The gentleman who filled my jerry cans told me the weather was unique and bemoaned the irritating midges, which the Swallows were so obviously enjoying and which had not bothered me; indeed thus far I hadn’t even seen one, let alone felt one and I sagely put this down to the maintenance of a toxic internal environment, what with my penchant for extra chili, garlic, ginger and hair-restorer on non-sailing days.
Two big fat pig-ugly red landing craft followed me out shortly after dawn, carrying stores for the inhabitants of imposing castellated Shuna House and associated homesteads on the Islet. In the loch a floating ‘fender’ became a curious, breakfasting seal like something out of Alice in Wonderland. As we approached tiny Cuan Sound apprehension grew as severe warnings and scary photographs of yachts on rocks peppered the various pilot books, which I had snapped shut and put away, lest courage failed me completely.
I aimed to enter Cuan at 0700, an hour before HW Dover and by 0810 Team A-Jay was smugly through both Cuan and Inish sounds – at this point I usually describe the morning, but won’t this time as it was like all the rest though with added rain and waves, which we had seen few of in these inland waters. Half an hour later we ran over a submarine as the depth gauge jumped instantly from 29 meters beneath our keels to 8 and back to exactly 8 metres again a few seconds later; there were no underwater obstacles at this point so I may well be right – others have reported similar occurrences, one skipper even deliberately weaving, only to find the reduced depth followed him; I wonder what the submarine Captain’s log entry read that day: “Had a good day today – chased a yacht in the Firth of Lorne”! Oh well, it was nice to know we still had a submarine or two.
I am in love with the Stornaway Coast Guard weather forecast announcer, who can lull me into a trance with her soft Scottish bur, leaving me oblivious to the depressing information being dispensed and so it was today, that news of fronts coming in from the Atlantic bringing Force 6/7 with gales nearby and rain, simply didn’t bother me.
It is funny how doubts can creep in at odd times, as they did when our speed dropped and all yachts seemed to be heading South, only to evaporate as we entered the Sound of Mull, fell onto a broad reach and shot off under full sail. The Heavens delivered a desultory shower but promised much more if the ominous tiered dark clouds were any indication, but I was high on ½ pint of Espresso and we were actually sailing! Mind you the term ‘shot off’ is a relative one, as we were overtaken by every yacht in the Sound, which was galling except that all were several feet longer and many hadn’t bothered with sails, using the ‘iron donkey’ instead – or perhaps both.
This was my first experience of loch sailing, but I wasn’t surprised to find the wind varied between 5 and 20 knots from the south and our speed from 2.5 to 6.5 knots. Neither was I surprised to see the odd ‘lightweight Frenchie’ with a reef tucked in, or rounding up in a strong gust. Later we had a tussle with a Wayfarer dinghy outside Tobermory and I was confident of an easy victory, but it would be a lie to declare the result as anything other than an honourable draw – and she was only 16 feet long! Maybe I really am a rubbish sailor!
We ‘parked’ in 20 metres of water, near a waterfall, alongside the ubiquitous fish farm, as the wind sighed loudly over the mast top and colourful little Tobermory smiled cheerfully at us from a mile away. The waterfall gushed noisily into the loch through dense forest 40 metres away and at its base a grey heron stood, immobile, patience personified.
An Atlantic front dumped itself wetly onto the cabin roof next morning after a windy, wet night and Barry the barometer was in a sulk, unlike the fat seal playfully thrashing a kale stalk around, to see what was inside. Out in the loch, rain reduced visibility to less than 2 miles and an open sea state with strong winds awaited us round Ardnachern Point, but we were heading North running before the wind. A wagtail perched briefly on a guard wire and strutted on the foredeck like a little Admiral, before he decided flight was preferable.
Close in to the Point, we benefitted from an extra push from the tide which slid us round and North in fine style. Streaks of blue sky lightened the morning, though the next front was piling darkly behind us and would be with us in a couple of hours I reckoned. With Force 5 – 7 up our chuff and 2 metre waves, I decided the genoa alone was the safest and most comfortable option and so we rocked, rolled and surfed to Mallaig as the skipper attacked his ‘elevenses’, ‘twelveses’ and ‘oneses’.
I remember as a little boy of 8 at boarding school, ferociously learning all the capitals of the World and looking for weird names to share with pals. ‘Rum’, ‘Egg’ and ‘Muck’ were discovered and caused much conspiratorial mirth and here they were, albeit called ‘Rhum’, ‘Eigg’ and ‘Muck’, just a few miles off our port beam, hiding in the murk!
I was wrong – the front claimed us in an hour and its’ mate was on its way when the pin holding the foot of the genoa disappeared, soliciting colourful vocabulary from the skipper. Twenty minutes on the foredeck and the genoa was fixed; the next front then caught us, just as we turned in to head up for our final approach for ‘landing’ in Mallaig; Force 6 and horizontal rain on the nose, just long enough to tease us all the way in and whilst we berthed. ‘Lady Luck’ has a dark sense of humour sometimes, I fear.
Today’s little jaunt had taken 7 hours, but it was time to stock up with essentials, so an hour or two ashore was required. Tomorrow will likely be similar in terms of weather, though our destination won’t be fixed until Team A-Jay hits the road – it’ll be a surprise to us all!