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. 

Forecast for the following  24 hours. Winds variable, E-SE Force 3-4, seas smooth, conditions fair, visibility moderate to good, poor in fog patches, risk of thundery showers.

Longer term forecast: Winds variable NE to SW, Force 2-3, sometimes 4, seas smooth, conditions fair, visibility moderate to good, poor in fog patches, risk of thundery showers.

We could stop writing the forecast down, it was always the same.  Felt more like Long Island Sound than Scotland! We were as tan as we had been in the Caribbean. 

Lunch onboard
Seals conversing on the rocks behind

In the morning, we pressed on to the Treshnish Isles, a strangely shaped group of islets that form a string extending out from the mainland just 5 miles away from where we were.  Aside from their bizarre shapes, these islands are home to some of the most extraordinary and endangered sea birds in the world.  Among the most numbered inhabitants are the adorable little puffins which seem almost tame here.  We anchored in the little harbour of the largest island, Lunga, which is only viable as an anchorage in settled weather, and watched the puffins cavorting all around us while we prepared lunch. We had no idea they were so tiny. I had always thought of them as being as large as parrots.

Colourful Tobermory, lively "fishing" village

Curiously we also heard seals calling to one another in conversation. It’s something neither one of us had heard before. We’ve heard barking, but never this wailing discussion the seals on the outer rocks conducted.  As the tide rose and the rocks went under water, the seals put their discussions on hold till the next change of tide.

Moorings in 90 foot deep waters
It was a very calm day and we decided to motor over to Tobermory, one of the few stops we’d be making where there was actually a town on the harbour.  We were doing over 9 knots with the current and made the 16 mile trip in under two hours, only to see TWO cruise ships anchored in the harbour. Double horrors!  One was a smaller French ship about 400 feet in length, the other was a 750+ foot monster.  We could tell from the AIS, which gives us all kinds of information about commercial vessels.  Luckily the big one was pulling people off the island and scheduled to depart by 6 pm. The smaller one had just arrived but was leaving by 8 pm.

The harbour at sunset
Normally we like to anchor, but in this anchorage, the shallowest spots are 90 feet deep. As we have about 200 feet of chain, we’d have to extend that with rope by a lot to get enough scope. And as the designated anchorage was full of moorings, we opted to take a mooring for the first time. It was a bit undersized for us but the only big boat mooring was already occupied by a 60 foot Hinckley.  As there was no wind and it was forecast to remain that way, we thought we’d be fine on the smaller mooring. They were spaced far enough apart. 

Local Isle of Mull microbrew,
Red Monk of Iona amber ale
The Mishnish pub, where the locals
hang out, very friendly and has wifi!

Ironmonger off license
and musical instruments shoppe

View from Cafe Fish
 The marina was full of boats from the Netherlands cruising in company, but with the mooring, we had access to the facilities including showers, the laundry and electronic weather monitor.  The marina is run by volunteers and they come by to collect the £15 fee once in the evening and in the morning if they miss you.  Access to the toilets and showers costs 20p except it’s free with the mooring or slip rental -- you get a key code to enter. You still have to pay for the shower, which costs £2 for 7 minutes and you cannot adjust the flow or the temperature. You cannot start and stop the flow either as the clock keeps ticking. I was done at 5 minutes but kept it going for 7 since I’d paid for it.  Another 50p for the hair dryer. Bugger that! I used the hand dryer instead – that’s free.

Squat lobster and langoustines
at Cafe Fish
The Main Street
We quickly went ashore to find out the lay of the land.  The shops were jammed with cruise ship tourists. There is a whisky distillery right in town so we made a beeline there to resupply. The shops normally close at 6 pm on a Saturday, but with the cruise ship in, many were staying open later.  We walked all the way to the end of the town where the ferry pier is. Then stopped for a pint of local brew at the pub called the Mishnish, a nice little Victorian pub.  It’s where all the locals and the occasional tourist hang out.  They have wifi, so we pulled out our laptops as they pulled us a couple of pints.  It was much more comfortable than the marina office.  
Lobster at Cafe Fish

Tobermory was designed in the late 1800s to be an iconic fishing village. Today, its brightly painted harbour front shops and homes invite tourists from all over.  They have some of everything: many restaurants, a ferry, a co-op supermarket that is exceptionally well stocked, an off license iron monger that also sells musical instruments, cafes, a bakery, a bank, craft and gift shoppes, and a petrol station.  We decided to spend a second night. We had dinner at the delightful Cafe Fish, where we sampled the perfectly cooked langoustines, lobster, and squat lobster - which we had never heard of.  Absolutely delicious. The place deserves its reputation as the best restaurant in Tobermory and all of Scotland. Reservations are a must there. 

Cafe Fish, exceptional restaurant
Sundays, shoppes open only from 11 to 3. We managed to get wifi onboard and finally downloaded email – no password needed.  By the time we got into town, all the bread was sold out and it looked like the shops had been ransacked. We bought what we needed, had a big lunch at the pub next to the marina and took a long walk up and over and around the inlet and to the waterfalls.  It was about 40 minutes each way with beautiful views through woodlands and along streams on one side and the harbour on the other side. Well worth it. 
Services at the marina HQ

Monday morning, we made sure we got to the bakery as soon as it opened. Bought bread and rolls and had breakfast there. Got some extra cash from the hole in the wall and headed out again. 
Waterfalls on the walk around the harbour

Beautiful views over the bay

Hey, there's lots of action here.

Where should we go next?

Moonset, time to go to sleep

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