When we bought the boat, it came with an Avon inflatable dinghy. Unless we overnight at a marina pontoon, the dinghy is our connection to land. It came with two paddles which are fine when there is little wind, little current and not too far to the beach. A few times we have stayed on board because we haven’t been sure we will reach land and in Plockton we were stuck on land unable to reach the boat. Luckily the crew of a training yacht saved us with their tender.
On arriving in Wales we found the largest Chandlery we had seen since Ardfern and they had a small outboard motor just like we had been searching for. Out came the Visa card and on to the dinghy went the motor. We tested it in the harbour and today used it to for the half mile to the pub at Porth Dinllaen. At about 3 knots we are now much faster than with “Neill power”.
We have been going to marinas when we need diesel, water, electricity or a shower. For diesel and water we now have canisters which we can take with us when we take the dinghy to land. We are going to become expert at begging tap water. Electricity mostly comes from our wind generator and solar panel. So now we just need it to get warm enough to shower on deck 🙂
We had finally had enough of feeling our way from port to port in thick fog so in the morning we got up early, switched on the motor and all the gadgets and set off for the Isle of Man. We navigated briskly across the busy entrance to Belfast Lough and then gingerly through the Donagadee Channel using radar to avoid buoys and unseen boats. Next we set a course of 125 degrees magnetic and spent the next four hours watching the radar. At least Neill did. Heidi baked onion bread and cleaned the metalwork.
A few times we saw crossing or approaching boats on the radar but in the mist we only saw one for real. Finally, only six miles from the Isle of Man, we came out of the mist and in to sunshine and cloudless blue skies. We radioed ahead to Peel Harbour asking for a berth and he sounded very stressed and busy. He said to call again when we reached the outer harbour and we could have a berth if some one left.
On reaching Peel we were called in to the inner harbour and were stunned to be greeted by thousands of people, a live band and a huge street party. Every berth in the harbour was full and on the walls, boats were rafted four deep. And on every boat there was a party. We asked if every Sunday was like this and were told that today was “mad sunday” at the start of the TT races. One week a year and we had hit it on the nose.
The next day we caught a bus to the race course and were given a tip by a local about a great view point through a farmyard and across two fields. Here we watched amazingly crazy motorcyclists racing down closed roads just missing the stone walls on each side. The speed was unbelievable and the noise unbearable. Neither the photos or videos we took do the craziness of this event justice.
We walked back to the village, ate a monster ice cream and then took the bus back to town, visted the castle and went shopping – all the time with the sound of one of the thousands of motorbikes here on holiday in the background.
Slowly a pattern is emerging. This is the third time we have arrived for “the big once a year event”. Tobermory, Rathlin and now Peel. If we actually had a plan, it would be a good one.
We left Ballycastle planning a quick sail south taking full advantage of the tidal stream and then to drop the anchor south of Belfast Lough. We had however forgotten about Irish mist.
After rounding the first headland the visibility began to drop and soon we were cut off from the rest of the world and sailing in our little pool of existence. Occasionally a seabird would appear and just as quickly disappear. It all sounds very romantic but it is actually not such a great feeling. Seeing a hundred meters ahead of you and not knowing what is beyond is actually quite frightening.
Luckily we are 21st century sailors so we have two charts and two independent chartplotters that use GPS to tell us where we are and what else is out there. We also have an AIS system that transmits the position of larger boats in the area. We have an active radar reflector that tells the radar on other boats where we are and we have a radar of our own that shows us other objects. We also have ship to ship radio so we can call up approaching ships and ask if they have seen us. It all sounds great but it doesn’t change the fact that you are permanently sailing in to a wall of nothing.
Each day we sail a bit and then the permanent staring into the grey nothingness gets to us and we seek a bay to anchor and recover. As soon as the visibility improves, we are off again and shortly after we are once again surrounded by mist and hear only the foghorns of huge ships further off the coast.
Now, after three days, we are anchored at Antrim County Sailing Club and waiting for the visibility to increase enough that we can cross the shipping lane to Belfast.
Endlich sind wir in Irland angekommen und somit kann unser Fotoalbum von Schottland geschlossen werden.
Aber wer möchte, kann natürlich unsere Bilder weiterverfolgen, denn es gibt bereits ein Album für Irland.
Now that we have left Scotland and reached Ireland, we have started a new photo album. The address is above.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 https://rnli.org/news-and-media/2018/may/15/leverburghs-new-shannon-attends-first-shout
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.