Crossing to Ireland

From Lochmaddy we continued our journey south anchoring in a stunning Loch on the Isle of South Uist and mooring just off the pontoons in Castlebay (Brian, a friendly local, lent us his mooring after warning us about the bad ground for anchoring). The next night we anchored off the white sands of Vatersay Bay in clear water and sunshine.

Leaving the Outer Hebrides from the Isle of Vatersay, we then “island hopped” our way south passing Iona and anchoring off the Isle of Gunna and in Inner Loch Tarbert on Jura. We had to leave Loch Tarbert at four in the morning to catch a tidal stream that washed us through the Sound of Islay at 11 knots. 11 nautical miles in one hour. Amazing how fast you can go if your calculations put you in the right place at the right time.

Our plan was to spend the night in the marina at Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay. We arrived there in a 20 knot wind and found the marina full. Luckily we have learned to rely on our anchor and we, and an american boat, rode out the storm anchored just off a beach in the bay.

The crossing to Ireland was only 20 miles but took some detailed planning. Based on the phase of the moon (height of tide), where the moon is (time of tidal flows) and the projected wind, we calculated that the optimum time to leave was 13:30. This meant that we would be pushed west in to the Atlantic for three hours and then back in to the Irish Sea for two with a net result that we would land at Rathlin Island. We also had to take in to account that we would be crossing a traffic separation scheme (motorway for ships) which we should do as fast as possible.

First Guinness in Ireland
First Guinness in Ireland

We left as planned. We sailed directly south and drifted west as planned. We were halfway across the TSS when the wind dropped to nothing completely contrary to all the weather reports. So there we were becalmed halfway to Ireland watching for approaching oil tankers. An hour later and we gave up and motored the last miles to Rathlin Island, the marina, a Guinness and some irish folk music in front of the bar.

So now we are in Ireland and it is finally shorts and T-shirts weather.

The “sailing team”

There are the two of us on board – Heidi and I. So obviously everything has to be done by one or the other of us. That is not such a problem until we do a long journey when one of us has to be at the tiller (stick at the back that you push from side to side to steer) all the time leaving the other one to do “everything else”.

Luckily we have help on board. We have an autopilot that we can connect to the tiller and set to a fixed course. It is a hydraulic cylinder and a bunch of electronics that eats power from our batteries. We call this “crew member” Steven (named after a great mechanic in Ardfern). This device is great for the occasions when we have the motor on, generating electricity, but no use when sailing – which is what we mostly do.

We also have a Monitor Windvane. This is a truly amazing device that detects changes in the wind caused by the boat turning off course. It uses these tiny changes to move a paddle in the water and the power created by this to move the tiller the correct way to compensate. It does this constantly without any electronics, hydraulics, noise or whatever. This device is a “she” and we call “her” Chiara. Neill and Chiara are learning to get along. Mostly she will do what he wants but sometimes she takes a long time to do it and sometimes she just flatly refuses to follow his instructions unless he changes the sail settings. She is slowly getting Neill properly “trained” and Heidi only occasionally has to calm Neill down.

"Chiara" the Monitor Windvane
“Chiara” the Monitor Windvane

Occasionally things get really “tight”, particularly entering hidden anchorages. “20 degrees to port until we pass that covered rock then starboard stemming the flood until the small cliff then immediately hard port on a heading of 330 degrees”. It is like the scene in Hunt for Red October when they are avoiding seamounts underwater. These are the times when only a Heidi is good enough on the tiller

Together the four of us are doing a good job until now.

Sailing plans

After leaving Stornoway we spent the night in the nearby Loch Grimshader. I checked the charts, checked the tidal streams and made a plan. We would sail out of the Loch before breakfast, tack out a few miles and then follow the coast south west.

The part about leaving before breakfast worked but the wind was so variable that nothing else went as planned. The wind came from the wrong direction and the self steering wouldn’t do what I wanted and the tidal stream had turned before we reached the gap. Finally the wind dropped completely and. thoroughly annoyed, I motored to the beautiful Shiant Islands and anchored there.

That evening Heidi reminded me that I was the one who had said “the great thing about sailing is you have to be situative”. So for the next day there was no plan and that made things much better.

We were up early but the house batteries were too empty to pull up the anchor so we ate breakfast while we charged them with the motor. We then did a complete tour of the islands and enjoyed the incompetence of the puffins who seem to have a real problem taking off from water. There was no wind so we set the autopilot and cleaned the boat. About lunch time we agreed that we would just motor on to Loch Maddy, anchor in a bay and walk in to town. Ten minutes later there was 10 knots of wind so we set all sails and tacked out to sea. Another 10 minutes and there was more wind so we pulled in the Genoa and set the Gib. A few tacks later and we were reefing the main sail.

We reached Loch Maddy much later than planned and in a wind gusting 25 knots. No more plans to walk in to town, just get everything straightened away and then cook dinner. Heidi was tidying up the last rope when “something happened” to her back and she was in immediate pain. She hoped it would get better and lay down.

Leverburgh lifeboat
Leverburgh lifeboat took us to the pontoon

The next morning it was clear that Heidi needed a doctor. She couldn’t stand or sit and lieing was difficult. The wind was 20 gusting 25 knots so I could not lift the anchor alone and was pretty sure that trying to dock at a pontoon would be a disaster. I called the coastguard per marine radio and they connected us to a doctor. He asked questions and Heidi answered with long latin words. I didn’t understand what we were talking about. The doctor then talked to the coastguard and they sent the brand new Leverburgh lifeboat to help us. That is an extremely impressive beast with a fantastic crew. They rafted up to us and then used their 640hp to move us round the Loch and on to a pontoon. There is a press release from the lifeboat about their coming to our rescue at

The doctor confirmed Heidi’s diagnosis and gave her lots of pain killers. Nothing life threatening but a “real pain”.

But the great thing is we didn’t have a plan so it never went wrong.


Callanish Stones

Yesterday we reached Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. This was the furthest point north that we planned to sail while in Scotland. It is 58°12’N and even though the locals are enjoying summer in short trousers, we still find 7°C and the constant wind too cold. Today we turned round and began sailing south.

But first we took the bus from Stornoway across the island to the village of Callanish. Here there are numerous standing stones erected some 5000 years ago. Visiting Callanish has been on my “todo list” since I was a child so it was an achievement to finally get there.

Callanish standing stones (Isle of Lewis)
Callanish standing stones (Isle of Lewis)

The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the hillock that the main set of stones is set on. Luckily we had caught the first bus so, once we walked up the hill, we were almost alone. I found it amazing to think that these stones have been stood here a hundred times as long as I have been alive. They are certainly impressive set amongst the wild hebridean hillocks and inlets.

The wind and temperature quickly drove us into the heated visitor center which focussed on the fact that we have no idea why the stones were set up or what function they fulfilled. There was a short film which was followed by a set of amazing photos of the Hebrides.

Once we were warm, we walked to the other two sites of standing stones. As we passed the houses of this scattered community we couldn’t help but wonder what the people here do to earn a living. There is little sign of farming and no trace of industry. There are wind turbines but inexplicably none of the larger ones were turning.

To buy a Harris Tweed Blanket

When we were buying the necessities for the boat, we were both in agreement that Heidi needed a nice warm blanket for sitting around on cold nights. We decided that we should go to the Island of Harris and buy an original Harris Tweed blanket there.

With a working motor we sailed north through the Inner Sound before passing through the narrows between the Islands of Raasay and Rona. We then followed Skye’s imposing east coast to the northern tip. At one point we passed a huge waterfall where a small river just ran out of land and fell over the enormous cliff. Our last alternative anchorage was Staffin Bay but we passed that after only four hours so decided to continue and cross the Little Minch. The coastguard’s weather forecast was promising a “gale force 8” for the next day so we were keen to reach a snug anchorage in the Outer Hebrides.

The Little Minch - wash day
The Little Minch – wash day

With two reefs in the main sail and most of the jib out, we were acoss the Little Minch in four hours. We only saw three ships crossing our route and all were far enough away to be “no problem”. We made the best of the sun and wind to dry out the mornings washing. I also wanted to try out the wind monitor steering (wind driven autopilot) but we were moving too fast to get the rudder locked.

At anchor in Loch Maaruig
At anchor in Loch Maaruig

Once we reached Harris in the Outer Hebrides, we entered the Fjord like Loch Seaforth and sailed two miles along it until we reached the sheltered anchorage at Loch Maaruig where we dropped anchor after a passage of ten hours. There are five houses clustered around the bay but I had a fast Internet connection via my mobile phone. Very strange.

The next day we treated ourselves to a lie in and a late Brunch. We then paddled to shore and set off to walk up to the main road in the hope of hitching a lift in to town. After about a kilometer we saw a sign that pointed along the old road to Tarbert and was only 8 kilometer. We decided to walk that way along what was now just a path. The sign didn’t mention that all eight kilometer were against the gale force 8 that had now arrived as forecast. We walked up to the pass “Braigh an Ruisg” and then down through the Glen of the Lacasdaillochs”. The scenery was extremely wild and very empty. No signs of habitation, no animals and no people. Just the wind making every step an effort.

The old road to Tarbert
The old road to Tarbert

After a few hours we reached Tarbert and went to the Harris Tweed shop to buy Heidi’s blanket. As we paid the cashier handed us a card and said “you can order online next time”.

And then, after a hot coffee and chocolate brownie, we walked all the way back being pushed by the wind and rowed back out to the boat.

Our route is at GPSies.

A working engine.

The engine problems that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry were still there. Every time we tried to sail the engine filled with salt water and was then almost impossible to start.
Via the broker we contacted the previous owner and he assured us that this had never happened, no matter how hard he sailed or on which point of sail.
Three people had looked at the system and all were convinced that everything was as it should be and there was no way that the water could be coming in through the exhaust. But neither could any of them suggest where it was coming from.

Information_SignDouglas works for Northwind Engineering Ltd.  You can contact them as follows: Camusteel, Applecross, Wester Ross, IV54 8LT. 01520 744467 or 01520 733261,

And then Douglas came to help. He listened to our description of the problem, took a long hard look at the system and then declared it was the stern gland lubrication that was letting water in. This is a small tube that should be connected to the salt water outlet on the heat exchanger. When the motor was reinstalled, after being cleaned and painted, two pipes were mixed up so that the feed was from the exhaust. As soon as we sailed with no back pressure from the engine, the water flowed back up the tube and in to the engine.
Douglas giving the engine a long hard stare
Douglas giving the engine a long hard stare
On Sunday we went out for a test sail with the tube disconnected and confirmed Douglas’ theory. Today he “replumbed” everything correctly and finally, after three weeks of problems, we can sail and still have a working engine when we take the sails down.
And Douglas took Heidi to buy engine coolant and they came back with fresh fish.

Hillwalking – Carn a Bhealaich

We are moored in the bay of the small and pretty village of Plockton. We were in Skye in both Loch na Cairidh and Loch Sligachan. From there we had planned on climbing one of the Red Cuillins (mountains on Skye). High winds and low cloud put paid to that plan. So today we had our first hillwalking tour.

After rowing the dinghy to the pier we set out through the village of Plockton and then around the bay before following tracks and paths that continued up through the woods and forest. We continually had good views back to the village and of Artemis in the bay.

Plockton Bay
Plockton Bay

Higher up we left the trees and enjoyed amazing views across the wild mountains and lakes to our north. The downside was that we also lost the shelter from the wind which increased as we climbed. Continue reading “Hillwalking – Carn a Bhealaich”

Repairs (probably just part one)

We have now been on board for two weeks. After all the work we had commissioned over the last year, we were expecting a few teething problems and they came as expected.

The engine runs well but loses various fluids and occasionally refuses to start when needed. This is not a good state for an engine. Three times now we have reached the end of a journey to not be able to start the engine without considerable effort. Sailing backwards and forwards in front of a port instead of entering it is not fun.

First it was losing fresh water coolant. We refilled it twice and both times it lost the refilled amount. This turned out to be an easy problem; the system was overfilled to begin with. Once we stopped topping it up, it stopped losing coolant.

There is also a small diesel leak whch we traced to the fuel filter and is now on the “wait until it gets worse” list.

Heidi in the "engine room"
Heidi in the “engine room”

The strangest problem was that there were occasionally liters of salt water below the engine. These appeared randomly and once they did the engine would no longer start. Yesterday, while sailing up the Sound of Sleat, we saw water dripping out of the air filter. In Mallaig a neighbouring motor boat owner in consultation with the local guru decided that in heavy following seas the water was being rammed back up the exhaust. So now we need a “cat flap” on the back of the boat. Continue reading “Repairs (probably just part one)”

The Sound of Sleet

From the Isle of Rum we sailed due East to Mallaig where we briefly stopped for reprovisioning. We then continued on into Loch Nevis to achieve another of Neill’s childhood dreams by visiting the village of Inverie. The village has a road but it is not joined to the rest of the mainlands road network. You either walk two days across the mountains or go by boat. We took a visitors mooring in front of the pub and went there for dinner. The Old Forge is billed as being mainland UK’s most remote pub. The food was good and the view through the window was stunning and changed every minute. Real Life is so much better than HDTV 🙂

Dinner at the Old Forge on Knoydart
Dinner at the Old Forge on Knoydart

The next day we walked around the village and made good use of the pubs WiFi. Neill also lost our bridle hook (used to secure the anchor) in to the depths of the loch. Continue reading “The Sound of Sleet”

The Small Isles

These are four Islands west of the scottish mainland that are a part of the Inner Hebrides.

We sailed from Tobermory to the Isle of Muck and anchored in a bay on the north side of the island to be sheltered from the prevailing wind. Once the anchor was set, we rowed to the beach and followed the track the two kilometers in to “town”. We passed through a field of highland cattle, met the farmer working with his sheep and lambs and met a hen coming the other way as well as a lost sheep. The village was tiny and closed but we looked at the impressive community center. I was really interested in the solar and wind powered electricity generation but we met no one to ask for details. The only person we met was from the Isle of Mull. After walking back we continued along a barely defined path that led to a lonely bothy with views out to sea. All very “Lord of the Rings”.
In the evening we tackled and solved the problem of how to get the main halyard from round the radar reflector. The solution involved hoisting the spare anchor in to the rigging. Continue reading “The Small Isles”