The ‘Erly Tour – Fort William to Portree

August 1 2021. Fort William to Lochaline

Alison had enjoyed the Isles of Scilly so much she wanted more! So she came up to continue the adventure at Fort William.

Ben Nevis from the mooring

The day dawned bright and clear and warm but with almost no wind – again! As before we had to time our departure to pass through the Corran Narrows at the appropriate time so got underway around 11:00 to get through the narrows around 12:30. We got there about 12:45 so pretty much spot on.

Approaching the narrows

Once through the narrows the breeze started to get up so I got the sails up and before long the motor was off and we had a very pleasant sail south. As we sailed down the north side of Lismore Island the wind started increasing to the point where I thought a reef would be appropriate. It was just as well because, no sooner had I got it in than the wind got up to the high teens. The remainder of the trip was quite brisk but the water remained flat so it was great being able to whizz along without being bounced around too much. We eventually arrived in Lochaline around 20:00 and got the anchor down right at the head of the loch, although not before I accidentally went too far and dug the keel into the soft mud! Luckily I was able to extract it without too much bother and moved back a couple of hundred metres. I really must try to get a depth sounder that works – I wouldn’t mind so much but this was a brand new unit I fitted yesterday!

Lochaline (again!)

Anchor down 20:15. 35 miles 9 hours.

August 2 2021. Lochaline to Tobermory.

Not really much to say about this passage. It was pretty much a repeat of the trip I’d done a week or so previously but in the opposite direction. The only difference was that this time it was flat calm the entire day and we motored the whole way.

Ben More and a flat Sound of Mull
Back in Tobermory Marina

On marina 16:30. 20 miles, 5 hours

August 4 2021. Tobermory to Isle Ornsay

Although the day started reasonable enough the weather deteriorated through the day. It was the first “miserable weather” day since the passage across the Bristol Channel so I guess that’s pretty good going.

The main planning consideration for today was rounding Ardnamurchan point which can be pretty frisky in the wrong conditions. Luckily I got our departure pretty much spot on and we had a good passage around the point.

SW Skye – flat water

As we entered the Sound of Sleat the weather closed in and we had a sudden downpour. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and got absolutely soaked! That was the last we saw of the sun that day and the visibility reduced considerably. I fired up the laptop so that we could have a real-time AIS display and whilst Alison stayed below checking on the vessels around us I stayed above keeping watch.

I called Mallaig Harbour to see if I could get a berth but they were full so I had to go on to our alternate stop of Isle Ornsay. Coming into the anchorage in thick clag was “interesting” but I managed to get a spot with plenty of room and not too deep. The anchorage is well protected from every direction but northeast so it was very calm and we had a good nights sleep.

Anchor down 19:00. 40 miles, 9 hours.

August 5 2021. Isle Ornsay to Totaig Bay

This passage involved one of the trickiest channels of the trip so far. Kyle Rhea is a narrow channel between the southern end of the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland. At its narrowest point it is around 300 metres wide and can have some pretty serious currents running through it along with big overfalls. So timing is, again, crucial. Fortunately the anchorage at Isle Ornsay is only about an hour from the channel so it is quite easy to get the timing right.

The day dawned much better than the previous day so that was a good start…

No rain!

It would have been nice to have had some wind but at least it was dry. Of course we had to motor once more but, looking on the bright side, that did mean I could be more precise with the timing. And so it turned out. The channel was very flat although there was still quite a current running and we reached 9 knots at one point. The water had a lot of upwellings and small whirlpools so I can believe that, if you got the timing wrong it could be very tricky indeed.

There were a pair of porpoise and a few seals feeding as we went through so that was great to see.

Once through into Loch Alsh we turned to starboard to head into Loch Duich and the great sight of the Seven Sisters of Kintail was ahead of us. We were heading to the tiny anchorage at Totaig bay and hoping that there was no one else there as there is only space for a couple of visiting boats (there are a couple of permanently moored boats there).

As luck would have it, no other boats were there and we squeezed in between a moored boat and the little islet in the middle of the bay.

Totaig Bay

The reason for coming around to this little bay was that it is right across from the famous Eilean Donnan castle which has featured in more films and on more tins of biscuits and postcards than probably any other Scottish castle.

Eilean Donnan castle from Totaig Bay

An added bonus that I didn’t know about was that the little islet was home to a small colony of seals.

Seals in the islet

We dropped anchor and settled down. Then we went for a gentle row across to the seals for a better look. We didn’t get too close and I rowed very gently and just drifted around. A couple of the younger seals got curious and swam over to us but kept their distance. It was great just sharing that moment with them.

Anchor down 14:30. 13 miles, 3 hours.

The forecast for the night was for light to moderate winds from the south west which meant we would have good shelter in the bay. Unfortunately, the wind went a lot further west than predicted and we ended up with it blowing pretty strongly right into the bay! I did get a little nervous as we were very close to the shoreline which was just rock but luckily my trusty Rocna anchor held fast and we were ok.

Eilean Donnan at night

August 6 2021 – Totaig Bay to Portree

In the morning the wind had died down considerably and we weighed anchor to go across the Loch to visit the castle. The anchorage is in the river and the current is pretty strong so rowing ashore involved rowing at about 45 degrees to it in order to reach the little stone jetty. That was a good workout!

Eilean Donan Castle from the anchorage

The castle was well worth a visit, with well signed rooms giving a lot of information and knowledgeable staff on hand to fill in the gaps. Of course, we were in the middle of Covid so some restrictions were in place – face coverings were mandatory inside and everybody did their best to keep some sort of social distancing going.

A good view from the window 🙂
A nice shot of Moon Shadow. Oh, and Alison…

We had to head off by about 11am in order to get the tide at Kyle of Lochalsh so we didn’t have quite as long as we would ideally have liked but I lived in Scotland for a number of years in the 1980s and drove past this castle on numerous occasions so it was good to have visited finally.

We got the tide at Kyle spot on (hey, I think I’m getting the hang of this!) and, with light winds once more we motor-sailed under the bridge. It seemed slightly bizarre that the first time I should transit this bridge was by going under it. back when I lived in Scotland it was still a ferry to get to Skye.

Approaching the Skye Bridge

The plan was to sail north up the Inner Sound and then alter course to the west through Caol Mor then north once more to Portree. The wind remained fairly light but did pick up for a time, allowing us to turn off the engine.

As we sailed up the inner sound to the east of the island of Scalpay we were amazed to see a shoal of tuna leaping out of the water. I’m guessing they were yellowfin but they were a little way off so I didn’t get a proper look. Unfortunately by the time I had my camera out they had gone again.

The wind was, pretty much, easterly and being light, once we turned west we slowed to almost nothing. There is a group of rocks off the northeast of Scalpay, marked by a tall post known as a “perch” which, I imagined marked the extremity of the rocks. I was to discover that this was not the case. I was sailing a course through the centre of the channel, well away from the rocks but with the light wind, the sails were flogging so I decided to drop them and motor the rest of the way. I turned east again to make dropping the mainsail easier and, as I had already decided I wouldn’t be using it again I packed it away completely. In the process, I had, without realising it, drifted some distance south. When I turned west again I noticed that I was much closer to the perch but I was still going to be north of it by a couple of hundred metres.

As we were approaching it, Alison came up from below, saw the perch and asked what it was. “it’s marking some rocks” I said. “What rocks?” asked Alison. C-R-U-N-C-H “Those ones!” I said. It seems that the perch marks the middle of the rocks, not the edge. DOH!

Darn it! We were stuck fast and I couldn’t get myself off. Luckily the sea state was very slight so we were in no immediate danger although we were being banged about quite a bit and the noise was pretty alarming. I looked under the floorboards to see if there had been any keel damage but could see nothing. There was a bit of water in the bottom which was sloshing about quite a bit so I couldn’t tell if that was the “normal” water that accumulates there or if we had some coming in.

I decided to play safe and called the coastguard who alerted the RNLI. Fifteen minutes later the small lifeboat from Kyle arrived and one of the crew came aboard and satisfying himself that we weren’t actually sinking, started getting ready to try to pull us off. We got a line attached to the bow cleats and passed it to the lifeboat. Then with me and the lifeboatman hanging off the starboard side to lean the boat over as much as possible, we were dragged free. We only had to get pulled a few feet so I must have literally just clipped the very edge of the rocks.

Once we were all happy that there was no serious damage, we weren’t taking on any water and I had full control of the steering and the engine the lifeboat stood down and returned to Kyle. While all the excitement was going on the lifeboat from Portree had arrived and they shadowed us for a while just to be sure and then they too stood down.

Photo by Kyle RNLI/Andrew MacDonald

After all that excitement, it was a relief to get into Portree and pick up one of the visitor moorings. Just as we were settling down and getting the kettle on Alison looked up and said “Oh, look at that!” I looked up and it was a Sea Eagle circling fifty feet above the boat. What a welcome!

On the mooring 20:00. 26 miles, 7 hours (including “delays”)

Portree Harbour

The following day I had all the floorboards up and mopped out the accumulated water and completely dried the bilge. I had a good look around and found none of the tell-tale damage that is common with a grounding like we’d had. Another tick for the solidly built Sigma! I kept an eye on it and over the next three or four days no water came into the boat so I guess I got away with that one quite lightly.

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