• Mark

Devil's danglies

After a beautiful sunny day in Tobermory we woke to low grey skies and drizzle. Asha was slightly surprised at my ‘Ok, lets get ready to go’ statement but she quickly realised that the single-cell ameba was in motion so the ship was made ready and the waterproofs were donned! It was 33 nautical miles to Canna and it was either very grey and drizzly or very grey and raining hard the entire way. Progress was slow in 8 knots of wind. Our average speed was somewhere below 4 knots but ever determined not to use the engine we drifted onwards until 5 miles short of Canna Harbour when the heavens properly opened and the engine went on for our final approach. We picked up one of the community mooring buoys because the seabed is very weedy which means it’s not great for anchoring. We wanted to batten down the hatches, get the heating on and dry out without worrying about the anchor dragging. Turning up to an island shrouded in low cloud is uninspiring. Waking the following day to rain on the roof and the same low cloud hugging the hilltop is equally uninspiring. The lack of 4g, which enables Asha to work, was another dig in the ribs that almost made me suggest we drop the buoy and sail somewhere else! We didn't do that. The rain stopped and the clouds lifted to reveal the beautiful island of Canna. It’s amazing how the weather effects your perception of a place. We went ashore and as luck would have it we found a cafe that, although closed, was still broadcasting it’s wifi signal so Asha could go to work!

Canna was lovely. Friendly people, good walks and a lovely landscape. We were also the beneficiaries of some locally grown vegetables, the yield of which was too much for local consumption. We even had three hours of blissful sunbathing on a small protected beach that we accessed by dinghy. It was beautiful.

We had an outboard engine failure which resulted in a carburettor strip down and reassembly in order to get it running again and, as I already had petrol on my hands, I did the same to the other outboard as I knew it needed a clean too. This is a relatively new problem that comes from petrol having chemicals added so it meets EU emission regulations! Once upon a time, petrol would last in a vehicle for years and years without any problems at all. Now, one winter of fuel sitting in a carb will make it jelly like, block jets and even cause corrosion. Progress eh! On this trip I have stripped and cleaned both outboard engine carburettors and the generator’s carb too. Fingers crossed for no more issues.

To leave Canna Harbour we hoisted the main and sailed off the buoy. We did this simply because that’s what everyone else was doing and I didn't want to look like the incompetent one! Even if I do say so myself, we did it pleasingly.

In stark contrast to our sail to Canna, this day was that of champagne sailing. A southerly force 3 meant a beam reach with both sails up in a straight line towards our destination. Loch Skipport in the Hebrides! The Hebrides! Who would have thought we’d sail there! The backdrop of Canna and Ben Nevis disappearing in our wake was spectacular on this beautiful clear day as was the sight of our destination some 30 miles ahead.

I decided to put the fishing line out and as soon as it hit the water a mackerel jumped on! As usual I don’t take the kill lightly and as respectfully as I could, I dispatched the beautiful fish. Within twenty minutes we had an absolutely delicious mackerel fillet served with community grown Canna salad for lunch. I can promise you that it doesn't get any better than that!

To type that last sentence feels strange. The reason for this is that fish is a relatively new thing for me. I have liked cod for years, prawns and smoked salmon too but nothing else and especially not mackerel. Once I was told to try it and it was mackerel from a supermarket. It was misty eyed and smelled of fish, would you believe! Anyway, I tasted it and immediately ejected it from my north and south! To me it tasted like something from satan’s ball bag (I imagine)! It was truly disgusting and something that I decided I would never, ever, eat again. And that’s how it was until my mate Russ told me that I should try the mackerel we had just caught off the rocks in Wales when we were there on a boys trip. Reluctantly I agreed and this time it was different, so very different! No satanic ballbaggyousness whatsoever. Just fresh, beautiful, non-fishy, tastebud delightfulness! It’s fair to say that I was hooked and, whenever possible, so are the mackerel.

Our champagne sailing continued right up until we were about a mile away from the harsh rocky coast of South Uist. An ominous looking bleak greyness with a huge cloud shrouding the highest peak. Very quickly, and taking us by surprise, the wind increased to 29 knots. The cloud saw us, raced our way and dumped its mother-load right on us. It was rough, cold, very wet and the visibility was very bad as we poked our way into Loch Skipport where, in close proximity to a very scary looking rocky lee shore, we wrestled the main down whilst avoiding the huge fish farms littering the entrance. Tensions were high and the champagne ran dry right there and then! We found our way through in what felt like perilous proximity to jagged rocks and anchored. The wind howled, the rain rained and I wondered what the absolute f*ck we were doing there. There was no phone signal, no radio to pick up any forecasts so we had dinner and went to bed where I tossed and turned all night. No, correction! I only turned all night whilst I listened to every noise and thought about the anchor dragging, the alarm going off and a cold dark struggle on deck to get Altor to safety.

Fortunately, and as usual, worry worked and the restlessness was for nothing! We didn't move. In the morning the weather was still grim but I said to Asha that we needed to go ashore and make peace with this place. We did and we did! We had a nice walk, spotted Altor nestled in her anchorage from an nice vantage point and found a reason to be grateful that we had come to South Uist. However, with no mobile phone signal this place couldn't work for Asha so we decided to move on. We sailed out through the rocks and made for Sandwick, a few miles north. Sandwick was crossed off the list very quickly indeed! It went like this. We picked our way through a very narrow channel, again very close to lots of rocks, we appeared in front of a ferry terminal, a small power station, some industrial remnants, a slipway and more bleakness. I put the engine into neutral, looked at Asha and said ‘f*ck this sh*thole, put the engine into forward, turned the boat and hightailed it out of there!

South Uist didn't really do it for us. It was very isolated and although I love that about Scotland, being isolated in Scotland means being surrounded by beauty. Isolation in Loch Skipport meant being surrounded by rocks and semi barren land with no trees. Beautiful to some maybe but to us it looked very inhospitable indeed. I am happy we visited but very happy that last night we had a 15 mile cruise to North Uist where we are now. A lovely anchorage in Lochmaddy, good shelter from a gale that is expected tonight and 4g so Asha can earn her money tomorrow.

We haven't been ashore yet but this part of the Hebrides is looking much more like it!

One of only three ferries a week at Canna

Canna Harbour

Love going ashore to explore. This is the beach where we sunbathed later on....

Asha's arts and craft skills never cease to amaze me. (Drawing not to scale).

Our anchorage in Lock Skipport, South Uist, Hebrides

Deep water in here but sharp edges!

Oyster catchers, albatross and eagles all in a days sailing in the Hebrides!

    Track where we are on the Marine Traffic website or the free Marine Traffic app or using AIS. Search for Altor of Down or use the MMSI number: 232 013 438

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