Onwards to the north
18 May 2011
Our stay in Tobermory lasted five days, after all. We had a quiet meal aboard on Sunday evening, and met up with the girls on Monday morning for a very nice lunch at the Glengorm Castle Restaurant. After lunch we walked out over the hills by the castle where we saw some standing stones, then down towards the sea where we climbed to the top of the hill fort Dun Ara, took some photographs of us with the panoramic views as backdrop. It was sunny but the wind was still south-easterly and cold.
In the evening we went up to the Western Isles Hotel, kindly chauffeured there by Erika in the van, and settled in to wait for the other RHYC members who were coming for the dinner. One of the managers asked me how we had enjoyed our lunch, which confused me for a moment, until I recognised him as one of the two men at the next table in Glengorm at lunchtime! He explained that he and his partner often went there for lunch as it was a chance to get away from work for a bit, and yet not too far to travel from Tobermory! Our fellow club members started arriving, and we had a very nice dinner in the company of a couple we had not met before. There were about 20 of us, and the evening got louder and jollier as the meal progressed. The one downside was that coffee was laid out in an adjoining (very dull) lounge, just in a large uninsulated cafetiere, and we were asked to go help ourselves, but that we could take it back to the table if we wanted to. Of course the slower eaters and later arrivals got cold coffee, which seemed to me a flaw in the organisation. Nevertheless we both enjoyed the evening, and the chat, and headed back to the boat for a dram, as we had both been on soft drinks all evening.
On Tuesday the weather was truly awful, so we reluctantly declined the invitation to go aboard the boat of our dinner companions of last evening for coffee in the morning. Instead we dismantled Herr Otto van Helm, our autopilot, which had refused to work on Sunday as we were motorsailing up the sound. As usual it boiled down to salt-water corrosion on terminals, so after a lot of scraping and buffing everything seems to be working as normal again. A mystery remains about the Aries windvane, however, as we noticed its linkage just wasn't making any connection at all, so the rudder was completely out of control. Must look at that again soon. In the evening we met the girls for a drink in the MacDonald Arms, as we were invited up to Cookie's for dinner, and had a great meal and blether with her and B and E. She has a house right up on the top level of the town, with almost a bay view, and a lovely garden.
Wednesday was yet another wet and windy day. We checked out the windlass in the lulls in the rain, and it seemed to be running fine. All the nasty groaning noises it made in Loch Spelve are a mystery, but I didn't test it under load as we were on a mooring and it's not a good idea to drop an anchor in case of foul-ups under water. We went shopping for fresh supplies, then came back and went over to Argo Navis for pre-dinner drinks. Another couple were there, who had been in the Loch Spelve anchorage near us, and whose Honda Outboard (a twin to ours) was on the blink. They were busy sourcing a spare spark plug to get it working again. Coincidentally they had the same windlass as ours, and offered to come and have a look and a listen to ours in the morning! Done, I said.
We went ashore after delivering them back to their boat, and had one of Tobermory's renowned fish suppers for dinner from the booth at the fisherman's pier. Delicious! We stopped off on the way back in McGochans for a pint of the local beer, then went back to the boat for an early night. On the way we stopped by and invited the couple over for coffee in the morning, so we could talk windlasses and outboards!
The weather was still not looking wonderful for our onward voyage, so it was just as well that we had purchased a book of ten mooring tickets at the outset from the THA (Tobermory Harbour Association) This is a good deal if you, like us, arrive in Tobermory on a west coast cruise and find yourself weatherbound, or just fascinated by Mull, and stay for two three or four days at a time. Especially as the tickets can be used a season or two later. They work out at £12 a night instead of the one-off price of £14.
Thursday was a bit nicer, and the wind had moved around to the southwest, when our friends arrived in their dinghy, under oars, for coffee. We had a pleasant blether, and examined the windlass, giving it a clean bill of health. We discussed weather forecasts and future sailing plans, and then they went back over to their boat, and we went ashore for another trip to Brown's, the celebrated ironmonger and hardware shop. So far this visit we bought a sink plunger, a cooking timer (a little pig called Eric) and a pair of tongs. We went back to the boat, and noted that our friends went ashore, and their outboard was working again!. Some time later they came back as I was beginning to prepare our evening meal. Ju was watching as they got back on to their boat, and remarked that their dinghy must have a really long painter, as it was now quite far from the stern of their boat. Then she and I both realised that it had somehow got away from them, and was scudding across the harbour on its own, powered by the still strong wind. I dropped the cooking things and the two of us got into the dinghy, after a brief radio call for help from our friends, and Ju and I raced off after the runaway, capturing it mercifully before it got too far towards Calve Island. We towed it back, wishing we had taken a little more time to put on warm jackets! A huge French passenger liner 'Le Boreal' was anchored in the bay on Thursday, and its tenders were plying to and from the landing stage taking passengers back to the ship after a trip to Iona and a bus tour of the island.
We looked at the forecast and decided that if it didn't change we'd have a go at sailing to Canna on Friday.
On Friday morning it was sunny and the wind was south-westerly 4 or 5, sometimes 6, so we got ready, dropped the mooring, raised the main and were off! We motorsailed until we were approaching Ardnamurchan point, when we put a reef in the main, unfurled the genoa, and shut down the engine. We made very good progress under sail, keeping a watchful eye on squalls which appeared in the distance. We saw no cetaceans at all, and not many birds except some gannets, fulmars, long-tailed skuas and manx shearwaters, and the odd puffin.
At last we reached the turning point at the westerly tip of Rum, and a squall hit us with a vengeance. Hail fell, and I had to brace myself in the cockpit to keep control of the helm. The main problem was the sudden increase in wind force, which drove us sideways, despite having reefed both sails (obviously not enough). We hung on in truly extreme conditions, while the hail flattened the sea, until after probably only five or ten minutes it passed, hitting the mountains on Rum instead, and we could proceed in an orderly fashion up the sound and into Canna harbour. We watched the Loch Nevis, Canna's ferry to Mallaig, come out just before we entered, and we had the harbour to ourselves. We dropped the anchor in its usual spot between the two churches, and dragged spectacularly. The windlass performed faultlessly, hauling up our chain and a large ball of weed containing the anchor. I got the long boathook and worked on the anchor for about five minues, removing huge lumps of seaweed of different kinds. Our second attempt was successful, and we settled in for an early night.
Canna is renowned for its weed, and we have anchored here many times in the past, and watched other boats struggle with this. On Saturday a yacht came in and anchored briefly, and left again. The only other activity was the two visits of the Loch Nevis. Just after we went to bed on Saturday evening we were astonished by a firework display worthy of a small town, happening on the shore not far from us. For an island with a population of 15 it was quite something! I wonder what it was in aid of? On Sunday another yacht arrived and had difficulty anchoring, and it left on Monday. But the real puzzle was around six in the evening when a yacht arrived with four persons on board, and proceeded to spend the next two hours making no fewer than ten or eleven attempts to anchor, all resulting in the characteristic ball of weed, finally to my astonishment around 8pm they simply left! There are no other anchoring spots or bolt-holes near here. The anchorage on Rum is on the east side of the island, and quite a long way away, especially in failing visibility. I wonder what happened to them, and where they went? Sailing is like that, you see boats heading off and unless you know the people on board you will probably never know what they do or where they go!
Our next hop will probably be to Loch Harport, but not yet, as visibility is still poor and it is still raining. We have the luxury of not having any deadlines to make, so we can choose to wait for better weather.
Actually we stayed put until Tuesday morning, with a catamaran and a Cornish Crabber for company, having watched the Lord of the Glens come in on Monday lunchtime and disgorge a gaggle of drookit tourists, who scuttled along under umbrellas to the first church, waited a while and scuttled back. The weather was so truly awful during our weekend there that we just sat tight aboard the boat, unmotivated to go walking as we have here on occasions in the past. The weather forecast became bleaker and bleaker in the course of the four days that we decided not to go clockwise round the exposed west coast of Skye, but rather to head eastwards to the Sound of Sleat, where we could ride out the forecast Force 8 gale in 24 hours or so.
We left Canna around 7.30am, raising the anchor cocooned in a ball of weed - see photograph. With a cold breeze of two or three knots we motored north of Rum. On the way we passed the wreck of a fishing boat which has apparently been jammed against the rocky shore of Rum since February. The true price of fish. We arrived on a mooring in Armadale in time for lunch.