Swept Away HR46 at anchor Second Wind at anchor Northern Exposure at anchor

Sunday, July 11, 2010, in Ardfern, Scotland


Hi all. Well, we’re sitting in a marina listening to drizzle and wind and wondering if they ever get summer here. Last week, we weren’t far away, in Craobh Haven, listening to drizzle and wind and wondering about summer. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine how hot it is where you are, and we hope that you’re all coping with it.

By Sunday, after days of rain, wind, and cold with few breaks, we were grateful that this weather hadn’t hit us while company was aboard. Our Scottish friend Alastair told us that there’s a saying among local sailors: “I would rather be in here wishing I was out there, than out there wishing I was in here." Being aboard a heated boat, having our creature needs met (including our very slow Internet service and one analog television channel), with a Wi-Fi enabled pub available a short jog away, we could stay in Craobh Haven for a good long time.

But though this was the worst weather we’d encountered since we picked up the boat in Northern Europe, people weren’t nearly as apologetic about it as they’d been elsewhere. There's no doubt that this is what we should have expected.

Coming to Scotland, we’d been told that it was wetter and colder than Scandinavia, and it is. How much wetter and colder was it supposed to be? Well, for one thing, people are concerned that there’s a drought. Marinas have signs on the water hoses telling people to put only enough in to use for drinking. So I’m not even sure that this is as wet as it usually is.

We thought we’d go out for a few days just for a change of scenery, but the high winds hung on. Instead, we decided to take the bus to the big city, Oban, and get some errands accomplished. There isn’t all that much to Oban, but it’s the biggest place in a hundred-mile radius, and we already knew our way to the supermarket and the mobile-phone shop. So we looked at the bus schedule and made our choice.

The bus stop at Craobh Haven is a mile walk to the road, but there’s a shelter when you get there. During the school year, there are some morning and afternoon buses that are no doubt filled with kids.

Now that school is out, there are two ostensible round trip buses to Oban a day. But when you study the schedule, it’s clear that there’s only one. The first bus leaves at 9:52, arriving in Oban at 10:30 and the second leaves at 1:52 and arrives at 2:30. The returning buses leave at 9:15 and 2:45. But there’s a problem. If you take the first bus to town, you get there too late for the first return; if you take the second bus, you can only stay in town for fifteen minutes before you need to turn around and get back on the bus. So you have to arrive in town at 10:30 and leave at 2:45, no matter how long you need to be there. I couldn’t figure out who could take that afternoon bus to town except people who are moving there permanently.

Unable to stop thinking like a marketer, I pictured the meeting of the bus service executives:

Big guy: We can’t seem to get anyone to take that late morning bus to Oban.

Bigger guy: Yeah, and nobody uses the first bus back, either.

Big guy: Those darned customers keep asking us to add other buses to this route. Well, they’re not even using the buses we give them. Until those fill up, we’ll just leave the schedule the way it is and brag that we have multiple buses every day.

The bus careened around winding roads overlooking lakes and forests. Sheep dotted the panorama in various states of undress. Some of them were apparently in the process of shearing, with bare patches surrounded by curly wool, as if Mohawks were the newest sheep fashion craze.

After a week in the marina, Art needed to see different surroundings. We’d given up on waiting for perfect weather, and chose instead a short trip in passable weather. Leaving to ensure a slack current, we were able to sail with jib alone to a mooring field in a harbor called Melfort Pier.

We’d arrived before lunch (and I wondered if our departure had been influenced by the fact that we’d run out of menu in the marina’s pub), and took the dinghy ashore to the restaurant overlooking the harbor.

After lunch, we walked to the resort a mile away that was the only other infrastructure for miles. Compared to the holiday houses around the harbor, this resort was Club Med, with a soccer field, access to horses, and a spa.

It’s hard to comprehend how empty this area is. Oban is the only town for a hundred miles. It’s a few miles in diameter. You can get anything you want at the one store in town that sells the thing you want: a mobile phone shop, a shoe store, a chain clothing store. Some places, like the supermarket or bank, are a bit better represented. But from anywhere else in the area, you need to take the bus to Oban to see any of these shops.

The holiday brochures hold clues to what sort of vacation to expect, and there’s no doubt that people come to this area for the peace and beauty it offers. But if you read the marketing carefully, you can see that there’s nothing to do. They talk about taking walks, and of seeing wildlife (which, by the way, is a bit of an overstatement; one heron does not a sanctuary make). It is indeed lovely, and there’s something to be said for seeing only green mountains dotted with sheep everywhere you turn.

We never did learn whether Melfort Pier has bus access to Oban, because we went back to our mooring for the afternoon and morning, and sat comfortably while rain fell on the hatches above us. After lunch onboard, we left for another anchorage, the lagoon at Eilean Dubh, just across from our ultimate destination, Ardfern.

We’d left a few minutes too early to ride the current as Art had wanted, with a modest amount of wind. He reefed the mainsail and put three reef rolls in the jib to make us sail slowly. It didn’t work. In the fourteen-knot wind, and with our sails greatly diminished, the boat kept insisting on going seven knots.

When we arrived at the lagoon, we tried to pick up an outer mooring, but we were waved off by a neighboring boat who suggested that we anchor instead. When you arrive at a field of moorings, you just never know what’s under them, and our boat is heavy for this area. So we took his advice without question and anchored in the designated spot.

From our spot in the lagoon, we could see the masts at Ardfern Marina, and we motored the short distance the following day. It will be a week before we need to be here before our visitors come, but our stay will offer us time to get ready for weeks of company, a protected spot for more anticipated bad weather, and gallons of Internet access. Still no TV, though.

Hope that you’re doing well. We miss you all.

Love, Karen (and Art)