4 to I4 July 2001
Onboard: Colin, Harry and Tim Macdonald, Charles Hickling, Bob Bridgeman, Brenda McCurdie, Margaret and Joanna Macdonald and Penelope Ackaert-Wirtz (joining at Mallaig)
A ten-day trip from Oban back to Oban doesn’t sound as if it would take us very far, but it was far enough for a pleasant cruise and many memorable moments.
However, our trip didn’t start quite at Oban. Marabu was to be found 16 miles to the south at a delightful little marina at Craobh (pronounced ‘creuve’), which was complemented by local facilities, including a shop and restaurant. A warm welcome awaited us at the local hostelry. Craobh has much to recommend it as a future changeover location.
The first afternoon consisted of a gentle sail up through the Cuan Sound to Oban to complete the provisioning, and to gather some of the remaining crew. This was followed by a short sail across the Lynn of Lorn to Loch Spelve. Loch Spelve is a large and completely sheltered anchorage on the south coast of Mull. It is about the same size as Portsmouth Harbour, but the main difference was that we were the only boat there! At Loch Spelve, we were entertained by the sound of bagpipes on the foredeck, the first of what was to become a regular occurrence as Tim entertained the seagulls and anyone within range.
The next day’s sailing took us past the Carsaig arches, which consisted of a dramatic arch made out of columnar basalt and a short large, two-ended cave. The sea was calm enough to allow us to land on a lee shore without getting our feet wet. It was quiet, as being several miles from the nearest road and at the foot of a 1,000ft cliff tends to keep the arches off the tourist trail.
Our next stop was the ever-popular island of Iona. By the evening, after the day-trippers had disappeared, this island became a peaceful place. We were invited to the Thursday evening communion service and found ourselves among 120 others, each serving bread and wine to their neighbour. There was no tradition of the priest doing it all here! It was nearly dark when we left, and nearly midnight too! The evening piping from the foredeck was much appreciated by the clientele of the local pub, which were mainly visitors to Iona from England, America and Australia ending their week’s stay at the Abbey.
And so on to the island of Staffa, made famous by Mendelssohn with the music of ‘Fingal’s Cave’. It is a place to visit and revisit. The magnificence of the cave carved out of the columns of basalt never ceases to amaze. This visit was made special by the presence of our piper, who collected £5.00 in five minutes by putting out Colin’s hat as another group arrived. Could I be in the wrong profession?
From Iona we headed west, past the aptly named ‘Dutchman’s Cap’ to Arinagour at Coll. A trip ashore to explore and replenish the gas bottles led us to the hotel, beside which was a delightful little gift shop, open but deserted. A note explained all: ‘Owner gone to France. Please take what you like and leave the money in the tin.’
The next day we sailed on to Eigg. For fifty years the older Macdonalds had looked at and photographed the Sgeir of Eigg, but had never climbed it. The evening was spent exploring the lower slopes to find the start of the path, but alas, it remained unclimbed as the following day the cloud descended. The climb was replaced by a visit to the ‘singing sands’ in Laig Bay. We didn’t actually hear the sand sing but it definitely squeaked with each footfall. After this visit, we set off to Mallaig to meet the rest of the crew.
No one could call Mallaig a beautiful town but this fishing port does have certain advantages. It is a railhead and the three remaining members of the crew were able to step off the train from Glasgow and walk a mere hundred yards or so to find Marabu tied up alongside the pier. The journey from Canterbury to Mallaig in one day was taken up using almost all forms of transport (except the bicycle) and was most enjoyable. The train journey on the West Highland line is one of the most scenic in Britain. It is well worth doing, even without the excuse of joining Marabu at the far end.
The next day we sailed over the sea to Skye to anchor in Loch Scavaig, watched by several seals. Being 12 miles from the nearest road, we would not expect this place to be crowded with tourists. But here in the heart of the Cuillins, the views are some of the most dramatic in Britain. We went ashore to walk up what must be the shortest river in Britain, all of 400 yards long and yet too wide to cross without getting our feet wet. This river flows out of Loch Corusk, surrounded on three sides by the Cuillin ridge, and a landscape consisting of more bare rock than grass or headier. But it started to rain (surprise!), so a somewhat bedraggled crew returned to Marabu.
The next island we visited was Canna, where we anchored as instructed between the two churches, and explored the Celtic crosses standing isolated in the fields. A Force 6 and a large amount of seaweed on the bottom of the boat made for an interesting night as we re-anchored at 0300 hours, this time putting all the chain out, (wouldn’t an anchor winch be helpful!).
The wind blew us nicely back to the Sound of Mull, although the waves were not welcomed by all and found shelter in the metropolis of Tobermory. We tied up to the spare lifeboat buoy (with permission); at least we knew this one was not going to drag! The next day we visited a friend who lives on the shores of Loch Sunart. He makes ends meet by farming, boatbuilding and running a sawmill. His resourceful wife offered to entertain nine people for a meal at short notice, and we were happy to accept.
On the final day, we got the cruising chute up for the first time. Our run down the Sound of Mull was at such a speed that we were set to arrive at Oban much too early. A stop for lunch on Lismore island followed by an afternoon exploring an old castle soon filled in the time – and it was back to Oban to tie up outside anything bigger than us. On this occasion it was a Danish fishing boat, which we could only board by standing on the boom. Despite such an awkward way to leave the boat, it had been a memorable and enjoyable trip.