An expedition around Mull, 2009

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In July 2009, Solway Dory organised an expedition on the west coast of Scotland. We invited Steve Robinson and Gavin Millar in their Shearwaters, and Jeff Broome in his home built plywood sailing canoe. We were keeping the size of our group down to a managable size, with all decked boats and outriggers to allow ourselves the ability to push on in marginal conditions, so that we could cover lots of ground.


We decided to set off from Oban and arranged with the Puffin Dive Centre at Gallanach to leave our cars for the week and to launch from their slipway. There was a fee but it was well worth it for the convenience. We were ready to set off late afternoon on Saturday


The long term forecast was for moderate NE winds for a couple of days followed by strong NW winds for a few days after. We decided we would sail up the sound of Mull to Salen, and then portage over to the west coast. We had all arranged to have our portage trolleys with us in case  we wanted to do this short cut. We could then sail down the west coast the following day and turn the corner onto the south coast before the strong NW winds arrived. We would then be in the shelter of the coast for a few days so that we would be able to keep going back up to the Sound of Mull. If we tried to sail all around the north coast and down the west coast we would  have ended up being pinned down on a lee shore until the strong NW winds had subsided.


We set off paddling in light conditions, going north between Kerrera and the mainland, back to Oban. After a while a light breeze came and we started to sail. We turned left and went down the west coast of Kerrera until we came to a nice secluded beach at Slatrach Bay, with good camping ground behind. We trolleyed the canoes up above the high water mark and had a good camp.
















The sunset looking over to Mull was idyllic and the midges kept away so we cooked outdoors and sat out  till late.







The next morning we were up early as we wanted to get on and get over to the west coast of Mull before the next camp. This would mean travelling over 25 miles including the portage.





The weather was fine with light winds, so it was going to be slow progress on the 4 mile crossing to Mull.





We sailed past the lighthouse on Eilean Musdile at the SW end of Lismore, built in 1883 by Robert Stevenson. We glided past rafts of Guillemots  and other sea birds as they dived for their food. Occasionally a pod of Porpoise  made their way past us, easily seen and heard in the calm conditions.






As we reached Mull the last of the South ebbing tide made the water swirl. We kept close to the shore under Duart Castle to get some help from a back eddy





As we sailed into the Sound of Mull the wind picked up and we started to make good progress. The tide turned and started to flow in our favour.







My gps peaked with a speed of 8 knots as the wind on the beam reached a good force 4 and we made Salen by lunchtime. We were pleased with the mornings progress and had travelled 19 miles




The road around Mull comes right along by the waters edge at Salen, and a short cut across to the west coast makes it possible to portage the canoes across and save a day or two sailing around the north coast.




The shore at Salen was shallow mud and seaweed on boulders so it was not ideal for using the trolley to get up to the road. We therefore carried the boats up between us.






We dismantled the outriggers and placed them on top of the canoes so that we took up less room on the road. We then had lunch and a rest before the hard work of pulling the canoes along the road for about 4 miles with a couple of hundred feet of climb.





The weather was hot and it was hard work pulling the canoes up to the summit. On the steepest section we helped each other. There was a suprising amount of traffic using the road but but they all showed patience and gave us a friendly wave as we went from one passing place to another. It took about 2 hours to do the journey and by late afternoon we were looking for somewhere to launch.




We trolleyed the canoes down a track that ended by a river that ran into the bay. We assembled and rigged the canoes and launched into ideal sailing conditions.





We headed for the island of Inch Kenneth which the map showed to have a nice beach on which to land.






The scenery was stunning in the bright evening sunshine with the Cliffs of Creag Mhor towering above us.





It was 7 miles away but it only took just over an hour to get there.





The tide was still in when we arrived which made it easy to get the canoes up the beach.  There was plenty of flat good ground on which to pitch our tents and the weather was again idylic, with no midges, so we cooked and sat outside late into the evening. I saw my first Sea Eagle, as it flew back over to Mull. It had been a long day and we had travelled 30 miles including the portage.




As the tide ebbed  the foreshore of rocks and seaweed was revealed. It would have been difficult trolleying the boats up this beach if we had landed a few hours later. On a well planned trip you would launch at high tide in the morning and land at high tide in the evening, so choosing which week you go and studying the tide tables is important.



The next morning we were on the water by 7.30am. The conditions were light winds and hazy sunshine, but the forecast for later in the day was strong winds from the NW. We wanted to sail all the way down the west coast and go through the sound of Iona before this weather arrived. To further complicate this the tides through the sound of Iona run at up to seven knots and would be flowing against us in the afternoon.









So an early start was called for and when the wind was so light that were only moving at one knot we decided to paddle.



We kept our sails up, as the light wind that was coming over the starboard beam added to the drive, making the paddling easier. We call this paddle-sailing. With the leeboard down, the rudder locked off and the sail sheeted in and tied off, you can paddle at an easy 3 knots with half the effort.




As we approached Iona we passed huge numbers of seabirds on the water. Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags and Shearwaters. In the Sound of Iona large flocks of Shag were sitting around on the rocky islands.









The rock appeared to be pink granite and you could see wonderful formations of folded strata in vivid colours. It was really an orthinological and geological paradise.









We made our way slowly through a maze of rocky islands and round the southern tip of Mull. The sun came out and the breeze began to pick up.



We had easily passed through the tidal gate and made it into the sheltered water of the Ross of Mull. Here we started to see a series of wonderful sandy beaches that appeared to be accessible only from the water. We headed to the shore for a leisurely lunch stop, having had a long paddle most of the morning.


We launched again later in the afternoon and started making our way along the south coast. The wind started to build but it was still manageable. We passed several potential campsites, lovely beaches set back in rocky inlets. We pressed on though to find a campsite further along the coast. With strong winds forecast for the next few days, we wanted to be in a good location not too far away from Carsaig Bay which would likely be our next camp.




We eventually landed on a wide sandy beach at Garbh Eilean in evening sunshine and set up camp. We had sailed and paddled 25 miles, which had been quite hard work, and looked forward to a shorter day tomorrow.




Again the midges failed to show so we had a campfire on the beach below the high water mark. There was very little driftwood around so it was quite a small fire but it was nice to sit out late, sampling someones whisky.


The next day was again fine weather with a noticeably stronger wind. The wind had come around to the NW and was blowing about force 4. This direction was blowing offshore so the sea state was fairly calm. We were heading for Carsaig bay, about 10 miles along the coast, but now the scenery was starting to change.

The many sandy beaches were behind us and the next section was mostly high cliffs, with few places to land if the weather got really bad. We set off cautiously with a reef in the sail but it soon proved to be easy sailing so we took out the reef and pressed on. After 4 miles we passed the last easy landing before Carsaig Bay, a further 6 miles away around an imposing headland. No sooner had we committed ourselves we were hit by a force 6 gust that had had us running at 10 knots with spray flying. Black clouds were gathering behind us looking very ominous so we put in a deep reef and continued. The wind that had been coming from the side and blowing off shore was now coming off the headland and blowing along the coast, causing the waves to build. With the wind blowing a good force 6 and the waves building it was becoming a bit uncomfortable but the boats with the small sail area behaved well and we made good speed along the coast.







As we reached a position under the highest part of the headland the wind stopped as though it had been turned off with a switch. We wallowed around for a few minutes before a force 6 gust hit us on the nose and then switched off again. After about 10 minutes of this we eventually took out the reef which allowed us to make progress in the lulls but when the gusts came it was  hard sailing. I was glad of the outriggers.



Eventually we got into more stable conditions and were able to sail around in to Carsaig Bay. We stopped and set up camp even though it was only lunchtime.



We trolleyed the boats up to the top of the beach and removed their masts to prevent them being blown over in the strong gusts.










The next day the wind was still blowing strongly  force 5 to 6 so we set off reefed. The wind was still offshore so the sea state was fairly calm. It was 15 miles to our next good campsite and the shoreline was mostly inhospitable but as the day progressed the wind became a more managable force 4 and we ended up with the reefs out sailing fast in good conditions.









We landed early in the afternoon on a lovely white sandy beach at Port Donain. We had been here on a previous trip from Crinan and memories of the idyllic campsite had spurred us on early in the day as we battled with the wind.



The tide was a long way out and the sand was soft so we trolleyed the boats up together, fully loaded.






In the evening we did an equipment test and took it in turns throw out our anchors and see how well they held as we tried to pull them back.




Jeffs tiny bruce anchor was the most successful in the soft sand taking two of us to retrieve it.

The breeze was quite cool and again the midges failed to show. Later in the evening we lit a campfire and sat around late into the night sampling each others whisky and starting to plan where we might go next year.It was our last night on Mull and there was only a 5 mile crossing back to Oban and the cars. The next morning we set off running in a good force 3 across to the mainland. The sea was a bit lumpy but nothing to worry about in the lighter conditions.

It had been a fantastic expedition and we had been very lucky with the weather and sea conditions, but had made the most of it with good planning, a small well matched group and the ability to be able to push on and cover the ground when we had to.