The Guppy rounds the Ross of Mull

Other great write up on the F-RIB 275 can be found on f-ribsandsibs.com forum http://f-ribsandsibs.com/viewtopic.php?f=83&t=955   All courtesy of D Wilcox.

I had been watching the approaching forecast of a warm weather spell with interest . With over a week still to go it was predicting temperatures reaching 20 C at least..but strong winds .. Force 3 gusting to Force 6. Every day the wind speeds changed as the warm spell seemed to get hotter .. four full days of sun and wind was on the cards !!

None of the weather stations I monitor .. would agree on the wind speeds ..however … all of them said it would be “fresh to strong winds” from the East or North East. That unfortunately put an end to my plans of going to Raasay and Rona off Skye.. as those islands would be getting the full force of the winds.

However .. it did not mean that I was going to be a land lubber and miss four days of warm sun on the sea. On Monday.. I received the expected phone call.

My Brother .. “Hi Gurnard .. due to the weather forecast.. we are going to go round the Ross of Mull ..which includes a circumnavigation of the Island of Iona .. the winds are forecast for F3 to F6 .. but we are on the weather shores most of the way.. would you like to come too ?”

Me .. “ White horses won’t stop me ..Im on my way”

We agreed to meet at Bunessan .. with a quick proposed route .. illustrated on the map below. Three nights wild camping should see us round the Ross of Mull.

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I was going by “The Guppy” .. my brother and his friends were going by Kayak. I spent Tuesday readying my camping gear and kitting out the F-Rib 275 ready for some serious adventuring.. in strong winds. The rear Tarp was to keep all my gear from bouncing out the back… as well as to try and stop some water swamping the nine foot boat with six foot waves.

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I caught the mid day ferry from Oban to Mull on Wednesday. The wind was from the East and around Force 4 to 5. I was on my way to the agreed meeting place of Bunessan for a two o’clock launch…and finalise the route plan.

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Five of us met ..and discussed the proposed sea journey. The winds were still gusting around Force 4 and forecast to touch Force 6 during the night.. coming from the north. This had us worried that we may get trapped by a wild sea in our first wild camp spot at Market Bay.. on the north coast of the Ross of Mull..so would be fully exposed to the winds. My brother suggested that due to the forecasts for the next few days.. to base ourselves at Fidden Campsite ..on the sheltered east coast ..and do day trips from there.

I was happy with this decision .. it mean a far lighter boat in heavy seas ..a hot shower at the end of the day .. and although its a public campsite.. it is in an idyllic situation in the Sound of Iona. Who could complain.

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We didn’t take long pitching tents .. carrying boats twenty meters from tent to shore ..and by four o’clock in the afternoon..we were ready for our first exploration trip. ..to David Balfour Bay on the Island of Erraid ..via the Tinker’s Hole.

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The Guppy was first in the water and ready to go. Although the winds were still strong .. they were from the East. They only scratched dark patches on the surface of the sea .. because it was an off shore wind. No heavy seas expected on this journey.

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However ..it was hot ..around 22 C ..and sun all the way.

Leaving the campsite launch point .. I kept the outboard on tick over.. but still covered ground at a fair rate of knots. .. by wind power.

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Small boats in a strong offshore wind is not to be recommended for newbies ..if anything goes wrong.. the light boat will be blown out to open sea within minutes ..and of course..in the open sea are large breaking waves.

However..with some experience.. boating the windward shore is the best way to go in strong winds.

While I waited for the kayaks to launch.. I looked around for markers to use on my return. Its very easy to loose bearings on a strange water..and forget where you launched from.

Outside Fidden Campsite is a rock with the remains of a small lighthouse.. so I noted its position and after that..it was easy to find my way back to shore.

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I have learned many things from different types of boaters. I often read on the internet that people recommend at least a 10Hp outboard for going to sea.. anything less..and you may not get home again.. which is just not true.

Kayaks go to sea all the time.. with a paddle. However they know how to work wind and tides to their advantage. I used to be a kayaker ..so will happily go to sea with as small an engine as a 2.5Hp. I do research tide flows in the areas I go to .. to prevent getting caught unaware.

The kayakers were using the ebbing tide to help propel them towards the narrow channel between the islands of Eilean Dubh and Erraid.

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The northern end of the channel is quite shallow.. so at times I switched off my outboard and went with the flow too. I was on an adventure..so had all the time in the world.. I had no reason to rush around on the plane and miss the scenery.

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Once in the narrow channel..the water is much deeper..so I restarted the engine and caught up on my friends.

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Just off the channel..in a rocky bay ..that some describe as an old granite quarry.. is the famous yacht mooring called “The Tinkers Hole”. It is one of the few places in the area where boats can anchor in even the roughest of weather. Not surprising..there was a boat moored for the night..its crew sunning themselves on deck..did I say it was around 24 C is the warm sun ? Hard to believe it was snowing the week before !

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The strong winds had dropped a good bit by the time we cleared the Tinkers Hole.. so I headed for open sea to get the engine working at speed… and also admire the rocky scenery from a distance.

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I passed a lovely trimaran who’s jibs were still rolled up .. I guess the wind was still strong in the Firth of Lorn from where it had come.

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I then spotted the agreed meeting place to rendezvous with the kayakers. David Balfour’s bay .. which is another famous location .. because of the book Kidnapped

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Robert Louis Stevenson .. the non engineer in the family of engineers who built Lighthouses ..used this bay to describe his hero in Kidnapped ..being washed ashore ..clutching as spar from his sinking ship which hit the Torran rocks. He knew this coast line well.

I now know it too ..and you can be forgiven for thinking you are in Greece .. when the sun shines through the water and reflects off the white sands of the bay.. its paradise.

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I hauled my boat up the sand.. to give me time to wander around…

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And wonder..where else could I land..which was so stunningly beautiful ..yet there was no sound or sign of other humans…not even a footprint in the sand ?

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Then my silent solitude was broken..by the arrival of my kayak friends

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I guess it was warm work for them paddling to paradise.. as they soon stripped off and went swimming..

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I had not had much exercise..so instead..clambered the hill to get a bird’s eye view of the bay

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Where I found a sheep’s head..complete with horns …

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I was going to attach it to the Guppy as a figure head ..but changed my mind when I remembered that I was going to Iona the following day. I felt it too much of a pagan ritual .. for such a Christian location… so I gave it a decent sea send off instead

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After the bathing and photo session.. we then did the only civilised thing to do… in such a wonderful setting.. have a toast of Glenfiddich 12 year old and a wrap snack to celebrate the start of our adventure.

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Perhaps it was the result of the Glenfiddich nips ..but I now saw a different perspective of David Balfour Bay…

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So decided to head back to sea …and saw lowering sun bring out the colours and shapes of the red granite cliffs…

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I decided to have a quick run up the Sound of Iona ..to give my companions time to paddle back to the campsite …

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As I wanted a quick glimpse of Iona Abbey.. now that the offshore wind was dropping.. to a calm…

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I returned to the campsite around the same time as the others.. and we parked up the boats for the night …

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Then went into the dinning room and enjoyed the biggest and best venison stew and potatoes that I have ever tasted..thanks to Iain who made it previously. Of course..it was washed down with generous helping of dark gravy… it was well made too…

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It put us in the mood for a campfire..so we retired to the living room ….

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To watch the sunset over Iona …

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Some little nips of my brother’s Jura Supertsition really brought out the colours nicely ..

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And we swapped tales of sea adventures .. until the moon told us it was time for bed.

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I slept like a log..as I now find adventuring at sixty years old..quite hard work :roll:

I was looking forward to the morning.. the plan for the day … to circumnavigate the Island of Iona…

Although I slept well.. I was up with the early birds .. knowing I had a big adventure ahead of me. The map shows the route we took which covered approx 25 miles of some of the most stunning coast line in Scotland.

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The forecast of Force 6 gusts during the night never happened .. which is probably why none of the weather stations could agree on wind speeds during this astonishing warm spell. This day was predicted force 3 gusting to force 4 ..which suited us much better. Early morning start meant calm waters

I skimmed across the Sound of Iona on a flattish sea.. the 6HP engine pushing me on nicely around 15 mph. I was heading for a small sandy beach just south of Iona village ..to wait my paddling palls cross the sound at their respectable speed of around 5-6 mph.

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Landing on the beach..I clambered a small hill to get a good view of Iona village and its world famous Abbey

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And when I got back to the beach..the kayakers had arrived.

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So we set course for the southern tip of Iona.. planning to go clockwise direction round the island…this meant tides would help paddlers momentum.

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Kayakers like to get themselves into small spaces to explore uncharted channels ..so it takes time to go round the island.

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Not that I mind ..as I like to take my time too. I wont go into every small geo..but I enjoy landing on beaches or going round reefs further out..which they don’t do. I pulled up onto a small pebble beach to have a sandwich..enjoy the sun..and to look for shiny souvenirs of my visit.

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It only took a few moments to find some nice coloured granite stones.. a piece of flint (top right) and a small piece of serpentine ..which is a semi precious stone (Very bottom) I have a stone grinder..so know they will polish nicely.

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Then I set off in pursuit of my palls..now paddling through the reefs and rock gardens on the southern tip of Iona

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And as we went round headland after headland ..I couldn’t help thinking the scenery seemed to get better and better ..as the morning got warmer and warmer..and the sea ..flatter and flatter

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Soon we were travelling up the outer side of Iona..which is famed for its beauty …

Once again..the forecast was wrong with their wind predictions. It was only a gentle breeze and we were sheltered from the north east wind .. the sea turned flat calm.. as I slowly motored through the rocky reefs on the southern seaward side of the island.

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Its not a place to hurry on a calm sunny day.. but a place to slowly soak in the atmosphere of granite rock surroundings.

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Rounding every headland … and there are many of them…

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The views seemed to get better and better..

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But not only in front of me… the views kept changing ..and I didn’t know which direction to look for the best photos.

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Luminous green patches appeared regularly .. where the sun light touched on the white sand sea bed. The only sounds were the occasional cry of the seabirds.

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But then..rounding another headland .. we heard a deep muffled explosion. It happened several times.. I imagined I could feel the power of the explosion in the vibrating sea ?
Cautiously we moved forward to try to find the source of the sound.. it was only once in a while… and not in a regular fashion.

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One of the kayakers cried .. Watch … I think its coming from here ? …

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And sure enough.. a few moments later ..another muffled explosion occurred and shot a column of water … forty feet into the air …

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We have just witnessed Iona’s spouting cave. A place where the sea s gets trapped in a confined space.. then a rising swell forces the water out through a small blow hole. On a day with a large rolling swell..it is an amazing sight.. and sound ..as it can reach the cliff tops.. a hundred feet above.

However it was still a very impressive sight on this calm day….

Once clear of the reefs and rock gardens off the southern end of Iona ..we came to beach after beach of beautiful white sands.

The good weather made it easy to forget how remote and desolate this coast line really is..but this creel boat was the first boat we had seen since we left the Ross of Mull .. four hours earlier.

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It was now lunch time so we headed through the reefs to a hidden beach ..which not surprisingly..we had to ourselves.

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As my kayak companions unloaded lunch …

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I clambered the rocks to get a birds eye view of the bay and its beautiful surroundings… hard to believe I was still in Scotland

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After lunch we continued our journey by staying inshore … to admire the close up views of sea..sand ..seaweed and rocks…

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Sometimes I came to dead ends..my passage blocked by sand bars.. so I backtracked and found another route.. not that I cared ..I was in paradise.

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At the north end of Iona..we headed for a small island called Eilean Andraidh ..which has another beautiful sandbar.

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This island was made famous by one of the Scottish Colourist artists… Samuel Peploe. He often painted here.. and in the 70’s ..many homes hung prints of his paintings..beside the three flying duck.. hung above the mantelpiece.

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I recognized the views instantly

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And wished I had brought my box of paints..as well as my camera ..

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While still travelling up the weather shore of Iona.. I had ideas of nipping across the six mile stretch of open waters to visit Staffa and see Fingal’s Cave. At that time … sea conditions looked good for such a trip in the wee guppy. However I decided that as the wind forecasts had been wrong of late .. to wait for a more settled forecast.

Im glad I made that decision.. because crossing the Sound of Iona.. the wind started to gust up to force four as predicted. I took this photo just before the waves started to break ..making photograpy impossible due to motion blur and spray. You can just make out the Treshnish Isles and Staffa in the distance. Staffa is to the right of centre… centre is Lunga.. and the Dutchman’s cap is the left hand Island.

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Instead..I went with the Kayakers along the Ross of Mull towards Bunessan ..which was the original plan. The Guppy performed exceptionally well.. running parallel with the three to four foot waves . Although only nine feet long .. she was very stable due to her wide beam and flattish bottom. I have had V hull boats in the past which could easily induce seasickness the way they rock and roll .. side on to a sea. As I entered Camas Tuath bay ..the gust appeared to died again ..and I was sheltered from the sea by its headland.

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There are the remains of an old Quarry settlement and Fishing village in this bay ..although it was nice to see many of the fishing houses have been recently restored.

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I backed tracked to another lovely sandy beach at Market Bay ..where I had arranged to meet the kayakers. They didn’t want to go as far as Bunessan due to the seas and having to paddle back ..its hard work for them. We had second lunch in Market Bay

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While I admired the shore in some detail

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Soon it was time to set off for the Sound of Iona again. I arranged to meet the kayakers in the Bull Hole ..which is another sheltered anchorage. The wind was rising again..so I knew they would hug the shore . I prefer being off shore to avoid rocks. The Guppy handled the waves without a problem.. she kept on the plane too.. although I wasn’t going flat out.

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By the time I reached the seaward entrance to the Bull Hole ..there was a reasonable swell running. I now had to turn and run with the waves..which was fun .. keeping on top of a wave..without slipping over its sometimes breaking face… or risk shoving the Guppy’s nose under water….

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The ride got more exciting as the swell started to reach the shallow water of the bar that protects the Bulls Hole.. Wave speed increased and so did the Guppy. That didn’t worry me..but I knew there was only a couple of feet of water at the shallow part.. and there were rocks around too. Was I imagining dark shadows beneath the waves ..indicating seaweed covered rocks ?

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I knew I was committed to the heading I was on .. Hesitating or changing direction could have very wet results. I surfed over the bar without incident .. then relaxed as I landed on another sheltered sandbar … well inside the Bulls Hole

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Where I waited and watched the entrance for my kayak companions to appear …

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It didn’t take the kayaks long to reach the shelter of the Bull Hole.The Kayaks are around sixteen feet long.. sealed with a spray deck.. and are extremely sea worthy in experienced hands. In fact.. they will handle rougher water than the Guppy could ever dream of…without being swamped.

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As I took a photo of them in the Bull Hole..my brother took a photo of me in return. Although I may look daft in the sombrero type bonnet.. it keeps the sun off my face.. or I would have been as brightly coloured as the flotation suit

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Our morning plan was to follow the route we had just completed..nip across to Iona for evening diner..then sight see the Abbey when all tourists had gone home.

However..because the strong wind ..which would soon be against tide in the Sound of Iona.. the kayakers decided to head back to camp… after all.. they had just paddled around 25 miles. I still had a fair bit of energy..and fuel..so nipped into the Sound to play in the overspills for a while.

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Admire a lovely old ketch at mooring …

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Snap another quick shot of Iona Abbey..the place where Christianity began in Scotland…

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Before following the last ferry back to the Mull of Ross.

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Back at the campsite..we all ate another home cooked meal .. lit a fire ..and washed our dinner down with plenty of gravy and little nips in different flavours of yellow medicine …

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While we watched our favourite TV program.. The sunset over Iona part two ..

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All the beautiful scenery had tired me out..so I was in bed by midnight ..to get ready for the last day of our Ross of Mull Adventure

Due to another spell of good weather … I got involved in other adventures ..hence the delay in writing the last part of the Ross of Mull.

There was a change in the weather for our last day on Mull.. temperatures dropped from the previous few day’s 20+ C to around 8C and we noticed it. The wind was also around Force 4 ..but still from the east..so we were sheltered from the full strength of it.

Our plan for the day was to visit Iona Abbey..then round the Ross of Mull to the south..as shown in the map.

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The sound of Iona is a popular place for huge cruise ships. Overnight .. two arrived with boat loads of tourists.. all eager to see Iona Abbey. I flew across the sound at WOT .. assisted by both an incoming tide and off shore wind… possibly doing around 20 mph ?

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I landed on a sandy beach..on the outskirts of Iona village.. and hauled the Guppy well up the shore..to give me time to wander around .. and not worry about the boat getting washed away. I don’t like fixed transom wheels… so don’t use them. An inflatable roller boat costing £20 does the job just as easily..and in fact..better over large stones..or soft mud. The roller stores small and blows up in seconds.

Just make sure you don’t leave the power head on the outboard .. tilted below the propeller when using one..or sea water can run up the cooling pipes..enter the exhaust ports ..and run into the cylinder. Of course this happens with transom wheels too..so you all know that.. right ?

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I enjoy visiting old chapels and churches ..not because I am religious..but because I like seeing the work that went into making them ..and feeling the sense of peace in such buildings. Iona Abbey really is something special.. and a worth while visit. Its where St Columba first brought Christianity to Scotland. I took many photos.. but cant post them or I would be here all day..so have picked two at random.

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Of course..I got in long before the cruise ships landed their many milling passengers.. and had the place to myself..along with my kayak companions who had also arrived. If you have never been..I do recommend a visit.

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After the Abbey .. I again went ahead of my companions..and landed on another sandy beach on the island of Erraid….
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… And clambered up to the old observatory to see the wonderful sea view. The observatory was built to signal the out lying light houses on Dubh Artach and Skerryvore.

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Satisfied with my sight seeing..I then headed through the Tinker Hole and headed for the Island of Eilean a Chalmain ..but first..I though I better let the ship pass..I try to keep out their road as I feel kind of small and insignificant to them.

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We all met up for another wee nip of the Jura Superstition ..on a small remote beach on Eilean a Chalmain.. while looking over the sea to the Island of Jura where the whisky came from.

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Finally..we ended our journey at Traig Geal bay ..having successfully rounded the Ross of Mull.

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We then followed our own routes back to Fidden Campsite where we enjoyed more nips and gravy..while planning future adventures.
I didn’t do a great mileage.. around 50 miles in three days..but in all.. it cost around £10 for fuel for the 6HP engine. The journey also gave me some experience of the smallest F-Rib 275..in some remote and rough water.

I was now happy to push it even further ..into more remote places ..where seas can turn nasty within minutes.

My plan … was to head for Skye.. alone .. with the Guppy .. for a 150 mile sea journey to the edge of the world. That adventure will be posted soon.

Thanks for reading my drivel..hope you enjoyed it.