Morvern Lines – 28.5.20

The Blue Dragon. Photograph: The Dragon School

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Charles Cotterell Lynam wrote three books about his sailing adventures – the original Log of the Blue Dragon; the Log of Blue Dragon II and To Norway and the North Cape in Blue Dragon II. Here we publish the second instalment about his adventures on the West Coast.

The Dragon School, which I referred to last week, was founded by a committee of Oxford dons, among whom the most active was a Mr George. In honour of St George the group decided to call themselves Dragons which is why its former headmaster, Skipper C C Lynam, named his yacht and then his books, The Blue Dragon. Some past pupils, known as ‘Old Dragons’, were: Christopher Cazenove (Dynasty); Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager and tipped to be the next James Bond); Hugh Laurie (Blackadder); Naomi Mitchison (author and poet from Carradale, Argyll) and Lady Antonia Fraser (author, The Six Wives of Henry V111 and many more).

There was no other place, according to CC Lynam, where the kindness of the people of Eigg could be exceeded. Photograph Iain Thornber.

Extracts from The Summer Cruise, 1894: ‘Anchored at Ballachulish. Tuesday, August 7; Skipper, medical officer and KB drove to Glencoe. Found a good many Macdonalds, who had survived the massacre and retained a taste for “bawbees”. Ruined cottages, chieftain’s house, rather unimposing; signal rock more so. Driver gave information, said he had seen three eagles in the pass the previous day, but failed to produce one when requested. Very rainy. Started in the afternoon for Fort William. Did not get there because, although there was a breeze at first, it soon dropped. However, we sped up Loch Linnhe under full sail making about .0001n knot per hour. After sailing eight hours at this terrible pace we found it was nearly 11pm. We had made .0008 of a mile. We decided, however, to forgo this advantage, and drifted back again with the tide to a little [bay] behind Corran Lighthouse. Here the skipper anchored with some skill and we made ourselves more or less comfortable for the night. Sunday September 2: Strong breeze, sailed from Dunvegan…and ended up anchored in Plockton Harbour, where we entrusted the Blue Dragon to Donald Matheson Esq JP and returned to England by Highland Railway, Saturday 8 September’.

Extracts from the Easter Cruise, 1896:  Wednesday April 15: ‘With a SSE wind, at first light, but sufficient to produce a gibe – which nearly swept the mate and steward overboard – we passed Achmore House on Gigha, and then with a freshening blast we reached across to Jura, gaining a fine view of the Paps. We looked in at Lowlandman’s Bay without stopping, and finally dropped anchor in Lagg Bay at 5pm. After tea, mate and steward went ashore to procure water; a neighbouring cottage was visited and the homely native hospitality was freely offered to the mariners. Our host, who had worked the cattle-ferry to Keills Bay for thirty-three years, sold us four dozen eggs at 6d per dozen. At supper the skipper regaled the steward with a lively description of the wreck of the Culzean (whose picturesque remains adorn the primitive harbour, which ran on Sgeir-an-nigha and lost all hands. After supper the skipper, constrained thereto by the rain, which continued far into the night, endeavoured to make his side of the cabin water-tight by means of ubiquitous lard, much to the amusement of mate and steward. A murky night’.

‘Friday, April 17: Rain and strong wind from the west succeeded by sunshine and showers at intervals. Up anchor at 12. Two reefs, foresail and reefed jib. Close haul to the entrance of Dorus Mhor and then through with the strong tide, rock and island looking lovely in the sunlight and a black storm cloud over Corrievreckan. We laid our course inside Ris an Vic Faden, past two evil looking two-foot rocks; than with strong gusts and in broken water from Corrievreckan and Scarba, we passed Lunga and had nearly reached Pladda when the cautious skipper over-persuaded the reckless mate, who hungered for the fleshpots of Oban, to turn into a snug anchored (not mentioned in Sailing directions) off Lunga. The skipper made a grand mixture of scrambled eggs for supper, which the unfortunate steward, owing to diabolic toothache, could not enjoy. Sunday April 19. A dull morning with light SW wind. After breakfast on tongue – few stores left – we started at 11.30. Huge wash-up by mate, as steward was writing with toothache. Sailed in fine style up Kerrera Sound, and anchored off south pier at Oban in 7 fathoms.

‘Instantly, after making all snug, the steward went in search  of a dentist. A bald-headed man said that Dr MacCalman was better than any dentist, and we found him – big and burly and very Scotch. He extracted the molar. The steward desires it to be recorded that he took it like a hero, but declined the extraction of a second. After lunch we all went up to a strange new round building, built by McCaig in memory of himself. The skipper went on to see an ancient round tower, and then we had a large tea at the Station Hotel, where we got a Scotsman and a Times; these hinted at an unpopular budget which relieved no one but the landlords’.

On Friday September 11, a fisherman on a vessel called the Industry from Castlebay, gave the skipper a large mackerel in return for a pot of hare soup before he made for Canna, which he had never seen before. He landed and talked to a group of fish-curers from Barra. Apparently they had very little English, but one of them pointed to a big tear in Lynam’s trousers and immediately brought out needle and thread and sewed it up for him. Mr Thom, the owner of the island, directed him to an old cross inscribed with unrecognisable  names on one side, which he sketched. He then made friends with William Campbell, the pier master, who was making hay.

‘Next he climbed the rock on which was a ruined castle. Campbell went aboard. He admired Blue Dragon and told the skipper all about the castle including a story of how Macleod of Barra stole his girlfriend from the castle where she was incarcerated when she managed to let herself down into a boat using a rope made of blankets.

‘The next day saw Blue Dragon on Rum and Eigg, the day after crashing into a rock just before entering the harbour. The centre plate chain was lost in the process. Lynam recorded; ‘I steered in,  a sad and crestfallen skipper and went ashore, and though it was Sunday, the inhabitant of the nearest cottage, Sandy Mackinnon gave me a hand and spent the night on board with me. In the morning the carpenter Dugald Macleod came on board and with skill and hard work got the plate into its case. I could in no way persuade Sandy and Dugald to take any payment for all their trouble. This was the first of many kindnesses I have received from them. I spent the night in Sandy’s cottage by his peat fire. The hens that were roosting at the back of the bed woke me up in the morning, whilst the dog had kept me company.  Sandy took me in the evening to hear Campbell play the pipes at the post office.  On Friday I went back in the Gael leaving James Campbell and John MacDonald, the lobster fisherman, to sail the Blue Dragon to Oban at the first opportunity.’

To be continued.