Author: Hamish Dobbie

You are allowed to dream

You are allowed to dream

It all started one Sunday evening. My eye caught a small advert in the paper offering a week’s ‘pot luck’ sailing in the Ionian. What captivated my mind though, was that it was cheap although the start date was imminent. A week later I flew into Preveza airport and was bussed over to Nidri on the Greek island of Lefkas, arriving in time to see the sun set in all its shimmering glory. After a short safety briefing, I was ready to board a 35’ Beneteau sloop along with 5 other shipmates. The Skipper Luke was bright, charming and years younger than my youngest son!

We slipped our moorings and left the pontoon after a relaxed breakfast and at last I was sailing again in the comfort and warmth of waters as smooth as glass – broken only by our gentle wake which was spectacular!

Previously, I had joined the OYTS (Ocean Youth Trust Scotland) on retirement and sailed off the Scottish west coast in 70’ Challenger yachts. This too was an excellent experience, not least for the reward of seeing troubled youngsters blossom from their experience of being ‘under sail’. Safety was paramount with 12 youngsters aboard and training in both seamanship and youth development was excellent. I progressed from RYA Competent Crew, through Watch Leader to Day Skipper and sailed all over the west coast and to Ireland with numerous memorable teams of youngsters. As the years rolled rapidly bye, the weather and the seas steadily eroded the comfort of sailing and reluctantly I had to listen to the RYA training of ‘be aware of your limitations’.

So, I decided to become a landlubber but dreamed of sailing in warm calmer waters. I looked at yachts available on Apolloduck and similar. Not too small but not too large while at the same time dreaming of ownership which I knew full well, was well beyond reach. However, one is allowed to dream!

I subscribed to Practical Boat Magazine, Captain John online, maintained my RYA and RNLI membership, and dreamed on! (As is the wont of landlubber sailors!) Numerous craft came and went while I dreamed, and then I began following the yacht syndicate concept. To cut a fairly long story short, in the Spring of 2018 my wife and I arrived in Sivota (about 8 miles south of Nidri) to be introduced to ‘Fluke’, a Beneteau Oceanis 320 built in 1989 and very affordable as a yacht share. I was the third share sold and there were no surprises in both the owner and the yacht.

‘Fluke’ a Beneteau Oceanis 320

‘Fluke’ a Beneteau Oceanis 320

Sivota Harbour

Sivota is one of the safest harbours in the Ionian Islands, as the entrance is a dog’s-leg and extends almost a mile inland. ‘Fluke’ was moored stern-to on the southern quay away from the several Tavernas but right opposite the mini supermarket owned by Christos. So, victualling was easy, and a great benefit for new arrival is that Christos has excellent rooms with the best showers in the port that are reasonably priced! Another great find on our first day was Ioanna’s (pronounced Janna) Family Café on the west quay front, which is a delight – as is Ioanna herself who is a fountain of knowledge about everything locally.

View over Sivota, from the upper balcony of Ioanna’s Family Cafe.
View over Sivota, from the upper balcony of Ioanna’s Family Cafe.

Our Journey

The first leg of our journey was down to Vasiliki and we pottered down the dogs-leg in the early morning stillness. The 18 h.p. Volvo penta diesel was purring comfortably at 2000 rpm and making 5.5 knots. Most mornings in the Ionians during the season of early May to end September, begin in bright sunshine with not a breath of air. By 1030 hours there may be a light air that builds towards midday to a gentle breeze, sometimes a moderate breeze of 11 – 16 knots, before falling away all afternoon to a still evening. Perfect sailing conditions! There are exceptions of course, so be sure to obtain reliable weather forecasts.

We anchored in Ammousa Bay for lunch and the bow chain ran out almost to the bitter end, but the hook held. Cold meat and a salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, black olives, and lashings of olive oil with fresh bread. All washed nicely down with just the one allowed glass of cold, cold rose wine. Another larger Beneteau lay off our starboard quarter, flying a South African flag. We left the Bay and continued to follow my meticulously plotted (Imray chart G121) and written passage plan and pilotage, but I soon discovered that as one is in visual contact with the islands, it is easy to know exactly your location at any time. No tides make for much easier planning. The Imray Pilot book is invaluable and gives so much more information than just nautical details.

Vasiliki is a large harbour developed to take a ferry service, but the ferry has not materialised yet. We anchored stern-to as usual. This was our first real attempt (in front of the usual many interested eyes!) and of course the windlass started playing up by not letting the chain run out smoothly and rapidly. On the fourth attempt a German flagged yacht suggested loudly that there was more room further down the quay where I could try again, but I advised him I was happy with my chosen spot to berth! The South African flagged yacht was already berthed and offered helpful advice about spraying silicon spray on the windlass cogs which did the trick and we came in sweetly under the German’s nose!!

We had a very happy evening meal with the South Africans at a Taverna on the edge of the harbour under large shady eucalyptus trees. Yachting is so sociable and the Ionian experience is certainly so, although there can be a fair amount of leg-pulling, hollering and shouting when things go wrong as every yachtsman knows can happen. The South Africans had watched us anchor for lunch and thought we must be very experienced to have succeeded as we did in deep water. Little did they know!

Our next leg of the passage was directly South, 10 miles to Fiskardo on Cephalonia. A gentle westerly breeze was up by 0930 hours and we were soon cruising comfortably along on a beam reach at 5 knots, under full genoa and mainsail. Ferries use this broad channel to enter and exit the south Ionian Seas, on passage from and to the North. A sharp eye needs to be kept but visibility is excellent, and they can be seen miles away. Nevertheless, it is surprising how quickly they close with you if on a collision course, and ferries do not give way to little nuisance craft in Greece!  The wind picked up to about 12 knots and backed to southwest with a small sea building. I had in mind to take in a reef on the mainsail balanced with some furling of the genoa, but we would soon be in the lee of north Cephalonia. Anyway, it was fun cracking through a bit of a chop at 6.5 knots! Fluke handled well with a light touch on the tiller.  Oh yes – no cockpit wheel but real sailing with a tiller!

Fiskardo is a beautiful medium sized harbour that is fashionable. The quay and Tavernas are smart. People like to strut their stuff which we both found amusing. The food was good and Jonathan, our portside berth neighbour, was very friendly between periods of sitting on a chair on his foredeck shouting advice through a megaphone to new arrivals. He had seen our Red Ensign and signalled us in and fortunately we came in on only the second attempt, ever so slowly but precisely. We learnt that he was impressed when we invited him over for a drink!

Fish circling Fluke in One House Bay
Fish circling Fluke in One House Bay

The next day, as forecast, it blew a gale so we stayed put as one can in these islands. There are plenty of safe ports to hunker down in, should the weather turn nasty. Distances between islands are short and every night we slept well, while secure in port. Night sailing is too strenuous and mooring in a bay on the hook may need an anchor watch. This sort of safe sailing is a mile away from the Scottish west coast and suits us of a certain age very well. We sailed on the next day to Eufemia followed by Vathi, the capital of Ithaca and then quaint Kioni, for a night each. Next we then headed east across to the island of Kastos after a lunch stop and swim in One House Bay on the uninhabited island of Nisos. Then a short hop on to Kalamos where George saw us safely to our berth before we were served the most delicious meal at his taverna. Our table was on the very edge of the sea and that evening the sunset was inspirational.

Spiglia Taverna
Spiglia Taverna

We headed home via two ports on beautiful Meganisi island, called Karnagio which has excellent showers, and Spiglia. Both are stand-alone tavernas offering their own jetty or quay respectively with quaint villages within an easy short walk. Peaceful and calm, and each has an excellent idyllic sandy swimming beach next to the taverna.

So dream on dreamers, for with a bit of effort and care the dream can come true.


Fluke moored.
Fluke bow-to on Spiglia quay

Tale of the Bucking Foredeck

Tale of the Bucking Foredeck

SULA and SANNOX Go Sailing

The Participants – Scott, Anne, Stewart, Charles
The Participants – Scott, Anne, Stewart, Charles

Planning a summer voyage in a Drascombe is as much fun as the voyage itself. Many years ago the above team decided that it was about time to take advantage of the myriad opportunities to explore the West Coast of our beautiful Country. Lots of time poring over charts and pilot books, eventually deciding that we would set out from Arisaig and head North.

At anchor in Arisaig harbour
Arisaig harbour

We had decided to head up the Sound of Sleat, overnight at Isle Oronsay on Skye and thence up Kyle Rhea with a sharp left turn into Loch Alsh and to all points North and West. Launching late on the Saturday evening and settling down to the joys of the spacious Drascombe cabin together with a week’s worth of stores, water, fuel,clothes,books, charts and other assorted essentials. Setting sail on Sunday at a civilised 09.00 we motored through the tricky North Channel. (There is, amongst many other hazards, a particularly nasty submerged rock at its North end). An uneventful sunny sail with a Force4 Southerly wind. This proved without a doubt that a Longboat Cruiser could beat the pants off a Coaster, it’s all to do with that sneaky Mainsail boom thing ! Arrived and anchored in 2 metres at Isle Oronsay, a good sheltered anchorage but very shallow meaning that Drascombers have a lot shorter row to shore than “proper” yachts people. A decent pub meal then back to bed – an early start awaits.

Kyle Rhea is blessed with tidal streams of up to 8.5 knots meaning that if you get your tides wrong a Drascombe at full stretch would be going backwards at over 3 knots. The tide was all set for an 05.00 start, the weather forecast had predicted an overnight front passing over, with winds of force 7 from the South – not good Drascombe weather, but moderating to force 3 or 4 later. I was awakened during the night with strong winds buffeting the boat, safe in our anchorage. I thought good that’s our F7 out of the way, how wrong can you be! 05.00 proved miserable, dark, damp drizzle, wind Southerly F4, visibility down to around half a mile. Hey Ho, off we go, Nav lights on, The thudding of a large marine engine was heard before the ghostly outline of a large fish carrier glided by on our starboard side, heading South against the tide.

We whizzed up and through Kyle Rhea with a favourable tide running at up to 8.5 knots and a fine F3 southerly wind, a quick left turn into Loch Alsh and heading for the Skye Bridge. The Bridge was visible through the murk some 3 miles ahead.

Things suddenly went pear shaped, the wind that had been a favourable southerly F4 began to increase quickly maintaining its southerly direction until it was a full F7, the sea picked up quickly, confused, lumpy, very uncomfortable, a beam reach in a F7 is not to be taken lightly in a Drascombe, a quick radio conversation decided that we would furl sails and take advantage of Mr Honda. Sula quickly took all sails in and motored towards Kyleakin, which we had agreed was a sensible refuge. Looking astern we noted that Sannox was still flying its full Jib, this was flogging madly in near Gale force wind. A quick radio call revealed that the jib furler had jammed and the sail could not be controlled. Only one solution, a body would need to brave the “Bucking Foredeck”. The indomitable Anne undertook this hazardous job and reasonably quickly unfangled the fouled furling line. All we could do was stand by in case of Woman Overboard!

The Bucking Foredeck

Once the sail problem was solved it was merely riding the lumpy sea to the shelter of Kyleakin harbour on Skye. Until the advent of the Skye Bridge this had been the main landing for the Kyle of Lochalsh ferry. The time was 07.30, we had been at sea for two and a half hours – it seemed to have been half a lifetime. We rafted up outside a couple of real yachts, 40 odd footers and set about preparing some breakfast a few minutes later a bloke wearing a towel and clutching a cup of coffee looked down at us from his lofty deck and exclaimed “Where in the hell have you lot come from? It’s been blowing Force 8 here and we’ve been storm bound for ages.”

It had been our intention to head for Plockton, under the Skye Bridge and turn right. As an aside if you turn left you have to be careful as there are nasty rocks and a foul bottom as the nuclear submarine HMS Astute found to her cost a few years ago! I digress. The weather seemed to be improving so we wandered about Kyleakin in the rain, not too an exciting place on a soggy Monday morning. The tide would be running west through the bridge narrows until around 13.30 so as the wind had moderated to SW F4 we decided to go through the narrows on the last of the tide, if it was OK we could carry on to Plockton, if not we could turn back and take the East going tide back to Kyleakin.

The wind was kind, the sun was out and we had a fine sail arriving at a nice shallow anchorage close to the delightful village of Plockton around 17.30, all the real yachts were miles further off constrained by their draft. What do you need after being cooped up in a soggy wet Drascombe for a couple of days – you’ve guessed it – a shower. After a few enquiries it emerged that the Plockton Hotel had the necessary. One had to book in the Hotel but the charge was an eye watering £3-00. Wow. However the shower room which was reached from a little door in the street was something else, spacious, warm, clean, umpteen shelves filled with all the soaps, lotions and potions known to man. Warm clean luxurious towels and endless supplies of hot water – the best three quids worth ever! Having been seduced by the luxury shower experience it was inevitable we sample the hotel bar and restaurant, a fabulous meal, Lobster Bisque followed by Langoustines with accompanying beverages. A small row back to the boats, end of a splendid day.

We had had thoughts of making it to the Island of Rona but as this was over 15 miles distant, it seemed sensible to modify the plan, to be more relaxing and more importantly get back to Arisaig without recourse to a dash at the end of the week. It was a beautiful sunny morning with light winds, after a relaxing breakfast on board we upped anchor and bid farewell to the delightful village of Plockton. A pleasant motor sail to the Applecross peninsula, a small diversion up Loch Toscaig where we saw some seals. Arriving at Applecross around lunch time we anchored off in the huge sandy Applecross Bay and took in the view of the scenic little village that is so hard to get to by road. After a relaxing lunch we had agreed to overnight in the Crowlin Islands, heading South we diverted into a couple of small harbours, Poll Chreadha and Poll Domhain, interesting but inadvisable without proper pilot book as there are many hazards to be avoided, luckily there are plenty of perches to help safe pilotage – all you have to do is identify the right perch – not so easy !

An easy passage to the Crowlin Islands, A trio of Islands separated by a long North / South Inlet the Northern part being accessible to real yachts, the Southern part only accessible by a narrow rocky stretch, excellent Drascombe bombproof anchorage! Anchorage culinary skills put on show, proving that Drascombing is not all slumming, Scott rustling up a 3 item cooked meal on a single gas ring, Anne and Stew a gourmet feast in the confines of a Drascombe cockpit. A fantastic peaceful spot, all to ourselves, not another person or craft in the whole world.

The cook awaits his guests
The cook awaits his guests

Time to be heading home, sad to not have more time to explore these deserted delightful islands with their wonderful anchorage.

The crowded anchorage Crowlin Islands
The crowded anchorage Crowlin Islands

Plan is to head South, pass under the Skye bridge, allowing for a 2 knot contrary tidal stream, and moor up at Kyle of Lochalsh, go ashore for some stores and fuel. Leaving Kyle of Lochalsh around 10.00 we planned to head for Loch Duich and anchor overnight across from Eilean Donan Castle. We anchored opposite the Castle which has a very bland SW facade, very disappointing considering the splendid aspect shown in countless tourist vistas, it was very hot and windless and the noise from the A87 was irritating and intrusive.

Have we time to catch the South going tide through Kyle Rhea, yes if we are quick. Leaving Eilean Donan at 16.00, we arrived at the North end of Kyle Rhea by 17.00 we swished south, at times making 9.5 knots over the ground. We had decided to overnight in Loch Hourn rather than the busier Loch Nevis with its famous The Old Forge” pub at Inverie. By 19.00 we had anchored in the lea of Eilean Rarsaidh some 3 miles from the mouth of the Loch. It was a beautiful peaceful, tranquil spot. Over a relaxing meal cooked on board, a reasonably cool beer, we were transfixed as a trio of otters played and frolicked 5 or 6 metres from the boats. They were totally indifferent to our proximity and continued their games for at least half an hour, we never saw them out of the water.
I’m afraid Imust curtail the story at this point, the voyage continued by way of Sandaig Islands, Isle Oronsay, Armadale, Hidden Harbour (Skye), and then back to Arisaig.

Seven days, 122 miles and lots of fine memories. Did anyone spot the Navigation light ?

Charles Willoughby

The committee are grateful for Charles sharing his recollections of this fantastic adventure. Should you have a story you wish to share – please email to the club secretary.

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