08-Apr-2004 -- Since I found out about the confluence project last year the only primary point within “easy” reach of home has been this one. It is on water so not very accessible – but not far from land – maybe a bit too close to the rocks for the “Russian sea captains”!
Jura is one of the more remote islands of the Inner Hebrides – it takes several hours driving plus two ferries to get there. There is a distillery, a small village and various houses but these are all near the road on the east coast. On the west side there is nothing except wild rocky coastline, caves and raised beaches (Jura is rising and leaving the beaches stranded!). Jura has a large red deer population and shooting is a major source of income to the island.
A large sea loch (West Loch Tarbert) nearly bisects the island. It is a beautiful loch and towards the head it becomes very narrow in places. If it were more accessible it would be very popular with cruising boats. However it is exposed to the Atlantic swell and I can imagine that those with limited cruising time cannot afford to be stuck there for days waiting for suitable escape weather.
I have long wanted to visit West Loch Tarbert but conditions have never been right. I thought that maybe I could combine a visit to the loch with a confluence visit…
As I am working abroad most of the year Easter provided the only chance for a visit this year. The Wayfarer sailing dinghy was cleaned up and a practice trip nabbed the secondary point 57N 2W.
As a family, we have stayed several times on the island of Luing near Oban. This would be our setting off point. Iain and I left the sensible ones to their crosswords, bird watching and puzzle books and set out for adventure! We decided to use the strong spring ebb tide down the sound of Luing and Mull and then use the flood up the sound of Islay. Iain noted that this was meant to be a ‘holiday’ but had his alarm set for 05.45, earlier than on any working day!
The tide flow turns up to 2 hours before high or low water so we were off at 06.30 to catch the full tide south. The wind was due to be NW or SW 3/4 but after an hour it died. With 40 miles to cover we did not have time to sit around so the 2hp outboard took us all he way down the sound in time for the flood up the sound of Islay at 2pm.
The weather was mostly dry, with just a few light showers, but rather dull and cold due to the lack of activity involved in motoring with the outboard. Eventually the wind picked up again and we had a rapid passage up past Islay. I had intended to stop at Port Askaig to stretch our legs but we were too busy messing about putting sails up and reefing so that we got swept past on the tide before we could stop. At the top of the sound you arrive at the Atlantic and the swell against the tide can be very uncomfortable. Fortunately conditions were kind and we had the luxury of deciding to take a small detour to the confluence before heading in to Loch Tarbert. We could have left it till the next morning but if conditions deteriorated we might have had to retreat without visiting the confluence. Sailing to a confluence is not easy – I did not want too much salt water on my camera and once you get downwind of the confluence you have to tack back up to it while the crew is busy shouting directions and working the jib and getting everything ready for “the photo”.
As it happened one of the readable photos was just 2.9 metres from the spot - not bad. From the confluence we backtracked south and then explored the loch. With a good westerly wind and helpful tide it did not take long to reach the inner sanctums of the loch. We passed one yacht at anchor. He clearly thought us mad to sail from Luing in an open dinghy less than 5 metres long – maybe he was right. At the head of the loch we found the one patch of dry flat(ish) grass big enough for the tent and tucked in to the food and beer and a small(ish) tot of rum (or two) to celebrate mission accomplished. Continued on visit 2.