Tobermory to Crinan via the Maelstrom

The longest day of the entire trip: 88 miles and close to 13 hours. We departed at 6:51 and arrived at 19:38. We passed islands, and vistas, small towns and famous sights, whales and dolphins and birds, and a maelstrom.

Route Map

The day before, the weather here would have been unpleasant – today it was pretty decent. That’s one reason we stayed an extra day in Tobermory and did a great hike.

Near Ardmore Point

Near Ardmore Point

As we motored out, we came around Ardmore Point, where we had hiked to the day before. It wasn’t hard to spot some of the places we’d been that day. We continued roughly west, to the north end of the Isle of Coll, where we might be puffins, whales, basking sharks, dolphins, and who knows what else. We did see a basking shark but were unable to obtain a photo or video, despite some circling. And we saw some whales, and dolphins. Dolphins are as curious as we are, once they spot Detour they come near and race along with the bow for a short time.

Just barely got that dolphin.

Just barely got that dolphin.

There might be a basking shark right there left of the bow...

There might be a basking shark right there left of the bow…

After the Isle of Coll, we turned south towards the Treshnish Islands and past the island of Lunga — quite carefully, as there are shallow spots on the route we chose.

From there towards the island of Staffa, and the famous Fingal’s Cave. On very calm days it would have been possible to come much closer, perhaps even anchor and explore some of the cave, but the water was churned up enough to make that unadvisable. The cave and area is a beautiful site and also interesting for the number of famous people who have seen it and written about it. Its geological formations are similar to those found a few other places in the world (Devils Tower in Wyoming). Felix Mendellssohn composed “The Hebrides” after seeing Fingal’s Cave and Jules Verne mentioned it in more than one of his novels.

Fingal's Cave

Fingal’s Cave

We continued south past the east side of the Isle of Iona, with an ancient abbey easily visible as we motored along.

After this, we turned roughly east-southeast towards a channel between the Isle of Jura, renowned for several distilleries, and the much smaller Isle of Scarba just to the north. In between is the Gulf of Corryvreckan, which features very high tidal currents at flood and ebb tides. It’s described as the third largest whirlpool in the world! — so why would we go there? We could go around to the north and avoid it entirely. However, by timing our travels, we could arrive just before a slack tide, i.e., a time when the currents are at a minimum and it is safe to travel.

It's hard to show the maelstrom, but the birds know the fish are around.

It’s hard to show the maelstrom, but the birds know the fish are around.

We could see the water disturbances from some miles away and as a precaution, Brian had us all wear harnesses and clip onto jacklines. This involved putting on a life jacket that had a tether, and connecting that tether to a line connected to the boat. This gave us all relative freedom of movement but insured that we could not be thrown out of the boat should there be a rogue wave or other unexpected turbulence.

As it turned out, since we were so close to the time of minimum currents, we saw some turbulent waters, but nothing particularly violent. The outgoing tide was slowing us down to 2 knots for a while (normal still water speed 5-6 knots). There were many gulls and other water birds gathered together no doubt feeding on fish and other food being brought to the surface by the up-welling water. We continued motoring through, enjoying the sights and the knowledge that we’d visited one of the world’s more interesting ocean spots. It would have been fun to come back and observe the highest currents from a safe spot on land!

After this, we had only a short distance to our anchorage near the tiny town of Crinan, the namesake of the short canal we would enter the next day.