Trip on Ocean Lord starting 2018-06-09 in BSANov18
PYC Scottish Cruise 9 - 16 June 2018 - Report by Jerzy Wieczorek
Skipper: Chris Galloway (PYC)
Sailing in Scotland has been an ambition of mine for some time, so when the chance to join a Phoenix Yacht Club cruise to the Outer Hebrides and St Kilda came up, I jumped on it. Not only would it mean visiting the Outer Hebrides for the first time ever, but also hopefully the opportunity to set foot on the remote island of St Kilda, out in the Atlantic Ocean, 40nm west of the Outer Hebrides.
Two yachts had been chartered from Alba Sailing, based at Dunstaffnage Marina, a few miles north of Oban. They were both Westerleys: an Oceanlord 41 called “Ocean Lord” and a Sealord 39 named “Highland Sealord”.
There was a total of 11 of us. I sailed on ‘Ocean Lord’, along with fellow BSA member Dougal Matthews and four PyC members. Our skipper was Chris Galloway. Another BSA member, Mike Fidler, sailed on the other boat.
Dougal and I travelled up together to Dunstaffnage, arriving early afternoon on the Saturday. It emerged that the insurance cover for the boats had not been extended beyond the Outer Hebrides, which meant that any attempt to sail to St Kilda would not have been covered by the insurance. The decision not to do that was unanimous. The weather forecast was set fair for the first 3 days or so, after which storms were forecast. We all knew that the final decision on route was at the discretion of the two skippers.
After handover and stowing everything aboard, both crews had a meal in the Marina’s pub – the Wide Mouth Frog. On emerging from the meal, we gaped at the sight of a 46m (yes, metre) sailing yacht, manoeuvring alongside one of the outside pontoons, its single mast dwarfing all surrounding boats.
We departed at around 10pm, intending to sail over-night to Loch Boisdaile on South Uist. Conditions were calm, so we motored. Watches were set. There was some pilotage involved in negotiating the Sound of Mull. Sometime around dawn we reached the Minch. Some sailing took place, then the wind died again. A few dolphins were sighted. Since we were ahead of schedule, we diverted to Acarsaid Mhor, the huge, sheltered sea Loch on Eriskay and anchored there for breakfast. There was not much to see – just a fishing boat wharf in the distance – and we didn’t bother going on-shore.
We weighed anchor and motor sailed the 10 nm or so to Loch Boisdale, our destination for the night. It is a relatively significant place, since it is the ferry terminal for South Uist, but it’s tiny-tiny. A cluster of houses, a tourist-information office (closed), a church (state unknown), a pub (open) and the relatively recent marina development, linked to the village by a series of causeways. On being asked when the ferry was due, the bar-tender replied “I don’t know”. Then went on to tell me that Caledonian MacBrayne were apt to cancel the South Uist ferry service whenever they had operational problems. He added, rather bitterly, that the ferry to Barra was never cancelled because the residents of that island complained vociferously!
The following day, we set off for Loch Maddy on North Uist. Winds were variable and Northerly. We proceeded by a combination of motor-sailing, pure sailing and motoring.
Towards the end of the day, as we were enjoying a lively sail to windward, the helmsman had quite a shock when there was a sudden bang immediately behind him. The traveller had ripped free from its rail and the only thing securing the end of the boom to the boat was the traveller adjustment rope. This was obviously quite serious. Some of the ball bearings that had fallen out were recovered and it became clear why it had proved so difficult to adjust the traveller – many of them were broken or pitted. Dougal and several others immediately set to work to secure the traveller car more firmly with the aid of various cords and ropes. The jury-rig was deemed sufficient for us to carry on under sail.
There’s not much to be said about Loch Maddy. Though to be fair the marina and ferry terminal are a mile south of the main settlement and none of us ventured that far.
The forecast for the next day, Tuesday, was ok, but on Wednesday a storm with winds up to F10 was predicted. Thursday also looked pretty windy. The strategic decision was taken to get to Tobermory on the Island of Mull, which would provide good shelter from a strong South-Westerly. The only remaining decision was whether to take a detour up Loch Harport on Skye to visit the Talisker Distillery. The crew decided against this since it would have added a good 4 hours to an already long voyage.
We set off at 0600 and crossed the Minch on a broad reach with fairly light NW winds. Just west off Skye there was a short stretch of TSS to negotiate. After crossing this we steered a course of 140 taking us roughly parallel to the coast of Skye, with the sails goose-winged for roughly the next 5 hours. We enjoyed magnificent views of the Cuillin Mountains on Skye and eventually turned South to pass through the wide channel between the islands of Rhum and Eigg. This course was maintained, on a broad reach, until we reached the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point at about 2000 at which point everyone wanted to be there and the engine was fired up. We had sailed for most of the period from 10am to 8pm, and eventually reached our berth in Tobermory marina at 2045. Total distance for the day was 84nm.
Wednesday, as forecast, was stormy and we stayed in Tobermory. There was easily enough there to keep us amused for a day, including the Tobermory distillery and Brown’s – probably the world’s best shop if you like whisky and hardware. (Secretary’s note – formerly owned by my cousin, Olive Brown, and little changed since she retired.)
The strong winds abated during Thursday morning and we set off at 1520. After a very tricky time leaving the pontoon we sailed down the Sound of Mull on headsail only, but still managed to top 8 knots. A sea eagle was sighted. We arrived back in Dunstaffnage at 2015.
Friday was a day sail to Loch Creran and back. This Loch is distinguished by having an extremely narrow and shallow entrance, with a 90 degree bend in it, before eventually opening out and becoming agreeably deep. The navigation was handled by Dougal and we anchored for lunch then reversed the course and finished the week with a fine sail to windward before returning to Dunstaffnage and another communal meal in the Wide Mouth Frog.
The Saturday started with cleaning and sorting out the boats, followed by the long journey back south. Despite not making it to St Kilda, it had been a very fine week’s cruising.
A final word about pilotage in Scotland. A lot of the underwater contours on the official charts are based on extremely old and widely-spaced leadline soundings. it’s quite likely that significant underwater hazards are absent from the charts. Antares Charts (/) aim to fill this gap with electronic charts of many locations on the Scottish West Coast, produced by volunteer surveyors. It’s worth checking them out if you intend to sail in those areas.