Wednesday, 14th August: travelling to Oban
It was a long journey back after our two weeks at home. Our pre-booked taxi didn’t turn up, but we caught our train to Euston thanks to our lovely neighbour Gee who stepped in and drove us to the station. We had tickets booked on the Virgin train to Glasgow. Now I was quite excited about going on a Virgin train. I had somehow mistakenly thought this would be a bit of a luxury ride. But how wrong I was. The carriage was narrow, seats uncomfortable, we had no window beside us and there were some really annoying people talking very loudly for literally hours. I guess the latter wasn’t Virgin’s fault. Also, we didn’t bring any food as I wanted to try the much advertised vegan food on Virgin trains. What can I say – the only food they had was a flatbread sandwich which was the soggiest, least appetising thing we’ve ever had. We were glad when we got to Glasgow where they have this very efficient bus service taking you from station to station. Our train from Glasgow to Oban was cancelled as the rain had caused landslides. So instead we went on a coach. This was quite nice actually, as we saw a bit of Glasgow, and went along the road next to Loch Lomond and despite rain and cloud had some amazing views over The Trossachs. The coach driver was the kind that drives fast, managing to squeeze by other large vehicles on the very narrow road without a scrape even by a roadside bush. Admirable! After a curry at Whetherspoons we got the small ferry over to Kerrera, and our freshly cleaned and welcoming Idun.
Thursday, 15th August: shopping in Oban
We left our mooring off Kerrera in the morning and parked ourselves on the very convenient North Pier pontoon in Oban, using their four-hour stay tariff. In that time we managed three heavy shopping trips to Tesco, petrol for the RIB, trousers for me, lunch at the really nice The Little Potting Shed and we bought an inflatable kayak. Very excited about the kayak!
Oban is a lovely place sitting by a beautiful bay. The town as we see it today grew up around the distillery, founded in 1794. With the railway, finished in 1880 came the tourist trade and the town’s stately Victorian architecture. The harbour area is clearly set up for coach loads of visitors with shops appealing to both those seeking an active outdoor holiday and for those wanting to just view and enjoy this amazing landscape. Known as the Gateway to the Isles, it has a population of some 8,500 but the summer months see around 25,000 visitors. The CalMac ferries depart here for Mull, the Outer Hebrides, Colonsay, Coll and Tiree and are both a boon for visitors and a lifeline for islanders.
We had some difficulty getting off the pontoon, as the wind had already changed by the time we were ready to go and blew us on to it, but helpful people on the yacht beside us literally pushed us off in the end, so the engine could kick in. We motored over to the west side of Kerrera and anchored in Oitir Mhor Bay where we’ve been before, and we knew would be good for sitting out strong winds and rain. There’s going to be a lot of it over the next few days. But we have books, internet access and with our binoculars we can just see the seals on Sgeir Dhonn.
Friday, 16th – Saturday, 17th August: On Idun
I listened to Rod Stewart and his ‘I am sailing’, and found out that his was a cover of the Sutherland Brothers. I had no idea. This original version is very different and dare I say better!? Sailing by the Sutherland Brothers
Reading, sudoku, wine and nice food, the days went very quickly. Howling winds, heavy rain showers, thunder and (whining) wind turbines, but we had very cosy days in our boat home. There were times of sunshine, but as we had chosen to anchor we were a bit stuck on the boat. The waves are too high for comfortably going ashore.
We have reviewed our goal for the next few weeks; we’ll leave the Outer Hebrides for next summer, and instead go up to Skye and the north west mainland. But, there is a lot of wind, and a lot of rain in the forecast.
Sunday, 18th August: We are sailing
We’ve been sitting about for a long time, so decided to go for it. We set off after an early lunch, heading towards Lismore Point. We had good winds and went across at 8 knots, and as we passed between the light house and Lady’s Rock at slack tide we didn’t even notice any overfalls. We saw the ruined Achanduin Castle off Bernera Bay where we spent a lovely day before going home. We passed Duart Castle, and Craignure, where the ferry that just passed us was in the harbour, waiting to return to Oban. This is all familiar territory now! The forecast was for westerly winds, but as always in a narrow space the wind can funnel in any direction. Unfortunately for us, it was a north-westerly wind, so we ended up tacking all the way up the Sound of Mull. Eight tacks in all, which added 11.5 NM to our journey. But as we had F4 winds, gusting to F6 it didn’t take that much extra time.
We had set off being prepared to stop off at either Loch Aline, Tobermory or go all the way to Loch Drambuie. Despite some very heavy rain showers, and strong winds, we kept going and anchored in Loch Drambuie before 7pm. We were very surprised to be the only boat in the whole loch!
We knew from our last visit to Loch Drambuie that there is no reception whatsoever, so I had written down the weather forecast for the next few days. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could actually hear the VHF this time, so we were able to get up-to-date forecasts from the Coastguard.
I had heard from Janette that there are otters here. But no sightings for me. There is a lone gull sitting around the boat. Could it be the same Lonely Gull we saw last time, that kept flying over the loch, screeching in a solemn manner?
Stats: distance 37.2 NM, underway 5.12 hours, average speed 7.2 knots, max speed 9.8 knots
Monday, 19th August: Loch Drambuie
I went out as soon as I woke up but there were no otters to be seen. But Lonely Gull was swimming right next to Idun. Is it hoping for food I wonder? Or company?
Dominic pumped up our new inflatable kayak, and when there was a lull in the rain showers we had our first outing. I really enjoyed it! Dominic wasn’t exactly keen, but hopefully he will take to it later. We went to the small beach, hoping to take a walk, but there were no paths, and then it started to rain again. I paddled for a bit myself later and it’s almost even more fun on your own.
Dominic had a frustrating afternoon trying to fix the jib car. There are some very annoying ball bearings in it, that keep trying to run away. One of them ended up in a screw hole, and we just couldn’t’ get it out again, despite trying to reach it from both above and below via the light socket in the toilet ceiling.
We had seen the mast of a yacht at the very end of the loch. Looking at it more closely we realised it was in fact anchored in Loch Sunart. From the charts we saw that you can go through from one loch to the other at high tide. And as it was a rising high tide, we got into the RIB for an explore. It was very pretty there, in the twilight. Dominic rowed across the shallowest parts, and we came through unscathed into Loch Sunart. What fun! We passed Lonely Gull, sitting on a rock. It could have been Another Lonely Gull, but I don’t think so.
Tuesday, 20th August: Sailing to Arisaig
At 7am the loch was smooth as a mirror. Magical! Later we took the RIB out in to Loch Sunart in search of internet connection.
Dominic cleaned off the marks on the hull from the slow start off the pontoon in Oban, while I had another play in the kayak. I really like it! I’ve not got the paddling technique right yet, but it’s early days. I went along the lochside, down to where I had seen a paddleboarder sit around earlier. I was thinking I would be in for a feast of otter watching, but no. It will be my turn one day!
After an early lunch we set off out into the Sound, tacking in the good, westerly wind. We were very pleasantly surprised to see the sun come out, and it stayed sunny all afternoon! Once out of the Sound the wind slowed and turned more southerly.
We ended up jybing very gently past Muck, and then Eigg, overshadowed by Rum in the background. We had originally planned on staying the night by either island, but with south in the wind, it wouldn’t have been pleasant. We had a small pod of dolphins making a very welcome visit, but despite keeping good watch we saw no whales.
We got to the entrance to Loch nan Ceall just after 7pm. If you didn’t know there is an entrance here, you simply wouldn’t guess that there is one! We had our sailing directions (‘SDs essential’ according to the Almanac) and handily another boat was right in front of us, as it was a bit difficult to see the green and red perches marking out the channel between the myriad of covered rocks. Some seals were swimming around, always a lovely sight. We anchored by the moorings in the middle of Loch nan Ceall, the loch of the cells/churches. We could see the village of Arisaig with its the pier and some quite nice looking houses around the loch, but only the one church. Maybe we will find more when we can explore.
Wednesday, 21st August: Loch nan Ceall
We toyed with the idea of going to Skye today, but we’re good here for a while. The winds started going really quite strong early on and we had a lot of rain. Hour after hour of it. Why did we go to Scotland in an unusually rainy summer!? We could’t even safely go ashore, as the sea was quite rough. We’re a bit more exposed to the wind here than in Loch Drambuie or Kerrera. The upside is that we get an awful lot more wind energy from our turbines!
We saw the Sheerwater go off, the ferry we’d seen when we were at anchor in Rum. They’re in for a bumpy ride!
We’re getting a bit itchy feet as we’ve not had a proper walk since we got back from home a week ago so were glad of a break in the rain early evening. We had a nice stroll around the village, up to the surprisingly large church, the primary school and the War Memorial. We also found a small shop, cafe and an information centre that we might visit tomorrow.
Thursday, 22nd August: Arisaig
We managed another trip into Arisaig today. The visitor centre was very nicely set up with displays of the history of the Rhu peninsula, social history of the area, and the local islands. They also showed details of a fantastic initiative of building affordable housing for the village in an extremely energy efficient fashion. It puts many an English builder to shame.
We now know the origin of the loch’s name; the Loch of the Cells. One of St Columba’s followers, St Moal Rubha built a Cell by the loch in around 672AD, attracted by the safety of the loch. His followers then built themselves cells around the loch, hence the name.
After a walk along the road to Rhu, and a food shop, we saw that the wind had picked up and was whipping the waves in the bay into a frenzy. We hurried back to the pier, but got completely soaked getting to Idun! The whole afternoon was ‘lively’, but we ended the day with a very healthy power balance on our lithium ion batteries. We spent quite a few hours planning and discussing tomorrow’s sail. We’ll double check in the morning how strong the winds will be, and the size of the waves, but we are definitely off to Skye!