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A Fyne Experience

Rosamund and I had been planning to sail up Loch Fyne since we first arrived in the Firth of Clyde in 2015, but the opportunity had evaded us.  Now we had both the time and a weather break to get to that cherished Oyster Bar at the head of the loch or so we thought…

We left Ardnishaig mid-morning in much calmer seas than our new sailing friends had  experienced the day before*.  We had a lovely sail up Loch Fyne for 3 hours reaching almost Inveraray before we had to take the mainsail down and motor the rest of the way. We picked up one of the Oyster Bar moorings  about half  a mile from the head of the lake and took the dinghy the rest of the way, leaving her on a beach at high tide.  We had read that it was not straightforward to get to the restaurant.  This was no exaggeration as we had to find sticks and hack our way through the undergrowth to find the road and eventually the restaurant.  The effort was worth it.  The food was wonderful and we were also able to stock up on good bread and fish at the deli.

We made good progress with a SE wind until we approached Inveraray (left).  Right: the head of the Loch with the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar the white blob in the far distance.

By the time we left it was getting dark – it was now after the equinox and we were noticing how the sun was setting significantly earlier each evening.  While we had been relaxing in the restaurant, the tide had left our dinghy high and dry – almost 2 cables from the waterline.  Ros commented later that it rather detracted from the wonderful experience having to lift the dinghy through the mud so far.  Ever the optimist, I said, “at least it’s firm, we could be sinking up to our knees!”, but was secretly thinking I should have brought my waders as a precaution. Even when we reached the water’s edge, the water was so shallow we had to wade another cable before Ros could get in.  Then I had to row for a while until I had the depth to get the outboard started.

Clockwise from top left – hacking through the undergrowth to get to the restaurant (dinghy at high tide in the distance); Ros with her oysters; the view from the restaurant down the loch to where Milo was moored and looking back to the restaurant when we eventually got the dinghy back to the waterline

The next day there would be no wind and the tide turned early,  so by 7:15am we’d slipped our mooring and were gently motoring SW through the morning mist.  As we approached  Inveraray we could see that we were experiencing more than an early morning mist – the promised sunny day did not materialise – instead we headed into a full thick sea fog and I had to get Rosamund up from below to stand on the foredeck with the foghorn.

The changing views of Inveraray in the mist

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The calm sea was mirror-like and, as the mist was patchy, it led to some very interesting reflections.  The mirror-like sea also meant we saw several schools of porpoises passing us, which we might normally have missed. We’d mentioned before that one of the things we both like about sailing is the unexpected and this was certainly that and a fine substitute for the expected sunny day.

IMG_3452Leaving one sea mist behind us

IMG_3457Beautiful reflections created by the calm sea

The scary moments were nearly running into marker buoys and fish farms.  The chart plotter was a godsend, but not being able to see more than 100m at times was unnerving – suddenly 5 knots seemed very fast.

Portavadie Spa – when we last visited, there was a beautiful view – this time just sea mist

Our safe arrival at Portavadie Marina in the mist was largely down to satellite navigation.  The Portavadie spa, with its infinity and hydro pools and sauna were most welcome after our cold misty start.

IMG_3468Safely berthed in Portavadie Marina.  It was sunny over land, but at sea, as can be seen in the distance, it was still misty

* When we looked at the Marine Traffic website, we realised that Whisper had left Otter Ferry very early the morning we enter Loch Fyne and was tacking toward Largs, so we would not meet them at the restaurant that night after all.  It was only later (see their comment on our “Crinan Again” blog) that we learned that their starter motor had burnt out and they had to head for their home port as soon as possible while the winds lasted. I’m pleased to say they made it. And I’d thought they were just sailing enthusiasts!!

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Crinan Again

Although the weather was atrocious, the trip through the Crinan Canal gave us both shelter, a safe passage through to the Firth of Clyde, the opportunity to meet new people and learn that one day we could return to the Crinan with the grandchildren and get them to operate the locks.

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Map showing the locks from Crinan to Cairnbaan in reverse numerical order: locks 14 to 9 were going up and 8 to 2 going down – with sea locks either end.  We berthed the first night at Cairnbaan after going down through lock 5 .

On the way, we were “paired” with Anthony and his friend Peter in “Whisper” a 40 foot Malo – a bit like a Hallberg Rassy.  Anthony was on a three-month sabbatical and had been sailing extensively round the Outer Hebrides with different crew – including his own family for a period of 6 weeks. We had both engaged Hugh Kirk to operate the locks for us as we needed two crew on the boat to handle the fore and aft lines and the fenders.  The gusting wind was quite problematical at times, and so was the swirling water in the locks on the way up.

Rosamund in her yellow waterproof on the way up (top left) and on the way down (bottom left) when it was calmer with more opportunity for conversation.  The wind forecast (right) shows why we chose to remain in the basin at Ardrishaig the next day

By the end of the first day, Friday 22nd September, we were over the top and had arrived in Cairnbaan, having passed through lock 5 (four down from the top) – only four more now to go before entering the Firth of Clyde. We all got thoroughly wet – Ros going through two sets of clothes.  This was compensated for by us all indulging ourselves in gins and tonic and having a meal at the Cairnbaan Hotel. None of us had intended eating there but the gins and tonic led to tales of sailing adventures and life in general.

The children from “Strike 3” were very keen to help

Next day we were soon down the three locks into the basin – it was a bit of a squash and a squeeze as they crammed three yachts into a space where only two were comfortable.  The third yacht, Strike 3,  had two families with four children, who were all very keen to help with the lock gates and seemed to know much more than we did about it.  It made Rosamund & I keen to try with the grandchildren one day. The main problem was on board the yachts – trying to stop the boats banging into one another as the winds were very strong.  I could see Anthony getting more and more exasperated – I knew he was keen to get out to sea and away from this land-locked experience.

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Milo safely berthed in the basin at Ardrishaig, with Whisper and Strike 3 waiting for the swing bridge to open to let them into the sea lock.  By the time they left they were both pitching into very rough seas.

Rosamund & I berthed Milo in the basin where we would wait until the next day to emerge from the sea lock.  Anthony and Peter were not so reticent and wanted to leave ASAP.  I followed their progress round the lighthouse where they turned to head into both wind and waves to exit the bay.  They were pitching so much in the waves that I could see her keel at times.  I did not envy them.  Later, on Marinetraffic.com, I followed their progress up Loch Fyne.  They had said they wanted to visit the Oyster Bar at the head of the Loch, but half way up the Loch they turned back and were clearly enjoying their sail as the they went up and down the loch several times before anchoring off Otter Ferry for the night, sheltered from the SE wind by the spit.  Perhaps we’d meet them at the Oyster bar the next night after all.

Going Backwards

We’d planned to go west through the Corryvreckan at 11:15am on Wednesday 20th September just as the tide was slack and the westerly flood was beginning, but we wanted to check the forecast first.  We had no phone link so called Belfast Coastguard on the VHF who gave us a strong wind warning of up to force 7.  As the wind was southerly and meeting the spring flood tide coming through the Corryvreckan, this did not look good for going through that day, so we decided to wait and try again the next day when the winds had moderated.  But later Ian did get a phone signal and was able to update his wind predictions for Tiree and they did not look good – in other words, we could head west the next day but there was not a weather window to get us back on time to get to Tighnabruaich the next week.  Also, the tides were not right for us to head south and go around the Mull of Kintyre, so we made the decision to cut our losses and head back to Crinan to take the canal back through to the Firth of Clyde.

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Our anchorage at Port an Tiobart.  The entrance to the Corryvreckan is just behind the dark headland on the left.  The sunny headland is the other side.

So, at 2:45pm after radioing Crinan Sea Lock to expect us about 4:30pm to get into the Crinan basin, we raised anchor and set off.  Ian had anticipated that the tides would try to sweep us north but was not expecting from the tide tables that this would be at a speed of more than 2 knots.  But when he set a track toward Crinan the boat was crabbing and only making what appeared to be 0.8 knots toward Crinan despite the engine on full speed and the jib up to give us an extra knot.  Ian soon realised we would not make the deadline for the lock at that speed and so decided to return to our original anchorage – he only needed to change the heading slightly and we were crabbing towards the coast instead of towards Crinan.  Then looking at the track he discovered that the 0.8 knots was actually backwards towards the Corryvreckan.  The tidal stream, where we were, was at least 7 knots and poor Milo was only doing 6 knots through the water.  Ian then did something he’d never done before – he set the engine to 2500rpm (he’d been advised by the previous owner to keep the revs at 2100rpm or lower). This helped speed our crabbing towards the shore and stop us being sucked further back towards the entrance of the Corryvreckan.  Eventually as we almost reached the rocky coastline we picked up an eddy which led us safely south again making progress towards our anchorage – at a rough estimate it was 1.4nm to the entrance of the Corryvreckan and we’d been swept backwards about half way there – a close call.  Interestingly, when we’d anchored, Ros said “will we be safe in this anchorage?”  and when I told her, “of course we will, it is the same one as last night” – she didn’t believe it, as we’d been motoring so fast south that she thought we’d arrived at the next anchorage.

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The meal that cheered Ian up – Duck à l’Orange

Rosamund then prepared the most amazing meal – Duck à l’Orange which was delicious and helped Ian forget the earlier traumas.  Ros then admitted she would have been much more worried if she’d realised what was actually happening.

Top left: the triangular track in the top left hand corner of the chart shows our aborted attempt on Wednesday which swept us to within 0.7nm of the Corryvreckan entrance. The bottom track is the one we took with the family when we came across a few days earlier.  The track set is toward the waypoint south of the Garbh Reisa islands.  Top right: shows the actual track pushing us way south of our intended track. Bottom: the black line is our set track to Crinan Lock after the waypoint, the red loop below shows how far south we were swept by the tide even when the boat was on auto helm continuously tracking toward Crinan

The next morning, after the usual wild swimming and a short shore trip by Ian to see if he could walk to the Corryvreckan (he couldn’t and soon gave up), we left for Crinan – this time at 9:45am 2 hours into an easterly ebb tide flowing through the Corryvreckan.  In no time at all we were tracking toward Crinan – this time at 9.5 knots and in the right direction.  Again, the tide was so strong that the autohelm could not hold the track until we approached much closer to Crinan.  We were in the lock within the hour, the same time it took us to go there and back the day before hardly leaving our anchorage more than 0.7nm away!

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Return to our berth in the Crinan Basin near The Coffee Shop

It was delightful to return to the peace of Crinan Basin.  How we both love that place.  This time we were in time for coffee and bacon butties at The Coffee Shop and had a lazy afternoon doing the washing at the Crinan Boatyard and Ian amused himself trying to change some of the inside lights to LEDs to save power when only using the batteries.  We signed up to go through the Crinan canal over the next 4 days.  As we did not have any spare crew to operate the lock gates,we asked if we could pay for help.  The normal company Yot Shop could not do anything until the weekend and so we were put in contact with Hugh Kirk who could take us through with another yacht he was managing called Viking.  So, with everything organised for the next day we had a leisurely walk to Crinan Harbour and then returned to the Crinan Hotel for our evening meal.

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View back toward the entrance to the Corryvreckan – the “V” in the distance, as the sun is near to setting at the equinox

The real George Orwell house

After leaving Tayvallich harbour, carefully going south of the cardinal marker, we motored south down Loch Sween passing an unmarked rocky island in the middle of the loch covered in seals.

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Unmarked rock in the middle of Loch Sween – popular with seals

On rounding the headland, we raised sail and goose-winged it all the way toward the real George Orwell house – it was not his house of course he just stayed there while writing 1984 in 1947, the year Rosamund was born.  He published it the next year, 1948, and it was this year that apparently gave him the inspiration for his title, by simply changing the 48 into 84 to set it well into the future!

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The house where George Orwell wrote 1984 in the distance as we approach by sea from the Sound of Jura

After anchoring, we had a slightly boggy but easy walk up the hill to the house.  Fortunately, it was not in use and we were able to be nosey and look through the windows.  “This is much more like it”, said Ros, as she looked at the range in the kitchen, “I could stay here for the week, and what a wonderful view”.  In the back window of one of the bedrooms there was a set of George Orwell novels on display making us even more confident that this was the right house.

From top left clockwise: Ros outside the house where George Orwell wrote 1984; his books in the window; a peep through the kitchen window; our anchorage in the bay south of the house, the view of the house from our landing strip and a peep into a downstairs bedroom

As the wind was from the south we chose to anchor in Port an Tiobart, the last anchorage before the Corryvreckan.  By this time it was 6:15pm and the tide had turned – even though flat out we were only making 2 knots through the water – fortunately it was not too far to go.

All Aboard

After a peaceful night in the Crinan basin, breakfast on board and coffees from the Crinan café we set off through the sea lock towards Jura.  Andrew was keen to visit the house where George  Orwell had written 1984 (in 1947) and we anchored in the bay south of what we thought was the house at Barnhill.  We ferried the crew ashore in the tender and set out through thick fern and bog towards the house.  “Bit scruffier than I imagined” said Ros as we arrived, “can’t imagine how they can rent this out for £600 a week” as we were confronted by an array of three abandoned land rovers, a wrecked caravan and a house surrounded by an overgrown unattended garden. It was only later as we sailed south to Craighouse that we saw another, much neater,  similar looking house that we realised we had visited  the wrong house.  But we did comfort ourselves with the fact that it might be the house bought by Henry Acland’s nephew – “last house on the track north after George Orwell’s house” he’d said when we’d met him at our Bristol  book group the week before.

 

IMG_3174The wrong George Orwell house

We didn’t leave our anchorage until about 4pm and it was a 3-4 hour trip with the tide in our favour to get us to Craighouse.  In typical Andrew fashion, he cooked a meal while at sea, including a barbecue on board – this is not quite as dangerous as it sounds as there was very little wind and within an hour into the trip all the sails were down and we were motoring. But dead on 7:30pm, as soon as we’d picked up a mooring in Craighouse Bay, the meal was on the table.

Sailing toward the Paps of Jura while Andrew barbecues with the meal on board, ready on our arrival in Craighouse

 We woke to one of those days you rarely see in Scotland – a windless, cloudless blue sky with sunshine, just right for climbing the Paps of Jura. While Ros stayed on the boat, the rest of us left in the dinghy to motor about 2 miles along the shore in the direction of a jetty, where we’d seen on the Ordinance Survey a track to Loch an t-Siob, a small loch on the way to the lowest Pap.  We had discussed moving Milo across the bay, but were pleased we didn’t as even the dinghy went aground before we reached the jetty, so we landed on a beach about half a mile short.

Milo on her mooring at Craighouse; feeding the swans on deck and the landing party arriving at the beach

Our plans for finding this track were thwarted as it went through some private Forestry land with notices clearly saying the Jura Paps’ path was a further 1.5 miles along the road.  The spirit of the landing party was to climb, so as soon as we saw a track going up through the wood, we took it,  coming to moor land, but with no easy access to the track.  We followed faint cart tracks and sheep tracks toward the first mini-Pap, arriving there just in time for our picnic lunch with fabulous views of the bay.

 

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The view from our mini-pap lunch time picnic stop

Andrew did a recce to see if was possible to get to the Loch, our original target, but it was a long way and the Paps themselves full of screed and a potential 10 hour walk that we did not have time for, so we set off back on a shorter route. This was really boggy and most of us, with the exception of Rebecca, managed to return to the road covered in peaty mud.

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Skye having her turn at the tiller on our return to Milo to pick up Ros and rendezvous with the shore party at the pub.

After sitting outside enjoying drinks at the Jura Hotel we returned to Milo to set sail for the Fairy Islands at 5pm – a bit mad, as it was a four-hour trip, but there was no wind and we were motoring and had one of the most beautiful sunsets we’d seen in a while.   Ros cooked our evening meal while on the move and with our previous track to follow, we dropped anchor in the dark and had another lovely meal on board when we arrived.

Percy taking pictures of the sunset

One of the delights while steaming up Loch Sween as the sun was setting was the reflection of the sunset in the water.  Percy took some beautuful photographs. The night sky when we were anchored in the Fairy isles was spectacular. The Milky Way was particularly clear.

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Our anchorage in the Fairy Isles as we left in the dinghy to drop Andrew and Becky at the head of Loch Sween for their walk back to Crinan to collect the car

The next day Ian took Becky and Andrew in the dinghy to the head of the loch so that they could walk to Crinan to pick up their car. Ian and Ros with the crew of Hugh, Percy and Skye prepared for the short journey to Tayvallich where we would be met by Becky and Andrew with their car. Percy put out the fenders. Hugh prepared to throw the aft warp ashore, with Ros on the fore warp. What an idyllic scene thought Ros as they motored into the harbour, grandparents teaching their grand children to sail. Then wham, bang, crunch as we hit an unseen rock in the harbour.  The boat came to abrupt halt, pitching forward and throwing us all about. Ros kept her head and told Ian to go astern and we managed to rescue the situation, although it took Ian some time to realise that we were not going to sink. We approached the pontoon and Becky said “has that happened before?”, possibly wondering if she had been irresponsible to leave us with her children. “No never before”, said Ros, trying to re-connect with the idyllic sense of sailing with the grandchildren. Andrew suggested that it was probably the keel that had been hit and not the more vulnerable hull. One of the locals on the shore, to put us at our ease,  said, “it’s happened to all of us”. We all calmed down and said farewell to Andrew, Becky and the children who needed to return to Edinburgh early that day.

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Milo berthed in Tayvallich after hitting a rock in the harbour (ouch)

 

Crinan to Crinan Again

On Sunday August 27th, 2017, we left our mooring at Tayvallich to head south and then north again to Crinan.  We had chosen to return to Crinan to leave Milo on a mooring there in the boatyard as it was well sheltered from South Westerlies and would be a convenient place for Andrew and his family to rendezvous with us when we returned in three weeks’ time.

Mooring at Crinan Boatyard looking north west to the Corryvrecken.  Our passage from Tayvallich, the Seal Lock and Crinan Basin at night & Rosamund in the tender ready to go

We were extremely impressed with the kindness of the Crinan locals.  We were nearly out of cash and did not have enough for our bus fare to Glasgow airport and John Dunlop, owner of the boatyard lent Rosamund £100 – just like that.  On the bus when we missed our CityLink bus at Lochgilphead.  The No 426 busdriver, after trying to arrange a taxi for us offered to take us all the way to Inverary to catch up the CityLink bus that had a 10 minute wait there – this was over 20 miles away – it was a real Hogwart’s Express type journey with us hanging on tightly as he speedily negotiated the bends in the road that followed the coastal profile of Loch Fyne.  Could this have ever happened in England – Not likely! Thanks to these generous acts Ian caught his flight back to Bristol, while Ros returned to Edinburgh to look after the grandchildren for a while.

The home trip for Ian was a significant one – he was having his final two days at Brunel University London on the 30-31 August with a last supper as his digs in Palmers Moor House, Iver on the 30th and his final retirement ‘do’ at Brunel on the 31st.  Rosamund had had her final day at Bristol on July 31, 2017.  The next two weeks were meant to be set aside for Ian’s first of 8 quarterly maintenance therapy sessions, followed by getting the house back into some sort of order after a summer of sailing.  But Ian had to have 3 days in bed following his therapy to help his back recover from lifting too heavy suitcases on and off the boat at Crinan – with recovery slow due to his challenged immune system.  But by 14th September with his back nearly better Ian returned to Crinan to get the boat ready for our visitors for the Edinburgh Bank Holiday weekend.

When he arrived, he found Milo exposed to Northerly force 4-6 winds with 1.3m waves driving into Crinan Boatyard bay.  Apart from finding it very difficult to row out to Milo against the wind and waves and difficult to get on and off the boat with it pitching so wildly, he spent a very uncomfortable night with fitful sleep.  The next morning, he decided to slip the mooring and take Milo into Crinan harbour.  He radioed ahead to the lock keepers to inform them that he was sailing round single handed and they very kindly helped with the mooring warps. Wow, what a contrast when he was finally berthed in the basin – what peace – celebrated with a bacon buttie and coffee at The Coffee Shop by the harbour and so close to Milo that she could pick up their WiFi on board. Later he settled up with the Crinan Boatyard.  Derek said there would be no charge for the work replacing the shower lead as it was not quite right. Ian found John Dunlop down by “Old Reekie” , a Puffer he was doing up, and paid him back the £100. He said he’d put it toward the Puffer fund. Later still we met him again and he admitted that he had no idea why I was paying him £100.  Seeing Rosamund reminded him!

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View from The Coffee Shop adjacent to Crinan Harbour Basin showing Milo’s berth in the distance.

The Crew, Rosamund, Andrew, Rebecca, Hugh, Percy and Skye all arrived at 7:30 in the evening in time for a delicious meal at the Crinan Hotel.  There was so much luggage to transfer that it was impossible to imagine how the evening would have turned out if we were still on the mooring.

Gigha and the Fairy Islands

It rained heavily in the night with a persistent southerly wind.  We had berthed on the windward side on the Gigha pontoon so we had creaking and groaning noises all night including flapping from the main halyard that we’d forgotten to re-position.

After a lazy start, welcome wake-up showers and a relaxed coffee and bacon butties at the Boathouse, we hired bicycles from the shop/garage/post office at the top of the hill and set off for Ardminish House Gardens.

Ardminish House Gardens

The vast expanse of mostly wooded gardens was overgrown and unkempt, but rather wild and wonderful. We enjoyed a long meandering walk through the gardens, circumnavigating the large house (which is for sale). Ros was looking for ideas for replanting borders in the even more unkempt gardens of our family home in Branscombe. We had read that we could buy ice cream at the house, which we couldn’t quite believe as we had seen no one around. But yes, delicious ice cream, made on the island, was for sale and we sat for a while enjoying our ice creams and imagining what it might be like to live on Gigha.

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Ardminish House for sale

While Ros returned to Milo for a read, Ian cycled to Twin Beaches on the north western side of the island.  The island is about 9-mile-long north to south and a mile and a half wide.  The beauty of Twin Beaches was not just the lovely sandy beaches but the potential anchorages both north and south offered for any wind conditions.  To get to the beaches by foot or by bike was tricky as there had been heavy rain overnight and there were muddy flooded sections of the footpath.  Ian had to abandon the bike at one point in the heather and do the final bit on foot and enjoyed a secluded wild swim in the rain in turquoise waters with one yacht moored in the northern bay.

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Twin Beaches – the one on the right faces north

The next morning before bacon butties (again) at the Boathouse, Ian had determined to fill up with water and fuel.  This involved getting out the green folding luggage wheelie that he had bought over from the States more than thirty years ago and had hardly ever used until today.  Two trips to the butler’s sinks at the back of the restaurant to collect 2×25 litres of water for the fresh water tank.  Two trips up the hill to the garage to collect 25 litres of red diesel (1x15L + 2x5L).  Enough to get by with until we reach Crinan.

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Arran with his catch

Met Arran and Carra again – we’d chatted the day before. They were on holiday nearby and were living a “Swallows and Amazons” type existence sailing, exploring and fishing.  Today Arran had been out fishing and had caught several mackerel.  He offered us some for our evening meal. Then he said that he had a smoker and would smoke them and bring some back to us if we were still here later that day.  Unfortunately, we left on the noon tide with a following wind to motor sail to the Fairy Islands. There were already two yachts moored in our planned secluded anchorage, but being a bilge keel boat we could sneak into the corner in shallow water nearer the shore.  It was extremely sheltered, quiet and the peace was only disturbed by the occasional grunt from the seals on the rocks nearby.

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Anchored in the Fairy Islands with the seal rocks in the distance

Next day we had a very relaxed morning, left alone in the bay.  We had swims off the boat and the water felt warm enough to swim around it. We later took the tender to explore the islands to the north.  We passed another seal rock where the seals were of two minds whether to wobble off their rocks or not.  In the end, all bar one stayed to watch us go by.  We found a forestry track and had a short walk, passing signs of ancient harbours for logging boats to pull in.

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More seals on the rocks nearby

Returning to the boat we then raised anchor and motored round to Tayvallich, picked up their inner visitor’s mooring and took the tender in to shop and walk to the Tayvallich Inn, where we had a delightful seafood meal – their scallops were great.

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Perfect reflections in Tayvallich Harbour