Our plan this year was (weather permitting) to head out past Ardnamurchan point and hopefully get to Plockton, then further north, possibly across to the Shiant Isles to see the Puffins/over to the Western Isles. Some time, though not this year, we would love to get a suitable weather window to visit St Kilda.
For my non Scotland based friends I have included some links within this blog to places that might be of of interest, so that when you finally come up here you may have an idea or three as to where you would like to go, and what you would like to see and do. These links might also just be of general interest, and hopefully they will provide a wee bit of general information/overview on these particular areas to those who cannot make it in person.
We headed up to the boat with a car full of the usual boatie type stuff along with the main food provisions for the holiday, however with it being holiday time the main road up towards Oban was very busy with cars towing caravans. Some (not all) of these drivers fail to have the simplest understanding of basic courtesy, they insist on continuing to drive along slowly, even though there is a queue of dozens of vehicles building up behind them, who, due to the narrow bending roads cannot safely overtake. Simply by pulling into a layby and letting the long queue they have created pass them could endear themselves a bit more to everyone stuck in the queue for mile after mile……..almost of on a full blown rant there but the sheer ignorance is at times mind blowing!!
When we finally arrived at Loch Creran we had the get the dinghy launched and do all the runs back and forward out to the mooring. I also has a bit of a fresh water leak that had to be found and fixed, so by the time we had everything sorted out it was quite late. So much so that the next day we decided to simply enjoy a day on the mooring and do some reading/general unwinding.
Heading out of Loch Creran there is a narrow (ish) channel where the tide runs at some 4kts+ at spring tides and the combination of this plus a shallow ledge, can, especially in a wind against tide situation be provide a somewhat lively exit/entrance. In our case today it was the “liveliest” I had ever seen it and I was quite happy when we exited the worst of the chop.
As ever when on hols the wind always seems to be coming from the direction we wish to travel, and today was no exception so we motor sailed down to the gap at Lady Rock and Eilean Musdile at the south end of Lismore which leads into the sound of Mull. (good photo in the link) As planned when we reached this part the tide was at slack water as this can also get really lumpy and on the way through the gap we passed a ship being loaded by helicopter from Eilean Musdile so we stayed well clear.
As we changed direction from SW to NW we had a good strong breeze building and thus a good sail up the sound of Mull, with the winds gusting off the hills and squalls hitting 30kts +. Sara was on the inside helm and I was outside controlling the sheets etc and we worked well as a team considering this was out first real outing this year.
When we reached Tobermory, another location where the Crown Estate has invested monies and provided the town with a small marina with the associated shower and laundry blocks which I have to say were very clean and tidy. There are also mooring buoys for visitors and whilst no magazine including the excellent publication Welcome Anchorages in Scotland (available free from Chandleries etc), actually states how these can be identified. Therefore if ever you are sailing into Tobermory, the visitors mooring buoys and painted blue with a white top and they have galvanised chain with a yellow pick up buoy.
When we arrived we couldn’t believe how busy it was and as there were no moorings free we called the number listed and enquired about a berth in the marina, and were told that if we could find one just take it as they were so busy and non of the available berths would be owned by locals!!
Well as luck would have it we found one close inshore which was a bit hidden from out in the bay, so in we went and tied up.
Turns out the reason Tobermory was so busy with boats was due to the Classic Malts event and also the annual muster (?) of Clyde Cruising Club. We chatted to the couple tied alongside us who were heading back home from their hols and they had limited their sailing area due to the weather forecasts, and in their opinion somewhat strange weather conditions.
As the forecast was again for F7 winds we didn’t really fancy rounding Arnamurchan Point in these kind of conditions so we decide to stay a further day in Tobermory and go and stretch our legs on the coastal walk to Aros Park.
The weather forecast proved to be a bit of an ongoing conundrum because the day actually turned out to be a calm and lovely warm summers day, and the walk itself was lovely with some beautiful spots along the way as can be seen in the shots below.
The forecast was for F4/5 from the south which would be fine for us, so out we headed with another few yachts who were also heading north and into seas that can only be described as flat calm, thereby rounding Arnamurcham Point the most westerly point of the UK mainland, (yes strange as it may first seem even further west than Cornwall) was a lovely relaxing experience.
However as Ardnamurchan Point is difficult to reach by road and a long way for some by sea, I thought the following photo of the lighthouse on the point might be of interest.
As there was no real breeze we simply hoisted the main and fired up the engine and had a lovely time heading past the Islands of Muck and Eigg with Rum towering above them in the background. The Cuillins of Skye were also clearly seen albeit they were a bit of a distance away from us with only a banner cloud on the highest peak. Our plan was to head for Loch Nevis pick up a mooring at the Old Forge and have an evening meal ashore. The Old Forge is recognised as the remotest pub in mainland Britain and cannot be accessed by road, only by sea or a hell of a long walk!!
The moorings laid by the hotel were very busy and since my last trip in here there is also a new pier to the left of the Old Forge as you look at it from the sea. However we eventually found a spare one and went ashore in the dinghy only to be told as they were so busy that we could either get a table now – or one at 2130 – now seemed good – so we had an incredibly tasty seafood platter then back to Sun Dog to stretch out. It never ceases to amaze me that somewhere so remote can be so busy, but there again the food is so good and seafood so fresh, with helpful friendly staff, that perhaps I shouldn’t be!
Our plan today was to head for Plockton, but we had to get our timing right at Kyle Rhea the narrow stretch of water between the mainland and the Isle of Skye where the tide runs at around 8kts at springs, and we were pretty much on spring tides so timing was vital to avoid having to wait for the next tide.
We had enough time that we could either get showered up at the facilities at the Old Forge or, en route to Kyle Rhea we could pick up a mooring and go ashore to use the facilities at the Hotel Eilean Iarman at Isle Ornsay on Skye a hotel we had so many good things about but hadn’t stayed in or visited before. It’s tucked away in a sheltered sea loch so that was the chosen option so it was goodbye to Inverie.
On the approach to Isle Ornsay you can begin to see the rooftops of the hotel hidden behind the headland as you approach up the Sound of Sleat. You can’t really miss this bay as there is a lighthouse on the Sound Of Sleat side providing an illuminating location marker.
We went ashore in the dinghy landing it on the beach at the old pier, and the Hotel happily provided a room for us to have full use of baths/showers etc -really lovely hotel and one that we must visit again. The charge for using the facilities including the use of their towels was a total of only £13, which in my opinion wasn’t too bad considering they had to clean out the bathroom again for the next guests.
As it was spring tides, by the time we got back to the dinghy it was quite a way from the waters edge and we had to lift it down to the water – however the water was so shallow for so long that I couldn’t float the dinghy with us in it (inflatable keel) and had to walk it out for a fair distance, and I’m sure that if anyone was looking at us from the shore they would have thought I was either walking on water, or taking the dinghy for an afternoon walk!
Anyhow back on board Sun Dog we were pretty much bang on time to depart and reach Kyle Rhea at slack water, so off we went feeling refreshed and invigorated, and when we reached the entrance to Kyle Rhea we were looking for the overfalls which give a clear indication on how the water is moving, and verifying our time calculation. There was also a Swedish yacht circling around waiting to go through and it was obvious that they were waiting on us to go through first. I knew we were good to go, albeit when it comes to narrow passages with fast moving tidal streams there is always a little bit of a nagging voice in your head saying “I hope I’ve worked this out right” ….so of we went through the narrowish channel with the Swedish yacht following in my wake (little did he know it was my first time) and as I said previoulsly we were bang on time so it was a straightforward passage. There would have been no real drama if I had the calculations wrong, as we would simply have turned back and anchored to wait on the next tide.
This link shows a good photo of the car ferry across the Kyle, but it does make it look somewhat wider than it appeared as it is looking south down the Sound of Seat. When we exited Kyle Rhea and could see the Skye bridge in the distance and I had one of those little frissons of excitment because of where we were with Sun Dog………
Decision time again, question was do we stop at one of the facilities on either side of the Kyle of Lochalsh or do we head around the headland for Plockton? Our decision was to keep going as the conditions were favourable and we were only a couple of hours away with plently of daylight hours left.
We arrived in Plockton after more rock dodging and then in past the lighthouse.
We picked up a mooring buoy provided by the townsfolk of Plockton for visitors and these are paid for at any of the shops/hotels by way of an honesty system. These moorings can be easily identified as they are painted yellow and have a black “V” painted on them.
There are two pontoons available for use by dinghies, but you need to be mindful that these are in constant use by commecial boats and should not be obstruced. The one furthests into the bay dries out at low water whilst the one on your starboard side as you enter the loch has sufficient water that you can leave the dingy knowing it will still be floating when you get back.
We have been in Plockton loads of time on the motorbike, but it was extremely satisfying arriving by sea and by doing so this offered a hugely different perspective from arriving by road.
When we went ashore we managed to find a laundry and got all the clothes all washed and dried whilst we enjoyed a fantastic seafood meal at the Plockton Inn, and then reprovisioned from the local shop where I felt a bit let down as they had no Ginger Nuts biscuits left in stock 🙁
Once back on board however there was however a bit of a “excitment” as we heard on CH16 a yacht advising the coast guard that their engine wouldn’t work and that they planned to sail into Plockton. The coast guard asked their position and was told they were approaching Plockton Rocks, next thing we heard was that the inshore lifeboat from Kyle of Lochalsh was on it’s way to assist them onto a visitors mooring if one was available or indeed to help them manouvre into a suitable anchorage. There was no real drama in this, but prior to the announcment that the inshore lifeboat was on it’s way, at least 5 yachts must have passed this yacht before they entered the bay at Plockton. I can only imagine that they didn’t have their radios on or they would surely have heard the announcment from the boat and could have gone alongside to offer assistance or indeed a tow and thus avoid the lifeboat being given a shout…..There again perhaps they did and the skipper declined!
The forecast was not looking so good for us heading further north and indeed was not looking good for a few days with F7/F8 from the south/south west being predicted. We decided that we would start heading back down south as we could get back through Kyle Rhea again this morning at around 1000 and this would leave most of the day to consider our options.
We could have gone into Isle Ornsay as this would offer good shelter from the S/SW, or indeed go back into Loch Nevis. Going into Arisaig was sadly not an option as we couldn’t get there at the right stage of the tide, we would have needed to wait until around 2100. Another option was to go over to Rum as we wanted to visit Kinloch Castle, – a fascinating place, but the down side to this was that we would have had fair old bash south and had to contend with Ardnamurchan point in a forecast F7/8 if the weather forecast proved to be accurate – not a particularly appealing option.
Using the old adage, “if in doubt bottle out” we decided to head straight back down to Tobermory which would offer us good shelter, and we would also be safely back round Arnamurchan Point. This meant we could explore Loch Sunart even if the weather was poor and thus not lose any days because of poor weather. This was a pretty long day and as we were approaching Ardnamurcham point the wind was increasing and the clouds getting darker and darker on the horizon. This time round in Tobermory there were a few free spaces in the marina so we simply went in and parked up. We then went for a shower, cooked some food and had a good old nights sleep. The winds did pick up for a time during the night but again nothing to cause any real concern
This morning we decided to go over to Loch Sunart (past more unmarked jaggy rocks) and either anchor in one of the lochs offering shelter from the south or nip into Salen and then go ashore for a meal in the local Salen Hotel which is meant to be good but we have no personal experience.
The sail through Loch Sunart was delightful (without doubt this loch has a bit of an atmosphere all of it’s own) as most of the anchorages were busy we went into Salen and picked up a visitors mooring, which was a bit of a palaver as there was no pick up buoy, it was low (spring) tide and space was tight – furthermore the wind was increasing at a fair old pace. However Sara managed to get a line on from the bow round to the side decks where she lay down and threaded the mooring line through the buoy and then secured it again at the bow. I then nipped out in the dinghy and put on a heavier nylon line as the wind was blowing harder right on the nose. With the two lines secured the owner of the mooring came out in his wee dinghy to see if we needed anything and to aoplogise that he was on his break when we came in, as normally he comes out and gives visitors a hand to get a line onto the buoys. Nice chap really friendly and helpul. As the wind was rising all the time we decided not to go ashore and walk to the hotel in the driving rain, and instead spent a rocking and rolling night on the mooring, so no visit to the Salen Hotel this time around.
We left Salen in the morning to head back once again to Tobermory – (by this time it was becoming Toberbory) – but the forecast was for a full F8 from the SW and this necessitated shelter and another overnight this time on a visitors buoy.
We decided to leave Tobermory and head back down the Sound of Mull and it was a wee bit breezy on the way down with 35kts across the decks at times, but the new mainsail duly reefed down worked a treat and we made good progress down to Loch Aline where we popped in to have a look and considered stopping overnight. However the best shelter is in the SE corner and this is now occupied with moorings (not visitors ones) and makes anchoring a bit of a concern that one might get caught up in the ground mooring chains etc. The other anchorages already had boats at anchor so we decided to leave and head for Dunstaffnage Marina.
As we approached the gap between Eilean Musdile and Lady Rock we could see a wall of white water reaching right across to the Mull coastline. I don’t have sufficient local knowledge to know if there was possibly a gap in this close inshore, but decided to punch through under engine, well in truth it wasn’t a case of punching through as the tide was taking us through whether we wanted to or not………..but it’s amazing just how steep these wind against tide waves reach. We could see quite clearly that the main lumpiness would clear within a few hundered yards, which it did do and we then had a rolly old ride with the sea on the beam (ish) all the way over to Dunstaffnage.
Now I have to say that Dunstaffnage Marina have never really (in my honest opinion) excelled at good customer service, indeed years back when I enquired about taking an annual berth you would have thought I been asking to eat one of their children. This wasn’t me overeacting at the time because Sara feels the exact same, which is a pity really because the staff at the Wide Mouth Frog restaurant are very good.
Anyhow we phoned them to ask about a possible berth for at least one night and we were informed to go into any that were free – this seemed strange because we could have been taking a residents berth; but then I remembered that Kerrera Marina operate on a principle of non dedicated berths even for those with annual contracts, so I reckoned it would be a similar situation.
In to the marina we went – spotted a free berth and in we went to tie up; just missing a torrential downpour in the process and put the kettle on for a well earned cuppa. I then thought it might be prudent to advise the marina office of the berth we had taken so gave them a call. It was once again that their interpretation of customer service came back to fore as they intially wanted me to move to another pontoon, and when I asked two questions:
No1 being ” what berth on that pontoon do you wish me to take”…………they asked if I could see any that we free on that pontoon which was at the other end of the marina from us!!
No2 being ” If you wanted me to go to that pontoon why did you not advise when we called earlier?”…….answer it’s OK you can stay where you are as we are not to busy!!!!!
Now is it just me?????????????????????????????
When we went to go up for a shower and pay our lawfull debts the offices were closed, and there was a notice on the shower/toilet block that these were for the use of berth owners but that the key could be obtained from the office or restaurants subject to a £20 deposit.
Again is it just me or is this ancient thinking – can they not simply have a key pad entry system?
We simply laughed at the madness of Dunstaffnage and went for meal at the Wide Mouthed Frog – …………….an oasis in a sea of madness.
Pity really because it’s in a great location with Dunstaffnage Castle close to the marina, a castle steeped in history and according to some historians, once the resting place of the Stone of Destiny. Perhaps one day things may change……………………………………
Suffice to say we had no intention of providing them with any more of our hard earned pennies and headed round the corner to Oban and decided to take up one the new visitors moorings provided by Oban Bay Berthing to encourage visitors to the town. These moorings are just north of Oban Sailing Club, painted yellow with a black “V” painted on them, and no pick up buoys attached the photograph in the link should give a good guide as to their location. There is also a handy pontoon provided for short alongside stops/dinghies and it’s only a short walk from the town, with payment by way of an honesty box on the pontoon and it’s only £12 per night.
These moorings are arranged in three trots of five with the inside trots for boats around 10m LOA, the middle trot boats around 11m LOA and the outside trot for boats around 12m LOA.
If you wanted to travel to Oban in style there is a Seaplane that operates from Glasgow and lands you at the marina at the island of Kerrera just across Oban bay.
Oban has a lot of Caledonian MacBrayne ferry traffic and they do announce their arrival/departure on Channel 16 as a local byelaw gives them all rights in Oban Bay…..in other words keep out of their way whether under sail or engine. The photo below shows one of the ferries passing below McCaigs Folly which sits above Oban.
With more strong winds forecast we decided to do a clockwise loop of Lismore Island en route to Port Appin and on the way up Lock Linnhe on the Morvern side is Glensanda Quarry which is huge and you might get a bit of an impression from the photo’s on this link, with no road access which means everthing is transported in by boat and the material out by large vessels.
We went round the north end of Lismore and took up a mooring just off the Pier House restaurant where we went ashore and paid for shower facilities (they also have a sauna available) booked a table for a meal and had an amazing seafood platter, a wee bit expensive but just so fresh – lovely.
Woke up to a beautiful sunny morning had a lazy breakfast wondering where the forecast F8 had gone and then departed Port Appin and meandered back into Loch Creran onto our mooring and the end of a smashing holiday.
As we were doing all the runs ashore the wind was picking up to around 25kts so with everything stowed back into the car it was back home, and that night it really did blow a bit.
The weather during our two weeks was pretty peculiar with the reality being different from the forecast, however it didn’t in any way spoil our holiday, which was marked by us visiting so many new places and it also included a record number of books read; and sadly like all good holidays was over far too soon.