End of Season Sail – Part 2

Worn Water Hose

Whilst carrying out my daily engine checks I noticed that the alternator pulley belt had been rubbing against the hose connecting the water pump to the manifold. On closer inspection it was obvious that it was likely to fail. I decided to make a temporary repair. I removed the old pipe, cut and fitted a length of reinforced plastic pipe, started the engine and let it run for a few minutes checking for leaks. Everything looked fine and off we went, heading north toward the Sound of Jura and Ardfern where I would repair it properly. The wind was a light F2 to F3 coming from the west and we motor-sailed up the Sound of Gigha with me checking the engine at regular intervals. We had covered just over ten miles and were just north of Gigha when my latest check told me that my temporary repair was far more “temporary” than I had hoped.  Due to the heat, the plastic hose was beginning to expand like a sausage and the belt was rubbing against it. Being far less resilient than a rubber hose it was going to burst and probably very soon. We had no choice but to turn off the engine. Our passage plan showed that we could turn back to Arminish or head west to Craighouse on Jura. Craighouse was closer. The wind had backed a little and increased, now blowing F5, but despite this it took us over four hours and countless tacks to cross the seven miles to Jura.

The entrance to Craighouse moorings faces SE and we discussed how we would negotiate the entrance and pick up a mooring under sail should the engine let us down. Once inside, there would be plenty of room to tack back and forth and on one of our many tacks approaching we saw that there were no other boats moored so we could sail on up the line of moorings until we hooked one. I left starting the engine until the last possible moment and fortunately it held together and we quickly picked up one of the buoys. I found a length of the correct kind of rubber hose and after boiling a piece of it for fifteen or so minutes to make it pliant and with the help of a little washing up liquid I managed to get it fitted. Just before we had set out from Largs I had a mechanic replace the water pump and he hadn’t pushed the copper pipes far enough back to avoid the belt and this was what caused the abrading. The belt was also a bit loose due to it stretching over time and as there was no more left in the adjustment arm I replaced it as well and gently pushed the copper pipes back towards the engine. I should have made a proper repair in the first place.

Craobh Haven and Oban

When we are planning our trip we always have a few spare days “just in case” and this year as well as allowing for weather, Alan was returning to Edinburgh for a meeting and we had the added complication of having the boat somewhere convenient for him to leave from and get back to. With a couple of our spare days spent in Campbeltown, Northern Ireland and our forced trip to Jura we decided to make straight for Craobh Haven, missing out Ardfern just to make sure we had our buffer and could still make our target of Salen. 

With the wind a decent F4 from the NW we managed a close reach all the way up the coast of Jura before heading north east toward Craobh. Glorious sunshine all the way and we spotted porpoises, dolphins and a sea eagle!

We arrived in the marina to a great commotion and its cause soon became apparent. Thick black smoke, which smelled strongly of burning plastic, was billowing across the marina. Flames were licking from the back of a yacht tied up to one of the pontoons and owners and staff were running everywhere with fire-extinguishers. To their credit and bravery they quickly had the fire under control. The fire brigade arrived about twenty minutes later from Lochgilphead, 16 miles away and made sure the fire was out and safe to get back on board. It turned out that the owner had been installing a new cooker and was testing it. He was lucky, I can’t think of many things more frightening than a fire on a boat.  Once we had tied up I checked the status of all four fire-extinguishers on board ‘Jess’.

There’s not a great deal at Craobh Haven; the marina, some holiday homes and a small shop. There’s also The Lord of The Isles pub and restaurant which serves great food has fantastic, friendly staff and is a wonderful refuge on wet, windy days which can be frequent at this time of year. The marina facilities are part of a purpose built holiday village which was constructed in 1983 from a series of small islands connected by causeways. You always get a great welcome at the marina and it’s well sheltered, which is just as well as the weather turned a bit nasty and we ended up staying for a couple of days.

There are tidal choke points all along the coast between The Mull of Kintyre and Cape Wrath and the area around Sound of Luing is one of them, so careful studying of the Tidal Stream Atlas is essential. At its southern end is the Gulf of Corryvreckan with the notorious whirlpool and Dorus Mor – The Big Door. At the northern end you have Fladda and Cuan Sound with standing waves, overflows and strong tidal streams. It was just coming up to spring tides and we knew that the streams were going to be particularly strong. The weather had improved dramatically and we left Craobh around midday to catch the best of the tidal stream north toward Oban and the new transit pontoons in the harbour.

Oban North Pier Pontoons are owned and run by Argyll and Bute Council. The development was quite controversial with previous attempts at developing facilities having failed and the owners of Oban Marina on the island of Kerrera just across Oban Bay greatly concerned about the detrimental effects on their trade. The pontoons have the advantage of being right in the centre of Oban, there are free showers and toilets for visiting crew but there’s no laundry, fuel or gas and no chandlery or other boaty type facilities. We were fortunate when we visited in that the wind was coming from the NW, but with the pontoons being very exposed to wind anywhere from the south, I suspect an overnight stay in a strong SW wind would be really uncomfortable. It doesn’t have the same feeling as other marinas or moorings, however, the Council had hoped that having the transit pontoons right in the centre of town would attract more cruise ships and this seems to have been quite successful.

Oban, Tobermory and Salen

It was a grey, dreich morning when we left Oban for Tobermory, but there was a good following wind from the SE (the wind direction had been all over the place in the past few days) and we quickly crossed the Firth of Lorn toward Lady’s Rock. Apart from the numerous ferries it will come as no surprise that the other hazards in the area are the fierce tidal streams and overflows particularly in this area around the south westerly tip of Lismore. It is possible to sail between the lighthouse on Lady’s Rock and Lismore Island but this is the route that the ferries and commercial traffic take so we decided it prudent to head further west before racing up the Sound of Mull. The scenery in the Sound is stunning. Unfortunately, with poor visibility we weren’t able to enjoy it to the full, and the poor weather continued all the way to Tobermory. The main entrance to Tobermory Bay is to the north of Calve Island and there are no hazards except ferries, cruise ships and other commercial traffic. If there’s enough water or you have little draft, it is possible to enter the bay through the Dorlinn Narrows to the south of the island, but this dries at low water. The pontoons in the NW corner of the bay are well sheltered from everything but a strong NE wind. Reaching the moorings is straightforward and there is a channel of sorts marked through the local boats to the pontoons and visitors’ moorings.

As you would expect, Tobermory has all the facilities a visitor might need. The Harbour Office has coin operated showers, toilets, a laundry and the ‘Mull Aquarium’. Diesel is available at the pontoons and gas and petrol from the garage a few yards from the marina. You’ll find a good chandlery in the town as well as a well-stocked Co-op, outdoor clothing shops, gift shops, banks, ATMs, pubs and restaurants. The Mishnish Hotel next to the CalMac ferry terminal across the bay from the marina is well worth a visit as is the nearby Café Fish where you will get the most wonderful fish tea!

What a difference a day makes. We woke to glorious sunshine and Tobermory is such a pretty wee place when the sun is out. Our final destination before heading back south was Salen Jetty. We first visited Salen four years ago and it has become a firm favourite. Set in beautiful Loch Sunart between the Ardnamurchan and Morvern peninsulas, it must be one of the most peaceful and picturesque marinas you will find.

Leaving Tobermory we crossed the northern end of the Sound setting a course to the south of the drying rocks of Little Stirk, Red Rocks and New Rocks and then sticking close to the Morvern coast round Auliston Point. The wind was coming right out of the west and we sailed and surfed the waves averaging seven knots most of the way up Loch Sunart. The passage up the loch is not problematic; just steer clear of the islands. The marina at Salen is one of the very few where you can book a berth in advanced and it is advisable to do this at the height of summer when it is very popular. Having said that, there are additional moorings in the bay and owners Mark and Jan will always find you a spot. The approach is fairly straightforward as long as you take heed of the East Cardinal on the approach to the pontoons. The marina is well equipped with water, shore power, gas and diesel (no petrol). There is a shower and toilet block and next door a great shop and café. The Salen Hotel is a ten minute walk from the marina along a quiet, single track road. It’s unlit, so unless you’re visiting in mid-summer, take a torch. There’s a lot to do in the area and you could easily spend a few days here. Lots of forest walks and Jan will supply you with some route maps. You can hire bikes from Sunart Cycles and they will deliver them to the jetty. You can catch a bus to Fort William and spend a few hours there. Alternatively, you could just kick back, relax and enjoy the beautiful, peaceful surroundings.

Return South to Kerrera

The weather had become increasingly changeable and the following day when we returned to Tobermory the wind was coming from the south which would be no use to us on our return through the Sound of Mull so we stayed a couple of nights in Tobermory allowing the front to pass. We had decided that Kerrera would be the best place for me to stay whilst Alan returned to Edinburgh as there are good rail links from Oban and there would be things for me to do waiting for his return. We had a couple of days to get there and had planned to stop at Lochaline on the way down the Sound from Tobermory, but the sailing was so good we kept going to Dunstaffnage which is just a short passage from Kerrera.

We first visited Dunstaffange nearly 20 years ago whilst sailing with an old friend on his beautiful Laurent Giles, gaff rigged cutter, and then it really was somewhere special. The restaurant in the marina was classy and the marina friendly and welcoming. Sadly, things have changed. In a bid to attract larger yachts some of the long standing berth holders have left due to the changes and the facilities and customer service has gone downhill. Next time we’ll be giving it a miss and either stop at Lochaline or head straight for Oban Marina.

Oban Marina has gone through some turbulent times in the past seven years. In early 2016 it was in a right state and put up for sale for the second time in five years. It was bought by Surrey couple Gary and Catherine Peat, yacht owners themselves, who are really keen to make a success of it and I hope they do. They’ve already refurbished much of the marina, sorted pontoons, reinstated power and water, opened a great wee restaurant and bar, but there’s still plenty to do. I am seriously considering a summer berth here for 2020. It’s a great sailing area and with the rail links it is relatively easy to get to. There’s a complimentary ferry to the mainland for berth holders and all the facilities you would expect in a marina. I would still winter in Largs as it’s only just over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh and far handier for maintenance trips than Oban would be.

I had negotiated a deal for an extended stay from Tuesday to Sunday when Alan was due to return and we would continue our journey south to The Crinan Canal, stopping off at Ardfern on the way. As usual, there were a few small jobs that I had to attend to and I set about these when Alan left on Wednesday morning. The joker valve in toilet needed replacing, the stern-tube grease gun needed refilling, there was a loose wire in the instrument panel, I had to repack the lifejacket I was wearing at Ballycastle (I had picked up a gas canister at Dunstaffnage), I had a laundry to do and there were a few other bits and pieces that needed my attention. In the afternoon, having completed all my tasks, I took the marina ferry across to Oban for a wander around and a trip to Tesco for milk and bread. I got back to ‘Jess’ with a guitar…