Today, the fourteenth day of our cruise, the weather is dull and overcast, with low cloud and a light rain in the breeze. I hoist sail and motor out into the Sound of Canna, hemmed in on the east by the great cliffs of Rhum dropping straight down into the sea. I cut the engine and sail south out of the Sound to be met by a dark grey lumpy sea, drizzle and a wind about force four. I turn onto a heading south east and go below to put on a warm jumper, and set the way point to take me into the Sound of Mull, some twenty five miles away. I return on deck and notice that the visibility, due to rain and mist, is about one mile. Today I shall have to keep a wary eye abroad, if I'm to reach my destination safely.
There's nothing much to see, not even a sea bird comes to visit. We swish on, with a quartering sea attempting to swing our stern to the north. I sit mesmerized watching the Haslar correcting these antics, and amazed that such a contraption of stainless tube, tufnol and rope, that is the Haslar, can be so precise and powerful as to override the sea and keep us on a true course. It's a credit to its designer, Blondy Haslar of Cockle Shell Hero's fame, that it works so well.
I am cold and wet. There is nothing to see except the endless grey water. All I can feel is the movement of the boat, as she moves up each wave and then down the other side - over and over again. I feel lonely, and have the one thought that all lone sailors have from time to time - what the hell am I doing this for! I must pull myself together. I shall go below and make a hot drink. Wedging myself in the companionway against the movement, I boil the kettle and make a large mug of sweet tea. Finding a packet of rich tea biscuits, I begin to dunk. This will cheer me up.
To give myself something to do, I decide to plot our position on the chart every ten minutes, taking readings from the Decca for the plot. After an hour, the plots on the chart begin to resemble stepping stones, all leading to Tobermory. I feel better and begin to keep a look out for Ardnamurchan Light House which should appear fine on the port bow. On on we go, and I am conscious of a low noise from afar, then the unmistakable smell of a ferry, a mixture of diesel smoke and food. There she is! Looming out of the rain comes the Lord Of The Isles, outward bound from Oban to Lochboisdale, soon to pass me half a mile to starboard. She disappears into the gloom and I continue my watch for Ardnamurchan Light.
And then. There it is, yes definitely it's Ardnamurchan Light House standing white against the grey and fine on the port bow. Soon the the wind will become fickle, as we approach the entrance to the Sound of Mull. It always does.
The wind drops and blows from all directions, we must be there. I start the engine and motor until the sails stiffen again. We're in the Sound at last, and guess what, the sun is coming through. All my miseries have suddenly left me and all I can think of is - what a lovely sail it's been today!
One and a half hours of sunshine later, I swing into Tobermory Bay, and raise my glasses to see if there's a vacant H.I.D.B. blue buoy....Yes. With my cheeks flushed from the day's wind and rain, I down sails and motor in to pick up my blue buoy, and as the Bard said - we've arrived and to prove it we're here.
Tobermory, place of legend and tale. Located on the north side of the Island of Mull, its waterfront a panorama of coloured shops, with a church squeezed in between. On the hill above and behind, rows of houses white and grey. High up, the Western Isles Hotel with its legend of the screaming skull, now returned to the deep. Lower down on the water front, the Tobermory Arms Hotel, with its Minah bird guarding the entrance to the toilets, and at the last count, over two hundred bottles of malt whisky on display behind the bar ......all for sale, of course.
During the war, the bay was used as a naval training base and tales of 'daring do' abound. Today it's peaceful again, with only yachts, fishing boats and the occasional ferry to swirl its green water
Below lie the remains of a Spanish galleon, plundered for its supposed treasure, but all that was found were rotting timbers, a seamen's bangle and a silver spoon.
Surrounding Mull, the islands of Treshnish, with so much bird life that you dare to step ashore. A little to the south east Staffa, with nature's great cathedral, Fingal's Cave. Sir Joseph Banks gave the cave its name, later to be immortalized by Mendelssohn in his Hebridean Overture. When Banks visited the island, he had with him the Bishop of Linkoeping, Uno von Troil, who wrote this fine description of what he saw:
'How splendid do the porticoes of the ancients appear in our eyes, from the magnificence displayed in the descriptions we have received of them, and with what admiration do we look even on the colonnades of our modern edifices! But when we behold the cave at Fingal it is no longer possible to make a comparison, and we are forced to acknowledge that this piece of architecture, executed by nature, far surpasses that of the colonnade of the Louvre, that of St. Peter at Rome, and even what remains to us of Palmyra and Paestum, and all that the genius, the taste, and the luxury of the Greeks could invent'.
Iona, the Holy Isle, with its great man-made Abbey, floating off the end of the Ross of Mull. Johnson called it:
'This illustrious island which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion'.
Boswell's account of it during his visit was less than flattering:
'The inhabitants are remarkably gross, and remarkably neglected. I know not if they are visited by a minister, The island, which was once the metropolis of learning and piety, has now no school for education, nor temple for worship, only two inhabitants that can speak English, and not one that can read or write'.
Today it's a tourists' mecca, its Abbey restored and pilgrims worshiping, as Boswell would have wished.
So much to see and so much to do, but it will have to wait until another time.......tomorrow we return to Crinan.
Copyright: Arthur J. Binning. October 1994.
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