Tuesday 2nd July
Janet leaves us at 0730 to catch her train. We use the facilities which include excellent showers with, for once, adequate space in each shower cubicle, a chair and plenty of hooks to hang ones clothes on. (We are becoming shower and facility experts. Aberystwyth has the prize for best showers so far!). We got our key to the marina from the Frog Hotel last night as the marina staff go home at 5 at Dunstaffenage and therefore reclaim our deposit from the Frog. Each Marina and harbour have their own arrangements so we generally call ahead to book in and find out the local knowledge. We are getting the feeling around here that business is not brisk and several of the marinas are seeking extra business – Dunstaffenage offers us cut price moorings for the winter sailing season!
Today we want to sail up the Sound of Mull (between the island of Mull and the mainland peninsular of Morvern) to the town of Tobermory on the north western end of Mull. The weather forecast is not great – south-east wind force 5 to 6 occasionally 7 which is the limit for us. However, the wind will be behind us and the actual weather does not look too windy so we decide to go. We set off with 2 reefs (again!) and part of the genoa set on a fast reach at over 7 knots of speed past the southern end of Lismore before turning north-west along the Sound of Mull. This should be a spectacular part of our journey but the clouds come down to shroud the hills and there is occasional mist. We are glad of our electronic navigation aids as there are a few rocks within the Sound to avoid – our Yeoman Plotter which uses our paper charts and plots our position using the boat’s GPS and our Navionics software on our Samsung tablet as a separate system.
There are a few other yachts heading our way and from time to time we see other boats, mainly the Cal Mac ferries travelling along the Sound or across between Mull and the mainland. Although we are sailing and steam generally gives way to sail, the narrowness of the Sound means that in reality we go down the side of the Sound, leaving the big boats plenty of room in the middle as they are limited in their manoeuvrability.
It is a real shame that we are continuing to have such a bad spell of weather as there is some magnificent scenery here and we only get tantalising glimpses through the mist and clouds. We do see some wildlife, including a solitary puffin which is the first time Paul has seen one of these birds. The sailing goes well and we reach Tobermory by early afternoon. We call ahead to the harbour master to find most of the harbour full of boats sheltering from the weather but we are allocated a mooring at one end of town.
We see a large liner moored off Tobermory with boats shuttling between it and the town. This turns out to be The World – a luxury cruise liner owned by its residents which people buy apartments on and live full time as it cruises around the world. It is an impressive size (43500 tonnes and nearly 200 meters long) with 106 apartments & around 50 studios. Apparently the residents who own the ship are from about 40 different nations. Welcome to soggy Scotland!
After lunch we inflate the rubber dingy and row ashore. Tobermory is a delightful town that was founded as a fishing community around 200 years ago in the natural harbour off the Sound of Mull which is sheltered by Calve Island from the Atlantic swell. It still has a fishing fleet (although relatively small) plus a distillery and numerous hotels. It is a very picturesque little town with attractive, brightly painted buildings along the waterfront and also along the top of the steep hill that surrounds the bay.
We find a chandler to buy a replacement pin to secure the spinnaker pole, the previous one having jumped ship somewhere along the way, then make our way to the excellent new facilities for visiting yachtsmen. Like many of these fishing communities, Tobermory has obtained grants to build facilities to attract leisure sailors – what a pity they cannot buy good weather!
We visit the local distillery but are too late for a tour and decline to buy the whiskey as it is £5 cheaper in the local Co-op!
Back on board we enjoy Chris Fox’s excellent cake and consider going back on shore to eat but as the rain sets in earnest we shut up the hatches and cook on board.
Day’s run: 23.0 nm
Mileage to date: 1124.0 nm
Engine hours: 0.5
Hours sailed: 4.2
Wednesday 3rd July
We awake to a brighter day (hooray!) with less wind. We row ashore to buy various provisions and shop for a few presents. John samples the local whiskey but decides against a purchase as it is expensive and not to his liking.
We see a large ginger cat strolling along the beach and later John photographs him stretching out in the sun on a car roof. This is the Tobermory Cat which we later discover has been the subject of a children’s story book and a copyright row. (See Tale of the Ginger Cat). He is a magnificent and apparently fearless cat!
Back on board we plan our days sail to Armadale on the Isle of Skye opposite Mallaig. Although today’s weather forecast is good, the next day is forecast to have storm force winds and as we have to be at Mallaig in two days time we cannot afford to get stranded at any of the smaller islands on the way, much as we would like to visit them.
We have a fine sail out of the Sound of Mull to the open sea, after which the wind dies and we end up motor sailing round Ardnamurchan Point. At 060 13.4’ west this is the westernmost point on the British mainland (not Lands End as many people think!). We motor on north across an almost flat sea past the islands of Muck, Eigg, Rhum and Canna (known collectively as the Small Islands).
These are the islands we would have liked to visit, along with Iona and Staffa (renown for Fingal’s Cave) off the west of Mull but we will have to leave these islands for another visit. Eventually the breeze sets in from the south west so we set the spinnaker and proceed in quiet and stately manner up the Sound of Sleat between Skye and the mainland. Yvonne starts singing the Skye Boat Song so we get the Sundart Song Book out to get the proper words:
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclouds rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare
Another place we would have liked to stop at is Loch Scavaig which is reckoned to be one of the most spectacular anchorages in the UK as the Cullin Mountains come down to the water edge in an almost sheer drop. Apparently, eons ago, this was part of a volcano where the side blew out and which is now filled by the sea but once again the weather forecast precludes us going there this time.
We arrive at the little bay at Armadale, which is sheltered from the south and west (the direction tomorrow’s gale is forecast to come from) and pick up a mooring buoy as the bay is filled with moorings and there is no room to anchor (which is free unlike mooring). We listen to Radio 5 live as Andy Murray wins his quarter final at Wimbledon whilst John cooks vegetable curry.
Today’s run: 34.0 nm
Mileage to date: 1158.0 nm
Engine hours: 3.9
Hours sailed today: 6.8
Total hours sailed: 260.8
Thursday 4th July
American Independence Day! Another gale forecast and the wind is rising with the boat being rocked around a bit on its mooring so we decide to spend the day on Skye. First though Paul and John swap the gypsy on the new anchor winch for the old one as the new one does not fit the chain correctly and the chain jumps as the anchor is raised under load. (The gypsy is the drum with gear-like teeth which the anchor chain passes round as it is wound into the boat). We use the outboard this time on the rubber dinghy to get ashore at the little harbour as the wind is too strong for paddle power.
On shore we walk half a mile to Armadale Castle. This has been set up as the Clan Donald Centre – a visitor attraction set round the ruined castle of Clan Donald and its 20000 acre highland estate which includes some fine walking country.
After a coffee at the very smart café/restaurant we set off to walk the path that leads steeply up the hill through a coniferous forest to an excellent view point several hundred feet up. This gives us splendid views (as much as the weather would allow) over the south of Skye and across the Sound of Sleat to the mainland and the peninsular of Knoydart.
We push some coins into the wooden pole at the top for good luck and collect some sprigs of heather on the way down.
Back near sea level we wander past the ruined castle before coming across some people taking part in an archery contest on the castle lawn. Given the wind this must have been a challenge but the very hi-tech equipment of the modern archer no doubt allows them to succeed in a way that the archers of past centuries could only dream of.
We wander further through the pleasant gardens and come across a wedding being prepared including the groom’s father in full highland outfit. He turns out to be an American gentleman from Seattle – the whole family has come across to the Isle of Skye even though some of them live in Hawaii – the wedding isle many choose. There is always an American connection somewhere associated with Scottish history!
There is a fine Study Centre in the grounds covering the history of Clan Donald and the wider history of the clans and history of this area. As with so many parts of Scotland, human occupation can be traced back thousands of years with successive waves of people arriving from various places especially Ireland and Scandinavia (i.e. the Vikings). The rise and fall of the clan system is complicated but in brief, the Clan Donald gradually became very powerful in the medieval times through strategic marriages, alliances and warmongering with their territory cantered on the island of Islay and stretching from Inverness across to most of the islands on the west of Scotland. Theirs was a sea based stronghold with a strong hierarchical, feudal type organisation and a tradition of passing down their customs by word of mouth and through songs rather than the written word. . The head of the clan became known as the Lord of the Isles. Eventually the Scottish kings felt threatened by their power and by a combination of statute and force of arms cut the powers and strength of the clan. The clan’s power and cohesion was already well on the wane when they backed Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite revolution, which proved a disaster for them and the rest of the clans who rallied to that cause. The ensuing years saw a long period of gradual decay in the clan system with growing reduction of wealth and income at all levels. The feudal nature of the clans disintegrated and with it the two-way nature of the feudal relationship with the heads of clans becoming straightforward landowners. A steady reduction in real income over the 200 years or so after the Jacobite revolution that could be gained from the land and the disaster of the potato famine lead to wholesale clearances of the rural population and their replacement by sheep farming in many areas as landowners sought to reduce the costs of their limited income. The population of Skye, for example, reduced from around 20000 in the early 19th Century to around 9000 today. Many estates were broken up and sold off.
Gaelic was the principle language of this area of Scotland and the clans and is still spoken in much of rural Scotland today, although the number of people speaking the language is diminishing. (Approximately 1/3rd of the people on Skye today are reported to be Gaelic speaking).
Having had our fill of the history of the clans and this part of Scotland we walk back to the ferry pier opposite our mooring for a late lunch at the little café, and then go on round the bay to the village for some supplies and the Isle of Skye Yacht Company who offer showers. These are located behind a steel door in the side of a shed but they suffice. No two arrangements for showers are the same!
The wind is rising further so we head back to Sundart and cook up a large Spanish omelette for supper to use up our supplies.
Friday 5th July.
We rise to yet another windy day, but not quite the gales of yesterday. We decide to sail across the Sound to Loch Nevis (just north of Mallaig) before finishing at Mallaig. We set 2 reefs and reach across the Sound in no time before entering Loch Nevis. For once we can see the scenery clearly and it is spectacular with lofty peaks all around us and a few houses around the north side. The Loch stretches 12 miles inland but we only have time to sail round the outer part. Sailing is a challenge in these places as the mountains deflects the winds all over the place. On our way over to the loch we see a dolphin and seals.
We sail past Inverie which claims to have the most inaccessible pub in Scotland as it can only be reached by boat. It has a good reputation as a gastro pub with a special line in sea food and is highly rated but we don’t have time to stop and partake.
Instead we anchor off Glaschoille and are rewarded by the sight of 3 white-tailed eagles soaring over us – we think they are two parents and their off-spring as one bird is a bit smaller. The birds are unmistakable with their huge size, soaring flight, distinctive wingtips, white tails and the fact that other birds rush away from them. They are a magnificent sight in a wonderful setting. Sadly our little camera is not up to taking photos of the birds.
After that excitement we up-anchor and sail to Mallaig, arriving around 3 o’clock to find the harbour chock-a-block with yachts as there is yet another gale forecast overnight. We raft up (i.e. double up) against another yacht. We need to fill up the diesel, water and gas for Charles and his crew who are having the boat whilst we are away. Mallaig has only just got pontoons installed for yachts as it is really an active fishing and ferry port and they have not yet got facilities to match. Diesel has to be fetched in 20 litre cans borrowed from the berthing manager from the local commercial oil and chandlery company on the other side of the harbour so Paul and John get their exercise doing that whilst Yvonne clears up the boat and packs. The good side of the diesel saga is that it is incredibly cheap – 75p/litre!
John walks back into town to swap the empty Gaz cylinder; as he passes the station the daily steam hauled special train pulls in – better known as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films as the train sequences were filmed on this stretch of railway line which runs through some of the finest scenery to be seen from a train. The history of Mallaig is bound up with the railway as the port only flourished once the railway arrived in 1901. Unusually, the dividends of the company that built it were guaranteed by the government who wanted to bring more prosperity to this relatively poor part of Scotland.
Fishing is still a major industry here – there is a ship repair yard opposite where we have moored with two fishing boats hauled up for repairs, one of them needing a significant re-build. It is difficult to understand the economics of the fishing industry as here boats are being re-built whilst elsewhere they are being scrapped. It is good to see working boats being put into good order here.
We had hoped to meet up with Malcolm Lawrence at Mallaig, who contacted us via the Sudep website as he has is sailing his boat in these waters but he rings to say that Mallaig harbour is full up and cannot take him tonight so we will miss him. This is the first time we have ever heard of somewhere being full up but the Scottish school holidays have started and with the bad weather forecast people tend to migrate to harbours and marinas rather than stay out on anchor.
We decide to eat out and are recommended the Steam Engine Inn by the lads at the petrol station. This is a good choice as we eat excellent local fish and chips whilst watching Andy Murray win his semi-final at Wimbledon and pick up knowledge from other sailors on the next leg of our journey around the north of Scotland to the Orkneys. However, that will have to wait a week as tomorrow we return to Melbourne to go to Nicky’s graduation at Nottingham and no doubt tackle a mountain of post, do the washing and so on. Our good friends Phil and Maggie Dobby have offered us a lift back to Melbourne as they have been holidaying on Skye so we won’t be taking the train home from Mallaig.
Sundart will continue her voyaging around the Western Isles in our absence as Charles Saunders and three others from Staunton Harold Sailing Club are using the boat – this area is far too good to miss the opportunity! We hope they have good weather.
Day’s run: 18.0 nm
Total run to date: 1176.0 nm
Engine hours: 3.0 (inc 1 hour yesterday to charge up computer etc)
Total engine hours: 149.6
Hours sailed today: 4.0
Total hours sailed to date: 264.8
A following wind and fair weather to you all
Yvonne, Paul and John