28/05/2020 0 By Chris Phillips

I last wrote some time ago having arrived in Plockton.  I am now in the unfortunate position of having to write my final blog for this year’s Meandering two weeks later, having left the happy glow of summer leave behind me and returned to the gritty reality of what, for me at least, passes as something approaching real life on board Lord Nelson.  The reason I am so tardy in my scribblings is that I joined straight into the slightly-organised mayhem of the Tall Ships races, and since then have completed a race from Kristiansand in Norway to Aalborg in Denmark, and now we are operating independently once again, heading back to the Norwegian coast before returning to UK waters.

Back to Plockton: we decided that this would be a nice place to spend a day, so went through the usual lay-day rituals of showers (Plockton Hotel, £2.50 and obligatory pint of ale whilst waiting) and exploring the village.  Some of the day was also spent dodging torrential rain showers of course, and outside the sheltered harbour a strong SW’ly was blowing.  The day was rounded off with a meal in the Plockton Inn (very original naming policy for hostelries they have in Wester Ross), which for me was their very tasty seafood platter, and Stu went for the old favourite, Haggis, neaps and tatties.  A happy, well-fed and -watered pair made their way back to Meander that night, and didn’t even get rained on more than moderately.

The next day we headed back through the Kyles and down the Inner Sound to Mallaig.  It was blowing fairly strongly from the S and therefore it had to be yet another day motorsailing.  The first part down to Kylerhea was quite sheltered, and we made good progress.  As we turned into the Kyle we felt the full strength of the wind, and ended up short-tacking down the Kyle being hotly pursued by the Lord of the Isles, the Caleymax cruise vessel.  We managed to get clear and she passed us as we tacked across towards Glenelg to avoid the nasty overfalls which kick up off Kylerhea township in a wind-against-tide situation.  We carried on tacking down the Inner Sound and arrived in Mallaig to pick up a mooring late enough not to attract the attention of the berthing master.  Looking at the forecast for the next day, we decided it would be best for us to leave early in the morning to get the tide around Ardnamurchan and get to Tobermory before the next bout of nasty weather came in.  

On departure in the morning, it soon became obvious that Red Peter would once again be fully employed, and we sailed with his assistance to ensure we were pointing as high as we could.  The wind was contrary and fresh but not too strong, and we made long boards down past the small isles, taking a close look at Eigg and Eilean a-Chastheail (if memory serves), again with our steps dogged by Lord of the bleeding Isles.  A couple more tacks took us sufficiently past Ardnamurchan to be able to stop Red Peter and bear away slightly for a bit of proper sailing under main, mizzen and staysail.  We lost the wind only as we rounded the corner into Tobermory harbour, so handed sail and motored in, picking up almost the last mooring, the harbour being full, due partly I expect to the forecast, and partly to the fact the Mull Highland Games were on the following day.  We did not go ashore that evening, preferring instead to watch the circus as other boats came in and picked up the last remaining moorings, which were the heavy-duty ones for bigger vessels.  One Tupperware took over an hour of faffing to get secured.  It was amazing entertainment!

We had another lay-day the following day, enjoying a good shower and a walk and look around the shops.  The ironmonger in Tobermory is the most incredible shop, which stocks pretty much everything in the world, rivalling only the one in Ullapool.  There is also a good bookshop which retains the old counter and drawers, and therefore reminded me of the pub in Tvøroyri!

We did fail on one count, which was visiting the Mishnish, but enjoyed a few beers and roast chicken on board.

The following day the wind had dropped completely, and as the tide rose mid-morning, we slipped the mooring and went through the Doirlinn passage, a small-boat passage  into the Sound of Mull at the south end of the harbour.  I had been through once before in Mintaka with her 1m draft, so it was a bit more tense with 1.7m draft, but still eminently do-able; just don’t tell anyone else or they’ll all want to use it.

We motored in light airs and showers down the sound, but once out in the Firth of Lorn were able to sail the last stretch to Puilladobhran, arriving at a good time in the afternoon, so we were still able to pick our spot and watch the faffing as the Tupperwares piled in.  As it was a moderately sunny afternoon, I decided it was time for a swim, and this time Stu agreed to come in as well!  It was about a degree warmer than Loch Erisort had been, so I was able to do five laps of the boat, and Stu managed two before it all became too much!  The neighbouring boat, a beautiful wooden motorsailor, was full of elderly Glaswegian gentlemen, one of whom was heard to say “Why?” as they saw us plunge into the water.  His mate made a slightly derogatory answer which just made me want to do another lap!

After a warming cuppa, I lit the barbecue we had bought in Tobermory (or was it Stornoway, I can’t remember?!), and enjoyed a burger, bangers and haggis with some leftover red cabbage.  It was a pleasant evening, and nice to enjoy the peaceful anchorage whilst all the other yachties were at the Tigh an Truish in Clachan Seil, having made the pilgrimage over the hill.  The peace was slightly shattered by the gentlemen of Glasgow returning early; we surmised that they must all have been slightly hard of hearing, as all their communication was conducted at high volume.

As usual, we had finished cooking on the barbecue just as the coals got to their optimum temperature, so as the evening chill was descending, instead of wasting them, I transferred them (carefully) to the stove to continue their good work down below.

The following day was to be our last day underway, as we returned to Loch Creran and the mooring at Barcaldine. As we left the anchorage there was a promising breeze and we set sail and opted for the route west of Kerrera, rather than up the sound and past Oban.

Needless to say, as soon as we had set everything she could carry, the wind failed us, and we had to start the engine again.  By early afternoon we were entering Loch Creran, and as rain was threatening we quickly threw the topsail and staysail down the forehatch to keep them dry, and set about handing and stowing the main and mizzen.  As we came up to the moorings, I saw that once again my nemesis, Wavelength, had taken my mooring, so I had little option but to pick up his, next up the trot.  As we came to a halt, as usual I came forward to help Stu pick up the mooring, and in the flurry of activity my sunglasses flew off my nose, I juggled with them for a bit and then they plopped in a carefree manner into the oggin and tantalisingly reflected the sunlight as they shimmied 15m down to the bottom of the loch.  Unfortunately, although I have a drysuit on board and a mask and snorkel, I did not put my weights on board so there was no hope of my getting to that depth to recover them.  However, in over 20 years of serious sailing, despite many close calls, that is only the second pair I have ever lost irretrievably, a fact with which I’m sure my kit insurers can cope.  Once we were secure, and after a short bout of swearing, we set about folding and stowing sails, and starting the process of shutting the boat down.  

The following morning, the process was completed, with the boat getting a good clean and the last laundry being done before we shut her up and dinghied ashore for the last time, taking a last, sad look as we went.  Then it just remained for Stu to drive me down to Glasgow (it’s amazing how much gear you can fit in a Smart car), where we stayed a sleepless night in a characterless hotel near the airport (and next door to Ikea) so he could drop me off for my early morning flight to Kristiansand before continuing home to Brum.

It is always sad to leave Meander, but after such a good trip, with a fair dose of adventure and shared with the ideal companion, competent, uncomplaining and superb company, it was particularly hard this time, and I shall have to plan a similar adventure for next season to tempt Stu back for more!