Thursday, 2 May 2019

Loons.....

Cawsand
We'd earmarked a point in the tide cycle when we hoped to leave, based on nothing more than it gave us a safe margin to leave the quay without carving a groove across the mud and so we pottered out on the morning tide on March 23rd
Only down as far as Cawsand of course, to take stock and shake ourselves free of the land and make sure most things are working as they should, lines haven't been wrapped or worse and generally we're happy with what is our lot. For the most part we were but for some reason the new Garmin GPS suddenly decided to delete all the routes and waypoints I'd entered. A call to Garmin had them agreeing they replace the unit and we had them send it onto our friends on the Helford. The unit was meant to be dispatched that evening so we knew we'd be able to collect it in a couple of days and be on our way....hmm. For a variety of reasons nothing happened for another week which had us muttering and moving about as the one wind we didn't want on the Helford but did want to get across to Ireland was East. Still things pass, units arrive and the “old” unit returned.

We left from Falmouth thinking we might anchor off Mullion but with a good wind and favourable tide we thought we'd carry on to the Scillies but decided to push on to Baltimore, SW Ireland as we knew it's a relatively straight forward entrance. The trip across gave us an uninspiring start, 10c and grey with 20knots or so from the south-east. We closed the coast as the weather worsened a little, the wind veered a touch to the south, pitch black, raining and misty with a rolling swell driving us into the entrance. In daylight this is an easy enough approach albeit narrow with rocks either side. As we closed, the land couldn't be distinguished from either sea or sky, the swell made things a tad difficult but at least radar gave an indication of where to aim. With our speed too high for comfort but needing the main for stability Bee scandalised the peak to de-power the rig – it had some effect but not really enough as the sail was dragging on the shroud and wouldn't come down enough. Still we weren't out of control just a little excited and we slid through the gap and motored across to drop anchor a little after midnight some 38 hours after leaving. 
Stbd hand mark of course...
Onwards we went, hiding from stiff SE's in Glenleam Bay, Valentia as we couldn't be bothered to push ourselves to get past Smerwick some 30 miles away and get to a better anchorage. It blew pretty well for the 4 days we were there and whilst it wasn't the greatest of shelter the holding is excellent but after the 4 days we were ready to move and headed out via the Blasketts with a huge number of seals lying around on the beach before anchoring in Smerwick for a few hours to allow for a daylight entry into Cashla, our next destination. We seem to spend most of our time in Cashla asleep as the 4 days in Valentia had allowed little sleep and the wind strengths were such that we opted, dumbly, not to run the fire relying on the oil lamp and hot water bottles for heat. Unlike Toots of course who, because the wind generator was pumping out the amps, had the benefit of her electric blanket for much of the time....

A couple of days later having moved further north we had to round Slyne Head. In the past we have gone outside as the wind has been too stiff for the inside route but this time we had a chance to go through Joyces Passage.... Now it has to be said that Pilot Books are pretty similar in their “you're doomed , doomed” approach to passages and the Irish are no exception. But. We sailed into what looked like a dead end, quite small and congested certainly to a long-keeled gaffer with the turning circle of a tram. Rocks and small islands seemed to overlap, the water surface was agitated and despite the waypoints I'd entered it all looked a tad confusing. Approaching the last wp before we needed to gybe through 120 degrees I glimpsed a tiny gap in the rocks that was in the right general direction for where we had to go but obviously couldn't be the exit, realised it could only be the exit as there was nowt else and consequently ended up gybing a little late. Bee, ever the voice of comfort, remarked laconically “ we're not going to make this gybe before the rocks...”  despite the lateness but helped by the preps we'd made before going in we did make it and we slid through the gap. The water the other side was smooth, mostly clean and it was this coupled to the knowledge that although very narrow it is also very short and the wind was only 15knots or so made it seem worthwhile. We exited grinning like a pair of idiots, happy to have made it. Yes we had the engine on in case we needed a bit of help but the feeling of crash gybing our way into the gap was intoxicating for sure! 


Could it get any better we wondered, it did of course as we sailed into Little Killary and heard the magical call of Loons! If you have never had the opportunity of sharing a mist shrouded anchorage with these haunting calls echoing through the fog, well white sandy beaches and palm trees just cannot compete. That image; that call remain the absolute pinnacle for us.

After LK we were ready to get north and into Scotland. The weather window gave us good S's to start with but would back to the SE and increase after a couple of days. Optimistically we decided we'd try for Jura but 45nm from the destination the wind did back, upped to 25k giving us a very uncomfortable beat to end with. We kept going until it backed further whereon we altered course and headed further north even, at one point, thinking we might head straight for Stornoway before common sense and a complete absence of wind had us heading into Loch Dunvegan on Skye. We'd heard about Antares Charts a couple of years back and having invested a tenner we thought this might be a good opportunity to try them out, which is how we came to be creeping around the back of small rock outcrops to anchor is complete security to the west of Dunvegan Castle
 
looking, Bee says, like a 60's council block...
We'd only just finished laying the anchor and started to tidy up when a seal tour boat came alongside and asked if we were staying long and wondering how the hell we had managed to get in without hitting the reef that lay about 100 metres ahead of us! It's true there is a reef up ahead but there is also a way past it but we had, in any case, come in via the back door. Look the charts up – actually they're more like chartlets – as they're certainly useful and fill in some gaps that C-Map has.

If Dunvegan had a downside, for us, it was the lack of mobile phone signal and even rowing ashore while I went looking and Bee went for run didn't produce one, well not our provider anyway. Luckily the ticket seller at the castle loaned us her phone and we were able to track Storm Hannah's probable route, realising that our departure from the SW corner of Ireland and our decision not to go up the Irish Sea had saved us from a pasting. Whilst those areas were showing as bright red and purple we had benign greens and we duly headed out from our sanctuary at 5am for somewhere in the Hebs. As we were only going to be there overnight we opted for Loch Eport about 15nm from the headland we had just rounded. The winds were great giving us a comfortable, quick sail across The Minch. Eport is another phone free area but a great anchorage and not long after we arrived the winds picked up blowing 25-30 from the south for the rest of the day. No trees, of course, around here but good mud made sure we remained where we'd laid.

Back over to Skye and the mainland, visiting old anchorages and new as we circumnavigated the island. We toyed with the idea (and checked out) two places we intend to use one day. Soay and Scavaig. Soay because we would pass by and have a look and Scavaig because it was there we had hoped to anchor for the night. In the end the constant weather refrain of F6 and gusting had me questioning the sanity of anchoring among the rocks with the Cullins running down into the anchorage which has a reputation for violent squalls and headed down to Rhum for the night. Sailed round the southern tip of Skye and into Loch Nevis with the intention of anchoring in Tarbet Bay but despite the chart indicating mud all we found was rocks and after several attempts gave up and motored back out and across to Oronsay for the night. By now we were in a HP zone and very little wind so took the tide north and through the Kyle of Lochalsh garnering a very friendly wave from the crew on the ferry that crosses the narrow and rapidly moving stretch of water. Once clear of the bridge that connects Skye to the mainland to sailed or drifted for several hours before motoring the few miles north to Poll Creidah for the night. This was another of Antares charts that made it all that much easier as the southern route between the rocks is convoluted, with poles indicating where you need to be. But worth the effort as we had a quiet night, the local boats lying quietly to their buoys and the seals basking on the exposed rocks until late. The northern exit is straightforward and we left early the following day bound for the gap between Rona and Raasay and onto the Hebrides. With a favourable wind and tide we slid through the rips around Eilean Trodday knowing it to be a place to avoid if things were against you and crossed over toward Scalpay. As we closed the coast we shaped a new course for a small anchorage to the south of the island called Plocrapool; somewhat similar in make up to the Poll Creidah we'd left that morning. The sea grew lumpier but eased as we gained the shelter of the out lying islands until we slid into what could almost be a Labradorian outpost. 
 
Hebridean Light
A few houses; a few small skiffs and silence other than the sound of our chain rattling across the roller. Even a touch of drizzle to welcome us and heavier rain through the night. The big difference of course was weather forecasts and the long term has the winds shifting to the north. Another early start and we motored quietly along the nearby coast on a glassy sea with the mist coming and going for much of the trip. The Labrador memory was exaggerated by this mist and drizzle, the shape of the land and the absence of traffic. True we had nav aids in the shape of lighthouses and initially, around Scalpay, the odd buoy but until Stornoway showed up we could easily imagine we were back there. Which isn't to say we're not happy to be in these islands because we are.

Stornoway

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