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Isle of Mull Castle, Scotland.

Talisker Wiskey Aging on Isle of Skye.

Anchorage in Skye, Scotland.

July 4, 2008

Westport, Ireland

We are flying the American flag but it is blowing a gale in our remote bay so nobody has noticed. As we left Galway Bay we were buzzed by a Coast Guard helicopter. The pilot radioed us with a request : would we mind being boarded as a training exercise? We said "why not?" The pilot asked us to maintain our heading at 7.5 knots. Soon a red helmeted figure in a jump suit slowly started to descend. Our apparent wind was 20 knots but by hand signals he drifted toward us and finally came in over the transom, an impressive piece of work.

We spent last night in Innishbofin Island's small but well protected bay. Pirate Queen Grace O'Malley's castle guards the entrance. As we walked along the road between the rocky hills dotted with grazing sheep we met a visiting teacher. He told a bit of the history and the current raging debate about the proposal for a small airport that many believe will ruin the island's tranquility.

We have had dinner with Jeannie's Irish cousin who shares the same maiden name, Jean Igoe. Jean and her husband, Jim Campbell, are Dubliners. Jim is a lawyer turned real estate developer. He explained how Ireland had prospered with the right mix of an educated people, European market and low taxes to change from an agricultural to business hub in the past dozen years. Jim had done a lot to bring U.S. corporations to Ireland. Jeannie discovered that the Igoes came from Longford Ireland, about a hundred miles from here.

July 15, 2008

Firth of Clyde, Ireland

We left Westport with favorable weather that would only last for a day and a half so we abandoned our plans to visit Donegal, the home of Jim's grandmother's family and, for the next day and a half, sailed on to the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. We dropped the anchor in front of a Buddhist meditation retreat at Holy Island. We went ashore to climb the rocky hill for the view of the mainland and sure enough we found a different brightly painted Buddha every hundred yards.

Jeannie's sister Betty Walsh and nieces Tracy and Loraine O'Conner met us in Largs near Glasgow and sailed with us through the inland passages to Inverarry. There we anchored off of the Campbell Castle occupied occasionally by the fourteenth Duke of Argyle. The Campbells backed the Protestant English King against Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and have prospered ever since.

Our plan to take the Crinian Canal and to drop the crew off in Oban was stopped in the first lock when the lockmaster told us we drew too much. We always figured our draft at 2.5 meters but that would be 2.7 meters in the fresh water canal. The lock operators were afraid we might get stuck and close the canal until a big rain came. Our crew had to take the bus back to Glasgow. After two days fighting rough seas and wicked currents to round the Mull of Kintyre and to head back up to the Sound of Jura we understood why the Scots built the canal.

July 30, 2008

Ardfern, Scotland

Our last guests of the season have been Medivac-ed out of Bara Island in the Outer Hebrides. Jack McNeill, Jim's nephew, crashed on a bike, broke his right shoulder and peeled the skin off of his arm. The poor guy is right handed. He was airlifted to Glasgow for the X-ray that confirmed the damage. Jack and his wife Sue had looked forward to spending time with us in Bara, the home of the Clan MacNeil and Barafest, a gathering of highland music scheduled for the weekend.

We had arrived in Barra with John and Gail Ward, our 'regular crew' who met us in Oban on the 18th. We spent a couple of days on the Isle of Rhum now run by the Nature Conservancy but, until 1957, the private hunting reserve of the Bulloughs family. The castle was built in the 1880's and has many of its impressive original furnishings going to seed under its current trusteeship. At 1:00 the front door creaked open and a pierced and tattooed guide appeared. The orchestrion alone was worth the price. It is a 19th century paper roll playing mechanical marvel that replicates a full orchestra.

On the 22nd we sailed the fifty miles across the Sea of Hebrides to Bara. Thirty foot long basking sharks love this stretch of water and we soon started spotting the large black fins on the surface. We went from 'look at that' to 'gee there are a lot of them' to 'boom' when we hit the first one and saw it swirl around in shock. He will remember us. It was blowing 20 knots and we were going ten.

The four of us took a bus ride around Barra to get our bearings. The bus driver told us we were the second Americans to arrive this summer. The first, a single hander boasting he had sailed across the Atlantic using a National Geographic Map, had arrived ten days ago with a coffin strapped on his foredeck. The curious coast guard asked him why he sailed over and what was in the coffin. He said he was disgusted with Bush and had to leave. He told them that his mother in law was in the pine box. They decided to do a customs search. It was empty.

August 16, 2008

Ardfern, Scotland

We flew home for a short visit and returned to Ardfern Marina. I figured I would test them and gave them three projects. When I returned the projects were done! This is a good boatyard but we are too big to lift out for the winter so we will look to Oban.

Part two of our summer has begun. Our exhausted and crippled guests are all gone. We are on our own to return to the Outer Hebrides, go over the top of Scotland to the Orkney's and return by the Caledonian Canal to Oban for the winter. Our first challenge is the Gulf of Corryverkan. Scotland has the strongest currents we have sailed in. You risk losing your boat and maybe your life if you go sailing here without first studying a tide table and a current atlas. The sailing directions warn that "a passage when a strong wind is against the current with an ocean swell would be unthinkable. The ideal time is in calm weather at slack water, especially slack water neaps."

Neap tides come twice a month when the moon is half full. When it is full or there is no moon you have 'springs' which are the biggest and generate the killer currents in the Gulf of Corryverkan and narrow passages all over Scotland. Our next neap tide is on the 26th. I think we will go anyway.

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