Friday, 26 June 2015

Sunday 14th June, Heading South, Long Hope and the Pentland Firth.

Orkney is a very beautiful place but during our visit summer definitely hadn't arrived, with daytime temperatures barely above 10ºC. Reluctantly we decided to head south and plan our transit of the Pentland Firth, with careful regard to both wind and tide. 

At 08-15 we called harbour control on VHF14 for permission to leave the harbour as the ferry appeared to be getting ready to depart. We were given the all clear and headed out to catch the last of the fair tide through the end of Hoy Sound into Scapa Flow, past Graemsey Island. The forecast was for NW4/5 occasionally 6 for a time. We managed to dodge the odd heavy shower and enjoyed a great sail with one reef in the main through nice flat water, sheltered by the islands. 

Dodging the showers along with the local ferry.

Happiness is a good sail in a brisk wind on flat seas.

By 10-20 we were moored off the pier at Long Hope on a very impressive brand new bright red visitor mooring ( one of two provided ). We spent the rest of the day relaxing onboard. We were now in a good position to make an early start to traverse the Pentland Firth. 

Moored off Long Hope pier.

 The 00-00 inshore waters forecast was for NW4/5 backing W3/4 becoming variable 3 or less later. This seemed the perfect forecast to cross the Pentland Firth from west to east. In order to position ourselves correctly in the main channel at the turn of the tide, we left our mooring at 04-50

Another early start! 

Cantick Head lighthouse on South Walls island. 

Our pilot indicated we should take the last of the inshore ebb ( west going ) towards Aith Hope, and then steer due south to ensure passing through the outer sound in mid channel. By 05-50 we were well on our way with a COG of 191º and SOG of 5.9kts. The conditions were good as there were no white horses, just a lumpy, slightly confused swell. With only 10kts of true wind we were motoring with the main up.

Heading out into the Pentland Firth.

By 06-10 we were between Stroma and Swona islands, the tide had definitely turned and was running east giving us a SOG of 7.7kts. Over the next 15 minutes our SOG increased to 10.3kts and the sea flattened. We were treated to great views of the Pentland Skerries and Duncansby Head and recorded a maximum speed over the ground of 10.7kts ( in just the first hour of the tide! ) 

Duncansby Head.

We carried the fair but decreasing tide all the way to Wick and were moored in the harbour marina at 09-05.

Friday 12th June, Stromness, Orkney.

At 05-55 we left the anchorage at Rispond Bay, Loch Eribol heading for Stromness in time to meet slack water in Hoy Sound on the approach to Stromness. We cleared Whiten Head at the entrance to Loch Eribol by 06-30, taking the end of the fair tide. We were motoring as there was only 4 kts of apparent wind from the SW. 

Dawn at Rispond Bay ( 04-40 ! )

Ben Hope from Loch Eribol. 

'The Sisters' marking the eastern side of the entrance to Loch Eribol.

By 08-25 the wind had increased so we hoisted the genneker and motor sailed through some slight drizzle. At 10-00 a cold front came through with heavier drizzle and the wind shifted and came in from the NW. A wet genneker was rapidly stowed, and the main and genoa were set.

At 12-35 we were approaching Hoy Sound, having had a good view of the 'Old Man of Hoy' considering the poor visibility earlier in the drizzle. On our way into Hoy Sound we enjoyed the bird life, inquisitive fulmars circling the boat, occasional marauding skuas, and shy, rapidly diving puffins. Our aim was to arrive in Hoy Sound at slack water - we were two minutes early! By 14-30 we were moored in Stromness Marina after a passage of 50NM.

A passing fulmar.

The Old Man of Hoy. 

Hoy Sound at slack water. 

Approaching Stromness. 

Moored in Stromness, rolled blue genneker awaiting drying.

Preparing to hoist the Orkney courtesy flag.

We had two nights in Stromness and had excellent meals at the Ferry Inn to celebrate our furthest point north ( 58º57'.865N 003º17'.630W ). We explored the area on foot enjoying many varied and fine vistas.

The waterfront at Stromness. 

Typical street in old Stromness.

Looking south over the golf course to Hoy Sound with Hoy in the background. 

Ferry negotiating the narrow entrance channel to Stromness.

'Norman James' and ferry berthed at Stromness.

Thursday 11th June, Cape Wrath and Loch Eribol.

We left Stornoway at 07-10 on an overcast day with good visibility so we could see the mainland Scottish mountains in the distance to the east. We set a course to steer of 053 degrees and maintained a good average of at least 6.5 kts. As we approached Cape Wrath we experienced a confused sea with a westerly atlantic swell interacting with a shorter sea driven by a force 4 wind from the south west. We made good progress arriving at Cape Wrath shortly after the tide had turned in our favour. By 15-00 we were off Cape Wrath with a SOG of 8.6 kts. 

 A confused sea off the aptly named Cape Wrath.

After rounding Cape Wrath we came into the 'shelter' of the Cape, the sea smoothed out and we were conveyed on the tide to the east, reaching a maximum ground speed of 9.9 kts. Our heading was well inshore as we didn't want to be swept past the entrance to Loch Eribol! We anchored in Rispond Bay at 17-05 after logging 63NM through the water.

Approaching Loch Eribol in a welcome smoother sea.

''Norman James'' at anchor in Rispond Bay

Tuesday 8th June. Stornoway

'Norman James' had a good boost out of Scalpay Sound by the strong tide, then spent the next 2 1/2 hours motorsailing with the blue geneker, however for the final hour into Stornoway the wind increased and we sailed with just the geneker. We were moored in Stornoway by 13-55. 

As Stornoway is the major town in the Outer Hebrides we had decided to have a lay day here and get a few chores done. The port authority / marina staff were extremely welcoming and helpful, and the town itself was very pleasant with most of the facilities of a larger town. 

Stornoway Marina from the access ramp.

On an initial recce into the town we found a Harris Tweed specialist, and I have had a hankering for a nice tweed jacket for years now, so this shop, along with a butcher who had small Stornoway black puddings in the window were bookmarked for the following day. Between the marina area and the town was a small square with an interesting sundial as the centrepiece - you stand on a central plaque with the months etched into it, your shadow then falls on the periphery with time markers showing the time of day. 

What's the time ?

The following day we walked into the big Tesco to do some restocking, had a look around the Fishermens Coop shop, and bought some fresh prawns from a shop literally at the top of the marina ramp ( which were delicious ! ) In the afternoon we visited the tweed shop, coming away happy with a new jacket, then found lots of good things in the butchers which seemed to find their way into our bags! A quick chat with one of the harbour employees about getting a couple of cans of fuel resulted in being offered a lift to the local petrol station which had red diesel on a pump ( a first for me ) and then being dropped off back at the marina entrance - service with a smile. In the evening we had a walk in the grounds of Lews Castle with super views over the town and out to sea. 

The marina with Stornoway town in the background. 

 Stornoway lifeboat with one of the fine buildings behind.

Lews Castle.

The Weather and tides were now favourable to cross back to the mainland but with the potential to trap us in port if we went via Kinlochbervie, so we decided to bite the bullet and do the 65NM passage to Loch Eribol via Cape Wrath, leaving at 07-00 in the morning to hit slack water at the Cape. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Monday 8th June. Scalpay North Harbour

Scalpay is a reasonable sized island at the entrance to Loch Tarbert between North and South Harris ( there are a lot of ‘Tarberts’ in Scotland ! ). There are several anchorages in the loch with two on Scalpay, we chose the North Harbour anchorage, and as there was no one else anchored we had choice of the prime spot. We anchored in 5.2m at half tide in what turned out to be good heavy mud. 

 The entrance to Scalpay North Harbour

'Norman James' anchored in Scalpay North Harbour.

We only intended to use the anchorage for an easy overnight stay, so had a relaxing evening on the boat before setting out the next morning for Stornoway on the isle of Lewis. We exited through Scalpay Sound as it was much more direct than retracing our track from the previous day. Linking Scalpay to Harris is a spectacular steel bridge with plenty of clearance for a medium size yacht ( 19m ).

The bridge between Scalpay and Harris

Sunday 7th June. Loch Maddy

Once clear of Lochboisdale we hoisted sails and proceeded up the coast with one reef in the main and genoa. By 11-30 the wind had started to ease from what had been 20 - 24 kts, it was a fine sunny day with good visibility and Skye clear to the east. 

A Fine day for a sail.

We had had a really good sail, and by 13-30 we arrived at the entrance of Loch Maddy. We were moored by 14-30 after a passage of about 32NM. There were a few boats on the pontoons and were told that they hadn’t seen any sign of the marina attendant for 3 days, but that there was an honesty box at the top of the exit ramp. The marina itself is next to the RoRo ferry terminal, and we were quite amused watching the ferry berthing so close to the boat.

The Ferry 'Hebrides' berthing at the Loch Maddy terminal.

 The following morning we had a good walk with splendid views, and heard a cuckoo calling. 

Above and below - Typical views from Loch Maddy.

On the way back from our walk we picked up a few provisions at the village shop, and spotted another two Post Buses parked outside; nice to see this resource being used so extensively for the benefit of the community. We then returned to the boat and got ourselves ready to leave for North Harbour on Scalpay.

One of the Post Buses parked outside the village shop.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Thursday 4th June. Loch Boisdale

After provisioning and taking on 40litres of fuel, we cast off from the Tobermory pontoon at 08-45 bound for the outer Hebrides. We motor sailed with the main and C1 genneker using the engine to maintain a SOG of 6kts. By 13-55 Barra and South Uist were appearing over the horizon, and we moored in the brand new marina at Loch Boisdale on South Uist at 17-00, having covered some 53NM. 
The brand new marina at Lochboisdale Harbour.

The Causeway road leading to the marina showing the facilities building, quay, and slipway.

I haven't  seen many signs warning of Otters before !

More gales were forecast for the next few days, and we ended up spending 3 nights in the marina, giving us some time to explore. The next day dawned wet and very breezy, and after a slow get up we decided to have a short walk before lunch just to get our bearings. The village of Loch Boisdale was about a mile away, along a new causeway road ( part of the marina development  ), and we were immediately offered a lift into the village by a passing car. The harbourmaster had mentioned that the post office / cafe was quite nice for a drink and sandwich, and was easy to find as it was painted bright pink ! We succumbed to temptation and tucked into bacon rolls ( mine with added Stornoway black pudding! ). 

Whilst in the cafe we noticed that the post van had ‘Post Bus’ written on the side, and after enquiring of the post mistress ( Morag ) we decided to join the bus and see some of the Island. This turned out to be a great success - the bus wound it’s way along the small roads on the Atlantic side of the island ( stopping at each post box to pick up the mail ), over the causeway between South Uist and Benbecula, and terminated at the sorting office next door to the airport on Benbecula where we had about an hour and a half before the return journey. 

One of the fine views had from the Post Bus.

Typical watery landscape on South Uist taken from the Post Bus.

After spending about half an hour sitting on a beautiful white sandy beach next to the airport we had a walk and a good peruse of a souvenir shop where I managed to replace a broken whiskey tot glass prior to the bus trip back to Loch Boisdale. 

 Miles of white sandy beaches on the western side of Benbecula.

Plane taking off in a strong side wind from Benbecula airport.

The following day we returned to the cafe for lunch again and had a walk around the village itself, then walked back to the marina in time to watch the CalMac ferry come in. 

 The CalMac ferry entering Lochboisdale.

After catching the 19-10 MSI forecast on the VHF from Stornoway Coastguard we could see that although it might be a bit ‘vigorous’ to start with, the next day looked OK to move up the coast to Loch Maddy on North Uist.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Start of the new season - retracing old ground.

The weather outlook didn't look too good when we were ready to start out for our summer cruise on 29th May, so, rather than head south to round the Mull of Kintyre, the decision was made to go back through the Crinan Canal. Scottish Canals had increased the cost significantly from last year, however, this year we would have a fully assisted passage included in the price, which was quite a relief. We stopped off at East Loch Tarbert for one night before heading up to Ardrishaig and the sea lock where we paid our dues. With the help of the ( very ) friendly staff, we made rapid progress and were able to tie up securely in the basin above lock 14 ( penultimate ) by the shutdown time of 17-00. The aforementioned weather then duly arrived and we spent 2 days and 3 nights waiting for the gales to pass through, fortunately the canal license allowed for 4 nights!

On Tuesday 2nd June, the wind was still blowing quite hard but was forecast to reduce during the day, so we set out at 10-30 to make an appointment with the ‘Dorus Mor’ tide gate. After passing through ‘Dorus Mor’ we turned NW to the sound of Luing where we achieved our maximum speed of 10.3kts over the ground. Our intention had been to go to Oban Marina on Kerrera Island, but we were making such good progress that we decided to change plans and go for Loch Aline just off the Sound of Mull on the mainland side. Loch Aline is a beautiful place with an excellent new marina which we visited last year. After a quiet night, we set off the next morning bound for Tobermory to provision the boat, and then start new adventures for 2015.