It has been many years since I last set foot on board a sailboat, yet the idea of sailing has always had an allure. The notion of pirates, trade winds and navigation thrills me to the core and so it was that earlier this autumn my partner and I headed to Oban to explore the Sound of Mull by sail.
Aboard The Esseness, a beautiful 45ft yacht home to skippers Sue and Stu, we settled down and got to grips with life on the water, the wild and stormy weather testing our nerve as we left Glasgow far behind us.
I love the design of these small living spaces. Every nook and cranny is utilised as a drawer, cupboard or shelf. Surfaces have a grippy texture and a lip so nothing slides off. The cooker is mounted on an axle that allowed it to swing freely back and forth with the swells. This ship would be our home for the next five nights.
Mornings came with the sound of the shipping forecast - the complexities of which inform our skipper's objectives for the day. Stu was up on deck manning the helm and took Ry and myself, both boat illiterate, through the basics of setting the boat for sail. We set off north-west, with the low winds at our backs gently leading us up the Sound of Mull.
Eagles and seals punctuated our work on deck. Reading the buoyage, wave patterns and wind vector would all become familiar tasks as our confidence and knowledge grew over our trip but initially, they filled us with fear. We were at the helm of someone’s home after all. Little did we know we’d be tacking back and forth along this same stretch only days later at ease with our ‘Lee Ho’s and ‘Heave To’s.
Spotting wildlife was at the forefront of my mind. As I looked out across the swells looking for buoys, ferries and other hazards, my mind would drift, imagining the vast space below the keel and the idea that, down there somewhere, a whale could be drifting by. It was only the lucky ones who saw them breach.
Poseidon was on our side one afternoon. We watched a flock of seabirds swarm over a school of fish, the gannets plunging into the water from high above the surface. With no warning, we saw the smooth glistening dorsal fin of a minke whale breach the surface for a few slow, enchanting seconds.
We’d made it to the island of Coll and back. The journey opened our eyes to new adventures to be had at the mercy of the elements. As a rock climber I’m well accustomed to making plans based on the forecast, and I find being under Mother Nature’s influence a powerful feeling that captivates the imagination. The various pontoons and moorings along the way reminded me of the campsites that are a familiar part of our climbing trips. I fit in here and always have my eye on the horizon, looking out for the next adventure.