Log #16n To the Inner Islands & the Clyde

October 17, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log #16n To the Inner Islands & the Clyde

Covers the period July 21 to 25
Written at Paris, Oct. 17/00

It was a 36 nautical mile motor sail across the Sea of the Hebrides to anchor in Canna Harbour on the southeast side of Canna, between Canna and Sanday. When we arrived at this favoured anchorage, there were only three other boats. Before dark, there were over 21 boats anchored, as a large contingent of boats arrived from the Talisker Millenium Cruise, a rally to visit many of the distilleries of Scotland. Canna and Sanday are owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and populated by only 20 people, working on a couple of farms and for the National Trust. At one point in 1841 the islands had a crofting population of over 250, which was halved within a couple of decades by the clearances.

Canna is a tourist island now, and one of the two churches (the Catholic) is being converted to a tourist information office, Gaelic study center, and museum. The other (Protestant) church stands in splendid isolation, its spire still proudly pointing heavenward, its overgrown grounds still permitting access through an ornate wrought iron gate into the arched stone chapel, a quiet place of worship with prayer books in the pews, waiting for the occasional service still held in this melancholy site. Ironically, most people on the island are Catholic, and when we were there an old stone farm building was being re-roofed for a Catholic wedding chapel. (Not very ecumenical) We wandered around part of the island and into a field to see an ancient Celtic cross, guarded by a small rickety wooden fence and a couple of cows.

Weighing anchor early at 0600 the next morning, we had a pleasant light-wind motorsail eastwards past the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and back down to anchor in Tobermory, one of the very few times we have made a second entrance to anyplace. There was an RNLI festival on that afternoon, with the local RNLI lifeboat doing fancy manouvers, creating heavy wakes, and then doing helicopter rescues for the waterfront crowds. We got some laundry done, supplies, and propane, before heading off at noon hour the next day for Staffa and Iona.

We didn’t stop at Staffa, but cruised slowly around it admiring the dramatic basalt columns and Fingal’s Cave, a spectacular natural cathedral lined with Gothic-like black hexagonal columns 12 to 20 meters high, and leading 74 meters back into the solid stone of the island. It was a very calm day and several tourist boats were in the area. I considered launching Sprite and going up into the cave, but we didn’t like the poor anchoring conditions.

Six miles later we dropped anchor in the Sound of Iona, northeast of the Abbey on Iona, in 20 feet of water on a sandy bottom. Dinghying in to the jetty, we had a chance to tour the Abbey, nunnery and surrounding grounds. The ancient Abbey has been remarkably well restored in its original configuration as a Benedictine monastery of the 14th century. The island has had religious links dating back to the Iron Age, referred to as the Isle of Druidic Hermits. St Columba arrived in 563, and is credited with converting the ancient Picts to Christianity and starting the monastery as well as turning Iona into a place of pilgrimage and Christian learning renowned throughout Europe. Although the village of Baile Mor is touristy, the chapels, Abbey, cloisters, Nunnery gardens and other religious sites, as well as the Iona Heritage Center are well kept and informative. We were fortunate in being there at the end of the day after most tourists had left, as we wandered through the Abbey, listening to the haunting melodic echoes of a flute and violin practicing for a service in the sanctuary. The internal quadrangle, lined with its arched corridors reverberated with the pleasant, joyful, enthusiastic noises of the young people, dedicated to campaigning for relief of third world debt, who were gathered for a retreat at the Abbey.

Rather than return directly to Veleda we dinghied across the sound to a community beach party at Fionnhart on Mull, where they were having a Ceilidh with a gigantic bonfire, highland dancing, and a barbecue. After a pleasant evening and a couple of hamburgers (no haggis), we were able to make our way back to Veleda in the dark, even though we had left no lights on.

Leaving at noon next day, we had a pleasant motorsail south around the Ross of Mull. We had to be careful of our navigation as that southwest tip of Mull is rockstrewn. We went inside the Torran Rocks, as to go between or outside of them would be difficult, as they stretch menacingly over a large patch of water at least four miles square. We had a quiet sail going along the south coast of the Ross of Mull in light force 2 or 3 southwest winds, over to the Firth of Lorn.

However, out into the firth, within a space of one hour, the winds shifted from light southwest to northeast, howling down the length of the firth, force 7 gusting up to force 8! Of course we were going in a northeast direction, and had to motor into the teeth of it. To add a touch of anxiety, when we were within a half hour of our destination, the engine started to falter. It would lose revs for a minute or so, then slowly go back up to the original speed. We were afraid there might be air in the fuel line caused by all the pounding through the 2 meter waves. We did not want to heave to and bleed the fuel line in a force 7 near gale. Fortunately the engine held out and did not give us any trouble on our entrance.

To make matters worse, the anchorage we were heading for was on Seil, at Puilladobhrain, a long narrow bay obscured by several small islands, rocks, and shoals. Identifying the entrance was difficult as visibility was down, and it was within an hour of sunset on a cloudy wind driven hazardous coastline. To further complicate the situation, the bay was directly open to the northeast, so we had to go straight downwind with the heavy following sea, and round up to port in a short dogleg to drop the anchor in a bit of a lee (shelter) provided by a small island halfway down the bay. Okay, but as we rounded the island, we saw there were already seven boats at anchor in the lee. We anchored on the outer fringes of the sheltered area and hoped the anchor would hold. It did. The next day before we left one of the other boats in the anchorage informed us they had dragged their anchor and had an emergency situation in setting a second anchor to hold. It was a boat we had met a few days earlier in Barra.

Before leaving the next day, we dinghied around the island into Clachan Sound, a narrow shallow sound separating Seil from the mainland, to see  the small 18th century arched stone Clachan Bridge, grandiosely called “The Bridge Over The Atlantic”. On our way back to Veleda we picked a sprig of heather to mount on our bow pulpit, to indicate we had gone beyond Ardnamurchan, a local custom for sailors considered intrepid enough to have braved the waters beyond that secluded western peninsula leading to the Western Isles. We of course had gone way beyond it, up to Stornoway on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

We were now at the point of returning to the mainland to the Firth of Clyde. There are two ways of reaching it. We could go 40 miles down the peninsula of Kintyre and around the fabled “Mull of Kintyre”, fraught with uncertain weather and tidal currents, and 40 miles, all the way back, up to the River Clyde, or we could go 7 miles across the upper peninsula, negotiating the 15 locks of the Crinan Canal. We took the Crinan Canal through to the Clyde!