Wednesday, September 30, 2009


[Kyle]We got up early when we were finally too sore to sleep and struck camp just before sunrise {Maryanne: We may be of an age beyond camping??}. A couple of miles down the road, we spotted our first two kangaroos. I have been to northern Australia before and had only ever seen wallabies, the kangaroo’s smaller cousin. Kangaroos are big! I can see why you wouldn’t want to hit one of them. Our just looked at us sheepishly and then bounded into the bush. They hopped about ten feet per bounce and as soon as they got into the bushes, they crouched down and became invisible. I was surprised by how skittish they were. As soon as they saw the car, even if we stopped ¼ mile away, the whole group would head into the trees. It is very difficult to get close enough to photograph one.

Anyway, we drove south toward the coast and the land of the great trees. This part of Australia is home to some of the world’s biggest trees. Only the two species of California Redwood are larger. Here they have the red and yellow Tingle trees and the taller but slightly less massive Karri trees. The name Tingle actually comes from a Noongar (aboriginal) word for red, making them another sort of redwood. The big difference, though, is that these trees are deciduous. California Redwoods have massive trunks and relatively short branches. The Australian trees have long branches that spread out and cover huge areas of forest floor, giving the impression that they are even bigger than they are. These trees are big, though. The Karri tree, for example, grows to 85 meters (284 feet).

Our first stop in the forest was the tree top walk in the Valley of the Giants. This was a really well done walk along spans that rose up to 40M (132 feet) above the forest floor, allowing us to get right in the canopy with the birds and see the world up there. We also had stunning views of the surrounding mountains. After the canopy walk, we took a long walk along the floor. Having spent so much time in the California Redwood forests, I got a real sense of déjà vu. In many ways the experience of driving and walking through these forests feels the same. After our floor walk, we headed back up into the canopy again. We were just about the last people there and had the whole place to ourselves, this time in the warm light of the sunset.

Tree Top Walk - Valley of the Giants

Uh, oh. Sunset again. We beat a hasty retreat to a campsite a few miles away and managed to get the tent up by dark. I tried to build a fire using gathered kindling and chopped wood that the forest service provides. The kindling burned fine but, try as I might, I could not get the logs to burn. I spent hours of frustration trying to get a real fire going but had no luck. Eventually, Maryanne tired of the exercise and went to sleep. I kept at it for a couple more unproductive hours before I gave up as well. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I’ve built a few fires in my life and I think I understand the process pretty well. I had a bunch of yellow-hot coals in the middle. The wood would burn for a bit and then the flames would gradually go out. The next morning, I realized they had given us tinglewood. Fire is part of the Tingle’s natural process. The oily leaves burn like crazy but the trunks only tend to burn just the outside, leaving the living part of the tree safe. Most of the older trees have trunks that are completely hollowed out by fire but continue to thrive as the live cells are still hidden under the fire resistant bark. I suppose if we had a blow torch or a whole lot of magnesium, we would be able to get the wood hot enough to burn. Otherwise, it seems like a cruel joke intended to keep people from building fires.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Outback

[Kyle]We got up early in Bruce Rock after a night of the heebie jeebies (With all the thoughts of bed bugs and other nasties). The town was empty. This was magnificent desolation. We could explore the town by walking right up and down the middle of the highway through town. The place very much reminded us both of the Old West in the U.S. It was dusty and forgotten and was built out of rickety wood.

We headed out of town on more and more minor roads. We would go hours without seeing any other cars in either direction. We passed sign for a place called Hidden Hollow and decided to stop on a whim. Wow! Somehow, it had managed to remain hidden behind the trees alongside the road. It turned out to be a huge mound of granite, rising up out of the flat farmland below. Hidden Hollow itself was a deep depression in the mound in which a small stand of trees had taken root. The rest of the rock was equally interesting. There were deep channels and bowls cut by wind and rain. In the low spots, silt had accumulated in which mosses and lichens had taken hold. They had, in turn, broken down into soil which supported larger and larger plants. The whole thing was endlessly fascinating both geologically and biologically. We found well worn ant highways where they move everything from the far corners of their grove and little colonies of tadpoles living in the pools.

Hidden Hollow

After Hidden Hollow, we headed down rural dirt tracks to find Andersen Rock, another version of the Hidden Hollow rock. There was actually one of these rocks about every few square miles around here. Andersen Rock was way out there and, like Hidden Hollow, we had the whole wonderful place to ourselves. One of the things that I really like is that everything is so different. 80% of the flora and Fauna in Australia is found nowhere else. The plants are different, the forest smells different and, the best part, parrots are as common as finches out here.

Driving Out Back, but if you find time to stop and look at the small stuff, you can discover gems like this spider orchid

After Andersen Rock, we went to Wave Rock. Wave Rock is just like it sounds - a giant rock in the shape of a breaking wave. It was part of the larger Hyden Rock. This had a handful of other tourists and was even one of the regular bus tour spots. We still had lots of time to wander the site alone. Wind and water over the millennia have worn down the rocks into abstract sculpture, which was loads of fun to climb around on. In addition to the usual parrot sightings, we also found several lizards and one two meter carpet python, who was a docile as could be and wanted to have nothing to do with me (I can hear my mother gasping right now).

Scenes from at and around Wave Rock - including the carpet python

We tried for another campground that night but, again, couldn’t find it. We decided to head for nearby Dragon Rock. We figured we could find a quiet spot where no one would bug us. Australian signage let us down again and we never found it either. Eventually, right at sunset, we ended up pitching the tent behind some trees along a lonely dirt road. It was a cold, uncomfortable night on hard ground. Sometime in the middle of the night, a road train came barrelling through. It was so loud, we were both sure it had gone off the road and was about to run us over, even though we were 50M off the road. We woke up simultaneously with a start and were each reaching for the tent zipper when the sound started trailing off.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Guam To Australia

[Kyle]We checked out of our hotel early and used the time to return for photos of all the places we couldn’t get the day before. We capped it off with a drive to beautiful Ritidian Beach on the north side of the island. It was a picture perfect Pacific Island beach. Each parking space was out of view of the others and led through a jungle path right out onto the white sands. We enjoyed as much as we could and then headed back to the airport to return our car.

Guam - Ritidian beach

We got hit with a really bad downpour on the way that slowed traffic to a crawl. Slow people pulled in front of us. The gas station was really slow. We ended up pulling into the car place ninety seconds before we would have been charged an extra day.

We got on the flight to Cairns, Queensland okay but the timing of the flight was really bad. The flight leaves Guam at 6:40pm and arrives at 11:25pm. Our flight on Qantas left at 5:40am. This left us with not enough time to get any benefit from going to a hotel but way more time than you really want to spend in an airport, especially at that time of night.

Having been kicked out of the secure part of the airport after clearing Customs, we took our stuff and trudged to the Domestic Terminal, which was not yet open. Maryanne and I were the only ones in the whole building when we first arrived. We each grabbed a row of seats and did our best to try to fall asleep. Just as we were finally dozing off, a cleaning woman with a big, loud floor polisher came by. She shut off the machine and explained that she would have to move our chairs so she could get at the floor under them. She was really nice about it, but getting up was the last thing we wanted to do. After that, a few weary travellers trickled in every hour until by morning, there were about a dozen or so. Then at about four o’clock, a virtual wave of people arrived all at once. Maryanne and I had consoled ourselves the night before when we arrived by thinking we would at least be the first in line. Not so! By the time we rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and grabbed our stuff we were about number fifty.

Oh, well. We got on okay. Qantas’ Economy Class is pretty comparable to Continental’s Business Class. The notable exception is the food, which is better. We connected in Sydney for the even better five hour flight to Perth, that is apart from the screaming baby who kept kicking our seats. I was actually pretty happy about it. In a few hours, I would never have to see that kid again, whereas the parents...

We picked up our tiny car and high tailed it out of the big city (population: 1.4 million) and headed for the outback. My original plan had been to get to the furthest campground we could before dark. All advice we had received said under no circumstances should you drive outside of cities at night. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there are kangaroos everywhere and they come out at night. They are about the size of a deer and will destroy a small car that hits them at speed. The second reason is the road trains – big three-trailer trucks that drive at night to avoid traffic and do not stop for anything. Most of them are encased in a steel cage that allows them to act as battering ram and smash through anything in their path, mostly kangaroos.

Dark approached and we could not locate our camp. We have found everything about Australian roads to be excellent except for the signage. It is often too little, too late. We decided to continue to the next town and just get a hotel room. They didn’t have any rooms. We continued, terrified, in the deepening dark and finally fetched up in Bruce Rock – WAY out in the middle of nowhere. We inquired at the store/deli/pizza parlor/gas station/motel and were told there was one room left. We could have it for $65. Fine. We paid up and they promptly closed for the night. It was 7:00. Our room looked like, well, uh, it made the Bates motel look posh and safe. I kept having to remind myself that it was still way better than our first night in Mumbai six years before. I should just think of it as an adventure.

Bruce Rock - Western Australia

We headed out to the bar (the town only has one bar) and managed to get a pizza order in before they closed. The place looked like every single basement rec room I ever saw in the ‘70s. The pizza was pretty good, though. The cook could hold her own in Chicago or New York. We finished up and they locked up right as we left. It was 8:30.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


[Maryanne]Well, with Footprint now safely tucked away for the winter, we are off on our next adventure. Kyle first had to spend a few days at work, while I visited with Annie and Mike, but eventually we both met up in Newark to head off for our planned Holiday. Our destination is Perth, Western Australia, but to get there we had to travel via Tokyo, Guam, Cairns, and Sydney. On the way out we decided to break our journey in Guam – a US owned tropical Pacific island. We stayed in a swanky hotel, lounged for a day in the hotel pools, and rented a car to explore. But let’s not rush ahead of ourselves, first we stopped in Japan to change flights. It was only a short layover but I was really keen to just wonder around the airport and soak up the Japanese-ness. (OK I was a little shocked to find burger joints, but there was plenty of curious Japanese food on offer and beautiful silk clothing – I was like a kid at Disney and explored with my eyes wide in wonder while I left Kyle with the bags. I had nothing I wanted to buy (well, no space to put it if I did buy anything) but I did change some money into Yen just so I could get a look at it – all part of the experience of travelling in such an unfamiliar country. We were probably only there for a couple of hours, and I longed to explore outside the airport (just not possible for this trip).

Guam is a hot tourist destination for the Japanese, and it was strange to feel like a minority tourist in the USA. All signs, menus and maps have both Japanese and English (in some cases we were stuck with just the Japanese). Guam to the Japanese is like the Caribbean to the Americans. It is a major wedding destination for the Japanese; there are resort type hotels on beautiful beaches covered with loungers, and patrolled by attentive staff to take your drink order; there are huge air conditioned shopping malls filled with designer stores (and rich tourists). Of course, just like the Caribbean, there are equally nice beaches away from the crowds, there are road side food stands, and a million other reasons to leave the gates of the resorts. We rented a car for two days and only spotted tourists at a couple of heavily advertised (and over charged) sites.

We picked up the car late in our first full day, and there was little light left – we decided to detour to Two Lovers Leap –a cliff overlook, from where at some point (according to legend) two young lovers from feuding families, realizing they could never marry, decided to leap and end their lives together. Now it is a major site for Japanese weddings (and there are 1000’s of plaques adorning the walls in the gardens, one for each couple married there). From this cliff, some enterprising folk have built an overhanging viewing platform, installed a turnstile, and now collect money for the privilege of seeing the view. All well and good, but I’m with Kyle, and his romantic nature does not extend to spending money to be in a crowd – heck he figured we got the same view off to one side anyway.

Now Guam is not big (30 miles x 8 miles - depending where you measure). We did a bit of research and discovered a few small hikes that were purported to have views worth the effort. What I loved was the locals called hikers trekking out in the bush “Boonie stompers”; what a great phrase. Tarzan Falls was our first hike, allegedly a 20 minute stroll to the top of the falls and an optional 10 minute hike to the base. We set off on the muddy jeep trail we’d been advised to expect, but it soon twisted, turned and divided all over, so we kept having to judge which way was correct. Eventually we could hear tumbling water and assumed we were at the top of the falls and started to make our way down. The route down was quite a hike – very steep in places, and slick with mud – actually it looked like a dried river bed; there were MANY occasions when we questioned if we were on the right trail – but eventually Kyle spotted the pool at the base, complete with Tarzan swinging rope, so we persevered. Actually it was a pretty, tranquil spot. Kyle took a swim and a swing on the rope while I paddled, it was so nice to be able to cool off after the hike. We were both dreading the hike back up that steep slick trail.

[Kyle] The hike back up was a real exercise in misery. It was blazing hot and humid like standing in the bathroom while somebody takes a hot shower. The vegetation was mostly low scrub and offered no protection from the near vertical Sun. The ground was a fascinating kaleidoscope of different colors of clay, separated into stripes and swirls and polka-dots. The clay was just wet enough to have a slick layer on top, like a thin film of heavy grease. Traction on the way up was very tenuous. On the steeper parts or wetter parts, the loss of grip on the ground was a horrid, slow motion affair. I think I would have preferred a quick, feet-in-the-air, Scottish slip. As each slide began, every muscle would lock up in a vain attempt to keep weight over feet and feet firmly planted. We would slip and grab and then slip again until sliding off an edge and landing on our backs or knees and oozing to a stop on the viscous ground. We must have each pulled half the muscles in our bodies trying to just stay upright. The strain made us twice as tired than we would have been at the end of such a climb.

The pool where we swam was the one reported to be at the bottom of the falls. We never found the top. Our tortuous route down somehow managed to skip it. By the time we got back to the car, the idea of finding the proper trail had become completely out of the question. All along the trail and especially at the parking area, there were remains of shoes everywhere. At the beginning, it just seemed a little strange, but as we staggered back to the parking area, all smeared in clay, walking on giant, red clumps of mud with our feet somewhere inside, we understood. We attempted to wash our shoes in a blood red puddle with little effect. All that did was turn our sticky red shoes into slimy red shoes. If we hadn’t been in a rental car with plastic floor mats, we may well have decided that we would be better off ditching the shoes as well.

When we parked at Tarzan Falls, our car was amongst about five others in the mud lot. All along the hike, we kept wondering where all these people were. As we went further down the trail, we noticed fewer and fewer tracks from other people. We surmised that a few must have given up, others were going into the grass or onto rocky bits to dodge the clay. We kept expecting to see people from the other cars but they never materialized. We figured that, since it was Sunday, most of the others were locals spending the day at the pool at the bottom having a picnic. Not so. That place was deserted as well. Back at the lot, most of the same cars remained. We really hated the idea that we somehow missed the upper falls but neither of us had the motivation to go on a search so we decided to leave and head to the next spot. Just as we were pulling out, half a dozen, clean, fit, non-tired looking kids sauntered off the trail with towels around their necks as if they had just walked twenty yards from the pool showers. We agreed that we were already in the car so therefore would consider our Tarzan Falls attempt to be in the past, man, and got out of there. {Maryanne - we did later discover we most likely went to totally the wrong pool; the real Tarzan falls are spectacular - Oh well, a reason to visit again some day!}

Our next stop was Sella Falls and gardens. We ended up being the only car in the lot, which would have made a hasty retreat a little obvious to the gathered staff with their Oliver Twist faces. Feeling too ashamed to leave by that point, we grudgingly forked over the $5 each to get in. It was actually pretty nice if a little run down. To get the most out of our fee, we had a long stroll through the gardens and ate our pack lunch by the falls. I threw one of my crumbs in the water and a big school of fish swarmed at it. This was sufficiently entertaining for us that by the time the food was gone, the fish had eaten maybe a third of it. We also took the opportunity to crouch cave (wo)man style in the river. We stood on the rocks barefoot and used sharp stone hand axes to scrape the clay out of the grooves of our shoes, leaving a trail of red mud in the clear water like a dye marker.

Our new camera got wet at Tarzan Falls and was starting to play up more and more as the day went on. We managed to get a few photos, but as time passed, it seemed to prefer being off to working.

We decided to restrict the rest of our day to a more sedate drive along the coast road to see some of the more scenic spots. At one, we met a Chomorro (native islander) with a mohawk riding an ox named Bessie. Further along, we stopped at the wonderful Inigaram pools, a really cool swimming hole filled with locals and tourists alike and just about the prettiest place I could think of to have a barbecue with friends. We were unable to get photos of any of this, which broke our hearts, but what’re you gonna do?

Night fell quickly soon afterward, so it was time to get dinner and get back for a good night’s rest and to prepare for the trip to Australia.

Scenes from Guam - not a bad place to relax!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Solo Side Trip to Manchester

[Maryanne]We've left the boat now, and I'm about as homeless as you get... Luckily I have good friends with a spare bedroom and offering a huge welcome. Off to Manchester to visit with Annie, Mike and their 3 wonderful kids.

I arrived to a Birthday Banner (21st Birthday that is, you gotta love your friends), and a Birthday cake... AND a party arranged (any excuse).

We managed a tour of the local town too, where a little festival was going on; very British, with plenty of good food, and brass bands, just wonderful. A great dose of England before I leave for the winter. I managed a good dose of kid cuddles and cat fuss, and laughed plenty - a wonderful visit. Thanks guys!

Marple Brass Band entertains the crowds

Leaving Footprint Behind

[Kyle]We emailed the Oban Marina the day before our haulout to remind them that we were coming at 8:00 the next morning. They wrote back and said come at 2:00 in the afternoon. That was fine. That gave me a little more time to get the rig all loosened up so that the mast unstepping could go quickly. Hauling out at 2:00 turned out to be the last and only thing that went as planned.

In the way that she always does, Maryanne emailed Oban Marina the day we found out Dunstaffnage would not be able to haul us out. She was very typically Maryanne in asking what facilities were available and outlining exactly what we needed. They could not have been more helpful or accommodating when they wrote back. Yes, yes, that would be fine. No, no, that’s no problem at all, etc. Since we could not plug into a UK shore power socket, they even offered to make us a cable that would convert UK shore power to 250 VAC so that we could run our UK purchased heaters and a dehumidifier.

Once we got hauled out, however, the lift operator seemed really surprised to hear that we were staying for the winter. We had arranged to be put in a sheltered location on foam blocks. We got neither. We asked about the mast unstepping and were told it would be some time later. Maryanne went in to ask about the power cord and was told alternately that they didn’t have parts and that it was illegal for them to build us one. They were adamant that they would never have told us they would build one. They also said the mast unstepping would be the next day. Maryanne further upset them by then requesting that it be done in the morning, as we were leaving for the winter in the afternoon. She ended up running back to the boat to let me have the bad news and grab some money before the next ferry left for town. (Oban Marina is actually on the island of Kerrera, across the harbour from Oban).

While she was gone, somebody came over to the boat to tell me that there was no way they could get to the mast tomorrow. They would do it sometime next week after we left.

We didn’t need the mast unstepped for its own sake. We needed the mast unstepped so that I could replace a sheave at the top of it and so that we could cover the boat – things that we can’t do if we’re not there. He kept saying it was no problem, they would do all of that stuff for us once they got the mast off. Their labor rate is something like £50/hr. I don’t think so.

This was all annoying enough in the usual boatyard way, but what really drove me nuts was that everybody we talked to kept saying things like, “Well, if you had given us any notice, we could have been prepared” and, “You just showed up here and suddenly, we find out there’s all of this work that you want done”. Suddenly? Notice? What the hell were they talking about? I checked the emails. We sent them notice two weeks, one week, and one day before. In their responses, they demonstrated a detailed understanding of everything that was to be done. Now they were acting like they had never heard of us before and that we had just dropped in on a whim.

I briefly considered the idea that they had us mixed up with someone else, that they were probably wondering whatever happened to that catamaran that was supposed to show up today for the winter while they dealt with us instead. Other things they said made me think not. In the end, it looks like the usual boatyard thing – once they’ve got you out of the water, they don’t have to care. What’re we going to do, leave and go somewhere else?

I told them we would do the mast in the spring, if at all, and then retightened everything up again. We made do with the covers as well as we could with the mast and the stays in the way. Maryanne was lucky enough to find the necessary electrical parts in town and built us a cord herself. High tolerance to electrocution is good for something, eh?

Beyond that, it was just a really stressful time. We were tracking mud all over the boat, which was a mess to begin with. There were endless little jobs to do. We had lost confidence in the yard, so we were even more nervous about leaving our little home in their care for so long. We tried to prepare Footprint with the idea that, even though help is technically available, we shouldn’t count on it. It was the same attitude we have when setting off on any offshore passage.

We managed to pack everything we were taking for the winter. Maryanne is starting off by flying a discount carrier from Glasgow to Manchester that has restrictions on the luggage weight allowed. Any extra and you’ll quickly double your ticket cost with extra fees. We rearranged and rearranged all of our stuff so that everything heavy was in my bag and hers would come in under the 20 pound limit. We got hers down to 19.4 lbs., mine was just a shade under 40. She decided to double check once again on the limit: It’s 20 kilos. That’s 44 lbs., not 20! By then, I was too tired to care and we left everything the way it was.

The yard wasn’t all disappointment. While we were there we did, at least, meet some lovely people, particularly Cate and Malcolm of Cirrus Cat, a beautifully kept Prout 31. They were so nice. We felt really awful about having to ignore them and get on with our jobs but time was running out on us. On the day we left, though, we managed everything done early enough to go and have a proper visit.

They have been cruising about a year. They started from London and went up the east coast until joining the Caledonian Canal southwest bound at Inverness and finally ending up in Oban, where they will also overwinter. They also have a blog. We checked it out briefly before we left. It is written beautifully.

Eventually, it came time to go. Once we shouldered our packs and climbed off the boat, it really hit us. We weren’t just hauled out, we were leaving. We took the ferry across to Oban, where we could still see Footprint, tiny and forlorn. It was tough to know that we would not be back again for so long. We couldn’t help but wonder what would then be in store for us.
Loaded up and ready to go

We got on the bus to Glasgow and had one last look at her as the bus turned up the hill out of town. Maryanne says she feels homeless. I’m used to spending half my life living out of luggage so it seems less strange to me. What feels strange is that the set that so much of our lives is played out on will be missing for a time, left to fend for herself through a long Scottish Winter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


[Kyle]Not employment work but effort work.

Today was one of those horrible days you just hate. We had so much to do and little time to do it. Much of the work required pulling things out of lockers so that we could access stuff in the back. We also had to organize everything in an attempt to make space for all of the stuff that ordinarily lives outside. The problem is that we are swinging on a mooring. There is nowhere for the overflow to go except into other areas of the boat. The cockpit is filled with luggage and full trash bags. The rest of the boat is completely unusable. Stuff is piled so high that it is necessary to crawl up on the counters and squeeze through passages sideways to get around. It is a really dark moment when one of us realizes we can't wait any longer to pee.

We did get a lot done, though. Eventually, the process slowly reversed itself and the boat became slightly more bearable. We won't be completely done for a couple of days so there's really no point in tidying too much. Toward the end of the day, my goal was to clear off enough space to sit and eat dinner and make a clear enough path from the main berth to the head that a midnight trip wouldn't require too much gymnastics.

Last Day of Sailing

[Kyle]Our next day started out on flat water with gray clouds and a light drizzle. The streak was broken. It wasn’t actually bad. The drizzle only lasted a short while. The clouds never did leave. At least we had a tailwind. For the second time in a row, we unfurled the big screacher and were pushed along by light winds. It was early again. For the first half of the journey, we had the whole sound to ourselves. By afternoon, the sound was scattered with ferries, sailboats and dive boats, all headed somewhere different.

I was feeling a little melancholy. We had ideal sailing conditions but I was all too aware that this was the last time I would be going sailing for several months. Maryanne and I had sailed over 9,600 nautical miles in the last year and a half. Lately, it is becoming more and more apparent that the long, cold, dark, windy winter is on the way and it will be here very soon. At this latitude, year round sailing is not really possible. Footprint will have to hunker down while Maryanne and I flee to a warmer climate. We’ll be back and we’ll get to see this and a whole series of other new and beautiful places starting in the spring. I thought about how wonderful that first sail feels after such a long time away and wondered what’s in store for us in the winter. I did my best to try to capture this moment as best as I could, knowing that I would need it to carry me through my own winter.

We picked up a visitor mooring in Oban harbor. We were both tired from the early morning and took a moment to have a last nap. After that, it would all be a frenzy of work to get Footprint and ourselves ready for winter.

By nightfall, she was already looking bare, her rig stripped of sails and her deck barren of lines. The next two days are the real work. After that, I’m off to work and then Maryanne and I are off on a vacation. We’re not ready to stop moving for the year just yet.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

[Kyle]In the Morning of Maryanne’s Birthday – Observed, we went for a run on the trail to the lighthouse north of town. The trail started off nice, but by the time we got to the lighthouse, it was a thin track of ankle twisting rocks and shoe sucking mud. At one point, some helpful soul had put down a series of milk crates and tubs to use as stepping stones. We could not imagine what the trail was like when there had not been a five day stretch of no rain.

Muddy hike to the Tobermory lighthouse

After running, we had nice, hot showers and went for the tour at the Tobermory distillery. It wasn’t much of a tour. The only part of the process performed on site was the actual distilling, which was on hold for repairs. Our guide pretty much phoned in the rest of the tour – she just wanted to get through it. We tasted their two varieties; the Tobermory and Ledaig (pronounced, late chick). Neither inspired us to buy any. The Ledaig was interesting because it was made with the peaty water of both varieties but the malt was also smoked over peat, giving it a really strong flavor. I’m generally not a fan of super peaty whiskies but it was interesting to try one where the taste stood out so well.

Distillery and more Tobermory scenes

Following that, we had a Scottish lunch of Irn Bru and fish and chips from a truck on the pier. We then headed out on the trail on the other side of the town. This one was in better shape. It started by climbing up to the ridge line for some stunning views of the harbor. We then had much steep up and down as we passed by various impressive waterfalls. We eventually came to a quiet loch and followed the trail all the way around its shore. I can think of few ways to pass an afternoon that are as pleasant as having a nice walk past streams and through trees, with the crunch of leaf litter and gravel under my feet, particularly on a day so rarely warm and sunny as this.

Plenty of waterfalls on our hike

By the time we did all of the hills all over again, we were pretty tired, particularly when added to the morning’s run. We had heard that there was also a brewery in town just two doors from the distillery. They did not have a tour, but they did have a pub {acutally the brewery has moved to Oban recently}. We had been interested in trying an ale from the same region. Ale, also made from barley, is actually one of the preliminary steps toward making whisky. Distilleries use faster acting yeast, but ale, which distilleries call wash, is the result of fermentation. After that, distilleries distill the ale to produce the spirit which then becomes whisky. The first thought I had when being served my ale was that it smelled just like wash. I think we go on too many tours. Anyway, it was very nice – much smoother than other ales I’ve had. It was still hard, while tasting it, to detect any hint of an early whisky.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


[Kyle]Not just any Sunday, mind you, but Maryanne’s birthday. Maryanne is actually pretty low maintenance on her birthday. She’s not too fussy about gifts or parties or anything like that. Usually, within a few weeks of the day, she starts dropping hints about what she wants. We end up getting whatever it is once she’s broken me down and we have the ability, i.e. access to a store or somewhere we can have something shipped. This year, she has really been missing the camera that I dropped into the drink in Castletownshend, Ireland, so we replaced that with an identical model. That and her Gore-Tex trail running shoes have had her smiling. Other than that, all she really wants is time with me and a little fuss. This means there is no question who’s making the coffee in the morning or who wins an argument.

As it turned out, the day was just brilliant. We had originally planned to sail to the Isle of Eigg (pronounced: egg) and spend the next day there. Maryanne instead asked to go to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. This added a few extra miles so we got an early start.

The first thing that happened, I mean right as we made the turn out of the anchorage at Isle of Ornsay into the Sound of Sleat, was that we were visited by a small pod of about 5 or 6 dolphins. The dolphins around here seem less playful and more aloof than the varieties further south. Usually, as in this case, they will come over for a quick look and then carry on with what they were doing – business dolphins. Still, dolphins are always a welcome sight and visit is a special event.

The wind was very light so we unfurled the screacher (light wind sail) and turned downwind under a clear, blue sky. The wind accelerated slightly as it squeezed between the hills on either side of the sound. We just flew along on flat water with the hiss of a fast wake behind us. The visibility was incredible. There were a few scattered clouds at the tops of the mountains but other than that, we had unrestricted views all the way to the horizon. Out of the sound, the wind abated a bit and we slowed down. Without so much breeze, it felt a lot warmer. Our big sails pulled us quietly along. Maryanne came out, handed me our last Irn Bru, and started reading our dog eared copy of Bill Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods” in her lovely voice. I could not have been more content.

Eigg with Rhum in the background

We sailed towards the flat topped Island of Eigg, a stark contrast to craggy Rhum nearby. When we had sailed by going the other direction, neither of the tops of the islands was visible so we had not been able to appreciate the variety. We sailed close under Eigg’s high cliffs, which gradually get lower further south. This skews the perspective so it looks like a bigger island receding over the horizon. Toward the other (south) end, I was surprised, almost startled to see this huge…thing…appear over the tops of the cliff and follow us. It was a monolith, much higher and much further away than the cliff top. It loomed perhaps two or three times as high as the rest of the island and it had the most impressive crown shape. It was flat topped with sheer walls of rock that were beyond vertical. Eigg actually appeared to be two distinct geological features mashed together; this high prominence to the south and the flat mesa to the north. Perhaps its best we didn’t stop there, I just know I would have tried to find a way to the top of that thing.

Tobermory Lighthouse

From Eigg, we sailed past Muck, looking much more inviting than the last time and entered the Sound of Mull and then, shortly thereafter, Tobermory Harbour.

Tobermory is an insanely picturesque little town, particularly in warm late afternoon sunlight. The architecture for some reason seemed to me to have a Swiss feel. The anchorage was also filled with many pretty boats. Both the boats and the town were reflected off the still water of the harbour.

We secured Footprint and went ashore for a hand in hand amble along the waterfront. We found and ate at an Indian restaurant that was a little bit of a rabbit warren to get to but had very nice food.

Beautiful Tobermory Harbour

Later that evening back at the boat, I popped outside for a minute for a look around and was happily stunned to find a full sky of stars. Here was not one cloud to be seen, not a single one.

[Maryanne]I had a fine birthday, I used and abused "but it is my birthday" line all day to ensure it was filled only with things I wanted to do. I was secretly planning to extend the luxury to the next day too; I reasoned that a day sailing to get to Tobermory was not the same as a day IN Tobermory....

When we went ashore on the evening of my birthday we were thrilled to find this mobile 80 seat cinema; the "Screen Machine". Scotland's highlands and islands have so many small communities where a permanent/fixed cinema building would not be profitable - so this mobile version travels around and shows the latest movies. Our friends in Loch Aline had mentioned it, but this was the first we'd actually seen of it. Unfortunately it was not showing anything we were interested in, I'd have loved to try it out. The sides of the truck expand out for movie viewing, and tuck back in once ready for the road; pretty neat.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Isle Ornsay, Skye

Footprint in the anchorage

[Kyle]We don’t know where we are. We have seen this place referred to variously as Isleornsay, Duisdale, Duisbeg and Iarmain. At any rate, in the morning, we rowed ashore for our run and were completely stunned. This place is unbelievably picturesque. I’m beginning to think that Scotland is a photographer’s nightmare. Had we been strolling around, say, Grand Island, Nebraska, getting a good picture of the area would be easy. We’d go to the grain silo, wait for dusk and snap a few shots. Done. Now you have the rest of the day off. Here, there are achingly beautiful views for 360 degrees. Every time we walk 20 feet, there’s a new 360 degrees to worry about. Not only that, by the time you do a 360 and end up where you started, the light has totally changed and everything is completely different. There’s mist, clouds, shafts of light, even sun sometimes, constantly changing and surprising us. If we had a film camera, we’d be completely broke from buying film. I wonder how many people have gone bankrupt in this way. At the end of any given day, Maryanne and I take nearly 200 photos. We might delete 10 or 15 for being out of focus or otherwise composed poorly. We’ve tried to cut back but it’s impossible. There is so much nice stuff out here.

After our run/photo shoot, we went into a gallery and spoke to a painter who was having an exhibition. He says he often paints from photographs because, when he paints landscapes live, sometimes he’ll get halfway through a painting of a scene, then the mist will clear and reveal a mountain that wasn’t there or his mountain will disappear. Then he’ll have to change everything. We knew how he felt.

We popped into the local pub for a light meal. The barman was well beyond rude and into blatant disapproval. He sneered at our orders and the rest of the time glowered at us. I do believe he’s the first real jerk we’ve encountered in Scotland. Barman might have been a poor choice for a job, I think. I ordered a soup, which was really good. Poor Maryanne has been looking for scallops everywhere. This place had them. She got all excited when she spotted a serving of mussels - a big, overflowing serving sized bowl. What she got were three scallops. Three. She noted that they hadn’t bothered to venture too far into the plural with that one.

We then went to a Gaelic whisky shop for the sampling advertised outside. I prefer sampling because there are so many varieties of whisky at I could never afford to buy my way through whole servings just to find out what I like. Also, in spite of the fact that I drink a lot, as in often, I don’t drink very much. Usually, once I’ve gone into the pub and tried a whiskey, I’m done for the day. Thimble sized tastes are a much more effective way for me to see what’s out there without getting tanked. We found one that we did like enough to buy a whole bottle. Many whiskies are finished with a couple of years in sherry or port casks. This one was finished in rum casks. Yummy.

We had yet another pretty sunset and our third straight day with no rain. I can’t believe our luck! The forecast for tomorrow is the same – light winds and no rain. We’ll see.

[Maryanne]Kyle has been loving this nice sunny weather, it really makes such a difference to our view of the world. We are so lucky to have so much time in so many wonderful places. You can take just a few days from any of these places and it would be enough for us to talk about fondly for years (especially when the sun shines).

Kyle braves the cold, cold water for a bath

We arrived ashore hoping to take a shower at the local pub (Many pubs offer shower facilities for yachtsmen and campers over here), but when we found the price was £6.50 each (without towels) we decided against it. I opted for a strip wash with heated water once we were back on the boat, but Kyle braved the cold water and jumped in - yikes! It was maybe our failure to "purchase" our showers that made the barman seem to hate us so?

More, yes more, stunning scenery

Returning to Skye

[Kyle]After the late night, we had yet another first light start. This was both because we had another long day planned and because we would be dealing with light headwinds the whole way.

We left Loch Gairloch, turned close to the wind and started tacking down the Inner Sound, bouncing between the mainland on the east side and Rona and then Raasay Islands on the west. Both islands have several navigation beacons each and Raasay even sports a house. Other than that, there are no signs that humans have ever inhabited these places. Both islands are severe outcrops of steep rock and cliffs that seem too steep to build anything or even graze sheep. Then there’s the hassle and expense of importing absolutely everything. This has left them apparently unmolested by humans. We sailed along, our mouths agape, marveling at how there are still places in the world that are wild and remote and untouched. There are whole mountains up here that have not one human structure upon them.

Apart from a couple of commercial fishermen, we had the whole sound to ourselves as we zigzagged from one side to another. The wind died and died until eventually, we were hovering at around 1 knot. I had been looking at the distance to go and the time until sunset all day long and trying to stretch as far as I could before resorting to using the engine. Even though we had a couple of hours to go by then, there seemed little point in spending them going crazy by watching the sails slat back and forth so we pulled everything down and started motoring. To be honest, I was relieved, and if we had to motor, these were ideal conditions for it; flat seas and calm wind.

At the southern end of the sound, we passed under the Skye Bridge. I had been looking forward to that for some time. The Skye Bridge – It sounds so dreamy. I expected it to be a cross between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge – a marvel of engineering that was only just completed recently. It had been a big deal when it opened. No longer would Skye be cut off from the rest of the world. Planned tolls, cheaper than the ferry, were vehemently opposed by the residents of Skye. Eventually, protests eventually caused the planned tolls to be scrapped.

Skye Bridge

What a disappointment it turned out to be. The Skye Bridge looks like a bridge. It doesn’t even look like a bridge that goes over a big piece of water. It looks like an overpass – a completely uncomely, unimaginative slab of gray concrete slapped down over the gap. Now, I’m sure the engineers would balk at this. It was probably designed specifically not to detract from the landscape. It’s probably an impressive span for an unsupported concrete structure. Whatever. I’m sorry, but this situation calls specifically for a big suspension bridge, lit up and painted some nice color, like blue.

Disregarding the great bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Loch Alsh and Kyle Rhea are all gorgeous. The waterways cut through deep, glacial valleys. Every couple of miles, we had long views of a deep side loch, disappearing into the haze. I have noticed that, in the last couple of days, it looks like autumn is already on its way here. The hills which used to be covered with green heather and ferns are turning brown and orange. Some of the trees are already starting to turn. The short Summer is ending and a long, cold, dark Winter is on the way.

Maryanne wraps up warmly for the Scottish summer chill

More stunning Scottish Scenery

We entered our anchorage between the little Isle of Ornsay and Skye. We managed to use our shallow draft to our advantage and anchored right up in the shallows near the little village. Then, for the first time in a long time, we saw the sunset – not the all-the-colors-of-gray Scottish kind, but a real one with pinks and oranges and deep reds, all reflecting off the flat water.

Sunset in Skye

[Maryanne]Amazing, another day without rain, and with blue sky. We are LOVING the change in the weather and hope it lasts for a while.

Kyle was a little upset this evening when another boat arrived after us, and motored passed us, and much further up into the harbor. It must have been a bilge keeled boat as it practically run itself aground - the guy could have donned his wellies and walked to the pub. After Kyle was so proud that we were closer than the other boats, he found himself pacing up and down making excuses as to why we weren't closer - men are a special breed aren't they?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Leaving Skye (for a time)

"Nice(?)" early start

[Kyle]In order to make the tides work, I decided we had to get going by first light. This, of course meant we (I, mostly) had to get out of bed way in the dark in order to get some coffee in me and get our checklist finished by the time we could see where we were going. As I went outside wearing a headlamp to do some of the outside items, I was met with another headlamp. Something was strange about it. From the deep recesses of my memory, I recalled seeing something like it before, but where? Then I remembered! I saw it in Bermuda. It was the Moon! Weird. {Maryanne: Finally the cloud cover had left us! Also, I think I'd happily call myself a morning person, but NOT however when that means leaving a perfectly nice warm bed to head out into the cold.... Hmm, I'm lucky to have such a considerate husband.}

We motored out of the anchorage, bid goodbye to the seals and hoisted – get this – full sail. We then went skimming out of Loch Dunvegan on a flat sea. We passed as close as we could to the coralline beach of the day before but could not get too close as it was low tide. It looked lovely in the morning light with a backdrop of rugged hills. Just above the hills was a thin layer of cloud that was blocking the morning sun. I dared hope that once the sun cleared the cloud, we would actually get to see it ourselves.

We turned north out of the loch (the opposite direction to the one we came). This put us on a nice dead downwind point of sail. All of the apparent wind and wave seemed to cease and we just floated beneath the cliffs of northern Skye.

The sun didn’t come out so much as we just outsailed the cloud. It made everything seem less gloomy. This time of year at this latitude- almost 58 degrees north – the Sun barely passes 30 degrees above the horizon at local noon, just like the dead of Winter in New York. There was light but no appreciable warmth. Even though we had been sailing by this point for hours, I kept thinking it was really early because the sun was still so low in the sky. I kept waiting for the heat but it never arrived. I had to keep reminding myself that, although it was cold, I should be ecstatic that it was not raining.

And rain it did not. We sailed across the entrance to Loch Snizort. A ferry from the Outer Hebrides dodged us at a polite distance. We rounded the northern tip of Skye. On the other side – the eastern side – the cliffs receded to show an impossibly rugged terrain. There seemed to be no order to the mountains. They looked as if they had been tossed carelessly there in preparation for building proper mountains, like a kid’s lego set two seconds out of the box. There were slopes of every possible angle. There was even one place where you could be taking a nice flat stroll in a meadow, admiring the ever changing shades of gray of a Scottish sunset, when – aaahhhh! – 2000 foot drop.

More beautiful scenery

We sailed across the Minch over to Loch Gairloch on the mainland. On the way, the wind decreased further and further until, eventually, we decided to dig out the screacher and deploy it. I was tremendously suspicious and kept my head on a swivel for signs of wind on the water. I’ve been operating under the rule that, in Scotland, one should always be prepared for forty knots of wind at any time. That would be, uh, problematic, with the screacher up. Fortunately, it never happened. I daresay it ended up being an actual nice day of sailing – no rain, no gale, no spray in the face, no nuttin’.

We picked up a mooring at Badachro. Wow! The anchorage was speckled with pretty rocks. It reminded me very much of parts of Maine or the rockier Boston harbor islands, only with big Scottish mountains as a backdrop.

Badachro Harbour

We rowed ashore and went to a rather disappointing pub for a drink and a dessert, which was really a ruse to get at their wifi. The pub was nice, but they were rather shorthanded. People in the restaurant would wait an hour for a menu and then have to come into the bar to order. The poor barmaid, who was a Polish student on her last week of an exchange program, was swamped. There was a nice, entertaining argument about sailing between an opinionated old cruiser and a nattily dressed racing guy who were clearly winding each other up by pushing just the right buttons. I resisted the urge to jump in. Their wifi was operated by little mice carrying cards with 1s and 0s back and forth in their teeth – slow, man, slow. We had intended to stay for an hour or so but by the time we were done with the most basic internet stuff, it was well into night. I was a complete zombie. I actually considered going out to the dinghy and curling up for a nap while Maryanne uploaded pictures to the blog. The good news was that, when we left, it was high tide and we were able to get home by rowing over one of the larger islands that had blocked our path on the way in. Good thing. I think we were both asleep within five minutes of stepping aboard the boat.