Cruising the ‘Small Isles’ in 1938

9 – 10 June, 1938 finds ‘Robinetta’ sailing from Ornsay to Mallaig and through the ‘Small Isles’ of Rhum, Eigg and Muck with a reach to Ardnamurchan, running down the Sound of Mull to pass Duart Castle and enter the sea lock at Crinan. We have an extract from the log of ‘Robinetta’, originally published in the Royal Cruising Club Journal .

Denys Rayner designed ‘Robinetta’, his 22’6″ micro-yacht, in 1936 and had her built in the Wirral. He sailed her to Scotland in the summer of 1937 where she overwintered in the Clyde. By 1938 his wife was pregnant with their first son and he went cruising with two friends. They took the boat from Largs through the Crinan Canal to Skye and then home to Liverpool.

In 2013, the OGA organised a Round Britain Challenge. The following year, OGA members Julian and Alison Cable retraced the steps of ‘Robinetta’ to complete her circumnavigation during the summers of 2014 – 2016. Follow her blog here.

On Thursday, 9th June, we turned to at 06.00, a brilliant sunny morning, but still so cold that after an hour at the helm one is glad to get below. We always seem to be making tea or soup to keep us warm. Sailed at 08.50 three rolled main and staysail. A very hard wind blowing from the S.W. giving us a beat to Mallaig, which we intend to make for lunch. Short sea outside and consider that she could just carry the No.2 jib which we gave her as soon as were were clear of the the lighthouse and had the most exhilarating sail of our lives. The ship over-pressed in the puffs but getting along in fine style. A number of heavy rain showers in the morning and the wind easing slightly towards noon. Arrived Mallaig and secured alongside at 13.45, but first had a look into Lock Nevis which is very beautiful, some day I will spend months up here. This coast is one of the few places which has exceeded my expectations. Generally one hears so much about a place that when you do get there it disappoints, but this is far finer than I had imagined – in spite of the weather. Shopped and had lunch and then out again at 15.15 for either Loch Scresort in Rum or Eiln Castle in Eigg, preferably the latter, but if we are going to be a long time getting there and can lay the former I may stand over to it – Rum looks a thrilling place.

The wind eased off, however, and the sea decreased, so we settled down to beat to Eiln Castle. In Mallaig a skipper of a drifter said it would come westerly to-morrow possibly north-west. I don’t know how he knew. I missed the weather forecast this morning as there was so much noise of rushing waters that I could not hear what the fellow said. Gave her full main at 15.40. Wind was disappointing us and going very soft in patches, so called on Miss Adams at 18.00, but she had indigestion in an oil pipe and it was 19.10 before I got it clear. With engine going we beat on, getting into Eiln Castle at 20.45 and letting go ahead of Dido of Eigg. Our lightest day so far. 9 miles from Isle of Ornsay to Mallaig and 12 miles from Mallaig to Eiln Castle in total sailing time of 10 hours 25 minutes.

On Friday, 10th June, we turned to and to out infinite delight found a light N.W. breeze in the anchorage – which is very sheltered from winds with west in them. The weather forecast the previous night had intimated at moderate to strong westerlies, but it had seemed too good to be true.

After a hurried breakfast we slipped out at 07.50 by the channel between Eiln Castle and Eigg and setting all plain sail left the shelter of Eigg before the halyards were coiled on their pins. But we had reckoned without the lee which Eigg had been giving us and outside we found a huge sea and more wind than we could manage even with the ship 3 points free. I did not fancy sending the crew on to the foredeck to shift jibs until it either it was absolutely necessary for safety or until we reached such shelter as the small island of Muck might give us, bearing in mind that its eastern shore is very foul and cannot be approached too closely. Accordingly we contented ourselves with turning in three rolls in the main – this being of course, accomplished without leaving the cockpit – and drove her across to Muck, where we found sufficient lee to get the jobs shifted. Even so, I had some anxious moments while the crew were up forward. She was much easier with the No 2, and we had a magnificent reach to Ardnamurchan, making a fraction under 5½ knots over a very big sea which we estimated at 150 ft. between crests and 12 ft. high. Even when quite close to Ardnamurchan we lost sight of the high hills completely as we slid down into the troughs, but standing on the cabin top by the mast I could generally keep the waterline of the cliffs in sight.

At 10.10 we altered course for the run down the Sound of Mull. And what a run it was! We gave her the full main and the No.1 jib at 12.05, then, because the skipper thought the wind was easier we took in the No.1 and staysail and set Genoa but she just could not carry that and the crew told the skipper that they had told him so and it would have served him right if they had left him to get it down single-handed.

We gybed her at Green Island and again at Grey Island and had Duart Castle close abeam at 15.44. Having forced a passage through the Sound against the tide of 27 miles in 5 hours, 34 minutes.

We had to drop the peak for a squall just after passing Duart and reef her two rolls in the main when we brought her on the wind for the reach down the Lynn of Lorne. The wind, however, showed a tendency to come out of the South on its way up Loch Linnhe and in a big steep sea we were soon close hauled until abreast of Sheep Isle, when, after a sudden increase in wind, during which ‘Robinetta’ went to windward faster than she has ever done in her life, the wind suddenly lifted and left us flapping in a wicked sea. We started Fanny but stopped her again ten minutes later when the wind came up again and continued on our course to Pladda lighthouse.

I had very much wished to try Cuan Sound, but with the big sea inclined to break and with the wind trying to be funny I did not intend to get on a lee shore, and as I could not clearly make out the entrance I had no alternative but to stand on for Scarba Sound, which we entered at 18.20 and had a quick run through to Crinan, finding the Durus Mor very quiet, and secured in the Sea Lock at 20.10. We tied up in the basin for the night as we must clean out the fresh water tanks and refill them owing to the presence of an unknown sediment in the water and I do not fancy ferrying buckets of water in the collapsible.

Exchanged visits with ‘Leonora’, R.N.Y.C., and turned in at 23.30. Weather forecast promises us moderate N.W. Winds. 66 miles from Eigg in 12 hours, 20 minutes. ‘Robinetta’s best time so far over a moderate distance.

The Royal Cruising Club Journal, 1938

The Royal Cruising Club
Log of ‘Robinetta’