Fort William to Oban: The Falls of Lorna at Dunstaffnage

Leaving the Caledonian Canal, we had a very cold, wet and windy motor into the prevailing south westerlies, as well as a few overfalls, to get to Ballachulish Marina.

Nine months earlier we’d  rendezvoused there with Andrew and the boys (https://milosails.com/2016/09/).  That weekend in September 2016 there had been even more severe weather than this one, with gale force winds as well as rain.  This time we were expecting it to clear by evening so that we could walk to the Leroch restaurant and then be greeted by a lovely sunset on our return to Milo.

Meal at the Leroch and the sunset at Ballachulish Marina

We left early the next day to sail on to Dunstaffnage Marina.  This was another cold, hairy, rainy and “on-the-nose” windy trip, but this time we hugged the coast and used the Isle of Shuna as a shield from the wind and to keep the wave height down.  Two times we headed SE and could sail on the Jib for some time, increasing our speed to over 6kn when we’d hardly managed 4kn against the wind with only the motor.

Sheltering under the spray hood, setting waypoints with the iPad – the course hugged the coast and sheltered behind islands to keep the wave height down

Dunstaffnage Marina has a difficult approach as you must enter between an island and the mainland into a narrow channel and the whole marina is subjected to a large diameter 1-2kn whirlpool which can make berthing difficult.  The plan had been to sail under Connel Bridge the next day, past the Falls of Lorna, but we found that the “Etive Explorer” could be hired for the day for private trips, so we thought it prudent to do this and get as much experience from the experts before trying for ourselves when we return at the beginning of July.

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Etive Explorer for trip round Loch Etive – www.etiveboattrips.co.uk

The approach to Loch Etive (pronounced “Etiff”) is under the Connel Bridge, which only has a clearance of 14m (our mast height is 12m).  Just 100m beyond the bridge most of the width of the “bottleneck” entrance is straddled by a rocky ledge that is covered at high tide.  A tidal swing of 4m at Oban will be less than 2m inside the Loch.  There are slacks (where the levels are the same), but these are about 3 hours different from the normal high and low tides at Oban and the timing can vary considerably due to atmospheric pressure changes and wind strength – in other words the more inside information you can get the better.  These differences in water levels create high flows, eddies and whirlpools either side of the falls.  Chris Jackson, the skipper of the Etive Explorer, showed us how to approach Connel Bridge and aim for a small red mark on the right-hand side of the bridge – although the overall channel was wide, any diversion from this narrow track could result in you going on the rocks of Lorna; he then showed us how to negotiate through the Kilmaronag Narrows – Chris pointed out a faint line in the water marking the line of the underwater spit.  Further on we passed Ardchatten House, off which there was another shoal called “Ardchatten Shoal”.

Top right: The Falls of Lorna in Spring Tide floods from the Connel Bridge; Top right: canoeists enjoying the falls: Right Centre: view higher up the Loch of Glen Noe; Bottom: Lorna falls as we passed during a Neap Tide.

Bonawe used to have a ferry crossing until the 1930s, but only the ruins could now be seen – there was an active quarry beyond Bonawe and a listed jetty or pier on the southern shore which used to be used for loading locally quarried iron ore in the Crimean War.  There were several buoys that could be picked up on this southern side of the Loch, and it was possible to catch a train from Taynuilt to Glasgow,  just 0.5km inland.

Further up the loch beyond Bonawe, there was another hazard.   Power lines spanned the Loch hanging in a catenary that only had a 13m clearance at its centre.  After that it was, as they say, plain sailing and the views would have been stunning if the weather was clearer.  We went on for lunch to “Seal Rock” where there was a colony of seals basking in the seaweed looking like floating washed up bloated bodies.

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Seal Rock and view toward the top of Loch Etive

We returned to Dunstaffnage Marina after lunch passing two superyachts on the way in – one called “Catalina” and the other “Song of the Sea”.  Catalina (a huge 44m x 10m beam yacht) had missed the marked channel coming into the marina a few days earlier and crossed what Chris called “the trots” passing through the buoyed area.  Inevitably it got a mooring chain wrapped around its propeller stalling the engine.  The marina staff had to come out in their launches to carry lines ashore – apparently, it was quite a spectacle and when divers eventually freed their prop and they could moor they fortunately found no serious damage only the loss of their rope cutter. “Song of the Sea”, although she was smaller (34m, 7.4m beam), was a much more elegant yacht.

The Super Yachts – Song of the Sea on the left and Catalina, the one whose prop got tangled up in a mooring chain, on the right

We spent the afternoon getting packed and getting Milo ready for our departure.  While at the marina we noticed a number of ducks with their ducklings – these were Eider Ducks traditionally used for eiderdown with their distinctively shaped beaks.

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Eider Ducks and their chicks in the Marina

On the return train journey to Glasgow Central, we had fleeting views of Loch Etive to begin with and the second stop was at Taynuilt Station near Bonawe – we look forward to returning in two weeks time to take Milo under the Connel Bridge.  There was a heat wave when we landed in Bristol – after the cold and rain of Scotland, it was very welcome – we had a bar-b-que on the roof – we only hope this weather will reach Scotland when we next go north.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Fort William to Oban: The Falls of Lorna at Dunstaffnage

  1. Laurence Wilson

    Ian

    Thanks for your recent posts re Milo’s wanderings.

    Sorry you had such poor weather in the Canal whilst the rest of GB roasted.

    I based myself at Dunstaffnage for a while last year which is good for crew change overs and found the staff helpful.
    I did consider over wintering there but decided not in the end and would not have missed the sail down the Sound of Luing and on down to Gigha doing 8 knots over the ground for more than four hours for anything. The sunset over Jura was just spellbinding. One of my finest sails ever.

    With Siskin I am off to North Brittany on Thursday with a yacht club race of 20 plus boats and then hopefully going on west .
    I want to get to Ille de Sene if I can having been through the Raz a fair number of times but never made the island because of weather or adverse tides. And then maybe Ushant and Ille Molene which I like and then maybe back up to the Scillies. All weather dependent.

    Anyway I have just over a couple of weeks before the boat is due back and wanted for use as a base in Falmouth for my daughters family holiday.

    Do keep in touch

    Kind regards

    Laurie and Georgie (Tobermory)

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    Reply

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