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.