I was not a very happy captain when I reviewed the weather for Oban. The wind, which was blowing force 5 to 7 in Peel, was only predicted to intensify and that might have grave consequences for the call at this port as it was an anchorage call. Also by coming to the Scottish Isles it left me we very little “plan B’s” as an alternative as there is not much there that works here with the prevailing winds. My only hope was that I could anchor close enough under the lee of the land to ensure a safe tender service. At Oban we were assigned the outer anchorage, about a 10-minute tender distance away from the dock. There is an inner anchorage but the Prinsendam is really too big for the area as the ship would not be able to swing freely around the anchor on the turning tide. Going in and drifting on the engines would be an option but then the ship would effectively block the harbour from the ferries coming and leaving. Oban is the main hub for the local ferries to the outlying islands and the ferries come and go about every two hours. Sitting with the ship right in the way, would certainly have raised the Harbourmaster’s blood pressure and that is something one has to avoid at all times. So off we went and hoped for the best.
When we arrived we did have a wind force 8 to 9 blowing but by the time we came to the anchorage location, there were no waves or swell as the wind was almost easterly. Wind force 9 is gale force winds but the tenders have no problems coping with the wind, it is the waves and the subsequent bouncing of the craft that is the challenge. The free surface area for the wind to blow over was not that much and thus there were just wind ripples on the water. The chief officer could safely lower all his tenders and get the show on the road. I dropped the hook 2000 feet away from Maiden Island and all was well in the world. At least; as far as the tender service was concerned. The dock in the harbour was a sloping ramp and it was even wheel chair and scooter friendly. When the tide went up, the tenders just dock a little bit further in to keep the ramp height in line with the tender door opening.
I was having fun on the bridge for most of the day as the holding ground for the anchor was not that good, so we started to drag. The sea bottom was made up of thick grey clay that normally holds very well, but it was interspersed with shells and they can really break up the solid constitution of a good holding ground. So if there is too much strain coming on the anchor it can break out more easily as the shells form a sort of “crack” in the compactness of the clay. Then, because it is clay, the anchor will slither over the bottom and will only dig in again and hold after some distance has been covered. And where the anchor goes, the ship follows. Not much to worry about in principle as the wind would push the ship to open water; otherwise I would have never anchored there. Still being pushed to open waters, would increase the tender distance and the chance for the wind to create waves as it was now covering a larger water surface. So I had to stay as close behind Maiden Island as possible.
That meant re-anchoring. First with the same anchor and more chain, then with two anchors and eventually with one anchor, bow thrusters and engines, as the strong wind provided to be too much for the holding ground. By using anchor and thrusters, I was able to keep the strain enough off the strain sot we did not drag and provided a steady location for our tender service. However the guests had a good day, as it was dry and sometimes even a bit sunny. Oban is a very nice town, with lots to see do and drink. The latter as there are a number of distilleries in the area.
By 1700 hrs. we had all our guests back onboard and we pulled up the anchor for the last time. As luck would have it, we picked up a steel cable. Also in Oban the navy had been very active in the 2nd world war and had left a few reminders behind of those days. One of those reminders had nicely wrapped itself around the flukes of the anchor. Time for the Chief Officer to go fishing. It took about 90 minutes of lifting with a hook and lowering the anchor and then the loops came off and the steel cable slid back to the bottom of the Lorne as the area is called. We could not get the end of the cable on deck, otherwise we would have winched it in. It would have brought a nice bit of money into the scrap-steel-fund that we have for the crew.
Because we were now delayed, I had to take the outside route to the next port of call.
I was planning to take the inside route, to go sightseeing, but it had some very narrow passages that I was not willing to take during the dark hours and there would not be anything to see anyway.
Our next of call is Portree of the East side of the Isle of Skye. A very sheltered port when the wind is coming from the West. I guess it is coming from the East and it will still be blowing wind force 8 to 9. So it is going to be very interesting.