Saturday, August 31, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 25 July 2013, Oronsay and Sound of Islay, Scotland

Aleria at anchor in Oronsay

Gorgeous scenery, wildlife galore, and a lovely passage under a painted sky

We had to rise early to catch the south flowing current in the Sound of Islay. It would be a long day and once again there was no wind.

The Paps of Jura in the distance
We headed out by 0800 and picked up a favourable flow past the Treshnish Isles towards Colonsay.  We passed close to the basaltic stacks off Iona and we realized we were early – at least 2 hours early and we now had a 1 knot current against us.  So why fight it?  We pulled into Oronsay for a visit.  Dropped anchor between the rocks and the island in the most beautiful spot yet. We thought we might have time to get to the priory but it was too far to walk in the time we had before the tide turned.

Geese on the beach

Friday, August 30, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 24 July 2013, Loch Tuath, between Mull and Ulva

Catabatic winds blowing down Skye as we depart

The day of the winds

It was heavily overcast, but a nice breeze of 10-15 knots as promised, as we prepared to get underway. We hoisted the main and mizzen and made way by 0830, heading down the Loch Harport with the tide but directly into the wind.  As we turned the last corner by the light house where we thought we’d be sailing, the wind started cranking up really fast: 20, 23, 25, 27, 29, 33.  Oh my, the boat ahead of us in full sail was getting hammered.  Suddenly, it was slammed to the water, broaching as it rounded up. 

Alex puts two reefs in the mainsail
Aleria is not as easy a pushover, but seeing that, Alex quickly went forward and double reefed the main as the wind stabilized at around 27 knots.  The boat ahead of us did the same. We suspected katabatic winds, and so we power sailed through it, mostly on the nose.  It suddenly dropped from 27 knots to 17, and we were sailing along quite nicely with Skye behind us whipping up our wake.  A katabatic wind originates from cooling of air atop a plateau, a mountain, glacier, or even a hill. Since the density of air is inversely proportional to temperature, the air flows downwards, warming  as it descends, thereby increasing the speed of the wind. These mountains are known for their incessant winds. And Skye made sure we had a taste of Scotland’s true nature.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 23 July 2013, Loch Harport, Skye,Scotland

View of  spectacular Skye from  Loch Harport

Touching Skye in Scotland

Mid-morning we headed over with the tide to mountainous Skye, which looked like the fabled Highlands to me.  This whole area was once connected to Greenland and North America at the equator.  But its peaks were formed by volcanos in more recent times. There are collapsed calderas noticeable everywhere.  Skye itself reaches up into the heavens and catches the clouds on its lofty peaks. It is spectacular, when you can see it. 

Alex watching the 'cumulobimbos'
The sky darkened as we approached Skye and thunder started booming overhead.  There were small lightning discharges but nothing like what happens along the east coast of the US.  A heavy downpour washed off the boat and Alex, while Onyx and I suffered down below. We were concerned about bursts of wind but it really wasn't like that. We'd never seen such interesting and heavy cloud formations at every level above us. Cumulobimbos Alex always calls them.  There were rain showers all around us.  The scenery kept appearing and disappearing with the rain and height of cloud cover.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 22 July 2013, Rum in the Small Isles, Scotland

The anchorage in Loch Scresort on Rum

Castles, calderas, and wildlife on Rum

We sailed downwind out of the harbour to Ardnamurchan Point where the wind died, so we motored until the wind came back up. Lovely.   We were heading for the Small Isles, and the topography had changed significantly. The hills were more ragged and peaked. Ardnamurchan is the remains of a volcano, as are the Small Isles – Muck, Eigg, Rum, and Canna. We were heading to Rum which consists of huge peaks covered with forest. Very distinctive.  We wondered why it was called Rum and not Whisky, but we didn't find any answers. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 20-21 July 2013, The Treshnish Isles and Tobermory

The Treshnish Isles, where nature abounds

Nature and human nature 

An adorable puffin on Lunga
We’ve had this amazing weather – like the Caribbean – hot and hazy and occasionally humid. Light winds. Smooth seas.  Pretty bloody unbelievable.  For two weeks and more to come.  Everyday, the forecast read something close to this:

Strangely shaped islets
Sails up but not full in glass calm
Meteorological situation: a high of 1030 mb has settled over Europe. 

Forecast for 24 hours. Winds variable E-NE Force 2-3, seas smooth, conditions fair, visibility moderate to good, poor in fog patches, risk of thundery showers, temperature reaching a high of 22-24 degrees C. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 19 July 2013, Staffa, Gometra, and Ulva, Scotland

Staffa, with it's basalt columns, home to Fingal's Cave

Natural splendor in seeming isolation

Sailboat passing by
We returned to the pier where we had tied the dinghy and were horrified to see that the fast ferry was in and jammed against our inflatable. Poor Cappucino was almost squished. But luckily not quite. 

We departed Iona at the height of the tide and followed a circuitous route to keep to the deepest areas to avoid rocks.  Daria stood at the bow and watched for rocks in case the chartplotter proved unreliable.  The water was so crystal clear here, it was easy to see through it.  And the sun was at just the right angle to assist. We made it through the Sound of Iona without a hitch, which saved us hours of motoring all the way around. 

Beautiful cut between the islands
As we approached Staffa, the basalt rock lit up showing us her most impressive façade of columns topped by what looks like a giant afro.  I was annoyed with the guide book which said simply, Staffa is so well known that we don't have to say anything more about it. Hogwash! That is so provincial. Neither one of us had ever heard of it. I know now that it was formed, like the Giant's Causeway, by a massive sudden eruption of lava.  The columns are symmetrically geometric, in ancient lore created by the Irishman Fingal who was a giant and constructed a walkway from Ireland to Scotland along the sea that ended here. That's a pretty good story. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 19 July 2013, Iona, Scotland

Horror! Cruise ship at Iona. Fog around Mull. 

Iona, Scotland’s most important historical and mystical place…

Iona is clear of fog at 10 am. 
The cruise tourists are leaving! 

It’s a good thing we rested up the day before because this day was going to be a long one. After two peaceful days in a hole that had to be a pirate’s lair, we were ready to see more. 

Beach and anchorage for small craft
Today, it was sunny, it was settled, and we were heading to Iona, the holiest place in Scotland, and just around the corner from Tinker’s Hole.  We’d be there in an hour.  As we started the process of pulling up anchor, our neighbour called out to us, “Where are you heading?” Alex answered, “Iona.” He said, “I just saw a cruise ship in there when I walked to the top this morning.”  Our hearts sank. Seeing a place like that in the midst of mobs of cruise ship tourists is among out worst nightmares. Oh well, we’re here. It’s probably not that big a deal. I mean we have loads of monastic sites in Ireland. Ireland does saints like no other place. It’s where the monks saved civilization, after all. How much better could this be?  We thought it would take about an hour to see the monastic site, and we’d be on our way.  Cruise ship or no cruise ship.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 18 July 2013, Tinker's Hole, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Morning brings dense fog yet again

Bumper boats and and crystal waters

Onyx watching the action 
We decided it was so beautiful, we’d stay an extra day in Tinker’s Hole. Besides, overnight a fog settled in so we used that as an excuse – we wanted to be able to actually see Iona! We’d been moving about every day and sometimes twice a day, and we just needed to chill. That’s what cruising is supposed to be. Drop anchor and stay awhile. So we were permitting ourselves an extra day. It was a beautiful sultry morning, people postponed departure until the fog lifted, but all the boats eventually left except one other.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 17 July 2013, Tinker's Hole, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Parting Company

Vicki and Paul aboard Nokomis

Daria studying the coast pilot
We agonized over the decision. Should we continue on with the OCC fleet which was heading around the bottom of Jura and back up Jura Sound where we had just been, or should we part company and head north while we had a good window to do so.  The forecast was for westerly wind of about 15 knots today, dying out to less than 5 knots and variable the next day as another high settled over Scotland and all of Europe. That high was to remain in place for at least a week.  If we went south and then around Jura, we’d be motoring all the way north after that.  We’d had enough motoring, but we really wanted to stay with the group.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 16 July 2013, Loch Tarbert, Jura, Scotland

GPS anomalies and tricky unmarked routes

Aleria and Vagrant sailing toward Loch Tarbert. Photo by Vicki aboard Nokomis

All night and for days after, we imagined there were creepy little things crawling up our necks, down our legs and burrowing into our skin.  And in fact, Alex did have two ticks that burrowed.  A great remedy is to smeer them with Vaseline and wait about 15 minutes. They suffocate and release their jaws. Then you can pick them out with tweezers and they just let go without leaving any parts behind that can cause infection. Of course ticks can cause all kinds of infections anyway, including Lyme Disease.  Fortunately, Alex and I were both vaccinated when the Lyme disease vaccine was available for a short time in the States.
So good to be sailing again!
Paps of Jura in the distance

We had a lovely breakfast, the rain stopped, and we followed the fleet out of Pig Bay.  There was a nice breeze building. We hoisted sails alongside Vagrant and Nokomis. Within seconds, Aleria started to pull away. Within minutes we were gone. Vicky took some awesome pictures as Aleria galloped across the waters. We had never experienced quite how fast she is with her waterline and sail plan in these kinds of conditions. It was blowing a nice 15 knots. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 15 July 2013, The Gulf of Corryvreckan & Pig Bay, Jura, Scotland

The Race, whirlpools, swell and ticks…dangers all around.

Gulf of Corryvreckan between Scarba and Jura

Water boiling and whirlpools
at slack water
Aleria was among the first group of five boats to pass through the Corryvreckan and, even at slack water, the water was still boiling all around us as we passed through under power at almost 10 knots. Our speed through the water was only 5.8 knots as we raced over a 224 foot deep chasm that would soon shallow out abruptly. We were being set quite substantially.

We anchored in hard sand and weed in gorgeous Pig Bay (Bagh Gleann nam Much) just on the inside of the top of Jura with the Race's waters rushing past the opening to the Bay while inside it was calm and secure.  The Race extends out quite a distance, which is called an overfall here in Scotland. Luckily, there wasn't much wind, only about 10 knots, because when wind opposes tide, it can get very nasty, with standing waves and square chop intertwined. 
9.8 kts SOG with 5.8 kts STW

Monday, August 19, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 14 July 2013 Croabh, Scotland

Lay day in Craobh with OCC friends

The Ocean Cruising Club 2013 Scotland Rally crew

The OCC burgee flying proudly
at the Currin's home
Being at a marina was such a luxury to us.  We had not had a chance to really scrub Aleria since she was on the hard in Westport.  She had weeks of grime and salt built up on her topsides, and lots of tidying to do below.  So Alex scrubbed the top while I set to work below.

Since Alex had the whole boat torn apart fixing things and installing things, many things were still out of their designated storage spaces and others were grimy from the sooty smoke or greasy from being touched with greasy fingers which cannot be helped. It took some time to straighten up. I was hoping that people wouldn’t feel that I was being antisocial. I just couldn’t face continuing on without cleaning up.

Bikes proved a good mode of transport
from marina to party

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 13 July 2013 Craobh, Scotland

Sailing at the speed of knots

Flying Fish burgee of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC)

As we had finished our chores in Ardfern, there was no need to stay on, so we decided to catch the afternoon tide and make our way north to Craobh (pronounced Croove).  That was where we were meeting up with the OCC Scotland Rally  and the opening dinner was the following night.  It would be nice to get there a day in advance. The wind was just picking up as we lifted our anchor off the muddy buttom.  Alex was grateful for the salt water wash down system he had installed several years back.
Craobh Haven Marina

We had a nice 15 knot breeze coming down the loch close hauled, no need to tack until we got to the Point. We thought one tack would take us right around.  Brilliant.  Tacking Aleria is a lot of work so we try to tack as little as possible. Just as we approached Dorus Mor at Criagnish Point, the wind suddenly picked up to 25 knots and clocked so it was right on the nose when we altered course - not enough for the tack to starboard. I turned on the engine and kicked her around the rocks. The hellish current was pushing us through the gap between the mainland and an island, but setting us toward the island and I was having a hard time holding her rudder steady against the current using all my strength on the wheel, so Alex took over until we cleared the point.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Aleria's jaunt to Scotland: 12-13 July 2013 Ardfern, Loch Craignish, Scotland

Fixing things and doing laundry in exotic places once again!

Boats going this way and that in the hot and hazy summer conditions

Fog hugging the coast
We realized that Ardfern is home to the marina and chandlery where we had ordered our hose for the radiator repair. If we were lucky, we’d get there before they closed. We arrived just in the nick of time, and lo and behold, that radiator hose was tucked away for us as promised and we even got their last gallon of antifreeze. Luck was with us! We spent the rest of the evening walking around town, exploring the craft shop, the deli, and the pub/restaurant. It was a beautiful day once again, so we sat outdoors at the pub and sampled a couple of local brews. The grounds overlooked the waterfront and tiny sweet holiday cottages. And the pub had wifi, so Alex was finally able to download his email but I could not get mine to work.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Aleria's jaunt to Scotland: 12 July 2013 Kiells, Scotland

Brittle stars and high crosses - waiting for the tide to turn has its benefits

Brittle stars brought up with the anchor chain

Lovely clear view of Tayvallich
Hazy morning in Loch Sween
It was a beautiful misty morning in Loch Sween. A raptor circled overhead as we prepared to weigh anchor. In this anchorage, because of all the deciduous trees, we expected and found a very muddy bottom. It took some time to hose down the anchor chain and anchor, which was also covered in brittle stars. We decided to sail down Loch Sween and around the corner toward Loch Craignish, but to stop at Kiells to visit the church there while we awaited the turning of the tide.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Aleria's Jaunt to Scotland: 11 July 2013, Loch Sween, Scotland

A visit to the mainland lochs of Argyll

Motoring in flat calm

Who would have thought we'd need the awnings?
Fishing boat coming in with fresh catch

No wind again. The forecast was for variable Force 2-3, seas smooth, visibility moderate to poor, occasionally very poor in patchy fog – for the next three days!  We’re all motor boats with masts out here going this way and that.  Once again it’s shocking hot as we weigh anchor and make our way north.

Hazy entrance to Loch Sween. 
The East side of Islay didn’t have many suitable harbours for our draft so we decided to cross over the Sound to visit the mainland lochs on the way up to our planned meeting with the Ocean Cruising Club fleet in Craobh (pronounced ‘Croove’).  The entrance to Loch Sween was strewn with islets and rocks that we had to pick our way through, then it opened up into a lovely wide sea loch. Castle Sween on its eastern shore stands as a major ruin worthy of Game of Thrones.  The Castle Sween grounds were solidly packed with motor homes and trailer park, with tiny boats and kayaks strewn along the shore.  Alex kept saying what lucky people to have access to such a beautiful spot.  The high hills were otherwise devoid of homes and animals, unlike the Irish coast which is covered in sheep and cattle and homesteads everywhere. Plus the Irish hills are bright green, here it seemed more rocky and barren, with the occasional sprinkling of trees.
Castle Sween
Trailer park on Castle Sween grounds

The inner harbour at Tayvallich
The village of Tayvallich, pronounced ‘Tay-vee-al-ich’, a favoured haven for water craft as it sits on sheltered Loch a' Bhealaich, lies on the northern shore way at the head of Loch Sween. We may our way up the deep loch and dropped anchor in the sheltered cove just outside the inner harbour.  It looked so familiar yet so different from Ireland, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Then it hit me. Trees! The hills were covered with dense forest reminiscent of the Adirondacks, a favourite spot of ours in New York State.  In fact, it looked much like the lakes in the Adirondack National Forest except we got here by sea. It was so dark green, lush and peaceful.  Birds gliding up high, including a falcon or eagle calling from somewhere above. The smell was fresh and clean with the faint scent of pine instead of sea.  

Tayvallich Inn with pub and restaurant 
Aleria anchored by Loch  a' Bhealaich
We were the only boat in the anchorage but the inner harbour was chock full of vessels of every size including one bigger than ours. There wasn’t a mooring, a slip or a space to anchor. Full up (£5 overnight for a dinghy, £15 mooring, £20 slip). So we drove in by dinghy and took a walk around ‘town’.  

Tayvallich village
It is clearly a holiday town, the main street lined with neat cottages for rent, with a small but tidy caravan ground and camping area, a village shop and post office, and the Tayvallich Inn which serves as the local pub, meeting place, and restaurant. The food was excellent! We had an early dinner of fish and chips and the fish special, another local Scottish ale, and watched the traffic buzz by and the people collect here and there. This hot weather had brought everyone out. People swimming, walking boating, conversing, and driving like maniacs on these tiny twisty roads!

Heading home with their dog in the front seat
Back on the boat, we enjoyed the long remaining hours of sunlight reading in the cockpit – and NO MIDGES!  We had come armed with 50% deet and lots of other anti-midge control stuff, having been warned of their voracious appetite for sailors in particular. But there seemed to be none. Maybe they were taking siestas in the sun or maybe they migrated north with the whales. We lit the citronella candles just in case as darkness fell and we brought out the reading lights. It's not often in these northern latitudes that it remains warm enough to sit outside in shorts and T-shirts till midnight!

People sat on benches along the shore watching the activity in the harbour.  Lots of small craft headed home by water after dinner, people waterskied until the late hours, and others just headed out for a sunset cruise. All midge free. 
A serenely beautiful loch anchorage and no midges!