Back to Arisaig, around Crinan and Loch Craignish, Oban and haul out for winter storage
After a couple of nights in Loch Moidart, we decided to head out again but to Arisaig rather than straight back around to Tobermory and onto towards Oban. Arisaig is well connected by bus and rail and we wanted to go for a walk from Lochailort and maybe even get some good pictures of the Jacobite steam service as it shirts around Loch Eilt (a popular shot and frequently included as a view of the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films see more pictures). Our walk revealed a fantastic array of hidden glens with no roads and very little sign of habitation, ancient or modern. However, our memory of when the steam service ran was not so good and we were surprised by the train as it rolled through about 45 minutes before we were expected it. If we had consulted the timetable this would have been obvious! We did catch a normal service train to Mallaig in the afternoon just to have a nose around for a couple of hours. Mallaig Harbour is not very yacht friendly even though the number of fishing boats has dropped to just a handful.
On our sail from Arisaig to Tobermory, we spotted two sunfish in the space of about 6 miles. The sunfish can grow to quite a significant size and all you see at a distance is a floppy fin out of the water. Unlike a dolphin the sunfish moves very slowly, giving us enough time to take oodles of photographs, none of which were very good, but they give the general idea.
After a single night in Tobermory we enjoyed a rare sail down the Sound of Mull (we always seem to have to motor between Oban and Tobermory). In Oban, Tim had a much needed haircut then we were off again to Loch Craignish. As we left Oban the wind was a gusty force 4/5 northerly and we raced south down the sound of Kerrera, but once out of the protection of the island the seas had built up quite substantially, the wind also increased and must have been near force 7 giving us an exciting downwind ride until we were once again inside the shelter of the islands around the Sound of Luing. We anchored off Goat Island in Loch Craignish which was very sheltered though the winds did die down later that afternoon. The anchorage is not huge, but there is plenty of space for several boats and we had it to ourselves. As we left the next morning on our way to Crinan, looking back up the loch just half a mile we were really surprised to see over 15 boats all at anchor off Eilean Righ (which looked very cramped!).
The fees for entering Crinan Canal itself are quite expensive so we anchored in the bay off the village which turned out to be a much quieter spot than the canal basin which has people milling around most of the day. Having curious strangers peering into your living space while moored against the canal bank is not very enjoyable, so we were glad to have chosen the anchorage. While there we had planned to walk the whole 9 mile length of the tow path along the canal and catch the bus back but the rain intervened conveniently at the time we were near the Cairnbaan Hotel! So we popped in a beer and sat out the showers before walking back to Crinan (which meant we walked about 10 miles in total). The canal is very idyllic with cottages at most of the locks and bridges (above). One side of the canal is steep hills covered in native oak woods, the other side is flat open marshland of the estuary and a haven for wildlife. September is a good time of year for looking for fungi and there are always a fascinating variety to be found, though our walks only produced one of the stunning "red with white spots" variety.
The haul out was not booked until the 23 September and while at Crinan we were avoiding going back to Oban as this for us really spelt the end of the summer and we still had a couple of weeks to go. However, the weather was not good enough (gales and rain) to entice us further south towards Jura and Islay so we headed into Ardfern Marina for a few days. On one of our walks around the Craignish Peninsular, we came across a goose farm. We are well used to cows and sheep blocking the road, but neither make the same amount noise and fuss when disturbed as geese! As you can see from the photograph it was rather a grey day, and it was another of those walks when we arrived at a very convenient Pub just when the heavens opened around lunch time. This time however it did not stop so we had to return in the rain.
Finally we returned to Oban and started the various jobs in preparation for winterizing the boat. It is always amazing to see the build up of salt crystals in the anchor chain locker for example - all the chain and rode has to come out and be washed and then a hose pipe directed into to the chain locker. The weather while we were in Oban was appalling. With such relentless rain, it look a week for some of the mooring ropes to dry after we washed them.
There is a small ferry boat, Dirk, that runs between Oban town and Oban marina (which is really on Kerrera). Each year the marina employs a few people for six months at a time to drive Dirk and, as part of the remuneration, accommodation in a grass roofed cabin near the marina is provided. This sounds like a fun job but Dirk runs in all weathers and if you are not used to being on an island with no shops and a population of 40 then it can feel quite isolated. We got friendly with Marcus and Olga who had signed up for the summer shift on Dirk. They found it OK because they could also run their internet based business between trips across to Oban. They were hosting a leaving party during the week were working through the winterizing jobs, unfortunately it was on one of the days that Tim popped back to Bath to collect the car, but that didn't stop Judith going. The invitation was for 7pm-ish though several others had clearly been there for some time and were rather the worse for wear. This had the effect of loosening some tongues, and a few interesting stories were told which probably would not have been on more sober occasions!
Before we departed for Loch Creran, we did get a walk in to Dunstaffnage along the coast path from Oban. In the grounds of Dunstaffnage Castle we found a rope swing with which Judith impersonated Fragonard's famous Swing painting, though the trousers and boots are not very elegant, they are far more practical for traipsing around the Scottish hills than a frilly pink dress and dainty slippers!
Finally, we motored around to Loch Creran and while moored on a buoy stripped off the sails and made ready for being hauled out. George and Kenny made no fuss and we were soon out on a stand ready for the pressure washing off of accumulated weed. Most of the hull was fine, but in places these long strands (left) had grown, but then this is the first season where we have not had the opportunity to haul out mid season. The following morning the mast was lifted clear and Innisfree positioned inside the shed for the winter.
We are always asked if we find it difficult to go back to work after six months sailing but in reality it is like flicking a switch and we just fall back into the old daily routines. That's not to say we are not already thinking about next years summer...