We stayed four days in Mallaig, and the weather improved on Monday. We had some sunshine, and began to feel a bit warmer on board. We stocked up with supplies at the coop and a fish merchant, and headed back to the boat to prepare for a sail on Tuesday.
Tuesday dawned and the forecast was for gale 8 later, ie after 6pm, so we decided to go for it as our proposed journey to either Totaig anchorage in Loch Duich or Plockton harbour would not take all that long, we should be well tucked up before it got dusty! We left Mallaig just before the 10.15 departure of the Loch Nevis, off to the Small Isles as usual. Once out of the harbour we raised sail, switched off the engine, and headed northwards at about 3 knots with a gentle south westerly rarely exceeding 8 knots. We planned this, as the tide at Kylerea narrows was scheduled to turn in our favour from 1pm. Going through against the tide would not be possible, as our engine wouldn't have been strong enough to fight the very strong tidal flow. So we pootled north, keeping a careful eye on the sky, as the sunshine we were basking inb was threatened by grey clouds which were massing over the Sleat peninsula. We could see one yacht ahead of us, and another appeared in our wake. Past Isle Oronsay our luck with the rain ran out, and we donned oilies and weathered our way through the squally conditions. We rolled away the genoa and put on the engine a couple of miles from Kylerea, and swooshed through at over 9 knots, observing the strange sight of lots of Atlantic grey seals in the waters round us. It must have been a good spot for them to catch fish, or perhaps they were just enjoying the fast-moving water!
Out into the loch beyond, and our decision was to go to Plockton. It was barely 2.30 and the sun was shining again, although the wind had freshened, and as we approached Kyleakin and the Skye Bridge it was gusting up to 20 plus knots. Out through the bridge - always a buzz, going under there - we were able to turn north and sail again. As we turned into Loch Carron both sails were too much so we rolled away the genoa and had a very pleasant sail in sunshine towards Plockton. By the time we were lining up to pick up a mooring the wind was freshening in earnest, and our pickup, although a first-time catch, was anything but elegant. But we were safely on a mooring loaded to 15 tons - we weigh half that, so we settled in, had dinner, and waited for the coming gale to arrive.
We observed another yacht, not so lucky, foul its prop on the mooring pickup line it was trying to capture. It dangled by its stern into the increasing wind for some time, eventually managing to free itself sufficiently to lie normally to wind. It is a nightmare all yachties dread, the rope round the prop, as it immobilises the boat's engine. Mostly it takes a diver going down with a knife to cut it free again.
Tuesday night was very noisy, with the wind howling in the rigging and the boat yawing and shearing on the mooring. But we knew we were safe enough.
Wednesday was an incredibly windy, wet day, blowing force 7 gusting 8 all day. Only two yachts arrived during the whole day, and nobody left.
Thursday was nice enough to get the dinghy overboard at last, and we went into Plockton and bought some groceries. Friends from our yacht club invited us over for drinks in the evening, and then to dinner, so we had a very pleasant evening with them.
Friday 3rd June was finally a warm sunny day. Off with the thermals, on with the t-shirts and sunglasses. At last!
On the 4th we set sail again, this time in really nice weather, and headed for Portree. The wind freshened as we rounded the south end of Raasay, and we had an exciting ride up to Portree harbour, where we settled in for the night. On the way into the harbour Ju spotted a Sea Eagle! Yessss!
Like every other crew trying to have a pleasant sailing holiday on the West Coast of Scotland, we are wondering what we ever did to deserve two and a half weeks of gales gales and more gales. The month of May has been a virtual write-off as regards cruising, because every thought has to be about finding a secure spot out of the way of the next gale, from whichever direction it is forecast. We are still on a mooring in Mallaig harbour, with a ringside seat for the construction of the new pontoons, estimated to be completed by end June. Only a rock platform has been built so far, but we are well placed to see what happens next there.
Today we are being swung about on the mooring to the tune of 37 knots of wind, maximum so far.
May June be better! Oh please!
Saturday dawned, and our marine engineer arrived and immediately dived into the rear of the engine, and diagnosed an over-leaky stuffing box, which he would have to return to fix. His return visit was set for later in the day, around 5 or 6, he told us. We stayed on board, apart from a brief visit ashore to the Fisherman's Mission for a shower and a change of reading matter, and a quick trip into the co-op for supplies, and we watched the deteriorating weather.
There was a very large wooden boat on a visitor's mooring very close to us, and while its owner assured us it would be fine, I wasn't so sure. I should have moved us then on to another mooring, further into the harbour and further away from the large boat. But while the wind was blowing this strongly there seemed to be no chance of the two boats swinging into each other. Saturday at 5 or 6 came and went, so we had supper and concluded that the engineer's visit was not going to happen that day, and turned in for the night. The awful weather was beginning to get us down, and force 9 gales were forecast for Monday, so we booked ourselves into the West Highland Hotel for two nights dinner bed and breakfast, and left the dinghy attached to the lifeboat pontoon.
Our two days in the hotel were indeed a welcome break from the dreadful weather that this month of May is throwing at the UK in general and Scotland in particular. The hotel was the epitome of highland hospitality, and we felt welcome from the word go. We met some interesting people, including some famous names from Hollywood and a splendid lady from Devon who is a champion Town Crier! She even gave us an autographed card as a memento! Monday 23 May was as appalling here as it was elsewhere. Our room looked out over the Sound of Sleat towards Rum and Eigg, not that we could see them for mist and rain, and we watched squall after squall march rapidly across the water and hit the town. From the back of the hotel we could just see Little Else on her mooring in the harbour, holding her own, as the harbour was sheltered to some extent from the force of this south westerly gale. The Calmac ferries were cancelled all day, a very rare occurrence here, even in the depths of winter. Many people in the hotel were stranded because of this.
After two days we emerged on Tuesday and made it back on to the boat. One of the lifeboat crew had taken pity on our dinghy and placed it more safely on an inner space on the pontoon. We rang our engineer, who was full of apologies and promised to arrive in the morning. The wind finally dropped and we had a calm night, at last.
The next morning, Wednesday, we got up and had a look again at how close we were to the large wooden boat. Now that the wind had dropped we were wandering about on our moorings a bit, no doubt subject to tidal eddies in the harbour. As I watched, the stern of this behemoth suddenly turned towards us, ran backwards, and its mizzen boom connected with our forestay! I had the usual onset of Tourette's as I stuck a leg over our guardrail and pushed the other boat's toerail with all my strength. It moved away, easing the sideways pressure on our forestay. I stayed on watch over this for the rest of the time we were there, and it happened again on three more occasions. If we had been going to stay in the harbour overnight again I would have moved the boat to another mooring, but northerly gales were now forecast for Thursday, so we had decided to move round to Inverie, safer in a northerly, so we could also visit the Old Forge pub, one of our favourite eating places while cruising. The engineer duly turned up with some very large spanners and quickly sorted the problem. We decided that the trip to Inverie would be a good test of the system, and got ready to go just as soon as Ju got back with the laundry from the Fisherman's Mission.
In the end we left at 1.45pm, just as the Calmac ferry was leaving for Armadale. We had a wet and windy journey under engine only to the pub mooring at Inverie, which to our dismay had a very rudimentary pickup, just a buoy on a short piece of rope, not long enough to bring aboard. We quickly looped some rope round it and tied it off temporarily, while I went off to fetch our Moorfast boathook and a length of strong rope. I managed to thread it through the top loop on the buoy at the first attempt, and we made ourselves secure. Then we put the dinghy in the water and rowed to the pub later for dinner. It was as we remembered it, full of locals and walkers, boaties and worthies. The food was good too. We made our way back to the boat, noting that a charter yacht had arrived on another mooring, and later a third yacht arrived and its occupants also went to the pub.
Before turning in we put our chain-rope splice on the mooring buoy, as it would not chafe as rope alone might.
It was a quiet night and we both slept reasonably well.
Thursday was another story. The forecast gale certainly arrived, and was as advertised from the north to north-west. Forecasts varied during the day, but the picture is of more and more strong winds over the next while. And it rained, and it rained, and it rained. No point going ashore for a walk to get cold and wet, so we sudoku'd and read books and played a few rounds of Rummikub to pass the time in what is another wasted day riding out yet another gale! Aarghhh!
When the wind goes round to the west we will head back the way we have come, and find a nice mooring as far as possible from a certain large wooden boat!
Friday morning dawned calm, and dry!!!!!! We got up at 7 and by 7.30 we were heading for Mallaig again. On the way we played around with the main and the three reefs, marking the reefing lines and main halyard for the fixing points. The in-boom reefing system is relatively new to us on Little Else, and we are slowly getting to grips with its finer points!!
More anon. We are moored again on a visitor's mooring, but a bit further away from you-know-what!