16 August 2013
The road journey to Oban is becoming almost familiar.
The overnight stop this time was at the Loch Lomond Arms, a strong, one-time coaching inn not quite overlooking the loch. Naturally, Jane misbehaved; but, in fairness, it was mostly the fault of the fool who put the wrong address into her search chip.
Margaret loves boating, so a trip around the loch by steamer (sorry, by diesel launch) was compulsory: it was an excellent way to wind down after the road journey.
The delicious evening meal at the hotel made a perfect end for the day.
The second part of the journey was, of course, short. M was planning to stay at the Oyster Inn and arrived in time for a substantial lunch in the bar.
These sailing trips are largely about eating, aren’t they?
Oban was, as always, a little dismal; it always rains. It rained at Dunstaffnage, too, but then the anticipation and excitement of the coming voyage woke up the butterflies. The water in the anchorage was calm and grey; the boats bobbed gently at their moorings, as boats do. Overlord was at the end of a hammerhead, as far from the gates as could be, and the lady in charge wouldn’t allow entry without a substantial offering.
The chap in the Wide Mouthed Frog was a little friendlier: his coffee was good and not too expensive.
The skipper, Tony, and the rest of his crew (Frank, JohnC, JohnSc (Mate), JohnSt, Miggie, Richard) arrived during the afternoon, having met on the train from Glasgow. The substantial offering was made, the boat was opened up, berths were allocated, coffee was brewed, menus were written, anchorages were planned, provisions were bought and a gourmet evening meal was cooked and eaten.
The voyage was to start tomorrow, Sunday!
Sunday was better. The weather continued to improve as Overlord dodged the CalMac ferries North and West through the Sound of Mull and came to a climax in Loch na Droma Buidhe to the sight of sea eagles feeding and the sound of nothing.
Reprovisioning in Tobermory was a delight. The anchorage is sheltered and the town, seen from the boat, is downright pretty. It conjured wonderful memories of a previous visit, in stv Sir Winston Churchill, a top-sail schooner, years before.
The voyage South was a chain of highlights punctuated by hot sunshine, violent rainstorms, lowering clouds and dense mists.
The anchorage at Ulva was serene, the only sound being the splashing of salmon feeding in the farm close by.
A similar anchorage in Loch Lanatherel was equally serene, the only sound being the drumming of continuous heavy rain on the deck and coachroof.
Loch Tarbert, approached by a series of well-marked zigzag channels, was magical: as Overlord arrived the water was a glassy mirror reflecting the enclosing mountains. As she left the next morning those same mountains poured a continuing avalanche of dense katabatic cloud down to the sea, dissipating at the surface into misty sunshine.
At Port Ellen Overlord anchored in the middle of the bay, sheltered in the North, the West and the South from anything that the weather forecast threatened. Instead, the howling overnight Easterly bounced and dragged us 500m closer to the beach.
Strangford Lough, once she had sailed the 8 knot flood past the Tidal Power Turbine, was calm and extensive. The mooring at Ringheddy Cruising Club was full of boats and empty of people. Frank got lost while running ashore and was brought back to the boat by a friendly local.
Carlingford Loch was empty of both boats and people: and Frank didn’t get lost while running ashore!
If Dunstaffnage, at the beginning of the first week, was cold and wet, then Londonderry, at the end of that week, was warm and sunny. The tide ran hard through the marina, but Richard brought the boat neatly alongside the pontoon and stemmed the flood as the crew made fast.
Bangor was very different. The tide was easy, but without Tony’s skill as skipper, and the teamwork he engendered, the onshore wind might have taken control of Overlord. His skill at the newly-built marina at Rathlin brought Overlord into a space too small, and held her while the crew helped a neighbouring boat move forward on the pontoon.
Rathlin was empty and quiet and friendly, with the peace that belongs only to island communities.
Bangor was empty and quiet with the sullen silence that only economic depression can bring. The crew cheered itself in the Rabbit bar with more kinds of rum than they knew existed.
The cheering in Portrush was of a different kind: with two wetwipes blocking the heads Overlord arrived in the middle of a rally of 400 Minis.
Overlord is not a plastic water-caravan, dumpy and wide-bottomed. She’s a sleek ocean sailor.
She tacked North-West through the Sound of Mull pointing higher and sailing faster than any other boat around. She sailed serenely, with little or no wind, into Loch na Droma Buidha and the next morning into Tobermory. It was the same across Strangford Lough and again into Carlingford Lough.
Around the Western tip of Mull she plunged her bows into the Atlantic swell, leapt forward off the crests and heeled to the S’Westerly breeze.
A week later, a whole day of sailing in F7 between Carlingford Lough and Dublin saw the waterways foaming and boiling with green water in a fast, exhilarating reach. That final day of the voyage culminated in the 3m overfalls as she turned into Dublin Bay and fought her way up the channel alongside the ferries and cruise liners. Alan’s calmness at the helm and the two Johns’ skill on the foredeck were inspirational. Frank’s courage with the foresail found him trapped under wet canvas on the sole of the forepeak until he was rescued.
Through all these highlights the ones that shone most brightly were the meals. JohnS has never cooked, but he knows culinary skill when he tastes it; and the crew tasted it in every anchorage. They occasionally ate ashore, but they always dined on board.
But only the tame harbour seal at Port Ellen tasted a Frank-caught fish.