Western Isles Cruise '98

This is a brief log of a trip on which I was a crew member. I first heard about it when Alistair the skipper posted a request for crew on a CIX conference. After a brief exchange of email, and deposit cheques, I became a member of the crew. So, the first time I actually met any of the crew was on departure day. This is what happened.

July 4th - Sunny in south; wet in north

Findeln.gif - 35395 Bytes Left home shortly after 6am and drove to Crinan, collecting Barbara (Phoebe from 'Friends') from St Albans en route. Got a bit lost round Glasgow, but arrived just after 4pm. Ian (Fred Dibner, the steeplejack) the first mate was already on board our charter, Findeln (38' Westerly Oceanranger) and had done the handover. Alistair, the Skipper, (Robbie Coltraine) and Jean-Luc (Antonne Dacone of 'Eurotrash') were delayed at Glasgow airport and arrived quite late.

Motored to Ardfern and came alongside at the visitors' berths in the marina. Went to local Pub for supper.

July 5th - mainly wet; sunny periods

Weather was against us for plan 'A', so we missed out the Gulf of Corryvreckan (see later) and sailed up the Sound of Luing instead. Tried going west along south coast of Mull but were again defeated by poor wind and a rising sea. Turned east and went up Firth of Lorn instead and thence to the Sound of Mull. Anchored in Loch Aline overnight - beautiful spot with a great castle at the head of the loch owned by some aquaintances of Ian.

July 6th - mostly sunny

Motorsailed up the Sound of Mull and took on water and diesel at Tobermoray. Wind was still pretty much northerly so we headed out past the Point of Ardnamurchen, past the north end of Coll and across the Sea of the Hebrides. Continued sailing into the night with a watch system - my first watch was from 6pm to midnight.

July 7th

On watch again at 4am but had the privelege of seeing the sun rise over Skye as we approached Berneray at the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides. Turned north-east about 5miles from land and continued beating to windward up the coast.

Reached Sound of Harris mid afternoon and followed a set of 4 transits to get through the submerged rocks and islands. Headed out towards St Kilda with weather reports becoming less favourable. Came on watch at 10pm - no sunset to speak of. The wind rising to force 7 and sea state approaching rough.

July 8th - full gale and poor vis

Came off watch at 2am after reefing to the maximum extent and shortening the foresail considerably. Woken at 3am by a sudden change in direction from close hauled to running. Obviously the objective was no longer St Kilda! Unable to sleep due severe rolling motion of the boat. Heard two accidental gybes (very violent, but the mast stayed intact), before the skipper gave the "All Hands" order at about 4am. Went onto a 1hour watch system between the four of us with helming experience and changed helm every half hour. Decided to head back to Sound of Harris to see if that was still navigable in the conditions. If not we'd have to go up the coast to the north of Lewis and round the top to reach Stornoway - a very long and arduous trek.

On arrival at Coppay in the mouth of the Sound, the sea state had eased considerably but the visibility was poor. (Had to rely on GPS to find the island.) Once past the island, used dead reckonning to continue as Harris was not in sight through the murk. Eventually got sufficient visibility to sight the transit marks and got through the Sound at about 6am. Decided to head for Dunvegan on Skye to recuperate. Officially came on watch again at 8am, not having had any sleep since "All Hands" was ordered.

Reached Dunvegan at around noon, just as my watch ended, and went straight to bed! Had a fantastic meal at a nearby restaurant, the "Three Chimneys" and so to bed again.

July 9th

Severe storm forecast for the weekend so decided to stick to easy sailing during daylight only and between suitable anchorages. So, after a late breakfast we headed NW again towards Harris and anchored off Tarbut at the head of East Loch Tarbut where North and South Harris meet at a narrow neck of land. Not a particularly inviting town. Had dinner on board.

July 10th

After a faitly windy night, we motorsailed up the coast of North Harris and Lewis. Called in on the Shiant Isles on the way and they were well worth the visit. Stunning basalt columns said to be more spectacular than those at Fingal's Cave on Staffa. (More on that later.) Saw a greater number of puffins than the mind can comfortably accommodate, not to mention sheerwaters and the odd seal.

Found a really beautiful anchorage in Loch Leurbost on Lewis and the wind dropped to calm. Went rowing round the loch and saw some otters, one came very close to the dinghy but wasn't surfaced long enough to get a photograph. Went ashore and found a land-locked freshwater loch. Stunningly beautiful but had to beat a hasty retreat when the swarms of midges started attacking.

July 11th

Another easy morning's sail a short distance up the coast to Stornoway and came alongside a visitor's berth. Found showers and a good restaurant for lunch. Barbara and Jean-Luc left us to catch a flight back to Glasgow. The remaining three of us had an afternoon of sleeping, sightseeing and reading. Stornoway is a lovely town and, in the sunshine, was very inviting. It is one of the few places in the Outer Hebrides with a good stand of trees, apparently planted by the Victorians. Property prices are very reasonable, too... Found a local semi-tame seal that hangs around the harbour.

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July 12th

Severe weather was forecast again for this evening so had an early start and headed south. Motorsailed for the first few hours and then the wind picked up and we were making over 6knots most of the day. Weather broke late afternoon but we made it to Loch Plockton just north of Kyle of Lochalsh before it got too bad. A huge distance for one day's sail, albeit a 14hour passage! Stayed on board for dinner and retired early to ride out the storm.

July 13th

Still very windy and the sea getting bumpy. Headed through Kyle and down the Sound of Sleat, experiencing a fast tidal race on the way, and anchored at Isle Ornsay on Skye. Had passed up the opportunity of a shower at Kyle having read of baths being available near the anchorage, but were disappointed to find that the hotels were full and there wasn't even a shower to be had. Found a good pub and enjoyed a meal out nonetheless. On the adjoining tables were two couples, one from another boat and the others staying at the hotel. The son of the former used to work at a boatyard on St Kitts (Carribean) where our skipper's uncle also worked! Also, the other couple live in Rayner's Lane, just a couple of miles from where I grew up and along which I used to cycle regularly!

July 14th

Sailed south out of the Sound of Sleat past Eigg and Muck. Closed the loop, as it were, when we sailed past the Point of Ardnamurchan for the second time. Continued down to Coll and anchored off Arinagour. Lovely township, but the showers, however welcome at this stage, were rather expensive. Good pub but decided to eat on board. Saw completely clear skies for the first time and a wonderful sunset. Also saw more seals and otters and I stayed up late to watch for signs of the Northern Lights. No joy, but even at well past midnight the northern horizon was full of sunset colours.

July 15th

Continued south and passed through the Treshnish Isles, between Fladda and Lunga, before heading for Staffa. Beautiful sunny day and were able to see Fingal's Cave in perfect conditions. Sea was too rough to attempt a landing, though. Thence to Iona which I'd wanted to see for some time having known people who lived in the Christian community there. Were unable to anchor off, due to poor positioning of other craft, so tried anchoring along the coast of Mull at several points. After a total of seven attempts at anchoring we finally found good holding in Bull Hole at the end of the Ross of Mull. Still quite a strong swell, so we had a bumpy night. Never made it ashore on Iona, unfortunately.

July 16th

Called in at Tinker's Hole (another complex approach between hidden rocks and tightly grouped islands) at the southern entrance to the Sound of Iona and then stopped for lunch on the Island of Collonsay. Another beautiful island that reminded me of parts of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. After lunch we headed over to Jura. Were becalmed half way across so spent an hour or so fishing and watching the wildlife. Saw a dolphin, some otters, seals, cormorants, sheerwaters, terns, shags, etc. Motored towards West Loch Tarbert (not to be confused with any of the other Loch Tarberts!) and were amazed to see the wind rise from force 0 to 7 in a matter of half an hour. Found a reasonably sheltered anchorage (got it down first time!) in a stunningly isolated Middle Sound. Took the dinghy through a very narrow and complex passage with 7 transits into the Inner Sound of West Loch Tarbert. Still more stunning scenery and wildlife.

Returned to the yacht just before the weather clamped down again and spent a very disturbed night of heavy rain and high winds.

July 17th

Had to decide whether to risk Corryvreckin to the north of Jura or go the long way round to the south through the Sound of Islay and up into the Sound of Jura. The Almanac warns against Corryvreckin in anything other than the most favourable conditions due to the extreemly fast tidal race, whirlpools that can sink a trawler, eddys, 4m standing waves and upwellings. We decided to go for it as the wind and tide were both with us and we would arrive near to slack water. We were justified and the passage was remarkably smooth.

Went north from there a little way to stand off the jetty on Scarba, an island off the northern tip of Jura owned by some friends of Ian. Called them on the radio and they came out to us in impressively powerful launches! Nice people. Big island!

Headed back towards Crinan and went through the sea lochs in brilliant sunshine. Returned the boat to it's home berth at around 4pm. Got packed up and ready to disembark the following morning. Ian got an invite to spend the weekend on Scarba with his friends so Alistair and I drove round to the restaurant at Ardfern, where we had spent the first night, for a final slap-up meal.

July 18th

Game over. Left Crinan soon after 10am and headed home. Visited Helensburgh en route to visit McLaran Books who specialise in sailing books, recommended by Ian. Very well stocked and I bought a two volume Admiralty work on Seamanship dated 1951. Very useful. Smooth passage through Glasgow this time but had a tyre blow-out on the M6 just near the NEC, Birmingham. The RAC were prompt but made me hang around for ages while they tried to find a replacement tyre. (The emergency tyre on the Saab is only good for 50mph and I had a long way still to go!) In the end they couldn't find one so I drove the remaining 3hrs very gently and arrived home at 10.30pm.