By Cdt FS Shaun Kellam
2313 (The Chalfonts) Sqn
2313 (The Chalfonts) Sqn
With the numerous rail tickets booked, the morning of Sunday 5th August was upon me. It was time to start the mammoth journey from Great Missenden railway station in leafy Buckinghamshire to the stunning coastal town of Oban, Scotland. I knew this was going to be a week to remember.
After the hours train journey into London I boarded the 7 hour train to Glasgow. After 4 hours young man got on the train, with a large DPM holdall and it was time to play the game, guess if he is a cadet. In the end way he was and we made our way to the overnight stay in the premier inn where we also met the other ten cadets on the course. In the morning it was a further 3 hour train journey from Glasgow to Oban. Looking out the window we all saw some amazing scenery! When we arrived in Oban we met with Squadron Leader Mike Blakely, our expedition leader, who took us to the yacht. It was then that we saw the 72’ Alba Endeavour for the first time. This is where we would be eating, sleeping and living for the next week.
After getting our bags stowed we were issued with our oil skins, life jackets and safety clips. We then had a tour of the boat and about a 2 hour health and safety talk! This was soon over though and it was time to go sailing! We slipped the mooring lines, started the engine, prepped the main sail and set off. We went 200m and moored onto a buoy. This is where we would stay the night. The issue was that we had to get from Oban into the Atlantic which means sailing up the relatively narrow Sound of Mull. With any narrow stretch of coastal water thee are string, fast flowing tides. This meant that we could only sail out into the Atlantic when the tide was helping us. So at 05:00 on Tuesday we all got up and set sail, for real this time. Because the wind was heading directly down the Sound of Mull we had plenty of opportunity to practise our tacking drills whilst avoiding the many ferries that use the Sound.
For the first half the week out aim was to get to St Kilda which is an uninhabited island 200 miles past the Outer Hebrides! For us to get there in time the yacht had to sail for 3 days 24 hours a day. This was tough. We were split into two watches, each watch had four hours sailing and then four hours off, where you had to do everything else including sleeping! This meant that at night you were either sailing 20:00 until 00:00 and then again 04:00 until 08:00 or from 00:00 until 04:00. Despite having a weeks worth of yacht sailing experience I thought I would be immune from the sea sickness bug. However, never having sailed overnight on a yacht these first three days in the rough Atlantic rendered me ill. I will be honest, when I was clutching a sick bucket at 2am in the morning with the cold Atlantic wind and spray in my face; I wondered what I was doing there. But it was because I was being sick that I saw the most amazing Sunset and Moonrise of the entire trip! It was absolutely fantastic. I looked up and there less than a pin prick separating the millions of stars that were in the sky. Amazing. Then with a little bit of perseverance and more importantly some sleep I was feeling better. After three days we reached St Kilda. We were allowed onshore for one and a half hours of which I spent an hour sleeping! Not good but I was exhausted! We also all had a look around the ruined village.
After this we sailed back to Oban taking the ‘scenic route’. We visited several Islands and towns include a deserted beach where we had a beach fire. I managed to collect a tree for the fire but apparently “it was too big” for the fire. This is also where we had to do our first anchor watch. Everybody has to get up for an hour in the middle of the night to check that the boat has not moved. I was lucky, I had the first slot so did not have to wake up. Needless to say the anchor was fine and we set sail again at 05:00 in the morning. We also visited Loch Dunvagan, Rhum and Tobermoray and yes, that is the town that Balamory is based on and filmed in. The last day was perfect sailing weather; clear sky, sunshine and plenty of wind. We raced back to Oban. After some photos and presentation of some certificates we headed back to Oban station for the journey home. This turned out to be longer than the outward journey due to my train being cancelled at Preston. It took me 26 hours to get home!
All in all, it was a fantastic expedition! Everyone received their competent crew qualification, we saw some amazing scenery, visited some amazing places with some amazing people. But after a week with no shower and having to pump the toilet 40 times every time I went it was nice to get home. Having said that I would definitely go again if I had the chance and would recommend it to anyone!
1) FS Kellam at the helm
2) Alba Endeavout at Sunset
3) Crew certificates