Favourite sailings — round trip to Colonsay and Port Askaig from Oban

Tranquillity: the view from Isle of Arran’s foredeck on 11 March 2017, as she headed from Colonsay to the Sound of Islay, with the Paps of Jura on the left. Copyright Eric Schofield

Eric Schofield takes a ‘spur of the moment’ decision to do something out of the ordinary — and is rewarded with a glorious sail from Oban to Colonsay, Islay and back.

As I enjoy being out on the water no matter what ship I am on, big or small, steam or sail, or where it might be sailing from or to, I have to say that my favourite trip would almost always be my most recent — especially when it is a ‘spur of the moment’ decision and even more so if a vessel is doing something slightly out of the ordinary.

On Friday evening 10 March 2017 I casually checked the CalMac website’s ‘service status’ section and saw that the following day the normal final section of the 1330 Oban/Colonsay/Port Askaig/Kennacraig sailing had been changed for ‘operational reasons’: instead of continuing to Kennacraig, the ship would make a direct sailing from Port Askaig to Oban An unusual round trip on Isle of Arran seemed possible, albeit with a late return of 2145 at Oban.

‘The forecast was for morning rain, giving way to drier conditions’: Isle of Arran and Isle of Mull at Oban. Copyright Eric Schofield

I did not make a final decision to go until I had checked the forecast early on the Saturday morning. That forecast was for heavy morning rain giving way to drier, sunnier conditions in the west, and so I drove through the rain and mist with good expectations of a superb outing, and was not disappointed. Bang on 1500 the cloud moved eastward, the western sky now clear blue and sunny for the rest of the day.

With only five cars and four foot passengers onboard on the way down to Colonsay, this ‘surprise’ outing took on an even more special feeling. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun from a seat at the aft end of the upper deck, in a world of my own. This was ‘my deck’, only violated about an hour into the journey when a passenger came up for a quiet smoke. Thankfully it couldn’t have been a king size cigarette, as he returned to the inner confines of the ship within 15 minutes.

The expansive views — the receding Ross of Mull to starboard, the Isles of the Sea, Scarba and Jura to port — created a sense of tranquillity. The clouds continued to clear to the east, revealing ever more of Argyllshire’s distant peaks.

After three of the vehicles and two foot passengers disembarked at Colonsay, being replaced by a car, two refuse trucks and one foot passenger, the onward section to Port Askaig felt even quieter. On the return from Islay there were a few more cars and four fully loaded large cattle floats. The smell of all that fresh meat did not, however, tempt me to try the ‘Ale and Steak Pie’ in the ship’s restaurant – I stuck to the ‘Barra Landed Haddock’ as we headed back to Oban.

The accompanying pictures tell their own story of a very special day, topped off with the remarkable 22-degree Moon Halo phenomenon. This was clearly visible as we sailed back in the dark between Kerrera and Mull, though unfortunately a photograph of it was not possible from the moving deck of the ferry.

Isle of Mull viewed through the drizzle at the north end of Kerrera. Copyright Eric Schofield

The weather steadily brightens as Isle of Arran passes Loch Spelve on Mull. Copyright Eric Schofield

The sun comes out for Isle of Arran’s arrival at Colonsay. Copyright Eric Schofield

A high tide gives Isle of Arran an elevated profile at Port Askaig. Copyright Eric Schofield

The south coast of Mull (sorry, no red funnels of KGV to be seen, except in the mind’s eye)

Stemming the tidal race, Eilean Dhiura crabs her way across the Sound of Islay from Feolin

The moon hovers over the mouth of Loch Tarbert, Jura, as Isle of Arran heads back to Oban. Copyright Eric Schofield

Ten of the Best — the countdown begins

Ten of the Best — Nos. 8 and 7

Ten of the Best — Nos. 6 and 5

Ten of the Best — Nos. 4 and 3

Ten of the Best — the runner-up

Ten of the Best — the chart-topper

Favourite Sailings — now it’s your turn

Favourite Sailings — Six Lochs, Barra, Small Isles

Favourite Sailings — Round Arran to Campbeltown; 14 hours to ’Boisdale and back

Favourite Sailings — by MV Hebrides from Stornoway to Ullapool and back

Favourite Sailings — ‘an auspicious day aboard the Great Glen’