RBC 21. Leg 5. 25th June - 5th July. Ullapool to Oban. 1RHA.
Friday, 25thJune: Day 1 - The oncoming crew arrived in Ullapool at 0930hrs, immediately provisioned the boat, loaded kit and St Barbara was asked to leave the pontoon and return to the Mooring buoy by a rather unhelpful Deputy HM whose computer definitely said "No!". The northerly wind and the cold welcome in Ullapool convinced us to set off for Stornaway by 1230hrs. We completed safety briefings, sailing drills and some Man Over Board practice before setting off. It was a baptism of fire for the novice crew with a distinctly lumpy sea and sailing closer to wind than the original wind direction indicated; but only one reshow of lunch took place. The Skipper held the crew together (written by the Mate who was suffering) and managed the remainder who were green around the gills. Stornaway was reached at 1845hrs and by 1930 morale had been re-established with a hearty chicken curry.
Saturday, 26th June: Day 2 A chat with the locals was repaid by their recommendation of a trip to the Shiant Islands to see puffins and other wildlife, this proved to be a highlight. The weather was much improved with some blue sky and little wind. We motor sailed and anchored within the shelter of Garbh Eilean, one of the Shiant Islands for lunch. This was a dramatic anchorage which is highly recommended, we saw masses of puffins, apparently 10% of the UK Puffin population live here at this time of year. We inflated the dinghy and the crew did some rowing practice to the beach to deposit those who wanted to have a walk up to a little bothy with a view out to the South. Warned off about Skewers which apparently dive bomb unwanted visitors to their nesting area, the shore party re-emerged without peck marks and we weighed anchor and motor-sailed for East Loch Tarbert - our overnight destination. A chance conversation with the crew of a couple of ribs was fruitful as they caught lots of fish and hailed us in Stornaway where they donated 5 large Pollock and 3 Mackerel to our victuals. A hour of filleting on the pontoon resembled the St Valentine's Day Massacre but meant that we had a fresh caught supper for the next evening. Good pub in (kept secret)
Sunday, 27th June: Day 3 - A bit of a grey day with damp, low cloud, there was sufficient of the SW wind to do some tacking practice as we worked our way south towards Loch Maddy. The first sighting of a seal and porpoise today, plus many gannets, terns and puffins. On arrival in Loch Maddy, we cooked the pollock a free meal which is always a bonus!
Monday, 28th June: Day 4 Sadly not much wind but an outstanding day in terms of scenery and wildlife. A chat with another boat crew in Lochmaddy gave us a top tip to go to Wizard's Pool in Loch Skipport, South Uist. We motored south and anchored in the Pool itself. Blue skies gave a hint of summer which encouraged Skipper, Mate and crew member to swim the shrieks when the temperature of the water was realised were highly entertaining to the remainder who stayed on board on the pretext of 'anchor watch'. Most notable was Jordan finally making a brew to save the swimmers from hyperthermia. After the lunch stop we proceeded southerly down the dramatic, rocky coastline of South Uist. An eagle eyed spot by the Mate resulted in a diversion to look at a group of seals on the shore of Ushenish Bay. Shortly afterwards we saw a pod of dolphins cavorting on the port side. Eventually we reached Lock Boisdale where a fierce tacking competition took place between the watches. Having berthed in Loch Boisdale Marina we walked up to the office where Donald Currie was so impressed by the Royal Artillery Burgee that he didn't charge us for the night.
Tuesday, 29th June: Day 5 Loch Boisdale to Canna. Slightly overcast conditions greeted the crew on rising but they were on a high after seeing the French team cast out of the Euros in Loch Boisdale Hotel Bar the evening before. Although the northerly wind was light, St Barbara glided nicely across the Little Minch on a beam reach to Canna where a very sunny evening greeted us as we took up a mooring buoy. The crew's next consideration was finding Wi-Fi to watch the England Germany match. This proved more challenging than any task set them so far. Once the outboard had been clamped to the dinghy, a number of trips to shore took place where Canna Shop provided some snacks and drinks (all via an honesty box) and a very weak Wi-Fi signal. Walks around the island were beautiful, there is a tiny stone church and an even older 7th C stone cross to look at. Walking to the north shore revealed a beautiful sandy beach and rugged rock outcrops. Meanwhile back on the picnic tables by the shop the entire crew of St Barbara grouped around one Iphone and watched England romp to a historic victory over the German team.
Wednesday, 30th June: Day 6 Canna to Loch Scavaig. It was hard to follow the excitement of the England win, especially when the day started with a damp low cloud and minimal wind. We slipped Canna Harbour at 0800hrs and motored towards our destination at the foot of the Cuillins Loch Scavaig on Skye. 2Lt Pete Trolley had the foresight to buy bacon on Canna and we had a late breakfast at anchor in Soay Harbour the site of an old shark processing hut having successfully glided over the shingle bar into the harbour good practice for the Skipper and Mate to do a bit of tidal height navigation practice, even if the crew all breathed in and clenched as we passed over it.
After breakfast St Barbara motored the final few miles to Loch Scavaig; at the entrance to the anchorage we passed a rock populated by a dozen or more grey seals, we spend a good 20 minutes hovering to watch them at close quarters, a scouting party of two took the dinghy and rowed to have a closer look but the seals were having none of it and slid off the rocks into the dark green loch water.
Once the anchor was down, all were keen to leave the boat for a couple of hours to explore the dramatic shore dominated on all sides by the Cuillins. A map recce of the area revealed a level walk around Loch Coruisk which lay just north of the anchorage.
The scenery was breathtaking with sheer walls of granite on either side of the loch and the weather clearing by the minute to reveal blue skies over the surrounding crags - it was great to stretch our legs. The total lack of WiFi while initially causing blind panic in the troops meant a few card games; Uno produced some cut-throat behaviour with no quarter given to any player Bdr Jordan McTaggart and the Skipper were particularly brutal.
Words can't really describe this place it's special and we have been so lucky with the weather.
Thursday, 1st July: Day 7 Loch Scavaig to Eigg via Rum. Woke up to a crisp and clear morning in our anchorage in Loch Scavaig and were underway before 0800hrs to reach Rum for breakfast, our way of visiting the maximum number of places in the limited time we have. Bdr Jordan McTaggert and Gnr Ollie Banks were the breakfast chefs once we had picked up our mooring buoy in Lock Scresort and produced a creditable egg banjo. They were unaware however that the Mate had her beedy eye on the balance of eggs on board and they unfortunately sniggered guiltily when the evening inventory showed a deficit chef's "privilege" apparently. The Skipper muttered darkly about flogging but the sky was blue and the sun warm and mercy was shown. Ashore on Rum we went in search of a shop, phone signal and possible WiFi which was found in the Community Centre and Shop (which was closed a recurring theme in this leg, basically unless you arrive on the same day as the ferry you won't find many facilities open). While following a trail to an otter hide on Rum, the Mate caught sight of a Stag at 10m distance, no otters seen though. Mid-afternoon and the wind started to pick up after a morning of motoring, which enlivened the sail across to Eigg where we are now anchored for the evening. Obviously the only shop shut as we arrived! Provisioning the boat thoroughly in this part of the world has proved essential.
Friday, 2nd July: Day 8 - Eigg to Tobermory via Muck. As we needed some provisions and the Eigg shop did not open until 1000hrs, the Skipper permitted the crew a lie in while he and the Mate explored the island which has a chequered history of being bought and sold with the islanders' futures in frequent jeopardy as decisions were made about their home. On the walk we stumbled across a small museum with some fantastic old photos and very sad tales. One islander Jock McClennan lost all four of his sons in the First World War with one of them, Neil, returning home with damaged lungs from mustard gas and dying soon after.
Once provisioned, St Barbara set off the short distance to Muck, sadly under motor as the wind was insufficient to sail. Muck is the smallest of the Small Isles but had a few attractions like a craft shop and excellent café. We left with full bellies and having bagged the full set of the Small Isles. The highlight of the two-hour motor to Tobermory was the dramatic sight of the Point of Ardnamurchan,
the most westerly point on mainland Britain. Having gained the right to affix some heather to our bow (an old nautical tradition in these parts), we set about trying to find some! At last the brightly coloured houses to Tobermory were in sight and the colourful house fronts of the harbour were eyeballed by a crew eager for the big city lights and some glimpse of the Euros.
Saturday, 3rd July: Day 9 Tobermory to Oban. The crew were delighted to get to civilization for another catch up with the Euros and watched Belguim v Italy in the yellow Mishnish Pub one of the famous houses on the harbour wall immortalised by the kids' TV show 'Ballamory'. It was slightly worrying that the younger elements of the crew were more than happy to sing the theme tune which then became an ear worm for the whole motor sail to Oban (Blue skies have generally scuppered the daily sail plan). We turned into Lock Aline halfway along the Sound of Mull where the crew took turns to steer onto a mooring buoy. As we came out of the Sound south of Lismore Island, the relative quiet of the Western Isles was broken by the increase in traffic caused by the comings and goings into Oban.
Our afternoon entertainment was organised by Gnr Tasha Porter who booked us into a Whisky Tasting session at Oban Distillery. The host was an ex-RMP soldier as was the barman, but that did not spoil the moment nor prevent Bdr McTaggert from necking it back enthusiastically never mind that 'savour the palate' nonsense!
Once again sport dominated the evening agenda with the British Lions Rugby, followed by a short fish and chip break and then back into Aulley's Bar to watch England v Ukraine quarter final.
Imagine if you will, the atmosphere in a Scottish pub when our table started singing along to 'God Save the Queen, there was a slight squaring of shoulders but as it became more obvious that England were having a great night of it, the 'us and them' turned to good humoured 'home nation' support and some great banter.
Sunday, 4th July:Day 10 Oban to Dunstaffnage. Nothing to do with the night before I'm sure but the crew seemed a bit sluggish this morning, luckily it was only a short distance to Dunstaffnage Marina where the mammoth clean up took place. The weather gods were on side and the torrential rain only started as the jobs list was completed. In the words of the crew the highlights were, competitive tacking, getting the boat to heel over, seeing lots of dolphins and seals, the pub on the Isle of Harris where we met a Highlander from 4 SCOTS home on leave, and taking bets on whether the Skipper could ever pass a stranger without entering into a detailed and occasionally personal conversation! It's been an outstanding leg.