Saturday, 8 July 2017

North to the light....

Another few weeks pass, another 500 or so miles slide past the keel and still we're heading north.....well why wouldn't we?

We crept out of West Loch Tarbert and continued northwards stopping briefly in Canna, another place we hadn't been to in several years and I'd forgotten how attractive it is with a good sheltered anchorage and visitor buoys available. The only open direction is from the east and when the wind duly turned easterly early the following morning we left, reefed, for the Hebrides. The winds were strong, the fog was thick and the rain too frequent. The Hebs remained invisible until we were much less than a mile from the shore and we were about to enact Plan B when we caught the dark outline of land and plunged on. I don't know if you have ever been in one of those situations when your mind races through “worst case scenarios” but this rapidly became one of them. A lee shore coupled with a narrow entrance and rolling waves. The entrance was a sharpish turn to port leaving the seas abeam. Thanks to some exceptional deck work from Bee we had the main down at the last minute to minimise the rolling and we motored slowly in against the ebbing tide toward the gap. It was narrow and had the engine packed in or faltered there wouldn't have been either time or space to get sails up. Inevitably you allow these thoughts to tumble through the mind working out possible solutions even though reality suggests there isn't much chance . Of course we got in, the seas moderated and we worked our way into another cracking Hebridean anchorage where one other boat lay.

A brief sail up to Loch Maddy, joined briefly by Bob Shepton and Dodo's Delight and then on to one of the summers objectives: across the Sound of Lewis and onto the west side of Harris. The sound was achieved reasonably easily apart from a bit of confusion with a couple of buoys and then onto the magic of the western coast. Several things struck us as we sailed gently toward our evenings anchorage. Firstly far more people lived this side than we had imagined and houses were dotted along the shore and hills and the beaches were a stunning white, almost Caribbean with the green sea breaking gently across the shore. True the folks strolling along had more than Speedos' on but...
Although we were initially disappointed at the anchorage it turned out to be very well sheltered even if room was restricted. However the following day gave us a wild ride with a fair bit of beating as we made it up Loch Roag. The east and west Roags are spectacular; well worth the effort to get here and a great chance to relax, gaze at the Callanish Standing Stones where we anchored one night and sort things out for the trip around the top of the Hebrides toward Orkney/Shetland.

We continued northwards with a hope of getting ourselves up to Shetland...of course the winds died come the evening and the prospect of a fast passage wandered off into never never land. We altered course for Orkney with its heaving tides and overfall's. Get the timing right and they remain a joy and a wonder...wrong and they represent, if you're lucky, a waste of diesel and a very slow passage. It rarely happens but this time it did and we hit the entrance to the Eynhallow Sound at exactly the right time and we swept through with speeds briefly reaching 10 knots before we were back under our own sail power at a more sedentary 4 or 5 k. A beat down to Kirkwall to anchor for the night and we were back in the Orkney's. After the drama of the Scottish west coast the Orkney's strike us as a tad tame, gentle hills rather than mountains and bays rather than dark foreboding lochs but those tides!! The only other time we came here I found myself completely freaked by them to the point we cut short the journey and went elsewhere. This time my mind seemed more at ease. The following day, luckily, didn't change it.

We left Kirkwall with the tide running strongly with us. The journey wasn't a long one but looked to be interesting from a nav viewpoint. Up the west side of Shapinsay we romped and in order not to get swept sideways I kept off the coast line somewhat, a tactic, had I read the pilot book properly, that could only end in disaster. We sailed straight into a particularly unpleasant and dangerous overfall where the seas suddenly became more than 2 metres high and determined to come aboard at every opportunity and direction. I bore away sharpish and back toward the island noting, the 50 degree difference between track and compass, and once sanity had been restored we looked aghast at where the course was taking us. Bee, thankfully, had earlier seen the southbound ferry come very close to the shore before swerving to starb'd which gave us some comfort and reassurance. The gap ahead looked very narrow and the “obvious” choice seemed to be further over to port. Across our path lay gnarly water and Bee went up the bow to watch for anything untoward but of course it was fine and we slid through and onto the next bit. The bay we'd picked was big, well over a mile wide but good shelter, out of the stream and had the benefit of a washed up pallet which we split and burnt. Ah the joys. Another day or so and we were leaving Orkney. We had thought of having a day off but the next bay on Sanday proved large and uninteresting. The wind, forecast to be light and fickle, was blowing a steady 12 knots at anchor and a quick check of the streams suggested we might just make use of the last of the favourable before it turned with a vengeance through the North Ronaldsway Firth. Well the forecast turned out to be correct and we didn't quite make the cut and struggled our way NE towards Fair Isle, that tiny island that is half way between Orkney and Shetland. I think we opted to stop there (and in part leave when we did from Sanday as the next day forecast was for stiff winds and a sub 40 mile trip sounded better than a 60+ mile trip)

 One of our better decisions we have to say. Fair Isle is a gem with one of the most interesting entrances you can a narrower version of St Johns Nwfld without the space inside and certainly not the houses. It is small, not tiny but certainly small. There is room to turn around and possibly anchor too but the wharf was available with two other boats tied (Dutch and Norwegian) already. We joined them. Up to the Bird Sanctuary building for a much needed shower, shuffled the boat along to allow another boat (French)to tie up astern of us before topping up the water tank. 
Birds were everywhere; puffins in the harbour; gulls nesting on the cliffs and we regretted not having the opportunity to remain. The charge is £12 for 4 nights and is well worth it. Wonderful place but with the winds forecast to pick up we wanted to get up to Shetland and so left before 5am the next day. Logically, to take full advantage of the tides we should have gone to Lerwick but we wanted to see the west side so opted for Scalloway. The winds weren't that strong perhaps 15k or so and with the favourable tide the seas remained flattish as did the view as a heavy mist or rain accompanied us. Sumborough Head remained hidden as we ran up the coast toward our destination. The entrance to the old capital of Shetland is behind several islands which do a great job of breaking up the seas that had now built up. As had the wind which was a constant 20 with higher gusts as we roared into the harbour before rounding up to drop the main. Scalloway has a boating club that provides a convenient pontoon for visitors, four of which were already tied up. We circled trying to see if we could squeeze into the gap on the lee side before opting to take our chances on the windy side. Easy to get into of course and the big balloon fenders we have kept us off. 

There we stayed for 3 nights as the wind came roaring out of the SW keeping us pinned to the jetty; not that much of a problem for a us but the 33' something behind us was suffering as too light to resist the waves that thumped into the hull or the wind that pushed the boat over, the boat began to suffer the following day, slamming constantly into the jetty when the winds picked up. We dug out several 100' foot lines to help pull the boat away from the jetty before creating, with another guy, Jason, a cats cradle of a bridle to try to improve the situation. Fenders were dug out of the forepeak to replace the ones that had been crushed and eventually while not perfect at least Paul, the owner, might be able to get a nights sleep. Blows pass of course and by Sunday all was settled, Jason was off to head around Rockall before continuing down to Ireland whilst the rest of us made plans to leave the following day as we did leaving one small 26' Francis to luxuriate in the space. Scalloway is a good stopover; the Club charges £15 a night that includes showers, washing machine & dryer and electric. A bus from outside the club takes you into Lerwick where a decent sized Tesco and Coop trade so stocking up is relatively simple. Fuel too is available across the harbour and we were sorted leaving around midday for Skeld. A gentle pootle through the islands ending in a beat up to the harbour. We'd opted to come here as some years ago we'd met the guy who runs the marina here – well we ended up not using the marina but anchored in the natural harbour outside. Like Fair Isle this is a great place to be. We loved it, rowing ashore to meet people, seriously considering it as a winter stopover. Jim, the guy we met was out with his son fishing so we had little chance to see him but perhaps on the homeward bound trip.

From Skeld we had a short but rewarding sail up to Walls, magnificent cliff scenery and an easy entry into this quiet harbour. With a very secure harbour that yachts can use if space is available and whilst it was we still chose to anchor clear of the channel and in less than 5 metre depths. No doubt about it the Shetland so far has had great and secure anchorages. 

  Another short leg saw us moving through the islands, fish farms and mussel lines before the inevitable beat up to Hamar Voe where the pilot book spoke of a secure anchorage with good holding. We just made it through the sound at Papa Stour having left Skeld late so suffered to tidal effects as we beat NE into a headwind. The entrance has the inevitable fish farm in it but easily enough room to get by. Rounding the bend in the voe Bee, gazing intently through the bino's said “There's a gaff ketch in the anchorage”. Given that she has a propensity to joke about such things I didn't believe her but there it was a 50' fishing boat that sported a gaff rig and was moored to a buoy as were several other boats. Our sheltered, quiet anchorage has been somewhat reduced in size by the sensible locals making good, permanent, use of it. It is a good anchorage, very well protected and land locked with good holding. We left today, after a quiet night, for Humna Voe when we should have known better. The forecast was for NE5-7 and whilst we had an easy and comfortable ride along the coast turning the corner had us running into it. The coast deflected the wind a little to NNE and the seas were definitely N and getting bigger the further the tack took us from the coast. Nevertheless all was going well and it was only for a short distance.....but doubts were growing...the next anchorage would be fine once we were in but we'd need to dump everything before we gained the shelter and the entrance was only 60 metres wide with rocks. When the winds hit 30k and then 33k more doubts crept in and our fate was sealed when we tacked, got into irons bore away and tacked again only to get several seas aboard that we looked at each other and both said “Lets go back” and we did bearing away to retrace our track. Probably the best decision we made of the day as the winds continued to build such that even in the comparatively sheltered waters of where we'd come from the seas and wind made life difficult. As ever Bee gets the foredeck sorted, sails down and main under control as we slowly, slowly made it back to the anchorage we'd left 20 miles previously.

And finally. The inevitable came to pass as our good friend Mike succumbed to the cancer that had ravaged him. Our paths had crossed numerous times since we met him and Eilean ten years ago in Graciosa including Senegal and the very end he was compiling his working list for Cooya but no more. We will miss him.

60 28.32N
001 26. 36W
Humar Voe