Islay in the fog

Woke to thick fog, but having found the chartplotter pretty accurate around the rocks we trusted it to take us out of Tinker’s Hole again, though the leading lines were obscured.

A few hundred metres visibility most of the way across to Colonsay, so radar on and constant monitoring of the AIT, which shows other vessels’ positions, and ours to them. Nothing but the occasional fishing boat showed up. Fog cleared completely for a while close to Islay. 10.5 knots with the tide down the Sound if Islay.

A day of distilleries – passed Bunahabhan and Caol Islay in the sound and then used Bob Bradfield’s ultra large scale charts to explore close inshore on the east coast of Islay. Mirror water surface, complete reflections of the sky and the rocks.

McArthur's Head lighthouse, south end of Sound of Islay
McArthur’s Head lighthouse, south end of Sound of Islay

The Bradfield charts, the result of his passion for amateur surveying of difficult anchorages, are on the laptop, overlaid on Memory Map’s UK admiralty charts. A GPS is plugged into the laptop and turns it into a plotter.

CalMac ferry in the Sound
CalMac ferry in the Sound

Explored inside the little Ardmore Islands, creeping between rocks, then picked up a mooring off the Ardbeg distillery, for tea rather than Scotch. A very suspect mooring riser, encrusted in mussels; we picked some and steamed them open – strong, sweet taste, perfect. There was only this one mooring, though the now rather out of date pilot book says there are three. Then we briefly visited Lagavulin distillery’s bay, but thought better of it half way in.

Peter at Ardbeg
Peter at Ardbeg
Tony at Lagavulin
Tony at Lagavulin

The bay has almost no rise and fall of tide, but the weather was fine with exceptionally high pressure and so the water level must have been pushed down, as often happens in these conditions. We almost ran out of water before we turned. We were particularly cautious because we had grazed a rock at low speed just before going in, as a result of momentary distraction by the beauty of the place. It was exactly where Bob’s chart had shown it! At Lagavulin we could see two mooring buoys, one of them occupied by what may have been a local boat.

Leaving Lagavulin
Leaving Lagavulin
Fog again as we leave Lagavulin
Fog again as we leave Lagavulin

Leaving, we ran into another fog bank, which cleared as we went into Port Ellen, finding the last berth in the marina, right inshore by the fishing boats.

The view from the cockpit at Port Ellen
The view from the cockpit at Port Ellen

Showers in an outbuilding to a B&B, and dinner aboard. Disappointed to find no fuel available, but there were several shops. On a previous visit we toured four of the island’s distilleries, but this was not the time for a repeat.

Passage notes: 54 miles,10 hours, max S2, min calm, fog with sun when clear

Iona

Iona was founded by St Columba (or St Columcille as he is known in Ireland.) St Aidan then went from Iona to found the monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off Northumbria, which we visited on the way up the east coast (and on the way down in our 2007-8 round Britain cruise). So there was a sense of completeness in visiting Iona, after several attempts last year and one this year in May were thwarted by bad weather.

The restored cloister in the cathedral
The restored cloister in the cathedral

We went ashore by dinghy, spent an hour in the atmospheric little museum, which tells the story of Iona very well through artefacts and especially the carved crosses, and took a guided tour of the cathedral, where we were delayed by a singer and her piano accompanist, who were practising. It was one of the gentler songs from Jesus Christ Superstar rather than a monkish plainchant, but it was from a singer with a lovely husky voice, and nobody wanted her to stop.

Iona cross
Iona cross

The cathedral was restored so heavily that it was hard to find the old material, except inside. John Ruskin would have been appalled, because this was exactly the kind of excessive Victorian makeover of historic buildings which he campaigned against by founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

We admired the kitchen garden and the flowers, walked a little along a shore path, saw many members of the Iona Community at work in the grounds, in conversation or walking silently in contemplation.

The remains of a convent on Iona
The remains of a convent on Iona
Kitchen garden with Iona cathedral in the background
Kitchen garden with Iona cathedral in the background

Here is a link is to a short summary of the history of Iona and here is another to the website of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland.

We went back to the boat and motored to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave, made famous by the composer Felix Mendelson in his overture The Hebrides. Landing wasn’t possible because there was a low swell running, just enough to make it very difficult with a dinghy as small as ours, and anyway the pilot advises leaving a watch on board, so it would have been a risky solo landing. We took plenty of photos. There were lots of visitors, landed on a small jetty by excursion boats from Iona.

Peter with Fingle's Cave in the background
Peter with Fingal’s Cave in the background
Fingles's Cave
Fingal’s Cave
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Excursion boat landing visitors
Tony with Staffa in the background
Tony with Staffa in the background

A busy day – went back south to Tinker’s Hole, a famous anchorage hidden inside the rocks near the entrance to the Sound of Iona. Felt pleased after piloting ourselves in but disappointed to find it was full of boats already. Given that the Iona anchorage is uncomfortable, it makes sense to overnight there and visit Iona by day, which is what the other boats must have been doing. We had wondered why we were the only ones anchored overnight at Iona.

Found a good empty space near the north entrance and anchored. Wonderful atmosphere, despite the crowd, hemmed in by rocks, with crystal clear water.

Passage notes: 17 miles Iona north to Staffa and back down to Tinker’s Hole, 4 hours, S 2-3, visibility moderate, no easy anchorage near Staffa, almost perfect shelter once into Tinker’s Hole

Anchored in Tinker's Hole
Anchored in Tinker’s Hole

Leaving Ardoran

Loading the boat At Ardoran
Loading the boat At Ardoran

Rain and mist till late afternoon. Leaving Ardoran at midday, regretfully, as such a lovely, friendly place, and Colin and Helen at the boatyard such nice people. We’ll also miss the world’s best seafood stall, by the ferry terminal in Oban, so tempting I could not pass it without having mussels for breakfast several times when we were last here. The scallops cooked in wine, eaten from a disposable plastic dish, were just about the best and biggest ever, and as for the oysters and the massively filled crab sandwiches…. must go back.

Leaving Ardoran
Leaving Ardoran
Exit from Loch Feochan
Exit from Loch Feochan
Cottage where Ring of Bright Water was filmed.
Cottage just outside Loch Feochan where Ring of Bright Water was filmed.

Motorsailed in damp weather and light wind (SW2) down the spectacular south coast of Mull. Huge cliffs, valleys, waterfall. Piloted with chartplotter through rock maze near Sound of Iona.

We’re taking the view that the chartplotter and its charts are reliable even quite close inshore round here as long as we assume a plus and minus 200 m margin of error – 100 m either way for the GPS maximum likely error and 100 m for chart errors. If anything requires more precision, we must go back to old methods the first time, and then check the track function to see whether the chartplotter would be acceptable to use next time at the same place. (See the technical pages on this site, on the top toolbar). We have checked regularly whenever we have been at a known charted object on this part of the coast and haven’t yet found an error of as much as 50 metres, but that is not the same as a systematic check, so we are sticking to the cautious approach.

Arriving at Iona
Arriving at Iona

Anchored near Iona ferry slip at 1900. Ashore by dinghy for fish and chips at the restaurant and a walk round the graveyard – John Smith, the Scots Kings, in the same place. Smith’s wonderful epitaph, carved in granite, is from Alexander Pope: “An honest man’s the noblest work of God.” If only he had stayed around….

Back to the boat for a noisy night at anchor as the chain ground itself around. This is not the most comfortable of places.

Passage notes: 35 miles, 5 hours, SW 2-3, drizzle, visibility moderate

Crinan to Ardoran

Sunny day, light breeze, perfect for a walk along the canal. Loch Crinan and the River Add are a delightful contrast of rocky shore, sandy estuary and saltings, and the woods near Crinan are said to be part of the old Argyll temperate rainforest.

The loch and hotel, Crinan
David at Crinan
The estuary of the Add
The estuary of the Add
Lock opens for a motor cruiser on the Crinan Canal
A lock opens for a motor cruiser on the Crinan Canal

We went back to Poulldabhrain to wait for the tide to get into Loch Feochan, choosing the inside route up Shuna Sound and through Cuan Sound, a narrow and bending short cut, exploring a bit of Loch Melfort on the way as well. One of Bob Bradfield’s charts covers Cuan, and very useful it is. The tide runs so fast (and the boat with it) that it is hard work to identify marks fast enough.

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Just enough time in Poulladobhrain for a gin and tonic to relax –  to recover from tracking down which fuse had gone on the instrument power feed, just as we most needed an echo sounder before tackling the Feochan entrance, which is nearby. The tide runs in for four hours and out for eight,  and we went in at two hours after low water as the tide was turning up into the loch. At that point it would already have risen somewhat. We only had 0.6 metres under the keel at one point, which felt a bit tight with rocks nearby.

Passage notes: 24 miles, 5.5 hours, V 2-3, visibility good – sunny. Cuan Sound tide very fast, so pay close attention first time to pilot book. ApproachingSeil Sound from south, be alert to two dangerous rocks near entrance to Cuan Sound. Some boats went confidently right inshore of both of them but maybe unwise for a newcomer.

Oban to Crinan

A fine day’s sail down the Sounds of Kerrera and Luing and across to Crinan, where we picked up a mooring close to the boatyard pontoon (for £15)  and went ashore for drinks and a walk round the village. Crinan Hotel has a traditional pub at the side, and good food.

Across the loch from Crinan
Across the loch from Crinan

The boatyard at Crinan is restoring one of the famous Clyde puffers, tiny ships that traded around the Hebrides and could be beached to land cargoes. They were made famous in the Para Handy stories, featuring the puffer ‘Vital Spark.’ A still-working puffer has been given that name, but the Crinan boat looks as if it needs a lot more work.

Passage notes: 38miles, 7 hours, S 3, good visibility, passage through Luing Sound then detour to Loch Seil, explored Cuan Sound for future reference and back via Loch Shona to Crinan.?????????????????????????????????????????????

The sea loch
The sea loch
Crinan Sea Loch
Crinan Sea Loch

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Salen to Puilladobhrain and Oban

We had planned to go from Arisaig or perhaps Canna round the West of Mull to Iona, past Staff and Fingal’s Cave, but the weather was doubtful for the exposed anchorages on that side of the island so we decided to head back down the Sound of Mull again and maybe make a dash for Iona from the other direction the following day. However, half way down Tony had a call to go home to deal with a family emergency, so we diverted to Oban, first stopping at one of the best known anchorages on the Argyll coast, the tiny, tucked away Puilladobhrain.

This is the point to mention the excellent large scale charts produced of West of Scotland anchorages by Bill Bradfield using his own new surveys. Judging by a talk he gave to the Cruising Association in London in February, amateur surveying has become a passion with him, and he must now be very close to being a full professional judging by the quality of what he produces. His charts come with lots of health warnings, but we found them very accurate the dozen or so times we used them. They are available from Antares Charts.

We stayed at Oban Marina, where five years before we wintered Pepper, and Tony caught the train south early the next morning. Oban Marina, which is attractive and has a free ferry service to the town, seems to be rather more expensive than last time we were there in 2007-8, though it was still full this summer.

All the yards near Oban (including Ardoran, which is very close – a £10 taxi ride or 15 minutes by car down a  winding lane – have the advantage of the railway. Though it is nearly three hours to Glasgow, the time passes rapidly, because it is one of the great scenic railway journeys Oban is the.home of the best seafood stall anywhere, on the quay, facing the ferry terminal, where mussels, scallops, crabs, lobsters, prawns and other shellfish are served ready to eat at benches outside. (Following the example of a group of Japanese tourists, I persuaded myself to have a bowl of mussels for breakfast – excellent idea.)

Passage notes: 41 miles, 8 hours including lunch stop at Puilladobhrain, max NW 5 min NW 3, drizzle then sun. Antares charts extremely accurate, as they were in the half dozen other places we tried them.

Tobermory, Lochs Droma Buidhe & Suinart

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Towards the head of Loch Suinart

Unpleasant weather was forecast so we decided to explore nearby lochs, and dropped the idea of going past Ardnamurchan to revisit Arisaig and Loch Moidart. For lunch, we went into the delightful Loch Droma Buidhe (or Drumbie), which is found through a narrow entrance, almost invisible until you reach it, but opening out into a very pretty anchorage.Then we wound our way up the delightful Loch Suinart to Strontian, at the head, and then back to Salen, a village with recently installed pontoons where we spent the night, after dinner at a pub with excellent food, a short walk away.

Passage notes: 28 miles, 6.25 hours,  including lunch stop in Loch na Droma Buidhe (Drumbuie) and exploring to Strontium, near the head of Loch Suinart. Max wind W 4, min, NW 2, visibility mainly good with sunny periods. Usual cautions about chart and chartplotter accuracy around here, so used handbearing compass, but with hindsight (as it were) the plotter track looked pretty accfurate and could be relied on for coming out again, even in the narrow entrance to Drumbuie, where there is a rock at the inside end.

At anchor in Loch Droma Buidhe
At anchor in Loch Droma Buidhe

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