It was a damp, grey, misty morning. Ian made porridge and toast and marmalade before reading one of our Round Britain Sailing books, while waiting for Ros to wake up. Despite the persistent rain the Russian crews in the 5 yachts surrounding us ferried crews back and forth between boats – possibly a complicated Russian breakfast ritual. We had intended to leave at 7:30 to catch the tides, but there was no wind. By 9am Ian was bored of waiting for Ros to wake and decided to go it alone. He got the boat ship shape – put things away, washed up and started the engine. This woke Ros up– who gamely said she’d be ready to leave, but he had already slipped our mooring and was leaving the harbour before she appeared on deck.
True Blue, our mooring neighbour had left just before us – heading south. As we left the harbour she was hardly visible in the mist but gave us a useful heading – she was all we could see until two porpoises passes us by travelling north. As we reached the open sea the wind freshened and we had some lively sailing on a port reach before the winds completely disappeared and we had to start the engine to motor sail – just as well, as when we reached Ardmore point there were massive overfalls. The waves were so large that Ian was soon feeling sick. Fortunately, the wind returned and with full sail and the engine revving away we could battle through these enormous waves. Poor Milo, she was lurching this way and that. We heard the entire contents of the galley go crashing to the floor as we rolled heavily to starboard. Another time her bow went at least two feet under a huge wave which swept up the deck like a tsunami and nearly washed over the sprayhood, instead deflecting sideways and coming round the side into the cockpit soaking Ros who was sitting on the port side. We had to endure this for at least 20 minutes before we could bear away round the headland giving us a better lead into the waves, which were by now moderating. There was also better visibility and a narrow brighter strip of light along the horizon suggesting better weather further south, but we never reached it. A Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry showed us the way into Port Ellen harbour – I’d planned to sail between two of the islands, but, as it was rough and windy, caution won the day and we kept well clear of these islands and took the ferry way in. We had to keep full sail into the shelter of the bay which involved a few hairy jibes on the way in.
We eventually berthed at midday in Port Ellen and Ros had soon booked us an evening meal at the local Islay Hotel, which had been full but chose to take us early at 5:30 if we could finish by 7:30pm. When we arrived we could see why. The table next to ours had 9-10 places each lovingly arranged with 4 hooded glasses of whiskey plus wine and water glasses. We learned later that this was an outing of the staff of Ardbeg Distillery who were celebrating the launch of a new whiskey. Talking to the staff as they arrived we learned again of the three distilleries to the North of Port Ellen, and that only Ardbeg had a restaurant.
Table set at the Islay Hotel for the party from Ardbeg Distillery
After a lazy breakfast on board, we went ashore to find Jim of Islay Cycles – we were told it was behind the church, but we could not find his shop. We telephoned and he gave us directions saying he’d meet us halfway – which he did and I was grateful for that, because it was not a shop at all but the back garden of his house on a modern estate. “This is the Hebrides” said Jim, when I told him I was looking for a shop, “ye have to make a living in any way ye can”. He’d told me on the phone that he had an electric bike and Ros had said quite firmly to me that “she did not need an electric bike”, but when she saw it was a Raleigh/Bosch just like her new one at home, she was delighted as if it was her own bike magically transported to Islay, so off we set to visit the three distilleries along the recently opened new cycle path NE of Port Ellen.
Clockwise from top left: arriving at the Lagavulin Distillery, the Laphroaig Distillery, the Ardbeg Distillery and Ros passing the signpost near the Ardbeg Distillery which has the Corryvrecken 30 miles, Kildalton Cross 6 miles, Jigeadail 3 miles, Ardbeg 1/4 of a mile and a sign pointing upwards – Supernova 12m light years
There must be a lot of money in whiskey – the buildings are so beautiful and well maintained. We soon reached Ardbeg, had a coffee in the restaurant and learned that we were too late for the morning tours and the afternoon tours did not finish until 4pm when we’d planned to set sail for Gigha. So we decided to head on to that secluded beach Jim had mentioned and return for lunch and a table tasting.
Ros by the distillery at Ardbeg
The beach was amazing, the water was completely brown, so much so that your feet turn immediate orange as soon as you enter the water – the sand on the beach collected dark veins of peat between ridges of sand emphasising the beauty of the patterns.
The water at the beach at Ardilistry Bay was incredibly peaty – as you waded in your feet went orange and the sand had peat lined ridges
Returning to Ardbeg Distillery we had a lovely lunch followed by the tasting. Ros tried a 10-year-old Ardbeg while Ian could not resist the Corryvrekken. We bought a bottle of the 10 year Ardbeg. The Corryvrekkan was much peatier, which was to Ian’s taste, but also much more expensive.
The tasting of 10 year old Ardbeg by Ros and the Corryvreckan by Ian
Ros returned to Milo in time for sailing at 4:00pm across to Gigha – a four-hour trip, but Ian, determined to see the beaches on the west coast cycled further. It tool longer than he had anticipated and combined with trying to rescue a sheep which had strayed onto the road, he was late back.
Laggan Bay beaches NW of Port Ellen
By 5.15 we were underway – Ros was worried it would be dark by the time we arrived and had checked that sunset was 8:50, but with a projected time of arrival at 9pm – we should be alright. Heavy rainstorms threatened but by the time we’d reached Gigha and taken a zig-zaggy shortcut between the Islands of Gigha and Carra we were well on schedule and even had a glimpse of a sunset.
Leaving Islay late and arriving at Gigha as the sun was setting
We berthed on the south side of the pontoon at Ardminish Bay. Unfortunately, there was no water or electricity and fuel was at the garage at the top of the hill, but to offset that the bay was beautiful and the Boathouse Restaurant very welcoming with the prospect of bacon butties and good coffee for breakfast and whole lobster the following evening.