I watch the two seagulls through the binoculars picking at the dead body of something on a rock on the shoreline. It could be a rabbit, but I can’t quite make it out. In the middle of the anchorage, a seal pops his head out of the water and looks at us quizzically. Out through the narrow entrance channel, I can see the seas breaking over the semi-submerged rocks in mid-channel.
We are at Tinker’s Hole, a small well-protected anchorage at the western tip of the Ross of Mull, just opposite Iona. At the height of the season, this place can be packed with boats, but today we are the only ones here. Surrounded by the pink rocks of Devonian granite on all sides, it has a rugged beauty of its own.
From Loch Spelve, we had had a few days at Dunstaffnage Marina collecting the new upholstery that the First Mate had chosen and ordered for the seats in the cabin to brighten it up. It hadn’t been quite ready before we had left Ardrossan, so the plan had been to sail to Oban, then for me to take the bus back to Ardrossan, collect the seats and their new covers, and also collect the car and drive back to Oban, put the seats back in the boat, then both of us would drive back home with the car, then get the bus back to Dunstaffnage. All highly choreographed, but it had worked.
We had then filled up Ruby Tuesday with fuel and water, and set off along the south coast of Mull, heading for Tinkler’s Hole where we knew there is good shelter. Gale-force winds had been forecast for the next day, so we needed to be somewhere safe by then.
The wind had been directly from the west, and we had had a good sail down the Sound of Mull on a close reach. Once we reached Frank Lockwood’s Island at the south-eastern tip of Mull, however, with the wind more-or-less directly on our nose, it was a different story. Unable to sail directly to where we wanted to go, we took a line out towards the northern tip of the Isle of Colonsay, retracing our track more-or-less of the previous week. Then began a series of long tacks of about two miles in length as we zig-zagged our way to our destination.
The closest that Ruby Tuesday can sail into the wind is 30°, but the speed drops at that angle and she performs better at around 40°. It was slow progress, but eventually we made it to the Bogha nan Ramfhear buoy marking the northern end of the treacherous Torrin Rocks, at which stage we had switched to motor the last little bit into Tinker’s Hole. At least now we would be sheltered from the gale.
The seagulls finish their meal and flap off, leaving the meatless carcass to be washed off the rocks at the next high tide. The seal has gone too. Later in the morning the gale arrives. The seas outside the entrance become even rougher and smash on the mid-channel rocks in a maelstrom of foam. Inside the anchorage, however, we feel safe, and with the wind directly from the west the water remains mostly calm.
The next day, the gale has abated, and we think about exploring our locality. About a mile away to the north is a small circular white building which apparently used to be the signal station to communicate with two lighthouses out to sea, the Skerryvore and Dubh Artach. We decide to walk to it, so we unload the dinghy and row ashore. There is a path of sorts which we follow, but it soon peters out, or at least we lose it somehow. We trudge through the thick heather for a while until we come across a fence-line. There is still no distinct track, but we feel that the fence line must lead somewhere. Eventually we come to a boggy stream where the fence stops. We decide to follow the stream, but to our dismay, it leads us further away from the direction of the signal station. Yet there is still no sign of a path to the top of the hill, and we eventually find ourselves on the far side of the hill, where at least there is a track leading to a small settlement.
We walk up the track to the row of stone-built cottages at the base of the hill. In front of each is a long walled garden. Some of them have people working in them. We pass a young couple painting the gate at the entrance to one of them.
“Excuse us, but is this the way to the signal station?”, we say.
“Yes”, the young girl responds shyly. “You explain it to them”, she says to her companion.
“Yes, carry on here until you come to a gate. Just after that turn left, then just a but further on from there before you get to the road in front of the houses, you’ll find a path to your right up the hill. That will take you directly to the station”, he explains with a friendly grin.
“Is this a kind of community?”, says the First Mate.
“Yes”, says the young girl, again bashfully. “He’ll explain”.
“Yes, there are a group of us who live here”, he explains, again with a smile. “We try to be sustainable – getting away from the hustle of city life, living close to nature, growing our own food, that sort of thing. We all share the same values and have similar philosophies in life. We call ourselves the Erraid Community, but we are part of the Findhorn Foundation, if you have ever heard of that?”
In actual fact, we have. The Findhorn Foundation is in Findhorn in north-east Scotland, not far from where we live. We have even visited it once.
He tells us more about the community. There is a freshness and enthusiasm in the way that he talks, something that comes from being young, untainted by the scepticism that often comes later in life. A small part of me envies their messianic zeal, giving them some purpose to life. Is our sailing trip an attempt to recapture some of that lost innocence of youth, exploring places in the most sustainable way possible?
We wish them well, and continue up the track. There is a sign on a gate warning us to shut the gate after us or else we will be fined 40 shillings. I work out that is £2 in real money. I check my pockets and find I only have 73p. I make sure the gate is shut.
Eventually, we reach the knoll on which the signal station is located. Its two windows remind me a little of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. Inside is a box full of CDs and booklets on the Erraid community. They all cost more than 73p and the First Mate has also forgotten her purse. I feel guilty that we are not supporting the local economy very well.
Another couple are in the signal station too, having walked from the caravan park across the estuary at Fidden. Like us, they are recently retired, and are travelling around Scotland in their newly purchased motor-home. We compare notes on our terrestrial and aquatic means of transport and find there are many similarities. The conversation turns to Brexit.
“The worst decision this country has ever made”, says Mr Motorhome. “By the way, have you heard that Theresa May announced today that she is standing down?”
We had, but we agree that we can’t see how her successor, whoever it is, can solve the impasse. The sticking point is the Irish border issue, and the EU are unlikely to reopen negotiations on a completely new deal. How could the country come to this? We feel a bit depressed as we walk back to the boat, although part of this is because we get lost again.
That night I awake suddenly, and look at my watch. It is just after midnight. Something has woken me, but I don’t know what. I look at the map of our position on the tablet and am horrified to see that we have shifted quite a bit from our previous position. The wind has strengthened and has changed to the north, swinging us around on the anchor. Not only that, but the anchor itself seems to have shifted.
I find the torch and stumble out to the cockpit. It is difficult to see anything away from the boat, but we seem to be still some distance to the nearest rocks. I check the tablet again. At least we seem to have stabilised in the new position. I decide to stay awake and keep an eye on our situation, plotting a small waypoint every 15 minutes of our position. The wind howls through the rigging, and I pray silently that it isn’t strong enough to dislodge the anchor again. The waypoints all cluster around a point – at least the anchor seems to be holding in the same place.
In the early morning the wind dies and I decide that there is no immediate risk, and drift off into a couple of hours of fitful sleep. In the morning I feel tired and grumpy, but console myself that it could have been worse.