Of all the places I’ve been in the world this is the most incredible. If Disney made a coastline this would be it.
This was the view expressed at breakfast by one of our number about Arisaig and its immediate surroundings.
Today was identified a number of weeks ago as being our busiest day on this particular section; to achieve everything we needed to do a number of us would have to give up a day in the boat in order to transport vans, tents, trailers and additional kit from our campsite at Arisaig to our next base at Breakish on Skye. A full briefing the previous evening ensured that everyone was on task and our little campground had an industrious feel about it.
We had been joined overnight by Nick and Deb from Falmouth who had driven up here in their van for three days of rowing. Some of you may remember them, as in 2014, they towed a Cornish Pilot gig 756 miles up to Ullapool to take part in their regatta – have van, will row.
Breakfast consumed, flasks filled, tents packed away (thank goodness we had a dry night) we squeezed into our vehicles to make the short trip to Mallaig. The boats were secure on their moorings and today we were especially grateful for the presence of Tim from Bristol Channel Yacht Sales who had brought his boat ‘The Pirate’ to act as our support boat through this week. Our shore worriers would be spending a lot of their day supporting the camping function rather than the rowing function.
Our passage would take us across the Sound of Sleat to Armadale and then along the coast past Knock and onto Isle Ornsay. We would be helped along our way by a south-westerly breeze which was promised to stay with us throughout the day. There was some high cloud cover but it was dry and visibility near-perfect. It was possible to see our full route which was reassuring.
One of the features of the Ardnamurchan to Kyle of Lochalsh stretch was that none of us were locals and so every metre of coast was a new experience – there is so much to take in and digest. It has helped immeasurably that we had been diligent with our planning having first attended the Passage Planning Weekend organised by the SCRA on the Isle of Seil in February and followed this up with a (virtual) full reconnaissance trip in April – we were as prepared as we could hope to be. Full credit has to be given here to the work done by our section pilot, Topher, in circulating maps and charts of the strategically significant points on our route including sheltered waters and bail-out points in the event of us needing safe haven along the way.
Once at the marina and aboard we set off, the shore support crew went in search of refreshment prior to boarding the CalMac ferry for the short crossing to Armadale.
The rowing was relatively easy going – the tide does not do much either way at this end of the Sound. From being a group of two clubs at the start of the week we have moulded into a single seamless and cohesive unit. The rhythm is understood and we make a point of assorting the crews every day to ensure the most even balance between them.
Leaving Mallaig we are treated with views of the hills of Knoydart on the starboard beam – this extraordinary vista will be our companion throughout the day. Awe-inspiring, colours and shades shifting by the moment as the clouds pass overhead.
It does not take us long to get to Armadale which is our first waypoint; we then follow the coast in a north-easterly direction, rowing around 500 metres offshore which allows us to follow our route in fairly straight lines.
Following the coast we pass the impressive buildings of Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic speaking higher education college. What a unique and inspiring place to learn!
Whilst we are deeply appreciative of the presence of a support boat, the attendant engine noise is not equally as welcome and so we give Tim leave from time to time to head off and do some independent exploration.
Whilst we are keen not to cause our shore party any delay, we nevertheless allow ourselves time to pause and savour these surroundings. The scenery is world class. As friendships grow the trip acquires a deeper meaning and these are surely the moments to reflect on this.
We head onwards.
The coast immediately to our port is relatively low lying and whilst it is picturesque, the hills of Knoydart rising so steeply out of the sea continue to draw our gaze.
Before long Camus Croise and Isle Ornsay come into the coxes’ view and we make preparations to land.
Our energetic and dedicated shore worriers have not only gone ahead, located a suitable spot at the campsite for us to stake out our Skiffies’ Village but have now doubled back and located a place for us to beach and to then carry our skiffs above the tide line.
Another fine day on the water, we enjoy a dram or two of Talisker and beer from the Skye brewery. Smoked kippers from the Mallaig smokery will feature on our breakfast menu. We feel blessed.