Irene MacLachlan, legend among Scottish yachting fraternity; born May 15, 1910, died December 5, 1997

Few yachtsmen who have cruised in West Highland waters over the past 40 years or so will not have heard of Irene MacLachlan - or indeed heard from her when they managed to get things wrong.

She was born on the Isle of Luing and lived there for most of her 87 years, building up an impressive collection of the signatures of those who visited the island and an equally impressive reputation for dispensing advice on how to navigate the local waters.

The last signature to appear in her unique record was dated December 3, 1991, by which time the ''visitors' book'' had stretched to eight volumes.

Irene MacLachlan lived at Ardinamir, and her first love was of the land and of nature. She farmed with her father and never went to school, being educated at home by her mother. She worked a lot with horses and was expert at handling them, and in her youth she went round the island with a horse and cart, selling produce from the farm.

She continued to farm on her own after the death of her father in 1948 (her mother had died two years

earlier) until the land was taken over by new owners, after which she took on the job of feeding cattle on the nearby island of Torsa.

For many years she rowed over from Ardinamir in all weathers and then walked to the north end of the island to tip the heavy bags into a feeder.

In 1949 a family from Dublin, sailing a yacht called Evora, gave Irene a visitors' book and signed it, beginning a saga which became one of the great interests of her life.

At first the people signing the book were those visiting Luing on foot, but by the summer of 1950 yachtsmen started to sign and from then on it became a tradition for people to enter their signature and the name of their boat whenever they visited.

Names in the book include that of the Conservative MP Sir Teddy Taylor and there are some written in Chinese characters. There is also a Clare Francis, but it is not known whether this is the signature of the renowned yachtswoman.

Ms MacLachlan gave friendly but firm advice to those trying to make the difficult entrance to Ardinamir Bay, and was known for giving those who failed to follow her instructions and ended up in difficulties a good telling off.

One member of the sailing fraternity who knew her, and who always flew a skull and crossbones from her boat when approaching Ardinamir, recalls that it made Irene's day if someone went round the wrong side of the marker buoy and ran aground.

Irene never married, but a constant companion in her last years at Ardinamir was a stray cat called MacKelvie, who was given no special privileges and was advised to catch a mouse to satisfy his hunger if he did not like what was offered.

Ms MacLachlan was an honorary member of the British Legion, the Clyde Cruising Club, the Royal Highland Yacht Club, and an Irish yacht club, wearing with pride the appropriate tie when certain yachts appeared. She was often in touch with the Oban coastguard and would keep a look-out for any boat they wanted to contact.

She had spent the past few years in a retirement home, where yachting people used to write to her and visit her. She received letters and postcards from all over the world in which people would give detailed acounts of their travels.

Stephen McGregor