Waverley to the Western Isles 2012

Words by Martin Longhurst

Waverley’s season started at 0700 on Friday 1 June as she departed Glasgow Pacific Quay at the start of her Western Isles season.  This year the visit was spread over two weekends with the first four days based at Oban, visiting Inverie, the Four Lochs, Fort William, Iona and Tiree.  After the Jubilee Bank Holidays she headed north to Kyle of Lochalsh to repeat her popular trip to Raasay and Gairloch (her northernmost calling point for 2012) on Thursday 7 June, returning south to Oban the following day.   I am pleased to report that all sailings took place as planned in excellent weather conditions.

We joined the steamer at Oban on Saturday morning for her sail to Staffa direct.   There was a moderate load on board as we headed west along the Sound of Mull.   Then the ship followed the coast of the Isle of Mull to anchor a quarter of a mile east of Staffa.   Landing here has to be by tender and Udin of Staffa and Ossian of Staffa were on hand to deliver passengers to the rocky shore.   We went up to the top of the island, rather than visit Fingall’s Cave, on this visit and were rewarded with the sight of nesting puffins bringing in food for their chicks.  

After a visit of about 90 minutes we were ferried back to Waverley at her anchorage.   After weighing anchor, Captain Andy O’Brian took the steamer past Iona to return to Oban along the southern coast of Mull.   As there had only been three boat loads of passengers going ashore, we benefited from an early return to Oban.   The whole trip had taken place under blue skies with almost unbroken sunshine.   However, we had been able to observe some unusual cloud effects over the Mull coast.

Unfortunately the following day the weather broke with grey skies and heavy rain at times, though there was little wind.   The paddler repeated her westerly course through the Sound of Mull but this time she called at Tobermory before proceeding to her destination of Coll.   Only a light load had been attracted from Oban but there was a significant pick up from Tobermory.   Passing out into the open sea the rain stopped and we enjoyed our call at Coll in the dry.

The approach to Arinagour Pier involves leaving the Chieftain Rock to starboard and docking bow in to the island’s linkspan.   Departure involves warping round the end of the jetty to swing the steamer’s bow round to the south so she can safely clear Eatharna Loch (the bay).    Passengers had the choice of two hours ashore or enjoying a coastal cruise turning at the Gunnar Sound, which separates Coll from the neighbouring island of Tiree.

Returning east we encountered the rain a mile or two along the Sound of Mull.   Passengers rejoining the ship at Tobermory reported heavy rain during their stay, one resorting to drying her socks with the hand drier!   The rain stopped as we cleared the Sound of Mull and we docked at Oban in the dry.

Monday dawned a little brighter and it was dry as the paddler prepared to return to the Clyde.   Promptly at nine o’clock she sprung off Oban’s North Pier and went astern across the Bay for the last time in 2012.   She obligingly swung the right way for the exit south down the Sound of Kerrera.  We sailed out into the flat calm open sea enjoying marvellous views in all directions.   Gradually Mull dropped behind us as we approached Scarba, Jura and Colonsay where we made the statutory break of journey, boarding one passenger during our four minute call.

Now we headed in a more southerly direction towards the Sound of Islay which separates the Isles of Jura and Islay.  We had the benefit of tidal assistance throughout the voyage but the highest speed over the ground of 18 knots was achieved as we passed Port Askaig.   Clearing the Sound of Islay, the Kintyre peninsula filled our western horizon, with the low lying island of Gigha intervening.

We rounded the Mull of Kintyre around three o’clock while we looked south to the Antrim coast of the Northern Irish mainland and south west to Rathlin Island.   The MacBrayne pennant that had been flying during the Western Isles visit was lowered as we returned to CSP territory.   Soon the Isle of Sanda came into view as we headed east and then north to reach Campbeltown.   Here our round trip passengers changed to a West Coast Motors coach to return to Oban and two more single trip passengers boarded.   Before long we were steaming north up the Kilbrannan Sound to round the northern tip of Arran before leaving Garroch Head on Bute to port.   We followed the Main Channel to continue north with a distant views of the west coast of Great Cumbrae and Largs beyond that.

Finally we turned eastward once more, nearly overhauling the Alicat as she headed from Dunoon to Gourock.   Arrival at Greenock Custom House Quay was right on time after a voyage of some eleven and a half hours.

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