A Winter’s Day Sail: Clansman to Coll and Tiree

CRSC member Graeme Roy lives south of the border, miles from the Hebrides. But in mid December 2017 he braved the journey, the cold and the darkness to embark on an exciting day trip to islands he had never visited before. Let him take us on a journey…

Living in London restricts my cruising opportunities in Scottish waters, but Monday 11th December saw me leaving my mother’s home in Bellshill at 4am, in minus 5 degrees Centigrade, for the drive to Oban. My aim was to catch the 7.15am Clansman round trip to Coll and Tiree, returning to Oban by 3.15pm. This particular ship and these islands were all ‘firsts’ for me.

Early morning at Oban: a suitably festive Clansman

When I reached Oban at 6.20am it was still pitch dark, but the CalMac lady confirmed that Clansman was leaving on time. I had arrived just in time to watch Isle of Arran leave Berth No.1 bound for Craignure, lit up like a Christmas tree. It was my first surprise bonus of the day to find her providing the winter relief service to Mull.

At Berth No.2 Clansman herself was adorned with colourful Christmas lights from stem to stern, and her name spelled out by large bright white lights on her side. The other five foot-passengers and myself (plus 10 vehicles) boarded, and at 7.15 prompt the Captain announced we were off and so we were……all of 30ft from the pier before returning again, due to a problem with the bow visor. My heart sank: was I going to have to adopt my Plan B of Hebridean Isles to Colonsay?

I needn’t have worried as, after a 35-minute delay, the problem was fixed and we were off — properly this time, slipping past a still-sleeping Loch Riddon at the Lismore berth.

The delay meant that we met Isle of Arran on her return from Craignure. Not long afterwards there was a magnificent golden sunrise to be viewed from the aft deck which raised the spirits and made the early start worthwhile. Well, the CalMac full Scottish breakfast did help too at that point!

A December Hebridean dawn

Lochinvar was nosing out of a snowy Lochaline as we passed and then, to my surprise, we met Lord of the Isles on her inward journey to Oban from Lochboisdale: another first for one of CRSC’s less well travelled members. This was turning out well.

The weather became wet and windy for an hour as we headed out to open sea, but soon the skies cleared and we tracked down the east side of Coll before berthing and making a rapid turnaround to try to make up time. The fact that only three foot passengers and three cars got off helped!

After Coll, it took about 45 minutes to arrive at Tiree where there was to be another quick turnaround. However, the CalMac gentleman at the gangway graciously allowed me to get off onto the terra firma of the pier for 10 minutes on my word that I wouldn’t venture off it and, very correctly, re-issued my landing documents.

Then it was off back to Coll. Both Coll and Tiree have an interesting coastline but are relatively flat by comparison with the likes of Mull and Islay and, in truth, there is not much to see from the ferry terminals apart from the large replica whalebone arch above the Coll terminal. So, as we headed back toward the Sound of Mull it was time for the excellent CalMac ‘cooked to order’ Barra-landed cod and chips.

Jaw of a whale, above Coll Ferry Terminal

Clansman has no external viewing deck at the bow, but the panoramic forward observation lounge was a comfortable place to watch the snow-clad mountains of the Ardnamurchan peninsula get ever closer. That lounge can probably seat over 100 people, but on that day it was home to only myself and a lady who vigorously knitted a pullover for most of the return journey.

It was also time to wander the decks and to glean some statistics, such as the fact that Clansman burns 16 gallons of fuel oil for every nautical mile at a speed of 16.5 knots.

In the Sound of Mull we once more noticed Lochinvar plying her trade, before we met Isle of Lewis on the port side on her way to Barra.

Then came another couple of bonuses. Isle of Arran opportunely left Craignure just as we were passing, and sailed alongside on our starboard side all the way to Oban Bay, as the sun began to set behind her.

As Isle of Arran politely hung back to enable Clansman to berth first, the diminutive Raasay suddenly appeared round the corner from the gloom, fully loaded, and presumably from Lismore. Loch Riddon was still berthed where she had been that morning.

I’d obviously lost track of time as when I ventured downstairs the crew looked very startled to find a passenger still on board and I was given an escort down the gangway to make sure I left.

All I had to do now was to load up with chocolate and water to fuel the return trip to Bellshill, once again in the dark. All in all an excellent winter’s day out, even if my wife’s text proclaiming “You’re mad” probably wasn’t far wrong.

Snowy prospect from the observation lounge

Approaching Scarinish Pier, Tiree

Passing Barra-bound Isle of Lewis in the Sound of Mull

Safe haven: the ‘diminutive’ Raasay and Isle of Arran on their return to Oban Bay

All photographs on this page are copyright Graeme Roy.

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