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.

In the morning when Simon asked us all to check in, Alex tossed the coin and announced that we’d painfully decided to head North. Sadly, we jumped in our dinghy and drove around to say our farewells. 
Alex navigating into Tinker's Hole
At Nokomis, we were greeted with the morning’s fresh bread! Paul had been baking no knead bread and shared his recipe and a precious slice each. It was magnificent! And so easy. Alex couldn’t wait to try his hand at it.  He’s been experimenting with bread recipes for more than a year now, with some success and more frustration. This gave him renewed interest. And finally, the elusive reproducible results. 

We watched as the fleet departed on the morning tide southward, while we waited for the tide to turn until we made our way north.  It was sad to see them go.

Where's the entrance?
We hoisted sails and headed north towards Iona.  A fog settled in around us as we flew along while the wind built to 20 knots and a big swell came in off the ocean.  As we reached rocky shallows off the Isle of Mull, the seas kicked up into a nasty confused pattern that was not comfortable. Onyx was complaining. She’d been quite happy for days now. We were heading for Iona but the anchorage there was untenable except in very settled weather, which it wasn't. I was checking the coast pilot and guide books to see what our other options were. Sally had told us about Tinker’s Hole and when we read about it, we thought it sounded perfect. It is between Erraid and Mull. We decided to seek refuge there but did not realize (a) how scary the approach is and (b) how many boats would already be there when we arrived.

OMG. It's full!
The trouble was the entrance was very narrow, very rocky, and we wouldn’t be able to see in until we were right on it. And waves were crashing on the rocks all around as the confused swell surged into the canyon.  It was nail biting, but 'Nerves-of-Steel Alex' piloted expertly.

Our hearts sank when we could finally see inside. It was full of boats. There were six boats already there anchored in two lines on short scope. It was tight and we are not manoeuvrable. No bow thruster, no reverse control. Alex managed to turn her around without grounding and without hitting anything by using the prop walk to our advantage, and he was about to exit – to where we did not know as there was little choice nearby and it was getting dark – when a couple of older gents on a little Rival Bowman ahead said, “Hey drop anchor right beside us and you should be just fine.”

So I took the helm and we did just that, but on the first try, the windlass didn’t release right away and we were a bit off. So we pulled the rode and anchor just off the bottom and pushed forward and left into the slot, and settled back perfectly on short scope to match the rest of the fleet. Somehow we came to rest in exactly the right spot as though we’d planned it (which we had in a way).  

Onyx always keeps an eye on things
While we were anchoring, two guys in a dinghy pulled up and said, “There is a £10 anchoring fee, sir.” Alex almost took their heads off. “I’ll pay the friggin fee when I’ve anchored. My anchor's not even in the water yet!!!” They cowered away.  As it turned out, they were from the boat ahead of us and didn’t realize we were rather stressed at the moment.

A couple more boats came in after us, so there were nine in the end, a couple in the shallower gap behind us. Short scope for all – 3:1 at most, and we were at just over 2:1 with our trusty Ultra anchor.  The anchorage was amazing: red rock walls, white sand bottom strewn with weed, crystal clear water, and very snug. They have rings in the wall to tie off to if you need to keep your boat from swinging during bad weather. 

Relaxing after a challenging day
When everything was done and set and put away, we sat down to a quiet single malt (Laphroaig of course!) and marveled at the beauty of this spectacular gunkhole.  As long as the wind didn't change too much, we’d be okay here. Children climbed the steep red cliffs all around and dove off into the cold deep water below, a young girl rowed her dog around in her dinghy hoping to meet some of the other kids, and the sun set brilliantly over the hills.

That’s what cruising is all about. A challenging day followed by total relief in paradise. You cannot appreciate the best without experiencing some of the worst. That’s my motto, and that’s what sailing delivers. The highs are very high and the lows can be very low.  But in any case, most times, you end up wondering what all the fuss was about. And that cocktail a the ends of the day tastes mighty fine. This night was calm. 

We dropped our anchor right beside the Rival's stern

A bit closer than we like but good enough for this night


  1. I never heard of an anchoring fee. I hope you didn't pay!

  2. No, we didn't. The guys on the Rival were playing a joke on us. We had quite a good laugh about it afterwards.