Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

Close Shave Delivery Job

by  Bill Mills

Duncan and I were doing a delivery job from Kip to Oban.  The boat was a 24ft Gypsy.  .A sturdy, well built boat and a wee brother to the Falmouth Pilot design.

          Duncan’s uncle was part owner of the boat and we had crewed on the boat frequently.  We had been asked to take the boat up to Oban so that the owners could start their summer cruise well up the West Coast of Scotland.  It was June and we had ten days for the trip.

          A Friday night start.  The slack water before the ebb was around 2200, so we had a decent meal ashore before starting off.  Duncan was the skipper and decided on two-hour watches.  The wind was southwesterly 3-4, the weather fine and there was no real darkness to the late June night.  As soon as we were clear of Kip I went below and turned in.

          Duncan gave me a shout just after midnight and I made some tea and joined him on deck.  We were off the Cumbraes, the streamed log was almost vertical in flat water and Duncan told me that we had been making five knots up until fifteen minutes before.  The only thing of note for the hand-over was that a submarine had been using us for exercise for the past hour.  The black outline sat about a mile away and as we tacked so he followed, maintaining his distance and bearing from us.

 Not doing us any harm,- but disconcerting.  I settled down to enjoy two hours of the Clyde on a beautiful night with the Cumbrae light slowly moving astern.  After an hour the submarine picked up speed and headed down the estuary.

          Our first stop was to be Campbeltown but with the light variable winds it was after midnight on the Saturday before we had passed Otterard Rock and shortly afterwards learned a lesson on pilotage – the hard way.

          We were both in the cockpit ready for our first entry into Campbeltown.  We had looked at the chart, the Admiralty Pilot and a commercial pilot book on the approaches to the Campbeltown Loch.  Davarr Light was flashing brightly on our port bow as we watched for the buoys and the leading lights.  We were motoring by this time, both peering over the port bow.  Duncan turned to say something to me and instead said ‘Christ!’.  I followed his startled gaze- and there – very close to starboard was a line of jagged rocks.  Like warriors with spears, the tops of them just at eye level.  Davarr Light flashed and showed up only too clearly our proximity to danger.  We stopped the engine then went astern slowly on the reciprocal course until we were sure we were in safe water. 

          Just on 0200 we tied up alongside the Royal Navy Nicholson yacht Dasher.  Over a coffee and a couple of large drams we checked over the chart and Pilots to see where we had gone wrong.

 We found that we had looked at the chart but we hadn’t studied it, - and had come in on the wrong approach course from Otterard. Our attention to chart and Pilot information increased markedly from that incident.

          When we awoke that morning the Dasher had gone.  The Navy boys had slipped out quietly and professionally and left us snug alongside a large motor-cruiser from Red Bay.

          We spent the rest of the day in Campbeltown.  Of particular interest was a visit to the distillery.  Not only did we find the visit worthwhile and the sample drams very acceptable but we were introduced to the Distillery’s special liqueur whisky, Scotia.  Now,-there’s a lovely warm and mellow experience which I can recommend.

          With our next stop being the island of Gigha in the Sound of Jura we left Campbeltown in time to catch the fair tide round the Mull of Kintyre.  Our calculations on the tide were all right but surprise, surprise, we had the wind right on the nose.  It was a fine day with blue skies and few small summer clouds  The wind was mainly southsouthwesterly around force 4-5.  We had hoped to sail through the Sound of Sanda but the wind kept heading us and it looked as if we would have to use the ‘donker’. 

          Our luck changed.  We were on a tack that had Ailsa Craig just over the bow when the wind started to shift round to the south with a touch of east in it.

 We gave a cheer and put the helm over, freed the sheets and sat there on a tremendous reach, scudding through the white horses.  We had a great romp through the Sound of Sanda and round the Mull.  Then we got the lee from Kintyre and our progress became more modest but no less enjoyable..

          Normally we kept a dry ship when sailing but to celebrate our rounding of the Mull we had a ‘wee sensation.’  It was our first time round the Mull and we felt as if we had rounded the Horn.  And in such style too!

The wind became variable and light and it was about 1800 when we slowly sailed into an almost calm Ardminish Bay.  In the clear water I watched a perfect illustration of how a CQR anchor functions.  It hit the bottom and little puffs of white sand rose like smoke.  Then the flukes started to dig in, the stock swivelled, the flukes sharply disappeared and the chain straightened and strained, then went slack as we were pulled forward.  We were anchored and a couple of crabs that had been watching the action resumed their biased walk over the flat sand.

          The following day – after a sociable evening at the hotel – feeling relaxed, actually to be truthful- comatose, we donned masks and fins and worked our way from stem to stern, port and starboard, scraping and cleaning the hull to a satisfying smoothness.

Feeling almost saintly after our good work, we went ashore and hired a couple of bikes from MacSporran the Postmaster.  This Postmaster had multiple hats hanging on the clothes-rack in the hall.  Postman, Auxiliary Coastguard, Special Constable, Undertaker, etc.  The total and diverse responsibility of this man was impressive.

          On the bikes we pedalled south and across to Cara Island at low tide, then north to Port Mor.  We left our bikes up against a hedge and went exploring.

          After walking over a lot of rough ground, we saw something that reminded us that while you enjoyed nature – you had to be prepared for its harshness.  We watched an Eider duck family paddling past.  Mum in front and the four kids, follow-me-Mum, behind.  A seagull swooped down on the last wee duck in the family swim-about.  Daddy Eider came hurtling from somewhere to defend his family.  He tackled the seagull with surprising viciousness.  Mother Eider called for her offspring to paddle like hell away from danger.  No use.  While Dad was tackling the first seagull – two more gulls swooped down on the two rearmost wee ones. Sadly we saw the Eider family quickly and efficiently reduced to Mum, two panicky babies and a dishevelled, battle-torn Father. They reached good cover before they could be attacked again.