Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gemini - 3

Another island journey I took on Gemini was to Dun Chonnuill and Garbh Eileach of the Garvellachs. Dun Chonnuill is a great lump of rock, and atop it once stood 'the great castle of Dunquhonle'. Garbh Eileach, the largest of the Garvellachs, is home to Cladh Dhubhan, a burial ground said to have used by the royal house of Dalriada. But the bracken was so thick that I could not find the burial ground. See book 1, chapter 9, for a description of the visit to Dun Connel and Garbh Eileach.

Dun Chonnuill
Gemini off the south end of Dun Chonnuill
Looking down to Garbh Eileach House

Garbh Eileach - a bracken jungle only passable by following deer trails
Ruined croft house - Garbh Eileach
Stone enclosure next to Garbh Eileach House
Garbh Eileach House - House sign above the front door
Close up of worn house sign

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gemini - 2

My second time on Gemini we visited remote Eilean Mor, to see St Carmaig's Chapel and his hermitage cave. The island's name, Eilean Mor, is a shortened version of 'Eilean Mor Mhic O' Charmaig', and was once home to Saint Abban Mac ua Charmaig. The island lies off the coast of Knapdale, 15 miles south of Crinan. There are no regular boat trips to the island, so you are on your own to find a way to get there. See chapter 4 of book 1 for the description of a visit to Eilean Mor.

Gemini at Eilean Mor - summit with cross in the distance
Eilean Mor Chapel and the vandalized cross
Pilgrim Chapel and Cave
Standing at the highpoint of the island is this replica of the Eilean Mor cross. The original was severely damaged, and the head of the cross was lost for a while. But the cross has been mended and is on display in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. See this link for a photo of the 'severed head', and this one for an early drawing of the cross.
Atop the island stands this replica of the Eilean Mor Cross - the original is in the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh

Monday, January 27, 2014

Gemini - 1

I have fond memories of the catamaran Gemini. Between 2002 and 2005 I chartered her five times. Back then she was owned by Mike Murray, who ran the boat out of Crinan. These days she's under different ownership and does day trips from Tobermory. The first time I charted Gemini, Mike dropped me off on the south shore of Scarba near the Corryvreakan Whirlpool. I spent the day wondering across Scarba and climbing to the top of the island. The day was capped by an exciting ride through the whirlpool before returning to Crinan (see book 1, chapter 6).

The other trips I took on Gemini were to Eilean Mor (of St Carmaig); the four Garvelach Islands of Dun Connel, Garbh Eileach, Eileach an Naoimh and Cul-i-Brennain; Belnahua and Fladda of the Slate Isles; and a camping trip to the north end of Jura. Below are a few photos of the trip to Scarba. Over the coming days I will share photos from the other trips.

Mini whirlpool off the stern of Gemini
In the centre of the Whirlpool
Gemini coming in to take me off Scarba
My wife happy so see me safely back to Crinan

Automatic cattle feeder on Scarba - Kilmory Lodge in the distance
Happy Hour on top of Scarba

Sunday, January 26, 2014

MV Elizabeth G

The 70-foot Elizabeth G had her 50th birthday last year. She is a sister ship to Halmar Bjorge; same initial design with similar modifications to increase the size of the main cabin. She is owned by Rob Barlow, and mainly does dive trips, but they also offer a few wildlife cruises each year. On the cruise I took in 2007 we visited Canna, Lochmaddy, St Kilda, Rodel, Shiants and Inverie. It was a great trip.

See this link for info on the trips available on Elizabeth G.

Anchored off the Shiants
Elizabeth G Berthed at Inverie Pier
Anchored in Village Bay (St Kilda)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Twin Otter G-BVVK

I have been posting on boats that have taken me to the Hebrides. But it occured to me that I should mention another vessel, one that took me to Barra and Tiree, and that is Twin Otter tail number G-BVVK. It was quite an adventure when, on a snowy February afternoon, I first flew on her to Barra. Here are a few photos of G-BVVK, which I hope to fly on again someday.

G-BVVK on a rainy day at Glasgow Airport
The view out the window to Tiree
The view out the window to Erraid (on the way to Tiree)
G-BVVK lands at the Reef (Tiree)
Preparing to leave Tiree
G-BVVK on the approach to Barra Beach
A summer arrival on Barra Beach
Cleared for takeoff - Barra Beach

A snowy day on Barra Beach

Thursday, January 23, 2014

MV Western Isles

I've only been aboard MV Western Isles once. She makes regular runs to Inverie out of Mallaig, and also visits remote Tarbet. It was the Tarbet service that inspired me to do a long, one way walk from Malliag to Tarbet. So on a wet spring morning I walked down the highway from Mallaig to Morar. From Morar I headed east along the northern shore of Loch Morar to Swordland. As I walked along the loch I had great views over to the many islands in the loch. I promised myself that someday I'd visit those islands. (And I would, eight years later, as recounted in Book 1, Chapter 21.)

From Swordland I climbed the small pass of Bealach Tarbet to reach the tiny settlement of Tarbet on the shore of Loch Nevis. I ended up walking 12 miles in the rain, and had to ford several rain-swollen streams, so I was soaking wet. At Tarbet I found shelter in the porch of the church-bothy. After sitting there for an hour I saw the Western Isles motoring into Tarbet Bay. On the ride back to Mallaig I sat in the warm cabin to dry off and soak up the heat. For the complete story of the hike see chapter 25 of book 1. 

Western Isles arrives in Tarbet Bay
MV Western Isles

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


My first Hebridean cruise was on Annag, a 40-foot long Sun Fizz sailboat. Based in Berneray Harbour, she usually does six-day runs to St Kilda. As described in chapter 14 (book 2), my journey to Berneray to join Annag started with a 222-mile drive from Glasgow Airport to Uig (Skye). The next day I took the ferry to Lochmaddy, and then drove to Berneray. If I'd made the trip a year earlier I'd of had to take another ferry to reach Berneray. But in late 1998 the causeway was opened, and so when I was there in 1999 I could drive to the island. In the first photo you can see the old Berneray car ferry tied up behind Annag.

The Kilda trip on Annag was one of the best sea-travel experiences I've had. The skipper, Donald Wilke, knew his stuff, and could sail the boat single handed. In addition, the owner at the time, Iain Murray, also arranged for me to get a camping permit, and so I was able to spend a night ashore. It was a memorable evening. I had a few drams in the busy Puff-Inn, and then wandered in the dark through the village before crawling into my tiny tent.

Annag in Berneray Harbour - the old Berneray ferry behind it
Annag approaches Kilda
Heading to Boreray and the Stacks
Kilda Campsite
Anchored in the bay are (left to right): Hebridean Princess, Poplar Diver, Annag and Cuma
Aboard Annag

Sunday, January 19, 2014

MV Poplar Diver

After doing the post on MV Chalice it occured to me that I should post something on the five other boats that I've had the privilege of sailing on to the isles of the west: Poplar Diver, Gemini, Annag, Elizabeth G, and Halmar Bjorge. We'll start with Poplar Diver. I first sailed on her in 2002 on a trip to North Rona, and again in 2003 when we visited the Flannans and St Kilda.

Back in those days Poplar Diver, and her skipper Rob Barlow, also made the regular National Trust St Kilda run; taking volunteers out to Kilda to work on restoring the village houses. While on Poplar Diver I heard many stories of people who dreamed of visiting Kilda their whole lives, but who had never been to sea, and how some of them would be violently ill with sea-sickeness on the long, and often rough, voyage to Kilda from Oban.

Poplar Diver was a solid ship, a 70-foot rescue boat credited with saving 83 lives. Between 2002 and 2004 she was owned by Rob Barlow, a great skipper and diver. These days Rob owns the Elizabeth G, and someday I hope to sail with him again. 

Poplar Diver
Poplar Diver at anchor off Eilean Colm Cille
View from the wheelhouse of Poplar Diver on the approach to North Rona
Anchored off North Rona
Approaching the Flannan Isles 
At anchor off the East Landing of the Flannans
The view from the wheelhouse in rough seas

A happy day - back aboard Poplar Diver after landing on the Flannans

Thursday, January 16, 2014

MV Chalice

I have only sailed once on MV Chalice. She was the ship that Northern Light Charters started operating with in 1995 (see this link).  Something I did not know when I sailed on her in 2006 was that her hull was concrete, or more correctly "ferocrete'. I first saw her in 2002 during a trip on MV Poplar Diver to North Rona. I vividly recall that event. Our paths crossed at a point in the Minch, and I saw the skipper (and owner) of Chalice, Mark Henrys, standing high atop the Chalice wheelhouse on the lookout for a minke whale as the ship rolled in the  heavy sea.

Four years later, in 2006, I booked myself on a Chalice cruise with skipper Chris Jackson. Below are a few photos from that trip. I last saw Chalice in 2008 when she was sold off. The 'Chalice Experience' attracted many followers, and there was much disappointment when she was sold. Every evening on a Chalice trip the skipper would recap the day's events, and the course that had been sailed, on a large nautical chart of the Hebrides. You can see an example of this in photo 6 where the course of the cruise is marked in red on the chart (British Isles , Scotland West Coast, Number 2635).  Good memories.

In fact, when I left the boat in Oban after that cruise in 2006, I went into Nancy Black chandlers in Oban and bought chart 2635. I rolled it up and hand carried it to the airport, where I carefully stowed it in the overhead bin of the 747 that took me home from the UK. Once home I had the chart framed and covered with a clear plastic sheet just as they'd done on Chalice, where I can write on it using dry-erase markers. I've used that chart to plan every Hebridean trip I've made since then, and I also used it to lay out the chapter sequences in the two books.

Chalice anchored at the Shiants - 2006
Chalice anchored in Ardtornish Bay - 2006
Ardtornish Castle - visited on Chalice cruise in 2006
The only window seat  - Ardtornish Castle
A regular on Chalice, and my room mate in 2006 - magician Archie Smith at Ardtornish
Nautical chart 2635 of the Hebrides showing the route of the cruise
Chalice motoring into Oban - 2008
Skipper Chris Jackson on Chalice the last time I saw her in 2008 
Photo of me on Chalice in 2006 - taken by Chris Jackson