Setting out alone

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It is strange how the anxieties and forebodings I wrote about in my last blog, Leaving, disappear when I am actually on the water on my own.

Early Saturday morning, after I had said goodbye to Ben and the children, Otto and Liberty, as they set off on the long drive back to London. With Coral filled with water, diesel, gas and food, it was time to set off on my own. But through the early morning the onshore wind blew sea fog over the promontory that shelters Dunstaffnage, and I could see the dark foggy clouds gathered over the entrance and over the Firth of Lorne. I sat in the cockpit amusing myself by writing a haiku:

Mirror water
Mist hanging
Ducklings scurry after mother.

It was nearly lunchtime before I was able to spring Coral away from the pontoon and make a smooth exit from the marina. I had decided to make for Carsaig Bay, halfway down the south coast of Mull, making a first meander westward and, hopefully, on to explore the lochs on the west coast of the island.

I had to motor westward down the Firth–there was very little wind and what there was was blowing from the west, dead on the nose. But the water was almost completely flat, and with the spring ebb behind her Coral made good speed. Now I had the boat to myself I settled in the space, and it was then that I quite suddenly realised that now I was on my way everything was so deeply and comfortably familiar. There are simple actions like climbing up and down the companionway and swinging round to sit in the pilot seat; snuggling into a corner of the cockpit and watching the shore go by; and more complex ones that need care, such as setting sail alone, which means moving back and forth from cockpit to mast; and putting waypoints accurately into the GPS. When I think about sailing from the distance at home, I build a sense of foreboding and anxiety; so it is peculiar how comfortable all these routines suddenly seem.

My course took me quite close to the southern shore of Mull, passing cliffs that rise to 300 meters from the sea, rugged, with fissures running the whole height and scree slopes at the bottom. Wherever possible, vegetation makes and foothold, scrubby birches at the bottom, smaller stuff on the way up. The cliffs give way to a shallow valley, with a stream running down in a series of waterfalls, buried deep in the landscape to almost completely hidden. Further back inland, a mountain towers above; I decide it must be Creach Beinn at over 700 meters.

Beyond the cliffs and the far side of Loch Buie a low rocky island gives some protection to Carsaig Bay. The recommended anchorages is in a shallow bight on the north side for the rocks. As I motor in cautiously, finding bottom and 30 feet (Coral has a very old depth sounder that reads in feet and fathoms) there is a splash to my left as a seal slips from the rock into the water and comes to investigate. Three or four others look at me, apprehensively, it seems to me. There are just a handful of houses on the shore, and a line of telephone poles that might indicate a road or a track, although nothing is shown on the chart.

The seals seem to have got used to my presence. Three have settled down on the rocks again and a fourth has gone off swimming. All is quiet as I settle down for the night.

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