Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Rum, on the rocks

 Once we'd left Kilmory, the coastline was a line of cliffs.  The gentle swell would occasionally burst against the base of the cliffs with a roar; it's a place to be careful in.

Squinting into the sun, we made out an unusual shape at the base of a rock buttress.  As we approached, the shape became obvious as a shipwreck.

This is (or rather was) the French registered fishing vessel "Jack Abry II".  She grounded near this spot late at night on 31 January 2011 in poor weather conditions whilst on passage from Lochinver to fishing grounds south of Ireland.  Fortunately, there was no loss of life amongst her 14 crew. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report is, as usual, both thorough and searchingly frank.  As with so many shipping accidents, there was no single cause, rather a chain of events which led to the loss of the Jack Abry II.

Outwardly the wreck seems in good condition, but closer inspection showed the damage wrought by winter storms.  Although nearly all the fuel oil has been removed from the vessel there was still a faint smell of diesel. As a seafarer, it's always quite shocking to see a ship in this condition.

As we continued down the coast the view became increasingly dominated by Bloodstone Hill.  We knew that the bothy we intended to use for the night was near the base of this hill, but we were under no illusions that we'd have a simple landing.  The swell was still low, but a haze of suspended spray told its own story.....

A short way offshore and we saw Guirdil bothy.  A fine "reek" of  woodsmoke from the lum indicated that we'd have company for the evening - if we could land.  In this image the sea appears very calm.  It wasn't!  A swell was surging up the left hand side of the bay onto a pebble beach, while the right hand side was guarded by sharp fangs of rock.

We felt that it would be possible to land our loaded boats, but what then?  If, as forecast, the wind and swell got up overnight we'd be stuck here.  We'd already pretty much made our decision when one of the folks staying in the bothy came out to wave.  The fact that he and his companion were dressed head to toe in camouflage gear was no incentive to try the landing!

If you plan to use Guirdil on a journey by kayak in the Small Isles, the exposure of this bay to the prevailing swell should be a factor in your planning.  

We moved back offshore into the sunshine to raft up and check our bearings and tidal stream timings.  Our plan was now to make the crossing we'd intended for the following morning, to Canna.  We could expect a tidal stream of up to 5 knots across our track on the 7 kilometre crossing so we worked out vectors before setting out.  A last look at Guirdil and we commenced the crossing.

Our change of plan was to be possibly the best decision we made all week - and for several reasons.  The first became apparent straight away as we basked in the evening sunshine just offshore while Guirdil was in deep and frosty shade....


  1. "A haze of suspended spray" - what a perfect phrase to describe conditions...and the need for flexibility (and never-ending decision-making) on such an adventure.

    I'm curious to know if such a wreck will ever be salvaged, or is it left to the sea...forever. Another excellent chapter, Ian! Duncan.

  2. Hi Duncan, thanks for your kind comment :o)

    It's very unlikely that any attempt will be made to salvage the Jack Abry II. Comparing the image in the MAIB report from the day following the grounding with her current state it can be seen that she's now well impaled and will, sadly, break up eventually

    Kind Regards