We’re checked in to the Loch Melfort Hotel, replete with boating banter. I’ve accosted unsuspecting sailors up and down the coast, all of them startled by this bizarre woman bearing down, hailing them from bridge, boatyard and harbour wall… breathless with excitement saying “tell me about these waters!” But what a haul of gems, pearls of local knowledge,
The five scuba-suited scallop catchers in Oban said “Yeah, use Kerrera, it’s well sheltered from the tides.” That’s Ardentrive Bay, just across from Oban… just listen to these names… Dunstaffnage Marina north of Oban. Here I found a warm welcome and an ocean of advice from a one-handed Lancashire man; come through Clachan Bridge at the slack of the high tide, but watch your air draft. ("The Bridge over the Atlantic" as it’s known was originally designed by Thomas Telford, and built between 1792 and 1793 by engineer Robert Mylne.) Get through and weigh anchor till the tides are right to come to Oban. I was sincerely hoping Peccadillo could get through the bridge; saves us many miles of scary open seas west of Easdale.
How long to Fort William from Dunstaffnage? I ask… 8 hours… not really any tides to worry about once you clear the Lonin Sands. What are the Lonin Sands? Did he actually say the Lismore Sound? I’ll check it out in when my book arrives… “The Isle of Mull and Adjacent Coasts” by Martin Lawrence… £20 and I haven’t told Cathy yet but sounds just the business for the journey. This was recommended by the owner of Silky who I found under an inflatable tender at the Bridge Over the Atlantic. Thundering over the great arch with camera in hand… “Excuse me!… have you sailed through here?”
Turns out the air draft won’t be an issue but the passage is a tricky one indeed. Twisty turny to the south of the bridge said the owner of Silky, and there’s a shoal patch (shallow patch is it?) to the north. You see small fishing boats coming through but even they are very careful; you can see they’re very definitely steering around obstacles. It would be a bit of an adventure I would think.
Bit of an adventure indeed… only later do I listen back on his words and think how understated he was altogether…
After a boggy foray along the banks I just can’t see where the Dunsaffnage boater meant we should weigh anchor. Hmmmmm methinks half tide, a neap not a spring, will give Peccadillo enough clearance and a couple of hours of north bound tide beyond to find a mooring spot, but I shall see what Mr Lawrence says.
Any other advice I ask the Silky sailor, approaching here from Crinan? Are there any other bits of coast where you’ve thought “I wish someone had told me about that.”
You could get to Balvicar from Crinan in a few hours. Of course there are a few fierce tidal gates about here… there’s Cruan Sound, Corryvreckan and the Grey Dogs but the only one you’ll have to contend with on your route is the Doris Mor.
My stomach turns to water at this casual catalogue of terror and I remember wondering at a strange band of dark blue it was I could see through the hotel telescope this morning. From Loch Melfort Hotel you can gaze across the ends of Shuna, Luing, Scarba and Islay, raising your eyes but a fraction to see the Paps of Jura if the day is clear enough. The water east of Luing was a still grey between the wintry browns of the islands, but there, on the edge of the scope’s magnification was what looked like a standing wall of rough blue… made me rub my eyes.
Watching the sun rise from the hotel I just can’t get close enough to the view… the colours before my eyes change faster than I can scan from left to right. I feel I need to dive in if I’m to be able to feel it completely… dive in and keep swimming… never stop. But even then, as reflected sky or tide-tugged seaweed brushed my cheek, I would be missing some other miracle just the other side of Shuna, or beyond the tip of Luing, or up there on the pale Paps of Jura.
I am exhilarated and terrified. So lucky and so afraid. Afraid of doing this. There is only one thing that frightens me more than doing it…
… and would be…
… not to do it.