DAY 51 – Thursday 9 June 2022 – Isle Ornsay (Skye) to Loch Aline

Miles logged: 51
Total miles logged: 1,450
Days since leaving Fleetwood: 51
Days at sea: 32

We slipped away from our mooring buoys at Isle Ornsay at 0400. It was almost light but the sun was not due to rise for half an hour. The sea was flat calm. We motored the short distance into the Sound of Sleat and headed south-west towards Ardnamurchan Point. Astern there was soon the most spectacular sunrise and before long the mountains to the east were bathed in early-morning sun. We passed Mallaig and a solitary fishing boat surrounded by gulls. To the west stood the Small isles; we passed close to Eigg and Muck and could see Rum further away. With ten miles to go to the Point, a breeze arose which quickly grew to a decent sailing wind of 15 to 20 knots. With full sail Bubble was making over six knots – comparable to her speed under engine. It seemed likely that we would be able to sail for the rest of the leg but, as ever, nature intervened. The wind grew in strength and in the few minutes I spend dithering about whether to reef or not in order to bring Bubble back to a more even keel the wind veered and came at us on the nose. The weather changed astonishingly quickly. From calm, clear, settled conditions we now faced a 20-knot wind, a building sea, the beginnings of what I dreaded might be fog, and to ensure that we were thoroughly uncomfortable it began to rain too.

Sunrise in the Sound of Sleat
Mountains near Mallaig at sunrise

By now we were close to the rocky shore of the Ardnamurchan peninsula upon waves were breaking so we started our engines to get round the Point quickly. Surmounting Ardamurchan Point is a fine stone lighthouse built, apparently, in the Egyptian style. It was not obvious to me which aspects of the design had Egyptian influence but there is no doubt that the Ardnamurchan lighthouse is a substantial, impressive and elegant one. In reaching and rounding the Point we completed our survey of the set of extremities of the island of Great Britain. We have previously passed the most southerly, easterly and northerly points. Ardnamurchan Point is the most westerly point of the British mainland. 

Ardnamurchan Point with its spendid lighthouse

After rounding the point we experienced several knots of foul tide but as we bore away we were able to raise our sails again and as the rocky short fell away to port we shut down our engines and sailed close-hauled in a good breeze of 15-20 kts. We were now entering the waters around Mull which must surely be some of our finest cruising waters. There were many yachts sailing around – a sight we had not seen since the busier parts of the south coast.

On the way to the Point we decided that, having been turned away from Mallaig, it might be better to call Tobermory rather than just pitch up. Mike made the call whilst I was still sailing Bubble westwards in heavy weather and Pagets Lady was motoring. As I fought the weather and watched the waves crashing over the rocks which were now only partly visible through the mist, I dreaded bad news. Bad news came; we could not get into Tobermory because it, too, was completely full, although they could offer us a mooring buoy to share. We had a back-up plan which was to try for the pontoons at Loch Aline which was twenty miles further on. Mike called and the news was encouraging – there were 20 spare berths. This really was a great relief; we knew that the weather would be very bad on Friday and Saturday, if not for longer, and the prospect of being thrown around on a mooring for two or three days was a miserable one. I wondered why so many berths were free at Loch Aline but didn’t care; it was just a relief to feel reasonably certain that we would be safe and comfortable there.

The sail past down the Sound of Mull towards Loch Aline (pronounced ‘Alin’) was a great pleasure. The scenery was marvellous throughout and there were dozens of other yachts enjoying the fine sailing that the area offers. I managed to sail almost as far as Tobermory but as the Sound turned east, towards the wind, I could no longer sail without tacking which, with the tide running towards us, would have taken far too long. We had not been able to reserve our berths so had to get to Loch Aline in good time before the berths were all snapped up. We motored flat out and arrived as the wind was blowing strongly in the Sound. It fell away a little as we turned to port into the Loch and saw the pontoon system ahead, on the north shore. Looking east, the Loch is a beautiful sight. It is very popular as an anchorage and many yachts were anchored at the far end. A couple more yachts entered the loch ahead of and they, too, proceed to the far end. 

Entering Loch Aline. The weather was deterioating fast

The pontoons were about half-full, at most. We settled quickly and I have rarely felt more relieved. With our lines properly set for a storm we should be fine here for several days; there are decent facilities at the pontoons and a small shop nearby. 

It became evident why the pontoons are so lightly used. The marina’s submission to the Sail Scotland guide to marinas gushes about the lovely views and the views to the east are indeed lovely. There is no mention of Europe’s only underground sand mine – a large and busy operation producing white sand which is used in the production of specialist glass, such as for lenses – the external yards and facilities of which are not underground but are directly to the west of the pontoons. As I write in blowy conditions I cannot hear the workings but yesterday the endless beep-beep of reversing sand-laden trucks and the grinding of machinery did rather detract from the gorgeous surroundings and ensured that there was no chance of a bit of peace and quiet. The same article was a little too effusive about the extent of local amenities. There are indeed two cafés – both shut when I looked yesterday – and there is a local shop but, whilst quite well stocked, it is far cry from the large supermarkets which we now enjoy everywhere except in the most remote areas. Its atmosphere and smell reminded me very much of the village stores of the 1970s. Very handy if you want fire-lighters or tinned carrots but disappointment awaits the hungry yachtsman in search of an interesting selection of high-quality ready meals. It was expensive too; my bottle of red plonk cost £8.69. As we will be here for a few days I contemplated taking a bus to Oban but it is a long way and the service is sporadic. So, for a while at least, the dining experience on Bubble seems likely to be somewhat more mundane than the standard I have enjoyed thus far.

Loch Aline with the pontoons ahead. The white sand in the foreground is from the silica sand mine; it is not a natural sandy beach

The pontoons are of superb quality. There is free electricity, a water-point next to my berth and, astonishingly, the wifi works. The showers are of a high standard but clearly very little used because they are coin-operated (this seems common practice in Scotland though I have never seen it elsewhere). With abundant water and electricity, showering aboard is the obvious way to go. The washing machines are coin-operated which is not uncommon; in anticipation I packed before we started the circumnavigation a lot of pound coins. The machines here accept £2 and 50p coins only. I attempted to remonstrate with the delightful lady berthing mistress who could not understand why I was so aerated. We had a laugh about it though and she very helpfully changed some coins for me.

After the early start yesterday I fell asleep after my £8.69 plonk whilst attempting to start on this write-up. Overnight the weather deteriorated further and in the morning the wind was consistently around 20 kts at Bubble’s mast-head anemometer and the boats were all moving around at the pontoons. The many yachts anchored at the far end of the loch were possibly more comfortable but I remain glad that we’re here, with the opportunity to go ashore and with all the other comforts that are provided for us. The weather continues to deteriorate. We expect to be here until Monday at the earliest, possibly even longer.

Mike and I have begun to discuss how to complete our remaing few legs. Until recently our daily planning has been concerned with where we might stop overnight. From now we must also consider which route to take as the coast hereabouts is a mass of islands and peninsulas. One option is to cross to Northern Ireland to avoid the practical difficulties of rounding the Mull of Kintyre and then reaching somewhere safe to spend the night, but we are considering other options too. We have plenty of time to continue our planning before we move again.

There is some footage of Ardnamurchan Point here. It was shot in Bubble’s cockpit in bad weather so please excuse the wind noise.

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