Passage to Oban

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Wed 27 Jun 2012 09:08

Passage to Oban

We have finished our voyage and are now safely tucked up in Oban Marina on Kerrara. The sun is  shining and for the first time on this trip we have abandoned the thermals and are wearing tshirts.

The weather forecast from Broadhaven to Aran Island proved completely correct. We got up at 5 am to a light force 2 and drizzle. We motored out of the bay and round The Stags, a group of dramatic sheer faced rocks just off the coast. The wind built steadily, however and we were then faced with a 50 mile motorsail into the wind which was not comfortable. We found our way down the narrow, rocky channel into the anchorage we’d identified the night before, Leabgarrow on the island of Aranmore and spent a rather rocky night. We got up early the next morning to make our next hop to Mulroy Bay where we were planning to spend our last euros before leaving Ireland. The wind was howling through the rigging and when we looked across to the channel out of the bay all we could see was a sheet of white water and rollers crashing in, breaking on the rocks on either side of the channel. We were not going anywhere. Nor were we going to launch the dinghy to get ashore. It was pouring with rain, and the water between us and the shore was extremely choppy. So we were faced with the whole day and night stuck on the boat, with another day lost to a storm. We had to give up our last stop in Ireland, and the next day, set sail for Islay. The one positive of this is that late in the afternoon, we heard whooshing noises, and going up on deck, found that a huge pod of bottlenosed dolphins had come into the bay and were gallivanting all around doing tail walking , body flips and exhibiting generally joyous  behaviour.

Our sail to Islay was as good as the previous sail was bad. The passage was 90 miles and we went almost the whole distance goosewinged, averaging over 7 knots. We were hoping to get into the marina at Port Ellen when we arrived at 5.30 as we were desperate to get ashore. The entrance to the marina is extremely narrow however, and when inside there is little room for manoeuvre. There was still a very strong cross wind, gusting up to force 6, so having poked our nose in and seeing that it seemed to be full, we had to reverse out, not without some difficulty against the gusting wind, and pick up one of the moorings that are laid in the bay. Nothing was going to stop us launching the dinghy however. The wind was gradually dying and we were able to speed across the bay and get our feet ashore. The Islay hotel provided us with an excellent dinner in genteel surroundings.

Our final leg up to Oban had to be timed to coincide with the very strong tides that sweep through the Sound of Luing. We made an extremely early start in order to make sure we had the tides with us through this bit. We thought we would be motoring, but an unexpected wind sprang up, and we sailed along at a cracking pace with full sails through the Sound of Jura. This meant a slightly early arrival at the sound of Luing, so we were able to pull into a Lussa Bay on the East coast of Jura to wait for the tide to turn. After an hour’s wait, we upped anchor, and were off again in the increasing winds, past the cottage where George Orwell wrote 1984, past the famous Corryvrekan where he nearly drowned when his dinghy overturned, and then on up into the Sound of Luing. We chose a slightly eccentric route up the sound, and motored through the narrow twisty bit. We hit some turbulent water which made for an exciting few minutes, and then we were out into calm water and were able to continue our sail up to Oban, with the cliffs of Mull to our left. The sun was now shining, the water was sparkling and we were delighted to see lots of sailing boats out enjoying the weather. In Ireland, we had come across hardly any fellow sailing yachts, and latterly hadn’t seen any boats of any description. Our joy was complete when a minke whale surfaced just a few hundred yards behind us, and then continued to roll its back and distinctive fin out of the water as we made our way up the sound. We have also seen a puffin for the first time and many more seabirds than in Ireland. The scenery is stunning and reminded us why we have always said that for us, weather notwithstanding, Scotland is the best cruising ground we have found.

In Oban we met up with Freya again, the traditional pilot cutter owned by Anders and Mariann, a Swedish couple. They had been round the East Coast of Ireland and had encountered similar stormy conditions. We were invited on board to have a look around. She is delightfully fitted out below and is very snug with her little kerosene stove installed in one corner.  They demonstrated how they steer, tucked in below the top rail, using a block and tackle attached to the tiller. They love their new boat, and she is absolutely beautiful, but I can’t help thinking just a little Spartan, particularly when on passage.

We have fond memories of Ireland and have unfinished business there. We saw very little of the North, and there are clearly lovely bays and anchorages which it would be good to explore, given more time and better weather. I have no doubt that we will go back there some day, to complete our explorations.