Trip on Aremiti starting 2022-08-01
Mixed weather – plenty of wind and rain and not very warm – that is to say, always below 20°. But also some sunshine!
The final phase of this summer’s voyaging was again dominated by the weather. The remarkable contrast between the extraordinarily hot and dry conditions for most of the UK this summer and the (even for Scotland) relentlessly windy, wet and cold weather of the Highlands and Islands, persisted. Although we delighted in some beautifully tranquil days with sunshine, these were not the norm. Suffice it to say that we have very thoroughly experienced the concept of ‘dreich’: Wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary or any combination of these. Scottish weather at its most miserable.
From Portree we made the short passage to an anchorage on the island of Raasay which runs alongside the east side of Skye. Quite a change from the holiday bustle of Skye. A peaceful walk took us along the pretty coastline with spectacular views of Skye. Inshore we found a neolithic broch and the ruins of iron ore mines and associated railway, complete with the remains of an impressive viaduct, down to the coast. The ‘capital’ village - Inverarish – consisting mainly of two terraces of white cottages built for the miners, appeared bustling and thriving – despite the population of well under 200.
Onwards then, south and east, under the Skye Bridge into Loch Alsh. The weather was breaking down again making this an unpleasant passage in drizzle, cold and unexpectedly strong winds. However, we found a haven of peace and tranquility in the sheltered anchorage of Totaig, surrounded by colourful woodland, marshy area, rocks and bright seaweed, situated opposite the romantic looking Eilean Donan Castle.
This was just the start of yet another of the southwesterly blows we’d experienced all summer. Normally we prefer to be in marina in these conditions – for ease of getting ashore, and there being something to do ashore in bad weather. However, we discovered that Mallaig marina was full – of boats presumably thinking the same as us! So we ploughed on, through Kyle Rhea which separates Skye from the mainland by a short channel only 500 metres wide – involving tidal streams up to 8 knots. Unfortunately having timed Kyle Rhea to perfection, meant that we were then in strong wind over tide conditions to continue south down the Sound of Sleat – which is notorious for particularly aggressive seas in these conditions – but it was only another 5 miles.
The large anchorage at Isleornsay is well protected from the sea – though not so much from the wind. There we stayed for the next 3 days, unable to get ashore – not that there appeared much to do there anyway. A drama making national news was played out while we were there – 3 miles from one of the locations of the ‘Skye’ shooting’ – not that we were aware of it at the time.
While ‘marooned’ at Isleornsay, we contemplated the final weeks of our voyage – which was now definitely heading south, on the home straight. Obviously much would depend on the winds. We could focus either on the large mainland lochs to the east, or turn west to explore the south and west coasts of Skye. This side of Skye is magnificent and spectacular but, facing directly into the prevailing winds, also dangerous. Not only does it present a rocky lee shore, but winds from the north can send severe squally winds hurtling down the mountains. Loch Scavaig – the iconic anchorage into the Cuillins - is described in the pilot book as “One of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring anchorages in Europe ….” but “subject to violent downdraughts which in heavy weather .… capable of blowing an anchor out.” Obviously we were more than keen to get there, but it appeared to us to be meaningfully do-able only in very light winds – a rare occurrence this summer. However, miraculously, a window of perfect conditions for several days appeared in the forecast. We were hugely excited and full of anticipation, so as the strong southwesterlies started abating, we headed for Rum, to be ready to pounce on this opportunity the following day. As usual in our experience, Rum was shrouded in cloud as we arrived.
Highs can cause two contrasting weather effects – typically clear blue cloudless skies, but less commonly, stubborn low-level cloud and poor visibility. You can guess which was now forecast for us as we woke to fog the next morning! Feeling resigned and depressed about the weather, we decided we might as well go over to Loch Scavaig – even if we couldn’t see much, at least we wouldn’t be blown out of it! So off we set out of dismally overcast Rum towards the mountains of Skye hidden in cloud. Boy was our perseverance rewarded! As we drew near to Skye, the clouds thinned gradually to reveal more and more of the mountains, and then the pinnacles. We nosed our way deep into Loch Scavaig – small and shallow, lost for words at the spectacular surroundings. A waterfall thundered down from the heights right beside us and peaks kept emerging from the thinning clouds. We could not have asked for anything more marvellous! Ashore we walked to Loch Coruisk, an inland loch overflowing into the sea, ringed by the Black Cuillins. It was awesome. Back onboard we sat entranced in the cockpit – not only by the views, but also the hot sunshine! Magic – at last!
The following day, waking to a blue sky and glassy sea, we tore ourselves away, to continue our exploration of this side of Skye, north-westwards along the coast in bright sunshine, drinking in stunning views of the Cuillins behind a scenic coastline with more geological fascination. Out to sea the views ranged from the mainland behind us round to Ardnamurchan Point, the Small Isles - Eigg, Rum and Canna to the south, and the Uists to the west. In glorious sunshine, but no wind we motored the 25 miles north to ‘MacLeod’s Maidens’ – impressive sea stacks, before going into Loch Brackadale to anchor off the island of Oronsay – a tiny island linked at a narrow isthmus to the mainland at low water, ending in a high cliff.
Our next destination was Carbost, home of the Talisker distillery, in Loch Harport. We set off up the loch towards an iconic view of the Cuillin Ridge with whisps of cloud now appearing in the blue sky. The forecast of settled weather was already giving way to predictions of yet another strong south-westerly blow within 48 hours, so we decided not to linger on Skye for another night, but to quit while ahead and tuck up in Arisaig before it arrived. Setting off back out of Loch Harport, the sky turned dramatically furious, and with the barometer dropping fast it was incredibly ominous - and disconcerting as the wind picked up from a completely different direction to the forecast. So dramatic it seemed to portend something terrible imminently. However, the Met Inshore Waters forecast hadn’t changed since the previous one so we assumed it must be a local effect – though obviously the start of the anticipated change in weather. And indeed it amounted to nothing as we continued on to Rum – again.
This was our 4th visit to Rum, which while definitely not our favourite island, provides a conveniently placed secure anchorage to break a journey. We departed early next morning in a lumpy sea with stunning views across to the mainland - the calm before the storm. Arisaig is protected by extensive rocks, involving a tortuous passage in, marked by perches. No problem just after the second highest tide of the year. We picked up a buoy in the large harbour amid a huge fleet of yachts – most of which are permanently moored there for the summer – and watched smugly as the south-westerly blow duly arrived. Arisaig is a nice little settlement. Its excellent little museum houses some fascinating exhibits, giving us – as is often the case with these tiny museums – unexpected nuggets of information. In this case we were intrigued by the section on the war-time training for secret agents done in the area – off-grid and out of sight behind the ‘Rough Bounds’ of that very isolated part of the mainland. The highlight of our visit was a brilliant walk on the coast just north of Arisaig along several stunning rocky white beaches fringing the turquoise sea, with superb views out to the islands of Eigg and Rum and – of course – the majestic Cuillins. Having been so disappointingly elusive during the first half of the summer, the iconic range had now become an ever-present backdrop.
Time to move on – we enjoyed a good sail down to Ardnamurchan Point, starting in sunshine but ending in squally drizzle. Having said goodbye to the Cuillins, we turned into the Sound of Mull to Tobermory - for a useful shopping stop. Lochaline, on the mainland side of the Sound of Mull is somewhere we hadn’t visited, so we tacked our way there for a look. The small prettily wooded loch was obviously not at its best in the showery conditions and we didn’t explore much, though we were intrigued by the silica sand mine workings. Apparently the 12m thick seam of white sandstone is one of the purest silica sands in the world – used for glassware and lenses. We will definitely return to Lochaline – in better weather.
The Sound of Mull was well protected from the south westerly winds still blowing hard, as we found on our passage from Lochaline to the island of Kerrera. After enjoying a good sail down the sound, it all became frenetically unpleasant as we left the shelter of Mull and emerged into more open water, with over 25 knots on the beam, heavy overfalls, and busy large ferry movements between the Sound and Oban – all in poor visibility. We were relieved to get into Kerrera marina right opposite Oban.
The final walk of our voyage started along a new road created only last year, linking the two ends of the island for the first time. The island boasts some spectacular scenery and far-reaching views – southwestwards to Colonsay and onwards to Northern Ireland, northwestwards up the Sound of Mull, and to the northeast, past the island of Lismore towards Loch Linnhe and the Great Glen. Ben Nevis was hiding among the distant clouded mountains.
And thence back to Aremiti’s home base of Craobh – by way of our favourite Puldobrhrain – though not the sunny idyll we’d envisaged for our final night at anchor. In the absence of wind, we made the final leg to Craobh the tricky way – via Easedale Sound – our first port of call this summer, across to Cuan Sound, and into Loch Shuna – passing our 700 mile mark for the year. Craobh appeared, welcomingly familiar, snuggled behind its protective islands. As we entered the marina, the sun came out! We were home!
Our final few days were mildly dreich, as we prepared the boat for its hibernation – this time afloat. Yachties with years of experience sailing in Sc otland tell us that this has been an exceptionally miserable summer – so we live in hope of better next year. It wasn’t all bad - an upside to the excessive winds this year has been the very welcome absence of midges….. We have not been put off Scotland. Looking back at the plan we announced confidently at the start, we appreciate that flexibility is key and that we will just have to go where the wind takes us. There are so many wonderful places …. We regard this summer’s voyage as reconnaissance for future reference. It has been very useful to build up knowledge of locations and it will be comforting to know from experience which are the best places to dive into in bad weather. And there is so much more to explore….
The day of our departure dawned sunny and bright, and though only 12? on the boat first thing, warmed up to become the sort of day we had only dreamed of – and set to continue for several days. How ironic!
Julia, Chris and Aremiti