Saturday, 28 February 2015

Action on Broadband

We've been making a huge fuss about the fact that superfast broadband is coming to Ardnamurchan in late 2016, and we've been watching the cables go in with some anticipation.  However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that, unless we do something about it, many households will see speeds no better than we have at the moment - and some of these are dismal.

Dave Kime has been spearheading a campaign on behalf of those who are likely to get nothing out of the £millions being spent - unless we as a community do something about it.

These properties are in three areas:

1. Ardslignish, Glenborrodale, Laga Bay, Camas Inas: The fibre-optic cable goes right past the doors of most houses in these areas, but there's no 'green box' being planned, so Glenborrodale exchange speeds (it's the wrong word) will continue to make a tortoise proud.

2.  North Coast Ardnamurchan: There's no terrestrial broadband in villages like Kilmory, Ockle and Swordle at present.  The good news?  Nothing's going to change.

3.  Portuairk, Achosnich, Achnaha and the lighthouse do have broadband, but the speeds are patchy and probably won't get a huge amount better.

BUT.... We can do something about it.

If you live in these areas, or have a holiday home there, or have a business there, and would like to see good broadband speeds, then there IS something you can do to help both yourself and the community.  If you haven't already done it, fill in the form (link here) which can be downloaded from Dropbox, and send it to the Diary at - Dave Kime isn't available at the moment.  A committee has been set up by the West Ardnamurchan Community Development Company to pursue various options with Community Broadband Scotland.  CBS are being very helpful, but won't do anything until we have the evidence.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Lysblink Seaways - MCA Press Release

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency issued the following press release today:

Preparations for towing Lysblink Seaways to a repair facility continue.

The vessel remains anchored at Scallastle Bay in the Sound of Mull while discussions about moving her are held.

Svitzer Salvage has a team on board 24 hours a day as part of the preparations to tow her to a repair facility.

The owners are in discussion with ship repairers at a number of locations and as soon as the final destination has been confirmed a passage plan will be agreed.

A temporary exclusion zone of 100 metres remains in place.

The Scottish Environment Group continues to monitor events and is supporting the work being done.


We were a bit mystified by this very good bottle of red wine which appeared in our post box yesterday afternoon, without anything to explain it.  Unless someone claims it, thank you, it will be drunk with considerable pleasure - not by the robin.


Sunrise this morning, looking southeast across the Sound of Mull to the hills of Morvern, with Maclean's Nose at left.

Washed Up Dead

At first sight, this bit of flotsam looked like a gift from heaven to a local crofter - a bag full of top-quality, hand-picked scallops.  It may have come from a small fishing boat which had been off Ormsaigbeg in the previous couple of days, but why the diver should have lost his bag is a bit of a mystery.

Sadly, when the finder investigated the bag's contents, all the scallops were open.  This didn't seem a good sign, so they were all thrown back into the water - though the crofter kept the bag in case he ever went diving for scallops.

Further along the shore, something even less palatable had been washed up.  The larger corpse had obviously been there for some time, long enough for it to have been picked over by the birds and other scavengers.  It's a seal, fully grown, and....

....the other is a seal pup.  Its white fur suggests it was very young when it died.

At first sight it seemed that this was a mother and baby which died together.  The pups of grey seals are born in the autumn and normally stay on the remote 'haul-out', along with other pups, for the first three weeks of their lives.  We've never seen live pups on this beach, and this, along with the fact that they were together, suggested that the mother and pup might have been having problems: perhaps the pup was born at sea before both were washed up.

That they arrived at different times leaves only one small mystery: why were they washed up so close together on the Ormsaigbeg beach?

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lysblink Seaways - Day 9, Scallastle Bay

Last night, the Kingdom of Fife successfully towed the Lysblink Seaways to Scallastle Bay.  They were accompanied by the Coastguard's Emergency Towing Vessel Herakles, the Forth Jouster, and the small white boat seen yesterday, now identified as the Schiehallion out of Oban.

Scallastle Bay, arrowed, lies near the southeast end of the Sound of Mull and is, as can be seen, an ideal anchorage in the continuing stormy weather. However, the story is that, on arrival, the convoy found the tug Sally Ann, towing fish farm nets, already occupying the anchorage.  When asked to move, the Sally Ann managed to get rope wrapped round her propellor.

During the night, the large tug Luca arrived from Norway.  It is understood that, once the salvage master is sure that she's safe for it, the Luca will tow the Lysblink Seaways to Liverpool for repairs.  So we may yet see her again - hopefully not quite as close up.

'Thank you' to the many people who provided information to the Diary about what was happening with the Lysblink Seaways.

Map from Bing maps.

Local Postcards - 3

Many thanks to Ritchie Dinnes for letting me use two of the postcards in his collection.

This one, taken from the rocks to the southwest of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse, shows a pedestal in the foreground, which I take to be the old sundial.  There's no date on the postcard - has anyone any idea of when it was taken?

This one, taken a couple of years ago, isn't from quite the same angle but does show the changes.  The pedestal has gone, the Principal's house (left), the air and water tanks, and the small storage building have been added.  There are also many fewer chimneys on the keepers' cottages.

This postcard shows the SV Ardnamurchan.  Built in 1890 by Russell & Co of Port Glasgow, she had a length of a 259ft and a beam of 38ft.  The steel sailing ship was built for Hugh Hogarth of Ardrossan, later sold on through two more owners, and finally broken up in 1926.  There are more details here.

Many thanks to Ritchie for the pictures.

Holly Cottage for Sale

Holly Cottage, in the heart of Kilchoan near the parish church, is being sold by MacPhee & Partners.

Details of the house, which has views across Kilchoan Bay to Mull, is also on rightmove.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Lysblink Seaways - Day 8, Under Tow

At 2.00pm it looked a if, despite deteriorating weather conditions and a southeasterly wind at force 5 or more, the Kingdom of Fife might bring the Lysblink Seaways under tow, but suddenly....

....the small boat which has been in attendance since this morning came scurrying in to the pier to pick up what looked like rolls of the white absorbent boom material, taking them out to the ship.

The Forth Jouster, which had been astern of the Lysblink Seaways, seemed to pull the stern round while the Kingdom of Fife dropped back into the calmer water formed by the ship's hull.  They remained like this for a while before.... just before 4.00pm, the Kingdom of Fife finally took the strain and began to tow the Lysblink Seaways out into the murky conditions in the Sound of Mull.

Lysblink Seaways - Day 8, 2pm Departure

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency have just issued the following Press Release:

The Lysblink Seaways is going to be moved this afternoon after a successful ship-to-ship transfer of the fuel oil.

Hugh Shaw, the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage & Intervention has authorised the move which is expected to begin around 2pm today (25th).

As bad weather has been forecast for the coming days, a risk assessment has been carried out and the decision taken to move the vessel into a more sheltered position.

The tug Kingdom of Fife will tow the Lysblink Seaways out of Mingary Bay which is 1.5 miles east of Kilchoan Pier to safe anchorage in Scallastle Bay.

It will take between four and a half to five hours to complete the 17 mile journey. The Temporary Exclusion Zone of 200 metres will still apply to the vessel while she is being moved.

This decision has the full support of the Scottish Environment Group and Marine Scotland.

The Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) Herakles will remain on standby but will be released once the Lysblink Seaways is in a safe position.

Lysblink Seaways - Day 8 Morning

At 6.30 this morning, in calm weather, we could see that the transfer of fuel hadn't begun as the two tugs lay seaward of the Lysblink Seaways, with the Forth Jester further into the bay to the north of her.  Last night we'd had a report that the tug Luca would be carrying out the tow once the fuel was offloaded.  A check on the AIS website found her passing through the Pentland Firth with the Sound of Mull as her destination, due here at 7.30 tomorrow morning.

To get a better view of what was happening we walked into the area to the east of Mingary Castle, into the hills which overlook the wide bay in which the ships currently lie.

This area is part of the Ardnamurchan Estate, where some of the finest red deer stags are often to be seen.  While the Estate farms sheep and cattle, it's also one of Scotland's premier stalking estates.

The hill immediately above the ships is the site of Choire Mhuillinn, one of the villages cleared during the middle of the 19th century to make way for sheep farming - the walls of one of the broken houses can be seen in the foreground.

By this time the Kingdom of Fife was along the starboard side the Lysblink Seaways so we couldn't see more than part of her superstructure, but the transfer of fuel had obviously started.

Taken from further round and higher in the hills, this picture looks westward towards the northern entrance to the Sound of Mull, with Mull at top left and Kilchoan Bay at top right.  This section of coast is one of the most beautiful on Ardnamurchan, a series of bays which, in contrast to the sands of Sanna, are shingle.  We walk here often, and hardly ever see another soul - yet it's one of the best places for seeing sea otters, and....

....both sea and golden eagles are often in the skies above Maclean's Nose.

Returning along the beach, we could see the Kingdom of Fife alongside.  By this time the southeasterly wind was beginning to pick up and it had started raining.  The wind is forecast to increase and come steadily round into the south-southwest, with gusts to gale force by midnight.  The forecast on XC Weather for the next few days isn't much better, and that for Monday is terrible - strong west-northwesterly gales gusting to force 12, hurricane force.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lysblink Seaways - Day 7, Press Release

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency has issued the following press release:


The ship to ship transfer of the fuel oil from the Lysblink Seaways looks set to begin sometime tomorrow morning.

Better weather conditions mean there is a window to do this work between 3am and midday tomorrow (25th).

In total 153 tons of fuel will be pumped from the Lysblink Seaways onto the tug Kingdom of Fife.

Hugh Shaw, the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage & Intervention said, ‘The wind is expected to moderate which means there is an opportunity to carry out this work.

‘The emergency pumping operation will only begin when we are satisfied it is safe to do so and we will be monitoring it continuously.’

The Scottish Environment Group continue to monitor the operation and has a representative on scene.

The Temporary Exclusion Zone of 200 metres remains in place.

Many thanks to Hugh Shaw for arranging for the Diary to have this.

'Burhou I' in Rough Seas

Kilchoan Early Bird's photos, taken near Ardnamurchan Point at 10.30 this morning, give some idea of the conditions there.  How fortunate that this was a northwesterly, so that the Lysblink Seaways was protected in the lee of the hills.

The ship is the Burhou I, a cargo ship heading for Lochaline.  Kilchoan Early Bird estimates the winds at force 8 to 9.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures.

Lysblink Seaways - Day 7 Morning

This was the view across Kilchoan Bay yesterday afternoon, with the Lysblink Seaways turned into a strong southerly breeze.  The promised overnight gale wasn't as bad as forecast though, being a northwesterly, this side of the peninsula is relatively protected.

All the fuel oil is reported now to have been moved into the upper tanks.

This morning we watched the Kingdom of Fife patrolling up and down off Ormsaigbeg, to the west of the Lysblink Seaways, in winds which at times....

....gusted towards gale force and brought heavy hail showers.  As can be seen, the Forth Jouster remains in close attendance to the ship.  Unfortunately, those showers also brought thunder and lightning again, with the result that many internet connections and telephones are down - we can make outgoing calls but can't receive calls.

At half past one today the Herakles, one of HM Coastguard's Emergency Towing Vessels, arrived from Orkney.  She's here because the next stage is to remove most of the fuel from the Lysblink Seaways, which should, hopefully, be happening fairly soon.  Once it's clear, and given a window in this continuingly changeable weather, the ship will be towed away.  If we're lucky, she could finally be away on Thursday.

The Herakles won't be towing her.  A tug is coming from Stavanger in Norway for that.  Rumours persist in the village that the Lysblink Seaways will be scrapped.  One says she's going to India, the other to Turkey.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Lysblink Seaways - Day 6 Morning

The Lysblink Seaways is now securely anchored in the wide bay that runs eastwards from Mingary Pier to Maclean's Nose, with the Forth Jouster in attendance, but the weather has turned vicious. We've had near gale force west to southwesterly winds sweeping in heavy hail showers preceded by thunder and lightning. Shortly after six this morning the community's power supply failed and then recovered. To lose power now wouldn't be insuperable – the salvage people have plenty of back-up generator power with them.  The weather tomorrow looks even worse.

Picture shows the Spanish John II, a Mallaig boat which is being used to ferry supplies to and from the Lysblink Seaways, and the Kingdom of Fife off Mingary Pier. While the highest spring tides were two days ago, today's, at 4.7m and blown in by the wind, was unusually high.

In a press release yesterday, the MCA stated that the ship is extensively damaged along her bottom. Her fuel oil was only retained within the hull by the fact that it was floating on sea water. Hence their greatest concern while she was stranded was during low tide, when the sea withdrew. Despite this, oil leakage has been negligible, and the danger is further reduced now that the fuel has been pumped into the upper tanks. It will be removed from the ship as soon as possible.

Hugh Shaw of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is the Secretary of State’s Representative in charge of the operation for the British government.  He was quite open about the challenges that have been faced over the last few days but was keen to emphasise the help all those working on the salvage operation have had from the local community. He said, “In the eight years I've been doing this job, I have never seen this level of support from a community. First class!”

The Lemon Tree tea room in the Community centre has been turned into an operations room, with food and drink made available. The facilities in HM Coastguard's hut have been in constant use by the salvage teams. The community in general, as it always does, has rallied round to provide as much assistance as possible.

Picture shows the Lysblink Seaways with the 13th century Mingary Castle, which is surrounded by scaffolding while it undergoes full refurbishment.

Sea Creature Challenge

By way of a pleasant change from stranded ships, Kilchoan Early Bird has sent in two pictures of sea creatures he would like identified.  This one is about the length of a little finger, and may be a chiton, perhaps Lepidochitona cinerea.  Can anyone confirm this?

This one is about the size of an average apple and is a complete mystery to me.  Has anyone any ideas?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lysblink Seaways - Day 5 Afternoon

The Lysblink Seaways is now safely anchored in a new position a mile to the east of Mingary Pier.  The salvors have started the process of pumping her fuel from the lower tanks into the two higher ones.  Whether the fuel will remain there when she is taken away still doesn't seem certain - they may pump it off the ship into a tanker which will be brought alongside, though this will be difficult in view of the poor forecast for the next two days.

There are still a lot of worries in the community, but the mood amongst those working on the ship is much more positive.  The two local creel fishermen use this area, and some creels have had to be moved.

The earliest the Lysblink Seaways is likely to be towed away is Wednesday.

Lysblink Seaways - Day 5 Morning

Yesterday afternoon brought fine weather, a light northwesterly and sunshine.

During the night, in continuing calm weather, the tug Kingdom of Fife steamed up and down the coastline to the west of Mingary Pier, but.... morning she was back with the Lysblink Seaways - the Kingdom of Fife isn't visible in this picture as she is hidden by the ship.  But what we noticed was that the Lysblink Seaways was considerably further out, so we assumed she had been towed there in preparation for today's southerly high winds.

We were down at the pier by nine, where the news was that the ship had moved inshore during the early morning, as the forecast high winds began to build, and had had to be towed out into deeper water.  No-one seems sure whether the movement inshore was because she had dragged her anchors.

By this time the wind was south-southeasterly, force 6, and gusting.

The small craft in the foreground of this picture is the Spanish John II, out of Mallaig.  She had brought the hot tapping equipment which enables the salvage crews to pump the ship's fuel from the lower tanks into two higher tanks.

As we walked home from the pier, we realised that the ship was under tow.  It looked as if she was being taken eastwards into the wide bay between Mingary Castle and Maclean's Nose, perhaps to better holding ground.

Winds are forecast to rise to force 7, gusting over force 8, by midday.  The forecast for the next two days is for further spells of stormy weather, perhaps worse than today.

Lysblink Seaways - She's Away Again

Around eleven this morning, contractors began to tow the Lysblink Seaways away from Mingary Pier.  Picture shows her being moved eastwards, towards Maclean's Nose, perhaps to better holding ground for the anchors.

It seems a strange time to be doing this.  The wind is SSE, just short of a gale, and gusting - exactly what was forecast a couple of days ago.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Otter Sighting

Walking along the Ormsaigbeg road we saw an otter moving across one of the croft fields which run down to the beach.  These otters are often called 'sea otters', not because they're a separate species but because they spend most of their hunting time in the sea.  But they need fresh water, and often seem to build their holts higher up the hill, between the road and the common grazings fence.

Watching it, it went through the fence, crossed the next field....

....slid into the drainage ditch running down the field, and half swam, half walked upstream towards us.

By moving quickly and covertly down the road, we were in position to watch it pass through the culvert under our feet.

Lysblink Seaways - Day 4 Morning

With the wind now in the northwest, the weather has turned colder.  Even on the western side of Kilchoan Bay, where the air temperature very rarely gets down to zero, the thermometer this morning was reading 0.5C and there was a sharp ground frost.

Men from Briggs Marine are seen here getting a new oil boom out, even though there has been no sign of leaking oil.  The story around is that, although a fuel tank might have been breached, it was, fortunately, empty.  Welders are on board working in the fuel tanks, and the salvage teams will later move the fuel into the safe tanks.  Despite all this, an oil spill is still a worry.

Damage to the bottom of the Lysblink Seaways is considerable and there are questions whether she'll ever sail again, or be towed away for scrap.  Meanwhile, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's Enforcement Officer - the maritime equivalent of a policeman in British waters - has been on the ship and interviewed captain and crew.

There are two boats seen here tied up alongside the Lysblink Seaways.  Forth Jouster is on the inside - she's seen with a crane deployed - and the smaller barge at left is being used to ferry heavy equipment between the slipway and the Jouster.

Although everyone here remains very worried, some locals have reason to smile.  One item of equipment that has to go out is this 5 tonne generator which has arrived on the back of a truck.  Bert Cameron, seen here, runs a building equipment hire company from his home in Ormsaigmore, and he was asked to lift it down the slipway to the barge.  He hasn't anything which will do that, but he's thought of a way round: the truck has a crane that can lift it onto his trailer, he can then back the trailer down the slipway to where the barge's crane can reach it.

The main worry for the MCA, the salvage teams and everyone on shore is the forecast.  This is XCWeather's prediction for tomorrow, and that southerly wind gusting well above gale force around 12 midday is the worst possible news.