A poetic Sam Llewellyn muses on the beauty of sailing in the Hebrides.
It is a cold morning on Loch Moidart. The cabin is a small warm cave lit by a sunbeam slanting in at the porthole.
Reach out of the sleeping bag, light the alcohol stove. The saloon fills with the smell of coffee.
Pull on some layers of clothes. Mug in hand, crawl into the cockpit.
The water is a sheet of green glass. Two buzzards tumble down a black cliff, claws interlocked. The cliff means no radio reception for the weather forecast, but in an anchorage like this, who cares?
Up comes the anchor
Let off the jammer and haul up the mainsail. Up comes the anchor, shedding clouds of mud down the tide. Roll out the jib and away we go, green hill to starboard, castle ruins to port.
There is a maze of rocks in the entrance, some awash, some sunk. Big seas churn in the skerries. A pale boulder whips past the keel. The heel steepens until the stanchions are tearing grooves in the water.
There’s too much to do in the way of clearing bearings for relaxed enjoyment. Suddenly we are outside the loch. The white water is falling astern. The tide is steepening the waves and the west wind is blowing off their tops.
Crashes in the cabin. Something has come adrift below.
On the basis that if you think it will soon be time to put in a reef it is already time to put in a reef, it is time to put in a reef.
Let go the mainsheet and the halyard. Sail on the genoa, put the tack on the hook and haul down the clew. Harden up. Award yourself time to breathe.
The sun has gone. Ahead, the Sea of the Hebrides is the colour of dirty slate. Something like a giant aircraft carrier looms in the murk on the bow.
That will be the island of Eigg. A wave comes over the nose and sails down the deck. Water sluices into the hood. Plug on.
There is nothing to break the westerly except the Outer Hebrides fifty-odd miles away.
The nose hammers into the trough, and the spray sails aft, and the warm little room where we ate breakfast might as well be on a different planet. It seems impossible that we are moving.
Little by little, though, Eigg crawls closer. At last its cliffs beetle on the port beam, and its bulk is smoothing the sea and lightening the breeze, and we are footing briskly across its lee.
Beyond the lee
Beyond that comfortable lee the wind is wailing, bent into a southwesterly in the narrows between here and Rum, the next island.
Rum is scowling down at us through the clouds wrapped around its shoulders, exuding darkness.
Its red deer have turned carnivorous and Loch Scresort, its anchorage, is open to the east and famous for gusts. But there is no decent anchorage on Eigg, so we cannot get there too soon for me.
On and on we plug. The water is cold, the extremities numb.
Five hours out of Moidart, the southern headland of Loch Scresort appears in the mirk. Another big gust, another cloud of spray, another crash below.
Then we are round the corner into the loch, gliding along in the flat water under the shore.
At the far end is a mighty Victorian quay. Inside the quay a boat that can take the ground can anchor. Which we do, and sweep up the glass in the cabin, and put the kettle on again.
The tea takes hold, and the heat strikes home. The radio reception is doubtful, and the weather forecast says westerlies, then breaks up. But in an anchorage like this, who cares?
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