Catch Up Time as we’ve been kept busy on the sea and, for the most part, out of range of a good internet connection.
After the fabulous scenery and passages to Loch Scavaig and Loch Nevis we then went on to Plockton about which there is not much to say. En route to Plockton we had a short stop in Mallaig to get our outboard repaired and from Plockton we then went on to Stornoway.
Once we had left Mallaig we cautiously motored up the Kylerhea River and on toward the Skye Bridge which, if I recall, caused initial controversy as the funding was put together by a City Investment Bank and opened as a Toll Road. I am not sure if it still is but it does provide an easier route onto Skye as well as, reciprocally, an exit route off for those Islanders who wish to escape or move to the Smoke.
We had one very anxious moment as we approached (its not an awfully big bridge) as the centre span looked a little low. There followed a hurried browse through the boat’s technical spec folder, to find height of mast, and an equally rushed review of height of tide calculations to make sure that, if combined, the two would be lower than the centre span’s concrete base. Although close, we made it through with about 6-7metres clear. We did hear radio traffic about the yacht that “..was about to hit the bridge..” but that, thankfully, was not going to be us. There must have been others, in the past and, maybe, in the future whose calculations go awry and they take out the top of their mast and, with it, their GPS ariel, VHF and anemometer. We seem to be back to Robbie Burns and those “oft laid plans..”. Amazing how often it turns up, huh?
Plockton was, well, Plockton. A small town on the southern edge of Loch Carron, that provided shelter for us overnight together with the opportunity to test out our newly repaired outboard engine on the dinghy. It worked – much to the relief of fellow crew who fancied rejoining to the local hostelry for an end-of-day nightcap.
The next day, 11th May, it was my turn to ‘Skipper’ the boat and plan the passage for the next step. Wind and tides suggested, given that we wanted to make a large shift northward in order to get round Cape Wrath by Wednesday, that Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, should be our first choice.
We set off out of Plockton at 8am in good weather and started to make our way out of the Loch and on toward the Inner Sound, to the East of Skye. At that point, 30minutes into a 10hour journey, we noticed some aberrations between the electronic compass and the magnetic compass. The divergence was in the order of 180degrees. Given that just 1degree of error in a 10 hour journey could mean being out by 10 nautical miles at the end of it, we chose to try and rectify the problem there and then.
That meant, according to Merv, ‘re-calibrating the compass’. To re-calibrate a compass is not difficult but it entails going round in circles for a period of time, first one way, then the other. To any onlooker it may have looked quite odd and they may, had they spotted some of us in the pub the previous evening, put it down to that malaise ‘the morning after’ sickness. It wasn’t. Turns out that an iPad had been left too close to the electronic compass’ control centre below decks. iPad removed, the compass went back to normal having additionally benefitted from a full re-calibration to check accuracy. That fixed, we re-set our course and put the kettle on which is yet another item on the list of ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ and is as much a cure-all at sea as it is on land.
Stornoway was, well, Stornoway. Another fishing and ferry port. Obviously the gateway to Lewis and Harris and a good place to pick up some tweed. We entered to newly refurbished marina and moored up opposite the Castle of Lew. The marina refurbishment had not quite finished so facilities were limited. Very.
Having arrived late we decided to eat out. However, the observance of Sunday as a day of rest meant that the only restaurant open was a curry house. It was to this that we retired. A bottle of Cobra – de rigueur in such establishments – followed by a curry. ‘nuff said. I looked them up in the hygiene rankings and they came out as “Needs Improvement”, the knowledge of which I kept to myself but which also made it difficult to finish the meal. Still, no bad after effects so I assume that ‘improvements’ must have taken place. Either that or, after 6 weeks at sea, we’re becoming a little tougher than we used to be?
Talking of ‘Tough’, are there any that are tougher than the local fishermen who toil around our coast? There is a relatively high fatality rate in the industry (something close to 30-plus deaths a year) that seems to go, for the large part, un-reported, at least at a national level. During our journey from Stornoway, back to the mainland, we overheard a Mayday call telling us about a fisherman who had gone overboard. A man had been recovered from the water but had succumbed either to injury or shock or cold or a combination of all three. Such a tragedy. When decent, the finger of blame must point somewhere and so a tightening of safety precautions within, admittedly, a very dangerous occupation has to take place.
On a lighter note, we returned to the mainland and into Loch Clash and Kinlochbervie and anchored for the night. From there we motored – yet again little wind – up into the Kyle of Durness, aborting our attempt to got to Loch Eribol. Durness was fabulous with a beach that must be the envy of many a seaside town down-south, or anywhere else for that matter. Toward late afternoon our anchorage began to look a little too exposed as the winds had shifted and we were being buffeted around. It would have been very uncomfortable to have stayed (if not downright dangerous on a lee-shore) so we mutually agreed to make the journey to Scrabster and our final stop before changing Instructors. That wind shift was kind to us and the first hour of sailing was some of the best we’ve had in the last six weeks. That didn’t last, however, and so we reverted to type and turned the ‘donkey’ on and motor-sailed to Scrabster, arriving around midnight. The Harbour Master directed us to a mooring up against the high harbour wall. A very uncomfortable spot for our type of boat. We finally got to bed around 2am but went onto an hourly watch system as we had to ensure that all the ropes, holding us on, were adjusted as the tide fell and subsequently rose. That is something that, on a marina pontoon, does not happen as the whole pontoon, to which we’d be tied, also rises and falls with the tide.
So here we are in Scrabster which is, as they say, Scrabster. A fishing port and ferry terminal and little else. The cafe in the old ferry terminal, now frequented by local workers, does a very good ‘Full English’ breakfast but no other shops are here, not even a Co-Op.
We’re here a day early and so have another to wait until the next instructor, Alistair, joins us. From here we could go further north into the Orkneys or Shetlands before we head back South again. I’ll keep you posted.
We also say goodbye to Merv. Our Skipper and Instructor for the last two weeks. A no-nonsense instructor from whom I’ve learnt a lot. I hope I can stay in touch with him as he’ll be working on a yacht based in Portsmouth at Gunwharf Quay. Thanks Merv.
May 11-15th Days 36-40