The ‘Erly Tour – Islay to Fort William

18 July 2021. Port Ellen to Colonsay

The plan for today was to head around the north of Islay, through the Sound of Islay and out to Colonsay. The sound of Islay has fairly strong currents so it is important to get the timing right and having checked on my tidal atlas app I calculated we needed to leave Port Ellen around 10:00. Once again there was little to no wind and we resigned ourselves to another day of motor sailing with the emphasis on motor!

Around 13:30 we passed McArthur’s Head Lighthouse and entered the Sound…

Mc Arthur’s Head Lighthouse

After a while, something didn’t seem right. We weren’t making much progress over the ground. The engine seemed to be running fine at around 1800rpm but we were only making about 2 knots speed over ground. At that engine speed we should be making about four knots and with the current with us, we should be doing around six knots. Wait! Four knots boat speed plus two knots of current makes six knots, yes, but four knots of boat speed less two knots of current makes two knots. Let’s check that tide atlas again… I had assumed that the app showed the current day by default. Not so it seems. I’d been looking at totally the wrong date DOH! Of course, if I had a working speed log I would have seen the difference between speed through the water and speed over the ground straight away and realised what was happening a lot sooner. Not that it would have made a difference, there was nothing for it but to just plug on. We weren’t in any danger it would just take a lot longer than planned. Still, we weren’t in a hurry and we had all day…

Light at the end of the tunnel

So, four hours later we were through and out into the Atlantic ocean – admittedly the very edge of it but still the Atlantic 🙂

Another two hours saw us into the anchorage at Loch Staosnaig on the east coast of Colonsay.

Looking east to Jura and Islay across the Atlantic ocean

Anchor down 18:30. 34 miles, 8.5 hours

19 July 2021. Colonsay to Mull

This leg involved passing through the Sound of Iona so, once again, the timing was pretty important in order to have the current there going with us. This time I triple checked I was looking at the right day on the tide app!!

Weighed anchor around 10:30 and headed north up the coast of Colonsay. Again fairly light wind but we did manage to sail which was great.

The northern tip of Colonsay

You can see how flat the water is here. It was around lunchtime and we were sorely tempted to drop anchor and go ashore here as there was an absolutely stunning, deserted beach there. Time was pressing though and we carried on.

Once clear of the island the wind picked up nicely and we had a cracking sail across to Mull. It was a tad northerly which meant us tacking again and threading our way through all the small islands, some not much more than large rock was “interesting”. In the end we made the Sound at the right time-ish but as the wind was pretty much blowing straight through we dropped the sails and motored through. There is a shallow patch right across the sound about halfway through so we needed to stick to the channel that runs up the east side of the sound. The scenery through here is quite stunning…

The Sound of Iona
Iona Abbey

The Abbey was incredible. Construction started in 563 so it is getting on for 1500 years old and is one of the oldest Christian centres in western Europe!

Once through the sound, we hoisted the sails again and set course for Gometra Harbour. The wind angle allowed us to make, pretty much, a straight run towards it. We passed the island of Staffa with Fingals Cave,

Staffa. Fingal’s Cave at the northern (left) end

It would have been nice to have gone a bit closer but we needed to make it to Gometra with the tide so couldn’t spare the time. The wind had increased on this side of Iona and we had quite a “spirited” sail across.

Iona on the horizon
Gometra Harbour

We made it safely through the very narrow entrance to the anchorage and dropped anchor for the night. It was a very quiet and peaceful place and with zero light pollution, the stars were quite spectacular.

Anchor down 19:30. 33 mils, 9 hours

20 July 2021. Gometra Harbour to Tobermory

Weighed anchor around 09:00 and motored out of the narrow entrance and once clear hoisted the sails. Once again we had a decent breeze for the day and were able to make good progress around the west of Gometra and then set course just west of north to pass to the east of the Treshnish and Burgh Islands then around the western tip of the Isle of Mull before turning east into the Sound of Mull.

Entering the Sound of Mull

As we went further east into the Sound of Mull the wind started to ease and by the time we reached the Rubha an Gall lighthouse we were on the engine but, as we were nearly at our destination, that was ok.

We rounded the final headland and got our first glimpse of the iconic painted houses of Tobermory and shortly after were tied up in the very pleasant little marina there.


Berthed 19:30. 25 miles, 10.5 hours

We spent three days in the town and made good use of the Mishnish Bar, the yellow building in the picture above. Whilst there we met up with James Harrison from the YouTube channel “Skipper James Sigma 33“. James and I had been chatting online as we both own Sigmas but we’d never met in person before. We got on really well and ended up going for “a quick one” in the Mishnish at about 17:30. I didn’t notice when Ash left but I emerged some time after 22:00. I don’t recall getting back to the boat but suffice to say, I’m glad we were in the marina and not on a mooring!

It wasn’t all booze though! There are some nice walks around Tobermory and, if you fancy going further afield there is a ferry to Kilchoan on the Ardnemurchan peninsula or you can take a bus for a couple of pounds to Craignure and take the ferry to Oban.

We opted for a walk around Aros Park…

22 July 2021. Tobermory to Lochaline

The east going current in the Sound of Mull wasn’t until mid-afternoon but the marina like you to clear out by 12:00 to make way for incoming boats and we didn’t want to risk being clobbered for another night so got underway just after midday. We just went across to the other side of the sound and anchored for an hour.

Waiting for the tide

The wind was a bit on-and-off so, again, we were motor sailing most of the afternoon. We entered the very tranquil Lochaline just after 18:00.

Kinlochaline Castle
Looking north up Lochaline

Anchor down 18:30. 20 miles, 7 hours.

July 23 2021. Lochaline to Fort William

It is quite a way from Lochaline to Fort William but our departure time was really governed by the timing of the tide at the Corran Narrows, about half way up Loch Linnhe. We needed to be there around 15:30 so we weighed anchor just after 09:00.

Another day of very light wind, cloudless sky and temperature in the mid-20s. Lovely sunbathing weather! So, on with the engine, on with the autohelm, off with the clothes! You’re lucky I don’t have any pictures of that!

Just these…

Loch Linnhe, looking south
Looking north, First sighting of Ben Nevis
Looking east along Loch Leven towards the infamous Glencoe
Approaching the Coran Narrows

We went through the narrows at 15:40 so I was pretty please at that. Even so, the water was pretty turbulent and the autohelm was having a hard job so I hand steered until we got through. At least the current was heading in the right direction and we just tipped ten knots.

Once through we found some breeze blowing up the loch towards Fort William so I unfurled the genoa and slowed the engine almost to tickover.

I had arranged to take the visitor mooring at the Lochaber Yacht Club and we arrived there just after 17:00.

On the mooring looking towards Ben Nevis – blocked by my guard wire!

On the mooring !7:15. 35 miles, 8 hours.

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