads to contend with).
Pyramidal Orchid,
Loch Droma na Buiche

We can’t believe how fast the time has flown, it’ll soon be regatta time, West Highland Yacht Week. Oban to Croabh for the feeder race and some practise for the expanded crew of friends who have signed up for the fun on Saturday, Croabh back to Oban, Inshore racing off Oban then Round Lismore before a passage race to Tobermoray and yet more inshore racing there on Wednesday and Thursday and on Friday a final race back to Oban. There will be parties and prize givings enroute plus plenty of opportunities to socialise with other crews and to catch up with friends and acquaintances. Come August we’ll probably need our planned short trip across the sea to Ireland as time in which to recover!

Cup Stones, Ardfern

Jelly  Fish

Contented Gull

Tidal Race, Sound of Luing

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Dust and Dirt = Mucky Boat

Can someone tell us where all the fluff and dust comes from? Temptress has a wooden sole, a couple of rugs covering most of it. Just two people live on board who remove shoreside shoes before descending below and the boat is regularly vacuumed, dusted or brushed. Yet every time you lift a sole board there the stuff is lying in grey black piles made sticky by the salty atmosphere.
From time to time we have to lift and wipe the board edges, scrapping out the fluff from the supporting struts with a screw driver or similar. The catches slotted into each board are usually cruded shut and require the attention of a wooden spoon handle and a screw driver to work them loose once more. Under sole the tops of the water tanks and the bilge spaces are usually dry but inevitably grubby – just how does hair and sand work its way down here to gather in random balls?
Having recently washed down the saloon and galley wood work as well as some of the darker recesses like the cavernous dry locker (home to cereals, flour pulses and pasta supplies) and the space under the galley sink (home to everything from potatoes and cleaning materials to charcoal for the incense burner) our attention has turned to this murky underworld. Bit by bit each time we have cause to venture into part of it we have started to clean the nooks and crannies, rinsing the dirt from the storage boxes that hold tinned supplies, wine, emergency bottles of water, spare dusters and the like. But it is a thankless task as, leave it a few weeks and the fluff and dust will return, oddly damp and sticky clinging to every surface.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Good Holding

Late evening at anchor - Loch Spelve
A mooring buoy in Craighouse Harbour, Jura was the only viable option
with kelp & rock on the bottom
If there is one act that tends to cause more disharmony within a crew when on board a boat than any other it is anchoring and that includes the pair of us. If people watching is a hobby then get yourself down to your local anchorage mid-afternoon and settle down to watch the action.

It seems such a simple task – select a spot, decide how deep it is, calculate the amount of warp or chain is needed (four times the depth is a good approximation, a lot more if it’s windy, slightly less if you’ve chain and the anchorage is crowded) then let the anchor go. Temptress has an electric windless so standing on the “down” button is about as strenuous as it gets for the foredeck crew.  Watch the chain markers go past and once most of the length is out indicate to the helm so they can “dig it in” by reversing the boat a bit. Watch or better feel by resting a hand on the chain for the point when the anchor stops bumping along and ploughs its way firmly into the bottom. A quick glance round for a transit or two then watch them to see if the boat continues to move for a minute or two (if it does you are dragging so bring it all up and start again). What could be easier?

Firstly there are the helms/skippers who fail to choose their spot well. Just because someone else is anchored there does not mean it’ll work for you too. We had enormous fun in Tobermoray anchored near the waterfall in well over twenty metres of water. Every afternoon boats would circle us looking for that magic spot they thought we must be on where their chain would reach, eventually after say their second circuit of Temptress, yelling across to ask us how deep. We’d confirm it was 23 metres at high water resulting in them scuttling off across the harbour with their crew muttering I told you so’s.

Next are the boats who look at the crowd and decide the isolation of the other shore of the loch is the place for them regardless of the fact that it might be exposed to the entrance and the wind is whistling in (cf a large Westerly in Loch Aline who must have had an uncomfortable night as they moved over to be closer to the crowd early in the morning), or yet others who quite clearly haven’t examined the chart well enough and end up in danger of swinging into a currently submerged rock or bank when the tide turns (we’ll own up to doing this in Chi Harbour many moons ago  and spent an uncomfortable few hours lying at 45 degrees on the sand) .
Picturesque Easdale Sound, very poor holding
The transit of lamp post and gable end soon indicated dragging

Then there are the helms who have to go to the bottom of the class when it comes to observation. They arrive at their chosen spot via a lengthy tour of the harbour, patience running out  as they’ve had difficulty finding a suitable anchorage, yell at the crew to let the anchor go and reverse.  All the while failing to spot that every vessel is lying at a completely different angle to their approach. No problem until their vessel loses way and starts to come under the same tidal or wind influences as the rest of us when it swings slowly round putting them far too close to another boat or boats or even the shore.

And the one that causes Temptress’ crew the most issues, a foredeck and helm who fail to communicate. You can’t hear one another over the engine and rattling chain when almost fourteen metres apart. If the foredeck hasn’t established before leaving the cockpit roughly how deep it is and if the helm isn’t watching signals from the foredeck then it is all certainly not going to go well. How much chain to put out? A problem with chain wrapped over itself, pinning it firmly in the locker half way through the process? Not digging in and needing to come up again? Realising we are going to end up too close to land, shallows or another boat? We’ve had them all happen and finding the other not paying attention specifically to us, we end up blaming each other when in fact shouting information is pretty futile, hand signals are more useful so we should be watching the other crew as well as our task in hand. Fortunately neither of us bear a grudge for long and once settled in the cockpit G&Ts in hand all is harmonious once more.

Then there is the weighing (ie raising) anchor palava the following day. Here we pride ourselves on having a good system of arm/hand signals employed by the foredeck and they rarely fail us. Exaggerated pointing towards where the chain enters the water (sometimes it is behind the bow) ensures the helm manoeuvres the boat according to the foredeck’s wishes. Our chain falls into a pyramid directly under the windless and usually during the process of bringing it up that pile eventually grows high enough to prevent additional chain being added, a distracted foredeck can end up with a mess of jammed chain on the windless if they aren’t paying close attention so getting a lot of chain up can often take some time, the helm needs patience and the foredeck perseverance.

A raised closed fist by the foredeck indicates to the helm to put the engine in neutral. Finally a big thumbs-up when the anchor is clearly visible coming up so the helm is aware that they now have responsibility for the boat’s movement and can head off slowly. At this point too there can be extra fun for the people watcher; kelp or another obstruction lifted with the anchor. Once in the Solent off Newton Creek Temptress’ straining anchor windless brought up our old CQR jammed in a huge tree bole which required assistance from friends with other boats to remove and we’ll also admit to hoicking up discarded fishing gear or some other cable whilst kedged in the English Channel miles south of the Isle of Wight during an offshore race much to the surprise of the entire crew, fortunately that slide off gently as the anchor tipped.

Just a small helping of kelp
Over the years though we’ve observed that often crews are completely flummoxed by the additional object on the anchor but it usually is calmly sorted it out with a bit of ingenuity by the skipper. In Bunessan on the Isle of Mull and later after a lunchtime stop in the picturesque but tiny Easdale Sound weighing anchor resulted in bringing up a complete camouflage canopy of kelp which took some contortions with the boat hook to lift clear bit by bit. Our once shiny new Delta is finally starting to look used.

We managed continuous fourteen nights at anchor in various places over the past few weeks, then one variation, picking up a mooring in Loch Melfort (another procedure needing close co-operation between helm and foredeck if it is all to go smoothly) and Thursday night (July 18) another splendid anchorage where it took us two attempts to lay forty metres of chain. The bottom, judging by the anchor when it finally came up after attempt one was gloopy grey mud and stone but this being a fairly popular spot close by Ardfern Marina at the head of Loch Craignish it probably has been churned up by much use, hence our difficulty in getting the anchor to set firmly initially. But in all this despite a few skirmishes we’ve not had a serious falling out between bow and cockpit, the processes of both anchoring and weighing anchor are becoming well-honed and swapping roles frequently ensures at any rate we share the burden of being in the doghouse!

All harmless fun for the onlooker but watching some crews’ anchor it seems it could be the straw that breaks a relationship. Take heart if you are one of those muttering crew thinking mutinous thoughts, boating is a continuous learning process…. providing much amusement to the spectator.

Ardfern anchorage at night - why we do it!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Foggy Day - Testing Our Remote Comms

It’s a foggy day and we are stuck in harbour somewhere on the West Coast of Scotland. What better to do than configure the systems we plan to use to capture weather forecasts and make short blog posts whilst we are at sea… this is a test post to see if it works as it said on the tin!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Potable Water Success

It has been almost three weeks since we left the sealock at Corpach, the last time we filled our tanks with water from a tap yet Temptress still has almost two full tanks of drinking water and we’ve not died of thirst. The watermaker has come into its own and we are starting to make sense of things we’d got to know over the years about Temptress’ plumbing but never connected the dots mentally. It may appear labyrinthine but once understood we are realising the original Jeanneau design was quite clever. 

On the pressurised side each tank has a stop cock which once open enables its contents to be used at any of the three taps or to fill the calorifier where it can be heated by the engine or mains electricity. Everyone knows water flows downhill and we knew too that with the pressure pump off and all the stop cocks open water will move freely from the forward tank under our bunk which is slightly higher to the two smaller tanks under the main cabin sole (the nautical term for the wooden flooring). A total capacity of five hundred and eighty litres.

On the filling side there is a filler cap on the side deck leading to a large pipe that runs from somewhere behind the mirrored locker above the sink in the forward heads (bathroom) to a T-joint above the tank under our bunk. Incoming water from a hose then fills this forward tank to the brim before overflowing onward to the other tanks. With the installation of the watermaker, Kevin also had a valve put into the forward tank filler pipe so that water could be directed only into the other two. This would ensure that if the water was of dubious quality we’d contaminate only the two small tanks.
The watermaker output goes into the forward tank as it is adjacent to its machinery which also lives under our bunk. Putting two and two together from our existing knowledge we realised that the watermaker output could be kept in isolation in the forward tank if necessary. And more slowly, it dawned on us that we could also fill the lower two tanks either in turn or simultaneously by opening the stop cocks into the domestic side appropriately. We can either open the filler pipe valve and let excess production from the watermaker spill over into both the lower tanks or we can keep it shut and control which tank it drains into via the domestic stop cocks. We are now the experts in water diversion aboard our little kingdom and we’ve developed a child-like delight in opening and closing the valves then watching the analogue fresh water gauge by the chart table swing past the red into the green until it reaches 4/4! All the water we’ve been using over the past week or so has been soft watermaker made stuff, purer at 200ppm than the usual domestic supply that comes out of your tap at ashore and no chlorinated taste. We’ve both learnt to moderate our use of soap and washing up liquid to avoid a surfeit of bubbles!

With the solar panels and the wind generator constantly charging the batteries plus the occasional bit of motoring into harbour we now have more than enough power to run the watermaker on any passage longer than a couple of hours (the minimum time the manufacturers recommend running it for) and seem for now to be making more water than the pair of us can use.  As a side note we last plugged into mains power in Oban two weeks ago so our multiplicity of charging systems are serving us well too.

Now if only we could work out how to generate hot water without running the engine for an hour. We’ve a solar shower on board, purchased and never used on Shawa’al our Bahrain boat (it was easier to jump in the hot Arabian sea). The bag needs to be left black side up in full sun and out of the wind for several hours making it a nuisance in the cockpit if you are sailing or just sitting around in the anchorage, it was too exposed to the breeze on the foredeck to get more than lukewarm. So far we’ve only got it hot enough once for showers and it was a bit of a palava trying to suspend it above the hatch in the forward heads so we could stand under the nozzle yet reach the crude clip that serves as a tap. One to try again in sunnier climes.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Altering Course

Escaping Puffin
Fingals Cave (apologies for the bit of rigging!)
Sometimes you simply have to give into nature, alter course and head elsewhere than your planned destination.  Last Saturday 13 July was a case in point Temptress was heading to Canna as the weather promised to be settled for a few days yet. The forecast light westerly wind was being bent round the islands of Rum & Eigg into a north-westerly whilst the favourable tide was running north along coast of Skye looming on our right. Not much tide as tides go and not that much wind but what the wind there was, was being accelerated by the mountains and, with a fetch that stretched many miles, kicking up a rough chop on the sea’s surface as it opposed the incoming tide. After clearing Loch Moidart’s rocks Temptress plugged on forward under engine at a grand 3.5 knots, each stumpy wave causing her bow to slam down into the one ahead bringing the boat to a virtual standstill. Thirty odd miles to Canna - that’s almost eight hours of bone rattling, boat shaking horrid passage making on a grey dull day which did nothing to lift our spirits. The crew ran through their rough mental list of places to see. Loch Slieve on the South East corner of Mull? A quick measure of the angle to Ardnamurchan Point, a change of course and we settled down to a fast 7 knot sail south-westwards.

But did we really want to retrace our steps all the way down the Sound of Mull past Lismore and Oban? No. The crew, especially the navigator wanted new waters to explore. The wind and the forecast were good also for the fair weather anchorage of Gott Bay, Tiree so after more rapid navigation planning, thank goodness for our PC chart plotting software, that is where we headed. Wonderful sailing along the east coast of the rocky, bracken & heather covered, long thin island of Coll. Apparently there is some flat land along the other coast but neither it nor most of the island’s houses were visible from our standpoint. With flatter seas once the tide changed and a good wind we’d covered forty four nautical miles before four o’clock that afternoon to anchor off the ferry pier. The pale blue water in the bay was so clear the anchor could be seen all the way down to the bottom some seven or eight metres below the boat!

A wide sweep of silver sand backed by low grassy knolls filled the horizon from the pier right round to the north east corner of the bay. There were a few houses scattered along the long shore and one big hotel about half way round, too far to consider venturing by dinghy, it would be a wet ride. Tiree is called “the land beneath the waves” and, in contrast to Mull behind us, only two points on the island could be considered as high, the rest is just a few metres above sea level, grassy sheep grazing. Ashore after a visit to the Co-op who appears to have a monopoly on island food stores and well stocked they are too, we stopped for a swift one at the Scarinish Hotel. The bar had seen better days with its formica topped tables, greasy banquette coverings and rather grumpy barmaid but the locals seems welcoming enough once they’d found we were not motor-homers (no idea why they were so prejudiced against them but they were).

If you intend to visit these parts do ensure you sign up with either O2 or Vodaphone – the newly combined might of T-Mobile and Orange doesn’t reach these parts and nor it seems does a BT phone box engineer, both boxes on Tiree were out of order. Kevin did manage to borrow a phone in the Tiree Co-op to leave a message for friends Judith and John who are sometimes on the island but it would have been nigh on impossible for them to contact us unless they had a VHF so we sadly missed them.

Since leaving Tobermoray with its on-off wi-fi, usable only if you sit in the little gazebo at the top of the pontoon access ramp, and extremely poor T-Mobile connection, Temptress has had to rely on Coast Guard broadcasts for weather so we now can only plan 24 – 48 hours ahead. Radio Four’s morning inshore forecast at 05:25 is simply too early to get up for but the CG handily broadcast at 07:10 so the alarm is set for five minutes before!
We are collecting Coast Guard stations we have heard like postage stamps; Stornaway, Belfast, Malin Head and yesterday Liverpool speaking to an inshore life boat. The coast guard up here make a single announcement in turn on each of their different aerials of the channel they intend to broadcast the maritime and safety message on. If you hear the announcement then that’ll be the channel you’ll hear the forecast on. Much more useful that Solent CG who have taken to announcing a litany of aerials and channel numbers relying on the listener to work out which they are closest to, fine if you are a local but if not then you are left skipping through the channels to find out which works for current your position.

After a night in Tiree the weird outlines of the Treshnish Isles (mostly pancake flat with a conical bit in the middle of the appropriately named Dutchmans Cap) and the caves of Staffa beckoned. It was a lazy slow sail downwind with just the jib but a great speed for mackerel fishing, though we only managed to find one, now gutted and stowed in the fridge. Off Staffa we joined the tripper boats and some other yachts taking advantage of one of those rare days of the year when boats can get close to the island. There was little swell so one tourist boat safely offloaded its customers at the jetty to walk round the rocks into Fingals Cave inspiration of music of the same name. One yacht had launched a rib so all their crew bar one could go ashore and were standing on the islands peak.  We ventured in as close as we dared for photos of the basalt columns whilst a motor boat took its passengers right into the mouth of the cave. An amazing experience and another unique opportunity for photographs and a memory that we’ll recall warmly in years to come.

Then we sailed on south into Loch na Lathaich, a tiny U-shaped dent in the north coast of the Ross of Mull to the east of Iona. Described to us as popular and one of the busier anchorages around Mull we were surprised to see that late afternoon there was just one yacht on a mooring half way down and another at anchor off the jetty closer to the village. Our arrival though seemed to be the start of a minor rush hour, soon we were one of four yachts in our part of the bay and there were a much larger number clustered close to the moorings. Ashore the pleasant Argyll Arms Hotel in the village was a total contrast to the Scarinish, modern, bright and fresh with friendly welcoming staff and the food smelt good too. We decided to try their lunch and exploit their internet connection tomorrow!

Loch Moidart – Tiree – Loch na Lathaich 67nm 854nm total

A Hidden Gem

After our Loch Sunart pilotage exercise a Scottish friend and local sailor, Millicent, suggested we try another hidden gem of a loch with a moderately challenging entrance, or more exact, choice of entrances. It lay to the north of our Admiralty leisure Folio 5611 West of Scotland Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan Point but only just. In yet another visit to Tobermoray we purchased a pilot guide for Skye and the surrounding area. That plus our electronic charts would get us there.  Oh and we took the opportunity to have another couple of pints in the Mishnish whilst we were there.

Pilot Guides or Sailing Directions are the yachtsman’s bibles. Aerial photo’s, hand drawn chartlets detailing almost every rock and bend together with detailed written instructions on transits, tides, local facilities etc every boat has a library of pilot guides but as each represents one man’s (or in the case of Annie Hammick, one woman’s) life’s work they are, not surprisingly, expensive. Some authors are a great read too, Tom Cunliffe being a particular favourite; in describing Gosport he says“….and the streets beyond hold further possibilities for the adventurous diner including a Chinese takeaway”. And of a marina in Poole Harbour “ Charges here are so notorious high that even hardened South Coast yachtsmen have been  found slumped in the gents weeping silently to themselves”.  A pilot guide author who knows who his true audience is - your average impoverished amateur yachtie with a desire to seek out the highways and byways of the coast.

This particular volume was twenty seven pounds but the destination was more than worth it. A fairytale location with an almost circular conical shaped pine clad island and close by a lower rocky islet joined to the shore by a low sand bar or causeway complete with the ruined castle. 

The route in through the Southern channel was tricky with twists and turns but at half tide (on an incoming tide) we could see most of the stuff you’d be likely to hit and the directions guided us around the few dangers that lurked below the surface. After thirty or forty minutes of nail bitingly tortuous pilotage Temptress was securely anchored in a few metres of clear water just off the Shona Island jetty with a grandstand view of the loch’s main attractions whilst yet more pine clad islets could be seen further up the loch. We are tempted not to reveal the location of this wonderful place but, as long as you don’t let too many people know, it is Loch Moidart and the castle is Tioram (pronounced Cheerum). The castle was burnt by its departing owner when he set off expecting death in battle more than a couple of centuries ago and is now the subject of a protracted struggle between its current owner and the Scottish quango responsible for historic buildings over whether it should be restored into a modern dwelling or simply prevented from falling down, meanwhile it lies badly fenced off as the crumbling walls are liable to kill an innocent visitor who gets to close. Our view of all this was a picture postcard summarising everything that is the Scottish Highlands; craggy mountains, clan castles, granite outcrops, bracken, heather, pine trees and sea loch all in glorious sunshine.

Tobermoray – Loch Moidart 29nm, 787nm total

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Scenic Backwaters

On the chart to the north east of Tobermoray and Mull is a long, winding inlet, Loch Sunart. This body of water heads almost due east for about twenty miles and its head is within a few miles of Loch Linnhe where Temptress was last week!  The navigation is a bit tricky requiring the crew to be on full alert due to odd rocks out in the channel (we’d heard a distress call from a yacht that suspected they’d hit one to the west of Risga on Saturday and seen that boat towed in by the life boat later in the day). To add to the complications there a couple of narrow spots where the tide runs hard. We have paper charts, electronic charts and the Ordinance Survey maps on a hand held GPS and despite the dangers were tempted by the prospect of a day of pilotage, something different to exercise the brain.

The land either side of Loch Sunart is mountainous, above the tree line bare rock, bracken and heather and with the sun shining it is glorious. There was little wind so the whole trip was made using the engine, identifying the landmarks on the chart and picking our way from one leading line to another. At the top of the almost an island of Oronosay (it’s connected to the mainland at low water) we headed south west close inshore to avoid the perils of the triangular Risga which hugs the north shore of the loch, then turned north east along the Carna shore (not too close in as it too has some outliers) to avoid Broad Rock which lies just below the surface midway between Risga and Carna.

Once past Risga’s unmarked dangers the next stretch in a long V south then north to Salen Bay was relatively straightforward. The inside corner on the north shore had various rocks but by going deep into the bay on the southern side close to the huge fish farm we were well clear of them. Glencripsdale House on the Morven side (our right hand side or south shore) was a vast pile painted white with dark slate roofs, it had possibly been a simple double fronted house at one time but extended several times now is a large mansion surrounded by flat meadows, very pretty but seemingly very inaccessible except by boat. On the other shore Camasinas was less than a dozen twentieth century bungalows with slipways down to the loch, one with a yacht drawn up on the drive. The hills rose up steeply behind, a road wound its way along this shore all the way to the head of the loch.

We ignored the attraction of the tree fringed Salen Bay with a pub, pontoon and moorings but headed into the north shore just beyond to line up the transit of South House with a headland beyond the bay (a back bearing of 275 degrees, ie a bearing viewed looking back over the stern) that would keep Temptress clear of the rocks on the south shore of the next sweeping bend as the loch turned south east again. By the camp site full of campervans another transit, this time line up an old stone bridge and a farmhouse bearing 339 to clear the eastern edge of the rocks. Two more short transits took us safely between a pair of unmarked, unnamed rocks south west of Eilean a Chuilann and into the Laudale Narrows where the loch is squeezed even further between the islands of Glas Eilean and Eilean Mor to the north and Rubh nan Clach point to the south. After that the last couple miles, due east are free from any rocky dangers and Temptress motored to Strontian at the head of the loch where we dropped the hook for a late lunch of pasties and beans and a spot of unproductive fishing.

After lunch we thought of going ashore but it started to mizzle.  With roads on three sides the anchorage didn’t encourage us to linger for a night there. Strontian is though the village where the element of Strontium was discovered in the 18th century and has a forest walk with all sorts of exotic trees so might have been worth exploring but we saw a only the few houses on the loch shore, the main village being tucked away up a valley. Whilst in Tobermoray, the skipper of a charter motor boat had told us of a very quiet and beautiful loch way back at the entrance to Loch Sunart we decided to spend the night there instead. Time to pick our way back, this time it should be slightly easier as we had managed to identify all the landmarks for the transits on the way in. The bearings would all now be courses ahead, not looking back over our shoulder and we’d had the foresight to mark each turn on the approach and through the Laudale Narrows as a waypoint on the hand held GPS (our desert driving experience coming into play!). So Kevin steered mostly to the hand held GPS’s compass direction to the next waypoint (over twenty of them) for the initial part of the return trip then we went back to the more traditional charted transits and finally some close attention to our outward track to avoid the rocks off Risga.

Our destination lay to south of Oronosay through a narrow channel below the island’s western shore on our left) beneath the towering craigs of Torr Nan Con on the mainland (to our right). The entrance to Loch Na Droma Buidhe (a tiny picture postcard loch with a very grand sounding name) is fairly straight forward although you can’t turn to port too soon as another unmarked rock lurks just beneath the surface on the mainland side.  After a couple of afternoons watching other boats arrive we soon recognised the local boats arriving; if our anchorage was their target a smart U-turn had them take the shortest distance around the rock whereas most other boats including ourselves headed down the pool some way before turning left not heading up until sure they were well clear of any danger. We took the dinghy over to the area at half tide but failed to spot the outlier beneath the surface only seaweed.

The shores are mostly rocky, when the tide goes out there is a wide fringe of seaweed below some three or more metres of pale granite. Oronosay, though rugged (just granite outcrops, heather and bracken) is not very high however it is very steep to at its waters edge, you could almost touch the rocks from a yacht at high water, a tidal range of over 2 metres means mooring tied to the rocks Norwegian style isn’t practical. The mainland shore though has a few spots where streams tumble down from the mountains above creating beaches of black sand and rough shingle. It is possible to land a dinghy and from one of them a path through chest high bracken leads to a track that heads up the hillside and over the top to the village of Drimin overlooking the Sound of Mull, some 5 kilometres as the crow flies up and over the mountain but probably three or four times that if you follow the track round the headland of Auliston Point.

On Tuesday afternoon after a morning of boat chores we found it was an extremely pretty walk up through the trees to the highest point on the track with spectacular views east along Loch Sunart and down into Loch Teacuis below Carna Island (not accessible by anything with a keel) and our own anchorage, Loch Na Droma Buidhe.  Someone has thoughtfully provided benches at a couple of the best viewpoints and there is a lovely old wooden bridge smelling of tar in the heat of the sun over a waterfall on the way up through the trees. Lots of birds too, we saw our first Stonechat with its black head, reddish breast and odd “weest-trak-trak” alarm call (note to self - take bird book on walks as well as binoculars!).

Gorgeous - this is what we signed up for!

Fog rolling into the Sound of Mull

Looking across the anchorage and down Loch Sunart

Morning fog in the anchorage
There must have once been a small settlement just below Torr Nan Con judging by the ruins we saw on our walk. Around them were flat meadows with orchids and many other plants growing in the grass, probably very fertile soil for vegetables and other crops. No sheep or cattle grazing today but from the modern fences preventing a long drop into the trees below animals are obviously grazed here regularly. It would have been an amazing if isolated spot to live with mountains rising up from the sea and rocky islands dotting the clear blue water all around. In the far distance looking north through a gap in the mountains of Arnamurchan (mainland Britain’s most westerly point and cosily familiar to all who listen to marine weather forecasts) we could spot two blue-grey cone shaped outlines, The Cullins on Skye?

Then the fog which had threatened all day and was still hanging around below us in the Sound of Mull began to roll back in rising up toward the headland. Time to head back down to the boat and supper.

PS: Still no internet so will update when we can, hopefully later on Wednesday if the fog clears and Temptress can anchor again in Tobermoray as we need supplies too. Not even a phone signal in the anchorage here and with no VHF weather forecast at 07:10 on Wednesday morning due to Stornaway coastguard casualty working we felt really isolated in the silence of thick fog.

Tobermoray – Strontian, Loch Sunart – Loch Na Droma Buidhe 39 nm, 758nm total

The Common Comorant or Shag...

Shags nesting
 What is the difference between the Great Cormorant and the European Shag? Apart from wingspan which in the latter is slightly shorter and apparently differing flight patterns, neither of which features are easy to spot without having both birds present to compare, the only other distinguishing feature seems to be, according to the three bird books in our library, a white patch on the face of the Cormorant and a yellower bill on the Shag. So on that basis we’ve been watching Shags coming and going from their nesting site on the cliffs a hundred metres or so from our anchorage in Tobermoray Bay for the past two days. And they definitely do not lay their eggs in a paper bag no matter what the rhyme may say, rather a mess of sticks and seaweed!

Harbour waterfall
Fascinating as well as fun. Adult pairs feeding their still downy grey young despite the fact that the offspring are as large as their parents. There is at least one adult bird who’s skill at spotting a suitable landing site on the near vertical cliff is a bit lacking, the Shags fly into the cliff at full tilt, folding their wings at the last minute then push their webbed feet forward to cling to a crevice, a quick wing flap to steady themselves and they are secure. Unless you happen to choose a bit of cliff under an overhang and no crevice in which case the bird plummets seawards only just recovering to skim across the surface, fly a circuit and try a again. When departing the Shags often launch themselves off their perch with a splash onto the sea then dip their head under the water, no idea why. Others fly away low over the water to a nearby mooring buoy before setting off on a fishing trip.

On their cliff perch they spend most of their time preening (possibly because their toilet habits mean that the lower birds are frequently plastered with a stream of guano from above). They roost with gentle satisfied squawks, coos and clucks rather like hens in a hen house. They are surprisingly vocal though when a bird lands close to a nesting pair becoming quite a rumpus. Some of the Shags have young, some are sitting tight on twiggy nests whilst other pairs are still fighting over lengths of seaweed with one placing it on the cliff ledge then their mate picking it up and swinging it about, some sort of mating ritual? No idea but it has been a fascinating few days, even more interesting than the waterfall in full spate a short distance further along the cliff which would have made this anchorage unique and enjoyable in itself. The water around Temptress is streaked with the peaty brown water of the stream which has hardly mixed with the clear green of the sea when it reaches us, clear stripes until the boat swings and acts as a giant spoon. The sea itself is so clear that the bottom many metres down can be seen as can large orange capped jellyfish that drift past from time to time.

On Thursday evening we went with Jim from Rona to the Mishnish (a Tobermoray institution) for a pint and some Gaelic entertainment. First up was a small part of the Mull & Iona Pipe Band, two young lads and their mentor playing to raise funds for their planned trip to Glasgow and the World Pipe Band Championships later this year. It must be daunting to play for a pub audience when you are only just a teenager but they carried it off with panache and three pipers in unison was enough to drown out any conversation! Interwoven with their sets were performances by a small Gaelic choir who sang lots of local music including tunes used when musical instruments weren’t available to accompany dancing. The music was varied; laments, songs of the sea, reels and jigs plus a few haunting solos, not what you’d normally expect to find in a bar on a Thursday night, it was wonderful. Jim is hoping to make Ullapool by July 8th for a traditional boat festival so we are hoping the forecast improvement in the weather improves for him.
Another of the joys of this part of the world are the distilleries. Tobermoray has had one since 1798 and so we treated ourselves to a late morning tour of this wonderful grey granite building. Whisky is made from three ingredients; barley, water and yeast. In the big mash pan grist (ground up malted barley produced especially for Tobermoray on Islay) is stewed up with water drawn from a peaty stream up on the hillside above the distillery. It smells quite disgusting. The resulting liquid is drawn off, heated up some more and placed in one of four washtubs, literally a huge 20 foot across two floors high wooden tub renewed in the 1960’s using American pine but with new wooden lids last year.

The final ingredient, yeast is added and the lot left to bubble away for many hours. How many depends on the weather outside, in colder months it can take 90 hours for the yeast to work its magic on the sugars from the malted barley. The smells were much more palatable and the heat being generated was amazing. The froth rises up almost to the top of the tub and then settles back as the fermentation reaches completion. Once the mix is judged ready the beer strength brew is pumped out into a still for its first distillation. A second distillation then raises the proof of the liquor to over 40% before it is shipped away to be barrelled and left to sleep (aged) in a Stirling warehouse. Just six people run the entire process in three shifts of two! The 10 year old Tobermoray was a bit rough for our taste but the smokey Ladaig (pronounced Led-chuck) made with barley that was malted over smoking peat was smooth and treacly, just right for drinking on Temptress of an evening by oil lamp.
The great thing about hanging around in any harbour is watching all the comings and goings. We had fun in Loch Aline on a windy Wednesday afternoon as boats made their decisions on where to anchor mainly it seemed based on where we and a handful of other boats were and not on how sheltered they’d be stuck just that little bit further out into the loch with the wind howling down its short length from the entrance. At least one boat had to move before the evening was out to a calmer spot.

Saturday morning - 2nd leg of the Round Mull race starts
Here in Tobermoray as well as the ferry coming and going, during the course of Friday virtually all the visitors left both the pontoons and the moorings as well as the anchorage, the weather having vastly  improved for those heading further out into the islands or hoping to head south to Oban and beyond. Gales are forecast in every area around the west coast of Scotland except for where we are, Malin and the tomorrow’s forecast offers yet more improvement becoming variable force 3 to 4.

The Hebridean Princess arrived mid-afternoon, her black and white hull making her look for all the world like a Calmac ferry (apparently she once was one but nowadays is occasionally chartered by HM), she anchored down the bay from us with a loud rattling of chain that sounded like a massive thunderstorm below on Temptress and sent us scuttling on deck to see what calamity had happened in the harbour. This miniature cruise ship is now quietly swinging to her chain presumably her passengers will be going ashore shortly. As the afternoon wore on hordes of cruising yachts arrived, Tobermoray on a grey Friday evening seemingly a magnet to every visiting yacht for miles around including the fleet of the Round Mull Yacht Race arriving from Oban. Great for boat spotting and people watching with practical lessons on how to or how not to anchor thrown in for good measure!

We may not be exactly long distance cruising but we certainly are enjoying the superb mountain scenery, relatively flat water sailing (including when it was blowing force eight down the Sound of Mull on Thursday morning) and the lovely harbours and lochs in which to anchor. Kevin is beavering away, fitting the solar panels to their scaffolding as I type this. Let’s hope next weeks promised weather improvements will include some sunshine to test them out in. For now posting this entry will have to wait though, no 3G coverage in the bay but hopefully we’ll find a friendly cafe with wifi soon.

Kerrara – Loch Aline – Tobermoray 31.6nm logged 719nm total

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Wind, Rain and a Quiet Anchorage

Rainy Day
Having thought we'd be stuck on our Lock Linnhe mooring for a couple of days as yet another low passed to the north trailing its fronts with their associated high winds and rain over the Highlands, we found on Sunday afternoon the sky was brightening and the rain easing. Time to move as another blow was forecast for later. So we made the quick hop south under engine through the narrow channel between Shuna and The Knap, then between Eileann nan Caorach a small island to the west and Port Appin on the mainland to reach the top of the Lynn of Lorn. It was just five miles round into the gorgeous and isolated Loch Creran from where we'd been moored but surely one of the most beautiful five miles of coast with its rocks, islands and mountains that we'd seen so far.

Tiny flagged Red & Green Buoys marked the Shuna Channel
If the Shuna channel had been narrow the entrance to Creran was narrower, a short zig-zag - south round Dearg Sgeir (some seals were resting on this seaweed covered rock) but north of Glas Eilean, turn north east to round the top of the isle of Eriska then south east into South Shian Bay. There were half a dozen boats on moorings deep in the bay but we dropped our hook level with a recycled fish farm now doing duty as a tern nesting site. It was pouring with rain again so we were happy to sit under the sprayhood munching on Kevin's first ever loaf of bread! Close by was a tiny yacht also at anchor, it looked like the skipper had roughly tied up the sails and gone to bed on arrival. It's pram bowed plywood tender was almost as big as the yacht. Much later we saw the elderly owner slowly moving round on deck tidying things up and he motored off further into the loch the following  morning.

We were fascinated by the terns, they seemed to whirl up in a mass for no apparently reason shrieking at each other in a large wheeling flock. During one of these sessions the unmistakable arrow like shape of a falcon dived down through them and missed, we held our breath as again and again the falcon failed to catch a tern for its supper. Then things changed, the terns started breaking out of their formation and successively attacked from above their foe. The falcon, probably a Peregrine beat a hasty retreat and the terns settled back down for the evening on their fish farm.

Proud Baker!
After a quiet night July greeted us with high thin cloud and sunshine. With things that needed ordering from a chandlery or being alongside to fix Oban Marina at the north end of the island of Kerrara opposite the town looked a good place to hide away from Monday night & Tuesday's forecast blow, plus it being Susie's birthday a meal ashore was in order. we set a course as direct as you could from our anchorage to Oban via the North Channel (between the mainland and Kerrara) but once out in the Lynn of Lorn it was a glorious sailing day. Temptress motored west to the shore of Lismore enabling us to get an angle to the southerly wind which would permit sailing. With the engine off we unfurled the genoa (no main for ease of sail handling as it was only a short 5 miles of so) and set off on a beat southwest wards.

The Castle in Loch Laich, below Shuna

Loch Creran

The weather is improving
Looking down into Oban as we passed the North Channel
Once out on the water we were unanimous, we should sail to the bottom end of Kerrara and up the Sound. A quick re-do of the nav and we were set. A long tack out towards the lighthouse at the southern tip of Lismore and then a tack back to the gap between Bach Island and Kerrara - a narrow passage but still mostly over 20 metres deep. Then ease away along the southern shore of Kerrara, lots of lovely places to anchor on calm days or in northerlies but unsuitable for now. Then downwind north up the sound towards Oban negotiating the various rocks and buoys whilst eating Scotch pies and beans for lunch. The marina was full so it took a while to get berthed somewhere acceptable to both the management and ourselves. Eventually we squeezed ourselves in French style onto a short finger pontoon meant for a boat two thirds of our size. We're snug and its a "blowy off" one so the fenders won't squeak during the promised force 7's with gusting 8's. After a run over on the free ferry to the town for a wander and a pint we returned for a poached chicken supper cooked in the thermal cooker whilst we were out. We were also waylaid by Moana's crew Chris & Wendy who we'd not seen to speak to since Inverness. They invited us aboard their lovely Elizabethan with it's cosy wood lined saloon for a glass or two of wine before supper. It was nice to catch up again.

Lismore Lighthouse

Glorious mountain views

Castle Bay, Kerrara

Castle Bay, Kerrara
Apart from baking bread and cakes what else do you do at anchor or in harbour when its raining? Over the past few days we've hoovered the saloon & master cabin (our UAE investment in a rechargable Dyson means Temptress is much spick-er and span-er than she had been of late), shaken out the rugs, completed yet more Suduko (Susie), attempted making soft shackles from Dyneema rope core (Kevin), fixed odds and ends like valves on the heads (the toilet), changed the bed, tidied lockers and done a couple of lots of laundry ashore (in Corpach & again in Karrera Marina). All fairly mundane just like living ashore! Kevin wants to order a spare ram for our autopilot so we can pick it up when we return to Oban at the end of the month and he's booked a table for tonight at the Waypoint Grill here in the marina.

And shush, not too loud... the weather might improve next week but first the wind is going to be a bit northerly and we had thought of heading north up the Sound of Mull. Ah well we'll see what tomorrow actually brings.

Wrapped up warm with Suduko

Dallens Bay - Loch Creran - Karrera 26.6 nautical miles logged, 687.6nm total

Monday, 1 July 2013

Onward Into Loch Linnhe

Approaching Fort William
Lord of the Glens
Day Trippers on Loch Linnhe
The Corran Narrows
Kevin’s chart perusals had come up with three potential spots to drop the hook on Saturday evening and after some further consideration we agreed on a sheltered bay on the south side of Loch Linnhe inside of the isle of Shuna (not to be confused with an island of the same name just a few miles further south near Jura and Croabh).  A tiny horseshoe shaped bay, it looked ideal to sit out the forecast 5-7, perhaps gale 8 later south westerly winds for the night or possibly two.

We left the Caledonian Canal behind us turning first left and then south west past Fort William and some rather drab looking hotels on the main road that runs along the loch side. The hills above draped in grey cloud that was ever changing in shape as the wind pushed it north eastwards. We had the ebbing tide with us but were motoring directly into the misty wind whistling up Loch Linnhe. The conflict of wind against tide over such a distance was kicking up a bit of a chop, the short waves were white capped and the occasional one sent spray skittering down the side decks towards us.  Our AIS was working again, it spotted the Lord of the Glens, a small cruise ship heading our way before we did, though we knew from the Corpach lock keepers that it was on its way north, back to Inverness from its weekly cruise round the Western Isles. It's 47 metres length and beamy width would be a snug fit through the locks, we were glad we hadn’t had to pass it in the canal itself.

It began to rain, a fine mizzle as the weather closed in, or rather as the cloud did, we may now be at sea level but soon so was the cloud! So much for magnificent views of the Highlands! The radar was fired up so we could “see” the land which was also closing in on either side as we rapidly approached the Corran Narrows with its light house and more importantly car ferry crossing. We wouldn’t want to end up colliding with the oddly shaped Corran ro-ro ferry whose on and off ramps are angled out at 45 degrees like open arms off its port hand corners. The tide was running out through this dogleg in the loch as down a plughole. The other side would be rough with the much longer fetch, the shallower water and the stronger wind and it was, waves breaking over the bow and the sea’s surface boiling up. Nine knots or more over the ground, the Narrows spat us out into the slightly calmer waters beyond. Still little scenery to view, just misty dark shapes to our left and right.

The headland of Rubha Mor was quickly passed, we left the low island of Eilean Balnagowan to port and then altered course for Dallens Bay. The cloud lifted a little and the drizzle eased. Ahead we could see lots of sailing boats on moorings – wrong choice of anchorage? In a word yes, despite what the 2013 Almanac and our pilot guide claimed there was little space for a yacht to anchor especially one of our size who’d need plenty chain out and hence lots of swinging room in the bad weather forecast. As we got among the moorings we were hailed from the pontoon. There was a mooring free that would take our length and weight on the outer edge of the moorings almost in the Sound of Shuna just north of Knapp Point, £10 per night. Well we were here, the forecast was for five to sevens (the “perhaps gale eight” had mysteriously disappeared) it seemed like a bargain so we took it. The moorings owner came over in an aluminum dory to assist and cheerily relieve us of a tenner, the tenant of this particular buoy is not due back until July 5th so we can decide in the morning whether or not to linger.

Corpach - Dallens Bay 18 nautical miles logged, 661nm total

The crab-like Corran Ferry