Sailing my life away, part 31

PORTREE TO BANGOR - Inverie to Craignish

I had hoped to write more about Piracy in SE Asia in this article and illustrate the region with some of my own photos.

But as I wasn’t confined to solitary in my own home this year I spent a few days over Christmas with family playing silly games and watching old films. That was wonderful but meant I didn’t get the necessary research done. Consequently I’ve continued the series with an account of the next stage of Alchemi’s 1997 voyage from Inverie to Craignish and hope to get it finished in time as I write on Saturday 1 January 2002, 3 days before the normal publication date. An author’s life is not an easy one.

But first, I’d like to respond to some of the comments on part 30 starting with a post by DJM. He included a photo of Portree from a different angle to the one I chose and showing the small boat harbour with a craft he called his fancy/schmancy “rib” in the centre.

I’m glad he didn’t call it a dinghy because it looked to me more like an Inshore Lifeboat than a yacht’s tender. In fact, I wondered if the expressions on his crew’s faces as he takes them out to his yacht were rather like the ones in this photo –

Go Orange Jet Boat 3.jpg © Published with permission from RealNZ

This photo by the way is one of punters taking a jet boat ride on one of the rivers near Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island. I spent several winters in New Zealand hiding from cyclones in the tropical islands to the north and based Alchemi on the north coast of the North Island in Auckland, Whangarei, the Bay of Islands and so on.

One year I flew down to Dunedin, borrowed a car from college and climbing friends who live there and made a land tour of the South Island. That included a visit to Queenstown and a jet boat ride such as the one depicted. The drivers delight in scaring people by making sharp turns within millimetres of rocks on either side. I wondered if that’s what DJM does to acclimatise his crew to life at sea.

I was also fascinated to read others’ accounts of their own climbing experiences in the Lake District and Scotland including those by Phil, Archbug, Beri, and Arthur. Thanks too to all the others who commented and I do hope the Bowmore lasted Hankrambe long enough to keep the Talisker ’til Christmas Eve.


We last left Alchemi nodding away on a mooring in Loch Nevis in half a gale with me being rattled around down below wondering what the morning’s weather forecast would bring for the passage around Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly place on the British mainland. Only islands then, going west, until you reach Nova Scotia and I certainly wasn’t going to attempt that on this my first full year of yacht ownership.

To remind you of the local geography, here again is the passage plan from Portree on Skye to Bangor in Northern Ireland.

Portree to Bangor © AM

At the end of 1997 I submitted my original Journal to a “log competition” organised by the Cruising Association. It didn’t win first prize. In fact I don’t think it was placed at all and is probably still there, gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. Being rather pressed for time right now I’ve just read again the relevant section and can’t do better than reproduce it verbatim.

I’m fed up! Two hours work writing up this log have just been wasted by a machine crash (an early laptop running Windows 95 that would be considered archaic these days).

I waxed graphic in my description of a 10 hour passage around Ardnamurchan Point in the teeth of a near gale following three hours of difficult preparation in Loch Nevis before departure.

I explained what a transformation there was in Tobermory from a northern feeling of pioneering back into an area of sea schools, Charter boats and weekend sailing.

Tobermory © AM

How this was tempered by a squally passage down the Sound of Mull, past Duart Castle and through the tidal gate between the Lismore Lighthouse and Lady’s Rock until a safe anchorage was reached in Oban Bay.

Duart Castle © AM

How Oban provided an opportunity for communication with the outside world – mother’s tumour can be controlled by the use of drugs, my son’s headaches after a car crash have now disappeared, my daughter will visit UK from Australia in October and there may be a few days in which we can meet before she goes on to New York, and so on.

I’m not sure if I mentioned in the first account, lost in the computer crash, that on passage the next day I took care not to be drawn into the Gulf of Corryvrechan illustrated by this image with its useful description downloaded from

© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This leaves me here in the anchorage at Goat Island (Eilean Nan Gabhar in Loch Craignish) feeling peaceful after so many days of physical and emotional disturbance farther north. At last I can enjoy the beauty and serenity of my surroundings without the feelings of deja vu, and aching gaps they bring, of the places where we spent so many family holidays during an earlier phase of my life.

Goat Island looking west © AM

Now I can wish that I had been more tolerant of folk accompanying me on earlier stages of this voyage who tried my patience by forgetting or ignoring my advice on the best way of doing jobs aboard. Its strange how one reads of people who becomee ‘Old Maids” on their boats and think “That will never happen to me” – and yet it does.But I don’t think I was too bad and the fault does not lie entirely with the skipper – its true that other people do not look after one’s boat the way one does oneself or finish tasks in a way that creates a better starting point for another that might be needed later on.

Goat Island looking south © AM

This single-handing has a lot to recommend it. It provides moments of peace and solitude combined with a feeling of accomplishment that no amount of sailing with others can supply.

I don’t particularly want to explore Northern Ireland’s north coast with its names redolent of past and present conflicts, nor would I prefer to spend time in an expensive marina farther south. I shall stay in this anchorage all day tomorrow and finish reading Kidnapped and Catriona with their fine portraits of character and place.

Well, I did finish Stevenson’s novel and its sequel. How beautifully written they are, if too much in the vernacular for modern tastes and with heroes and heroines whose virtues stretch belief. They are so fine and honourable, even in their private moments, they make one think – yes, just like me – before one realises they are just a little too good to be true.

To be continued …………….

© Ancient Mariner 2021