Venture Cruises To Iceland - Part Ten

Final leg. Arisaig to Shamrock Quay, Southampton.

 

I wrote my last blog while anchored off the small village of Arisaig. Since that time we have criss-crossed our previous route through the Inner Hebrides, revisiting favourite spots as well as exploring others we had missed on our way north. We encountered a number of basking sharks. These huge fish - up to 30 ft long - cruise just below the surface with their huge mouths agape trawling for plankton. They pay little attention to boats and you have to take care not to run into them.

On our way south we passed the key headland of Ardnamurchan Point with its distinctive lighthouse and marked the event by tying tied a bunch of heather to the jack staff as per local custom. We bypassed Tobermory in favour of the anchorage of Drumbuie in Loch Sunart and poked our bows into Loch Aline before heading for the marina on Kerrera Island across the bay from Oban.

Here we were tied up next to a really beautiful, traditional sailing yacht from Gdansk in Poland which had crossed the North Sea and come from the East Coast of Scotland through the Caledonian Canal. They were en route to Portugal and the Mediterranean. For a couple of days we also shared the marina with Marguerite 1 the French yacht we had met twice before whose owner enjoyed shoving ice aside in places like Greenland and Franz Josef Land. Another of our transient neighbours was an American yacht, which had been sailed solo across the Atlantic from Newfoundland by the American lady owner. She made the crossing along the 50th parallel because there are few storms at that latitude and had to motor for much of the way. She has been cruising Europe since 2003.

We were joined here by my friend Louisa from Taiwan and also by my daughter, Jackie, from New Mexico, USA. On August 16th we went south from Oban, via narrow and twisting Cuan Sound with its squirly tidal currents, through Seil Sound into Loch Melfort where we anchored in Fearmach Bay. We had picked this anchorage more or less at random and could hardly believe our eyes when we saw Tui, the only other Fleming 65 in Europe, moored in the same bay. A repeat of an equally unlikely coincidence, when last summer we had found ourselves sharing the same mooring buoy in Darmouth harbour. They were leaving early the following morning for the Caledonian Canal to Scotland's East coast and then across the North Sea to Sweden and on to Norway. We spent a convivial evening on board Venture II trading experiences.

The following day we backtracked through Cuan Sound past the small islands of Fladda, with its prominent lighthouse, and Belnahua with its derelict 19th century cottages - a legacy from the now defunct slate industry. We went past Lunga and the passage known as Grey Dogs which separates it from the adjacent island of Scarba. We passed again through notorious Corryvreckan but, although much more active than previously, the channel was still relatively peaceful. There was a strong westerly wind but tide was ebbing and it is mostly on the flood when this sleeping giant can rise up from the depths to become a raging monster. We went down the West Coast of Jura to Glengarrisdale but could not land because it was too rough and windy. We continued south to Loch Tarbert where we anchored in same spot as earlier in the year. We repeated our expedition in the tender to the upper reaches of the Loch and once again our progress was watched from afar by red deer staring down on us from a craggy outcrop.

The following morning dawned utter calm, with the surface of the loch reflecting the surrounding mountains until disturbed by the faintest breath of wind across the water. Cat's paws of wind skittered across the silver surface like a kitten playing with a ball of wool. These gentle gusts were forerunners of stronger reinforcements summoned down from the mountains and glens by the warmth of the approaching day. Soon the whole surface of the loch had darkened with impish ripples which slapped the hull and reflected dancing patterns of sunlight against its surface. The plaintive cry of the curlew and honking of Greylag geese joined the symphony of natural sounds. Clouds appeared like magic in the sky, their shadows chasing each other in a mad race across the treeless landscape.

We threaded our way through the tricky entrance and turned north along the west coast of Jura. The shoreline featured large caves and interesting beaches we would have loved to explore but we had neither the time nor the means to land.

We returned again to Glengarrisdale and the cottage - or bothy - in which my Great Grandfather had spent his early years. We landed Jackie on the rock which served as a jetty while Venture stood offshore and I hovered in the tender. All too soon we had to continue on through Corryvreckan to the island's only village of Craighouse. The next day was my birthday, which I had hoped to celebrate on Jura but the weather had other ideas and, with gales in the forecast, we had to leave for the Scottish mainland before their unwelcome arrival.

We passed Islay, just south of Jura, and could see Rathlin Island and Northern Ireland in the distance. We rounded the Mull of Kintyre, passed the prominent lighthouse on Sanday Island and arrived in Troon at 1810.

That evening the winds arrived as forecast to the delight of kite and wind surfers along the shore. We said goodbye to Jackie and welcomed aboard Andy Cross who had been with us when we brought Venture II north from Southampton in April. The winds were still strong when we started south for the 250-mile overnight journey to Milford Haven in South Wales. But, with even stronger gales in the forecast, we needed to move on and cover distance. We passed close by the island of Ailsa Craig home to 5% of the world's gannets. We have now visited three of the worlds largest gannet colonies - in Nova Scotia, St. Kilda and now here.

Unlike our earlier trips, when it never got truly dark, we now had night for nearly nine hours and there was plenty of traffic to keep us on the ball - from fishing boats without AIS, which altered course without warning right in front of you, to container ships, traveling at 20 knots, coming at you from every direction, including aft. We traveled the length of the Irish Sea and passed through Saint George's Channel into the Celtic Sea. Our speed varied from more than 13 knots to less than 8 according to the direction of tidal currents.

We arrived at Milford Haven at 1045 and after a short wait passed through the lock into the harbour. We knew we would have to spend at least a couple of days here to shelter from the expected gales. It seemed that every weather site had a different interpretation of the conditions which changed almost hourly as a complex pattern of low pressure systems moved in from the Atlantic. Finally we felt it would be safe to move on Thursday evening. The weather was not ideal but the wind was from aft and forecast not to exceed 15 knots and to decrease during the night.

We got underway at 2030 in the fading light. Once out into the Bristol Channel, the winds were much stronger than forecast - reaching 32 knots creating large beam seas. Our red and green running lights reflected off the foaming whitecaps as they swept past in the dark. I was off watch and awoken at 0200 with tremendous crash as the boat dropped into a hole. Within one hour the wind had dropped to zero and boxed the compass before returning from the opposite point of the compass, causing the seas to become confused and sloppy coming at us from every direction.

I had the watch from 0400 to 0600 and, after retiring to my bunk, awoke again at 0800 after dreaming I was riding a bucking bronco. I dragged myself out of my bunk to take a look and saw that we were rounding Land's End in very rough and confused seas. I took photos of Longships Lighthouse, rising from its nest of jagged rocks, and marking the western extremity of the mainland Britain.

Once we rounded the corner into the English Channel conditions improved and we decided to bypass Falmouth and keep going on to Fowey. We arrived just after 1 pm and were allocated a yellow buoy in centre of the harbour. The distance from Milford Haven was 161 nm, which had taken us 16 hrs and 40 minutes giving an average speed of 9.66 knots.

Fowey (pronounced Foy - as in boy) is a charming Cornish town with narrow streets and houses rising in tiers from the harbour. It is also known for export of China Clay and during our two-day visit three sizeable freighters came through the small harbour with yet another ship waiting offshore at anchor. The eastern shore was the smaller town of Polruan - smaller and quieter than Fowey. We launched the tender and visited both. It was the height of the holiday season and the narrow streets were packed with holiday makers.

We took the tender as far up the Fowey River as it was possible to navigate. We passed Bodinick with its small vehicular ferry and the previous home of the author Daphne du Maurier. The river divided and became narrower as it meandered upstream through reeds and bullrushes. We passed many Canada geese and continued on until we were stopped by the bridge at the town of Lostwithiel. The tide was flooding but behaving in a weird way; seeming to reach high tide earlier upstream than in the lower reaches. I attributed this to the flow of the river being held back by the incoming tide.

The following morning we awoke to a bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. A strange mist rolled down the river and obscured everything for about one hour but cleared again by the time we got underway at 0945.

There were great numbers of sailboats out in the Channel especially off the towns of Plymouth and Salcombe. We were headed for Dartmouth where it turned out to be the last - and busiest - day of Regatta Week. We felt our way into the harbour crowded with huge numbers of boats - with nine or more rafted on a single buoy. We were directed alongside a large Azimut and, later, three vintage - and retired - lifeboats rafted outside us. The waterfront was a mass of people and craft of all sorts crisscrossed the harbour. At 9 pm there was the best firework display any of us had ever witnessed. We were moored only a hundred yards away from the barge and right beneath the overhead explosion of colour. We felt it was a spectacular and fitting finale to our trip!

But there still remained the final 100 miles to return us to our starting point at Shamrock Quay in Southampton. We were lucky with the weather and the English Channel was in a rare benign mood with skies blue and almost cloudless. We were underway at 0745 and we arrived back at Shamrock Quay at 1804 on August 30, 2010.

We were now at 50 degrees 54.54 minutes North and 1 degree 22.75 West. We had been as far north as 66 degrees, 35.55 minutes and as far west as 24 degrees, 36.68 minutes. Since leaving this spot on April 19th we had covered. 2,677 nautical miles. The trip had lasted 134 days of which 82 nights were alongside pontoons, 29 at anchor, 13 on moorings, 2 nights rafted and 8 nights underway at sea.

And so we reach the completion of another voyage of personal discovery for myself and everyone on board. Once again, Venture II - along with her sister ship Venture - have proved themselves worthy of the title the Ultimate Cruising Yacht, built - as we used to say in our earlier advertising - "by those who know". A claim we can make in all sincerity because we really do get out there and put our Fleming yachts to the test in all the conditions likely to be experienced by people who cruise - be it across the bay or across the ocean - in fair weather and foul.

Venture II will be on display at the Southampton Boatshow, September 9th to 19th and after that at Shamrock Quay, the home of Fleming Yachts Europe.