Tuesday 25th June
We sail out of Crinan and turn south, having got ahead of our schedule so we have time to visit the southernmost of the Hebridean islands of Jura, Islay and Gigha. The wind is light and we are against the tide so we alternate sailing with motoring depending on how strong the wind blows. Janet has read in the pilotage guide about a secluded anchorage on Jura called Lowlandman’s Bay. This turns out to exactly as described – a sheltered anchorage miles from anywhere and set below the impressive Paps of Jura mountains which rise to over 2500 feet. The bay is only overlooked by some former light-keepers cottages and an isolated farm. In the distance we see a van travelling along one of the few roads – white van man gets everywhere!
We enjoy a pleasant meal and plan tomorrow. Our intention will be to sail to the next island Islay (pronounced I-la) to visit the Lagavulin whisky distillery which is reported to have a small anchorage next to it and free tours of the distillery.
Days run: 29.8 nm
Total mileage to date: 991.0 nm
Engine hours today: 4.3
Hours sailed today: 7.3
Total hours sailed: 222.3
Wednesday 26th. June
We awake to a bright morning with early morning clouds touching the top of the Paps and a gentle breeze from the north-west – just right to sail down to Islay. We are off by 9:00 and set the spinnaker as we pass one of the few significant places on Jura – Craighouse. Jura is very sparsely inhabited – apparently only around 160 people live there, working at the one distillery and on the land. The southern end is dominated by the Paps of Jura Mountains whilst the northern end is flatter. Overall it is a wilderness of rock, moor and peat bog.
The wind shifts south so the spinnaker is dropped and we sail on in good style, passing the Sound of Islay that separates Islay and Jura. Islay is flatter and much more populated than Jura – around 3500 inhabitants we read in the book The Most Amazing Places on Britain’s Coast. It has a thriving whiskey industry with eight distilleries and the headland of Oa, which shares the distinction of being one of Britain’s shortest place names along with Bu in Orkney and Ae in southern Scotland.
The entry to the anchorage at Lagavulin is described in detail of the yachtsman’s pilot for the area. We have to line up the last four letters of the distillery name (painted in large letters on its wall) with the edge of the ruined castle on an island in front and go in on that heading to avoid the submerged rocks either side. We duly identify the distillery from half a mile out at sea, drop the sails and motor in. We have to do a zigzag in front of the castle to navigate round the rocks then enter into a narrow channel between red and green port and starboard marker beacons. All goes according to plan until just inside the marker beacons in front of the pool at the distillery where the water gets too shallow for us to proceed. This is not marked on the chart or in the pilot book. We are within 30 yards of the distillery but have to give up the attempt as we dare not leave the boat amongst the rocks. No whisky tasting today!
We carefully back-track and invoke Plan B. Hoisting the sails, we give up on Islay and head for its smaller neighbour Gigha (pronounced Gear) about 12 miles away across the Sound of Jura. However, it is one of those days as the wind falls and we end up motoring. We need to find a mobile phone signal by 4:00 as Nicky gets her finals results after 5 years at vet school. Luckily we pick up a weak signal just off Gigha so we can hear the good news that she has got a good degree and won a prize for her portfolio so she is now a qualified vet – look out livestock! As we make the phone call the wind kicks in from nowhere so the call is cut short whilst we deal with the immediate requirements and resume the call once we are safely tied up to a mooring buoy at Ardminish in Gigha. The approach to Ardminish needs careful attention as so often with these places there are rocks aplenty to avoid.
Veggie lasagna for supper and a glass of wine to toast Nicky’s success and the fact that we have now sailed over 1000 miles on this trip.
Days run: 34.5nm
Total mileage to date: 1025.6 nm
Engine hours today: 3.6
Hours sailed today: 8.2
Total hours sailed: 230.5
Thursday 27th June
We awake to a drizzly, drear morning with low cloud – a proper Scotch mist. Our plan is to travel north with the afternoon tide so as we need some basic supplies so after doing our routine engine checks we decide to go don full oilies and go ashore in the dinghy to see what Gigha has to offer.
Gigha is a relatively small island (about 5 miles long) and has few facilities. The local shop is shut awaiting new owners but the Post Office sells us milk and cheese whilst the Gigha Hotel nearby sells us bread and tomatoes.
There is a large display board by the hotel from which we learn the recent history of Gigha. It turns out that the island was privately owned until 2002 when it was put up for sale. The islanders decided to take matters into their own hands and raised the staggering sum of £4.15 million (mainly from the Lottery and Scottish heritage & Community funds) to purchase the island and put it into a community trust. It was the biggest community buy out up to then in the UK. As part of the deal, the islanders had to repay £1.2 million within two years, which they managed to do. Since then they have achieved a lot within their objective of maintaining a viable island community. Housing has been a primary concern as three-quarters of the island housing stock was assessed as being below standard for human habitation so a programme is being worked through to upgrade the houses and a deal has been done with a development company to build new houses with the caveat that they did not spoil the island ambience and the houses were affordable to the local population. A mini wind turbine farm has been installed to sell power back to the national grid and various business initiatives made.
Another project that has been started is the restoration of the Achamore Gardens which date back to Victorian times in which successive owners used the unique micro-climate of Gigha to develop a fine array of rhododendrons (including 26 out of 48 new cultivars developed at these gardens). The gardens also feature many varieties of camellias, azaleas and plants from all over the world. The Gigha Island Trust now manages the gardens and has recruited a new head gardener to inject some enthusiasm into the project and working with the Duchy College in Cornwall maintain and propagate this unique collection of plants and turn back the years of decay that had set in under the old owners. It was not the best day to see the gardens and we were certainly not crowded out but we were able to appreciate the magnitude of the task which faces the restoration team and the progress so far. The walled garden alone runs to two acres and the whole site must be 20 to 30 acres so it is a big task.
We returned to the Gigha Hotel to dry out and lunch on mushroom soup and Gigha bread before returning to Sundart.
Gigha is a far more interesting island than we had realised and we wish the community well in their endeavours. The only down side for us was the inevitable comparison with our favourite island of Sark as Gigha has narrow tarmac roads and traffic including full size articulated lorries as well as the normal cars & vans. Unlike Sark, it is not possible to amble down a road as one has to avoid the occasional passing traffic.
The weather clears in time and there is enough wind for us to sail away from Gigha and up the Sound of Jura to another small anchorage, this time at a place called Loch na Cille on the Mull of Kintyre. Once again, as we near our destination, we use the Navionics programme on the Samsung to navigate round the various rocks and islands, cross referencing to he chart and the pilot book. Pilotage like this is so much easier in the days of electronic navigation! The wind dies and we end up motoring to our anchorage, which is just as the pilot book describes a large lagoon with a good anchorage near a little stone jetty. Four or five boats are moored around this little loch but it is otherwise pretty uninhabited. The weather is so poor that we have no photo opportunities.
The rain and mist come down again so we shut ourselves into our snug saloon below decks. Cheese and onion and potato pie followed by pears for supper rounds off another interesting day.
Days run: 16.8 nm
Total mileage to date: 1036.4 nm
Engine hours today: 2.3
Hours sailed today: 3.5
Total hours sailed: 234.0
Friday 28th June
We awake to another drizzly, drear morning with low cloud, a sea mist and the wind blowing strongly from the north-west. We check we are still where we anchored up and our new Knox anchor seems well dug in so we shut the hatches, have breakfast and attend to matters below deck – there are always jobs on boats!
Yvonne has previously cleaned the various hand holds, rails and trims in the main saloon with sugar soap so she and Janet treat the wood with some new sealant we bought at Tarbert specifically for this sort of use on a boat. The effect is very gratifying and the wood looks a whole load better. John dismantles and services the heads (loo) door latch – an important fitting when the boat is rocking around! He also re-reads the manual about the winches and decides to re-orientate the winch that broke to position it as described in the manual to reduce the load on the gear train inside the winch.
Over lunch we debate our next move as we need to get to Craobh Haven this evening if possible as Paul and his family are arriving tomorrow. The weather forecast looks as if the rain will let up later this afternoon and the tides will be in the right direction (which is important as they are stong where we pass the whirlpools at Correyvreckan) so the optimum time to go looks to be around 4 pm.
We duly set off at 4 directly into strong winds so we set the main sail with 2 reefs in and plug away into the wind with help from the engine to cross to the west side of the Sound of Jura to be in the lee of Jura itself. Once on that side we can set the storm jib and switch off the engine. The tide gives us a good push and we shoot northwards, the sun tries to come out and we end up with a good sail.
As we sail along we see a large, grey creature slowly arch its back out of the water. We identify it as a lone Minke whale due to its size and the fact that they are usually solitary creatures.
We pass the northern end of Jura and skirt a mile or so round Correyvreckan. The strong tides in this area flow round the various islands and some times come together with spectacular results. Correyvreckan is renown amongst sailors for the remarkable whirlpools and standing waves that form when the tides are in full flow between the islands of Jura and Scarba. All the pilot guides and almanacs warn small craft against passing through this are as the whirlpools can swamp them. (Correyvreckan attracts adrenalin junkies as yesterday we heard a canoeist being rescued from there over the VHF and later we notice advertisements for white water rides through the whirlpools). By necessity our route takes us to within a mile of Corryvreckan but the tides work well for us and we pass by at over 9 knots, picking our way through the overfalls.
(Overfalls are rough area of water formed when strong tides hit submerged rocks and well up to the surface. Where we sailed the rocks are deep below the surface but the effect is still remarkable). We are too occupied with sailing the boat to take photos. We soon arrive at Croabh Haven, a marina set in a natural harbour in the wilds of the western Scotland mainland.
After mooring up we find the anchor has come up with a load of mud plus an unknown sea creature from the bottom of Loch na Cille – we send both back to the deep!
Days run: 16.8 nm
Total mileage to date: 1043.2 nm
Engine hours today: 1.9
Hours sailed today: 3.5
Total hours sailed: 237.5
Saturday 29th June
Paul Fox (the “Cabin Buoy”) is driving up to join us today, accompanied by wife Christine and youngest daughter Emma. They will all stay on Sundart tonight before the girls have a couple of days in Edinburgh. We set out to replenish our stores but find the local shop poorly stocked and very expensive so decide to ask Christine to run us to Tesco at Oban when she arrives. John spends the morning cleaning the hull of the boat with “Y10” – a jelly that we wipe on which removes the brown discolouration that has built up over time plus the various other marks whilst the girls clean and polish the inside of the boat. After our exertions we retire to the nearby Craobh Haven Watersports Centre for an excellent lunch with a good view. They kindly let us pick up their wi-fi so we can do this blog and we stay there some time as yet again the weather has closed in. (If you are ever in this area we can recommend the centre for their food – and no doubt their sail training is as good!)
The Foxes arrive mid-afternoon bringing excellent cakes, bacon and eggs and much jollity. They kindly run us to Oban to shop, but the drive is so wet with low cloud that they cannot enjoy any of the scenery. We are in a patch of bad weather and the weather forecast is not good for the next few days.
Back at the boat we head off to the local pub for supper before everyone beds down on Sundart – luckily we have 9 berths on board!
Sunday 30th June
The facilities here are good so various people take showers before Chris cooks us a good fried breakfast, after which she and Emma decide to make tracks.
We want to head north but the tides dictate an afternoon sail. Paul has bought up the replacement anchor winch with him plus various tools from John’s workshop so he and John set to work fitting the new anchor winch and the new mast gate, completing both jobs by lunchtime. Yvonne & Janet pre-cook supper for tonight.
We leave at 1600 to head for a little anchorage at Phulladhrobrian (celtic for the Bay of the Otter. We need to sail; past Corryvrekan again then turn north past the islands of Luing and Seil before coming into the little anchorage. The sail is windy so we set 2 reefs in the main and the storm jib. Progress is good and we do over 7 knots over the ground, helped by the tide and reach our anchorage in under 4 hours. Although small the anchorage is one of the most popular up this coast as it is so well protected from the swell so we are not surprised to see half a dozen other yachts at anchor but there is plenty of room for us all.
Days run: 15.8 miles
Engine hours: 1.8
Hours sailed: 3.8 hours
Monday 1st July
Today we need to end up at Dunstaffenage, just north of Oban, as Janet has booked her train home to Kent from Oban early tomorrow morning., Although the distance is not great we have, for once, a decent weather forecast and the wind in the right direction and strength so we decide to explore the area a bit. First off will be to sail past Oban and see what we missed two days ago int he rain. Oban is set on a natural harbour with the islands of Kerrera and Mull shielding it from the Atlantic in the west.
The sail goes well. We initially set 2 reefs but reduce this to one reef then no reefs as the winds moderate. We sail with the wind behind us and “goosewing” past Oban in the sun and out into Loch Linhe to the north of Oban.
We decide to circumnavigate the island of Lismore, which will take us up Loch Linhe towards Fort William before doubling back to end up at Dunstaffenage Marina 3 miles north of Oban. The landscape is spectacular, with hills and mountains on each side of the loch. Ben Nevis is visible in the distance at the far end of Loch Linhe.
We decide to stop at Loch Creran, off the east side of Loch Linhe, for lunch and find a mooring buoy. nearby are some floating cages that we initially mistake for more fish farms but on closer inspection prove to be breeding cages for terns.
As we leave Loch Creran we see a local lighter transporting a contractor’s digger – water transport is much used in these areas as it is often the only viable way to reach remote communities.
The sail round LKismore is excellent with wonderful views up Loch Linhe towards Fort William. We can see Ben Nevis in the far distance. High hills and mountains line each side of the Loch and make a spectacular picture with the blue sky above.
In due course we round Lismore, skirting the rocky southern end before Janet takes the helm for a last sail into Dunstaffenage whilst John prepares a supper of chorizo chicken (a Hairy Bikers recipe from John’s daughter Katharine that we have modified to suit our galley).
Miles sailed: 42 nautical miles
Total sailed to date: 1101.0 nm
Engine hours: 2.0
Total engine hours: 142.2
Hours sailed: 9.5
Total hours sailed: 250.8
Following winds and fair weather to you all,
Yvonne, Janet, Paul and John