Exploring Loch Linnhe

After starting the season in the calm waters of the Firth of Clyde in May, we had passed through the Crinan Canal to the Inner Hebrides on our first trip, experiencing some of the turbulent waters through the Sound of Luing up to the Firth of Lorn before leaving Milo moored at Tobermory on Mull. On our return in June we explored the outer Hebrides and experienced some of the wilder weather and waves that the Minch can bring. Now returning to Milo after a 10 week break we were ready to explore the inner lochs and experience calmer waters once again.

Lochaline. This is the Loch where we left Milo moored for 10 weeks for the wilder part of the Scottish summer. Characterised by the silica quartz sand mine at the narrow entrance and the destination of the Fishnish/Lochaline ferry from Mull, the Loch has been renowned over the ages as a safe anchorage. The winds must have been quite severe over the summer though, as only one of our 6 pennants was left flying – the other 5 had been ripped to threads.

img_3348Shower approach in Loch a’Choire

img_3357Leaving Loch a’choirs later in sunshine

Loch a’Choire. We’ve described our experiences in Loch a’Choire and at the Boathouse Cafe in the previous blog. After a further day on the mooring in this Loch, we were keen to move on to Dunstaffnage where there was a marina with showers and the promise of an electric hookup to charge all our flat batteries and an internet connection. We had a peaceful sail across Loch Linnhe and down the Lynn of Lorn as the wind was on the nose the whole way so we mostly had to motor, although we tried tacking for a while on full sail in the wider part of the Lynn of Lorn after Eileen Dubh. As we approached Dunstaffnage we had a glimpse of Connel Bridge at the mouth of Loch Etive, our next destination. There was a seething mass of white water which we later learned were the “Falls of Lora”

img_3376Turn left at the Merry Monster and you’ll find your way to the village” – in the background Dunnstaffnage marina

Loch Etive. Dunstaffnage is about one nautical mile from the Connel Bridge and the entrance to Loch Etive. As we arrived at the marina we noticed a fast westerly stream crossing our bow – we had been given a berth number (D7) and put the fenders out on the port side and slowly came into the berth, but something was wrong. I could not get near enough for Ros to jump off with the warp. As I reversed out to try again we were drifting dangerously toward the adjacent boat and we got pinned against her anchor, which pierced our netting (and almost pierced Ros’s stomach). It took all our strength to push Milo away from her and head back out to sea for a second attempt. This time Ros did manage to jump ashore and tied the forward warp, but in no time at all Milo was swung broadside and it was when I was fixing a long mooring warp to her stern and started pulling her back round that I noticed that there was a strong tidal stream pushing into the berth – in the opposite direction from the tidal stream we had met coming into the marina, We later learned that there were cyclical tidal streams crossing this marina that always caught out yachtsmen when entering for the first time.

Ian’s surf & turf eaten while discussing the risks of entering Loch Etive

We booked to have an evening meal in “The Wide Mouthed Frog Hotel” that overlooked the bay and the marina, and while Ros stayed on board, Ian set out to find out more about entering Loch Etive. Ros had been inspired to sail into Loch Etive from reading the book “Off in a boat” written in 1937 by Neil Gunn.

One yachtsman who was just leaving when asked if he was local said, “no but I berth my boat here” – “oh great I said, can you tell be the best time to enter Loch Etive and are there any tricks I should know”. “No” he said, “I haven’t yet plucked up enough courage to do that”. The receptionist showed me a video of the “Falls of Lorna” – they looked terrifying. “Ask the Marina boys about it” she said. I did – none of them had gone through. “Ask the local fisherman – you’ll recognise him – he’s the guy with no hair at all” said one – “he goes through daily”.   After a long walk into the village, I did come across the local fisherman. “How powerful is your motor?”, “5knots max” said I. “Well you’d better time it right then – I’ve found that the guides get it wrong – leave it for an hour and a half after slack before going through – better in neaps”. By the time I had met Colin Taylor, the skipper of Moonshadow yacht charter limited, I had almost been persuaded to try sailing under the bridge. He had done this on a smaller boat. His 68ft Oyster was too tall to go under the bridge. He kindly showed me the charts and went through the procedures to follow to get through into Loch Etive and the obstacles to look out for. He and his wife took guests on 10 day cruises as far as Kilda and the Orkneys over the summer months and then spent the winter maintaining the boat. The crew guests who were leaving had been delighted by their trip and all seemed very happy.

img_3379Approaching Connel bridge at the entrance to Loch Etive at slack water

I chickened – decided it was too much of a risk. I’d prefer to study a few other yachts going through before trying myself. Besides there were further narrows higher up. I felt I had considerable local knowledge now and would try it one day when I did not have a time commitment later in the week. The meal that evening at the Wide Mouthed Frog Hotel & Restaurant was reasonably good. Ian had a surf and turf which was great on the surf side but the steak on the turf side really let it down. The next day I spoke to the proprietor, Rick Gothard, whilst eating a bacon buttie bap and having a coffee in the breakfast bar. It turned out that he ran a restaurant in Tenerife – in fact he’d worked there 20 years and planned to retire there. It was his wife who’d bought the hotel about 5 years earlier. It reminded me to call Pat, my sister, who owns a time-share on Tenerife.

We left Dunstaffnage fully charged, watered and fueled. Furthermore Ian had replaced his sailing boots lost in Loch Miodart, the oars lost in the Crowlins and our worn out sailing gloves, so we were starting afresh. We motored up to the mouth of Loch Elive and that was the nearest we got to passing through into the lock. Even though it was slack tide the water was still gushing through under the bridge creating whirlpools off the entrance. We understood now why the hour and a half was so important, but left Loch Etive for another day as we headed north again toward Port Appin.

 

Port Appin on the Lynn of Lorn. We’d read that we could moor off the Pier House Hotel and Restaurants. We had a very peaceful sail on a dead run to get there – making slow progress between 2.5 to 3.5 knots – we had the benefit of the tidal stream so we were in time to get the earlier sitting. The meal at this restaurant was not as good as we had expected. Ros’s fish dish was too fussy and Ian’s plaice not fresh enough. Back on the boat we had a good night’s sleep before setting sail for Ballachulish the next day at 7am to catch the early tidal streams and keep ahead of the strengthening winds.

img_3386Milo moored off the Pier Hotel & Restaurant with ferry from Lismore arriving in the distance

 

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