Chapter 2: Jul 30/Aug 3 - Jura to Kyle of Lochalsh
At 5.30 next morning we weighed anchor and went up Jura Sound to Crinan Harbour. Here the 'Battleship' was loaded down to its summer plimsolls and the whole party save the Skipper went ashore, the Booster to scatter benevolence, the others to fetch milk and doubtless 'have one' at the hotel while I minded the dinghy at the foot of the sea lock. Crinan Hotel is perched high on a vast bastion and commands one of the finest prospects in the world. It possesses a famous rock garden and is a popular resort. But there is little to do unless you are addicted to the sport of dockwalloping and spend your days gaping at the yachts which pass up and down the canal. You may try to fish on the long canal reach, as it winds its way above the shores of Loch Crinan towards Bellanoch and Dunardry, but unless you use white slugs for a lure, your chance of a catch is nil. It was a peaceful sunny morning, we had come in early at 7.45. There were prismatic colours tinting the edges of the skyline and I found ample occupation in enjoying both the scenery and the sense of escape.
The voyage from Crinan to the Sound of Mull can only be described as exhilarating, especially on a day of such exceptional visibility as we enjoyed. Passing through the Dorus Mhor - the Great Gate - you are swirled hither and thither by tide races and whirlpools amid fantastically shaped islands and rocks which positively shriek to be delineated in pencil and colour, but sailing as is natural with the tide one races past these fascinating masterpieces of natural sculpture at seemingly breakneck speed. The steep-to sides of Jura and Scarba with the Gulf of Corryvreckan raging between gave us a vista of Colonsay some twenty miles away. We turned up the Sound of Scarba and over thirty miles away I caught a glimpse of Beinn Lui in Perthshire, and now facing us as we skimmed over the surface of the tide the great precipices which front the Atlantic at the south end of Mull rose ever higher and higher in stark magnificence. Throughout the whole of that clear sparkling summer afternoon, we enjoyed a superb panorama of mountains and waterways, the far reaches of the Firth of Lorne, the heights above Glencoe and beyond them the great stack of Ben Nevis guarding the portal of the great Glen. And so we came by the old ruin of Ardtornish Castle to the peaceful landlocked anchorage of Loch Aline.
The name 'aline' means beautiful. The loch is certainly attractive, reminiscent of an English Lake; but its godfathers and godmothers could not have travelled far from their native clachan. There are at least a hundred if not a thousand inlets and lochs in the Highlands and Hebrides which excel Loch Aline in beauty. In the woods by the anchorage, now somewhat scarred by the felling of timber Tommy Lor and the Frail went shooting and snaring rabbits. It is a favourite occupation with some, but you can insure conies at the same rate as cormorants, that is about five thousand rounds per corpse; and yet the Frail is a good shot - she has bagged at least four scarts or cormorants which is a record.
Next morning betimes we went west down the Sound of Mull with the wind freshening from the South west. There had been some idea of putting into Kilchoan, an open baylet on the south of the Ardnarmuchan peninsula, but as we passed the lighthouse of Runa Gal at the entrance of Tobermory harbour, the wind freshened still more making Kilchoan a lee shore, so we held on and had a lively passage round the far-famed and justly respected promontory of Ardnamurchan and put into Mallaig seven hours after leaving Loch Aline. The little harbour was crowded with fishing boats and yachts among which it was pleasant to see "Pandora" with whom we exchanged visits and later went in company to Glas Choille, the anchorage by Prince Charlie's island In Loch Nevis.
Hitherto, in the main, we had enjoyed very fine weather with perhaps a capful of wind and no one could complain of our passage up the Sound of Sleat next morning, with all Skye in the offing and the mountains of Knoydart and Kintail ahead. We turned, as is our time honoured custom, into Loch Hourn, which is beautiful indeed and made our way to our secret anchorage beneath the Grouse and opposite the blasted oak. I believe, however it is a scot's pine, but it is blasted all right, and according to the Skipper has been so for more than fifty years. But, as I tell my shipmates: "If you are looking for rain; you will find it in Loch Hourn".
As soon as the anchor was down we had lunch and after that a thunderstorm and then rain till eighteen hours. In the bright interval that ensued Tommy Lor rigged "Toots" the McGruer centre plate dinghy and he and Booster went for a turn to windward while we others admired what the rain had sent us; cascades and waterfalls.
I had been reading some of the excellent logs issued by the Clyde Cruising Club illustrated by some exceedingly clever sketches by a gentleman to whom I make my acknowledgments, but whose name I forget. One of these depicted a good sized cutter lying on its side, well beached, with a disconsolate mariner balancing himself on the bulwark. In the near background was a pier and beside the boat two gulls standant discussing the matter. Below the sketch was a caption:- "Let's anchor close to the pier, it saves long rows ashore in the dinghy". Many a time in days long past had we cursed the Skipper for anchoring in the 'street' but how right he was.
We made a very early start the following day to catch the tide in the Kyles, but after stowing the chain instead of watching the scenery I resumed my slumbers in my exceedingly comfortable bunk in the forecastle which you may remember is just forward of the engine room. Now these twin Gardner Diesels have a regular tune and sing basso agitato most harmoniously, so that I reckon they are good to sleep to. In fact you only wake up when they sleep. I was in the middle of an exciting dream. I was baulked half a dozen times in an attempt to catch a train. We took a taxi that stopped at the end of a lane a full mile from the station. When I got there I found it was a stopping train and went in the wrong direction. It would not start for thirty five minutes, so I decided to go back for my umbrella, which I had left in the solicitors office. I found it alright after a search. It was a gamp and not at all a neat umbrella and then the port engine stopped and half of me awoke. I rather wish I had been on deck to see what had happened, but it was exciting enough below. Noises from the engine room beggared description, uncanny scrunches, deep growls and wailing screams with accompaniment of blue and black smoke. Then, at last, they let go the anchor and pandemonium spread to the forecastle. The chain took complete charge and whirled around in convulsive circles. It collared hold of Tommy Lor's trousers which had been tied to the pillar to dry after yesterdays rain. These the chain carried away and tried to lift them through the hawse pipe shedding the buckle on the way. But now the engine had stopped its agony and all was peace and I made my way on deck. Here too all was peace and gaiety. We were anchored off the ferry slip by the big Lochalsh Hotel and the place was lively with yachts and other craft. "Cuillin", "Moil" and "Coruisk" were busy ferrying motorcars and passengers to and fro "over the sea to Skye". It was still early morning and the air was sparkling under a blue riviera sky. The Frail was cleaning fish from yesterdays catch on the 'Flight' deck to the great admiration and anticipation of the gulls who stood around her in a semi-circle. What had been the cause of all the fuss I never rightly understood - nothing serious - I suppose the starboard engine to which we gave a pet name that I have forgotten (shocking memory for names) was just being temperamental. After all it had been sunk three times during the war and on one occasion spent six weeks at the bottom of the Bristol Channel. Allowances must be made even for engines. Meanwhile the Booster had borrowed the coastguard's car and taking Torrie and Tommy Lor with him had gone over to Plockton to visit his agents. His flag which fluttered gently in the breeze doubtless provided a morning's speculation for the bar loungers in the hotel.