Wavysail Scottish Islands Adventure 2023
To say I was excited was an understatement, I have travelled to the Scottish Highlands several times by car and camper but to see the remote landscape and inaccessible lochs from the water was something completely new. I live in the midlands and had decided to drive up for the trip. Leaving my car at the marina was no problem - a nice secure carpark onsite. Others in the group opted to travel by train to Oban from Glasgow, the train journey itself an iconic ride through the landscape. Arriving at Dunstaffnage Marina early afternoon I was met at the pontoon by our skipper Jim. It was an overcast day, grey clouds hung low over the hills and there was a definite wetness to the air. Some with a less sunny outlook might even refer to this wetness as rain… heavy rain! But hey I was here and ready for adventure. The plan for this first day was to welcome all the crew onboard, complete the victualling (that’s food shopping to you land lubbers), to have the safety brief and get everyone settled into their bunks. Loads of storage on Big Blue with every person getting their own bunk - we share cabins, but each person has their own bunk and storage space. Big Blue, our home for the next 9 nights is a Beneteau Oceanis 54 with 4 cabins and 3 heads (that’s the toilet/ shower room). There was a well-equipped galley (kitchen) and comfy seating in the saloon with a big table and loads of natural light from the various hatches (windows). Some nice touches like Harris Tweed cushions made it feel really homely. Each bunk had a nice pillow, a good sleeping bag, blanket and towels and the bunks each had a leecloth separating the spaces, so even though we shared cabins the beds had a separate feel allowing for some sense of privacy. So here I was: bag unpacked and sleeping bag rolled out and it was time to get to know the other crew and the skipper. Jim the skipper was brilliant, very patient and thorough and he made everyone feel welcome. We sat below deck and had a brief about the safety onboard, how to deal with potential emergencies and an orientation on where the important switches and cut offs were located. For example, when on a boat it is essential the gas is isolated when not in use, so Jim ensured everyone knew how things were going to work onboard. The wet stuff still escaping from the atmosphere made the on-deck brief somewhat less pleasant, but we all had foul weather gear to wear so it was no biggy. I had offered to complete the final shopping in Oban as I had my car and the rest of the crew decamped to the Wide Mouthed Frog to chat and sample a cold beverage or two and to discuss the proposed itinerary. First night onboard Big Blue was in the marina at Dunstaffnage, and we planned to set sail for Tobermory first thing in the morning. Under the watchful eye of Jim, we put together the passage plan for the next day and plotted the waypoints on the charts and into the plotter. Looking at the tides and weather it looked like we were in for a great sail. I slept soundly and was awake bright and early and ready for the first day sailing.
Day 2 Oban to Tobermory 33nm
After engine checks and ensuring the water tanks were topped off, we slipped lines and motored out into the Loch. Hoisting the sails for the first time and soon sailing, the sense of anticipation for the next few days was palpable. Everyone onboard excited to see where we would go as each day we planned according to the weather and tides, the overall plan to visit the Outer Hebrides and as many of the remote island and anchorages as possible. The sky was clear, and our first task was to complete some safety drills and for Jim and the crew to perform several MOB (man overboard) drills. Each of us taking turns to helm back to the trusty buoy and bucket that had ‘accidentally’ gone over the side. (Not everyone is required to helm for this, but the option was there to practice, but everyone was required to know and understand the procedures.) Then we were off and underway up the Sound of Mull towards our first destination Tobermory. A gorgeous day with many tacks as we headed into the wind, great practice for all the levels onboard. We had a crew made up with complete novice up to Jim with over half a million sea miles so the chance to polish skills was brilliant. The sea was moderate and the wind fresh as we tacked up the sound. Reaching a visitor mooring in Tobermory late afternoon we spent the evening onboard and prepared our passage plan for the following day. After our evening meal onboard, everyone heading for bed early as we were tired after a full day on the water.
Day 3 Tobermory to Castlebay Marina on Barra 52 nm
The day was overcast and the forecast not brilliant with up to 30 knots forecast, but we were well prepared, and the route planned to avoid a shallow bank in the Sea of the Hebrides. We knew this was going to be a challenge, but the crew was ready. We set off early to make our passage to the Outer Hebrides, everyone taking turns at the helm under the ever-watchful eye of Jim who was on hand to guide, teach and ensure we were always safe. He sees everything! It was a long day and a moderate-to-rough sea and strong winds meant it wasn’t without its challenges, but we made good speeds and soon Barra was in our sights, the sheltered marina at Castlebay a welcome chance to get on shore and head to the pub for a drink before bed. We managed to get the last berth alongside that had the wind assisting as we berthed, a later arrival very thankful for our help as we caught their lines, the skipper struggling to get close to the pontoon as the strong winds were blowing them off. Beware the midges when going on shore, make sure to apply repellent as the little blighters are relentless.
Day 4 Barra to Loch Skipport South Uist 36nm
The wet stuff finally finished falling from the sky and the overcast clouds cleared as we sailed north towards South Uist our plan to stay overnight at anchor in the remote Loch Skipport didn’t disappoint. Glorious sailing and we took time to watch for the gannets diving, dolphins playing on our bow and the multitude of views as we sailed. Carefully manoeuvring through the channels into the seemingly inaccessible loch was just awe inspiring. 360 degrees views at our anchorage before another early night. We have settled into a routine of early to bed and early to rise, in sync with the daylight to enjoy the sunrise as well as the sunset such a treat!
Day 5 South Uist to Loch Dunvegan Skye 30 nm
By day 5 everyone was really starting to feel at home onboard, moving in sync with each other, prepping the boat each morning ready to sail, each person knowing what need to be done before we set sail, each evening we all sat together and planned for the following day , plotting the course on paper and on the chart plotter, some days the plans were altered as the day progressed to suit the speed we actually moved, often we underestimated the distance we would actually sail. Today was one of those days as we realised, we would arrive in Loch Dunvegan way too early we took the opportunity to anchor for lunch just off Isay island. Reading the history in one of the books onboard was fascinating to realise how many people lived on the apparently uninhabitable rocky islet. By evening we sailed into Loch Dunvegan and picked up a mooring buoy for the night. Choosing to stay onboard rather than take the tender ashore.
Day 6 Skye to Canna 49 nm
We made really great time on the trip to Canna reaching the mooring buoy mid-afternoon, so plenty of time to get the tender out and take a trip on shore to explore. A lovely safe sheltered natural harbour and the benefit of some Wi-Fi onshore, we had a walk and found the tiny community store that sells essentials with an honesty system, also a well renown bar and restaurant that we were gutted to realise is shut on Tuesdays, guess what day we were there: TUESDAY. Anyway, good learning for next time as it looked lovely overlooking the harbour. I would love to head back to Canna one day and spend more time there as it seems there are lovely accessible walks and a small community, so not as isolated as some of the other places we have stopped. We had a great meal on board and planned to visit the Treshnish Isles the following day.
Day 7 Canna to Gometra 56nm
Now heading South with the wind behind us, Jim whispered the words spinnaker and we all leapt at the idea of getting the kite up. We plugged it in and discussed the hoisting process, everyone was briefed and understood how it would work. Hoist kite, drop headsail then watch the speed shoot through the roof…. That’s exactly, what happened, we were flying along, sun shining and wind behind us, the bright blue and red spinnaker looked incredible. Such fun practicing helming, so different from upwind sailing, it took me a few minutes to get in the groove but after a few flaps of the sails I felt at ease. The plan was to anchor in the Treshnish Isles, but we were going so fast we would have been there in time for morning coffee so we completely changed the passage plan enroute and decided to go via the sound between Coll and Tiree, past the Treshnish and finally anchor in Gometra. It was a great plan as we passed the proposed anchorage in Treshnish we also realised that it would have been far too exposed for a good overnight spot and Gometra was lovely and sheltered. It all goes to show that plans are just that, plans, they can change and if everyone agrees then happy days. We took time to double check the pilotage into the new spot, Gometra was a delight, secluded and beautiful, we dropped anchor and spent a quiet night sheltered from the wind.
Day 8 Gometra to Loch Tarbert Jura 61nm
A big day sailing, covering over 60 nautical miles, but Jim had stayed in Loch Tarbert before and was recommending it. It was stunning, a really tricky entrance with rocks and several transits to negotiate to get into the inner loch but we arrived tired after a great day sailing to our final anchorage. We really saved the best until last, as the passage to Loch Tarbert took us past Staffa and the famous Fingal’s cave, a geological wonder and a real highlight for me. We sailed towards Staffa in the early morning, the sun shining and around the corner the cave opened up WOW!! I have never seen anything like it before, the basalt columns and the layers of rock blew my mind. A few moments to process Fingal’s Cave and we were off again towards Loch Tarbert. A full day sailing with blue sky we arrived early evening, in time to drop anchor for the last time and watch the sun go down.
Day 9 Loch Tarbert to Dunstaffnage 44nm
We knew from the forecast that the wind was going to be very light, and we were likely to need to motor for the last day, we managed a combination of sailing and motor sailing on our way North to Oban. An incredible sighting of dolphins jumping near the boat, gannets diving and huge rafts of guillemots and razorbills we were not short of things to see. Then Jim had one of his best ideas ever J We stopped the boat, threw out a fender tied to a line, dropped down the ladder for safety and all popped on our swimmers and jumped in. BLIMY it was bracing, but so much fun, incredible to swim and feel the chilly salt water on hot skin. As fast as we were in, we were out and laughing on the transom, another jump in and we managed to stay in slightly longer this time. I felt so very privileged to be able to enjoy the experience, adrift in the Loch with not a soul in sight, the sky blue and water crystal clear. Truly one of life’s great moments. Sadly, it was time to move on, back towards the marina, past the relative bustle of Oban and eventually to Dunstaffnage. Our final night together we had a quick drink in the Wide Mouthed Frog and then a brilliant seafood meal in The Waterfront Fishouse in Oban, a couple of drinks and loads of chatter about the adventure we had shared on Big Blue, a group of strangers now friends, sailors and nature lovers forever united in the love of Scotland.
Day 10 Clean up and depart
All in all, it was a 10/10 trip for me, I loved every moment. I had plenty of opportunity to practice my navigation, helming, trimming and spent 8 full days sailing in arguably some of the most stunning scenery on the planet.