|29/07/2014||Filled under Canal, England, Mull, Oban, sailing, Scotland|
Arms straining, I pull myself up the sloping foredeck for the nth time and wriggle into position on the windward rail where my meagre seventy eight kilos helps to balance the boat as she accelerates upwind again, crashing and bashing through the waves. The next piece of sea thumps into the bow, jumping up and dousing me with salt water but my body protects the rest of our crew from a soaking, not that their gratitude is particularly overwhelming, I have to say. This wave is one of many I take full on for them, but I’m not complaining. I signed up for a week of racing on Owen’s 10 metre X-yacht, Jochr, and know full well that this is what goes with the territory, it is just part of the experience.
We have a mixed bag of weather thrown at us, fairly typical for any summer in the West Highlands I guess, heavy rain and winds one day and light airs the next, but despite this our fortune in the rankings for our class remains good. For the final passage race, a long southerly beat down the Sound of Mull from Tobermory to Oban, my role is to ensure that the genoa passes smoothly around the front of the mast on each tack without the sheets catching on the front of the mast or the sail getting hooked on the guard rail. Aside from this I am ballast, the weight of me and the other crew making a minor but significant difference to the performance of the boat. Our skipper drives us across the Sound then back again, against twenty five then up to thirty three knots of headwind, as we fight to keep our place in the fleet of yachts that surround us. For hour after hour we battle on, hardly pausing for breath, until after four hours we find ourselves jostling for position on a finish line beside Lismore Light. The current is running fast here calling for fine judgement in close proximity to other boats but the gun fires at last signalling a good finish to the final race of the week, the end of six tough days.
Jochr is on the far left of the picture, sail No. 9726
Our boat and crew have sailed through rain and shine, wind and calm, rough and smooth seas, enduring some excellent and challenging racing from which it takes my body some days to recover. At some point I will admit that I am too old for this sort of thing… but not yet.
As things turn out this year all this strenuous stuff follows soon after a family trip south into Yorkshire for a week long holiday on a narrowboat, motoring slowly along the Leeds to Liverpool canal, where the only real exercise is cranking the key to open the sluices on the many locks we pass through. With us here are Mike, Eleanor and of course, wee James, for whom this is a first boating experience.
The term narrowboat means literally that and for good reason; these boats are built to fit the canals (or is it the canals that were built to fit the boats). The locks on our canal are just big enough for two boats, each a maximum of seven feet wide, to fit side by side with only inches to spare. The canals were built for working boats which often towed a ‘butty’, an engine-less load carrier, and it was essential that both boat and butty could fit in the same lock side by side. If the lock is any wider then all that happens is that you waste water. The overall boat length is an issue too as any more than fifty feet long and we’d be bumping up against the lock gates on the Leeds Liverpool. But given these restraints, it is quite surprising how much can be fitted in on board. On Megan’s Drum we have separate bedrooms, toilets and a shower, a fully equipped kitchen and dining room, storage for all our stuff plus the convenience of mains electricity for the microwave oven and the TV.
Our days on board consist of chugging slowly westwards through the Yorkshire Dales at no more than four miles an hour, the canal speed limit, so our pace of life slows to accommodate this. Being in charge of steering I get to watch my crew opening bridges and lock gates ahead of me then once through, I manoeuvre the heavy boat to the bank to pick them up again. It becomes routine, eventually, with each member of the team knowing what to do. Steering the long vessel around a tight bend requires forward planning, anticipation of the way the stern will swing, as the boat pivots about its centre rather than its rudder, but generally we manage to avoid bumping the canal sides too often or entangling ourselves with the trees that frequently overhang the water on one side. One can certainly imagine that life has always gone on at the same slow pace on the canals but (not surprisingly perhaps) young James finds it hard coping with the speed the world drifts by. He is often happier sitting below playing games on his ipad and we worry that he misses the herons standing knee deep in the shallows or the amusingly named and brightly coloured narrowboats that are floating homes to a sizeable population on England’s waterways.
At dusk all traffic stops and we too pull over and moor to the bank. The water becomes still, only disturbed by the movements of the odd duck, the occasional swan and fish rising to take flies from the surface. Now the tree-clad banks and the painted boats are reflected almost perfectly by the water creating a surreal inverted image.
|27/05/2010||Filled under mountains, Mull, Scotland|
Later the northerly wind deserts us, making it feel much warmer but Cirrus slows down so miss our tide in the Sound of Luing. We press on anyway and arrive at this constricted passage between the isles of Luing and Lunga just when the sea is rushing northwards at over five knots. Our short passage south, engine at full speed, starts very slowly as current tries to hold us back, boiling and churning past us, but eventually we gain on it and escape round the south end of Luing to safer waters and into Craobh Marina. Our return to mainland Britain is complete.
|26/04/2010||Filled under Mull, Oban, Scotland|
We have been reading the blog of our friends Kyle and Maryanne who have been travelling across Scotland on their catamaran Footprint. Moving east through the Caledonian canal they experience the same weather as us whilst taking in the breathtaking Caledonian Canal scenery that we enjoyed last year. Their account has much detail of their day to day lives living aboard the boat whilst travelling about, reflecting our own existence.
They talk of the ‘luxury’ of a hire car taken for a day so they could visit some places that might otherwise be difficult to get to, a telling comment in this car-mad age when most people would not regard the car as any sort of a luxury. We recently did the same thing on Mull, hired a car for a day so that we could see as much of the island as we wanted with the advantage of being able to stop as we pleased when something caught the eye. (It is worth adding that car hire, like many other aspects of life here, is handled in a casual way. ‘You say you’ve had no accidents or convictions so that’s fine by me…’).
Our day proved to be sunny and cool but clear and £35 well spent. It was one of those rare days when the air positively gleams and you feel you can reach out and touch objects twenty miles or more away. In total we drove about 100 miles which, to anyone who knows Mull, is something of an achievement. Apart from one short section along the shore between Craignure and Salen, Mull’s roads, despite being used by the island’s regular bus services, are wide enough only for one vehicle. Frequent passing places and basic politeness make it all work, that and a general lack of haste. Few of our car’s five forward gears saw use.
In a heritage exhibition centre near Dervaig there are painstakingly excellent models showing what the stone and iron age dwellings might have looked like with information on how it is thought people lived. There is little here to explain the standing stones but models of the ‘black’ houses, so called not because of the wood smoke which perpetually filled the chimneyless interior but because of the similarity in pronunciation between the Gaelic words for ‘black’ and ‘thatched’, give a clear impression of hardships people lived under. Such apparent poverty left no room for sympathy from the landowners, both English and Scottish, who in the 18th and 19th centuries evicted so many people from these lands so that intensive sheep farming could be introduced. Who can imagine what Mull would be like today had these events not occurred.
One highlight of the day was a visit to Carsaig on the Ross of Mull, the southern peninsula that points westward towards Iona. Here we left the car and took a walk under the same thousand foot cliffs that we sailed past last summer. The geology of this whole area is amazing. You get basalt columns mixed with volcanic and sedimentary rocks, some of which are crammed with ancient sea shells, sharp edges of ancient mussels and limpets still sticking out. Above us were wild goats living in the tiny strip of land between the sea and the cliff, most of which slopes at forty-five degrees, and then higher still the golden eagles soar. There are supposed to be more than 100 of these creatures living on Mull so they are not an uncommon sight. They just float about effortlessly looking more like small aeroplanes than birds. Crows and seagulls will fly up and mob them, but cautiously and with no great effect. They are top predators here and they know it.
With this is mind, and it being Kate’s birthday as well, my proposal to take the Calmac ferry out to Barra in the Outer Hebrides seems to have gone down rather well. Someone else can take charge of the navigation on the five-hour crossing whilst we relax cozily inside. More on this trip will follow.
|19/04/2010||Filled under mountains, Mull, Retirement, Scotland|
|18/07/2009||Filled under Mull, Scotland|
So what is is about this island that has grabbed us?
The Island’s charms don’t stop with the land itself and the nature on it. I simply could not resist this picture of Loch Don Post Office, located not in the cottage but in the shed peeping out from the shrubbery beside it. The main A road (Mull only has one) passes close by and a bus will stop and pick up anyone brave enough to cope with the single track roads which force drivers to swerve alarmingly into the passing places when meeting another vehicle. Bus drivers on Mull must have nerves of steel.
Ben More, Mull’s highest peak, rises 966 metres from the sea although its domination of the landscape is tempered by so many other summits close by of similar stature. Mull is so replete with steep-sided summits that its roads have to make devious detours along the winding valleys the glaciers have left behind, a delight for the tourists craning their necks out of car windows but a nightmare for the drivers.
The one thing we have found to dislike here is the absence of coverage by our mobile internet provider so our leaving the island today will be our first opportunity for some days to pick up messages and update this blog. But surely this is a small price to pay when matched against the sunsets that Mull has on offer.