Favourite Sailings — Six Lochs, Barra, Small Isles

Lochnevis heads out of Oban Bay on a Six Lochs cruise in 1968. Copyright CRSC A.E. Bennett

Stuart Craig’s Ten of the Best, a series in which he recounts his most memorable sailings, has not only made superb reading but also encouraged CRSC members to recall their own favourite trips. Some have responded with short write-ups, and below Mark Stockdale describes his top three. If you have fond memories of a special sailing, why not tell us about it? Send a description to info@crsc.org.uk. Meanwhile, Stuart’s countdown will continue in the next couple of weeks.

Six Lochs and the Corryvreckan by Lochnevis, September 1969

Firm favourite: view forward on the upper deck of the 1934 Lochnevis. Copyright CRSC Archive Collection

They say you never forget your first car. The same must be true of David MacBrayne ships. I first encountered Lochnevis (1934) on the Ardrishaig mail service at Whit 1964. On Wednesdays in 1969, her last season, Lochnevis gave a long day cruise from Oban to the Six Lochs (Lochs Melfort, Craignish, Crinan, Linnhe, a’Choire and Creran) and the Gulf of Corryvreckan. As this was a regular cruise, she passed through the Dorus Mor and Corryvreckan in varying tidal conditions.

The scenery on this cruise is spectacular and Lochnevis cruised in some very narrow waters, as in Loch Craignish. A strong headwind was whistling in the rigging as we approached the Corryvreckan with an opposing tide. The irregular waves clashed against the ship like cymbals, and my brother and I retreated from the foredeck, drenched. A call for the second sitting for lunch was followed by ominous crashes from the dining saloon. The ship pitched and rolled at crazy angles and there was no way a lifeboat could have been launched. It seemed longer, but probably after no more than 20 minutes we were through the worst and heading up past the Garvellochs. Unsurprisingly, the present day Lochnevis is another firm favourite.

A first visit to Barra across a glassy smooth Sea of the Hebrides by Iona, September 1977

Iona passes the David Hutcheson memorial on her way out of Oban Bay in August 1976. Copyright CRSC Dr Joe McKendrick Collection

A friend who worked for Western SMT generously pooled with me his free bus travel and half-fare entitlement with Caledonian MacBrayne. We chose to go out to Barra for a weekend as it was the furthest we could get for a weekend comfortably from Kilmarnock. Iona was neither attractive nor spacious. I remember her cramped accommodation and a rather grim bar below the vehicle deck. But the excellent catering more than made up for that.

Iona sailed more or less direct from Oban to Castlebay. She made the briefest of calls at Lochaline: no ropes but a gangway was put ashore to uplift a single passenger, and then we were off to Barra. It was the first time I’d sailed out to Barra and I had a sense of travelling into the unknown as we powered past Ardnamurchan and the Cairns of Coll. The sea was glassy smooth. Coming in past Muldonach, Barra presented an uninviting landscape, but this changed dramatically as we swung into Castlebay. The lady at the Ionad Fáilte had stayed late to make sure everyone had somewhere to sleep that night and directed us to a site to pitch our tent. Fàilte gu Barraigh!

A round of the Small Isles with the added bonus of time ashore on Canna by Loch Arkaig, September 1965

Loch Arkaig basks in the morning sun as she approaches Mallaig harbour on 21 June 1974. Copyright Lawrence Macduff

There’s nothing quite like a cheese scone straight out of the oven, especially when you’re a boy exploring a new David MacBrayne ship. We chose to take Loch Arkaig’s Wednesday afternoon round of the Small Isles as it included a call off Muck. Apart from Canna, none of the islands had a pier, so launches came out to the ship and cargo and passengers were transferred through a hatch in the little lounge, in which there hung a splendid painting of an osprey catching a salmon. Passengers had access to the foredeck and there was open deck space abaft the wheelhouse.

Sailing round the south of Muck, we seemed to be quite close to Coll, then we turned north to sail up the east coast of Rhum. Rhum seemed quite a forbidding place. We unexpectedly had time ashore at Canna, waiting for the tide to rise to board sheep down the gangway. Some passengers weren’t back at the pier by sailing time so the ship’s siren was sounded. We had crystal clear views of the Outer Hebrides all the way back to the Point of Sleat followed by a spectacular sunset. Somewhere to explore in future….

Mark Stockdale has been a CRSC member since the 1990s. Born and brought up at Tynemouth in north-east England and now living in the Thames Valley, he first visited the west of Scotland on a childhood holiday in 1964 and has been coming back ever since.

Mark Stockdale on Ali Cat en route from Dunoon to Gourock in 2013

Ten of the Best — the countdown begins

Ten of the Best — Nos. 8 and 7

Ten of the Best — Nos. 6 and 5

Favourite Sailings — now it’s your turn