Nick and Gail Leaver cast off on 11 May 2017 to sail their Dufour 325 ‘Nick Nack’ around Britain in leisurely style. They will be cruising up the east coast and then down the Caledonian Canal before meandering back to Port Solent later in the year.
Postcard from Gail on Friday 1 September
The best laid plans of mice and men – as a local might have put it – rendered our intentions of going to Skye, Staffa and Colonsay as impossible due to gale force winds, driving rain and poor visibility most days with weather forecasts changing from one extreme to the other at less than 24 hours notice.
We retraced some of our steps southwards from Tobermory down the sound of Mull to Oban Marina which is actually on the Isle of Kerrera (with a courtesy ferry to Oban pier). On leaving Tobermory we had one dolphin for company in the rain. Oban had a supermarket to top up stores and a small local museum and a few shops. I thought there would be more to see/do but it was full of walkers and walking shops.
The Isle of Kerrera is very quiet, about 45 people live there. It had a walk around the island and one across, and we did a bit of both, Nick telling me it was a short cut to the marina. We walked – well, bog trotted – around, through and in a bog (about an hour) and then had to wash our trousers, shoes and socks. The upside of this was due to the wet weather we did not get bitten by any midges as apparently it was too wet even for them!
On to Ardfern, a lovely spot at the top of a Loch. To get there we sailed down the Sound of Luing, generally at well over 12 knots over the ground with an extremely big spring tide under us, generally in a SW direction but occasionally in ever decreasing circles when the helms-person didn’t spot the vicious whirlpools in time! Two particular interesting moments: first was me telling Nick that on the charts we were sailing over a submarine exercise only to see “black things” in the water! On a second glance it was not a sub but a pod of dolphins (thank goodness). The second was a beautiful blue Rustler 44 yacht flying a white ensign came in! Nick was going to take a line for them – but no need, as from nowhere a waiting team arrived. Later, on the way to shower block, I met the lady owner and her husband and said hello – as you do! (For the avoidance of doubt it was me on the way to the shower block not HRH.) They left after breakfast, we assumed to go to meet the family at Balmoral?
Plan A was to go west through the Corryveckan (aka the Witches Cauldron) when a mile away at the sight of a standing wave nearly 3m high and white water beyond (it was still a spring tide) we took the sensible route – reverted to Plan B! Beating to windward down The Sound of Jura was almost as exciting, but safer as far as Craighouse, the principal settlement on the Isle of Jura. We picked up a bouy in the bay looking over to the distillery. That was the easy part! The tidal waves in the bay rocked the boat from side to side as our head pitched and pointed to windward. I just took to my bed with a pill until the wind and waves dropped enough to cook dinner. No telephone, wifi or radio signal available till next day’s potter over in the tender to the Jura Hotel … coffee, shower, lobster lunch washed down with a wee dram from the next door’s distillery. If only it would stop raining for a while!
At anchor off Jura
Just one of the many distillery visits!
After a couple of days in Jura we sailed and then motored to Port Ellen on Islay. I don’t remember much of the next day as we visited 3 more distilleries in quick succession on a 6 mile walk. It only rained in the evening that day which made a lovely change.
We left Port Ellen in the usual F6 squalls, driving rain and near zero visibility, encountering the Calmac car ferry which appeared suddenly in front of us out of the gloom in the narrow approach channel. We had an otherwise fast, uneventful crossing to Ballycastle, arriving in time for the “lively” Auld Lammas Fair. Security was high – and that was before we reached the market stalls selling body armour and toy Armalites! The locals were very friendly and Nick assured me that the Guinness was the best he has had for some time. We had a day out with a rambler bus ticket visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Rope Bridge with a walk along Whitepark beach as the Atlantic rollers crashed around us.
Ballycastle Marina in the middle of the Auld Lammas Fair
The Giant’s Causeway
We left Ballycastle in sunshine, yes I did say sunshine and what’s more it stayed dry all the way around the Mull of Kintyre to Campbeltown. Our first voyage without full follies since June! It was so good to have visibility and be able to see the numerous islands, most covered in purple heather and green grass which made them look like they were covered in velvet.
Tomorrow we head up Loch fine to Tarbert or Portvadie – will it be dry and bright, we will have to wait and see?
Postcard from Gail on Saturday 9 September
Campbeltown was interesting – it was the first time we had to raft up alongside another boat. The harbour master was surprised that so many boats had arrived that day but given the wind strength we were not! Next day, on visiting the RNLI shop as we always seem to do, we were talking to the chap – who said “have you been on one of our lifeboats?” No we hadn’t, so he gave us a personal tour of the Tyne class lifeboat – it transpired that he was the head mechanic, having had a background in engineering.
We actually had a good a good sail to Campbeltown with dolphins around the boat. We didn’t see them until they came up close and started to breathe noisily and, hearing them, you could look in the right direction to find them. This was also our first day of sunshine since we returned to Scotland on 7 August. Our next trip was to Tarbert, our second day in sunshine. Friends had recently visited there and recommended the scallops sold live from holding tanks, but we arrived late on Saturday and the shop was closed until Monday by which time we had already left so we didn’t get to taste them.
Next we sailed on to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Nick had last been there in 1967 on the Dartmouth Training Squadron frigate HMS Torquay. We took a bus trip around the island which was made all the more interesting by the local bus driver’s commentary. The harbour showers and toilets were fascinating, being built about 140 years ago with polished copper pipe work and amazing appliances – nuff said! We wanted to go on to Arran but the thought of another stormy night on a buoy didn’t appeal so we moved marinas to Ardrossan for a night.
A typical view of the Isle of Bute
Marina facilities in Rothesay!
Our last stop was Troon: the tail end of another storm meant a very early start to do the last 9 miles which seemed like a lifetime, with the wind F7-8, enormous waves breaking on the deck and, of course, heavy rain. The nice bit was entering the harbour to a welcoming committee of dozens of eider ducks sheltering from the storm. We are now packing the boat up for over-wintering here.
Over the 37 days we have been in Scotland we have enjoyed only 3 without rain! (The last fine day was timely for packing up sails etc.) The rest of the time we have found ourselves either sheltering or sailing in F5-F7 winds (regardless of forecast), driving rain and near zero visibility to and from unfamiliar ports among “iron-bound” coasts.
Cabin fever while daily drying out kit!
Although there were moments, when the rain stopped and the clouds broke, when we could view the amazing scenery (with and without rainbows), the last month has been a struggle to keep warm and dry, especially to deal with wet sailing gear every time we stopped. Consequently, we have reluctantly accepted – with no change in the 10 day forecast – to curtail this part of our trip and return home.
Looking forward to catching up with family and friends very soon. We will return here to Troon in early May 2018 for the next part of our adventure…..
Postcard from Gail on Monday 21 August
Well here we are back in Inverness, Scotland, having flown from Gatwick on the 7 August. It was good to be back on Nicknack: all was fine all be it a little dusty!
We left Inverness marina and headed for Clachnaharry sea lock to start the journey along the Caledonian Canal. We stayed the overnight in Seaport Marina (near the sea lock) to restock the store cupboard at the nearby Co-op. Next day more locks and swing bridges then before we managed a short sail on Loch Ness in a fickle wind from every direction. No sign of any monster unfortunately although the depth sounder showed very shallow water from time to time in the middle of the Loch: could this have been Nessie swimming directly under our keel?
Moored at Fort Augustus