Having had a successful trip north, thanks to the sterling efforts of Alan & Alan, I was joined by Sue and Jonty in Whitehaven for a couple of days of family visits and reprovisioning. Jonty stayed with me for the next three days as we made our way up past the Mulls of Galloway and Kintyre to Oban.
We had a calm motor over to East Tarbert Bay, a little cove just in the hook of the Mull of Galloway. The passage north is all about getting the tides right, as they run quite ferociously through the North Channel. This meant taking the passage north in 6 hours blocks, which turned out to be 0600-1200 and 1800-midnight. Luckily at this time of year it is very light, and we made the most of it.
We had a very quiet, albeit rather short night and were up at 4am to the dawn, rounding the first mull and heading to our interim destination, Sanda Island, which served as a passage and lunchtime anchorage as we awaited the next fair tide.
Sanda was breezy, with a significant tide race to its south west, even in quite calm conditions. You can see why many people opt for the Crinan Canal rather than head up the Mull of Kintyre. Conditions were settled though, and we caught the first of the fair back eddy which took us close into the peninsula, and kept us heading north at a brisk pace.
By this time the autopilot, which has had a mind of its own so far this season, was starting the play the game, much to our relief. We carried the tide up past Islay to Jura, where our destination for another short night was Craighouse, which nestles under the Paps of Jura, pimple-like mountains which dominate the small harbour.
The usual mooring buoys had yet to be laid in the harbour, and despite its reputation for being a rather kelp-ridden anchorage we set first time and well, enabling us to blow up the dinghy and head to the Jura Inn for last orders, as well as to buy a bottle of Jura Single Malt. For me it is not quite as peaty as the Islay ones (although certainly of that ilk) and is slightly sweeter.
Another early start beckoned and we were greeted to a magnificent dawn as the sun rose behind the Paps.
Heading up the Sounds of Jura and Luing, we made fast progress in quite flat waters past the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan to port and Fladda lighthouse.
As we approached Kerrera and Oban, Jonty cooked an immaculate scrambled egg breakfast and all was well with the world. We found a berth in the new Oban transit marina, which is much more conveniently located right in the centre of town. It was here that Sue was to arrive by train later.
The next day we sailed up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, which brought back memories of the BBC children’s TV series ‘Balamory’. It’s a beautiful little town, with its signature pastel-coloured houses on the seafront. We enjoyed touring it and had a couple of enjoyable walks to the north and south of the harbour.
The next day saw us head to Loch Aline, a beautiful short loch which is enclosed by mainland Scotland. We anchored near the head of the loch, which is overlooked by Ardtornish castle and its 35,000 acre estate, into which Sue and I wandered in the afternoon, undertaking an 8-mile circuit which took us up into some remote Highland territory.
Fossils found by Sue
After a night on Aline, we headed back down the Sound of Mull to the north coast of Kerrera, where we sailed past an island full of seals and anchored in a quiet bay to get a walk of the island in. It was lovely – although just a stone’s throw for what counts as urban sprawl in the Western Isles, it seemed delightfully remote.
Somewhat tired after our walk, we repaired back to Oban, and went out to dinner in a rather good seafood restaurant adjacent to the marina. Sue departed by train this morning, and a new crew member, Caspar arrives this afternoon. We then head to the Small Isles and Skye…and the weather forecast is benign.