April-May 2010, Loch Creran to Oban (via West Wales!)
Innisfree has resided in the sheds at MRC on the shores of Loch Creran for over 18 months, so it was with some trepidation that we started the pre-season maintenance. Arriving in mid April we found Innisfree buried at the back, with over 20 boats in front to be moved before we could get anywhere near the water. The tarpaulins had been a good idea as they were now covered in a thick layer of dust.
It was a prolonged period of high pressure while we were working. This was both good and bad news. Good, because it was plenty warm enough to apply the primer and antifoul, but bad, because there was not a breath of wind. The sheds are open at the ends, but with several other people also applying antifoul it quickly because unpleasantly choked with fumes. Even while wearing face masks it needed frequent trips outside to clear our heads.
Mid April 2010 was the time of the first closure of British Airspace due to the volcanic ash clouds from Iceland. We had been getting tired of the news being dominated by politicians posturing before the General Election so had not been tuning in. It was only when we were discussing the spectacular sunsets with the landlord of our B&B that we heard why they were such a deep red. Our bedroom window looked out towards the setting sun, and it was only a five minute walk up to the Connel Bridge for an even more impressive view.
MRC had been having staff illness troubles which was why they were slow in moving boats. This was unlikely to improve in the short term and it was going to be at least a couple of weeks before they would get close to moving Innisfree out of the shed. With our work commitments finished, we returned home for a couple of weeks and decided to spend a few days in West Wales, staying at the Black Lion in Pontrhydfendigaid.
This area of Wales has had an extensive Red Kite reintroduction program. There are a number of feeding stations where the kites are fed each afternoon. These give the public excellent viewing opportunities of these impressive birds of prey. They are very well established in the area now. Typically, during our visit the weather had changed and we were enveloped in thick fog making bird watching impossible, though we did get one good sighting while traveling on the Vale of Rheidol narrow gauge steam railway.
The line starts in Aberystwyth and is a long steady climb up the steep sided Rheidol Valley. This was one of the better days of our visit, so we could enjoy the spectacular views as the little loco followed the contours, twisting in and out of the tributary valleys high above the valley floor as it made its way up to Devil's Bridge. The only disappointment was the engine is oil fired so does not have the distinctive coal smell that we are used to on the locos at Toddington. However, it certainly is one of the more impressive steam railways in the UK.
Another local attraction we visited was the Dolaucothi Gold Mines. These are National Trust owned and are the remains of both Roman (mainly) open cast workings and underground shaft workings from the 1930s. Being mid week the site was not busy and we took both the tour of the Roman workings and the underground tour. You had to get kitted up with a hard hat and miners lamp for the tours, there was one lady on the tour who really didn't like the claustrophobic conditions underground and had to be lead out. It was quite surprising in these days of Health & Safety that they actually allowed people into the mine workings which were very narrow, quite damp (if not positively wet!) and steep in places. Certainly not a place where either of us would have wanted to work on a daily basis.
The gold was present in very small quantities within the quartz veins in he rock. The quartz was mined out, crushed, and then washed into settling pools. The gold being heavier, sank, and was recovered from the bottom of the pools. The mines were abandoned in 1938 as the gold became uneconomical to mine. An area of the site was set up so you could try to pan for gold. We found quite a bit of Iron Pyrites (fools gold) but no real gold - we were not expected too! However, you could see how gold panning could become additive. All in all, the gold mines were an excellent place to enjoy an afternoon and are well recommended.
On our return journey from Wales we got a phone message to say that Innisfree was now outside the shed, so after a day at home doing last minute jobs we set off north. On arrival we found the mast up with the mast head lights in place but not the wind-ex. It is too dangerous to hoist someone up the mast while the boat is balanced in a cradle, but the staff were most obliging and one of the lads was hoisted up with their crane whilst it was set up ready to install another mast.
While connecting the mast electrics we discovered that both the bulbs in the steaming/deck light had been stolen at some point in the last 18 months. These are easier to replace as they are half way up the mast so can be reached with a long ladder from the deck. At the chandlery we discovered why they had been stolen, they cost £14 for the pair of them!
Several other people were working on their boats in the yard. Some of their dogs had the run of the place but a couple of Spaniels just slept in the back of their owners car all day, which was parked just behind Innisfree. They were very friendly but knew they were not allowed to leave the car.
One of the biggest worries was would the engine start after 18 months without use. Now the boat was out of the shed we could connect a hose to the raw water cooling inlet and see what happened. It started first time. The exhaust water spewing out the back started off rather black, but soon cleared so we were ready for the launch. This was an hour before high water on a Wednesday afternoon. There was not a breath of wind so motoring out from the crane was easy. We then continued out of Loch Creran and south to Oban Marina on the island of Kerrera. Here we have been ever since...
Tim drove the car back home, and returned by train. On the day he returned, while planning our route up to Fort William and doing the pre-journey checks, Judith found the sump below the engine full of water, not a good sign. The water pump appeared to be source of the leak. However, changing the gasket on the cover had no impact on the leak, in fact stripping it down and reassembling made it much worse. On investigation it was found to be the seal on the drive shaft, requiring a new one. This was ordered over the internet and we are now awaiting it's delivery. We are just very glad that it held for our trip from Loch Creran because with no wind that day it could have been rather interesting! However this is a good place for an enforced stay. Oban is accessible by complimentary ferry, so we have the amenities of a town without the disturbance at night. The walk around Kerrera is beautiful, with the picturesque Gylen Castle at the southern end. The weather at the moment is fog with drizzle and no wind, so we wouldn't be sailing anyway! Hopefully, we'll be underway soon.