Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Isles of Scilly

Jaime writes:

The Scilly Isles consist of 48 Islands separated by sandy rock-strewn channels. Their position in the Southwestern corner of the United Kingdom affords them the benefit of warm weather transported by the gulf stream, but at a cost of being exposed to the full force of the Atlantic weather.

We arrived in New Grimsby Sound which is quite a sheltered place to stay in terms of swell and wind. It was used in 1942 as a base for mock French fishing boats which would take on reconnaissance missions to the French coast. Their mission was very important as the information they gathered helped to prepare for the D-Day landings. I digress…. We spent a couple of days exploring Tresco which is a very pretty island, with well tended gardens full of tropical plants spilling out over the stone walls. There are no cars on the island. Instead, those who don’t use their legs get around in golf-cart type vehicles. The experience was made all the better as summer seemed to have arrived, giving us beautiful hot days. We even spent an afternoon sunbathing on a deserted beach next to Cromwell’s Castle. In October!!

Cromwell's Castle

Sunset in New Grimsby Sound

Beach near Cromwell's Castle

Abbey Gardens, Tresco

Abbey Gardens, Tresco

Separating New Grimsby Sound from St. Mary’s, the main Island, are Tresco Flats. These are about a mile of sand flats that dry, that is to say that at low tide you can walk around. Not good news for a boat with a draught of 1.8m. As well as the sand, there are also quite a few rocks to avoid, but our pilotage guide makes the point that most of these rocks are “friendly”, as they are distinctive and can be used for navigation. So we made a trace of the chart, marking the relevant transits and bearings on it and headed off in the dinghy quite close to low water, across the flats. We followed the same route as we would go in Lady Ayesha, which worked fine and gave us confidence to do it for real.

Craig continued on to St. Marys, and dropped me off at Tresco Abbey Gardens. These are beautiful gardens with more than 4000 original plants. Many of the exotic plants were originally brought here by Scillonian Master Mariners returning from their travels. There is also the Valhalla Museum which contains numerous figureheads from the many ships that have been wrecked (and salvaged) on the shores of these islands.

Craig returned later with supplies and news of the French who we had met in Dublin. The next day they joined us in New Grimsby Sound and came over for dinner, which was good fun, and quite fortunate for them too as they had just run out of cooking gas.

The harbour master had given us a good deal on the mooring, so we stayed a couple more days than we had planned. We eventually headed off at the top of the tide across the Tresco Flats, without any problems and over to St. Mary’s Pool next to Hugh Town where we picked up a mooring buoy. We were told that in summer you cannot get a buoy for love nor money as it is so busy. Hugh Town is another lovely town, and what struck me was the amount of bird song. The air was positively alive with the buzz of birds singing in the palm trees and lush gardens. They also seem to be very tame. When we went for a walk we noticed they didn’t scatter as we approached them, they just carried on with what they were doing. We even hand fed a Song Thrush and some Blackbirds. Our walk took us past the Garrison, built during the civil war, across Porth Cressa Beach and around Peninnis Head with its peculiar rock formations to Old Town where we brought ice creams, as the weather had miraculously stayed hot. We had a packed lunch in the sublime Carrag Dhu Gardens which we had to ourselves, except for the friendly birds. One sentence in the Channel Pilot we are using would not get out of my head, it follows: “Buy some bulbs for your garden and keep your holiday for years” So as we passed Sunnydale farm which had an assortment of bulbs for sale, we just had to get some, ignoring the fact that we don’t have a garden.

Hugh Town moorings, St Mary's

Hugh Town sunset

Porth Cressa, St Mary's

That evening just before the sun set, with all its glorious pinks and purples and oranges which reflect in the calm waters, we motored off and dropped the hook in the pinch (Porth Congar) between Gugh and St. Agnes. As anchorages go, this is not particularly sheltered, but the weather has been so benign that it was possible to stay here for a couple of days quite comfortably. We walked around St. Agnes in the afternoon, which is a great place just to relax. On the way we passed Beady Bay, so named as a cargo of red & black Viennese beads from a ship wrecked on nearby rocks was washed up here. The western side of the island, near St. Warnes Bay offers spectacular views of the Western Rocks, which today looked so striking against the bright sky, but must be terrifying on a stormy night. By the way, St. Warnes is the patron saint of Shipwrecks. It would seem that Admiral Sir Clowdisley was not praying to the right saint on the foggy night of October 22nd 1707, for his ship, The Association and three other navy ships struck the outlying rocks and sank to the bottom like stones- with the loss of 2000 lives. The Admiral actually survived and was washed ashore where he was found by an old Scillonian lady (no doubt with a beautiful garden). However the old lady fell in love with the emerald ring on his finger, and promptly murdered him for it! The simple reason that they hit the rocks was because they did not know how far east or west they were as the question of longitude had not yet been resolved. The sinking of the Association catapulted the longitude question into the forefront of national affairs and eventually lead to the Longitude Act of 1714 in which parliament promised a prize of £20,000 for a solution.

Briefly, lines of latitude were derived from the movements of the sun, moon and stars, and therefore could be easily calculated with celestial navigation, however the placing of the lines of longitude was a political decision. Hence why the Greenwich Meridian line (0 degrees longitude) runs through London (the French didn’t like this by the way and used to refer to it as “Paris Mean Time, retarded by 9 minutes twenty-one seconds“). To learn one’s longitude at sea, you need to know exactly what time it is aboard the ship and exactly what time it is in a reference port. So what was needed was an accurate clock, that would keep time in a rolling, wet, hot/cold ship. If you want to know the end of this fascinating story that stumped natural philosophers & the like and changed the world, read Longitude by Dava Sobel. Nowadays we have GPS, which is frankly amazing when you think about what it actually does.


Gugh looking over the bar to St Agnes

St Agnes Beach stone piles

Western Rocks

Anyway, so the Scillies in the right weather are a gorgeous semi-tropical paradise with lush gardens, turquoise sea, and white sandy beaches, in fact the perfect place to chill out and read a book before heading home to Brighton, just watch out for those old ladies with an eye for jewellery…

Republic of Ireland

Tuesday September 18. From the Irish Sea we sailed several miles along the narrow buoyed channel into Carlingford Lough, which marks the Eastern end of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We must be getting soft because we decided to use the marina rather than anchoring, probably because of strong wind warnings. I also raised the yellow Q flag under the Irish courtesy flag below the starboard spreader as I am not an EU citizen. I even called Immigration and the local Gardia, but disappointingly, nobody seemed to be too interested that I had arrived in the Republic. I put my passport back in its box and we went ashore to discover the delights of Carlingford. The marina pontoons are quite run down and the place doesn't seem very well managed. However, the town is a neat and tidy place to visit with a number of inviting pubs and many well kept historical buildings. We spent the evening in a pub enjoying some really good trad Irish music and sat next to a table of Swedish golfers who also joined in and entertained us with some of their own songs and jokes, usually relating to the consumption of beer and the hunting of deer, or women.

The next morning we thought it was about time we climbed another mountain, and the one overlooking Carlingford was a nice easy walk through thick heather and blackberries. Great views over the lough, but a difficult thrash through the forest to get back into town. Next time we'll follow the path!

Carlingford Lough looking towards Northern Ireland

On Thursday we had an uneventful sail down to the Skerries, which would be a stopping point on our way to Dublin, only another short day sail south along the coast. This would be our first entry into a major city port. The towering cranes, commercial dockyards and the massive container and cargo ships were awesome to watch from our little boat. From seaward into Dublin Bay there are three major shipping lanes forming a kind of roundabout in the centre so it is fairly straightforward to predict where vessels are going and keep out of their way. We were obliged to call the port authority on the radio to ask for clearance, then drop sails and enter under power as it is important to keep well clear of the busy commercial shipping channel leading into the River Liffey.

The Dalek guarding the entrance to the Liffey!

Entering the commercial port area

Everything was going fine until we were approaching red buoy number 14. That was when the temperature alarm went off, indicating that the engine was overheating and we had to shut it down straight away. Unfortunately we had a massive cargo ship just behind us and another leaving the docks ahead of us. No problem. Jaime got on the radio to inform the port authority of our problem and we used the river's stream to steer the boat to just outside the channel, in front of an ancient timber pier near an old power station where we dropped the anchor and I went below to sort out what was causing the problem with the engine. I hadn't got further than removing the impellor cover when a couple of blokes in a RIB turned up and offered us a tow to the marina upstream past the docks. After making sure it wasn't going to cost us anything we decided to take up their offer and they towed us to the pontoon at Poolbeg marina where we stayed overnight. I got on the phone to Bukh and order some new parts to be delivered ASAP, replaced the cracked impellor and fixed up the pump as best I could with a cardboard gasket cut out of a Kelloggs box.

Getting a tow!

Poolbeg Marina

Container terminal near Poolbeg

Between Poolbeg and the Dublin City centre about a mile further upstream there is a road bridge which is always busy with city traffic. It only has a few metres clearance at high water so to pass it we needed to get the traffic stopped and the bridge lifted. We booked a lift for the Friday morning and carried on to Dublin City Moorings, in the heart of the city, where we parked up near the 'megayacht' Fortunate Sun. This was occupied by a single American family. You too could hire this boat for your next holiday, at a mere one million US dollars per month! Anyway, it was good fun to get ashore and experience a big city again. The first thing I noticed was the constant noise that a city generates. Nothing in particular, just an accumulation of millions of different things emitting sound all blended together. It takes a while to get used to. We spent an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, wandered around Temple Bar at night, visited a few pubs for some Guinness, poured close to home, ate a meal at a Lebanese restaurant, did some market shopping, sorted out the boat, and relaxed on deck while modern life surged on around us. After the solitude of anchorages in Orkney and Shetland, and the Western Isles of Scotland, it felt really strange to emerge in the morning to drink my coffee in the cockpit, and watch people wearing office clothes, rushing past on their way to work, mobile phones stuck to ears and briefcases clutched in hand. I tried not to think too much about having to join them all again next year.

Dublin City Moorings

River Liffey

Dublin street market

Pub window

Parked near Fortunate Sun

While we were there, a French boat called Summertime turned up and we met the crew - five young chaps who had sailed from France to Orkney, Iceland and Shetland in a boat they'd bought just for the trip and would be selling once they returned - 50,000 euros if anyone is interested! Aluminium hull and a nice looking boat. We'd even met some of the same people in Shetland. We discovered they would also soon be heading south, back to France.

After 5 days it was time to get out, and on Thursday the crew of Summertime decided to sail in company with us to Arklow, about 30 miles south where we would meet again. We planned to take photographs of each other's boats and swap the pictures later. Since we left Brighton in April we haven't had a single photo of Lady Ayesha actually under sail.

Motoring out of Dublin

Photographers aboard Summertime

We motored out into Dublin Bay and hoisted plain sails for the passage to Dalkey Sound, between Dalkey Island and Sorrento Point on the mainland, where a few Irish celebrities such as Bono and Enya own houses. Lady Ayesha sailed ahead at first with her slightly longer water length and bigger genoa (foresail). However, with our respective national ensigns flying in the breeze, it wasn't long before we detected a sense of competitive spirit from the French boat. After we pased Dalkey Island we saw them eagerly hoisting their spinnaker for the downwind run to Arklow. We don't carry a spinnaker, so we hoisted our cruising chute which didn't do too badly, and got us speeds up to 8 or 9 knots.

All going well...

Still going okay...

Damn! The French are in the lead!

Summertime doing 10 knots past the windfarm

With the wind dead behind us their spinnaker gave them the advantage. It was a fast and fun passage nonetheless. We moored in the river at Arklow and they in the marina where we met up again for a glass of wine and some music in the afternoon sunshine.

We hadn't made any exact plan for the passage further south, but with forecasts of Easterly and Northeasterly winds for another few days, which would be accompanied by a pleasantly slight or moderate seastate, we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to make the passage across the St Georges Channel and the Celtic Sea to our next destination - the Isles of Scilly. This would be a long passage of about 180 sea miles which we expected would take around 36 hours. We prepared the boat that evening and the next morning we slipped our lines and headed out into a fair tide and a perfect wind, aft of the beam. With the cruising chute hoisted again we were flying along at speeds of 7 knots or more, giving us a great start. I'd been watching the sky, wondering about visibility that evening since we were expecting plenty of light from the moon, and fortunately we had very few clouds. It makes such a difference to sail under a full moon, being able to see for miles around. We continued to make good progress through the night but by Saturday morning the wind had dropped and we decided to motor until it picked up again. The Scillies are surrounded by many offshore rocks and we wanted to arrive in daylight to ensure safe pilotage. In all the passage took only 33 hours and by 1900UT we were safely moored in New Grimsby Sound between the Islands of Tresco and Bryher.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Northern Ireland

Jaime writes:

The fresh westerly winds continued to blow and we set sail from Gigha mid morning. We quickly put a reef in the main in the lee of Cara Island as the wind built and headed south towards the Mull of Kintyre. There are apparently many songs about this sticky-out-bit, although I can’t recall any of them just now. We tried to stay a few miles west of the Mull to avoid the rough sea state typically found close in and started to track across the Traffic Separation Zone used by large ships transiting the North Channel. As the channel is relatively narrow ships must follow the zones north or south. They are quite useful for small ships crossing such areas, as providing you know where you are you can expect the ships to come from one particular direction only. There is also a handy safe zone in the middle. The strong tides pushed us south easterly down the channel and we closed in on our destination of Red Bay on the Northeast coast of Northern Ireland. We arrived after dark and dropped the hook. We hardly slept a wink, as the anchorage turned out to be very squally and the boat was kept beam-on to the waves which made it very uncomfortable. Early the following morning we sailed the short distance around to Glenarm marina and fell asleep there. It was a lovely little sail; the tide whisked us past Garron Pt as the sun rose in the east, shining a fresh light on the lush Antrim coastline.

Glenarm Marina

The sturdy white limestone harbour wall of Glenarm gave it a Mediterranean feel and as the sun was shining it was quite beautiful. The friendly staff of the marina welcomed us and charged us a very reasonable £10 per night which included everything. As a bonus, we'd tied up next to the Harbourmaster's fishing boat, who kept us in supply of fresh (still flapping) fish while we were there. One night he gave us a 2lb Pollock which was gorgeous. Craig steamed it; Hong Kong style, yum, yum.

Fresh Mackerel


Lord Antrim's House

Steamed Pollock

This was also the first time we had met a man with a pet congor eel. He lives under the bridge in the harbour, the harbour master feeds him fresh mackerel.

Glenarm is a very pretty town at the foot of the last of the 9 glens of Antrim. We went for a walk the beautiful forested valley, the trees were old and mixed, it had a proper forest feel about it, and such a nice change from the boggy landscape of Scotland. There is also a really fancy turreted castle there, where apparently Lord Antrim resides at weekends.

While we were there we took the time to give the boat a good clean inside and out, and Craig tracked down the tiny corroded wire that had stopped our radar from working. This was after I had hoisted him up the mast to took at the radome; where he had fun swinging around; and I had fun letting him down….

Mast Climbing

A Pint of Guinness at last

The next morning We left a note to the Harbourmaster... 'so long and thanks for all the fish". A fresh offshore wind and the tide carried us south, down the coast towards Belfast. As we passed within a few hundred meters of the Isle of Muck, Craig thought he could here singing. As we got closer it sounded like deep groaning and moaning, we thought it might be seals again, but we couldn’t see any. Then we noticed some Manx Shearwaters hanging around in groups. These supposedly have an eerie call when returning to feed their young, so maybe that was it.

We arrived in Bangor, on the south side of Belfast Lough a couple of hours later. This is a full-on commercial marina, with hundreds of yachts. Belfast port authority doesn’t allow yachts in to the port, so we had to use Bangor as a base to visit the town.

We had a couple of days over the weekend to explore Belfast. It felt a lot like London really. There are heaps of pubs and naturally we sampled a couple of them and had a pint or two of the black stuff. We also visited a gallery which exhibited photographs taken by the Irish Press Association on the theme of the euphemistically named "Troubles". Later that afternoon we went for walk in to west Belfast to the Shankill and Falls areas. Respectively these are the protestant and catholic areas of the city, you can tell where you are by the colours of the flags flying. We had gone there to look at the murals, which are really quite amazing. In particular are those found on the Shankill housing estate, a strange place to find yourself as a tourist. We found it hard to believe that some of the murals still existed, as I’m sure they remain provocative.
We gathered from the local radio and newspapers following recent tragic events that the main trouble in Belfast now is caused by gangs of young wayward kids attacking and terrorising people.

Falls Road Mural 1

Falls Road Mural 2

Mural on Falls Road Sinn Fein office wall

Shankill Road Mural

Shankill Estate Mural 1

Shankill Estate Mural 2

Shankill Estate Mural 3

Bangor is also a vibrant town. On the day before we left there was a chav/hoon- mobile show in the car park. I don’t actually know what the proper name for these cars is, but I mean the type that have massive booming speakers in the boot and drive around very fast, skidding their apparently expendable tyres, and congregating in ASDA carpark. These cars were "top of the range" for this style, and were frankly amazing. Instead of having their bonnets open to show off their engines, the boot was open to show off their zigadecibel speakers, One special car, about the size of a VW golf had only room for a racing drivers seat, the rest of the car was literally full of pumping speakers, TV screens, and flashing dials & buttons, it was so loud you couldn’t stand near it for long. We could feel the base from all this music through the hull of the boat.
The following morning we left and it was the passage between Bangor and Strangford Lough that would prove one of our toughest so far. Strong winds had been forecast which is nothing new but we got a little something extra. We were only 15 miles from our destination mid morning when the wind started to kick in. The south westerly wind forced us offshore in to more exposed waters and we started to get large waves that were building in the deeper waters with the larger fetch. What followed was a mini F8 gale. The wind was in the high 30’s and I saw 43kts (80km/h) on a number of occasions. It wasn’t long before we were negotiating waves about 5m high. Until then we had kept our foresail up to give us more speed to sail up the waves and keep steerage, but it got too much with the winds and Craig gallantly volunteered to crawl to the front of the boat and pull the sail down. In the past when we have encountered strong winds, luckily we have been sailing with the wind behind us, but this time we were sailing up wind which makes things altogether more annoying, mostly because the apparent wind is felt so much more. With the foresail down the boat became more manageable, but we had lost a lot of speed. Its best to try and sail up and down the waves in a weaving manner so you don’t send yourself head down a wave and dig your nose in the trough or fall down the back of a wave because you don’t make it to the top. I have to say though, that the boat handled so well, that we weren’t particularly worried and we after all didn’t have far to go. It is during such weather that one experiences the "Mermaid Facial". First of all dry and dead skin cells are exfoliated from your face by sharp rain which is targeted at right angles. All micro-debris are dispersed by a refreshing bathtub quantity of cold water infused with mother natures blend of inorganic (the new organic) minerals which lands on your head. This blend also has antibacterial properties which penetrate and clean your pores. Your face is then blown dry so that you can start from the beginning again. This cleansing routine is repeated on a number of occasions depending on how lucky you are. Facial muscles are also exercised as successive expressions of shock and horror followed by relief sweep across your face periodically. Happily, I had timed my facial with the passing of a cold front, this meant that in addition to the above I was subsequently dowsed in soft rain, blown dry and then the sun came out, to rouge my cheeks. Giving that "just been slapped by a wet mermaids tail look".

So anyway, enough sillyness. Over a 15min period the wind veered 90 degrees to the north west and dropped back to a gentle breeze just as quickly. This was great, except we how had no wind to sail over the large waves, which don’t die down so easily. We put the engine on, which then overheated as it wasn’t getting enough cooling water in to the water inlet, and was instead taking large gulps of air, causing airlocks because of all the lolloping about. This led to Craig checking the inlet filters, messing around with water pump impellors and making a new gasket out of a Kellogg’s packet- tricky when you are being thrown around. Thankfully the wind picked up again to give us a sensible amount wind to get to the entrance to Strangford Lough. The entrance to the lough is very tidal, and we were cutting it fine with our arrival time, what with the engine playing up as well we sadly decided to go elsewhere. So Craig set the course for Ardglass. As we closed the shore the waves became much more manageable and we tacked our way to the harbour entrance and glided into an empty berth in the sheltered harbour as the sun went down over the hills behind the little town. Having liberally applied aloe vera and some St. John’s Wort oil prepared by my mum, my face has stopped tingling.

We learnt an awful lot from this experience, which was thankfully short and sweet. The bookcase index (how many books fall off the shelf in the forepeak) indicates that this was the roughest weather we have encountered, as all the books fell off the shelf.
We stayed in Arglass for a couple of days to rest. There isn’t much going on in the town. The local bartender told us there aren’t any festivals in the town as people just end up getting drunk and fighting. Umm.

Our next destination was Carlingford Lough in Ireland. We were still a little nervous of the weather and so we motored close inshore all the way. The wind was on the nose and we didn’t want to tack further off shore again, and the weather was miserable anyway so beating (zigzagging 45 degrees across the wind) down the coast wasn’t a very attractive option.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Plockton to Gigha

Yet again, time seems to be flying and I have so much to write about. In the last update Jaime wrote about our visit to Plockton, where we awoke on Saturday morning, August 25th, and prepared to sail the short distance around to Loch Alsh and on to Loch Duich, about 17 nautical miles, which includes sailing under the Skye bridge.

Skye Bridge

The castle on Eilean Donan, near Dornie is apparently one of the most photographed in Scotland. We anchored in the tiny bay of Totaig, about half a mile Southwest across the loch from the castle but unfortunately the weather remained overcast, so our photo of it isn't so impressive.

Eilean Donan Castle

Shags in the morning drying their wings

We were off again the following morning, heading down to Loch Nevis via the narrow channel known as Kyle Rhea which separates Skye from the mainland. According to the Tidal Stream Atlas there can be very strong currents forced through this narrow gap about two miles long. We had heard stories of yachts doing speeds over 10 knots over ground as they were swept through. However, I think the best we saw briefly was about 7 knots and a few annoying eddies and weird currents pushing us sideways at times when the wind disappeared. About halfway along the channel I heard some strange mournful voices wailing disharmoniously. I looked around to discover the source and found it was coming from a large group of seals laying about on the banks. We'd seen seals almost everywhere we'd been over the last few months, but never heard them singing in these unearthly voices before. It sounded really weird. Out of Kyle Rhea and into the Sound of Sleat all the way down to Loch Nevis. This is another picturesque lake surrounded by a dominating range of mountains towering up to 3000 feet. There are several settlements on the Knoydart peninsula which are linked together by a single road to the village of Inverie, where we found the 'most remote pub in Britain'. It has earnt this title because it is completely isolated from the rest of the mainland road network and can only be accessed by a long trek over the mountains or of course, by boat which was our preferred mode of transport, anchoring for a night in a nearby bay, and then for the second night by taking one of the pub's free moorings provided for guests. Here we spent the evening chatting to Peter and Donna from North Yorkshire whose yacht Maniac was moored nearby. The pub was lively and full of sailors, deerstalkers, walkers and a few visitors who arrived in a ferryboat from Mallaig. There are a small number of cars used here by locals, but as there are no garages, and no MOT stations, none of them are taxed, and most have home-made repair jobs, such as broken windows replaced by glued-on perspex, or damaged bumpers fixed up with gaffer tape. It's all a bit Mad Max! I didn't dare ask what colour their diesel was!

Village of Inverie, Loch Nevis

So on Tuesday we thought it was about time to get organised with regards to doing our Yachtmaster practical exam. We'd both clocked up over 3000 miles at sea by now and were feeling fairly confident that we'd covered all the course material and put into practice the YM theory we'd done before leaving Brighton earlier in the year. We'd been speaking to the RYA in Scotland about finding an examiner while we were up here and time was running out as we were making our way South. So we sailed up to Mallaig Harbour at the mouth of Loch Nevis and tied up to a big old fishing boat which the harbourmaster assured us wasn't going anywhere. With a tidal range of around 4 metres that night we weren't too keen on scraping up and down those barnacle encrusted steel and concrete pillars, so it was great to have another ship to tie up to. Fortunately as we were back in mobile phone range again we received a message from a local examiner and arranged to meet him the following Monday in Oban Harbour. So, just enough time to brush up on theory and Colregs and to practice those Man Overboard drills. However in Inverie, Peter and Donna had insisted that we mustn't leave without visiting Loch Scavaig on the South coast of Skye, and Jaime still wanted to visit at least one of the Small Isles (i.e. Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck). So on Wednesday, out into the morning mist we sailed towards Scavaig, keeping a very good lookout for other vessels. Visibility remained poor for the whole passage, however we didn't have any trouble identifying the island of Soay and piloting past a number of submerged and drying rocks then sounding our way in to the anchorage which is tucked away under truly the most dramatic landscape we've yet seen. The Cuillin Hills tower beautiful and menacing over the small bay, capped by constantly moving clouds. White water falls through jagged cracks into the sea, bringing the lovely sticky mud in which we anchored firmly. Shining black stone and damp mossy heather cover the slopes, almost impossible to climb. I've never had so much trouble fitting a landscape into a photograph, even with a wide-angle lens. Perhaps these photos will begin to show why we were so glad not to have missed this place, and why we were disappointed we didn't have more time to explore.

Loch Scavaig entrance

Anchored at Scavaig

Another view of Scavaig

Jaime rowed around in the dinghy with a depth line looking for a suitable spot to anchor with enough swinging room for the sudden squalls we expected, and out of range of rocks that appear at low water. All the time, being followed at a short distance by an inquisitive baby seal. There were a few other yachts there when we arrived, but the following morning all but one were on their way and we rowed ashore to spend a bit of time climbing up to Loch Coruisk for a better view, and came across three deer who regarded us carefully at a distance but walked past without darting off as we'd expected. Perhaps they didn't know about shotguns, or that it was deerstalking season.

Walk to Loch Coruisk

Deer we met along the way

In the afternoon we had made a plan to sail to the island of Rum where you can anchor in Loch Scresort near an extravagant Edwardian mansion, now a museum of the weird and wonderful excesses of the day. However, upon our approach we were disappointed to see yet another apparently lovely landscape covered in foggy mist. So with a fair wind and favourable tide we decided to plot a new course South past Uigg and Muck then round the famous Point of Ardnamurchan and into the Sound of Mull instead, only about 30 miles further. This would give us a head start towards Oban in advance of our exam.

All we saw of Rum!

Tobermory is about 10 miles into the Sound of Mull from Ardnamurchan to the Northwest and having been there earlier, we knew there are plenty of visitor moorings which we'd be able to identify in the dark. It was the obvious place to head for. We didn't arrive until well after sunset and snuck out again at the first light of a drizzly dawn for an invigorating downwind sail during which we managed to goosewing the mainsail and No. 3 jib for all of the remaining 20 nautical miles down to the Firth of Lorn and then most of the way across to Kerrera before having to come about to allow a ferry to enter Oban Harbour ahead of us. Goosewinging, when you set the sails on opposite sides of the boat to maximise your sail area, allows dead downwind runs and is often a difficult setup to maintain, particularly in light gusty winds, or with any kind of swell. But this was a dream run, maintaining about 7 knots most of the way and arriving in Oban in time for breakfast! This gave us a couple of days in which to prepare for the exam on Monday, which I'm happy to say we both passed. It was a long and tiring day. With two additional crew we'd only met at the last minute, we sailed to various bays and marinas in the area to carry out exercises, demonstrating passage planning, day and night navigation and pilotage, crew management and theory too. We didn't get back to Oban until well after midnight, exhausted but very excited and relieved it was all over. We took a couple of days out to relax, then started thinking about victualling for the coming week and planning our next few passages. On Wednesday we were very surprised to run into blog readers Mike and Sue in the main street of Oban as we were on our way to deliver about a months worth of washing at the laundrette. Met up with them again at a dockside pub later in the evening for a few pints.

Oban Harbour entrance

Oban Town Centre

Oban Pier

A couple of blog readers we ran into!

The next passage, planned for Friday involved passing the Gulf of Corryvreckan again, and some tricky strong tidal streams through the Sound of Luing, and Sound of Jura. We were hoping to make it to Craighouse on the Isle of Jura. Careful planning was called for, but as it turned out, the neep tides weren't quite as strong as the atlas suggested although we did see speeds of up to 9 knots over ground at times. As with all these island passages, tidal streams can vary greatly from one place to another as the sea is forced through narrow gaps and around bits of land or over shallows which cause races and turbulence where streams meet from different angles. It always makes passage planning interesting and a careful watch on position must be kept. I found myself running up and down the companionway to the navigation table, compass in hand, plotting our course on the chart every ten minutes or so. Quite different to the predictable east-west flow of the English Channel we'd been used to back home. There are so many strange tidal phenomena here. In Jura Sound, the flood and ebb streams mostly only run in the first three hours, making normal tidal curves impossible to use for predicting height. And not only this but weather conditions and barometric pressure can affect heights by up to a metre. In Craighouse, I had to go back and re-check my working twice after calculating no difference in the high and low water levels. Sure enough, after reading further to investigate if I was going mad, I found that this is a phenomenon known as an amphidrome which is a kind of tidal pivot point where the range from high to low tide is nil. The exact location of this point moves during the tidal cycle. Martin Lawrence writes in his Yachtsmans Pilot guide that this is the reason for the curious observation which used to appear in the Admiralty Tide Tables that 'it is neeps at Port Ellen when it is springs at Machrihanish'.

With a brisk Southwesterly wind we were making fast progress over the water aswell as over ground, and sailed into the bay of Loch na Mile just on dusk, anchoring in front of the Craighouse pier, overlooked by the well known Jura distillery. We awoke on Saturday morning (Happy Birthday Matt!) and thought it looked like a good day for a walk. We had to enquire at the pub first to find out if any deerstalking was taking place that day. After a quick check with a few locals we were happy to be told that the area to the south of the mountain Glass Bheinn should be free of camouflaged men creeping about armed with shotguns. We spent a few hours walking in the hills and climbing through pine forests. Its always good to stretch the legs properly after spending so much time on the boat.

View from the hills on Jura

The next morning we had plenty of time to wait for the tide before sailing across the sound to the island of Gigha, just 12 miles away. Unfortunately, after trying for an hour or so to get the boat moving with the cruising chute, the lack of wind, and the building south-going stream finally convinced us to start the engine and motor around to Ardminish Bay. This was to be our last night in Scottish waters. The next day we would be southbound, passing the Mull of Kintyre and crossing the North Channel to Northern Ireland. With the high pressure system prevailing over the UK, and winds remaining from the West, we expected the Irish coast to be more sheltered than that of England or Wales on the eastern side of the Irish Sea, and it usually preferable to avoid lee shores where possible. Today I am writing from the well kept little town of Glenarm, County Antrim, but more about that in the next update.