For Brian Black, missing the tide led to the discovery of a delightful little anchorage at The Black Isles

Brian Black

Brian Black

As every cruising sailor knows, now and again you hit on an unexpected gem of an anchorage which had been missed on previous passages for all sorts of reasons. So it was this year on our return from Greenland, heading home through the Western Isles and feeling a bit anti-climactic after two months away.

Unsettled weather in the forecast threatened a bashing off the Mull of Kintyre and in the North Channel so we were taking the inside passage down the Sound of Luing and on to the Crinan Canal, when it became apparent we would miss the tide. I checked the chart and considered possibilities – Puilladobhrain would do to await the next flood but we’d been there often enough. Seil Island was a possibility, so too was Luing with a couple of fair-weather anchorages close at hand. The afternoon was clear with a gentle breeze, the skies blue and Mull looking fantastic, the Garvellachs close by and tempting.

We were spoilt for choice, then a closer study of the chart came up with the answer – the tiny anchorage in the Black Isles, also known as Eilean Dubh Mor and Eilean Dubh Beg, was just off our track. I had not been there before so that was reason enough to try it out. The pilot book gave some details and Bob Bradfield’s excellent Antares chartlets confirmed the location as a perfect place to wait for a favourable tide.

There are plenty of hazards in the Firth of Lorne so careful chartwork is needed. However, once you are lined up for the Black Isles the approach is straightforward enough, although all around, islands and rocks seem to merge and it can take a little adjustment to get used to the scale of the chart against the land features that need to be identified.

The Black Isles

Ideal for those who like isolation and a panorama to gaze at

Half a mile off, we edged closer to the main island of Eileann Dubh Beag, giving it a berth of about half a cable. It was Low Water and the kelp showed clearly on Sgeir nan Saidhean, the first of the drying reefs to port. More kelp was visible a little further in but still off to port and a safe distance from the boat. The chart shows a channel 23m wide between the island and its off-lying reefs and this takes you right up to a rocky knuckle on the south-east corner of Eilean Dubh Beag. After that, it’s a matter of picking your spot in the anchorage itself. I found good depth of 5m under the keel and with a sandy bottom clearly visible, the anchor bit right away.

The islands are separated by a shallow causeway, which would break any swell from the west, while the anchorage itself is protected from most quarters, although anything northerly could be a problem. For those who like isolation, this place is ideal with gentle walking close by, an interesting coastline with caves and beaches and a panorama you could gaze at endlessly.

Read more anchorage guides here.