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.

Onyx and Alex discussing options
As we sailed around the Small Isles in the blessed silence of wind but no engine, the wind died.  We motor sailed the remaining 6 miles to Coll, our intended destination, once again in brilliant hot sunshine, calm seas, but a big gentle ocean swell.  There had to be a storm somewhere out there to be creating a swell like that. On approach to Coll, we realized the anchorage was exposed to the south and east, the direction from which the swell emanated. It would be a mighty uncomfortable anchorage for the night, and if the weather was coming from that direction, it might not be very secure either.

I quickly scouted out alternative anchorages and decided on Loch Tuath on Gometra.  I liked the sound of the name, which I thought must have something to do with the mythical celtic gods, the Tuatha de Dannan.  These gods, who originally lived on 'the islands in the west', had perfected the use of magic. They travelled on a big cloud to the land that later would be called Ireland and settled there.  Then again, Tuath means people, so perhaps it is just the lake of the people. 

Squall hits as we approach Mull
Loch Tuath separates the Isle of Mull from Ulva and Gometra; we had anchored on the other side between Ulva and Gometra a few days before and it was beautiful.  We thought this held as much promise and certainly looked like a much more secure anchorage.  And Soriby Bay at its head, nestled into Ulva, looked most promising.

As we approached, a squall came through with 25 knots sustained, whipping up the ocean around us.  We were screaming along.  We were hoping that once inside we’d find some shelter from this kind of squall, which was increasingly common in this now unstable air mass of hot humid air.  You could see the angry anvils forming all around.  We needed good shelter and good holding.  Getting the main down in this kind of squall would be a chore at best.  Meanwhile we were sailing at high speed to windward into the loch, but the winds were not abating.
Interesting sky again

We noticed an anchorage that looked like a tiny canyon in the wall of Gometra with at least two boats in it. Then we noticed another boat tucked in between Gometra and Ulva, but neither of these looked like a good choice in this weather.

A small catamaran, it looked like a James Wharram design with two Polynesian styled-hulls, appeared out of nowhere and was heading in as well. It seemed to be doing quite nicely in this wind, screaming along almost as fast as we were.  That’s amazing as it was about half our hull length.  And it was being single-handed.

Squall behind us as we move up the loch
When we got in to Soriby Bay at the head of the loch, it was like a door had closed behind us on the squall. The water was smooth, the high hills around us calming the wind to about 15 knots. There was one boat anchored in the prime spot that we had selected on the chart – damn! There were salmon cages along the rocks to the right, which were covered in seals.  We dropped the sails, dropped the hook, tidied up the ropes, and celebrated with a dram of Scotch – Talisker.  We had lovely views, a protected cove, and we were happy.

Meanwhile, the catamaran, came in shortly after us with four people now on deck and anchored right next to the original boat in the harbour while the skipper glared at them with anger.  They were both British flagged vessels so we thought we’d let them settle things directly. But everyone settled down and went below shortly thereafter, while we enjoyed the evening listening once again to the wailing of the seals.  These seals were as talkative as the ones on Lunga, and these guys kept talking all through the night. 
Reading in between  squalls and off watch

Writing notes about today's story 

The anchorage in Soriby Bay, in Loch Tuath

Fish farm and seal rocks on Ulva

Anchorage on Gometra 

Gap between Gometra and Ulva. Boat anchored to the left. 

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