Mallaig

The forecast is for strong north-easterly winds the day after tomorrow and lasting for a few days. We discuss with one of the neighbouring boats about what to do. They are making a run for Loch Harport on Skye to shelter there. We hum-and-hah about staying in Canna, as the harbour is relatively well protected from all wind directions except the east. The only problem is that there is not an awful lot to do in Canna if the weather is bad and if you have already done the sights. In the end we decide to run for Mallaig, which gives reasonable shelter, and wait it out there. There are at least pubs and shops to indulge ourselves in.

Strong north-east winds forecast right over the west coast of Scotland.

The next morning, as we leave Canna, a solitary sheep watches us from a promontory at the harbour entrance.

“Wool ye nae come back again”, I think she says. “This island belongs to us.”

“Mint sauce”, I respond. She disappears. She knew what I meant.

Wool ye nae come back again?

There isn’t much wind and we drift in the current at about 1 knot. We are in no hurry as long as we reach Mallaig that evening, so there seems little point in motoring. It is warm and sunny, so we read our books and listen to a CD by Fiona MacKenzie that the First Mate had bought in the Canna shop. It fits with the location and mood we are in.

Relaxing …

Deep in the dark underground caverns of Muspell, the fire-world, Surtr the fire-god and his fire-dwarfs continue their work, toiling ceaselessly to smelt metal out of the molten rock. The fires they tend have made their faces black and their skin dry and leathery, moistened only by the rivulets of sweat that run down their bodies. Surtr is fated to do battle with the Æsir at Ragnorök, the final battle of the gods, and kill the god Freyr before summoning the flames that will consume the world. He will also die. But first he must create a sword with the power to overcome Freyr. A sword the like of which the world has never seen before and will never see again.

Surtr the fire-god.

A dwarf pours the molten metal from the crucible into the mould. Surtr waits for it to cool, then begins to beat it into shape on the anvil. As he does so, sparks fly up and spurt from the gap at the top of the cavern. The dwarves hiss and shriek in a frenzied accompaniment as they fashion their own blades, their smaller sparks finding their escape through cracks in the roof of the cavern. Surtr beats the blade faster and faster, his Jötunn magic giving it the power he needs to overcome Freyr. The sparks fly hotter and higher, pouring out on the surface of the earth and coalescing into a molten stream flowing down the sides of the mountainside. Surtr is pleased – he knows that the blade now has the power to defeat the Æsir. He lays it down to cool – he is tired; it is now time to rest and gain strength for the last great battle.

The fires die down and the forge falls silent as Surtr and his dwarves slumber until the dawn of the Day of Ragnorök.

We are passing the Isle of Skye off to our left, the craggy peaks of the Cuillin forming the rim of the now extinct volcano. I have been recalling the Norse myths and legends I loved reading as a child.

Looking across to Loch Scavaig and the remnants of the Skye volcano.

The modern explanation, of course, is that the Skye volcano was formed as the Atlantic Ocean started to split about 60 million years ago, creating a rift through which molten lava spewed out to form a string of volcanoes – Skye, Rùm, Ardnamurchan, Mull and Ailsa Craig. Since then they have been pushed eastwards as the Atlantic Rift widened and are now dormant. The original volcano was more than 3000 m high, but the cones and craters have long since been eroded away, and what we can see now was the floor of the magma chamber of the volcano. While the lava was still molten in the chamber, the heavier minerals settled towards the bottom and cooled slowly to become gabbro, which became the sharp jagged rocks of the Black Cuillin. Further to the east, later volcanic activity melted the crust to form granite, which forms the Red Cuillin and because they are more easily erodible, are more rounded in shape.

The jagged peaks of the Skye Black Cuillin …
… and the smoother, rounder peaks of the Red Cuillin.

“PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN”, says the VHF radio suddenly. We sit up – it seems like someone might be in trouble.

“Stornoway Coastguard. Station calling pan-pan, go ahead”, says the VHF again.

“Stornoway Coastguard, this is yacht Nidea, Nidea, Nidea. We have a net wrapped around our propeller and can’t start the engine”, continues the VHF. (Nidea is not the boat’s real name.)

The clarity of the call suggests that Nidea is not far from us. We scan the sea around us, but can’t see anything. There is a boat off our port quarter about three miles away, but we can see from the AIS that it is not Nidea.

There is a lengthy interchange between Nidea and Stornoway Coastguard. It transpires that it is south of Loch Scrisort on Rum and is going to try and make it to Mallaig under sail. Not an easy ask with the lack of wind. The lifeboat at Mallaig will come and tow them into harbour when they are close. We again scan the sea with our binoculars. We can pick up Loch Scrisort itself about six miles away, but the only boat we can see is north of the loch and heading into it. Nothing matching Nidea’s description.

The VHF goes silent, although from time to time there is a call from Stornoway Coastguard to enquire on Nidea’s progress. They seem to be moving at least.

Just off the Point of Sleat, we see a boat about a mile off our starboard beam with her spinnaker out. She is not showing up on the AIS, and it takes us a few moments to realise that she is Nidea. They seem to be making good progress, but lower their sails when they are about a mile away from Mallaig harbour.

We reach the green buoy just at the entrance to Mallaig harbour, but are told to wait until the ferry leaves in about five minutes. As we do so, we see the lifeboat leaving to go out to Nidea. Just as we are tying up, we see both boats come into the harbour – within a few minutes, the lifeboat has expertly placed Nidea alongside the end of the pontoon we are on, untied her, and is back in her normal berth.

The lifeboat rescues the powerless Nidea.

The skipper contacts the local diver, and before long he is underneath the water looking at what has happened.

The diver goes down …

A little bit later he surfaces with a large piece of fishing net that he has cut away from the propeller.

… and brings back a large chunk of fishing net.

Talking to the skipper later, it seems that he had motored through a patch of floating seaweed without realising that underneath lurked the fishing net waiting to entrap his propeller. We shudder, as it is something that could happen to anyone – the seaweed floats everywhere, and we ourselves had motored through it from time to time, the propeller normally shredding it to pieces. Something to be wary of in the future in addition to the ubiquitous lobster pot buoys!

We stay in Mallaig for a few days waiting for the winds to die down. The high is centred over Iceland and seems to be just sitting there. Although the harbour is sheltered, there is a swell coming from the north and the boats rock up and down violently. Fortunately we are facing the wind, which helps to deflect some of it.

Making sure that Ruby Tuesday is tied up securely.

We get to know Sebastian. Sebastian is a seal that has discovered he can make a living from hanging around the harbour and feeding off bits of fish that are thrown off the fishing boats. We don’t know that his name is Sebastian, but it seemed to fit him pretty well. We even see him devouring an octopus one day.

Sebastian the seal.
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