The ‘Erly Tour – Tobermory to Craobh Haven

3 September 2021 – Tobermory to Loch Sunart

I had intended to attend the Royal Highland Yacht Club “Final Muster” at Ardferm with fellow Cruising Association member Boyd Holmes today but the tides for the Sound of Luing were at a very awkward time to get there at a reasonable hour and, not having been there before I didn’t fancy navigating into Loch Craignish in the dark.

So I decided to take a look up Loch Sunart and I’m so glad I did. What a wonderful, deserted and wild place it is!

It is a fairly easy trip from Tobermory and I got going around midday. Whilst I had some wind to start with, it soon became lighter and dropped away almost to nothing once I’d rounded Auliston Point so, yet again, the engine was fired up.

Flat calm once again!

I had seen the anchorage, Garbh Eilean (pronounced “Garve Eileen” which is Gaelic for wild island), mentioned in the Clyde Cruising Club Pilot Guide and it looked pretty spectacular. The reality was even better!

Anchor down 15:30. 15 miles, 3.5 hours.

Anchored at Garbh Eilean, Loch Sunart

I stayed here for two nights. The second night was clear and with absolutely no light pollution the stars were amazing.

Looking across the anchorage from the wildlife observation hide

5 September 2021 – Garbh Eilean to Salen

I’d heard good things about this small harbour so decided to check it out. It is just four miles east from Garbh Eilean so it only took me an hour to get there at a very sedate pace.

Salen Bay

Whilst here I took a walk up to the radio masts from where there was a great view up the Loch

A panorama shot looking east from the radio masts
Looking down into Salen Bay. Moon Shadow is third from the right.

The small marina here is run by a very helpful couple who bought it a few years ago and have done an excellent job of getting up to snuff. There are decent, clean but relatively basic facilities although the shower had very good pressure and no shortage of hot water!

There is also a pretty well-stocked shop with a cafe, selling really nice coffee and good cakes. A twenty minute walk to the head of the bay takes you to the Salen Inn, a friendly place that, apparently, does very good meals. Unfortunately, because of Covid-related staff shortages, the restaurant was only open to residents whilst I was there.

7 September, Salen to Lochaline

I’d been in contact with fellow Cruising Association members Ann and Steve Crome and had arranged to meet with them in Lochaline so departed Salen Bay around 09:30.

With quite an easterly component to the lightish wind, I was able to run out of Loch Sunart but as I rounded Auliston Point I was in the wind shadow of the headland and had to use the engine to help me around the corner into the Sound of Mull. Of course, once into the sound, I was pretty close-hauled and, as the sound turns more easterly I had to tack the final couple of miles.

I picked up a mooring buoy and then took the dinghy down to the little marina where Ann and Steve were tied up. We had a very pleasant evening, shooting the breeze. Ann had actually made a meal which I wasn’t expecting so that was lovely. The boat on the other side of the pontoon was crewed by musicians who played Scottish folk songs so we had entertainment as well!

Lochaline – again

On mooring 15:30. 23 miles, 5 hours.

8 September 2021 – Lochaline to Tobermory

The following day I headed back to Tobermory where I wanted to do some work on the engine. The raw water pump had developed quite a leak and so I had ordered a rebuild kit from to be delivered to the marina office. It had been my intention to do the rebuild and then make my way out to Barra and up the Outer Hebrides to Stornoway where I had a berth booked for the winter.

Storm clouds gathering

On mooring 16:00. 13 miles, 3 hours

The first part of the plan went to, well, plan and I got the pump rebuilt with the assistance of the guys at Harbour Garage who pressed the new bearings onto the new shaft at a very reasonable price.

The second part of the plan failed miserably.

The Scottish weather, which up to this point, had been decidedly un-Scottish decided to make up for lost time and I waited in Tobermory for three weeks before giving up on the idea.

I decided that I had to make the decision to abandon the original plan before it was too late to find alternative winter quarters. The marina at Craobh (pronounced “Croove”) Haven had spaces so I booked in there from 1st October. Unfortunately, it was double the price of Stornoway!

One of the upsides of being in a place for a bit longer is the fact that you meet more people. One person that I met, called Derek, became a good pal and we spent a fair bit of time together which was great. Derek is a very interesting guy. He is the inventor of “Flexiteek” the synthetic teak deck system and also of the Kayacat inflatable catamaran dinghy range.

29 September 2021 – Tobermory to Craobh Haven

I enlisted Derek’s help to make the trip to Craobh marina and that turned out to be very fortuitous.

In order to get to the Sound of Luing, a fairly notorious stretch of water, at the right time we set off at around 08:30. The wind was reasonably fresh and from the north west which was ideal to sail east down the Sound of Mull.

Just after the entrance to Lochaline the wind increased quite a bit and became quite flukey. At one point we got rounded up and almost broached but I managed to keep things more-or-less under control until Derek, who had just gone below to make some lunch, was able to come back up and help get us back on course.

I put a reef in!

We were still making fantastic time at an average of about 6 knots. Once out into the Firth of Lorne the weather became decidedly squally with the wind changing from 10-12 knots to mid to high twenties as the squalls came through.

We hugged the coastline until we passed Loch Spelve then set course to cross the Firth, The swell in the middle was quite large and steep and we were burying the bow on almost every wave. It was quite exciting!

As we entered the northern approach to the Sound of Luing the wind died away and we ended up turning the motor on. It was a weird day! Our course took us between the small islands of Belnahua and Ormsa. These two islands are about half a mile apart which sounds a lot but when you are there looking at the waves pounding on the rocks seems pretty darn close. I steered a course midway between the two when suddenly there was a loud bang. The engine stopped and we came to an abrupt halt. My initial thought was that we’d hit a rock but there was nothing charted and we should have been in about twenty metres of water.

Then Dereck spotted the rope trailing out behind us. In the heavy swell, we hadn’t seen the crab pot buoy and the rope had got tangled up in the propeller. Bugger!

I restarted the engine and selected reverse to see if I could unwind it but as soon as I put it into gear the engine stalled once more. We discussed what to do, including calling a Pan Pan but Derek came up with a neat solution. We tied a pair of pliers onto a line to form a hook which we managed to get around the rope. I then hauled the line to bring the pot rope up to the surface while Derek hung over the back and cut the rope.

Once free we started drifting so I got the engine on again but, once more, it just stalled as soon as I put her into gear. Despite being in the wind shadow of the island of Lunga there was just enough to allow us to make progress under genoa.

And so we completed the passage to the marina. I had called ahead to let them know we had no engine and they met us just outside the marina to tow us in.

So an eventful end to the season!

Berthed at 17:30. 36 miles, 9 hours.

Craobh Haven Marina

A couple of days later I met some members of the local sub-aqua club and they agreed to dive under Moon Shadow to see if they could cut the rope away from the propeller.

This is what they brought up…

Not only was the rope around the prop shaft and propeller so was the main and pick-up buoys. When I do something I do it properly!

So that is the end of the ‘erly tour for this year. It has been an incredible adventure and the most joined-up sailing I have ever done.

I sailed for four and a half months and covered over 1500 miles.

I’m spending the winter with family and friends but will be back to Craobh Haven at the beginning of March when I will be undertaking a rather exciting modification to Moon Shadow before setting off on the ‘erly tour part two from Croabh Haven, up the Outer Hebrides, around the top of Scotland, down the north sea and along the English Channel back to Plymouth.

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I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you in the spring!

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