Narwhal Expeditions September 2017

This update on Narwhal's expedition comes courtesy if the fantastic writing of Richard Popper. Photos by Richard and Amanda, thanks so much, it was great to have you on board!

Tuesday 5 September - Poole to Mallaig

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Picked up by 08.40am taxi with Chris & Amanda direct to Gatwick. EasyJet to Inverness was an hour late but taxi-man Nigel was there for the 3 hour transfer to Mallaig. Past Inverness town centre we followed the north shore of Loch Ness with a coffee stop in Fort Augustus by the locks on the Caledonian Canal. Our scenic tour continued SW through the Great Glen to Fort William and Glenfinnan on the Road to the Isles arriving Mallaig Marina at 18.45pm. Greeted by Katherine & Eric, with Narwhal standing by on the marina hammerhead - a marvellous 50' blue steel-hulled expedition yacht. On the pontoon we were greeted by a very picky seal being fed by a local yachtsman (it rejected most of fish it was offered!). We were made very welcome onboard Narwhal. Supper at Chachain Inn with a terrific Cullen Skink. 

Wednesday 6 Sept - Mallaig to Poll Creadha anchorage, Nr Applecross, Inner Sound (39nm)

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A mainly dry & bright day with beautiful scenery. Headsail up as we left Mallaig in blustery winds & a choppy sea but wind on the beam.  Great to be back in Scottish waters. Lots of sea birds about including gannets & juvenile guillemots. Porpoise spotted as we headed NE through the Sound of Sleat. Then a veritable Dolphin-fest for 20 mins (the first spotted on Narwhal this year!) - brilliant view from the boat's massive bowsprit Lots of seals in the water as we approached the narrow channel at Kyle Rhea. We picked out Elan Donnan castle in the distance. Past Kyle of Lochalsh rail terminal on the mainland and Kyleakin harbour on Skye towards the Skye Bridge. Into the Inner Sound eventually turning East into a very narrow channel to a small anchorage. Lovely remote setting with seals hauled out on the rocks & popping up around the boat. Glorious first day. 

Thursday 7 Sept - Downwind to Badachro, Loch Gairloch (24nm)

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A damp day but woke to no wind but a group of porpoises on the beam as we motored out of our overnight anchorage towards Applecross. A southerly wind got up as we headed north between Rassay and the mainland. By the time it reached 10kt Katherine & Eric decided to try out their new spinnaker. It looked enormous as it came out of its sock but the wind had got up & the halyard descended from the inadequate mast cleat - Eric & I struggled to recover it back onto the deck. An otherwise pleasant & incident-free downwind sail under just the genoa - we were very pleased not to be beating southwards into the drizzle as we passed a couple of other yachts heading the other way.

Past Loch Torridon and east into Loch Gairloch where we dropped the headsail north of Eileen Horrisdale island and anchored just in the Bird's Nest anchorage which already had a couple of boats on moorings. Lots of "banana-ing" seals basking on the rocks. Eric managed to land three mackerel so I took over fishing duties catching nine small fish (4 mackerel & 5 unknown small tiddlers) - Ali later prepared delicious ceviche with the raw mackerel. We went ashore in Baby Narwhal (RIB) through the lovely rocky channel to the slipway by the Badachro Inn. Lots of herons about but no otters. Walked past the boat graveyard. round the bay but it got very wet (reminiscent of my visit two years ago). Returned to the pub for a beer but no wifi (Chris & Amanda sneaked in a quick shower). Quote of the day from Amanda; "Summer sailing on Narwhal - fifty shades of grey!".

Fri 8 Sept - Sunny cruise to Loch Ewe (22nm)

Wind on the beam as we sailed north to Rubha Reidh lighthouse then turned SE into Loch Ewe. Fabulous views out to the Outer Hebrides to the west & towering mountains but low cloud on the mainland. Lovely sunshine most of the day with a few showers though we dodged most of them. Passed the WWII gun emplacements and fish farm to the west of the Isle of Ewe. Anchored at Camas Glas just north of Inverewe Gardens. RIB ashore to the National Trust for Scotland jetty. Fortunately much drier than when I previously visited the "Inverewe Rain Forest". Lovely walk through the gardens & super views over the Loch on the way to reception where I received a very friendly NT member greeting. On to the cafe for wifi & cake. We'd brought towels etc for a shower but unfortunately Poolewe swimming pool was closed. Skua, Kittiwake & Eagle spotted today plus a couple of friendly seals checking out our smelly lobster pot by the anchorage. Fishing report; 10 crabs in Eric's lobster pot (hoping for better in the morning), RTP 4 fish & CJB (novice) 1 fish. Chef Ali prepared a top curry, though I had leftover chilli con carne.

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Sat 9 Sept - Loch Kanaird anchorage, Outer Loch Broom (25nm)

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Katherine & Eric were up early & off in the RIB to check the lobster pot but only more crabs. Very calm as we motored out of Loch Ewe with sunshine on the surrounding hills. No wind, or submarines but welcome sunshine. Breeze got up as we headed towards the rocky Summer Isles. Passed the Ullapool to Stornoway CalMac ferry then noticed the Shearwater wildlife tripper boat with marine life splashing near its bow. Headsail down & engine on as we motored towards what turned out to be a group of performing dolphins jumping out of the water. The Summer Isles looked lovely in the sunshine as we turned SE towards Loch Broom. We headed behind Isle Martin where we anchored in sheltered Loch Kanaird which despite the nearby fish farm is very scenic with mountains, beaches & rocky coast opposite the small settlement of Ardmair. Lots of activity (& dogs) ashore on the local community-owned Isle Martin with snorkelling & beachcombing, and a very small ferry regularly zipping across from the mainland. 

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We went on a Narwhal mini-expedition to deploy the baited lobster pot then ashore to the island but the path round the island rather petered out. Back on-board for fishing; I caught 14 mackerel + 1 unspecified tiddler (all too small to keep) whilst the RIB team had more limited success. Meanwhile Ali prepared a magnificent haggis pie. Eric played the Narwhal song (which apparently went viral in the early days of the internet)! A lot of low dark cloud around but we managed to dodge all but one very brief shower all day - top weather result!

Sun 10 Sept - Expedition's End at Ullapool (5nm)

Excellent bacon sandwiches prepared by Katherine for breakfast but the lobster pot was empty again apart from more hungry small crabs. One hour motor up Loch Broom to Ullapool town in a stiff headwind. Spotted Ullapool porpoises (+ floating log disguised as a dolphin). Greeted the Ullapool rowing skiffie & gained a recommendation for lunch. No sign of the Mercury Motor Inn, CMP's former student summer employers (advised it had been demolished 6 yrs ago). Good fleet of F15s at Loch Broom Sailing Club. Anchored to SE of the town moorings & RIB ashore.

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Very welcome shower in town public convenience (sailing club closed) followed by local An Teallach beer & Cullen Skink lunch at The Arch Inn. Wandered around Ullapool - attractive town & fairly busy. No cruise ships etc but the campsite is busy. Coffee & cake at seafront cafe followed by Sunday papers back on Narwhal. Big seal popped up at the pontoon as we got back into Baby Narwhal.

Mon 11 Sept - Home from our Narwhal adventure

Wet & windy overnight but fortunately it turned out that the strange noises in the middle of the night were the 03.00 freight ferry service to Stornoway. However the anchor had dragged so Eric & Katherine reset this as we packed our bags before the shuttle RIB service ashore. Breezy but dry overhead. We had a couple of hours before Nigel was due to collect us so we left our bags at the ferry terminal & went for a dander round town spending an hour at the town museum in a restored Telford church. Lots of info re the planned development of Ullapool as a fishing station in the 18th century, life in this remote outpost up to the arrival of the Klondiker (Soviet factory fish processing ships) in the 1990s. The town is now an attractive tourist destination.

We said our goodbyes after a fabulous 6 days onboard Narwhal. Great company, lovely boat, good food and splendid scenery on our trip through this isolated area of Wester Ross. We'd been very lucky with the wind for sailing (mainly F2-5 downwind), smooth sea state & lots of sun despite a poor weather forecast for the week (lots of distant rainbows, regular cleaning of the deck & topping up the water in the lochs at night!). 
 
Scenic drive through the Highlands back to Inverness & our easyJet flight back to Gatwick was a mere 20 mins late. Back in Poole at 19.45 coinciding with the MCG cyclists who had been parking on my drive during their trip to France (via Portsmouth as Condor from St Malo had been cancelled due to strong winds in the Channel). Top Expedition!