Over the Sea to Skye, by Ewen Macniven

I have been on a lot of IMC meets to Skye, but none so memorable as this one…. for all the wrong reasons.

We had booked the Coruisk hut for a long weekend, and as no-one fancied a long walk in as well, we arranged for a boat to take us from Elgol on Friday night and drop us at the jetty next to the hut. This was particularly appreciated by those of us who could not get into the hut – which only takes nine people – and had to humph along camping gear too.

We all arrived at Elgol in plenty of time on Friday, having taken the afternoon off to allow for queues at the Kyle ferry; these were pre-bridge days. The weather was good, and the boat left at the appointed time. We congratulated ourselves on our planning, and the fact that the forecast southerly gale had not materialised; it was a small fishing boat and the owner had said that the trip was weather-dependent. By the time we were halfway across the loch, it was obvious that all was not well with the boat. The engine spluttered constantly, and soon gave out altogether.

The skipper said “Never mind, I’ll radio Tex Geddes in Soay, and he’ll give us a tow.” Soay was close by, and we were quite reassured – less so when he discovered the radio didn’t work. Fishermen prefer not to use the radio when they find the fish, as that tells the opposition where to come for their catch; our man obviously used this principle all the time, not just when he was fishing.

No problem; we happened to have a telecom engineer in the party, and he managed to fix the radio. The skipper tried to raise Tex Geddes, but couldn’t. The wind was rising by this time, and as we were on a lee shore with a gale forecast, everyone was getting concerned. We suggested to him in fairly robust terms that it was time to call the Coastguard; he was reluctant, as he didn’t want the whole of the west coast to know of his problems. Certain members of the party got stroppy enough to persuade him, and he made the first of many calls  “Oban Coastguard, Oban Coastguard, this is Loch Eishort, Loch Eishort, are your receiving me?”. Loch Eishort was the name of the boat; I can’t pass the loch without recalling this weekend.

It quickly became apparent that Oban Coastguard were not receiving at all. Increasingly desperate work by Roy Morris, our radio expert; eventually we got a crackly connection to the coastguard, but the skipper was so rattled by this time that he couldn’t get the message across. Even the coastguard was losing patience by this time, but he finally agreed to phone Tex Geddes – presumably his radio didn’t work either – and get him to come out the required mile or so to our rescue. At this stage the skipper told us that there was a sandbar across the entrance to the anchorage at Soay, and Tex could only get his boat out at above half tide; needless to say, the tide had been ebbing for some time.

Pessimism was hanging over the boat like a cloud, and we began to look for albatrosses circling; but eventually Tex scraped over the sandbar and roared to the rescue with the last of the tide, towing us the short distance to Coruisk. All was well, except that I slipped on the ladder leaving the boat and almost fell in with full wet weather gear and heavy rucksack. I don’t know what we did on the hill, but I seem to remember walking back by the Bad Step and Camasunary rather than risking the boat again!