Friday, 8 June 2012

Ailsa Bhan, a retro blog.

A few years ago I met a guy who was just starting out in windsurfing, he was dead keen and one of the most determined people I've met. As time went by Rambo became one of the regulars on the Helensburgh windsurfing scene and we became friends with shared interests in paddling and snowsports as well as windsurfing.
Rambo mentioned in passing that his family had a yacht that was moored near Oban and when he offered myself and Iain (another windsurfing friend) the opportunity to spend a long weekend crewing for him we obviously jumped at the chance.
I managed to borrow some sailing waterproofs from another friend and when the weekend arrived we drove round to Oban in Iain's van. After a quick stop to eat lunch we boarded the passenger ferry which took us across Oban bay and out to Kerrera marina where the yacht was berthed.
 Ailsa Bhan is a stunning boat, she's a Malo 42, made in Sweden, beautifully appointed and very comfortable and roomy. Iain and I quickly realised just how lucky we were to be spending a weekend on her!
We loaded all our gear aboard (including Rambo's windsurfing kit) and Rambo gave us a quick tour and safety brief. He's been sailing since he was young and with his family has sailed to and from the Med as well as all over Britain and other parts of Europe so it was no surprise that he seemed to be in his element. Soon we were ready to go so we cast off and Rambo took her out into Oban bay on the engine.
Cap'n Rambo waves at the Cal Mac ferry.
Iain relaxing as we motored out of the bay. 
Once we'd cleared the busy area immediately off Oban and got out into the Firth of Lorn Rambo explained and then put us through a "Man Overboard" drill. It's important to know how to do this as anyone could potentially be the man who falls overboard and all the other crew members must know what to do to carry out a rescue. 
After that we set off under sail towards the Sound of Mull. I'd been through here a few times before on ferries but it felt very different beating against the wind on Ailsa Bhan. 
There was a nice F3 blowing and Iain and I were both surprised and thrilled when Rambo asked us to spell him at the wheel (I never dreamt that I'd be in a position to helm a 42 foot yacht!) 
As we got further west along the Sound of Mull the wind started to get lighter so plans to head for Tobermory for the night were revised to a less ambitious target. We decided to have a look into Lochaline as Rambo knew of a spot we could anchor there.
The entrance to Lochaline is through a very narrow opening and is also shared with a car ferry that goes over to Mull and back. Just as we approached the narrows the wind died completely (and we had the ferry bearing down on us into the bargain). I assumed Rambo would start the engine and motor through but no such thing, he reckoned the tide would push us through just in time. It was a close run thing and we barely had steerage but Rambo coaxed the boat through just in time to be clear of the ferry slip by the time the ferry docked. A lesson in helmsmanship! Once we were through we drifted with the tide up the loch until Rambo admitted defeat and motored the last bit (he needed the engine to bed the anchor in as well).
In this picture you can see the narrow entrance to Lochaline behind us. We anchored up and Rambo set about cooking up a rare feast for us (accompanied and followed by a few beers).
The next morning the weather was cloudy with some rain and a bit of a breeze. Rambo seemed to feel that Iain and I would be desperate to move on to get more sailing in but we were totally happy relaxing in such a great setting so we urged Rambo to get out on his windsurfer. Needless to say Rambo was easily persuaded. We knew that it'd be difficult to rig the windsurfer afloat and briefly toyed with ferrying Rambo ashore in the yachts tender but as I already mentioned he's not one to shirk a challenge so decided to try rigging up in the water! The first step was to inflate the dinghy that served as tender and then get it into the water.
Next Rambo got in the water with his kit.
Sleeving the mast proved quite a challenge!
Iain lends a helping hand.
and he's off!
Up to planing speed.
Quite an unusual location to go windsurfing!
The mothership
and me on the chase boat. 
After a while the wind dropped off to the point where Rambo was struggling to spend any time on the plane so we called it a day and returned to the yacht for lunch.
After lunch we rowed ashore in the dinghy and after tying it up on a narrow concrete pier we set off for a stroll around the head of the loch with no particular destination in mind.
We wandered around the head of Lochaline towards the western shore. 

 Once on the western side we found a track leading along the shore towards Lochaline village so we set off along it.

Eventually we reached the industrial remains of a silica sand mine on the edge of Lochaline village. The mine closed in 2008 but before that had been active since the 1940s producing silica sand which is used in glass making. We passed the slipway for the Mull ferry and stood for a while watching the tide rushing through the narrow entrance to the loch that we'd navigated the day before.
 We'd walked a lot further than we'd originally intended so decided to seek refreshment in the Lochaline Hotel which was busy with divers (diving is very popular in the area). Needless to say the one pint we went in for turned into several pints and by the time we emerged it was dark. We were faced with the long walk back in the darkness and none of us had brought a headtorch as we'd not intended going far! Once we got away from the lights of the village our eyes started to adjust to the pitch darkness, the silica mine was very eerie at night!
When we got back to the pier we were faced with another problem, the tide had come right in and submerged the far end where the dinghy was moored. Now when I describe this thing as a pier I may be over glamourising it, it consisted of a three feet wide concrete ramp sloping down into the water and projecting out maybe a hundred feet. Due to the slope the seaward end where we knew our dinghy was tied up was completely under water. As we had no torches we couldn't see the dinghy, nor could we see the edges of the pier so there was a real danger of walking off the edge into the deep water. Rambo immediately set off along it to search for the dinghy while Iain and I waited on the shore hoping he'd be okay. He disappeared into the darkness edging his way along the pier feeling the edge of it with one foot so as not to step off the side. Once he reached the dinghy he found that the bow was pulled right down almost under the water by the painter which had been set too short and he had to kneel down in a couple of feet of water which was covering the pier in order to find and untie the painter! Eventually he returned dripping wet but having successfully recovered the dinghy. Our next problem was finding the moored yacht in the pitch dark night, thankfully we managed this without too much trouble. Once back onboard Ailsa Bhan we had a good laugh as Rambo poured the water out of his wellies but we all knew that we'd made a stupid mistake and were lucky to have got away with it. After a quick bite to eat we hit the sack.
The next morning the weather was much more promising so after breakfast we decided to head for Seil island.
 Iain in the saloon shortly before leaving. 
Once we'd weighed anchor we set off back up Lochaline towards the narrows. To save time we motored this section so I went and sat on the bow and enjoyed the sunshine and took a few pictures. 

 I thought I'd better rejoin Iain and Rambo in case there was work to be done as we went through the narrows and turned east back down the Sound of Mull. 

Once we got a bit further down the Sound of Mull the wind freshened so we set the sails. 
We passed a well known landmark on the way.

Duart Castle on Mull is the ancestral home of the clan Maclean.
Once round the corner of Mull and heading south the wind filled in nicely and the sun came out giving glorious sailing conditions.
 Thoughts turned to lunch and Rambo and Iain disappeared below to slave away in the galley while I sailed.
 Bacon baguettes made for a fantastic feed as we sailed south east down the Firth of Lorn.
 The view out west.
 Looking back at Mull.
As we progressed Rambo formed a plan for us to visit Easdale at the southwestern end of Seil.

Easdale is a former slate quarrying island (in fact it along with several other islands nearby are known as the slate islands) and is separated from Seil island by a narrow stretch of water. We decided to use a public mooring and row ashore to Ellenabeich on Seil. First we had to pick up the mooring though which meant Rambo helming Ailsa Bhan while Iain tried to hook the mooring buoy with the boat hook.

Soon we were tied up and jumped into the dinghy to row ashore.

 We tied the dinghy up alongside the slipway in the tiny harbour before strolling around the quaint village.
We could see across the narrow channel (past Ailsa Bhan) to Easdale itself. 

Eventually we found ourselves in the local pub (fancy that!) It has an outside veranda overlooking one of the old flooded quarry pools, it was a lovely spot to enjoy a few pints and the glorious sunshine.

 Soon enough it was time to make a move so we dragged ourselves reluctantly out of the pub and back in the direction of the boat waiting patiently at her mooring.
 Once we were back onboard we untied from the mooring buoy and motored out of the channel before setting sail north along the western shore of Seil.

We were heading for the well known Puilladobhrain (translated as Pool of the Otter) anchorage at the northwestern end of Seil. The sailing on the way was great and even Rambo's trousers (soaked from rescuing the dinghy the day before) had dried out!
We motored into the anchorage (which is a perfectly sheltered bay), it can be very busy in there but thankfully we only had one other neighbour (although another arrived later). Iain was on anchor lowering duties.
It was a special spot to be sure and we were treated to a nice sunset over our neighbours yacht.
Meanwhile down below Rambo was cooking up a culinary storm in the galley for our last night feast.

We enjoyed a fantastic dinner of Rambo's homemade venison sausages and burgers with roast Mediterranean vegetables and roast spuds (oh and quite a few beers!) 
After dinner we once more boarded the dinghy in the dark and made the short journey ashore before walking for about twenty minutes on a rough footpath over the hills to Clachan Seil next to the famous Bridge over the Atlantic and it's adjacent pub the Tigh an Truish (or House of Trousers where according to legend the islanders used to change from their kilts into trousers before crossing onto the mainland after kilts were outlawed following the Jacobite rebellion). As it was a Sunday night the pub was quiet with just a few locals in but we had a really enjoyable evening in there until closing time brought an end to proceedings. The walk back over the hill seemed to pass very quickly on the return journey for some reason and soon we made it safely back aboard Ailsa Bhan where we enjoyed a final dram before turning in. 
The next morning we weighed anchor and set sail for the Sound of Kerrera. Once we reached it Rambo turned the engine on to save time getting back to the marina and we motored up the Sound. Back safely in the marina there was plenty of tidying up and cleaning to do before we finally caught the ferry back into Oban to retrieve Iain's van. 
It had been a great trip and unlike anything I've ever done before so thanks to Rambo for his hospitality and to Iain for being great company (as ever) during the course of the weekend.

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