Sailing from Plymouth to Oban

Dolphins, whales, seals, birds – wind, waves, rain and sun, this last week had them all.

‘Does everything it says on the tin and more’
‘Excellent company, much learning and even more fun’

We left Plymouth on our 500 nm passage to Oban in sunshine and light winds.  After a day sail to Fowey for our first day, we headed south towards Lizard Point, motoring in the still light winds.  There was an unusual dark line on the sea ahead of us, and as we were motoring we set off to investigate.  We found the sea teeming with dolphins, a pod of 100 or more were playing follow the leader so we joined in too.  There were obviously quite a few mother and babies, who kept very close together and plenty of playful teenagers as well!  After an hour of running with the dolphins and filling memory cards with photographs we decided to head south again on our passage, only to find the dolphins then followed us.  It is really hard to describe the sheer wonder of watching nature at work; we have some great video, which I am trying to load at the moment.  The link will be here soon!

As we rounded the Lizard the wind filled in and our passage to Lands End was fast, we rounded late afternoon doing 9 knots, and had to put a reef in during dinner! A good lesson as to why we eat in shifts.  As we continued north into our first night and the Bristol Channel, the strong wind and bumpy sea claimed a few casualties.  The strong wind stayed all the first night and then gradually reduced to a peaceful force 3 to 4.  After 24 hours, we had all recovered from seasickness and settled in to the watch system and enjoying the sailing. With 4 people on each watch there was even time to warm up down below in the cold part of the nights.  The Irish Sea was busy, with fishing boats, ships, ferries and other yachts to look out for.  At night our bow wave and wake glowed with phosphorescence and we were treated to more visits from dolphins, they looked like approaching torpedoes with a large green streak behind them.

There are many tidal gates here, but on passage we had to take the tides as they came. Sometimes our speed over the ground was 10 knots other times it was reduced to 3.  We knew we had to make good an average of 4 knots and so we were constantly working out the sums.

Only when we were round the Mull of Kintyre did we have the luxury of thinking about stopping for a night.  With time in hand we realised we could afford one stop as long as we were within spitting distance of Oban.  After considering the options we settled on the tiny village of Port Askaig, in the sound of Islay.  I remembered this very small but picturesque harbour from my days with the Ocean Youth Club 20 years ago.   Then, we used to tie up on the Cally Mac ferry berth and Reeds confirmed that this was still possible.  We arrived to discover that the pier has recently been refurbished to take bigger ferries, and so the large fendering made getting ashore one of the challenges of the week.  Dave managed to clamber along a gap in the fendering and set off to chat up the landlord in the pub for the loan of a boarding plank. Currently there are 9 whiskey distilleries on Islay, one no more than half a mile from the boat, so it was imperative that we could reach the pub to try the whisky.

After a peaceful night alongside, an early start saw us leaving Port Askaig at 5 am, to catch the tide north, just as the sun was rising.  Beautiful.  We headed towards Colonsay, reported to have a puffin colony, found no puffins but loads of razor bills, seals, porpoises and a very large minke whale, all this before breakfast.  We stayed with the whale for about half an hour catching glimpses of it as it surfaced whilst enjoying its own breakfast.

Our early start gave us time to detour up the sound of Mull and anchor in Duart bay for lunch before arriving in Dunstaffnage for dinner.  605 nm by the log was something to celebrate as every one on board had come along to build up their miles.  We were slightly put out to discover that the pub in the marina was shut, but not to be deterred from celebrating we made a dash out to the local shop for supplies and had our own lively party on board.

Sailing is a great way to meet new people and make friends, and our neighbours assumed we had known each other for ever!