Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Perfect Shower

I've not kept count of the number of marinas and harbours we have visited this summer, in England, Scotland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Almost all of them have something wrong. Back at Ardfern this week, I realised the showers there are almost perfect. So here is my illustrated guide for Marina and Harbour owners.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the shore heads should be available 24/7 and should be available for crews arriving after the staff have gone home. Ardfern just leaves them open. Stromness has the code written on the inside of the gate, where crews can see it but the public cannot. Many places lock the facilities between 10 pm and 7 am which is no use at all. There are even places where the local rules mean you shouldn't use your boat heads and they still lock the shore heads at night.

Once inside, the first obstacle one tends to face is a coin machine. The worst of these have a single machine for several showers with a knob to choose which shower you want to pay for. I'm not the only person to waste their only Euro coin getting this over-complicated system wrong. I've seen prices varying from 50 Euro cents to £2. Charging £2 for 7 minutes is ridiculous. Ardfern doesn't charge for its showers. This is the only acceptable policy. It's just too much like hard work trying to make sure you always have coins for all possible permutations of charging.

Once inside the cubicle the first problem is often not enough hooks to put ones clothes on. There should be at least two, one for the clothes and one for the towel. Three is better. Next, there should be somewhere to sit. You need to be able to sit down to dry your feet and put your shoes and socks on. Finally, and this is the one bit that is almost never right, the changing area should have a dry floor. How are we expected to put keep the bottom of our trousers dry if we have to put them on while standing on a wet floor? Ardfern gets this right three different ways - the shower is on the side of the cubicle, not the back, so it doesn't spray straight out into the changing area; there is a proper shower tray to keep the water in; there is a grid mat on the floor of the changing area.

Finally we get to the shower itself. There are so many ways to get this wrong. Worst is kind of shower where the head is fixed to the wall and the on button can't be reached without putting ones head under the shower, which inevitably comes on cold. Then there are the many ways of arranging the controls so that the temperature has to be adjusted after turning the water on. Another recipe for getting frozen or scalded. Ardfern has a domestic shower where the head is removable and the temperature control is separate from the on/off control so if the previous user has set the temperature OK it is still OK when you turn it on. A movable head also helps for cleaning those special parts. The ventilation grill clearly visible in the photo is also something of a rarity. I've showered in facilities where it was so hot and steamy that one felt one needed another shower by the time one was dressed. Finally, there is somewhere to put ones shampoo and glasses down at hand level. Not too rare this one, but surprisingly often absent.

So, I said that Ardfern was almost perfect. Where does it fall down? There is no hair drier in the men's showers. Some places have them in the ladies' but not the men's. Some have them but they are coin operated.

Come on, the requirements are pretty obvious, it isn't hard to get it right. How come so many places don't get it right?

Friday, 29 August 2014

Heading Home

Thursday night was quite blowy and noisy in the marina but we had a reasonable night's sleep and a nice lie in. This morning was an anti-climax with nothing much to do except load a bit more in to the car and move Robinetta to her mooring. There was not much wind but the rain came and went, discouraging any thoughts of going for a sail, either in Robinetta or in Worm.

We went for a walk up to the Craft Kitchen, the Ardfern eatery we have yet to try. We both decided we could have pretty much anything on the menu by shopping at the Post Office and putting it together on Robinetta. Needing to stretch our legs, we carried on a bit down the peninsula. They are building new houses just south of the village and there are a number of yacht moorings further down the loch. We both felt like we were now twiddling our thumbs and we might as well start heading home. We have arranged to have lunch tomorrow with Alison's parents in Kirkcaldy and we wanted to to do that, but it meant driving 140 miles in the morning, with another 400 after that to get home. We decided to have an evening in Perth.

Back at the marina we finished unloading. Not staying the night on the mooring allowed us to walk the sleeping bags to the car. Robinetta was in a good mood leaving the pontoon. I put the the tiller right over and just watched, hands free as she pottered backwards and turned beautifully round.

Once facing roughly the right way I took the tiller and we motored out towards mooring S3, right next to where we left her in July. When we got close, we could see it wasn't going to work. Meander on S2 was on such a long chain that there were only inches between her stern and S3.

Alison called up the marina on the VHF and explained the problem and asked for instructions. The lady said to go on S4 if it was clear, which it was, so we picked that up and and I made sure we pulled up enough chain that Robinetta would stay nice and close to the buoy and not foul anything on S3 or S5. The only thing left to do was to put the cabin cover on. The roof leaks and it will help keep some rain out of the cockpit too.

Alison rowed us back to the pontoons and we hauled Worm ashore and borrowed a launch trolley to shift her to the dinghy park. We put the floor slats in the car - they have warped badly and one is broken, we will make a new set. Both turn-buckle mounts have come unglued again - epoxy doesn't like being in the bilges and the wetted area isn't really big enough. I'll have a think about what to do with that.
We stopped the car to take a last look before heading east. Robinetta looks at home. When we got to Perth we really couldn't be bothered to find a nice, cheap place to stay so we just asked the Mercure, near where we had parked, for their best rate and we didn't choke so we took it.

The Perth Playhouse was showing the film Lucy in 2D IMAX and we had enjoyed the trailer when we went to Guardians of the Galaxy so we bought tickets and had a coffee in their cafĂ© while we waited for the performance.It was a cleverly scripted, well acted piece of hokum. Alison found the violence a bit too believable and I know what she means. Afterwards we went to the Everest Inn. Three out of Tripadvisor's top four restaurants in Perth are Indian, the Everest is currently number two and it was really nice. We had Nepalese specialities and I even had a Nepalese beer, which was rather good, for a lager.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Through the Dorus Mor again

We could hear the wind in the high tension rigging of the boats around us last night, and the decks were wet this morning, but it felt as though the gale had blown through overnight. There was no 0710 forecast to tell us differently either, but when Julian checked on line at quarter past it was clear that this morning's calm was just a lull. We should get round to Ardfern while the tide was with us, before the weather closed in on Friday.

We got the main and staysail ready to use, but did not bother to set up a jib, and were off the pontoon at 0835. We raised the staysail once we were clear of the marina, but it was obvious that the wind was too close to our course to use unless we wanted to tack, and it was so light that we risked missing our tidal gate if we sailed.

We motored down the Penninsula towards the Dorus Mor in bright sun and calm seas, and were through it by 1005, an hour and a half before the tide turned against us. There were no overfalls, just slightly raised seas, and the odd swirl in the water, but we gained 2-4 knots of speed over the ground on the way through...

Once we were in Loch Craignish we got the main sail up and very broad reached up towards Ardfern. We heard Stornaway Coastguard talking to the Isle of Mull ferry. The coastguard was asking the ferry for a radio check! The Coastguard aerial had got damaged somehow, which was why there was no 0710 weather. Julian called them up, with the info that we could hear them too, in a much smaller boat and further away. The coastguard lady sounded amused, but thanked us for the information.

We were only making 2 knots, so Julian shook out the reef which did not help much. The engine went back on and we were at Ardfern in an hour. I felt rather sad as we turned towards the marina; the adventure was coming to an end. Then Julian accidentally dropped a fender in the water and it took me three tries to get close enough for him to pick it up. Maybe we should spend tomorrow doing man overboard drills....

We filled up with diesel, then motored round to a pontoon berth where we left Robinetta and Worm for the rest of the day.
 When we were anchored at Puildobhrain yesterday we had wanted to walk to the pub near the Bridge over the Atlantic, but the tides and the weather meant we did not go. We have the car at Ardfern though, so we drove there for lunch, then on to look at Easdale and Cuan Sounds from the shore. The weather was lovely, bright warm sunshine and a light breeze. What had happened to our gale?
We went back to Ardfern and unloaded all the charts and extra bits and pieces that we do not want to leave on board. We still have two nights on board through, so the rest can wait until we are on the mooring, and be rowed ashore in Worm.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Changing Forecasts

We had a plan on Sunday. It was something like Monday Tobermory, Tuesday Oban, Wednesday Seil, Thursday Loch Melfort, Friday Ardfern. By Monday it looked like we might get stuck in Tobermory. On Tuesday morning the 7 had gone from the forecast and we had an easy motor to Oban. This morning the 7 was back, with a possible 8 to keep it company. And the following 24 hours were no better. Worse, the low pressure was moving north, not east, and so likely to be around for a while. We decided we should get inside the isle of Luing as soon as possible, or we might not make it to Ardfern by Friday. It wouldn't be a huge problem to be somewhere else - we would just need public transport to get to the car, but Ardfern is the easiest place to end the cruise.
So we combined our Seil options into a breakfast stop at Puildobhrain and a passage through the Easdale narrows. We left Oban at 8 am and had a nice sail. A broad reach with strong gusts and deep lulls. The wind came out of Loch Feochan really strongly and then died as we crossed the entrance to the Clachan Sound.

We got a glimpse of the bridge over the Atlantic and then dropped sails and motored in to Puildobhrain at 10 am and anchored. Pipistrelle,  a Cape Cutter 19 we had seen in Ardfern was at anchor. 2 gaffers!
I cooked a fine breakfast. Haggis, black pudding, tattie scones, bacon and eggs. I wanted to go ashore and walk to the bridge but we decided we might miss the tide. I programmed in the shortest possible route to Craobh. It would take us inside Easdale and through the Cuan Sound.
Passing the top of Seil Stornoway Coastguard relayed a new gale warning for Malin "Southeasterly gale force 8 imminent increasing severe gale force 9 soon". We were now officially in a hurry.
Easdale is hard work. There are shallows and rocks and moorings and ruined slate harbour structures. We went the wrong side of one post and scraped the bottom for a second but got through okay. It has two notable eating places, we should go back.
Alison's fears that the tide would have turned before we got to Cuan were founded but only just. We got 1-2 knots against us, not 7. We dropped the main as we were now fully head to wind.
Hay lorries were backed up at the Cuan ferry, delivering to Luing. They only just managed to get off the ferry and up the steep road. Kayakers were out enjoying the spring tides and whirlpools. We enjoyed them too, it is a beautiful spot and the whirlpools and eddies are fun, not scary.
Emerging into the Seil Sound, and even more into the Shuna Sound, we finally started to get the kind of seas we associate with strong winds. There are lots of rocks to dodge but the weather was still fine and we had a lovely, if slightly bumpy motor to Craobh. It was great being able to make out our friends' house in Loch Melfort as we passed.
In Craobh, we relaxed, happy to be within a few miles of sheltered waters of our target.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Tobermory to Oban

Yesterday's forecast had made us expect to spend today in Tobermory; we had gone as far as to book a table for dinner at the Fish Cafe. This morning's made us change our minds. The Force 7 was now due later, and had turned into a force 8, leaving this morning's SE 4 to 5 occasionally 6 looking very attractive for a trip down the Sound of Mull by comparison! The tides would help us all morning, and as it was springs tomorrow we really did not want them against us by leaving later....

After a quick trip to the shore heads we prepared Robinetta for sea. We took a slight detour to photograph the Flying Dutchman, which had arrived yesterday afternoon, but we were raising a 2 roll reefed main sail in the bay by 0810. It felt beautifully calm in the bay, but as we cleared the point I waited for the wind and waves to kick in the way they had on Saturday. Only they didn't. Instead of having to beat against a head wind we motored down the sound in a flat calm and soon put the main sail down. With just the staysail up we could head a lot closer to what little wind there was, and go almost straight down the Sound, making 5 knots with the tide assist in places.

There were a few times when the wind picked up and the sea got up a little, by Eileanan Glasa they slowed us down to under 3 knots, but as soon as I headed back towards the centre of the Sound the speed came back up to over 4.

With pure blue sky overhead, and only a little head wind we had a lovely trip past Mull and the Morvern Peninsula with time to take in the sights, like a wharf full of timber waiting for a ship. Sailing would have been better than motoring, but given that the wind was supposed to be against us I was not complaining.

We passed the entrance to Loch Aline at 1115, watching as a ferry came out. It changed course and passed well behind us on its way to Fishnish. The dreaded tide rips off Duart Point were nothing more than small waves in the otherwise calm sea, and I began to peel off layers of clothes as the wind died to nothing.

We took the same route as the ferries past the south of Lismore Island, passing between the Lismore Light and Ladies Rock. It was practically low water, and we could see a lot more rock than most times. The views up the Lynn of Morvern were superb, but such panoramas are not easy to photograph. Being there was better! Julian made cheese sandwiches for lunch and I throttled back the engine a little while we ate.

As we headed for the top of Kerrera I glanced back and saw a ferry coming up behind us. Julian kept an eye on it, but it passed well to port of us. Its wash was horrible, rolling us all over the place, so when I saw one coming out from Oban I made sure to meet its wash head on. That was much easier! Then another ferry came up behind us, even larger than the first, and passed us to starboard. Once again I met the wash head on, but I'm not sure I should have worried as it was very gentle compared to the first.

We entered Oban bay at1400, and headed over to the Community Berths to the south of the town. According to the Welcome Anchorages magazine there are 16 visitor moorings there, available first come first served. We were early, and this whole week we have been aware that the Scottish sailing season is almost over; there has been space everywhere we've been. We managed to pick up a buoy really close to the landing pontoon, and were securely moored up by 1415.

We rowed ashore almost immediately as we had an urgent mission. Haircuts! Julian has to be back at work on Monday, and there won't be time to have one at home. I was feeling very shaggy too, so we found a hairdressers and a barbers and had a much needed tidy up. After we met up again we wandered round the town for a while, trying to decide where we should go for dinner latter. Nothing really appealed, possibly because the choice was so wide, but when we spotted a sea food shack just by the CalMac terminal, that did cold platters of sea food, but also freshly cooked mussels and hot scallops we knew we'd found dinner. It closed at 1800, so we sat and ate immediately. Just right!

Monday, 25 August 2014

I learned a new knot

The damper I've been putting on one line in a swell is working really well. The first time I used something like a fender hitch to make a loop to tie the bungee round. Under tension the hitch straightens. Last time I used a bowline on a bight. This works perfectly but is bulky.

The linesman's rider or butterfly loop is perfect. It is easy to learn, to remember and to tie and looks really neat.

Wifi Blues

We dropped sails in the bay and found plenty of spare space on the pontoons and went in against the wind and tied up. We both wanted to use the internet.
My laptop connected well in the cabin but Alison's didn't so she took it up to the shore. After a while mine stopped working too. Alison came back and said "It's probably the two large yachts that just came in between us and the shore." Sure enough we were now screened from the base station.

We wanted to look in the museum and book dinner at the Fish Cafe, which is supposed to be good. As we got to the Cafe Flying Dutchman a big steel gaff ketch (or perhaps brigantine - she sets two square sails on the main) came in.

The cafe could fit us in at 10 pm or 6 pm tomorrow. We decided to book tomorrow. The F7 might keep us in Tobermory. The museum is well curated and we chatted with the chap who runs it. As we walked back I said if we were going to be in town all evening and maybe tomorrow I wanted to move Robinetta to where we could see the wifi. The wind was still pretty strong but I managed to get her into another finger while Alison caught the lines from the shore. I fluffed the first go and it could have been a problem if another boater hadn't helped.

The worst bit was Alison had to let the forward line go so I could go around again. I had to run up to the fore deck to retrieve it before it went under the boat and fouled the prop. It is the first time I've gone forward single handing and under power. It was fine.

We will wait for the weather forecast at 7 am to see if we can go south or if we should stay.


We were woken about 2 am this morning by what sounded like chain running out! We went on deck.  The stars were amazing.We checked the anchor chain and it hadn't moved - easy to check since the shackle joining the two lengths was in the part wrapped around the bits. We put the chart plotter and the echo sounder on.
After it had sorted itself out the chart plotter said we hadn't moved but the echo sounder said we only had 7 feet, but it was only an hour after low water so that was OK. We decided it was just the anchor chain rubbing on the triced-up bobstay and went back to bed. When we put the kettle on at 6:30 we were in 15 feet so that was fine. As we left we could see the rock that could have been a problem if we had moved. The 7:10 forecast was not good news. F5 to F7 south-east backing east and then veering south-east over the next 48 hours. We wanted to get to Tobermory, only 15 miles away and mostly inside the loch.

We had an absolutely lovely sail on a succession of broad reaches with easy gybes at the bends. It was often a bit fine for the jib so we just used reefed main and stay sail. We had the tide and the speed varied from 3 knots to 6.7 knots in the narrows by Carna. We thought it might be windier in the outer loch and across the Sound of Mull so we reefed the main most of the way down but it was calmer in the outer loch. We still made 4 knots.

 We haven't had an ensign flying since we lost the batten when flying it from the gaff in July but the new home-made pole works fine.
 There was a definite small rost south of the rocks at the entrance to the loch. Lots of seabirds were there - I expect the fish like it.

As we entered the Sound we saw a cruise ship heading round the point of Ardnamurchan. We thought it might come in to Tobermory but it passed behind us down the Sound of Mull.The Pilot cutter Lizzie May came out of Tobermory just as we were going in. They are big enough to take a F7 and will have a wonderful sail today. The wind was really strong across the sound but we were reefed perfectly for it and the sea state was really slight. It must have been a top-end F5, perfect.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Upper Loch Sunart

Today was a fasting day. We woke in time for the 7:10 am Stornoway Coastguard weather. The easterly F6 was still there. It was a fantastic morning, sunny and still. We showered in the new shower block which works really well as a family bathroom and had porridge for breakfast. We still had some double cream left over from the pineapple and we allowed ourselves the indulgence of having some on the porridge. Then we prepped the boat and left.

Out in the loch there was a little wind so we raised sail and pottered out at about 1 ½ knots. We were just making against the tide. We ‘tacked’ east and it died completely, leaving us drifting slowly backwards with the tide. Reluctantly we put the engine on and motored up the loch. It was absolutely beautiful. I got to work making the birch branch I cut off a fallen tree into an ensign pole. Alison steered. We dropped the main and left the stay sail up for luck.

Every now and then we cut the revs and took pictures. We took about 80.

At springs the tide runs at 3 ½ knots through Laudale Narrows. As we approached we could see a line on the water. West of the line the water was smooth. East of it were ripples. As we crossed the line Alison could feel the pull of the tide on the tiller but it was really weak.

We got to the head of the loch at Strontian around 12:30. There were plenty of unused buoys but I fancied anchoring. We dropped the hook next to a moored yacht and had our meagre lunch and then rowed ashore for a walk.

An elderly gentleman was reading his paper in his car and asked about the boat. We had a nice chat about the development of moorings and how they were helping the local economy. He was about the same age as Robinetta.

The pilot book’s instructions for anchoring mention an obelisk. It is a war memorial above the road and gives fine views of the loch. As we came down to the road a passer-by said what a nice day it was for me to be taking my young lassie out for a walk.

Strontian has a hotel, a petrol station/post office/general store, a police station, a pottery/craft shop a supermarket and restaurant, a tourist information centre and a large camp site. It was a lead mining village and gives its name to the alkali metal element strontium. We can’t remember if we camped here on honeymoon.

The anchor came up cleanly with a little mud on one fluke and we headed back towards Garbh Eilean where we planned to anchor for the night. This time as we passed through the narrows there was a proper rost and the boat swung in several directions, but again, the pull was weak.

When we got to the anchorage Alison was initially sceptical but we motored around and found a perfect spot and put out 30m of chain in 10-15 feet of water. That should hold us even if the threatened F6 happens. The anchorage is stunningly pretty.

We sat in the cockpit enjoying the view and listening to the Martyn Bennett album we had bought in Tobermory. Magic. Then we had our meagre dinner.

Alison found she had picked up a leaflet for a wildlife hide and it was exactly where we were. You can see seal, heron and occasionally eagles and otters. I suggested we go for a tour around the bay and the island in Worm. It was lovely. We were followed most of the way round by a seal pup who kept under water most of the time but kept coming up to take a peek. We saw lots of heron and cormorants and perhaps some raptors but we were not sure.

I’m in love with Loch Sunart.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Tobermory to Loch Sunart (Salen)

The forecast this morning was NE force 4-5, going round to the SE within 48 hours, and although the wind was expected to drop tomorrow neither of us fancied heading out round the top of Mull and down the west side. We did want to visit the Treshnish Islands, but the pilot discouraged us with talk of exposed anchorages, and we decided that a visit to Loch Sunart would be more enjoyable.
Photo: Allan Fraser, Touch of Grey

We left the berth just before ten, and raised sail within the harbour. It was very calm there, with hardly any wind, and we ghosted out at 1½ knots with the wind almost dead astern. This was just a sheltered harbour effect though, and as soon as we cleared Rubha na Leip the wind was on the port bow, force 3-4.

We had bent on the no 1 jib, but as the wind picked up and the  power kicked in half way across the Sound of Mull I regretted it, until Julian suggested we reef the main. We put a couple of rolls in, and steering became much easier! We were still touching 5 knots at times, with seas rolling up behind us. It felt quite cold, and I gave the tiller to Julian while I went below and put my oily trousers on.

The entrance to Loch Sunart has a fair few rocks in it, but having a chart plotter in the cockpit makes the pilotage in really simple. All traces of swell vanished as Big Stirk fell behind, and the wind eased too. A small lugger came sailing out of the Loch on starboard tack, while we were on port. Julian decided to tack, so we would be well clear of them, and as I pulled in the jib sheet the end of it appeared from forward. Luckily the starboard sheet was still attached, so I could furl the jib away.

Since the main was slightly reefed the balance with just the stay sail was not too bad, so we tacked back round onto our course into the loch, with the lugger well astern of us. Julian went forward and brought in the jib to retie the sheet, and we were soon inside Loch Sunnart sailing with three sails again.

The wind dropped in the shelter of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, and Julian decided we should shake the reef out. I decided I should be the one to do it, because Julian has been doing nearly all the sail raising, but ran into a problem immediately. As I lowered the peak, to take the pressure off the gaff saddle so I could raise the throat, the Scottish courtesy flag which we had been flying quite high up the flag halyard got caught in the peak halyard block. Julian had to come back off the wind to pull it free, and then I could get the peak down. Unfortunately it did not help, as I could still not pull the throat halyard hard enough to pull the throat up and unroll the reef. Julian had to do it, which I find annoying. I used to be able to raise sail by myself! Julian thinks it is because of the bigger main and longer gaff, and wants an extra purchase to help get the throat up and properly tight, which he finds difficult too.

Loch Sunnart is a lovely place to sail. Very picturesque, with many islands and anchorages to explore, and winding enough that the waves get little chance to build. We wound our way round the top of Oronsay, then south of Rigsa, then north of Carna in bright sunshine, with occasional rain clouds overhead, that never opened above us. The winds were interesting once we were clear of Carna, dying away to almost nothing, then gusting, so we could go from 1.6 knots to 4.2 in seconds, although the wind direction stayed constant.

We ate lunch on the move, then lowered the sails just outside Salen and motored into the inlet. Our charts and pilot book only talk about moorings, but the Welcome Anchorages magazine which is published every year promised a pontoon, and it was easy to spot as soon as we were inside the entrance. 

A yacht had been motoring up the loch behind us as we sailed, and it came past as as we motored slowly in. Anegada was moored up on the pontoon while we were still getting our fenders and ropes sorted, and took our lines as we came in, which was very helpful!

We were only just tied up when the harbour master appeared to tell us about the facilities and offer suggestions about what to do locally. She was very friendly and welcoming.

We took her advice about a walk up the hill just above Salen, and had an afternoon stroll in the Sunnart Oakwoods Forest. There were some fallen trees by the path, and Julian spotted a likely ensign pole, so rescued it from rotting.

The views were superb, and I would highly recommend it.

Friday, 22 August 2014


After the high winds of Thursday we took a day off from sailing in Tobermory, looking round the town and shops in the morning.

I rinsed the salt off the decks and sides, then touched up some of the paint that had been chipped over the season, while Julian cooked up more mackerel for dinner. We then had a think about where to leave Robinetta for the winter. There are a lot of places near Oban and Crinan who do laying up ashore, but they all have different drawbacks and advantages, so it's not an easy choice.

We went to An Tobar, the arts centre, in the evening, to listen to Rab Noakes and Kathleen MacInnes doing a set of Love and Murder Ballads. Fun! And wonderful singing and playing.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sound of Mull

The Whitehouse restaurant at Lochaline is famous. We tried to book for last night but got an answerphone and then Alison rang them again when we got to Lochaline. They were fully booked but offered us lunch or dinner today and we jumped at the lunch option.

This gave us a leisurely morning to shower and put water and diesel into the tanks.

The new pontoons at Lochaline and the toilet block are excellent. You have to walk through the silica sand mine to get to the ‘village’. The mine is the only one in the UK which is pillar and stall rather than open cast. The Jurassic sand is in a 5m seam covered with basalt from a volcano on Mull. Once through the mine you are at the Calmac ferry terminal where there is a snack bar and just above sits the general store and petrol station and the Whitehouse.

Alison and I used the ferry route from Fishnish on Mull to here in 1982 on our honeymoon. Back then the ferry took at most 8 cars. Now it is a full size ro-ro.

The meal was outstanding. My starter was a gazpacho with a scoop of basil sorbet in the middle and a pair of langoustine. Alison had a salmon terrine. My main course was halibut with courgettes and roast new potato and an oyster on top. Alison had venison liver with beetroot and now can’t say she doesn’t like beetroot! We drank tap water. Nothing needed another flavour! The colours of the dishes were amazing, partly due to the generous use of flower petals from their garden.

Back on the boat I looked at the weather. At least I looked at which as far as I know uses the NOAA grib files as the basis of its forecasts. I didn’t look at the Met Office forecast. Xc said F4 gusting F5 from the north.

We got ready and set out. The wind was right behind us so we turned back to get the main up and then motor sailed into the Sound of Mull. Once in the sound proper we turned the engine off. The wind was extremely variable in strength. The Lulls were so deep we would have stopped moving without the 1 knot of tide we had in our favour. The gusts were strong enough we were glad we had kept yesterday’s reef in the main and set the No 2 jib.

Just north of Lochaline the Sound of Mull runs mostly east-west and we had a nice reach.  After that it runs NNW and we had to beat, but it is wide enough that the tacks are long. The gusts got stronger and we reefed down twice. We picked up the inshore waters forecast from Stornoway Coastguard at 16:10 and wished we had got it earlier. F5 to F6, occasionally F7! By then we were only 7 miles from Tobermory.
Great shot by Allan Fraser of s/v Touch of Grey
It was a really nice day. We got ever changing views of the mountains in all directions and lovely cloud scapes. There was a decent amount of blue sky and occaisional sunshine. It was far too nice to want to be anywhere else.

Gradually the lulls stopped happening and the wind strengthened. Several other yachts were going the same way and we saw them shorten sail too. I got a nice shot of this Westerly Fulmar Sarah Maria crossing a south going yacht. We couldn’t reduce the main any more without untying the bottom mast hoop. Alison went forward to do it but a loop of the tie was over the bight and she couldn’t shift it. I took a screwdriver up there and prised it loose and we reefed all the way down. A bit after that we put the jib away and turned the engine on to keep the speed up.

We had run out of favorable tide and we wanted to get into port.

With the sails reduced Robinetta was pretty comfortable and riding the waves nicely. At the edges of the sound the sea state was slight but in the middle the waves were getting bigger. Now and then one would break over the cabin. One went right down my neck. We had really no idea what the wind speed was but we knew it was at least a good F6. As we got near Tobermory I noticed the wind was blowing the tops off the waves. I thought that only happened in an 8.

Just outside the harbour we were passed by a Dive Boat. I wonder what it was like diving today.

Alison was on the helm and not at all sure she could get safely round into the harbour. I dropped the peak and throat halyards a little to scandalize the main and let the sheets out a little and we made it round quite gently. Once in the lee of the headland the sea was much smoother and we could go head to wind and get the main down. I went forward and got the foresails down and reefed the bowsprit.

The sun was quite low now and in our eyes and it took a while to find a nice pontoon berth but we got in quite easily and someone from the next boat took our bow line. He was from Sarah Maria and we had parked right next to her. It is his grandfather’s boat and he was sailing her with two friends. They came over and offered us part of their huge (60+) mackerel catch and we sat on Robinetta drinking wine and beer and then they fetched chips. Alison and I had a fine meal of fresh mackerel fillets fried in butter and garlic with morning rolls and chip shop chips.

What a great day.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ardfern to Loch Aline

We decided that heading north towards Mull would be a good idea. Tobermory is over 40 miles from Ardfern, so too far for a relaxed sail, but Lochaline  is only 33, which feels much closer, so we decided to go there.

The tides control a lot of when we should leave. Ardfern to Lochaline means going through the Dorus Mor, which even at neeps can run at 4 knots.... We needed that with us, and since it started to run around 0530 that meant an early start. Julian set the alarm for six, and by 0635 the engine was on and Julian had let us off the mooring. I wasn't quite ready, so he did it single handed.

The depth gauge decided it did not want to work, which is not a huge problem since we have the GPS chartplotter. The rocks of the West coast of Scotland stay put unlike the English east coast mud and sand banks. I got it out of the cupboard and fitted it, then turned it on. Nothing happened.

I told Julian I could not make it work, and he gave me the tiller and had a go. We were just clear of the marina entrance, and I remembered there were shallows there, so I slowed down and Julian turned on the chart plotter on his Samsung tablet. Luckily that worked fine, and after ten or so minutes of cleaning the terminals on the plug the proper chart plotter was back in business.

Julian then went forward to get the bowsprit out, and discovered another problem. The Wickham-Martin furling gear had lost its shackle pin. We had lived in dread of dropping it overboard when fitting or changing jibs, but it had just worked loose while on the mooring, and vanished. This was a major loss, and after a few minutes grumbling and worrying Julian went below to try and find some threaded rod to use as a substitute. He came back up with the old gaff saddle bolt instead, tried it for size, and even the thread was on the correct pitch!

We can't use it as a replacement long term, steel bolts in bronze fittings are not good, but it will allow us to furl the jibs on demand until we can get hold of a bronze one.

We motored through the Dorus Mor without trouble, going from 4.3 knots to 7 for a while, then up the Sound of Luing. Both are known for fast tides and overfalls. but the wind was light, and it was neeps, so we had no problems.

We got the sails up as we passed Beinahua, then turned onto our course up the Firth of Lorn. We tried sailing, but the wind was very light, only giving us half a knot in addition to the one knot from the tide, so the engine soon went back on, even though I changed jibs from the no 2 I had net on originally to the no 1.

Half an hour later the wind freshened, and we had a good sail along the south coast of Mull up to Duart point and then into the Sound of Mull where we had to start tacking. The sea state changed too, with the wash from the ferries that passed us making it unpleasant at times, and after a while we furled away the jib and put the engine back on. The wind continued to freshen though, and we had to reef the main as we neared Lochaline

We turned into the approach channel for Lochaline at 1530, just when the Reeds almanac predicted the tide would begin to turn against us. The wind dropped dramatically as we entered the Loch, and I dropped the main hurriedly in the calm, rather than waiting to go head to wind later.

The pontoons are too new to be on our chart plotter, so we weren't sure exactly where they were, but they were easy to see from the entrance. There was plenty of space too, with only two yachts already there, so I rigged the ropes and fenders for starboard. I had just finished, and we were nearly in the berth when I realised we still had the stay sail up, and the bowsprit was still out. Julian quickly dropped the stay sail, and there was enough room for the bowsprit.

A sailor from one of the other yachts came along and took our bow line, and we were soon moored up securely.

We paid our mooring fees at the office then walked along to the village shop for food and diesel. It's only about ten minutes away, and stocks a decent amount; the only problem was that it started to rain on the way back, and did not stop. It turned into a very damp evening!
We had bought haggis and swede to cook for dinner, which was not a good idea. The swede was woody, which was not surprising for this time of year, and I had no foil to wrap round the haggis as we baked it in our electric oven. The mashed potato was good, but not enough to make up for crunchy haggis and unmashable swede...
The one good thing was using the oven warmed the cabin up nicely to drive off the damp!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Back on board

Spent the morning in boat chores. I put the damp and mouldy clothes through the washer and drier, while Julian washed down the inside of the boat. I took the charts and pilot books that we would not need to the car, together with the charcoal stove that we have carried all the way from Tollesbury, and not been able to use. It feels good to have the space available for the bin again! Worm's spars also went in the car as it is unlikely to be warm enough to want to sail her in the next couple of weeks, and it is a nuisance having to move them in and out of the cabin every night. Of course it will now get warm and calm enough to want to use them!

The weather was great for getting the boat dry, with clear skies and a brisk breeze. We could have gone for a sail, but getting the boat habitable felt more important. We left her open all afternoon, to let the breeze blow through, while we drove to Kilmartin and looked round the museum and prehistoric sites, then on to Dunadd and climbed up to the top of the rock and saw the coronation footprint and carving.

We are having a fasting day today, so no Galley of Lorne tonight, just back to the boat for baked beans and an egg, followed by an evening looking at tides and possible destinations for tomorrow. It's neeps, so that will help with getting through the Dorus Mor, and the Sound of Luing.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Back to Ardfern

Drove up to Ardfern, leaving Stortford at about 0930. Weather was fine for driving, dry and sunny, and we had no holdups, managing to make it past Glasgow before 1700, which meant we were at Ardfern by 1900. I had phoned the marina before we left home, and asked them to leave the key out for us, which they did. I thought they said one place and we could not find it there, but luckily there was still someone working, who knew where it should be, and it was!

Key safely in pocket we headed for the Galley of Lorne Inn for dinner, then collected Worm from the dinghy park and rowed out to Robinetta. It was almost dark by the time we got on board, and felt cold; there was a thin film of black mould over a lot of the paint work, and our mugs needed washing before we would drink tea out of them. It had obviously been quite wet in the month we were away! Some of the clothes we had left on board were damp too, and Julian's Guernsey was growing mould...

The water that had been standing in the pipe smelt odd, but we pumped it away, and soon had a fresh flow that had just run through the charcoal filter between tank and tap. A very useful piece of kit! After a cup of tea we got the bedding out. Sleeping bags and pillows were all fine since we had stowed them properly in dry bags.