12: Tobermory to Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, 17th/18th July
Shipping forecast, 17th June, 17.54: Malin & Hebrides: W backing S or SW 5 or 6; rain or showers; moderate or good
Bad weather continued during our stay at Tobermory with rain every day and frequent strong to gale force winds. After a while you get fed up with it and ready to set off in conditions which would not have been your best choice, but at least by the 17th sevens and eights had dropped out of the forecast. Tobermory bay is well sheltered so it is difficult to estimate conditions out at sea but it did seem to have eased a bit so we decided to set off, dropping the mooring at 18.20 hrs for an overnight passage to Dunvegan.
We had decided on sailing west about Skye and not by the more popular inside route through the somewhat tortuous and tide wracked channels between Skye and the mainland. We’d had enough of that and fancied the open sea. Also we were behind schedule and tides are less critical on the outside route so that two decent longer legs could bring us to Stornoway, our intended jumping off point for the Orkneys, more quickly than threading up though these inner channels. There are several options for an intermediate destination on the west side of Skye but Dunvegan, about halfway to Stornoway, with a picturesque situation and secure anchorage, looked to me to be the best.
Once clear of Tobermory Bay it was soon apparent that there was little easing in the conditions and it was another case of had we known we’d have stayed put. However the wind had backed away from the west giving an easier slant and once underway with sails reefed and the course set it was not bad. The wind eased once clear of the land and the reefs were let out. Ardnamurchan Point was cleared; Muck, Eigg and Rhum, collectively the Small Isles, wreathed in mist, were left to starboard.
Around midnight the wind fell light for a while and then later in the night backed right round to the southeast and increased again to force six to seven so that towards dawn we were sailing fast up the west coast of Skye, under reefed mains’l only with the wind now dead astern. Few yachts take this route and we didn’t see another one. As we approached Dunvegan Head, about 05.30, a misty drizzle set in followed by rain squalls which cut the visibility right down. The lowering cloud, grey foam capped sea, and gaunt black hills receding into the mist presented a vision of elemental and fearsome grandeur that is hard to convey. I could not help but think of Ernest Shackleton and the famous boat passage from Elephant Island to South Georgia; not quite the same perhaps, but the scene that morning could have done it full justice. Entering the loch and approaching Dunvegan would have been out of the question in these conditions without the aid of GPS.
There are two possibilities for anchoring at Dunvegan, either a small bay northwest of the castle, or, further up, off the village, at the head of the loch. I went for the village and this was the better choice. There is no landing at the castle; it is a mile and a half in the dinghy to the village. We anchored about as far up as you can get, just beyond some laid moorings which were occupied, in about two metres of water below datum, and with a convenient landing slip close by.