Saturday, 6 November 2010

Voyage around Torsa

Caisteal nan Con
I am fascinated by the House of the Dogs on Torsa. It is generally supposed to have been a hunting lodge of the MacDougalls and is known to have become Campbell property the year before Bannockburn, to become MacDougall property again in the Sixteenth Century. The MacLeans of Duart also possessed it for a while and as they were known as the dogs their tenure provides another theory about its name. It's probably of prehistoric origin and has been cleverly built into a natural rock outcrop with later modifications including possibly the installation of a chimney, an item only found only in the grandest of Scottish homes until quite recently. Nearby is a lovely sheltered bay, ideal for beaching boats.

Torsa islands lies at the South entrance to the Cuan Sound, an exhilarating narrow passage which gives a quick route from the quiet waters of Loch Melfort to the Atlantic. The Lords of the Admiralty advise:-
"Cuan Sound should only be used by small vessels with local knowledge. On account of the strong tidal streams and eddies, passage is not recommended except at slack water."
The tidal streams vary between three and six knots.

The Atlantic outside Cuan Sound

On a fine day in early May 2009 the fleet had sailed up to Torsa and we had our picnic under the Caisteal nan Con. From the height of the castle we could feel that the wind had backed North-west and there was the prospect of an interesting afternoon. The obvious challenge was to see if our boats could beat up against the ebb, now running strongly South, and circumnavigate Torsa while there was sufficient depth of water in the narrow gap down to Ardinamir. About twelve little boats made it and there follow some images of the trip.

The Widdakers, Topher and Kelpie.

Widddakers, Seapod and Beechnut

Sciurus in a tide rip

Seapod driving hard

Bonny, an Iain Oughtred Whilly boat
Kelpie's sprit shows the strain
John in his Nutshell

Rocks on the way to Ardinamir


  1. Hi Ewan,

    What a lovely blog! Great pictures. Interesting boat history. I was tipped off about your blog by my friend Chris Perkins who writes our website at

    Lang may your lum reek! PS email me at for more spar stories from D R-T.

  2. I have often wondered why the West and East-facing entrances to the Cuan Sound are referred to as the North and South (yes, thats what the Admiralty says). Maybe this is why the Navy has a problem navigating about Raasay...

    The passage between South Torsa and Luing from the Cuan Basin to Ardinamir can be navigated (with great care in a shallow draft boat) Eastbound from about 1 or 2hrs before HW Oban 'till 3 or 4 hours after, and Westbound between about 4 and 2 hours before HW Oban. The Cuan Basin drains ever faster on the ebb, making progress south past the Cleit Rock(-et Station) down the West shore of Torsa a struggle in a boat that cannot make 5kts. It was quite an achievement for so many of the fleet that day in 2010, seeking back eddies and favourable windshifts.

    Westbound home from Ardinamir later that weekend, Anna learned that you can be swept along nicely by the current, but if steerage way (progress though the water)is lost the result can be catastrophic! Selkie's bows became wedged between two rocks on the shore, beam on to the 5kt current!

    Ewan mentions heading Westward from the Cuan Sound... (next stop Newfoundland). This can run at more than 8kts at times, with 1000mm standing waves and whirlpools. He does not mention the way water in the Cuan Basin can be seen to 'slope' sometimes, or the 300mm wave 'step' that forms a few metres North of the Cleit Rock. What an exciting place to test your boatmanship!


The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water