A chance meeting presents an unexpected opportunity to get out on the beautiful waters of the Scottish west coast for Jonty Pearce
We had explored the Ardnamurchan peninsula by sea, and now had returned by road. Even in May the number of tourists and, in particular, motorhomes and campers was surprising. I can only imagine the chaos and crowding of the single track roads during the summer high season. In many ways, our land-based meanderings emphasised how relaxing yachting can be: no road rage, slow roads, lack of parking places, crowding… Okay, I know that sailing has other challenges, but the freedom of the sea is enticing and liberating. If we had not brought our bicycles on the back of the camper I might have got a little frustrated, but we were very fortunate to bump into friends Pippa and Allistair at Salen pier.
An on-board dinner with them later in the week had already been postulated by text, and we had assumed that they would be enjoying sailing, probably sunning themselves and cruising amongst the Small Isles – Rhum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. We were therefore surprised to find them tasting the fine ice creams at the slipway shop. The planned meal escalated into an invitation for a day’s sailing; what an opportunity!
Having filled the next few days cycling out to Ardnamurchan lighthouse and the lovely Sanna bay, we returned to Salen to admire Pippa and Allistair’s new retirement purchase, a Hallberg-Rassy 36. This fine boat was in perfect condition, and ideal for the Western Highlands. Having boarded with our bags and Puffball (the boat and camper van cat) we motored out of Salen on a cool and windless day. We were especially envious of the glass screen that features on so many Scandinavian yachts. Not only does it keep out the elements but the clear vision forward makes spotting both wildlife and pot buoys a doddle. We want one on Aurial!
Our destination for lunch and maybe the night was Loch Teacuis. This sheltered stretch of water is guarded by two entrances; the twisty west channel and the easier east channel. Allistair had heard dire warnings about the pilotage challenges through these passages, but as I had been in through the west and out through the east just two weeks previously I was regarded as an expert; I stood by while he took his precious new boat through. He did it perfectly – Bob Bradfield’s Antares charts on the iPad make such rock-hopping so much less threatening – if you visit the area I’d recommend them. We entered at low springs, so the newly charted depths given by the Antares charts were invaluable as we picked the deepest water.
Once through, however, we decided to anchor in the southwest of the inner loch; the Navionics and paper charts (Antares does not cover the whole loch) indicated a depth of five metres so we were rather puzzled to find that the depth gauge indicated soundings over 20m just a boat length or two off the gently sloping shore. We dangled the 20kg Rocna with 15m of chain straight down to prove the discrepancy, and chose instead to anchor near the narrows between the inner and outer basins in an area newly checked and proven safe by the Antares chart. The depth sounder and chart agreed, and we enjoyed a pleasant lunch until enough tide rose to access the inner loch.
Additional information about sailing in Scotland
Sailing in Scotland boosts tourism
Clyde Cruising Club's publication
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We moved through in the early evening and spent an idyllic calm night at anchor near the head of Loch Teacuis; the setting sun and reflected distant hills were mirrored in the flat calm, and it was not until after the venison casserole that we needed to raise the cockpit enclosure. Just beautiful.
The morning was cool, but with a good breeze. After wriggling through the narrows and then the east channel at high water, we unfurled the Genoa for a cracking reach back up Loch Sunart and into Salen. Thus ended a spectacular and unexpected sail; a lovely boat, good friends, excellent hospitality and glorious scenery in a hard to access hidey-hole visited by few. Grab every offer of a day’s sailing – you never know what you’ll find!