Western Isles Weekend

Words and pictures


Martin Longhurst

Alongside at the Glasgow Science Centre   Exotic destinations!

We arrived at the Glasgow Science Centre at 6.30 a.m. and found Waverley at the bottom of a spring low tide, gently warming through. Quite a few people were already waiting to board and more were coming down the river bank all the time. When we sailed at 7.00 a.m. there were just over 250 passengers on board as Captain Luke Davis gently eased the paddler astern to turn round the corner of the quay.

We enjoyed an excellent full Scottish breakfast below as the steamer slowly wended her way downstream. At Renfrew, the tide was too low for the Ferry which appeared to be aground on the south side. Another 50 souls boarded at Greenock before Waverley steamed south, leaving The Cumbraes to port before turning west to round the Cock of Arran and enter the Kilbrannan Sound.

Davaar Island at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch

Campbeltown was reached at 12.30. A few disembarked here and another 45 joined for the sail round the Mull of Kintyre.

We saw our first white horses at the joining of the waters as course was set for Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay. The wind was picking up and there was concern that conditions were not going to be suitable for a safe landing. In the event, discretion was called for and Captain Davis turned his ship for Oban. Conditions improved as we proceeded northwards past the Isles of Islay, Jura, Scarba and others too numerous to mention.

Looking back towards Scarba

Note the tide's effect on the paddler's wake

Heading north through the Sound of Luing

The Bens of Mull loomed into view and all too soon we entered the Sound of Kerrera. Speed was slackened as we approached Oban Bay to allow CalMac's Isle of Mull to pass ahead to her Railway Pier berth.

MV Isle of Mull at the Railway Pier.  Note the new CalMac Terminal, complete with giant rampant lion.  The second linkspan will go in adjacent to the yellow piles.

The paddler then swung into the Bay to make her landfall at the North Pier, slightly ahead of time. Two coaches returned some of our number to Glasgow, while a third took the Campbeltown passengers home, plus some for Port Ellen, who were to spend the night at Ardrishaig. The rest were presumably staying in Oban to take part in the weekend's sailings.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny as Waverley's followers converged on the North Pier from all Oban's guest houses. Meanwhile, two coaches were bringing more passengers from Glasgow. Unfortunately the drivers decided to give their passengers a tea break at Tyndrum and they nearly arrived too late to join the ship.

Soon the ropes were cast off and we headed for Tobermory (Isle of Mull) and the Isle of Tiree. The sun continued to shine as the paddler headed for the Sound of Mull, but then disappeared until much later. Visibility was good as we continued westwards, admiring the tracks of the uphill waterfalls of Morvern, pointed out by commentator Iain Quinn.  

Looking east along the Sound of Mull

Soon we were turning into Tobermory Bay to give the steamer's only sailing from the island's capital in 2006. In fact, quite a few elected to spend their day in Mull. Soon we were off again and were soon in the open sea as we set course for the distant Isle of Tiree.

On passage we passed CalMac's Clansman inbound from Coll and Tiree for Oban. Both Coll and Tiree are fairly low islands, but Tiree does have a couple of hills. Despite its exposed position, Tiree apparently holds the UK sunshine record. It is also a popular resort for windsurfers.

Waverley berthed at the Gott pier used by the CalMac ferry service. Most passengers chose to go ashore and 44 lucky ones were able to go to the pub by bus.

The beaches of Coll as the paddler completes her turn

Then 121 residents of Tiree boarded for a brief afternoon cruise which took the paddler to Gunna Sound. This separates Coll from Tiree and was described as notorious.   The return passage was made close to the Treshnish Islands which were on starboard side. Across to port, but much further away the Small Isles of Canna, Eigg and Rhum could be seen in front of the Cuillins of Skye. Calls at Tobermory and Oban completed the day's programme.

Sunday saw an early start at 7.00 a.m. as the steamer left Oban in dreich conditions. Fortunately the stewards had put on an excellent breakfast so we could go below in the dry and get refreshment at the same time. We finally emerged as the steamer passed through the Corran Narrows, exchanging whistle salutes with the ferry Corran. It gradually dried up and we were able to walk round Fort William for about 45 minutes in the dry.

Alongside Fort William Pier

About 200 were on board as we headed south down Loch Linnhe. Still dry with little wind but the cold air temperature meant the wind across the decks was "Baltic," as described by Chief Officer Lorraine Gouland.   Arriving back at Oban, the ship was mobbed by both passengers who taken Waverley's coaches from Glasgow and those who had made their own way to the Pier. With 650 on board, the steamer backed away from the North Pier before heading south through the Sound of Kerrera.

The Oban Lifeboat doing a "fly past" to the south of Kerrera.   A collection on board raised 866 for the RNLI.

The traditional WEL Four Lochs course was followed visiting the Sound of (Loch) Shuna, Loch Melfort, Loch Craignish and Loch Crinan. The climax was the passage through the Gulf of Corryvreckan between the Isles of Jura and Scarba.

Today the whirlpool was quiet although there were numerous strange eddies and jabbles evident. We continued a little further west until following the line of The Garvellachs back towards the Sound of Kerrera. The sun shone through briefly at this stage but it was still very cold. The steamer followed CalMac's Lord of the Isles into Oban Bay as she arrived from Coll. She was away again, this time for Colonsay, well before Waverley had finished discharging her passenger.

Waverley gently springs off Oban North Pier

The steamer going astern away from the Pier with Kerrera in the background

The paddler then had to wait, while the Isle of Mull arrived from Craignure, before departing for the final leg of the day to Fort William. Oban passengers were offered a coach return so they could enjoy the evening cruise, which turned out to be in the sunniest weather all day.

May Day was Iona day, with the Waverley starting her day at Fort William at 9.00 a.m.

Arriving from Fort William

After her Oban call there were about 630 on board for the trip south through the Sound of Kerrera then west along the south coast of Mull. There was a brisk westerly wind blowing but the paddler was able to reach the Sound of Iona on time. Unfortunately, swell conditions were not judged suitable for transfer to the landing boats, so the paddler swung through 180 degrees and headed back for Oban.

The Isle of Iona, with its Abbey to the right

Captain Davis considered the options and decided that the best alternative was to keep well in the lee to the south of Mull, rather than head north to the Sound of Mull, which would have entailed running beam to sea up the west coast.   So the paddler followed the coast closely right round to Duart Castle, the north-easterly point of Mull.

Then north up the mainland coast to Glensanda quarry, with the red bulk carrier just arrived for more stone for Glasgow, before crossing, under the arch of a rainbow, to round the north end of the Isle of Lismore and turning south for Oban.   Here Fort William and Glasgow passengers joined coaches for their homeward leg, but not before Purser Jim McFadzean warned intending passengers that the following day's sailing could be subject to weather disruption.

In the event, the Tuesday sailing (planned as Oban - Campbeltown - Ayr) was modified.   Greenock had already been substituted for Ayr as the steamer was due to enter the Garvel Dry Dock on Wednesday.   On the day, the original intention was to give passengers 1.5 hours ashore at Tobermory before returning to Oban for a bus back, but the weather was so bad that Waverley just returned to Oban by sailing around Lismore again!

Waverley finally berthed at Custom House Quay, Greenock, at 17.50 on Thursday 4 May - just over 44 hours later than expected. It must be stressed, however, that the delay was entirely due to weather, and to no other cause. Thanks to Walter Bowie and Dave for additional information.

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