OBAN TO OBAN
By Mary Webb
14 to 18 July 2001
Onboard: Anita Sharp – Tour Guide and Skipper, Mike Jenkins – Head Chef and Mate, Martin Moss – Ferryman and 2nd Mate, Mike Sharp – Mr Fixit and Bosun, Sally Gilchrist – Crab Hunter & Bursar, Bruce Rawlings – Pot Polisher, Martin Wilding – Galley Slave, Mary Webb – That’s Me
It was hoped that we would get to the Outer Hebrides, but the weather had other ideas. Our holiday started with northwesterly winds giving us cold, bright and clear conditions and the most fantastic 360-degree views, almost unheard of in Scotland. The second week reminded us of where we were – with south-westerlies and a return to the misty, rainy, if atmospheric conditions so characteristic of the West Coast.
The weather almost turned our trip into a gourmet cruise of the hostelries of Tobermory; one of which also has another added attraction, hot showers! We must however be the only boat to call into Tobermory several times and not visit the distillery! In between sampling the food and other local produce we did find some time to make use of the galley and fine wine cellar on board. Our Head Chef and his Galley Assistants treated us to everything from exotic curries to flambéed bananas, and of course Haggis & Neaps. In between all this we even managed to get in some sailing, and this is how the rest of our two weeks looked:
14th July: Sussex to Oban
Having taken the overnight train we arrived at Oban in beautiful sunshine. We had no problem finding Marabu. Her distinctive raked masts stood out from the crowd and were clearly visible from the train, much to the amusement of the other boat crew we shared the journey with, who thought we may have trouble finding the boat. Having completed our chores, and with the boat victualled and everything stowed, the rest of the crew arrived and we celebrated with the first of many excellent meals at a local fish restaurant.
15th July: Oban to Loch Spelve
A leisurely sail made a gentle start to our trip on a beautiful, clear day. Surrounded by wonderful views, we found an idyllic loch, deserted beaches and plentiful wildlife. What more could one ask for? Having found the perfect anchorage at Loch Spelve, we assembled the dinghy and went beach combing. I had my first lesson at being ferryman and everyone, to their amazement,
16th July: Loch Spelve to Tobermory
Sailing out of Loch Spelve required some very careful navigation. There were rocks where you’d least expect them! We set off along the Sound of Mull, watching the seals sunning themselves on the rocks. Unfortunately the wind died and we had to motor once we had passed Loch Aline. Arriving in Tobermory, we needed to find a buoy big enough for Marabu, as we found most of the marked visitors’ moorings were too light. Luckily we found the perfect buoy just down from the lifeboat. When the Harbourmaster cameround later, he told us he didn’t know anything about this particular buoy and that it probably belonged to a fishing vessel. Hesuggested that we moor at the lifeboat buoy, the only other one big enough for us,but we would have to be prepared to move if there was had an emergency. We opted totake our chances and stay where we were. As an added bonus this buoy happened to be going for free! On going ashore we found out how extremely civilised the Scots are. Showers were on the next floor from the pub. No waiting around in the steam for the next cubicle to become free – you could just sit back and relax whilst enjoying a wee dram and waiting your turn.
17th July: Tobermory to Loch na Drona Buidhe (Drumbuie)
Steep cliffs, tide races, interesting navigation, and a fresh breeze all made for another beautiful day. Drumbuie is a perfect enclosed anchorage, despite its small entrance. It has a submerged rock in the middle of the entrance, which an Italian boat following us seemed not have noticed on the chart until the last moment. Having secured our anchorage the rest of the day was spent relaxing, enjoying the views
18th July: Drumbuie to Tobermory
In need of some exercise we went exploringthe hills above the Loch. Some of us stopped off and relaxed, enjoying the sightof Marabu at anchor in such a spectacular setting, while others climbed to the top ofthe hill and looked out acrossthe water to the outer Isles. On our return we needed to make a decision as the weather was forecast to deteriorate soon. Should we head out of the Outer Isles where protection may be limited, or stay where we were, head round the corner to another protected loch, or return to Tobermory? Tobermory won. It had nothing to do, of course, with the existence of that pub with the showers. A quick beat across the sound and we secured ourselves to Marabu’s personal mooring once more.
19th July: Tobermory
The Tobermory Highland Games planned to take place during July. Since most of us had never been to a Highland Games, we opted to spend the day there. We followed the pipe bands as they marched through the town, before climbing to the top of the hill at the back of the town. The games were held in a natural amphitheatre against the most fantastic backdrop across the Sound Of Mull. There was something for everyone – pipe playing, marching bands, hammer throwing, caber tossing, Dr Clegg’s clach (a large heavy rock thrown like a shotput) and the usual races. Kilts were obligatory, of course. The highland dancing was of a very high standard with dancers competing from as far away as Canada and Australia, and winning. It was bitterly cold, however, and for medicinal purposes we all had to have a few nips of the local brew, and very welcome it was too.
20th July: Tobermory to Mallaig
Mallaig, here we come! The weather was now changing and the wind moved round into the north-east, allowing us a fine reach up the coast. On arrival at Mallaig we moored up alongside a lovely old gaffer. It turned out the boat was used for charter trips to see the whales and other wildlife. In fact, you didn’t have to go far to see the wildlife – the seals here being very cheeky (and fat), coming up alongside the boat to beg for fish. We watched as crayfish, crabs, prawns and lobsters were unloaded from the many fishing vessels and packed into lorries for transport to some expensive city restaurant. Unable to resist, Sally went searching and found a fisherman willing to sell her, at a very reasonable price, several boxes of live crabs. The trouble was the boxes had to be returned and we now had the problem of what to do with a dozen rather frisky crustaceans with large pincers. Luckily, we found a handy space in the bilges for them to five temporarily. To round off the day we found an excellent local fresh fish restaurant, and enjoyed another splendid meal.
21st July: Mallaig to Inverie
We all indulged in large breakfasts and showers, courtesy of the local Fishermen’s Mission before setting off for Inverie and the most remote pub in Britain. The weather had changed, and we now had no wind and the promise of rain, but this did not take away from the spectacular views – the view up Loch Nevis with the dark mountains silhouetted against the sky being particularly spectacular. The pub at Inverie is a very lively place and we all enjoyed listening to a jive band and a pint whilst the crabs were cooked. It was no mean feat cooking ten crabs (perhaps I miscounted when we brought them on board!). Inverie was by far the worst place for midges, even though it was raining.
22nd July: Inverie to Canna
By now the wind had gone round to the south-west, and so had out plans of visiting Loch Scavaig on Skye. It must have been the pilot book – which mentioned ferocious catabatic winds, very deep anchorages and the possibility of sheep being blown off the cliffs – that put our Skipper off. Instead, we took the decision to head for Canna. By the time we arrived the rain was lashing down. Despite the rain, some of us took off in the dingy to go exploring. We visited a couple of very beautiful churches. One was very old with two-foot thick walls and candles in the windows; the other was newly built, using old stone and had the most beautiful oak door and stained
23rd July: Canna stormbound
The decision to head for Canna had been a wise one. Along with several other boats we weathered out the storm and the rain. Some of us were content to relax and read book whilst others went off exploring again. This time it was to view the Atlantic waves crashing in on the beach on the other side of the island. We found white sandy beaches and clear water – where’s my swimming costume!
24th July: Canna to Tobermory
By now we needed more supplies, so after our foredeck exercises, we were off to Tobermory and our favourite mooring again; still no visit to the distillery! But we made good use of the showers and discovered that there was a live band from Canada playing in a room over the pub that night. So it was party time again as we drank and listened to Slawn-cha Va, a group of young musicians from Nova Scotia playing modern rock using traditional instruments. Do go and see them if you have the opportunity; they are excellent.
25th July: Tobermory to Bunessan
We now had two special places left to visit, Fingal’s Cave at Staffa and Iona. The weather was being kind to us now, and we had the most wonderful leisurely reach down the west coast of Mull watching puffins and gannets playing in the swell. All the guidebooks say Fingal’s Cave is spectacular, but they do not do it justice. We spent some time just drifting past in the swell and soaking in the atmosphere of the place, made even more atmospheric as we played the piece of classical music inspired by it – all very romantic. Another pleasant evening was spent moored in a lovely loch.
26th July: Bunessan to Tobermory
Iona was our destination today, and we anchored just north of the main harbour, the crowds. It was really peaceful with white sand beaches, clear water and the cathedral in the background. The cathedral is very beautiful – a very atmospheric and special place spoilt only by the day-trippers eating their packed lunches in the shelter of the cloisters. Time to move on, however, and back to Tobermory for a last shower and drink before travelling home. Approaching Tobermory we had an extra bonus. In the distance we saw what looked like a larger version of Marabu, albeit with a shinier paint job. It turned out to be the J-class yacht Velsheda on her way down to the Solent for the America’s Cup Jubilee. We were treated to a show of seamanship by the crew of Velsheda who came in under full sail and did a tour of the moorings before dropping anchor at the end of the bay. Some of us later went to take a closer look. She really is a very beautiful boat in the most amazing condition – something for Marabu to aspire to!
27th July: Tobermory to Oban
Today was perfectly calm. The sea was like glass as we passed by the castles on the banks. We stopped off at Loch Aline for lunch and a last look around before we made our way back to Oban. As we moored along the wall at Oban the sun came out and the temperature rose; the perfect end to a perfect holiday.