29th August 2021
Dom and I arrived at Dunstaffnage at 19:30 on Sunday evening. Strangely it doesn’t really matter when I leave London or Dunstaffnage I always arrive at the other end at 19:30 which makes life simple. There was just enough time to transfer a couple of trolley loads of gear from the van to the boat and get settled in for a quiet evening. The marina bar called the Wide Mouthed Frog is still closed so there is no entertainment to had within walking distance. We cracked open a bottle or two onboard – that’s beer not wine!
Our first port of call was inevitably going to be the delightful Tobermory a distance of about 27 nm from Dunstaffnage. It is normally best to leave at low water to get the tide up the Sound of Mull but alas there is a nasty little shallow patch in the Dunstaffnage Marina which precludes a low water start from my berth.
We spent the next morning hanking on sails – and that’s a rare sight nowadays, filling up the tanks and scrubbing the waterline. As we were ready to sail by noon, we went for lunch at Poppies Garden Centre which is a hair-raising walk along a fast narrow road with no pavement. As we squeezed past the lampposts and the speeding traffic we noticed labels which described them as “Crash Friendly” which was slightly unnerving. This was probably the most dangerous section of the weeks voyage.
Having calculated that the best time to leave Dunstaffnage was 17:00, we actually set off at 12:15 (GMT). Luckily it was neeps. We got the sails up and for a while were making 4-5 knots but soon the wind died and we finally motored into Tobermory at 18:21 (GMT). Being Scotland it was still light and we sauntered into town for a beer and curry.
The following day we walked out to the lighthouse.
Dom works as crew with the RNLI so just as Ray liked to inspect all the poly tunnels, Dom liked to check out all the lifeboats. I’m sure he knows what class it is and how many lives it has saved. I was informed that no alcohol is allowed onto RNLI premises, which is obviously rather sensible, although the thought of the crew having a pint or two and a long yarn after a tough shout would be very atmospheric.
Later I chatted with a lovely French chap called Pierre who was sailing on a French flagged vessel called Aztec Lady.
I suppose it was inevitable that he would be called Pierre! Now Pierre was a very interesting Frenchman who had lived in Greenland for 16 years and seems to be quite famous over there, well on the West Coast at least. He was also responsible for restoring the Vertue Mea which he undertook in Demark. I think we could have rabbited on all night!
Details of Mea can be found on the Vertue section of this blog.
Canna lies 35 nm from Tobermory. The tide can run hard through the Sound of Canna and as I have never been there before I would also rather arrive in daylight (although there are leading lights). We decided to set off at 05:45 GMT to ensure that we arrived on the fair tide.
It’s no good frigging around making coffee when an early start is needed, its much better to just get up and go. By the time you come to your senses you are one league out from land and then it’s a fine time to make a pot of fresh coffee. Of course, making coffee on the Taylors Paraffin stove is an utter delight. The little flare ups and puffs of black soot utterly delighted Dom who regards the piece of equipment as one of the engineering marvels of the world. I remember his ecstasy when he first set eyes on the gleaming masterpiece uttering the words “Oh My God, not one of those bastard things, we are doomed!” in Dom’s obviously ironic style.
Dom, being the kind chap he is, let me enjoy all the fun playing with the gimballed firebomb. What a marvellous sacrifice he made allowing me all the pleasure of lighting the playful stove every single time, how can I ever pay him back?
After coffee, which took less an a hour to brew up and get the small flare ups under control, we decided it was time to hoist the genoa and we began to sail at 3.5 knots – exciting stuff. We weren’t really expecting any wind at all and had loaded up with diesel, but soon we needed to ditch the genoa, hoist the Yankee and tuck in a reef on the mainsail as we trundled into a slight chop at 3.7 kn. The wind eventually died away and after shaking out the reef and hoisting the stay sail we eventually gave up and motored into Canna Harbour at 13:46 GMT.
There was a buoy available so we threw the mooring loop over the Samson post, blew up the Avon Redstart and rowed ashore. By the way, the leading lights are just that. They are very clear at night but there are no day marks so don’t waste your time trying to find them with your bins. The entrance is very straightforward and the harbour is reputed to be secure in all winds. They have laid ten buoys which are £15 per night (not £10 as the almanac says). There is still plenty of room to anchor.
We rowed across the harbour to the café and dragged the dinghy up the beach. We had a lovely coffee in the sun and booked a table for a meal the following evening. The café is often booked up so it’s best to book in advance if you can. There’s no phone reception on the island, which means the island is (almost) completely free of anyone aged between 16 and 30. The café responds on VHF Channel 8!
As we had been up since the early hours, we decided to go for a relatively short walk around Sanday. Sanday is a smallish island joined to Canna by a causeway and it forms the south western flank of the harbour. There is a disused Catholic Church on the island but it’s not the prettiest church, OK it’s a bit ugly.
Of more interest to me was the lovely white sand beach just over the causeway and on the north west of the island where I enjoyed an idyllic swim before mild hypothermia set in.
The following day we walked out around the main island, visiting the Souterrains and the King of Norway’s Grave.
I also managed to find another white sand deserted beach for little swim.
The island has a community shop which is open 24 hours a day, every day. They just ask you to write down what you have taken and pop the money in the tray – and turn the lights off when you leave. I can’t see that working in Deptford but it certainly worked well on Canna. This is where you pay for your moorings too.
Our table at the café was booked for 19:00 LT. I had pre-ordered a crab but on reflection I would have chosen the special if I had known what it was. Those crabs are bloody hard work and the nut crackers wouldn’t fully close up. Next time I order a crab I’ll bring a little tool kit off the boat ideally containing a sledge hammer, an old anvil, an axe and a cordless grinder. Thinking about it, next time I order a crab, it will be a crab sandwich! Nevertheless, it is a damn fine café with a waitress who seemed to work from dawn to dusk at a blistering pace. She was overheard saying “I work very hard but I get to swim in the sea”. Hopefully she gets paid too. Our meal for two with beer and wine came to £71.00 but we denied ourselves nothing, to use Peter’s immortal expression.
Although we took the easy (lazy?) option and just picked up a harbour mooring, there seemed to be plenty of other places to anchor. A local blue Contessa from Eigg seemed to be exploring them all. All in all, Canna is a splendid island to visit made all the more appealing by the fact that its harbour is secure and it lies en route to the Outer Hebrides (from Malliag).
That said Rum looked pretty good too, especially if you fancy some climbing. Oh dear, so much to do, so little time!
The next morning we sailed the 33 nm to Loch Drumbuie and with a fair wind we were making 5 knots as we approached Ardnamurchan under full sail. My favourite anchoring spot was taken so we anchored in 41 ft on the south shore. That was only after Dom reminded me that my depth sounder was showing feet rather than metres so our first attempt at anchoring wasn’t in the 7-8 m that I thought but the slightly more alarming 7 – 8 feet, which with a tidal range of 2.1 m wasn’t going to end up very well. Thanks Dom! After a peaceful evening, we were early to rise in an attempt to catch a bit of tide down the Sound of Mull. It meant motoring into a brisk headwind to hang on to the fair stream which made me feel a bit guilty as we should really have been tacking but hey we had a good sail the day before.
We moored in Oban Transit Marina for fish and chips and left very early in the morning for the little hop back into Dunstaffnage. Even though we were back two hours before low water it was still pretty shallow rounding the corner to get back into my inside berth. Our last sail of the season was over, time to put Dom on the train home while I get the boat craned out and covered up.
Canna Harbour Summary
Ten mooring buoys available at £15.00 per night – pay 24/7 at the Community Shop
Space to anchor but beware of kelp
Excellent Café Canna but try to book in advance if you can VHF Channel 8 or try www.caafecanna.co.uk
Toilet and shower available near the farm building at the “Square”
Dogs are welcome but keep them under control
No fuel available
Excellent Community Shop which seems well stocked
There is an annual 10 k Trail Run which seems to take place around the end of May
There is a small campsite on the Island
The ferry service from Mallaig runs everyday except Tuesday and Thursday and costs just £11.50 – a bargain!