Last leg

12th June 2008

Days 59 – 64
Faial to Sao Miguel

Our first full day in Horta was a very relaxed affair, we pottered about the town a little, looking at the shops, the most popular of which was “The Chinese Shop” it sold anything and everything, from ball dresses to toy catapults, with some very dodgy items in between! The weather wasn’t particularly kind that day, with occasional showers and general greyness, but a few people went for walks along the shore anyway and most of us ended up in Peters bar at some point. They do very good steaks there, which, of course, was the main attraction ;-). We didn’t stay out all that late that evening and I ended up sitting on deck with a small contingent, sharing a few songs before hitting my bunk.

The next day was much better, we had a large grey cloud sitting above us for the first part of the morning, but there was blue sky on either side of it and eventually it got the message and went elsewhere. There were two excursions organised for the day; Lesley, David and a few others had booked a taxi to take them up to the Caldeira and pick them up after a couple of hours, and Clover had signed six of us up for a jeep tour of the island. We met our guide at about half two and set off, going inland though immaculate little villages and lush green pasture land. Being a volcanic island, it goes up pretty fast as you move in and we soon started to Ooh and Ah over the view. We went past a couple of little baby volcano hills, there are many of these around the island, they’re called smoke pots locally, little offshoots from the main vent of the mountain, I just thought they were cute! Our guide was exceedingly friendly and chatty, telling us all about everything we saw and his life on the island too, he moved from Lisbon because he fell in love with a girl, and fell in love with the island, and I can quite see why! He took us off the main roads, down bumpy forest trails where exciting spicy woodland smells came in though the windows, I wish I could have bottled that smell, it was all mossy and peaty, dried pine needles and wet leaves… heavenly.

Our first stop was at a forest park, one of several places around the island where families gather at weekends. The trees are mainly laurel and a type of brazilian pine with towering tree ferns among them too. Cinder paths have been laid, rough stone or wooden tables with little matching seats or benches dotted between the trees and they’ve built a barbeque hut, beyond compare, out of the volcanic stone. It was five sided with a fire place on each face, free wood stacked underneath each, and a central flue up the middle. The whole place was beautifully clean, without a single piece of litter, even though the area is obviously well used by the islanders. I passed a long low building which was open on one side and divided into about six rooms, each with a long table down the middle, the one on the end was full of a large family party having a meal, they were having a grand old time and offered me drinks in return for taking their picture, I was greatly tempted, but I didn’t have long and had to pass.

We continued on to the furthest end from Horta, where the newest part of the land rears up in front of the lighthouse that used to mark the coast. The landscape here is in stark contrast to the lush greenness of the rest of the island, brown and grey and dusty, it is already eroding fast, leaving contour lines along the slopes and small canyons where the rain has washed the soft ground away. The volcano erupted in 1957, burying the few houses that were there and obliterating the harbour. The slipway is all that is left, the rocks around it make a sheltered pool of water where the islanders swim in summer, with the waves crashing ferociously on the other side. It wasn’t warm enough to swim there yet but there were a few people with fishing lines instead, I didn’t see many fish but in the rock pools there was a collection of Men o’ War that would have made me think twice about jumping in, no matter what the weather!

Our journey took us along the north coast for a while before we turned inland once more and headed for the main attraction, pausing briefly at Lovers Fount to taste the fresh spring water straight from the ground, and then taking the least foggy route to the top. The grey cloud that had been sitting above the peak all morning looked fairly set to stay but we decided it was worth a go anyway. When we got to the end of the road and got out it was low but still above us. The edge of the rim is quite sharp, wide enough for a path (which is the route the other party from the ship had chosen for their walk) but not wide enough for people to stand comfortably and enjoy the view. So they’ve put in a viewing platform just down from the top on the inside, connecting the outside world via a moss lined tunnel through the rock. Going through the tunnel and stepping out the other side feels like stepping into another world, the Caldeira drops away suddenly inside the rim, 400 meters down to the floor, where a miniature version of a volcano sits, covered in what looks like moss from so high up, but is in fact bushes and trees. Beside this hillock are two lakes, which come and go with the weather, they used to be a permanent lagoon but seismic movements have opened up cracks which drains the water into the rock below. The cloud was just above our heads, hiding the opposite rim from sight, but the wind was blowing into our faces, making the clouds fall and then drift up again so we caught glimpses of the other side from time to time. Outside the Caldeira the view was stunning, all the way down to the coast, which was bathed in glorious sunshine.

Our last stop was on a hill overlooking Horta and the harbour before we were dropped off at the quayside. Back on the boat we met the other group who’d been out, their day had not gone so well unfortunately, the clouds had been lower that morning and they had found themselves in thick fog as they walked the rim path. Even worse, Anthony slipped on some wet grass and sprained his ankle. The police were called and came out to find them, using the siren to draw the party to the car, and they were taken down to the town in style. At the police station they found the taxi driver who was supposed to pick them up had reported them for fare dodging when they hadn’t showed up to be taken home, all in all, not such a great day! It all got sorted out though, Anthony was X-rayed at the hospital and is now hobbling about with his ankle strapped up and taking it easy as much as possible, hopefully he’ll be recovered enough for the Tall Ships Race, which he’s set his heart on doing.

One of the things that makes Horta so special is the paintings, done by the crews that have passed through, on the harbour walls and quays. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way and is supposed to ensure safe passage home. Not wanting to risk anything, and also because it’s nice to leave your mark on a place, Polly and Jessie set to with the paints and produced a stunning design for us. Jules also did a painting, based on one of her beautiful photos of the ship at sunset, so theoretically, we should have a really great passage home!

We left Horta after lunch the next day and had a very pleasant afternoons sailing between the islands of Pico and Sao Jorge. I felt rather disorientated that night when I wandered out on deck, there were lights all around us and I’ve become so used to staring out at nothing in the dark now that it was a complete shock!

In the morning we met the Tall Ships Youth Trust ship Stavros S. Niarchos off the south end of Sao Jorge and made a few evolutions with them. I got sent out in the RIB with my camera to record the occasion and got some lovely shots of the pair of us. We couldn’t hang about for long though as we still had over 100 miles to go to get to our destination, so we waved goodbye and carried on. The skies remained grey but we made good time and by breakfast the next day we were cruising along the coast of Sao Miguel.

We anchored off the town of Vila Franca do Campo, near to a tiny volcanic island called Baxia das Cracas. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but when we took the RIB in we were presented with the most beautiful lagoon, surrounded by rocks ranging from a few feet above the water to towering cliffs. I and some of the others spent the afternoon there, scrambling up the rocks to admire the view, paddling along the weird semi circular beach that had water on both sides and enjoying the sunshine. A few brave souls went swimming too, myself included, I borrowed a snorkel and mask and saw lots of beautifully coloured fish in the rocky parts where the water was washing through the cracks in the cliff from the other side. I went out to the deepest part too, swimming happily along until I saw a jelly fish, at which point I back-tracked at great speed! After my swim I climbed up another part of the cliffs and was rewarded by another fantastic view but I also enraged the nesting seagulls who dive-bombed me, screaming their displeasure, it was worth it though and I returned to the ship a happy girl.

We’d picked up some new people earlier in the afternoon; Nick, who left us in Antigua; Bob, who’s another old Astrid fan; Ben, Alison’s son, and Georgie, who’s an old school friend of Jessie’s. She’d kept it a secret that she was coming out and so the two greeted each other with much squealing and tears. The watches have been re-jigged and I am now Forward Port watch’s leader, with LJon, Ben, Georgie and Nick as my team. Polly’s now leader of After Starboard, and has Rachel, Mick, Ray and James with her, Rob is still Aft Port, but now has Eric, David, Lesley and Anthony on his team. Poor Ant has lost his watch to Alison as he can’t really do the job on a sprained ankle, so she is now in charge of Forward Starboard, with Jules, Jessie, Terry and Bob to keep her company. We have sadly lost a couple of crew, Becky has gone back to her other job and Oli is taking some leave. Lucinda is doing a fantastic job in the galley now, but we shall continue to miss both leavers greatly. Clover is still with us, but is not in the watch system any more, as the medic she needs to be available at all times and so she is now going to fill her days as a day worker, helping Bosun Keith with the battle against rust, which we are currently winning, I am pleased to say.

There was a festive air that evening on the ship, we ate a fine feast on deck to welcome the newcomers and celebrate our achievements so far, the weather helped matters by being gorgeous too. We were visited by a local fishing boat, who first tried to sell us fish and then rather cheekily asked for beer too. They went away but then returned a little later asking us for a battery, as we didn’t have such a thing there was little we could do and they started back to the shore, at which point their engine died so we ended up launching the RIB and giving them a tow back. Silly Portuguese people!

We motored to Porta Delgada the next morning, had a wander around the town in the afternoon and then whole crew had a meal in a mariners bar that Captain Mike knows of old. The owner put on a slap up meal for us and we stayed long into the night, wobbling home merrily in the small hours.

TA2 Days 65-68
Sao Miguel and Northwards

After watching the Stavros come into the harbour we moved off and set sail for Old Blighty. It was a beautiful day and we put all the square sails up hopefully, unfortunately there was very little wind, as we were sheltered by the high cliffs of the south coast, so we took them down again and motored until we got around the headland. Once round the corner we got into a big swell on our nose, and found some wind blowing from the north west, so up the sails went again and we started on the long passage north, accompanied for a while by some large grey dolphins who put on a lovely show for us!

Our first day back at sea was decreed mental health day due to tiredness and sea sickness, so no happy hour and no classes 🙂 We were sailing well first thing in the morning on my watch but by late afternoon the wind had moved around further to the north, forcing us to head toward the Spanish coast, which we don’t want to do, so at sunset all hands handed sail in record time and we put the motor on for the night, hoping to find some better wind in the morning.

The news was good at morning meeting, the wind had come back round to the west a bit and we could start sailing again. The sun was shinning and we were cracking on nicely, when disaster struck. The main fuel line for the engine and generators had fractured and diesel was leaking into the bilge. The ship went into total blackout, no running water, no heads, no air con, anything that wasn’t immediately vital was turned off to save the emergency power supplies. Clover quickly got a ‘chuck-a-bucket’ system organised for those needing to relieve themselves and the engineer and crew got on with trying to sort out a repair. We were still under sail, enjoying the peaceful sounds of nothing but water and rigging and when we spotted a cargo ship on the horizon heading our way. We hailed them and asked if they had any engineering supplies we could have. As luck would have it, they had a spare pipe and LJon and Bosun Keith were sent over in the RIB to collect it. We hove to and they were soon back with the precious pipe.

It wasn’t quite as simple as all that though, the pipe wasn’t an exact match and the fittings needed to be altered to connect it properly, to do this the engineers needed a welder, which we have, but we had no power….. Somehow, miraculously, Chiefy got one of the generators going, giving Mick, who’d volunteered his skills as a agricultural engineer, the power he needed to do the welding. Meanwhile, we tacked ship and started sailing back in the direction we had come from, the Azores were still less than 200 miles away, by far the closest land, and if the worst came to the worst and we couldn’t get it fixed, we’d only be looking at corned beef sandwiches for a couple of days. However, by the late afternoon I heard a familiar sound, the air con starting up again, and then the engine coming on! We tacked once more and set sail for home again, marvelling over such amenities as flushing heads and electric light!

After about an hour of sailing, it became apparent that the wind wasn’t going to play nicely, so we took in the squares, leaving the spanker and jib up, and motor sailed through the night.

Today the wind has continued to play it’s own little game, it’s far too northerly to sail in the direction we want to go in, so we are continuing to motor- sail, keeping as close to the wind as we can. Watch this morning wasn’t a particularly fun experience, cold and grey with intermittent drizzle, a lovely welcome back on deck for Ant, who’s been swapped into my watch with Nick and is now fit enough to stand (well, sit, really) lookout duty.

I can smell chocolate cake wafting out of the galley as I write, it’s Jessie’s birthday today so I expect there shall be some fun and games later.

TA2 Days 68 (Continued) and 69.
Still going North.

Well, Jessie is now a grand old lady of 19 years and we acknowledged her birthday in the traditional Pelican manner- as a special treat she didn’t have to scrub the heads yesterday, just change the bin bags and top up the bog rolls! We also had a little party in the evening for her, Jules organised some geography based fun and games to entertain us before the cake was finally brought out. The smells of which, wafting from the galley all afternoon as I got myself up to date on the blog, had me near drooling, and we were not disappointed by the final product!

The wind had died almost completely by this morning, which made our passage much smoother, we still had a swell coming over from the north west but were no longer crashing down into the troughs so much. There was hope on the horizon that a wind in the right direction was coming our way, but meanwhile we continued to motor. It has been a good day for whales though, which always brightens us up, I was on helm at about 1300 when two big Minki whales surfaced about 20 yards from us on the port beam. The previous watch had also had sightings and later in the afternoon we were visited by yet more, all fairly close to the boat, which surprised me a little as I would have thought the noise of the engine would have put them off.

Our hopes and prayers for a decent wind were finally answered this evening, just after first sitting for supper the watches on deck were called to put up the sails and the engine was turned off. After 2 days of motoring it was weirdly quiet; we still have the generators going, which previously we would have considered to be quite noisy, but we now appreciate them a whole lot more, given recent events! Right, off to bed for me, I’ve only got an hour and a half before watch!!

TA2 Days 70-72
Heading Northeast now….

The wind dropped off again to a rather pathetic force 3 on Sunday and we made slow progress as we waited for the weather to change. According to the forecast, there was wind blowing strongly and in the right direction just above us, so we plodded on. The weather has become noticeably colder as we come north, and all but a brave few are now in long trousers. Most of us are choosing to spend much less time on deck, opting more for the snug warmth of our pits or the elegance of the saloon. Polly was up on the Poop for much of the afternoon though, working on two massive Turks head knot mats around the spanker sheet blocks. We had been using a doormat up until now to protect the deck, but these look far better and stand no chance of being washed overboard either. I meant to get some rest that day but ended up doing homework and learning how to do a good whipping with Keith. (That’s rope work, not the other sort…. Oh I’m not making it sound any better am I?) Anyway…

We came up on deck for watch at 0400 yesterday morning and all was much the same, about 5 knots of wind were taking us no-where fast. The Mate decided to bring the furling jib in as it wasn’t doing much, and thank god he did. As we were up on the foredeck handing it in the wind suddenly picked up to 20 knots and whipped round to the other side of us, sending sails flogging all over the place and the watch into a frenzy of activity. We sheeted in the remaining jib, braced the yards and sheeted in the coarse, took in the royal, went aloft to stow it, then came down again to take in the t’gallant and then back up to stow that one. We were absolutely knackered after all that but still had to do a deck scrub before breakfast! The wind blew a hoolie all day, at one point we got up to 9 kt when I was on the helm in the evening, albeit only briefly, most of the time she was doing about 8.5 kt. We were in a huge swell, rollers 5 meters high came sweeping past, tipping the ship alarmingly at times, it looked as if we were in for a lumpy night.

This morning I awoke refreshed, having used my earplugs last night I missed the beeping that was coming through the tannoy and keeping everyone else awake most of the night. The wind had fallen off a fair bit by breakfast and we wore ship at about midday as the wind is slowly moving round again, the lumpiness has dropped off along with the wind, although we are still bobbing about a fair bit, I’m hoping it might become a little flatter by 4 (in about an hour) as we have ‘THE GREAT PELICAN EGG DROP’ then. Each watch has been given an egg (ours is named Derek) and the challenge is to construct something to prevent the egg from breaking when dropped from the main top platform, points are awarded for design, presentation, keeping it whole and highest drop achived. I have high hopes for our watch’s entry, the ‘Blue Beehive’ a multi layered cocoon, involving (in order from inside out) loo paper, an ear bud tub, cereal that no-one wants to eat, a plastic jar, my travel pillow and some fantastic knotwork ;-).


Well, our egg survived but we were pipped to the post by Aft Starboard’s Bumblebee which flew a little further than our behive, and their secondary entry deserves much accolade too, the prototype for next year’s competition which was Ray’s ingenious design, he’s come up with a mind power tube through which the egg will travel as it falls, slowing itself down with the power of it’s own thoughts. Going through three stages, it first enters the Bosun’s section, where it finds itself in ‘Happy Hour’ and relaxes, experiencing a sense of laise faire, thus slowing down. In the second section it enters the wheel house, a place of poor communication and misinformation, so confused it becomes by all this, that it stops in it’s descent completely. In the third section, if all else fails and it makes it that far, it enters the galley, where it will find itself in a poaching centrifuge, which will scare it so much that it goes shooting back up the tube!

Forward Starboard came third, their egg remaining whole in it’s rocket, which came with instructions for safe landing on the side, which must have made all the difference. In final place was Aft Port’s entry, a bag of jelly, which went splat, along with their egg.

We celebrated David’s birthday that evening, Lesley had made him a chocolate cake which we ate with gusto, washing it down with a glass or two of wine. I found myself annoyed that I’d had a drink later, as when we were changing watch at midnight we needed to hand the royal, I’ve not been up the mast in the dark and was looking forward to this new experience, but as I’d had a drink hours earlier, the captain wouldn’t allow me to go up.

TA2 Day 73
Getting there..

I was on mess duty that day and thanked my lucky stars for it as the weather was truly antisocial. We were battling through wind and rain in a big swell, which had gotten bigger since we’d gone up from the deep ocean to the comparative shallows of the continental ledge, waves were flying over the deck on a regular basis and everyone spent several minutes dripping in the doorway before coming in properly! It was interesting being in the galley, I had to stand guard over things many a time, in case they decided to hurl themselves across the room, as it was, only three plates died that day, and Lucinda produced two stunning meals for us all, that woman deserves a medal!

TA2 Days 74 – 77
The English Channel!!!

The next day the weather had calmed itself and we had a good day’s sailing, we were getting into the bottom end of the English Channel by then and starting to see lots of ships, it made good revision for our RYA lights and shapes and rules of the road lessons, actually putting these things into practice hammers home how important they are. On dead watch (0000- 04000) that morning, amongst several other sets of lights around us, we spotted a single green light- a yacht, what we didn’t realise was how close it was until quite late, I was on helm at the time and suddenly found myself getting orders like “Port 20!, Starboard 10!” Once we had gone around it’s stern, it was easier to see how close it was, Ben radioed them and told them that they weren’t showing up on the radar, which came as a surprise to them I think, as they told us they had a radar reflector hoisted. Just goes to show the importance of keeping a good look out!

Later that day we gained a new member of crew, a racing pigeon, who stayed with us for about 24 hours, cadging a lift to France, he pottered around the deck, pecking at any brown shoes he saw in the hopes of food!

When I came up on deck for watch the next morning at 0400 we could see Alderny. The previous watch had been looking at it for some time too, the tide was against us at a rate of about 6kts so we weren’t actually making any progress. They said that at one point the ship had gone backwards! Luckily the tide turned soon after and we left the island behind as we headed for the French mainland. A good deck scrub got rid of the pigeon poo left by our feathered friend, (although he swiftly started undoing our good work!) and we finally got into Cherbourg just before midday.

Everyone was keen to get ashore and the ship was left eerily quiet, I decided to hang back and enjoy the calm before going ashore a little later. When I did head out, I expected to bump into people in the nearest bar, but they’d all managed to get a little further than the sea front, so I got myself an English newspaper and spent the afternoon sipping kir outside a little café bar and catching up on events back home, lovely and peaceful! Mick and Rachel found me there at about 6 and we went on together for a meal, indulging ourselves in a glut of seafood before meandering on to the Marina bar where we met up with Ben and Jules for one more drink. It was meant to be an early night for me as we had our RYA exam in the morning, but we ended up wandering home at nearly midnight!

We sat the exam after happy hour, generally it went well, though the French journalist who popped in near the end and started taking photos of us was a little off-putting! After that we were free to spend the afternoon as we wished before dinner. Lucinda did us an amazing ‘Last Supper’ of roast beef with all the trimmings and then, feeling rather full we headed out toward England. We were accompanied out of the harbour by a dolphin, who seemed to enjoy playing chicken with the RIB as it nudged the ship off the mooring. Sadly the wind was in exactly the wrong direction for us, so our last night at sea was done under motor. Forward Port stood our last watch of the voyage from 2000 to 0000, dodging ships in the busy traffic of the Channel made it a lot more exciting than usual too! It was a lovely night though and we were treated to one last stunning sunset before the stars came out to see us on our way.

TA2 Day 77

It was rather an odd sensation after all these months to come out on deck and see such a familiar coastline, there was Portland Bill, the chalk man and his horse, the cliffs of the Dorset coast, Portland Harbour, and nestling in the middle, Weymouth. We set sails one more time to do a little showing off out in the bay and then it was all hands aloft to stow for the last time. As we approached the harbour a small flotilla came out to greet us, friends and family shouting greetings across the water to the crew from yachts, dingys and small motor boats. We couldn’t stop and chat though as we had to man the yards as we came in, our PA system blasting out Monty Python and firecrackers exploding as a certain crewmember chucked them out from where they were standing on the topsail. I’d bagged myself a spot on the royal the night before so I had a fantastic view of everything. There was a band playing on the quay and a good crowd had turned out to see us come in. Something had to go wrong though, the wind was blowing us off the quay so it took us ages to get alongside, and we bumped the bow a bit, which was rather embarrassing! Still, it was only a little bump and nothing got broken, and all else was forgotten as the gangplank was put out and loved ones came aboard to welcome us home, drinks were laid on and the party started!

So that’s it, we’re home, my grand adventure is over…. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the last few days, working out what to do next and the conclusion I’ve come to is fairly obvious if you know me. This is in my blood, metaphorically speaking, there’s no way I’ll ever be happy working on land, so I’ll be off to sea again. I’m already looking into enrolling on a deck officer course which would qualify me as an Officer of the Watch. With that under my belt I’ll be able to make good money on the tankers and cargo ships for some of the time, and then be able to go and play on the sailing ships for the rest. Running away to sea isn’t nearly so romantic as it sounds, the next three years will probably be quite dull a lot of the time, but I’ve finally found what it is I’m going to be good at, and in 10 years time I’m aiming to be Chief Officer on the Pelican, so watch this space!!


How I got back on the water

I went sailing for the first time in nine years a few weeks ago, it made me decide to change track entirely and try and make a career out of it. It’s going to take a while to get there, and a lot of hard work, but this might explain why..

We drove up overnight to avoid the traffic, pausing for many cups of service station coffee along the way before finally reaching our stop off just above Glasgow at about half three in the morning. A lovely lady by the name of Hilary welcomed us into her beautiful house and fed us wine and beer before we crashed for a few hours on some exeedingly comfy beds. We had been aiming for a relatively early start in the morning but got rather waylaid by breakfast; a glut of bacon, sausages, scrambled egg, haggis, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, juice, tea and coffee that set us up in fine style for the last couple of hours driving. I got a front seat view for this bit and spent the whole journey peering excitedly out of the window at Scotland’s stunning scenery saying “Ooooooooooooh!!!” and demanding that we slow down for pictures. As first impressions go, Scotland does well; rocky bits, mountains, lochs, ruined castles, bluebells, chocolate box towns… it took me about 15 minutes to fall in love.

When we had all finally arrived at Dunstaffnage marina we found our vessel and got on with booking in, moving in, getting the shopping in and generally sorting ourselves out. It would have been useful if our captain had brought his captains bag of really useful stuff (including his wallet) rather than leaving it by the front door of Hilary’s house, and it was lucky for us that she had a credit card that she didn’t mind being used to act as surety against damages, especially as she wasn’t coming sailing with us! The boys were especially keen to try out the dinghy, before and after supper, to the point where they nearly missed out on Miss Boggis’ delicious brownies which featured heavily over the week, the woman must have been baking for days! A final chance for a shower in the luxury of the marina’s posh new utility block followed by a quiet drink in the bar and it was time for bed.

So, the ship was vittled, (mainly an obscene amount of cake- everyone had to bake a cake for the voyage, there were 7 of us on a 6 day trip, and Jules brought 2 plus three tubs of brownies) and watered (and wined, rumed and Pimmsed…) and we were up early in the morning to set off on our adventure. As we motored out of the marina and put up the sails I felt a familiar and much missed thrill course through me, I was home and it felt good.

There’s very little to do a lot of the time when sailing, the occasional tack (that’s turning to the uninitiated) means a flurry of activity as ropes go flying and get winched in, and the helmsperson has to concentrate on keeping course, but for the rest of the time you can sit, relax, enjoy the company of your crewmates and when sailing through somewhere as stunning as Scotland, admire the awesome scenery you are passing through. It was cold, but we were wrapped up in layer upon layer of thermal goodness and so only our noses really felt the chill as we made our way down the Firth of Lorne, down to Jura and into Loch Tarbert, which cuts right into the center of the island. We raced an American boat into the loch but they then wussed out and went to anchor at the side of the wider part, we however were aiming right for the far end, it meant navigating some fairly treacherous rocks using the white markers on the shore but we made it safely in. It was still pretty windy even surrounded by the hills but that didn’t deter the boys from making a bee line for the shore to explore the solitary house and the surrounding hills and rocks. Meanwhile the girls got on with sorting out wine, nibbles, music and supper. We received a couple of badly distorted radio calls, from the shore, something about one of them being abducted by a madman with a gun…. we had wine and home made tortilla chips though so weren’t about to go running anywhere. The boys miraculously survived the ordeal, the shout about food being ready had obviously scared the gun toting madman back off into the hills. By the time they got back to the boat the wind had died and the water had achieved a gently undulating glass-like quality. The sun had long hidden itself behind the hills but the clouds turned into a floating mass of drifting pink candyfloss as we finished our supper. Then it was the moon’s turn, trying to hide behind a few wisps of lace it lit them up instead with a delicate golden glow, and I stood on deck admiring a blurry Venus as she shone in the pale remnants of daylight while the moon peeped from behind the lace in the gathering dark.

The next morning was bright, breezy and beautiful, we extricated ourselves from Loch Tarburt and headed for Iona, bypassing Colonsay, which for some reason we had taken an instant dislike to. (Try saying the name in the way a footballers wife might say Chardonnay, that might help you see why…) The weather turned on us in retaliation and we were hailed upon viciously. Nick and I had taken the sensible option of retiring to the mess as it was cold and we weren’t vitally needed upon deck at the time so we were safe. We were however called upon to provide saucepans for the captain and mate as head gear to protect them from the large stones bombarding them from the grey Scottish sky. It soon passed though and we sailed on through sunnier but choppy waters, occasionally the cry of “WAVE!!” warning those below to hold on tight. Instead of heading straight for Iona we anchored in Tinkers Hole for the night. Iona has no harbour to protect a boat from the swell of the open water, but just across the sound, at the bottom corner of Mull, a tiny archipelago of islands that are barely more than rocks houses a pool big enough for a few boats to hide away from the ravages of the sea for a night. You have to navigate past the drying rocks and through some fairly narrow bits between huge chunks of stone, and once in, anchoring in a tight space is an essential skill but it’s a lovely spot. The sun was hidden from us long before it set, but once again we were treated to some awesome sunset colours that silhouetted the rocks and dusted the sky with pastels.

I nervously piloted the boat out through the rocks in the morning and we pootled over to Iona, after anchoring the boat we ferried ourselves ashore in the RIB for a look around. Iona is picture perfect; quaint little cottages, white sands, artistically placed boats and fishing tackle, if only the temperature had been a little higher, but you can’t have everything. We wandered up past the old nunnery, past lush allotments, yellow irises and a scarecrow competition until we reached the cathedral. Iona’s cathedral is beautiful, full of serene calm as can only come from centuries of quiet worship, I lit a candle and took a moment to remember Grandi, she would have loved it. Through the cloistered courtyard in the old refectory there was the ubiquitous gift shop where I purchased some Iona mead, and then it was time to head back toward the shore. Thoughts of having lunch in one of the restaurants were swiftly banished by the hoards of tourists that had just arrived on the ferry so we returned to the boat.

All was not well, the anchor had dragged and entangled itself around a nearby mooring bouy. Ben was all for stripping off and diving in, but the female contingent forbade it on the grounds that he’d get hypothermia! Eventually, after a lot of faffing, a lost boat hook and a bit more faffing we were free. Our boat hook, which I had been charged with watching as it bobbed away into the distance with the current, was returned by a kindly fishing vessel and we set off, hoping that not everyone had been watching from the shore, which, of course, they had.

As we approached Staffa, home of the legendary Fingals Cave we entertained ourselves with Dirty Shopping, a variation on My-Grandma-went-to-the-shops-and-she-bought… I think I was most disturbed by Nick’s purchase for G – Golf clubs?! We rounded the island admiring the crystalline rock formations and then set course for Coll. The weather and wind weren’t playing particularly nicely, and we had to tack a fair amount, which made cooking an interesting endeavour. We knew we’d get into harbour quite late that night and Jules had been doing stirling work in the galley most nights so far so I jumped in before her. I thought starting at 4 was going to leave me with plenty of time, but when you only have 2 small gas burners and a gas oven that only browns the few inches right at the back by the flame, cooking sausage and mash with gravy becomes a marathon task! I didn’t make it easy for myself either, the mash had leeks and cheese in it and I had to make the gravy from scratch by caramelising the onions and rinsing the browning bits down with wine again and again (some for the gravy, some for me..) I either had to strap myself to the cooker to stop falling back to the other side of the cabin, or brace myself against it to stop being thrown into the food, depending on the tack we were on. By the time we ate though the sea and wind had calmed and by the time we could see the lights of Coll’s harbour the sea had flattened out to a near mirror like surface, we slid in in the dark, all the mooring bouys had been taken so we anchored once more. By the time we were done it was about 5 to 11 but that didn’t deter people for heading shorewards to the pub, I reckoned it would be closed before we got there so declined, opting for a quiet glass of wine on the deck, listening to the clanging of stays, water lapping and a distant radio from another boat, a blissful little moment of calm. There was also the lure of fresh fruit dipped in chocolate sauce to keep me on board, Nat and Paul had also stayed, Paul had had a slight altercation with a door frame earlier and wasn’t feeling too well and Nat was tired, so we munched fresh pineapple and ginger cake smothered in chocolaty goodness and took it easy. The others returned a few hours later, I’d been wrong about the pub!

Showers were the order of the day in the morning, and we eagerly made our way to the hotel, there was only one shower so there was time to read the papers, play chess and shop for meaty goodness. On the way back to the boat the RIB engine packed up on Jules so we had to row the rest of the way, the lack of motor noise encouraged some local seals to get a bit closer and they silently circled the boat eyeballing us. We got going in the early afternoon and sailed over to Mull, we were looking for somewhere called Goat Island for our barbecue but it looked a little exposed so we landed on another piece of land that looked like an island, but turned out to be more of a promontory, it had a beautiful little sheltered bay though, and I bounded about excitedly with my camera for the first hour or so. We burned and ate the most delicious marinaded lamb from Coll, along with venison sausages, burgers, Camembert in foil and bananas which we ate with toffee sauce. More explorations followed and as the tide had gone out I found myself unable to resist the temptation to go mud paddling. It was gorgeously squoogy between my toes, the kind of smooth muck they put expensive glass jars and sell for exorbitant sums of money. As we packed up the sky cleared from a dull grey to a delicate blue and all was peaceful. At least until the RIB engine packed up again and Ben’s cry of “OH SH*T!!” echoed out through the dusk.

We had a glorious days sailing the next day, tacking down the sound of Mull with a good wind and bright sunshine, trailing our now usual mackerel lines. We hadn’t caught a thing all week but the boys were as yet undeterred, despite knowing we had no chance of snagging anything when going at 6 knots. We past ruined castles and towering rocks, Chewie and Ben sported bunches and there was lemon drizzle cake. There had in fact been cake everyday, apple cake, ginger cake, carrot cake, brownies, fruit cake…if I’ve missed some out I’m sorry, it was delicious though! The sunshine continued when we had moored in Tobermory harbour and after a visit ashore to see the town that inspired Balamory and, much more importantly it’s distillery, it was still so warm that we were able to discard all the warm winter clothes we’d been wearing and wander around in shorts admiring the scenery, the seagulls and the jellyfish. The mackerel line went over the side again and as if by magic they started biting, the first few were quite small but then some big fat ones started coming up on the line too, I gutted and cleaned them and they were put carefully into the fridge for later. After a haggis supper we made a vague attempt to smarten ourselves up and headed ashore, several whiskeys and a few hours later there was some rather drunken manhandling of the RIB and we nearly boarded the wrong boat.

A little worse for wear next morning, we sailed on down the Sound of Mull toward our final port, trailing the smallest of the mackerel we had caught on the line in the hopes of catching more, but we were going too fast and they were pulled off. Not before they had attracted the attentions of a seagull though, he eyed them for a while before making a grab at them, only to look rather embarrassed as they were pulled through his claws on the line. The scenery and sun made it a photographers dream, and Nat and Ben started cooking the mackerel. There were several schools of thought on the mackerel but we decided on half baked in foil with lemons to make pate and half fried in butter and served on oatcakes. The oatcakes course came first and we ended up eating more or less constantly for the rest of the day, by late afternoon the wind died and Ben was making burgers. We were becalmed, even with all the sails up and Ben and Chewie farting into them, we weren’t moving. There was dancing, mostly to Madonna, and the boys performed a whole routine for us before we decided to stick the motor on and get on a bit. This also involved chasing some unfortunate sea birds in futile attempt to pelt them with biscuits, they just casually dived out of the way to reappear somewhere else, looking smug. The wind finally picked up a bit and we were able to sail back into Dunstaffnage in style, jibing in the mouth of the entrance and making a tight circle to allow a boat out, we looked at them in envy as they motored out to start what we were just finishing.

Hilary was waiting on the pontoon to greet us and hand ropes, we cleaned the boat down and had a much needed shower. I was last out and nearly missed out on champers with mackerel pate on oatcakes, but some had been saved and I ate them in the car on the way to Oban. We ate at a very good fish restaurant and I indulged in all my favourites, oysters, mussels, langoustine, salmon…. Heaven! We were last out and headed back to the boat for a nightcap before our last night on board. A long car journey home the next day was broken up pleasantly by a late pub lunch and I arrived home sunburned, tired and with my heart set on going again.

Click here to see photos from this trip