The weather had improved through the day and given the rapidly shifting pressure systems, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. Our decision was vindicated the next morning with the wind veering to the north - it would have meant a slog into F4/5 all the way. Instead, our return trip was a delight - a longer crossing directly from Ulva to Iona with the sea quartering on the stern giving long surfs. If anything, this return trip - a crossing of around 16km - was the real highlight of the trip for me. There is something about that kind of paddling - rolling swells, wind blown waves and long surf rides out on open water - that fires enthusiasm, leaving any lethargy at the prospect of a longish crossing far behind.
But back to the moment, and as we worked steadily north, the islands disappeared and reappeared beyond the swell, while Mull's only Munro, Ben More, rose above, the cloud gradually clearing its broad summit.
The puffins gradually became more numerous as we approached Staffa though it was the manx shearwaters that stole the show, their grace, carving between the waves surpassing that even of the fulmars.
On every crossing of more than a few km, there is that moment when the land ahead suddenly takes on more detail, appearing within easy reach - The Great Face of Staffa.
Approaching this most distinctive island, a bonxie or great skua flew by repeatedly...
...before leaving us to appreciate the basalt columns without distraction.
The Great Face in profile. Though it is not so apparent here, there was little chance of entering the caves with breakers frequently closing the entrances.
To the east of Staffa, we rested briefly in the sheltered shallows, before making a shorter crossing to Little Colonsay.
Looking back on Staffa as Chris approaches Little Colonsay's northern shoreline beneath the low evening sun, the Dutchman's Cap in the far distance.
From Little Colonsay, it was a short hop to Ulva and our camp for the night. A perfect bay, and one which is under increasing pressure, suited as it is to the round trip of Ulva and Gometra. I was careful to leave no trace of our stay and was pleased that other than a few charred logs, there was little evidence of others, though tell tale depressions in the grass indicated others had almost certainly camped here the night before us.
Sunset beyond the Dutchman's Cap and a blissfully midge free evening despite the calm.
In the morning, the wind had freshened once more, now from the north-west. We paddled to the western end of Little Colonsay before heading south-west, making directly for the Sound of Iona. A brilliant stretch of paddling, surfing and carving across smaller wind blown waves which ran across the swell still rolling in from the west.
It ended on this perfect beach...
...a narrow gap in the distinctive granite giving access to a sheltered sun trap.
A brief and blustery downwind run south through the sound followed - leading quickly to the skerries guarding the sheltered waters of Slugan Dubh, the celebrated Iona Abbey immediately behind Chris.
Sunset beyond the Sound of Iona brought this wonderful trip to an end, my thoughts turning to our next objective - Stoer.