Friday, 21 June 2013

Our cruise off the West coast of Scotland has come to an end and in our search for those perfect, isolated anchorages we also, not surprisingly, found places where it has been impossible to connect to the internet!  So this post covers the last two weeks until entering the Caledonian Canal.  Hopefully from now on we will be able to update the blog more frequently!

On 3rd June we headed off for the Mull of Kintyre with two stops en route, an isolated anchorage at Carradale Bay with views across to Arran

and the busier harbour at Campbeltown.  An early start from here to get the favourable tide and the windless, calm conditions made for an erie passage around Mull of Kintyre.

Our next anchorage off the Island of Gigha proved to be rather busy.  No doubt, like us, others were attracted by the impressive Achamore Gardens. 

In the 19th Century a Captain Scarlett purchased the Island, built Achamore House and began developing the gardens.  Interestingly he also had Witch, one of our fellow gaffers, built!  Colonel Sir James Horlick (the bedtime drink man!) bought Gigha in 1944 and, making the most of the Island's unique microclimate, grew a variety of the rhododendrons as well as creating 48 new cultivars of his own.  The garden is presently home to 26!  You can imagine what the crew thought of that!  Today Gigha is owned by the Islanders.

The next day we head northwest for the island of Jura, its conspicuous 'camel's humps' helping us steer a  true course to Craighouse, home of the Jura Distillery. 


Over breakfast we watched other departing yachts struggle with anchors fouled with huge amounts of cabbage kelp - luckily we picked up a visitor's mooring (money well spent!).  After a visit to the Distillery, and taking advantage of the opportunity to sample a wide variety of their whiskeys, we are off again heading North along the East coast of Jura. Our destination is the tiny anchorage in Lussa Bay  - which hardly gets a mention in the Pilot (good sign) and is described as cabbage kelp free!  The conditions were perfect - we sailed up to our anchorage in total, intoxicating silence.  Once ashore we fry sausages on a beach fire then, on a short walk to the head of the bay, we see a sign advertising tea and cake  - "please place your order using the 2-way radio" and meet some builders from Notting Hill!
Departure times are, as always, dictated by the tide, so again we depart early and head North for the famous Gulf of Corryvreckan.  The Corryvreckan is famous for its 8 knot currents, whirlpools and huge waves - but in calm weather at slack water it was placid with no hint of its wild side.  The only unusual thing we came across was 20 swimmers crossing the Gulf  - obviously we had chosen perfect conditions for our passage!
We were making for an anchorage called Tinker's Hole in the Ross of Mull, Mull's south western corner.  We had a brisk sail as the wind got up in the afternoon and even had a chance to play with the topsail!

Tinker's Hole provided a challenge with swinging room as the tide turned and although there are some mooring rings to enable yachts to moor fore and aft, these weren't being used by the yachts near them.

On the first long legs from Wales to Scotland it was food that seemed to punctuate our day and feature high on the agenda - now it's anchoring, tidal calculations and pumping up the dinghy that occupy us!

The next day, 9th June, we visited the Island of Iona and landed feeling we were in the Bahamas (as long as you didn't stand in the water for too long)!

St Columba settled in Iona having brought Christianity to Scotland from Ireland.  The Abbey is impressive from sea and land....

... and popular, no doubt due to the fact that it was, coincidently, St Columba's Day and pilgrims were hoping for a fast track through Purgatory!

Onwards and northwards in the afternoon to Gometra Harbour where we are invited to cocktails aboard a yacht that we met at Tinker's Hole. This was a most fortuitous meeting as our hosts have their mooring at Loch Melfort where we are meeting all the other Gaffers next weekend.  As they are away cruising we can use their mooring right under the nose of the party venue!

The next day we had time before the tide to take a much needed walk around Ulva, the Island across the harbour from Gometra.  This is a beautiful place and we are seeing it at its best.  The weather is fair and the wind brisk enough for a reef in the main as we head around the south western corner of Mull and head for Tobermory.  We plan to have a couple of nights there to re-victual, refuel and wash....ourselves and our clothes!
No photographs of our stop over in Tobermory - it poured with rain but we didn't care!  It's now 12 June and we are heading back to the mainland and Loch Melfort for the Gaffer's party with a couple of stops en route.  The first was Loch Feochan where we anchored in the bay and took the dinghy ashore in search of an excellent pub about 2 miles away (luckily we got a lift one way!).  Our second stopover was at Puilladobhain (pronounced 'Puldrohran'!) nestled between the Island of Seil and the mainland.  We walked to nearby Clachan where the bridge over the water that separates Seil from the mainland is known as 'the Bridge over the Atlantic'.  
To get to Loch Melfort we negotiate the narrow, V-shaped Cuan Sound which connects the Firth of Lorn with Seil Sound and Loch Melfort - another one to be negotiated in favourable tidal conditions!  In Loch Melfort we pick up our promised mooring and are soon joined by Witch.

The day of the Gaffer's party, Saturday, started with dismal weather and we imagined us all partying in full oilies.  But, as so often seems to have been the case here, the latter part of the day brightened up and gave us a lovely sunny afternoon and evening.  A contingent from the East Coast Gaffers had driven hundreds of miles to join the Loch Melfort gathering and our hosts, Robert and Lorna, provided the most spectacular venue, delicious barbeque, games, music and pipes from Northumberland and Scotland!  The gaffers of course had to sing too and Ben excelled himself in leading us in his trademark sea shanty.

On Sunday we all raised our anchors and saluted our hosts for such a good party.  We were off to the Caledonian Canal, others were spending more time cruising the area before we all meet up again in Eyemouth on 1st July.

Our final sea loch on the West coast was Loch Linnhe which took us all the way to Fort William and the start of the canal. Another beautiful day with spectacular views.

We arrived at Corpach at the start of the Caledonian Canal in the late afternoon expecting to moor up for the night on the salty side but are immediately waved in for our first lock experience - quite daunting with all its dos and don'ts after the freedom of the Lochs and Sounds! In the shadow of Ben Nevis, with snow still lingering in the North facing corries, we settle down to a very different routine of fenders, warps and an abundance of 'facilities'!


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