The Seventeen Mile Reach

After years of strenuous negotiations Gerry and I had finally managed to arrange a long weekend aboard Silkie. We go back a very long way and coincidentally, Gerry owns a share in a bilge-keeled Hurley 22. Spookier yet, he and I had shared our very first sailing experience (in our early twenties) after deciding, for no obvious reason, to undertake a day’s dinghy tuition in a Wayfarer on Loch Earn.

Friday 12th August

We drove up together and after a brief familiarisation tour of Silkie, set off mid-afternoon to go up the Sound of Mull. The gentle zephyr dropped away as we approached Lismore Light and we motor-sailed up the sound and into Loch Aline. The hook was comprehensively soaked (off the north shore before the beacon) and the sun long gone before we considered a run ashore.

Although there was still some light in the sky the path along the lochside was essentially a tree-lined tunnel. It was raining heavily and we were drookit by the time we arrived at Lochaline. After a quick recce we decided that it was too far to the hotel and settled for the Lochaline Social Club. Considerable interest was added to the return journey by a failing torch battery (note to self: always carry a spare when planning a four mile hike on an unknown route in the pitch dark) but it held out or we might have had to spend the night under a bush.

Saturday 13th August

The 1700 forecast on Friday was S/SW F4/5 increasing 6/7 for a short time then veering W/NW 4/5 then variable 3 on Sunday. We were hoping that the 6/7 would blow over before breakfast on Saturday but variable 3 sounded too much like a day of motoring back from Tobermory on Sunday. We discussed making for Puilladobhrain instead and in the end deferred the decision until we were back out in the Sound of Mull.

It was overcast and raining as we motored out with the second reef in the main to find a lively F5 which appeared to be blowing down the Sound. One look at the white horses to the north and the decision was made – Puilladohbrain for us! Rolled out half the genoa and found ourselves on a glorious broad reach, consistently making over 6 knots in a quartering sea. There was some luffing in the puffs and the occasional easing of the main but Silkie was loving it and the crew were pretty chuffed too.

As we rounded Duart Point (8.1 knots with a little help from the tide) we came onto a close reach and the wind began to ease. We finished our seventeen mile reach in well under three hours and with all plain sail set. Not too shabby for a waterline length of seventeen feet. I don’t think Gerry was quite as impressed with the point of sail as I was but I can’t remember ever having a proper reach in the Sound of Mull. It’s always running or tacking. Definitely one of the top three this season so far.

Sunday 14th August

Sunday was fair and sunscreen was applied and although we sailed in a gentle breeze to begin with we resorted to the iron tops’l after half an hour or so. We went west of Kerrera in hopes of finding a breeze in the Firth of Lorne but were sadly disappointed and spent most of the trip sitting on the foredeck to get as far from the two-stroke buzz as possible.

Saw Gerry off on the bus (back to work) but I didn’t go back out since there was still no wind to speak of and I spent the night in the marina.

Monday 15th August

The 0500 forecast was SW 4/5 locally 6 at first in the north veering west for a time. There was also mention of coastal fog later but I didn’t pay any attention to that.¬† The following 24 hours was SW backing S 4/5 increasing 6/7 later. There was more talk of coastal fog but I didn’t pay any attention to that either. Although I planned to be back in the marina by Tuesday I didn’t actually have to be back to civilisation before Wednesday afternoon and so could afford the time to sit out any rough stuff, I hoped.

Set off south with a reef in but soon decided it wasn’t necessary. We were on the wind and making good time down the Firth but the wind picked up as we passed between Kerrera and Bach Island and I decided it was time for my first single-handed reef. I’d been considering doing this while hove-to but in the end I just eased the main as usual and settled her on the tillerpilot with only the genoa drawing before going up to the mast. Admittedly I was doing this earlier than I would with competent crew aboard (following the principle that the time to shorten sail is when you first think about it) but it went very smoothly. The breeze continued to freshen (although probably barely into F5) and I pulled down the second reef. It was all quite comfortable and I felt inordinately pleased with myself.

Not quite so pleasing, although eerily beautiful, was the sight of fog pouring down off Mull and rolling over the water towards us. Suddenly the second reef¬† seemed unnecessary after all and I decided we could probably stand a bit more genoa too. In the end I was snugly anchored well before the visibility dropped below 100m. I didn’t bother going ashore and settled down for the evening with a dram and a book instead.

Tuesday 16th August

Several (radarless) boats left during the morning though visibility did not improve significantly until nearly noon. I enjoyed an interesting afternoon sail home in variable winds and sailed as far as I dared into the bay. One of these days I’m going to try sailing onto my pontoon!

Miles this trip 65
Miles this season 731 (s/h 118)


Onward virgin sailors

Have been a bit remiss in keeping this up to date so a couple of catch-up entries are required.

Wednesday 27th July

Went up to the boat with my son-in-law Jamie for his first sail. Forecast winds were a bit brisker than ideal for a first sail and we had to be back on Friday so we weren’t going to get far. The wind was a gusty F5 when we arrived in the afternoon and we postponed sailing until the morrow when there would hopefully be less of it. We passed the rest of the day with “Sailing 101” as the Americans say. How interesting was that, I wonder?

Thursday 30th July

Set off mid-morning tacking into F4 with a reef in the main and a couple of rolls out of the genoa but still heeled slightly too much for novice sensibilities as Jamie confessed later. The wind eased and veered and we came on to a reach and finally a run as we altered course for Puilladobhrain (again) round the south end of Kerrera. Dropping anchor went without a hitch and I was halfway through the second beer when a large yacht decided to anchor in the admittedly generously wide berth I had given our nearest neighbour. There were only half a dozen other boats.

They made a trial run with the echo-sounder while enquiring about the position of Silkie’s anchor and the scope we had out. On their second run they failed to set their hook and motored off down the anchorage. I suppose I assumed that they were going to try their luck elsewhere and went below to rattle some pans. Next thing I heard was Jamie calling from the cockpit “They’ve caught our anchor!” The newcomer had come round for another try, failed to set their anchor again and tripped Silkie’s by motoring forward with their anchor trailing, hooking our chain as they went.

They apologised repeatedly while disentangling the ground tackle. We re-set Silkie’s 20lb plough where it fell while they motored off an appropriate distance to try again. After eating we took a stroll over the hill where the other crew signally failed to buy us a pint!

Friday 31st July

Sad to say, I really don’t remember much about the return to Dunstaffnage. A senior moment perhaps. I’ll talk to Jamie and fill this in later.

Jamie hasn’t been pestering me to go again.

Miles this trip 25
Miles this season 666! (s/h 93)