Loch Harport, Friday 18th July
We’re now beginning our second week’s cruising and our overall impression so far has been one of brilliant organisation. Without exception Diageo and the World Cruising Club team have been efficient, helpful, reliable and on the ball, and without whom we’re sure the whole exercise could quickly turn into a shambles! They are in turn backed up by enthusiastic teams from the distilleries, many of whom have been seconded in from other locations to help with the organisation.
On the first Saturday we welcomed Helen, Brian and Nick who all arrived in Oban on the same train from Glasgow. We all took the ferry back to Oban marina on the island of Kerrera, attended the very interesting skippers’ briefing in the early afternoon, and then went on a distillery tour, collected our pre-ordered selection of Classic Malts before going back to the marina again and then returning for the evening’s festivities.
We enjoyed a pre-dinner dram, followed by a superb buffet dinner and dancing to live music at the Oban Distillery, before the Oban Pipes and Drums led a procession down to the harbour.
The following morning in beautiful sunshine we took part in a parade of sail round Oban Bay, led by Spray of Wight with a piper on board before we all departed in the direction of the Sound of Mull.
The weather was kind to us and we had a leisurely sail before turning to the east after Tobermory, and anchoring in Drumbuie, a little picturesque loch near the entrance to Loch Sunart. We were delighted to see Spray of Wight sail in shortly after us, which meant there would be a nosing of different Malts on the beach before dinner. This was educational as well as enjoyable, but equally it was a dinghy ride back to Pipistrelle, so safe drinking was the order of the day!
Bad weather was forecast for the following evening, with 35 knots of wind from the west, so we needed to find a safe haven. We decided on Loch Scresort on Rhum, largely because of the size of the loch, and when Bob was last there the holding was good. We left Drumbuie with low cloud, and had arranged with a friend, Maggie, to rendezvous at Ardnamurchan Point for a photo shoot. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the cloud had descended to sea level, vis was less than 200 yards, and even though we just saw the fog horn below the lighthouse, Maggie was unable to see us! With the strong tide and wind rapidly pushing us into a danger area, it was a rapid exit to the west, past Muck which we didn’t see in the mists, and on to Rhum. As we approached, the sun broke through the mist to highlight the vivid green slopes of the mountains leading down to the water’s edge.
Only a few yachts were already there, so we largely had a choice of where to anchor. The Manson Supreme disappeared into the depths, and held fast first time. We adjourned to Kinloch Castle for an excellent dinner of locally shot venison, and then for a brief tour of the castle, with its rare working Orchestrian, one of only 3 in the world. This in an electrically driven music machine, the paper rolls blasting out different tunes on the organ, drums, tambourine, and triangle. It dates back to 1901, and had been ordered for Queen Victoria. Her demise meant that the machine needed a new owner and George Bullough of Kinloch Castle located it in the substantial cupboard under the stairs. We were enthralled, especially when it played the Monty Python theme tune! For more information about Kinloch Castle visit http://www.isleofrum.com.
We had no sooner returned on board than the wind began to pick up. By 2100 we were seeing 30 knots in gusts. After dinner the first yacht dragged its anchor and hauled to the surface a huge ball of kelp. It was unable to anchor again successfully, and the unlucky crew spent the night motoring on the outskirts of the loch until about 10.00 the next day when it managed to anchor successfully. With regular wind speeds of 37 knots and heavy rain we had great difficulty in holding on to our tumblers of malt and valuable bottle! An exciting experience as the wind caught the boat! So having stowed all loose objects safely, we mounted an anchor watch until 0400, but happily the anchor did its stuff.
Due to the continuing wind strength we spent a damp day and second night at Rhum before sailing on Wednesday for Talisker in Loch Harport on Skye where the next official Classic Malts event was taking place.
The following morning Nick christened the new fishing rod, and on his first cast caught 3 mackerel, and on his second a further two! Guess what was on the menu for breakfast? We then enjoyed an excellent tutored malt whisky tasting session at the distillery before Nick left to enjoy more sailing with Sunsail in the Solent.
During the day we were delighted to see Colin Lewis, Commodore of the Royal Southampton YC, arrive by helicopter at 16.15 with his daughter Alison, and friend and pilot David. Colin was on a round Britain helicopter trip to raise money for the Marie Curie Cancer fund. Elaine’s father Denis arrived at 19.15, just in time for the start of an excellent dinner and Ceilidh at the Talisker distillery, which was very well organised and great fun.
We said goodbye to Helen and Brian on Friday morning – after the damp of the North, they were heading down to Florence to spend a week in the sun! At that point we rather envied them especially as we’d both developed head colds! Our next guest, Tim, arrived at 1600 that day, and as we had mizzle all day, with vis down to 800 metres or so, followed by forecast strong winds during the night, we decided to stay on and set sail for Canna for the next day. This turned out to be a good decision as we had a cracking sail with a NW 5, sunshine and following seas, before rounding up into the very pretty harbour at Canna, and dropping the anchor. For the first time the seaweed proved too much, and we hauled up a huge ball of kelp, which took some time to clear. Our second attempt was successful, so then we took the dinghy ashore, ordered dinner for the evening at the Canna Tea Rooms which had been recommended by walkers we met at the castle at Rhum. We took a walk up the hill overlooking the harbour, with its two distinctive and very different churches. The visibility was perfect and we had marvellous views of the islands of the Outer Hebrides in the distance. Dinner at the Tea Rooms was superb – delicious freshly caught cod was enjoyed by the Pipistrelle crew, washed down with a couple of bottles of excellent wine.
From Canna the next morning we headed south east past Rhum, Eigg and Muck towards the Sound of Mull and had another excellent sail, with 7.5 to 8 knots on the clock the whole way. We planned on another meal ashore at Salen in Loch Sunart, but were disappointed to find on arrival that David McCree, owner of the visitors’ moorings was asking £25 to stay on a mooring buoy for the night, and ‘forgot’ to tell us that the hotel have their own free moorings. Very strange behaviour in such a small community, as the hotel lost our custom, and unsurprisingly David was politely told his mooring was not required! So we returned to Drumbuie and spent a very peaceful evening there at anchor and ate on board instead!
The following day we started our journey towards Islay but headed first of all to Tobermory to provision and after an hour there motored down the Sound of Mull in GLORIOUS WARM SUNSHINE – even the shorts came out! That was short-lived and by the time we’d reached our overnight anchorage at Puilladobhrain it was mizzling again – back into rainproof clothing. The next morning saw us rise early to catch the tide to take us to Craighouse on Jura where we arranged a visit round the Jura Distillery. Then Spray of Wight appeared, called us up on the VHF to ask whether we’d be interested in a private nosing on board Pipistrelle. No guesses at the response! Andrew Kirk of the Glenkinchie distillery duly appeared with two Oban malts, nosing glasses, water and selected nibbles. He spent about an hour with us, chatting about the golden nectar and answering our questions.
This was before we set off in the dinghy for another superb meal ashore at the Jura Hotel. Can’t remember whether we had a wee dram as a nightcap once back on board ….. Next morning (Wednesday) we sailed on to Port Ellen and eventually anchored just inside the rocks protecting the south of the bay and just out of reach of the Calmac ferry.
Our final night at Lagavulin on Thursday was the highlight of the 3 official distillery visits. But that was preceded of course by a full day of activity. After a very informative distillery tour combined with the customary tasting in the morning, we walked a mile or so to the next distillery. Ardbeg is owned by the Glenmorangie group and has a superb bistro where we had lunch, wandered back to Lagavulin and were privileged to be chauffeured back to Port Ellen by the Distillery Manager. Transport for the evening was laid on again from Port Ellen marina to the distillery where we enjoyed a superb seafood dinner (including oysters, fresh salmon, smoked salmon, crab, prawns, langoustines, gravadlax) before listening to an unaccompanied choir singing local folk songs, joining in the sometimes chaotic Scottish dancing, and eventually departing for Port Ellen again.
Here Tim and Denis took their leave of us to stay in a local B&B as we had an early start to round the Mull of Kintyre the following day (Friday) and their flight from Islay wasn’t until that evening. Hats off to Denis, who at 86 had coped remarkably well with some serious sailing and drinking over the week he was on board. The question now is as to whether he will book a sailing course as he did to hone his computer skills?!
The Classic Malts Cruise in a few words? It was thoroughly enjoyable, well organised, we met some lovely people, had some excellent sailing in that took us to unusual places and moreover we felt we had great value for money. So we’d really recommend it to anyone contemplating a summer cruise on the beautifully scenic west coast of Scotland. For more information visit http://www.worldcruising.com/Malts_Cruise/event.aspx
Watch out for the next instalment…. We’re hoping for blue skies, warm sunshine and fair winds as we head south!