The ‘Erly Tour – Portree to Tobermory

25 August 2021, Portree to Gairloch

I’d been keeping in touch with James Harrison and, over the weekend, he said he was heading up to Gairloch so I said I’d meet him up there.

A comparatively early start of 10am and I motored out of Portree for the third and, most likely, last time.

Goodbye Portree

It was a bright day but, once again the wind was in the north and quite light so I motored for a bit then it picked up to around 12 or 13 knots so I was able to start sailing. Once out into the Sound of Rassay I tacked my way north, dodging the odd fog bank – that wasn’t forecasted!

Heading North under engine – Sound of Rassay

Once clear of Rona, the small island just north of Rassay, I could bear away onto a slightly more beamy reach and I was making good progress – between 4 and 6 knots, After a while, I spotted James coming up the inner sound. He was taking quite a beating by all accounts. the wind being much stronger on the east side of the Inner Sound. This is a feature of sailing around mountainous islands – the wind can be completely different in a very short distance.

Yes, that white spec is James!

I pulled into the very picturesque harbour of Gairloch around 18:30 and tied up on the small jetty there. There was only space for one so I radioed James to let him know he would have to “raft up” against me. About twenty minutes later he arrived and we got him secured alongside me.

On the pontoon !8:30, 26 miles, 8.5 hours

Two Sigmas together. My 362 and James’ 33OOD

We had a very pleasant stay in Gairloch. There is one shop and one hotel/bar by the harbour so James and I checked both out. Thankfully we didn’t have a repeat of “Tobermorygate”!

There is a nice walk of around three or four miles into the surrounding hills that James wanted to do so the next day we went to do that. There was some great scenery and a number of quite spectacular waterfalls which, unfortunately, didn’t photograph very well…

Above Gairloch

In the afternoon I went for a stroll myself and followed the signs to “The Beach”. I was totally unprepared for what I found…

Gairloch Beach – stunning!

The beach was very clean with really fine sand and crystal clear water. To cap it all it was almost deserted (admittedly it was after the Scottish School holidays). What an absolutely great spot!

Looking North West across Loch Gairloch

27 August 2021 – Gairloch to Torridon

The following day we decided to head down to Torridon. I wanted to go right up to the head of Upper Loch Torridon but James wanted to try out the anchorage that I’d been in previously as he wanted to attempt to climb Ben Alligan.

As James was tied to me he had to leave first and I followed on ten minutes later. We ended up motor sailing to start with because of the light wind (of course!) but as we cleared the mouth of Loch Gairloch the wind started to fill in and we were able to get sailing.

James

with the slightly flukey wind, one or other of us would be sailing or virtually becalmed so it was a slightly cat-and-mouse sail with neither of us gaining any significant advantage over the other. Not that it was a race or anything – that would have invalidated our insurance! 😉

In the end, James arrived in the small anchorage just as I passed him so I’m calling that a draw 🙂

I carried on to the end of the Loch and anchored in Hotel Bay which was absolutely spectacular!

Anchor down 17:30. 20 miles, 4 hours.

The following photos form almost a 360 degree panorama.

Looking north west – Ben Alligan far left
Looking north
Looking north east
Looking east
Looking south east
looking south

That evening I decided to treat myself to a meal at the Torridon Hotel, which is a pretty swanky affair so I dug out my least grubby clothes and went ashore.

I bagged this great shot of Moon Shadow in the evening sun.

It is a fair walk through forest trails from the little beach where I came ashore, to get to the hotel. I had to scramble up through thick bracken to the trail and I made the mistake of not checking for a decent landmark where I joined it – I was eager to make my dinner appointment.

Well, the meal was delicious and reassuringly expensive! Of course on my way back it was completely dark and I rather missed the beach and it took me about half an hour of stumbling about using the light on my phone to find my dinghy. I was just pleased that I remembered to turn on my anchor light before I went ashore because I couldn’t see the boat at all! Note to self: take a decent torch next time!

The following morning dawned with very low cloud – or perhaps it was high mist? Anyway. the effect was rather atmospheric…

view from my bathroom
It almost looks like the mast of this very large yacht is in the cloud

With absolutely no wind at all it was obvious I wasn’t going to be doing any sailing today so I decided to stay put and go for a walk around the top of the loch. With the very low cloud, James couldn’t do his climb and he didn’t want to come up to join me so headed off south to start heading home to Northern Ireland.

On Google maps, there is a cafe marked in the village of Torridon. It is probably a couple of miles from the anchorage, around the head of the loch to the village so I thought it would be a great lunch stop. When I got there I discovered that it is actually in the village hall but that it doesn’t open at the weekend. What?! So I walked a little further and found that the village stores also run a small cafe which, to be perfectly honest, looked far better than the other place. Good coffee and a rather tasty panini on a bench outside overlooking the loch. Perfik!

I spotted this on the way back…

No takers today!

Translation: Blether, noun /ˈblɛðə/ [Scottish]. talk in a long-winded way without making very much sense, probably for hours on end.

Don’t tell me this blog isn’t educational!

Looking west along Upper Loch Torridon
Heilan Coo – I waited for ages for him to look at me. Well, I think he was looking at me but how would you know!
The Torridon Hotel

29 August 2021. Torridon to Plockton.

With no real tidal issues on this passage, I could pretty much, please myself about departure time. I woke reasonably early so decided to get going straight after breakfast and weighed anchor around 09:45.

The wind was still in the north so I was close hauling out of Loch Torridon but once I turned south I was on a broad reach or run. I got the boom tied off with a preventer and managed to keep the genoa goose-winged. The wind built to around 17 knots and I had a cracking run down to Loch Carron. At one point I saw 8.5 knots speed over ground – woohoo!

Weaving through the rocks on the approach to Plockton Harbour

On the mooring 16:30. 33 miles, 7 hours.

30 August 2021 – Plockton to Mallaig

This passage involves passing through Kyle Rhea again so I had to plan my arrival there to catch slack water or the beginning of the south-going stream. That turned out to be around 13:30 so I got going around 10:30 giving me three hours to cover the 11 miles to the entrance.

Leaving Plockton looking east up Loch Carron to the oil platform yard

Once again there were pretty light winds and I motor sailed for the first couple of hours to make sure I’d get to Kyle Rhea on time. Once I got through the Skye bridge I was able to turn off the engine at last.

Slightly nicer weather than the last time I came this way!

Drifting along on a beam reach with a gentle wind I got the pass spot on and managed to hop from puff to puff and sail all the way through, beating two larger boats, I mean, leading the way through for my fellow sailors…

looking north through Kyle Rhea.

Once into the Sound of Sleat the wind gradually died away. The other two boats gave up before me and started motoring. I stuck at it for a while longer before I too started motor sailing again. However, as I passed Loch Hourn the wind picked up nicely and I was able to turn off the engine again. The wind wasn’t too strong, around 10-12 knots, so I had a lovely broad reach all the way down the Sound.

As I passed the northern edge of Loch Nevis I called Mallaig marina to secure a berth and was told there was plenty of room. I was in no particular hurry so I just continued sailing as long as I could. Eventually, I started the engine and, after having a good look around, turned back into the wind to drop my mainsail. To my amazement, a boat that had been following me and who was a good half a mile away when I turned was motoring directly towards me! I can only assume that he hadn’t seen me or didn’t realise what I was doing but being nose into the wind with a partially dropped mainsail and a furled genoa I would have thought it pretty obvious what was going on. In the end, he passed me about 50 metres away down my starboard side but it really wasn’t ideal.

All’s well that end’s well as they say and twenty minutes later I was tied up safely in the small but friendly marina.

Berthed 18:00. 28 miles, 7.5 hours

Mallaig is a pleasant working port town with a regular CalMac ferry service and an active fishing fleet. Consequently, there are a number of good fish restaurants. As I only eat self-caught fish or fish from local, sustainable, fishing boats, I was delighted to find the very excellent “Fishmarket Restaurant” right on the edge of the harbour. If you are ever in Mallaig I highly recommend that you pay this place a visit. The staff are wonderful (especially the very attractive Italian (I think) lady owner) the food is excellent and it has a great view over the harbour, 11/10!

Also of note is”The Bakehouse” next to the marina office and facilities (which are excellent by the way). Here you can get fantastic baked goods of all types from bread to cakes and pastries. Slightly on the pricey side but well worth it and from the long queues that form each morning it would seem that most people would agree.

As I mentioned, the marina facilities really are first class. The laundry has very good machines and the shower “suites” are spotless. The marina staff are very helpful and the fees are below average. I think that Mallaig would make a really good base for exploring this part of Scotland. The Small Isles, the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Mull are all within easy reach.

1 September – Mallaig to Tobermory

I slipped the berth at around 11:00 to catch the south going flow around Ardnamurchan point and with a decent wind for once I could sail all the way.

The weather was fair and I had a very pleasant trip on a beam(ish) reach back down to Tobermory.

Ardnamurchan Point – the most westerly point of mainland Scotland

The timing worked out really well and I had smooth seas around Ardnamurchan Point and could even hear the music coming from one of the parked cars there!

Looking back north west to the Small Isles

On the whole, the trip was uneventful and I only motored the last half mile into Tobermory and picked up a mooring buoy.

Tobermory once more!

On mooring 19:00. 32 miles, 9 hours.

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