How an Italian ended up visiting the Scottish Islands

Written by Domenico Ernandes

Translated by Joanne Stewart Lindsay Ernandes


Frank Smyth – captain     Robin Lindsay – vice-captain 
Muriel Smyth Gibson – chief galley  Ruth Lindsay – 1st ship’s girl
John Lindsay – 1st ship’s boy Domenico Ernandes – 2nd ship’s boy


Slioch,  Domenico Ernandes and the Maidens of Ballygally

I was born in 1948 in Tripoli and I lived there for 22 years. I can still remember

the Scirocco, the south-easterly humid wind, and the southern Ghibli straight from

the Sahara that forces people to cover their faces with scarves against the fine

red-yellow desert sand. At that time the only means of keeping food and drink cool

was to buy ice for the iceboxes, whilst ceiling-fans and hand held fans were in use constantly

to keep the air moving. I was fortunate enough to live only 100 metres from the sea, beside

the Lido Vecchio. It was on this beach that I spent the happiest moments of my youth.

Tripoli 1955 - The Lido Vecchio seen by Domenico's house

I remember that, in those hot and humid days, as soon as I came from school, the first thing I did was to change into my swimming trunks, run to the beach and dive into the cool sea. Tired after my swim I would lie at the edge of the sea would lie at the edge of the sea to relax and to listen to the sounds of the waves lapping on the shore. Under the scorching sun, half in and our of the water, my daydreams took me over the sea in a sailing boat towards the north, towards cool places, in a country where there were rivers, waterfall, vegetation and green fields.

I come form a family of a seafarers, stretching back over many generations. In 1908 my maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Salmeri, who was 19 at the time, sailed around the world as an experienced deckland on the H.M.S. “Calabria”.

My grandfather, Giuseppe Salmeri whilst an officer in the Italian Navy

     Between the two world wars, my grandfather together with his brother Vincenzo, transported

              wine from Sicily to Tunisia in a two masted sailing vessel, the "Oriente". For a short while they

              lived with their families in Tunisia, in Sfax.  Business went well for them and they were able,

              with sacrifices, to buy two bigger vessels, the "Maria" and the "I due fratelli". With these two

              boats they became sponge fishermen, which offered a better economic possibilities than


              During this time they moved to Libya and settled in Zuara, a small village, near the Tunisian

              border, about a 100 km north of Tripoli. Zuara, with its spread of low white houses with flat

              roofs was situated by the sea on the Libyan coast

The vessel “I due fratelli”

Between the two world wars my grandfather, togheter with his brother Vincenzo, transported wine from Sicily to Tunisia in a two masted sailing vessel, the Oriente.  For a short while they lived with their families in Tunisia, in Sfax. Business went well for them and they were able, with sacrifices, to buy two bigger vessels, the “Maria” and the “I due fratelli”. With these two boats the became sponge fishermen, which offered a better economic possibilities than transport. During this time they moved to Libya and settled in Zuara, a small village, near the Tunisian border, a bout a 100 kilometres west of  Tripoli, Zuara, with its spread of a low white houses with flat roofs, was situated by the sea on the Libyan coast.

Usually the two boats the "Maria" and the "I due fratelli" had their mooring in Zuara’s harbour

 along with the other vessels. Moored beside them was the "Eleonora" and the "San Francesco",

 owned by Rocco Rovecchio, and the Amerigo Vespucci, owned by Beppe Rovecchio,

 respectively grandfather and father of our friend Vincenzo Rovecchio, a journalist of the

 “Corriere di Tripoli”. Antonio Rovecchio, the father of my aunt Cristina Rovecchio and

 of Renato Rovecchio, the famous tripolitanian cyclist, owned the Cristoforo Colombo. They

 sailed their fishing boats along the Libian coast searching for sponges, using professional

 deep-sea divers. It was a hard but profitable work. Mario and Giovanni, the two sons of my

  grandfather Giuseppe with the other Mario, son of Vincenzo, helped their parents on board.


Usually the two boats the "Maria" and the "I due fratelli" had their mooring in Zuara’s harbour

 along with the other vessels. Moored beside them was the "Eleonora" and the "San Francesco",

 owned by Rocco Rovecchio, and the Amerigo Vespucci, owned by Beppe Rovecchio,

 respectively grandfather and father of our friend Vincenzo Rovecchio, a journalist of the

 “Corriere di Tripoli”. Antonio Rovecchio, the father of my aunt Cristina Rovecchio and

 of Renato Rovecchio, the famous tripolitanian cyclist, owned the Cristoforo Colombo. They

 sailed their fishing boats along the Libian coast searching for sponges, using professional

 deep-sea divers. It was a hard but profitable work. Mario and Giovanni, the two sons of my

  grandfather Giuseppe with the other Mario, son of Vincenzo, helped their parents on board.




The Salmeri family, from left to right: Vincenzo, Giuseppe, Giovanni, “Little”Mario and “Big”Mario

In the evening, after supper, I used to go with my parents to my uncle’s house. The cousins

were known as uncle “Big” Mario and uncle “Little” Mario, to distinguish between them as

both were called Mario Salmeri. Conversation was animated around the kitchen table when

all the family were present. The sea was the main topic conversation. As a child, sitting on

my father knees, I was entranced by their stories of their fascinated world.

Afterwards they all moved to Tripoli. In 1969, after the revolution in Libya, we all moved to

Italy. There were difficulties in adapting to the new way of life.  Some here, some there,

friends and relations found themselves far apart. I, who had always dreamt of living as far

as North as possible, found myself in Florence. Florence is beautiful and interesting city from

an artistic point of view, but it is far from the sea and the summers are hotter and more

humid than Tripoli. For me, who, when I looked out of the terrace at home saw the sea and

heard the sound of the sea, to live for 32 years in this city, more than 100 km from the coast

was not easy.


Robin Lindsay’s invitation


So when, this winter, Robin, my wife's cousin and expert sailor, who knows of my love for the

sea, asked me to be part of a crew on board a yacht sailing around the Inner Hebrides, on the

West Coast of Scotland, I accepted his invitation willingly. My dream was finally coming true:

sailing in a boat among the cool green Scottish fiords. However it wasn't the only reason for

accepting the invitation. I had always had a love of sailing. This trip would allow me to experience

at first hand how to navigate in the Atlantic Ocean, where climatic conditions are different and

where the force of the currents and tides are greater than in the Mediterranean Sea. This was

my first experience at sea in a sailing boat in such northerly latitude. My wife Joanne, an Ulster

woman, knows the area well.


My wife Joanne Lindsay, log’s translator

Before leaving she warned me to pack, apart from the normal sailing gear, boots, oilskins, a pair of woollen stockings and woollen pullovers. I knew that, besides myself, the other members of the crew were Joanne's cousin, Robin, a retired GP, a long time expert sailing enthusiast, his wife, Ruth Lindsay, a retired physiotherapist, who has always taken part in her husband sea trips, John Lindsay, my brother in law, who is also a sailing enthusiast and last but not least our Captain and his wife, Frank and Muriel Smith. Frank is a long time friend of Robin, an old sea dog, owner and skipper of the boat, who in the past has owned and run a boatyard in Belfast and his wife, Muriel, is also an experienced sailor.


From left: Muriel and Frank Smyth, Robin, Ruth and John Lindsay


We were to go aboard on the evening of Sunday 14th 2005 at Bangor marina, one of

Belfast's biggest Marina, where our sailing boat was moored. She is a sloop of about twelve

metres in length, and about four in width .Her name is "Slioch" after a beautiful Scottish mountain.





After some encouragement from my friend from Tripoli, Gianni De Nardo, I kept a diary of the trip.



My friend from Tripoli, Gianni De Nardo


Thank you Gianni, for your encouragement |!





The log day by day:


                 Sunday 14th August 2005 - Bangor Marina (Northern Ireland)

18:00     Robin, Ruth, John and I arrive at Bangor, at the biggest and most important marina in Belfast with about 600 moorings. We are given a hearty welcome on the floating pontoon by Frank who invites us on board and meet his wife Muriel, who is in charge of the galley.

Bangor Marina

     Frank tells us that, as soon as the trip is over, Muriel will be admitted to an orthopaedic hospital in Belfast for her hip replacement. They keep a little bicycle aboard to help her move around when ashore. I admire her courage in wanting to face up to this trip despite her painful hip. Frank gives us all a safety harness, a talk on safety aboard and shows us the instruments essential for navigation: radar, nautical GPS, two ways radio, tide and current tables, nautical charts, compass, barometer and ship's log in which all the events on board have to be entered during the trip. We are then shown our berths. John and I are berthed in the centrally placed dinette. Robin is given the single berth aft, Ruth the single fore berth, Frank, the skipper and his wife Muriel, the double aft cabin with its en suite bathroom. Sea tradition has it that the captain has the most comfortable sleeping quarters. At this point I learnt a new English word, on board the lavatory is known as "the heads".

20:00       Dinner, prepared by Muriel, consists of "Irish stew", a traditional stew made with lamb, bacon, potatoes, carrots and onions, flavoured with thyme, salt and pepper.

Irish stew

21:30      After dinner Frank informs us that he has left details of our trip with the Bangor Control Tower and that owing to the frequently changing weather conditions in that area during the trip the two way radio will be open for weather updates. He tells us that he has consulted the tides and currents tables and plotted our route for Port Ellen, on the Scottish Island of Islay, about 50 nautical miles from Bangor. We are due to sail at 06:00 a.m. after having heard the weather forecast.

22:00    Frank supplies us with bits of sheet and demonstrates some knots. The most important knot is the "bowline", a good holding knot that can be undone easily. Then there is the "round turn and two half hitches", used normally for tying fenders to the rails and to tie up the boat to the pontoon.   A toast to our trip with a bottle of Laphrohaig, single malt whisky rounded of the evening.




    Monday 15th August 2005 – from Bangor Marina (Northern Ireland) to Port Ellen (Islay - Scotland )

06:00       We leave Bangor marina heading for the Island of Islay, one of the Scottish Islands nearest to East Coast of Northern Ireland. Sky cloudy but no rain. Temperature 14 o C. Wind speed twelve knots.  There is a fresh SE breeze.

The Italian windrose

               For our "Italian Wind rose " this wind is the “Scirocco”, so called because in olden days it was believed to come from Siria. In Italy, traditionally, the name of the wind derives from its direction in relation to the centre of the Ionian Sea. For us a “Scirocco” is a hot wind that brings hot humid and clouds, but at this latitude is anything but hot.

06:30      Ruth stows away the eight fenders that hang along the sides of the boat.  We head into the wind to hoist the mainsail, cut the engine and unfurl the jib.  Captain Frank is at the helm and details his crew to their posts. Robin is at mainsail, John and I are at the jib, each to his own winch. Winch is an interesting word because it refers to Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo invented the winch (called “argano” in Italian). The story goes that it was the British,in honour of Leonardo who called it a winch. Ruth is on a fender duty both on casting off and mooring. Muriel, on top of her galley duties, keeps all sheets in good order. At hourly intervals Frank details us, one by one, to calculate and note Slioch's position on the nautical chart. To reckon our position we use a compass with a magnifying glass incorporated, in order to see the degrees from 0 to 360. Positions are taken from at least two fixed objects, e.g. a lighthouse, a marker buoy, a tower, a church, a cliff promontory, a rock etc.  After taking a note of the readings obtained from two or more of the above mentioned below deck, it is possible, with the aid of two little squares to fix a position by tracing a line from each point to where they converge. That is your position in that moment.  Nowadays we can obtain the same results using a GPS satellite, but Frank is an old sea dog, preferring the old and tried methods to the new technologies.

07:00     The navigational instruments indicate that the wind is rising to 15 knots and the boat is making seven knots. After resetting the sails we all sit in the cockpit and relax. Slioch is slightly inclined before the wind and glides silently through the water towards her destination. For a while no one talks. It is pleasant to listen to the waves breaking against the hull and the whisper of the wind in the shrouds.

07:30    A seal is sighted about 50 metres from us and shortly afterwards, slightly further away two dolphins swimming in tandem.

09:00      As we sail near the coast a submarine emerges half a mile from us and in open sea. Frank tell us that in this particular zone of the Irish Sea one can often see them.                                                             10:30.We leave behind the East Coast of Northern Ireland. In the distance we see Rathlin Island. On the other side we can make out the Scottish Island of Islay, our destination. We are leaving the Irish Sea, the North Channel for the Atlantic Ocean.

14:00      About half a mile out from the Scottish Coast we lower sails and Frank starts the engine as we near Port Ellen.

14:30      We arrive at Port Ellen. It is a small fishing village. Some fishing boats are tied up in port. Near the quay there is one floating pontoon. We tied up without difficulty. We disembark to visit the town. I am interested in seeing the fishing boats close up. One fisherman tells me that the majority of their catch is made up of cod or haddock.  I watch the fisher-folk, men and women, gutting fish. The fish are placed in barrels. The unwanted remains go into  a bucket. The top quality fish is sent to the fish market in Glasgow. I can see a seal swimming near a fishing boat. With its huge head emerging from the water it seems to be sending a message to the fishermen who understand immediately. The remains in the bucket are tipped into the water. The seal disappears beneath the water in search of its succulent meal.

Port Ellen: fishing boats and the detail of a huge head’s seal emerging from the sea

19:00.      Muriel prepares an excellent boiled salmon with potatoes and cabbage for dinner. 

20:00      Frank has organized a trip to see the most important and famous whisky distillery of the island, the Bowmore distillery, that is situated about ten miles from Port Ellen. We take a taxi driven by Aileen, mother of two children and wife of a local fisherman. A large and friendly woman with red cheeks, who during the day helps her husband to load barrels of fish and the evening escorts tourists around. Half way there Aileen informs us that the Bowmore distillery closes at 20:30, so it is not worth going there. However, nearby there is the small village called Ardbag, where there is a smaller, less famous distillery that produce an excellent whisky. Every Monday they hold a "ceilidh" near the Ardbag distillery. "Ceilidh” is a gaelic word meaning a convivial gathering to enjoy traditional music, singing and dancing. The change of programme is endorsed by all.

22:00      We have enjoyed the dancing and singing and climbing into Aileen's taxi we return to the boat.

22:30      Before going to sleep the usual nightcap with a dram of whisky, this time is a Lagavulin.



   Tuesday 16th August 2005 – From Port Ellen (Isle of Islay) to Ardfern 

08:00       Departure. The sky is cloudy but dry. The lack of wind means no sails so we navigate using just the engine. On the left, "babordo" in Italian, we have the island of Jura whilst in our right, "tribordo" in Italian, there is the East Coast of Scotland with its lochs. While we sail, I notice a weather phenomenon, which for me is unusual. However they tell me that here it is a frequent occurrence. We sail between to different weather conditions. Clouds and rain on our starboard side whilst on our port side the sun sparkles. Far away there is a spectacular rainbow.

The rainbow

16:00     Arrival at Ardfern. It is a small picturesque village surrounded by a small island with the advantage of being sheltered from the winds. There is an elegant marina with moorings for 60 boats created by the use of new floating pontoons.  Besides these, there are about 300 boats moored by buoys nearby. They tell me that this marina is fairly well known due to the fact that the Princess Royal moors her boat, the "Silver Doublet" there.

Ardfern Marina

               We disembark and head for the village centre and the only pub in the area. Naturally Frank and Robin, as serious drinkers who know their beer, praise the quality of the local beer. To start with we all try a pint of Arrol's strong, golden blond double malt with a high alcohol content and strong taste. The second round a Tennent's Scoth Ale, a beer deeply in colour, strong and fragrant.

19:30      On board, after the pub, Muriel's left hip becomes very painful, so much so that she is unable to stand. Unfortunately we depend on her for meals. A glance from my brother in law, John, tells me that that evening I would have to transform from deckhand to galley chef. As a good italian I would have liked to amaze everyone with a meal typically Mediterranean. I try to remember my mother's recipes to make “cuscus”. However Murial tells me that Slioch has neither "semola" on board nor the spices necessary. I have to think of something else. Muriel gives me no choice! She informs me that the left over boiled salmon “must” be used up.  I remember that my late mother, who was known as a great cook, never threw anything out. When I was a boy and I used to leave pasta in my plate at lunchtime, she never worried. It went to the icebox and in the evening I had it for supper, fried together with beaten egg and cheese. It was very tasty!

              As head cook I am heartened by the fact that there are plenty of fusilli and spaghetti on board. I remember a dish that my wife Joanne often prepares. I could call it "fusilli al salmone all'Irlandese". After lightly frying a clove of garlic in the pan I add in the salmon salt and pepper and cook it gently. I then pour a finger of whisky (the Irish touch), leaving it on the heat until it had almost all evaporated. Meanwhile I prepare the  fusili "al dente". When the pasta is nearly ready I reheat the salmon sauce and add a cup of cream mixing it in well. I then add the “fusilli” mixing all the ingredients together. I sprinkled chopped parsley and a little "peperoncino rosso" to add taste and colour to the dish. The evening ends with usual dram of whisky, this time a Caol Ila.



                              Wednesday 17th August 2005 - from Ardfern to Dunstaffnage

08:30      Nautical theory lesson. Frank explains that before making sail it is important to know your destination, plotting your cruise on the appropriate nautical chart from a starting point A to your destination point B. Should a course be a long one containing natural obstacles such as island, rocks, banks etc. from the starting point A the course must be broken down, avoiding these obstacles, using set squares and a pencil until arrival at point B. By adding the sum of the nautical miles plotted and dividing the sum by the average knots made by the boat, one can calculate the approximate hour of arrival. It is also necessary to make additional calculation and consult the tables regarding tides and currents and then by means of the two-way Radio have an update on the weather conductions along the course. In that stretch of Atlantic Ocean the strength of the currents can reach over 7 knots. One knot is 1mile per hour. The boat's position is calculated and noted down every hour on the chart ensuring that the boat is on course. What happens if you make a mistake in calculating the currents? You could perhaps sail against the current, and the boat, that seems to be sailing on, is actually almost at a stand still. Mistaking the tides is even worse especially if you drop anchor to pass the night in some shallow anchorage. You may find yourself awakening to find the boat lying to one side high and dry at low tide.

You may find yourself awakening to find the boat lying to one side ...

Therefore it is of vital importance to know tides and currents especially in these seas. However nowadays with the help of a marine GPS, computer connected to satellites, it is hard to make a mistake. The GPS shows at any given moment the boat's position together with the coordinates readings, latitude and longitude. The GPS in some way is a substitute for the nautical chart because it shows depths, lights, lighthouses, beacons, sunken vessels, banks, rocks, ports, coastal outlines and all that is important to know for safe sailing.

11:00        We leave in a shower of rain. The temperature is around 16o C. The barometer is falling rapidly, in theory indicating that the condition of the weather is worsening. The radio on board warns that in our area there is a storm in arrival. There is a NE wind that in Italy we would call a "Grecale" because historically it was believed to come from Greece. Our course for Dunstaffnage is about 340 o. We all wear oilskins, safety harness and life jackets and, with Frank at the helm, we all sit in the cockpit, clipped on the lifeline. The lifeline runs from bow to stern and prevents the loss of crew overboard in heavy weather. We use the engine as it is not prudent to use sail. The storm is on us. It rains heavily, there is a wind of about 30 knots, the sea is rough. Slioch rolls and pitches but using the motor brings us safely on towards our next port of call, Dustaffnage.

Dustaffnage Marina

               The storm lasts about 1/2 hour.

11:30      The wind dies away to about 18 knots. Frank tells us that we can hoist sail using both reefs.

12:00      Rain and wind are increasing in intensity again. Our sailing trim is close-hauled, that is to sail as much as possible against the wind. The wind reaches 27 knots and it is raining heavily. The boat rolls and pitches. It is very difficult to keep one's balance. It had been a wise move to reduce the sail. Nearing the Straits of Jura, Frank, for safety sake, also starts the engine because we are approaching an area where whirlpools are created, often formed by the circular eddies of currents due to irregularities on the seafloor.

13:30      The worst is passed and the wind has lessened to around 15 knots.

14:00      We sail passed the Port of Oban an important commercial centre in Eastern Scotland.

16:00      We approach Dunstaffnage. Dustaffnage marina is slightly larger that that of Ardfern. There are several floating pontoons with about 200 moorings plus another 400 boats on mooring buoys.I disembark and take a walk along the pontoons to stretch my legs.I remember when I was little my father Giuseppe (Joseph on English), took me to see the boats in both the ports of Tripoli and Zuara. I still remember the day (as shown in the photo) when we, my parents and I, were in Zuara Marina, with my older cousin Domenico Ferrante. You can see my mother holding in her left hand a hard piece of bread , in italian called galletta. This is the kind of  bread the sailors use during their trips. It is very hard to chow but good enough to keep for a long time.

Zuara Marina 1952 - With my parents and Domenico Ferrante, my older cousin, visiting a shipyard

              That enjoyment of pausing to look at boats has never left me. I can see a boat with an oddly shaped hull built completely of wood, moored near us. It seems to be a Viking longboat. I see she has a name “Aileach”. I take some photos and then call Robin to show him the boat. Robin is extremely interested to see Aileach there.  Aileach is very famous around here, so much so, that recently a book has been published about her. Aileach is the copy a Celtic longboat built around the XI Century A.D. to fight off the Viking domination of the East Coast of Scotland, the area known as Scotlandfiord. She is equipped with 16 oars, a square mainsail, and a double tiller at the stern in the shape of semicircle. She was purpose built in a boatyard in EIRE to prove her sea worthiness in those waters. The experiment was a success. Her first trip was carried out in 1991from Westport, Co. Mayo, to Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides, the Islands off the North West Coast of Scotland. The trip demonstrated that cultural and economic exchanges between the Celtic tribes of Ireland and Scotland were established from the XI Century A.D. It is known that the Scottish Gaelic and the Irish Gaelic share common roots in the Celtic language.


20:00         Dinner. Muriel prepares excellent oven roasted breast of chicken with wedges.



Thursday 18th August 2005 – From Dunstaffnage to Tobermory

08:30      Another lesson in sailing theory. John and I consult tables and charts and together with Frank we chart our course for Tobermory.

10:30      We take on fuel at the Marina filling station. I exchange few words with Martin the pump attendant. He is a young, blond, likeable Polish lawyer from Kracovia, with a degree in international law. He tells me he is living temporarily in Scotland to study and improve his English. He found the job in Scotland through the Internet whilst still in Poland.

11:00      We leave. The sky is clear. There is a 15 knots westerly wind. Once clear of the Marina and heading into the wind, we raise the mainsail, cut out the engine and unfurl the jib. Robin, John and I trim the sails. Ruth and Muriel try out new knots. We are sailing well. Frank praises us and says we have set the sails well and that Slioch is close hauling well. With the 7 knots of the boat and the favourable current of 5 knots we are making 12 knots on the surface, equal to about 22 kms per hour. Slioch is making way well.

12:00      Frank hands over the helm to me. We are sailing close-hauled. I keep to our course of 320o heading for Tobermory. Tobermory is the largest town on the Island of Mull.  We pass through the sea canal that separates Mull from the East Coast of Scotland. As Slioch cuts silently through the waves I can feel a fresh breeze on my face. It is a wonderful sensation to sail through the straits with land so near you seem to be able to reach out and touch it. The Mull coast is green with plenty of grazing for sheep and cows. The wind carries the sweet aromatic smell of burning turf from the chimneys of the few houses that we can see along the coast. The sun shines in a blue sky. Temperature is about 23 o C. My sailing companions are enthusiastic about the rise in temperature. They take the opportunity to take off pullovers and remain in T-shirts and even cover themselves with suntan cream.

16:00      We reach Tobermory. Tobermory is a colourful and happy fishing port. All the houses are painted in bright colours, blue, red, yellow, pink, green etc., which gives an overall impression of sunshine. The BBC for this reason has chosen the town as the backdrop for the children’s TV programme “Balamory”, that is very popular in Great Britain. We decide to visit the town and in the end stop off at one of the numerous souvenir shops to buy presents and souvenirs to take home for friends and relations.


19:30     Muriel and Frank tell me they enjoyed the “fusilli al salmone” I made them and ask me to prepare another Italian dish. I accept. Thinking about antipasti I search the galley and come up with some sliced bread. I toast the bread and wipe a clove of garlic over the pieces of toast and so prepare a type of “bruschetta” that I decorate with olive sauce. For the main I prepare “spaghetti alla carbonara”.

21:30      Frank informs us that the day after he wants to head for the Island of Canna, which is the most northerly of our ports of call, but first of all he wants to stop at the Island of Rum, to let us visit the Castle. He asks John and myself to plot our course for Canna, without using the GPS. Once alone we consult both the currents and the tides tables and listen to the weather forecast, we calculate that our estimate time of departure is 10:00 o’clock. After our stop over on the Island of Rum, our estimate time of arrival is around 18:00. I go to bed. I am tired but happy to have learned so much.



Friday 19 August 2005 – from Tobermory to Canna

10:15       Set sail. The weather forecast is good. The sea is calm. There is a SW wind of around 13 knots. In Italy this is the “Libeccio” wind, because according to the ancient times it came from Libya. With us is a wind that is generally the forerunner of a bad weather. Our course for the Island of Canna is about 345 o. The wind is on our beam and, as we are sailing off the wind we set the sails accordingly.

13:00     We sail past the Island of Muck and the Island of Eigg.

14:30   We near the Island of Rum and we sight Kinloch Castle, built in 1897 by a rich and extravagant industrialist,who paid the workers more money if they wore a kilt whilst working on the construction.

Kinloch Castle

15:00    We approach the quay on the Island of Rum with the intention of visiting the Castle. Frank requests a permission via radio to tie up along side to allow us to visit the Castle. Permission is granted. However we find out that the Castle closes at 14:00. We walk round the outside of the Castle and peak in through the downstairs windows. As any self-respecting castle, this one has its ghosts. Unfortunately during our visit an army of midges attacks us. The midges are the guardians of the castle and rout us without truce back to the boat.

18:00     Arrival at the Island of Canna, our most northerly port of call. Here there is no port, so we drop anchor sheltered from the wind. I see 4 or 5 houses along the coast, a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church, green fields, sheep and cows.

18:30     Muriel over in the galley and prepares a delicious Shepherd’s Pie.

Sheperd's pie

21:00      Frank is sitting at the chart table immersed in his calculations for plotting course and timing cast off for the following day. We are sitting in the cockpit with a 1/2 glass full of whisky, Lagavulin, Robin's favourite, watching the sky. The sky is calm. The sun is set and darkness is gathering. The first stars appear. Behind the hill, in front of us, a glow appears in the sky and gradually the moon appears. It is a full moon. Its appearance is magical and because if its reflection in the water it seems that there are two moons instead of one.

The two moons

               In the distance we can make out lights from houses and far off bell like sounds from the sheep and cows grazing on the hill.

22:30      I can see Muriel intent on soaking the oats. In another basin she puts dried and stoned prunes and covers them with waters. She tells me that tomorrow’s breakfast is porridge, a traditional Scottish and Irish dish. The oats will soak all night.



Saturday 20th August 2005 – From Canna to Ulva

06:30       Muriel is at the stove intent on preparing porridge for breakfast. She says she has added salt to the oats and brought them to the boil. Now she stirs the porridge over a low heat until it becomes creamy. She adds the prunes. The she sews up the hot steaming porridge adding fresh cream at the last moment. She tells me that prunes and cream are her own special additions to the traditional recipe.

08:00.     We weigh anchor. It is a beautiful sunny day with few clouds and the sea is calm. There is a light 15 knots NE breeze at 315 o. We would call it “Maestrale” because traditionally it came from Rome, city of command. Because we are on a SW course, that is 225 o, we are sailing with a beam wind. Robin, Ruth, John and I trim the sail to the wind. Boom and mainsail are set slightly to port and the jib eased.

12:30      We anchor of the island of Treshnish, a group of rocks. The air temperature is 26 o. It is considered very high for this area. We take off our heavy gear and remain in T-shirts. As I run on suntan cream I admire the aquamarine colour of the sea and I am tempted to put on a swimming trunks and go for a swim. Good sense prevails over instinct because the temperature of the water is around 15 o and I am certainly not used to swimming in seas that cold. Meanwhile Ruth and Muriel have prepared ham, tomato and salad sandwiches.

14:30    Frank suggests practice in man overboard using sails only. He throws a fender overboard and demonstrates the correct manoeuvre necessary for the rescue of a man overboard. In turn we all repeat the exercise well enough to meet with Frank’s approval.                                                                               

15:30      We motor towards the Island of Staffa, famous for Fingal’s Cave and the fascinating basalt rock formation.  Suddenly Ruth calls out. She has seen the fin of a shark about 50 metres from us. With excitement she points to the dark shadow of the shark in movement. Frank immediately cuts engine. The shark seems to move with menace towards us and we have just enough time to see the huge shape slip silently under the boat. It is a shark of about 4 metres in length and 90 centimetres broad. We watch it as it moves off undisturbed in search of food. It is a basking shark. Frank assures us that it belongs to an innocuous breed that feeds exclusively on plankton. It is a protected breed and he has seen others like it before. The biggest can reach up to a length of about ten metres.

The basking shark



16:00       We reach the Island of Staffa. As all the islands in the area, it is composed of spectacular columns of basalt, irregular hexagonal formations created by the cooling and the contraction of hot lava. These columns are a continuation of another formation found more then a hundred miles away in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway. Legend has it that a giant named Fingal ruled the island. His cave is found in the south side of  the island. It was his home. Carved out by the sea, this cave inside appears to be constructed as a cathedral built on columns of basalt. It is said that the composer Mendelssohn draw inspiration from the cave after his visit to Staffa for one of his most beautiful works , “The Hebrides”.


Staffa Island – Fingal’s Cave

16:30       After dropping anchor in a small bay, John, Robin, Ruth and I reach the island by tender. They consider  me fortunate to reach the island at the first try because they have tried eight times. This is only the second time they have actually managed it. Previously, weather conditions were so bad that it was impossible to reach the island. On our return to the boat, Muriel welcomes us for teatime. She has prepared tea and biscuits for all.

18:30      We reach the Isle of Ulva. We drop anchor in a sheltered inlet in a channel. In the distance we see two houses. Frank says the Ulva is a small, privately owned island. The owners are the Howard family. It seems that there are only 16 inhabitants. The make a living raising cattle, fishing, oysters and ecological tourism. There are no roads, no motorized vehicles, only dirt tracks and bicycles.

Ulva Island

19:00    Muriel produces a traditional Scottish dish, called Haggis, for the evening meal. Haggis is a meal that requires time to be prepared. However she has three precooked packets, each for 2 persons, bought at the supermarket. She tells me that it is Frank’s favourite dish, and she gives me the recipe. Haggis is a spicy sausage made up of bits of lamb and mutton including offal, which is steam cooked. As an Italian I am fascinated to know the ingredients of Haggis. Here they are ! Mutton or lamb’s intestine, oat meal, chopped boiled lamb’s liver, meat broth made with chopped heart, lung and offal, chopped onion, salt and lots of pepper. Toast the oatmeal then mix all ingredients together except the intestine. Add the broth. Then half fill the intestine with the mixture. Squeeze out the air and sew up tightly. Steam cook for 4 to 5 hours.


22:00       Following this kind of meal, John suggests a dram of whisky this time Bowmore.



Sunday 21st August 2005 – From Ulva to Caol Ila

08:00      I awake to see Frank listening to the weather forecast. I see him thoughtful. The forecast is not good. A gale is forecasted Monday night. The day is windy but for the moment conditions are fair.

    Frank      Robin       Ruth Domenico      John Muriel was inside

09:00     Weigh anchor. Head South. The wind is at 15 knots SW. We raise reefed sails. Frank, always prudent, tells us to take in all three reefs. Practically speaking we are using  ˝ the mainsail and ˝ the jib. We sail close-hauled. We have done well to reduce sail because the wind is strengthening and it is starting to rain. While Frank remains at the helm we go below to put on oilskins and safety harnesses. 09:30. While Frank goes below to put his oilskin, Robin takes the helm. The wind increases. It is now reaching 25 to 28 knots and despite 3 reefs we are heeling before the wind. I see Robin looking at me grinning. The boat’s speed and strength of wind is exhilarating. On our safety lines we move to the highest side of the cockpit to provide counter balance against the list. In worsening conditions to prevent losing control of the boat, heeling is reduced by heading into the wind, letting the sails flap to reduce speed. If the wind continues to increase it is prudent to lower sails and use only motor. 11:30.To starboard, lost in mist, we can see the island of Colonsay 12:00. The temperature falls and cold set in. It is raining heavily. Ruth and Muriel make us along with the usual sandwich a lovely mug of hot soup, scotch broth, made of mutton, leeks, turnips, carrots, onions, parsley, salt and pepper.

Scotch broth


              The wind is still blowing strongly, the rain incessant and, in turn, we take the helm. We pass by the Isle of Iona, but can only get a glimpse because the mist has also risen. This island is famous for its ancient abbey founded by Saint Columbus, an Irish missionary who helped to introduce Christianity to Northern England.                                                                                                                                                  14:00.We hear the crackling sound of the ship’s radio starting the weather forecast with the traditional announcement “To all ships, to all ships, to all ships”. The forecaster warns of a low front in our area and that the wind could swing around 90 o from SW to NW. The weather conditions are not improving and Frank is in a hurry to reach a safe haven, sheltered from both SW and NW winds as soon as possible.

17:00       Instead of our planned destination, Port Askag, Frank decides to shelter at Caol Ila on the Island of Islay, 3 miles north. Caol Ila is in a channel and has no port. We tie up to a metal mooring buoy shaped like a barrel of whisky. The current is strong in the channel but we are sheltered near the coast, where we see some houses and a distillery. Here they produce Caol Ila whisky, the same whisky we drank a few nights ago. Frank tells me that the name comes from the Gaelic and means the stretch of the sea that separates the Island of Islay and the nearby coast of Jura. The distillery was founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson, who chose this still unspoilt place because of the waterfall of pure water, using it both as an ingredient for the whisky and for the distillery generator.

19:00      Ruth and Muriel prepare another traditional British dish. Fish-pie.

Fish pie


21:00      We are sitting in the cockpit to enjoy a dram of Caol Ila. The distillery that we can see from the boat is a construction with a front glass, so we can see the three big copper pot stills that are used in the distillation of pure malt whisky

Caol Ila distillery


              Robin, who is a connoisseur of whisky and it’s history, tells me that the name “whisky” comes from Gaelic and means “water of life” (aqua vitae in Latin). Whisky has been produced in Scotland since the XV century A.D., if not earlier. For a long time its distillation was considered illegal, consequently, he tells me with a sly smile in his face, knowing the character of the Scots, a lot of illegal distilleries were set up. Only in 1823 was the production and sale of whisky was legalized. The pureness and the quality of the water are considered essential elements in the making of a good whisky. In fact many Scottish distillery are found near not calcareous springs. The Scottish production is divided in whisky made with pure malt, single malt, cereals or grain and mixed whisky or blended whisky. Whisky made from pure malt is without a doubt the most traditional and considered the best. Whisky made from grain is a mixture of malted barley and not malted grain, with a shorter maturing time  that of malt. Blended whisky is the most well known because about 95% of whisky sold in the world is made up of blended, or a mixture of various types of whisky.

22:30    Before I go to bed a thought comes into my head. A week has passed without reading the daily newspapers and watching television but the most important thing is I haven’t missed them.



Monday 22nd August 2005- From Caol Ila to Bangor Marina

07:00       The weather forecast from the radio on board is alarming. There is a gale warning for the area around the Island of Canna, where we were two days before and the more northerly Island of Skye. There the winds are reaching up to about 50 knots. We are slightly worried. We hope that the storm doesn’t reach us. Frank says that his original programme was to stop over at Glenarm, a small port on the east coast of Northern Ireland. Stay one night and then head for Bangor but with a storm in the offing and the low pressure due to continue for some while, he wants to anticipate the return home. He asks us if we are in agreement. The question is rhetorical and we reply that we have complete faith in his judgement. We are about 60 miles from Bangor Marina and if all goes well we will arrive late in the afternoon.

08:00      We motor on with Frank at the helm and the sails lowered. There are gusts of rain and it is quite cold. There is a strong 30 knots SW wind against us. There is a rough sea and Slioch is pitching .We are all in boots, well covered with oilskins and our safety harnesses are clipped on to the lifeline.

10:00      John, at the helm, tells us that the motor is missing and there is risk of it cutting out. We tell Frank of the problem. He checks the engine. He thinks that the fuel filter is dirty and replaces it. The motor picks up.

12:00     The climatic conditions are slightly better. The wind has fallen and the rain has eased off. We take turning at the helm and slowly we near the Northern Irish Coast. Muriel, who sings well, sings some Scottish and Irish folk songs. Her happiness is contagious and we all join in. From these we move to Italian. So Muriel begins to sing “Volare, oh oh”, “Lo sai che I papaveri”, “O sole mio” and lastly “Santa Lucia...”  As Italian I am touched and lend myself to singing as soloist.

Muriel Smyth

14:00      We are reaching the Northern Irish Coast and the weather is decidedly better. There is still a sea on, but it is not raining and the wind has dropped to 20 knots. Frank for prudence sake, prefers to motor.

16:00      We are almost at the end of our trip, we are about an hour out of Bangor. The wind has dropped away to 15 knots and so we raise sail and cut the motor.

17:30      We arrive at Bangor Marina. Our trip is at an end.




Friday 26th August 2005 - the flight from Belfast to Rome (Ciampino)

14:00       I am on the Easyjet flight form Belfast to Rome-Ciampino. Today is my 57th birthday. I am sitting beside the window rereading my notes in my note pad. The passenger next to me is reading an Italian newspaper. I glance at the headlines. An increase in unemployment and the Public Debts, A bomb has exploded in the centre of Bagdad causing 75 deaths.  The Hurricane Katrina has caused deaths and disaster in New Orleans. Depressing news. I go back to my notes and they lift my spirits. I can lose myself in them. My thoughts go back to those days on the boat. They have passed so quickly, without newspapers or television, in friendly company. I believe that those days were truly magical. From the plane the sky is turquoise and there are strange cloud formations, illuminated by the sun's rays. While I watch them it occurrs to me that my youthful day dream, whilst lying at the edge of the of the sea at the Lido Vecchio, has finally happened and that no one can take this memory away from me. Meanwhile the plane banks and begins to descend and will shortly touch down. It is back to normal life and quite rightly so. In a few hours I will be back with my family. A different kind of enjoyment but a very great joy none the less.

Our sea trip