July, 2002 Scotland
Equipped with our new sails, we left Falmouth on July 22, on our way north to Scotland to meet our friend Linda and her friend Cara. En route, we stopped at the Scilly Isles, just 20 miles off Land's End, England's southwest tip. This group of islands and rocks were known in times of yore for having the best sea pilots. Today the Scillies, a bit warmer than England, grow wonderful flowers and are a great vacation spot. They're called 'a little bit of the Caribbean in England,' which is true for the turquoise water amid the islands, but not quite the temperatures!

Our British friends the Kidsons were camping there, and we took them for a day sail. After we'd settled into a nice reach, Andi asked 7 year-old Joe if he'd like something to eat. After a moment, he replied, to all our astonishment, "Ships' biscuits, please." We offered our favorite ginger snaps, which turn out to be Joe's favorite too. Now aboard Akka, thanks to Joe, ginger snaps will forevermore be "ship's biscuits".

From the Scillies, we had a great sail up to Conwy, in north Wales, where we finally traded in our old dinghy, which had never recovered from its encounter with a Bahamian reef, for a new Caribe rigid bottom inflatable (RIB) dinghy. The Caribe is much drier to ride in but also much heavier than our old RIB. We're having difficulty adjusting to its extra weight, but we love its sturdiness. We knew of Conwy only as the location of the dinghy dealership, and were delighted to find that it's also the site of a very well preserved 13th century castle, one of the Iron Ring of forts that Edward I built around Wales. Designed to look as well as be impressive, Conwy castle, towering above the city walls, certainly fit the bill.

Then on to Scotland. Dreary passagemaking in dreary weather, with barely a glimpse at the coastlines of Scotland, the Isle of Man or Ireland as we went up the Firth of Clyde to Troon, where we met Linda and Cara.

In Troon, we had a day of "do your own thing": Cara got together with an old friend from Ireland; Andi and Linda went to the British National Pipe and Drum Championships in nearby Ayr (amazing, with over 1300 competitors!); and Rob enjoyed a round of golf at one of Troon's 3 municipal courses, right next to the Royal Troon, sometime home of the British Open. He was grouped with 2 local Scots who play there twice a week, so he got lots of advice about each hole, which was good, since there are no diagrams or even yardage markers. Unfortunately, their Scots accents were so strong that Rob often couldn't understand them. At one point, he thought they warned him of a hidden birm, or mound, which turned out to be a stream ("burn" in Scottish), and cost him a ball and another stroke.

Then we were off to the Isle of Arran, a brief, wet, foggy, boisterous sail. On Arran, we used excellent bus service to visit the new Arran distillery, where we tasted and bought some of their single malt. The next day, we bussed to the west side of the island, walked on the Machrie Moor to see neolithic stone circles and standing stones. The moor was lushly green and desolate, populated only by sheep. The stones were somber and eerie. On our walk back, it began drizzling, then raining. No wonder it's so green!

Our next island was Islay (eye-lah), a long but comfortable day's sail away, famed for its peaty malt whiskies, including our favorite, Bowmore (accent on the last syllable, please). Akka stayed in Port Ellen and we rented a car, there being no good bus service. Rob golfed at the famous Machrie Hotel and Golf Course links, again losing balls -- in 18 holes, there are 20 blind shots. And, for the last 8 holes, a steady rain. Meanwhile, Andi, Linda and Cara saw the Kildalton Cross, the oldest (late 8th century) still-standing Celtic stone cross in Scotland. Set in the churchyard outside a small ruined chapel, the weathered cross is impressively tall (12'). The whole place had a lovely peaceful atmosphere.

The next day, we went to the Bowmore and Bruichladdich distilleries. Bruichladdich just recently re-opened, which explains why you've never heard of it. Much of the equipment is original, mid-19th century. But our favorite distillery was, not surprisingly, Bowmore. They were on summer holidays, so the tour was replaced by an excellent video, which showed aspects of the whisky-making process, such as malting, that are not visible in the usual tours. Even better was the free "nosing and tasting" which followed. We were each given 3 generous samples, of 12, 15, 18 year old malts. Our guide then explained what to look for and taste, and how to do it, for each: Nose, body, overtones, etc. Excellent! Needless to say, we bought several bottles!

Our next stop was Jura, just north of Islay. To get there, we had to pass through the narrow Sound of Islay between the islands, where the tidal current runs more than 5 knots; so, timing our arrival for the north-bound tide, we zipped through at 8-10 knots! We passed the Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain distilleries on the Islay side of the strait, admiring Caol Ila's four huge beautiful copper pot stills through its large windows. At the end of the Sound, the tidal 'overfalls' caused enormous waves, in which Akka bucked and plunged for awhile. But then we turned into serene Loch Tarbert, a totally deserted meandering and rock-bounded fjord with a zigzag entrance. Our route between the hidden but deadly rocks was marked by ranges (leading marks, which one lines up and then sails along the line until the next line is reached), which, even in the bright sunlight, we couldn't find. Unlike ranges in large ports, which are steel structures with bright lights, these are 2' high cement pylons, painted white, put up in the hillsides by some kind soul years ago. With four of us looking and considerable use of the binoculars, we managed finally to locate all the ranges we needed, and anchored in a tiny cove surrounded by nothing but sea birds, rocks, and heather. Andi, Linda, and Cara went exploring in the dinghy, seeing feral goats and a baby seal, while Rob rested up from the excitement of our fast trip through the Sound of Islay and the rock-imperiled entrance.

Next day we got up early and retraced the twisty route out, discovering that the range markers were much easier to find in the grey overcast than they had been in sunlight. We beat to windward in moderate wind to the Isle of Mull, arriving around noon at a lovely little bay on the south side, marked in our Lonely Planet guide with a little circle indicating the village of Carsaig. From there, we were sure we'd be able to catch a bus and ferry to the tiny island of Iona, which Cara, in particular, very much wanted to visit. Carsaig turned out to be a collection of a half dozen houses at the end of a single track road, with no evidence of a bus stop. Well, the travel guide said it was only 3 miles to the village of Pennyghael, on the main road to Iona, so off we set. The 3 miles was actually 4, climbing steeply to a pass, across a moor, then down the other side. Beautiful high moors and blue spruce forests, with lots of burns (we're learning the lingo), but a long tiring walk. Pennyghael was simply the intersection of our track with the barely larger 'main road', and again, no village. A quarter mile away, we found a phone booth and a nice Scots couple who gave us their bus schedule. We learned that there was only one bus to Iona, none back, and never any busses across the pass to Carsaig. A phone call to the Tourist Information Center got us the name of a man with a van who would, for a fee, provide us transport. Too foot-weary and discouraged to face the trek back to Carsaig, we agreed to his 30 pound ($45) price, walked another 1/2 hour to a hotel/pub for dinner and beers, then got transported back to Carsaig. Our driver, it happens, runs a raptor sanctuary on Mull and enchanted us with stories of falconry en route. On the moor, we noted red deer with large racks of antlers.

Next day, we decided to move Akka to a more accessible place. The sail westward along Mull's south coast was spectacular, as there are sheer cliffs several hundred feet high, waterfalls cascading down them, and incredibly green pastureland atop them. We anchored for a few hours in the strait between Iona and Mull, dinghied ashore to Iona and toured the ruins of the 13th century nunnery and the beautifully restored 12th-15th century Abbey and monastery. This is a big pilgrimage site: St. Columba landed in Iona (from Ireland) to bring Christianity to the Scots in 563 AD. There are a number of beautiful stone Celtic crosses, as well as intricately carved gravestones, to be seen. Although touristy, it was still pretty impressive. In the late afternoon, we moved Akka to Bunesson, on the north coast of Mull along the main bus route. After drinks at the hotel/pub, we returned to Akka to eat some lobsters we had bought from a fisherman at the hotel the previous night. Fabulous.

Next morning, a heavy fog had settled in. We felt we'd done enough of Iona, but Linda and Cara wanted more, so we got them packed, off Akka, and into Iona. They had arranged accommodations at a B&B and then planned to take a bus and ferry to the mainland the next day, so we reluctantly parted. Consolation: the fishermen at the dock where we dropped our friends off were packing up their haul of prawns, so we paid wholesale prices and pigged out on prawns for dinner, waiting for the fog to lift.

We wanted an early start south, but the fog didn't lift 'til after 10 a.m. and when it did, there was little wind, so we motored. Now getting low on fuel, we decided to put into Port Ellen in Islay to wait for wind or buy fuel. We caught the tidal flow the other way through the Sound of Islay, and again got a 5 knot push. The total fog going into Port Ellen was a bit nerve-wracking since our radar had decided to quit, but we had taken careful bearings when we left several days before and were able to re-trace our route without incident (though we did toot the foghorn at one passing vessel).

We bought 10 gallons of diesel at the gas station right across the beach from our mooring, making use of our jerry can for the first time since leaving the Bahamas, and left around noon, bound for Stranraer on the mainland. The wind died, so we went instead to Campbeltown, around the Mull of Kintyre, just to anchor for the night. The next day there was still no wind, but favorable tidal currents got us to Stranraer in mid-afternoon, in time for Rob to have his telephone conference call with the USSailing Rules Committee. We then headed to Dublin on a strong north wind.

We have several strong impressions of Scotland, and especially the Inner Hebrides islands:

First, green and sheep. There are more shades of green in Scotland than we knew existed. Where there's green, there are sheep. While some are fenced in, many roam free, grazing or sleeping by the roadside. Others are scattered in improbably inaccessible places.

We were also surprised at how sparse the population of Southwestern Scotland, and especially the islands, is. Often, there are no houses to be seen for miles. Islay's population of 3400 is concentrated into 3-4 towns; its vast moorlands are dotted with sheep and cattle but no homesteads. Jura, which measures 25 miles by 6 miles, has a population of just 200, and they almost all live in one village on the east side of the island. The entire west coast, including Loch Tarbert, which almost divides the island in half, is totally deserted. Two-thirds of Mull's 2500 souls live in Tobermory, and again, most of the island is uninhabited, except for sheep. The whole archipelago features a starkly beautiful landscape of granite strewn moors, with the ubiquitous sheep.

While on the one hand getting about in the Hebrides by sailboat was slow, perilous, and sometimes didn't get us where we want to go, on the other hand it afforded us sights and views that the general tourist would never see: The cliffs on the south of Mull with their spectacular waterfalls; the lonely lighthouses on Islay and Kintyre; the mist-shrouded fishing boats tucked into semi-circular snug harbors; the seals and seabirds and desolate beauty of Loch Tarbert.

The Scots are, well, dour. They never made us feel unwelcome, but (except at the distilleries, where the employees are paid to be friendly) we never felt over-welcomed either. We were a little surprised, for example, that although 15 or so people at the pub in Pennyghael heard our tale of the £30 fare back to our boat, none offered us a ride, even though many had cars and it was a mere 4 miles' drive. On the other hand, we left the boat open everywhere, as there is no danger of being robbed; and (except for the £30 ride), prices seemed fair.