Aug 072020

This year we had a charter from Alba Sailing in Dunstaffnage (near Oban) as all the other charter companies North of there have closed down.  We don’t normally go that far south as it is very crowded, even this year.  Around Oban and Loch Linne and up the Sound of Mull is a bit like Piccadilly Circus was in the rush hour in days gone by – Loch Dhroma na Buihde at the top end of the sound just inside Loch Sunart had 10 yachts at anchor when we went in!  I’ve never seen more than 4 at any one time before. North of Ardnamurchan Point things thin out a bit, and a bit more North of the Kyle of Loch Alsh, but over on the Outer Hebrides it is a lot quieter.  We went into Soay Harbour for the first time – its been on my bucket list for years – its the site of Gavin Maxwell’s ill fated Basking Shark oil factory in the 50’s.  Its a bit of a squeeze getting in as there isn’t much water – Penny doesn’t like rocks and sensibly stayed below while we went in.  A quick trip across to Lochboisdale – motoring into a headwind – found the new marina fairly busy although nominally closed due to Covid-19.  It was difficult to see what the problem was, but I suppose it was just that they hadn’t opened the loos and showers – there was water and electricity on the pontoons, but no charge for using the marina.  The marina has been built between two islands and is almost all imported rock – very impressive- its about a mile from the ‘town’  –  2 hotels and one small shop and a museum and sandwich stall.  From there another motor up to Loch Maddy where the marina looked a bit sad – I rang the harbourmaster who told me where to berth – again no loos or showers and no water on the berths.  We stayed an extra day there while a 30 knot wind blew – its not the wind speed per se that gets you up there, but the waves it throws up if you have to go into it.  Then a good long sail  chasing another Alba boat, Chantilly, to  Stornoway ( they just beat us!), which we love, as another blow was forecast – we got just about the last berth in the marina, which is mainly full of local boats – it didn’t materialise so next day we headed back across the Minch to a beautiful anchorage on Rona in the Inner Sound between Skye and the mainland – Acaraid Mhor (or something like that!) . We tried going South from there the next day but ended up slamming into an uncomfortable sea and 30 knots of  wind so turned back (very carefully across the seas) to the lovely anchorage and had a bit of a roller coaster ride on the waves in the downwind direction.  From there next day we went through Kyle Rhea with the tide to Isleoronsay on Skye, a not particularly attractive harbour, and from there to Loch Dhroma na Buihde.  We has a bit of a scare about running our of fuel at that point so went across to Tobermory next morning.  The fuelling berth had one boat on it already and very little maneuvering space, but I enjoyed squeezing  13m of boat into the space – and I didn’t hit anything even though we had to end up with our bows overlapping!  Manouvering big sailing boats in confined spaces is interesting as, apart from the effects of wind and tide, the boat makes sharp turns by effectively pivoting on the keel, so the stern sweeps out a path outside of path of the centre of the boat and this can catch you out in confined spaces.  One of the joys of chartering yachts is that you  end up taking the boat into marinas etc without knowing the habits of that particular boat – part of the enjoyment for me is to make a perfect landing on the pontoon!  On Pollyanna it was very difficult to see the port (left) side when at the wheel near the engine controls ( cockpit dodger and folded tent in the way) so docking ‘port side to’ was extra fun – why is that the way we seemed always to go?.  From there back to Dunstaffnage and the end of the holiday.  In all we visited 6 islands, lost 4 days from bad weather, covered around 350 miles and used about 150 litres of diesel.  We spent 6 nights at anchor and 8 in marinas, including 3 on the Alba pontoons – total marina bill was £31.25  – a great holiday.  Almost all of our navigation was done on a Galaxy tablet running Navionics Boating software – the tablet was in a decent waterproof case that allowed the USB port to be accessed. That meant we didn’t need to take it out of its case to charge, but more importantly it meant that I could plug in my big battery to keep the tablet running all day – The Nav software is thirsty and without the battery it would only survive a full day’s sailing by turning it off when not using the display – the nav continues plotting the track etc and jumps back when you turn it on again . I’m not even sure it would do 8 hours of background tracking without the battery.

Pollyanna from Alba Sailing.

Looking towards the entrance to Loch Dhroma na Buihde.  Its usually calm at nights if there isn’t a strong wind.

Just to show it wasn’t all wind and rain –  motoring in a calm  almost sunny spell ( one of two in two weeks!)