Despite unpredictable weather and unforeseen timetable changes, Cameron Wilson made the most of his visit to Oban at the beginning of June.
With hotels booked in Oban but no Waverley to sail on, there was only one option: a CalMac weekend of ferry hopping. On arrival on the Friday the weather was classic Scottish summer — torrential rain and a mist that blocked out Kerrera.
A trip to Mull on Isle of Lewis was on the cards, taking her from Oban to Craignure on a rare sailing. This was one of many schedule changes caused by Clansman’s technical problems, which took her out of service for a week but created unusual sailing opportunities for enthusiasts.
With rain streaming down the windows of Isle of Lewis’s forward lounge, there wasn’t much of a view over the bow on the way to Craignure, but speeding across the Firth of Lorn at 17 knots, we were soon at our destination. Around that time Isle of Mull was also supposed to berth at the Mull terminal on an inbound sailing from Coll and Tiree, and she waited off the pier for a while. But due to the ‘Lewis’ running an hour late and Clansman occupying one of the berths at Oban’s Railway Pier, Coruisk’s 18.25 sailing was also well behind schedule.
And so Isle of Mull continued on to Oban without picking up the crowd waiting for the 19.00 sailing. Instead Coruisk arrived around 19.10 and an Isle of Mull-size load of passengers attempted to board. Result? Coruisk’s passenger accommodation was full to capacity, to the extent that she had to leave a lane and a half’s worth of vehicle traffic behind whilst only having a three-quarters full car deck.
Coruisk does a fantastic job as a second vessel, particularly for Mull, but much like Isle of Arran, the lack of interior accommodation lets her down on a wet day: there’s not much space to move around, unless you want to get wet! Having arrived back in Oban later than planned, I decided that a pint of beer was in order, followed by a walk along Corran Esplanade to see Isle of Mull’s final arrival from Craignure — and then back to the hotel for the night.
Saturday was a day that had a good plan — in theory! It started with a walk up one of the many hills in Oban to see the arrival of Isle of Mull on her first sailing from Craignure, and continued with a stroll down to the slipway to await the arrival of Loch Striven for a trip to Lismore and back. The weather was dull but dry, a promising sign for the day ahead.
On Loch Striven’s return journey to Oban, Isle of Lewis raced us into the Bay, arriving just before us. It was on the ‘Lewis’ that I once again sailed to Mull. On arrival at Craignure I was expecting to catch the bus at 15.00 to Tobermory and connect there with the ferry to Kilchoan. It didn’t turn out that way.
At Craignure I had seen Coruisk approaching hot on the heels of Isle of Lewis, so I took a risk, managing to get a shot of the pair together there before quickly dashing back to the bus stop.
Unfortunately, by 15.20 there was still no sign of the bus. I double-checked the timetable and found, in the smallest writing at the bottom of the page, that the 15.00 bus didn’t start until the 3rd of June. I was a couple of days too early!
Thankfully, after watching Coruisk sail away from Craignure, Lord of the Isles arrived and, upon meeting fellow CRSC member Eric Schofield, we boarded for the sailing back to Oban.
By this time there was a whole crowd of vessels making their way to Oban’s one available berth. Isle of Lewis was just arriving into Oban Bay as Lord of the Isles departed Craignure. Then we had Coruisk in front of us and also Hebridean Isles on her way up from Islay and Colonsay.
After sitting off Kerrera for about 10 minutes we finally saw Isle of Lewis emerging from the Bay, allowing us to move ahead and sit off the North Pier for the 20 minutes until Coruisk departed. When we got to our berth it was Hebridean Isles’ turn to wait patiently.
A quick run up the same hill I had climbed in the morning allowed me to get a photo of the three vessels together, so if the bus at Craignure had arrived, this shot would not have been possible! I walked along Corran Esplanade and got one ‘crossover’ of the two Mull boats as the sun began to go down.
The forecast for the Sunday was horrendous. Those preparing to board Isle of Mull for the Coll and Tiree cruise were met with a yellow warning for the sailing, but as the vessel pulled alongside I boarded regardless. The rain was once again torrential on departure from Oban, and one CalMac breakfast later, we had arrived at Craignure to drop off passengers for Mull.
At this point the rain was still streaming down, but we did pick up another CRSC member in the form of Andrew Ramsay. As we departed Craignure Isle of Lewis was waiting to go alongside on her inbound sailing to Oban. Leaving her behind, we headed up the Sound of Mull and were soon passing Lord of the Isles on her way to Oban.
The further up the Sound of Mull we headed the drier and brighter the day became and by the time we were passing Tobermory the sun was out and it was getting warmer. Approaching Tiree, a bit of a swell built up but the skill from the Master, Lewis Mackenzie, and his crew was on point — not just at Tiree but at Coll as well, where the margin for error is minimal. It certainly left me impressed by the manoeuvrability of Isle of Mull!
Sailing back from Coll the sun was shining and the Sound of Mull looked magnificent. As we passed Lochaline Lochinvar was just leaving the slipway and then Lord of the Isles came by on her way to Lochboisdale.
With the wind behind us Isle of Mull arrived into Craignure 15 minutes early and departed 10 minutes earlier than planned. On the way back to Oban the rain once again showed its face but as we entered Oban Bay it cleared.
I headed for the North Pier in time to see Isle of Mull depart for Craignure and then Clansman move from one berth to the other.
With more bad weather forecast for the next day, I decided it was too much of a risk to stay for another crossing to Mull. I took an early train back to Glasgow and reflected on what, against the odds, had turned out to be a very enjoyable weekend.
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Published on 18 June 2019.