A Sad Summer

It has been a very sad summer! In some ways the constant worry about Lynda’s brother has made it difficult to properly appreciate the fabulous natural beauty of these northern waters, and certainly it has seemed wrong to scribble about how we are enjoying ourselves when others close to us are having such a rotten time. However after a 3 week sojourn back south we are back on Festina and making our way home again , and almost ashamed to admit that we are having a lovely time.
Not that life hasn’t been quite eventful. On our second day out we were headed for the Ardmore islands off the island of Islay. Tucked in behind a myriad of rocks and islets is a marvellous anchorage bursting at the seams with wildlife and fondly remembered from our last visit 3 years ago. It is not for the faint hearted and would be almost impossible to get into or out of without an engine. Our passage had taken us through the Sound of Lorne and past the infamous Corryvreckan with its swirling dangerous tides and towards the end the wind came up fresh from dead ahead. This made us a bit late on the tide and rather than thrash our way to windward against a foul tide, we sailed into the easily accessible Craighouse bay on the Isle of Jura . When we put the engine on to pick up a buoy, it was obvious that the exhaust was running dry, and sure enough on inspection, the wear plate at the back of the water pump had disintegrated . Someone was watching over us that day, as if this had happened in amongst the rocks of the Ardmore anchorage or off the Corryvreckan , life would have been interesting to say the least.
However it did still leave us in the wilds without an engine, which is probably better than up the creek without a paddle, but getting close. Luckily we had a phone signal and managed to arrange for a part to be sent to Port Ellen on nearby Islay, a harbour that I thought we had a sporting chance of getting into under sail.
With an engine to back you up you tend to forget that in order to get anywhere you need wind, and in the days before engines, if there was no wind (or if it came from ahead) you just waited for days at a time if necessary! Overnight it was dead calm and the morning forecast was for a few hours of a light headwind before dropping back to nil in the afternoon. As soon as there was the merest zephyr we were off, with both of us concentrating like mad to wring every ounce of speed out of her, tacking on the shifts and trying to anticipate any wind bend or tidal eddy as if we had the Fastnet fleet chasing at our heels instead of a few bemused puffins wondering what all the fuss was about. We crept into Port Ellen under spinnaker with the last breath of wind to find that the Royal Mail had beaten us to it – overnight delivery of our engine part meant just that – even on a far flung Scottish island.
This was to be our last port of call in Scotland, and it is a charming place with wonderfully friendly people. They may have raised an eyebrow as we finally dropped sail a mere 2 boat lengths off the pontoon, but caught us without comment and could not have been more helpful. We made a mental note to return with more leisure next year!
We love these Northern waters with their friendly people and ever fascinating wildlife. At the moment the sea is covered with recently fledged fluffy little Guillemots swimming alongside their fathers, peep peep peeping away if they lose contact, and accompanied by the deeper croaking of the parent bird to guide them back. Not that we could see them yesterday as we raced south through the North Channel propelled by a gradually building northerly in rain so heavy it reduced the visibility to a few boat lengths. The tides between Islay and Belfast Lough are phenomenal and we needed to get into the lough before the tide turned, as any significant wind against the huge tide hereabouts produces horrendous seas. Accordingly we hung onto more sail than we were used to and careered along at a constant 8 knots, which with the tide, at times gave us more than 12kts over the ground. The wind built to a steady 30 knots and once I worked out that we would arrive in time we hove to to take down the third reef . At that precise time the wind shut off as we arrived at the centre of the low, leaving us rolling around in the waves before the wind came back in from ahead , forcing us to hoist all sail again to get anywhere.
I guess that bit was perhaps enjoyable “in retrospect”, and would of course have been terrifying in the days before GPS as there are several offshore shoals to navigate your way through along this coast . Nonetheless, both passages, though very different and enjoyed for different reasons, passed places that we would love to visit another day, which leads us to only one conclusion.
We had better come back.

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