Ever northward – up the northwest coast of Scotland

Saturday 6th July to Friday 12th July

Nicky signing the register of veterinary surgeons

Nicky signing the register of veterinary surgeons

We have been off the boat this week at home in Melbourne as it is Nicky’s graduation on Friday (we now have a veterinary surgeon in our family – anyone need treating?!) Whilst there have done a mountain of washing, ploughed through the post, weeded the garden, paid the VAT and even done a bit of weeding on the allotment – a token appeasement to my fellow allotmenteers!

Sundart at Loch Scavaig, isle of Skye whilst on her travels with Charles, Chris, Sandy and Rob

Sundart at Loch Scavaig, Isle of Skye whilst on her travels with Charles, Chris, Sandy and Rob

Sundart has been on her travels in our absence with Charles Saunders and three others from Staunton Harold Sailing Club – they got the hot weather in Scotland after all the rubbish weather we had!! We hear they got to Barra, Canna and Skye – we look forward to hearing of their adventures.

Saturday 13th July

Dumbarton Castle - an impregnable fortress built on a "volcanic plug".

Dumbarton Castle – an impregnable fortress built on a “volcanic plug”.

The River Leven at its junction with the Clyde. The tall ship Cutty Sark was built on the banks of the Leven at Dumbarton

The River Leven at its junction with the Clyde. The tall ship Cutty Sark was built on the banks of the Leven at Dumbarton

The River Clyde looking towards Glasgow from Dumbarton. How many new ships passed this way from the Clyde shipyards?

The River Clyde looking towards Glasgow from Dumbarton. How many new ships passed this way from the Clyde shipyards?

Nigel and Di Pepperdine have offered to take us all the way to Mallaig as they want to spend a few days in Scotland – what good friends. We stop at Dumbarton, just north-west of Glasgow, to take a break. We park by the castle in parkland overlooking the Clyde with Glasgow just visible to the east and the Firth of Clyde just visible to the west. The castle is an impressive affair, perched on a dome of rock (once the lava plug of a long extinct volcano, the softer rock around the plug having eroded away over the eons). Nigel is fascinated by industrial archaeology, especially when it is still in place. We find an old slipway and remains of wooden staging. Dumbarton was once a shipbuilding town and we are delighted to discover that the Cutty Sark (the tea clipper preserved at Greenwich) was built on the banks of the River Leven, which flows into the Clyde at this point.

Traffic is heavy on the main road past Loch Lomond so we take the alternative route up Loch Long, passing the nuclear submarine base at Faslane. We had no idea it was there, hidden away north of Helensburgh in a secluded loch but it is large, with a full naval dockyard – and miles of razor wire plus a small “peace camp”.

Glencoe on the road to Fort William and Mallaig - wonderful scenery but a long way to drive from Melbourne.

Glencoe on the road to Fort William and Mallaig – wonderful scenery but a long way to drive from the East Midlands.

We drive on past the northern end of Loch Lomond, Glencoe, and finally Mallaig – over 410 miles. The scenery is wonderful in Scotland and even the sun shines – but it’s a long way!

The Steam Inn, Mallaig: good local haddock and chips plus live music or good conversation with the locals

The Steam Inn, Mallaig: good local haddock and chips plus live music or good conversation with the locals

With Nigel and Di in the Steam Inn - the natural place to gravitate to of an evening in Mallaig

With Nigel and Di in the Steam Inn – the natural place to gravitate to of an evening in Mallaig

Live music byt Merangue Utang at the Steam Inn

Live music by Merangue Utang at the Steam Inn

The car unloaded, we repair to the Steam Inn pub for their excellent local haddock and chips. A 4 piece band comes on so we stay and enjoy the music – possibly a group to book for a Sailing Club social?

Sunday 14th July

Nigel Pepperdine "up the pole" removing the faulty Tacktick wind indicator.

Nigel Pepperdine “up the pole” removing the faulty Tacktick wind indicator.

A full English breakfast to set us all up for the day after which Nigel volunteers to be winched up the mast to remove the faulty wind indicator sender unit off the top of the mast and attracts a bit of an audience. The unit, a Tacktick device, has rusty bearings so no wonder the anemometer won’t work properly. The design is not great but we will try to get a service kit to avoid replacing the whole unit.

Nigel & Di take their leave, departing on the Calmac ferry to Skye. We sort out all our stuff then plan our next steps. We need to push on north but need good weather to round Cape Wrath at the remote north-west tip of Scotland. The weather has become cloudy and strong winds and rain are forecast – no change there then! Whilst the rest of the UK basks in a heat wave the north of Scotland gets the rubbish that is blowing around the high pressure that is sat over England. If the Scots get independence will Alex Salmond change the weather too….? However, the weather for the end of this week is forecast to improve so we plan to make our way in stages to Kinlochbervie, the last port on this coast before Cape Wrath. The first step today will be to take the tide up the Sound of Sleat and through Kyle Rhea (the narrow sound between Skye and the mainland) to Loch Alsh.

We set off at about 1430 to take north going tide (which is important in this narrow strip of water). The wind is blowing force 4 to 5 from the southwest – a good direction for us but strong, so we set 2 reefs in the mainsail and a small genoa but after a while we decide to stow the main and just run before the south-westerly wind with the full genoa. Having the wind behind us means the genoa is blanketed by the main and in any case the wind is gusting up to force 6 so the genoa on its own is much more manageable and effective as we can control it and set as much as we want from the safety of the cockpit using the rolling reefing system.

The scenery as we progress up the Sound is magnificent, with impressive sea lochs on the east side and the mountains on both sides. We reach Kyle Rhea as the tide turns there. As we pass through a tiny vehicle ferry crosses in front of us to Skye. This takes just 4 cars and has a turn table on it so the cars can be got off the way they came on – is this the smallest car ferry in the UK?

Loch Alsh as viewed from the anchorage at Tostaig: fabulous scenery but where's the sun?

Loch Alsh as viewed from the anchorage at Totaig: fabulous scenery but where’s the sun?

Our anchorage at Totaig, opposite Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Alsh

Our anchorage at Totaig, opposite Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Alsh

As we pass out of the north of Kyle Rhea we enter Loch Alsh and decide to turn right (east) to an anchorage we have read about in the pilot at Totaig opposite Eilean Donan Castle – a picturesque castle set on a rock in Loch Alsh and connected by a bridge to the mainland. The wind continues to gust up to F6 so we are soon at the anchorage, which is a tiny bay opposite the Castle. Two other boats are already moored there plus an anchored boat so we have difficulty finding a suitable spot to drop our anchor so that the boat does not blow too close to the other boats. The wind comes gusting down from the hills from different directions so all the boats move in different ways. The anchor bites every time but we take three attempts before we are happy that we will not foul the other boats in the small space. Finally we (and the other boat owners) are happy and we can settle down for supper of chicken curry.

We take one last look outside before turning in. The castle is floodlit and looks splendid but is too far away for our little camera to photograph-that will have to wait until tomorrow.

There is a good number of small tourist boats cruising the Western Isles - such as this one anchored off Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Alsh

There is a good number of small tourist boats cruising the Western Isles – such as this one anchored off Eilean Donan Castle in Loch Alsh

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                    20.6 nm

Total miles to date:      1196.6

Engine hours:              1.2

Hours sailed:               5.0

Total hours sailed;       269.8 hours

Monday 15th July

Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Alsh. The battlements and turrets of this romantic castle rise from a rocky islet at the junction of three lochs. Built in the 13th Century as a highland stronghold of the Scottish kings, it was later held by the Mackenzies and their loyal supporters, the Macraes. After centuries of clan warfare the castle was finally destroyed by the British forces during the disastrous Jacobite uprising in 1719. The ruins were fully restored in the 1900s. This is a "must see" stop on the highland coach tours - and its pictures must decorate millions of shortbread tins.

Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Alsh. The battlements and turrets of this romantic castle rise from a rocky islet at the junction of three lochs. Built in the 13th Century as a highland stronghold of the Scottish kings, it was later held by the Mackenzies and their loyal supporters, the Macraes. After centuries of clan warfare the castle was finally destroyed by the British forces during the disastrous Jacobite uprising in 1719. The ruins were fully restored in the 1900s. This is a “must see” stop on the highland coach tours – and its pictures must decorate millions of shortbread tins.

The imposing front of Eilean Donan Castle. Ticket office to the left - but you could always land by dinghy on the slipway at the side of the castle!

The imposing front of Eilean Donan Castle. Ticket office to the left – but you could always land by dinghy on the slipway at the side of the castle!

We awake to continuing strong winds. After breakfast we motor over to see Eilean Donan Castle close to. Its position is stunning, set on a rock that juts out into Loch Alsh. It is a major tourist attraction, being located on the main road to Skye, There are many coaches in the car park and even one of the small tour boats is anchored off. No doubt there is a significant entry fee, although we notice that there is a small slipway suitable for a dinghy in the castle grounds.

We leave the tourists to the castle and motor into the wind out of Loch Alsh before setting the genoa for a fetch for the short distance to Kyle of Lochalsh. En route we see a large, dark brown bird with silvery streaks on its wings and a powerful head and beak. This is the first Great Skua we have seen. These are normally only found in the far north of the UK. They are the bully on the block: a pair will usually take over an area and typically terrorise other birds to regurgitate their food, thereby saving the Skua from having to fish for its own. When this fails, they will pick off small birds and their eggs.

The Isle of Skye bridge. Opened in 1995 as a toll bridge to replace the ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh under one of the first PFI (Private Finance Initiatives), the bridge became the centre of heated local opposition to the high tolls (twice that charged for the Forth Road bridge) with public protests, refusals to pay the tolls and court convictions. it became a political cause celebre with central government refusing to make public the documents underpining the PFI agreement. Eventually the Skye Bridge Company (a Scottish/ German/Bank of America consortium) was bought out by the new Scottish government in 2004 for £27 million and all tolls immediately ceased. Later freedom of information requests showed that the Skye Bridger consortium had charged £33.3 million in tolls against an operating cvost of £3.5 million and a construction cost of £25 million. Moral: beware PFI's and civil servants who hide or refuse to release the truth!

The Isle of Skye bridge. Opened in 1995 as a toll bridge to replace the ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh under one of the first PFI (Private Finance Initiatives), the bridge became the centre of heated local opposition to the high tolls (twice that charged for the Forth Road bridge) with public protests, refusals to pay the tolls and court convictions. it became a political cause celebre with central government refusing to make public the documents underpining the PFI agreement. Eventually the Skye Bridge Company (a Scottish/ German/Bank of America consortium) was bought out by the new Scottish government in 2004 for £27 million and all tolls immediately ceased. Later freedom of information requests showed that the Skye Bridger consortium had charged £33.3 million in tolls against an operating cvost of £3.5 million and a construction cost of £25 million. Moral: beware PFI’s and civil servants who hide or refuse to release the truth!

We moor up at Kyle of Lochalsh to replenish our Gaz cylinders. (We use Gaz for cooking).

Coffee in the sun at Kyle of Lochalsh with Nigel & Di

Coffee in the sun at Kyle of Lochalsh with Nigel & Di

Loading a mine with gaz to add realism to Nigel's fascination with second world war artifracts

Loading a mine with gaz to add realism to Nigel’s fascination with second world war artifracts

To our surprise and delight we are hailed by Di Pepperdine as they are just passing through so we find a small café and sit outside in the sun. (Sunshine is proving a rare commodity for us in Scotland) before we go our separate ways.

The old ferry slipway - once the heart of Kyle of Lochalsh

The old ferry slipway – once the heart of Kyle of Lochalsh

Kyle of Lochalsh is the northernmost rail head on the west coast. A train stands on the train pier where ferries once took passengers to Skye

Kyle of Lochalsh is the northernmost rail head on the west coast. A train stands on the train pier where ferries once took passengers to Skye

Kyle of Lochalsh is a neat and attractive little town. It was once the ferry port for Skye before the bridge was built and remains the most northern rail head on the west coast at the end of a picturesque line from Dingwall (north of Inverness).

The wind remains strong (force 5 gusting 6) from the south west so we set just the genoa (foresail) and run before the wind up the Inner Sound with the Isles of Raasay and Skye to the west of us and the mainland to the east. We pick a tiny anchorage at Pol Domhain which is remote so we have it to ourselves, shared only by a family of seven seals (who bark to each other and keep us entertained) and the inevitable oyster catchers and gulls. The wind blows all night but our anchorage is calm and we sleep well. Needless to say, there is no phone signal so no texts, e mails or blog.

Our peaceful anchorage at Pol Domhain (off the Inner Sound opposite the Isle of Raasay). Only a family of seals and oyster catchers for company.

Our peaceful anchorage at Pol Domhain (off the Inner Sound opposite the Isle of Raasay). Only a family of seals and oyster catchers for company.

Today we have clocked up over 1200 miles so far: if our calculations are correct we are now half way along our route round the UK.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                    19.0 nm

Total miles to date:      1215.6 nm

Engine hours:              1.7

Total engine hours:     152.5

Hours sailed:               5.0

Total hours sailed;       274.8 hours

Tuesday 16th July

The "wilderness of savage scenery" north of Skye and the touristy part of western Scotland. This is the distant view as we sailed across Loch Torridon. Until the road was put through in the 1970's the crofts in this area were extremely remote. Now, there is a sprinkling of more modern houses along the shore but there are still large tracts of land without houses or other signs of humanity.

The “wilderness of savage scenery” north of Skye and beyond the touristy part of western Scotland. This is the distant view as we sailed across Loch Torridon. Until the road was put through in the 1970’s the crofts in this area were extremely remote. Now, there is a sprinkling of more modern houses along the shore but there are still large tracts of land without houses or other signs of humanity.

The wind remains from the south-west, force 4 to 5 with gust of F6 so we will push on north with the tide. Once again we set just the genoa and after a grey start the sky clears: we are sailing along at up to 7v knots in sunshine – this is more like it!

Passing the lighthouse at Rubha Rheid - one of two major headlands we had to pass on our way north to Cape Wrath at the north-western tip of Scotland. The strong wind behind us gave us a good sail but the rolling waves made it difficult to get a steady photograph. The rock in this area is ancient sandstone with many sea arches and caves in the cliffs.

Passing the lighthouse at Rubha Rheid – one of two major headlands we had to pass on our way north to Cape Wrath at the north-western tip of Scotland. The strong wind behind us gave us a good sail but the rolling waves made it difficult to get a steady photograph. The rock in this area is ancient sandstone with many sea arches and caves in the cliffs.

The scenery is getting more desolate. We had not realised that there we so many big hills and mountains north of Skye with some very large sea lochs digging into the mainland. The geology is changing too as the rock is now some of the oldest sandstone known. It would be good to stop and explore some of these areas but we need to progress north as the forecast is for more settled weather at the end of this week, which we need to go round the top of Scotland to the Orkneys. As we sail up the coast we see rock caves and natural arches in the sandstone cliffs.

We debate whether to stop at Ullapool but this is up one of the lochs so we carry on past the headland of Rubha Reid (which is one of two significant headlands we need to pass with the tide going our way on this part of the coast).  The clouds roll back in but things cheer up when we spot puffins and Manx shearwaters, neither of which we have seen in any numbers since Wales.

Our anchorage off Isle Ristol - one of the Summer Isles north of Ullapool. There are numerous white sandy beaches such as this one in the northwest of Scotland with hardly ever a soul on them and often inaccessible by car. If Scotland had the weather of southern France (or even Cornwall) these beaches would be crowded but as it is they are remote, deserted and unspoilt.

Our anchorage off Isle Ristol – one of the Summer Isles north of Ullapool. There are numerous white sandy beaches such as this one in the northwest of Scotland with hardly ever a soul on them and often inaccessible by car. If Scotland had the weather of southern France (or even Cornwall) these beaches would be crowded but as it is they are remote, deserted and unspoilt.

We eventually anchor off Isle Ristol – one of the Summer Isles just off the mainland. These are a group of uninhabited islands south on Lochinver. Initially we try to anchor in the small inlet recommended by the pilot book but it is crowded by moored fishing boats so after one abortive attempt to anchor (the anchor came up with a huge ball of weed plus an old crab pot which was presumably lost overboard by a fishing boat) we move round to anchor off a little sandy beach on the other side of the island,, which also gives us better protection from the weather. Once again it is an isolated place, although we can see some holiday huts and caravans across the bay.

Cottage pie for supper then a long sleep as we have covered a lot of miles today across rolling seas in a stiff breeze – good sailing but demanding physically.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                    44.2 nm

Total miles to date:      1259.8 nm

Engine hours:              1.4

Hours sailed:               9.5

Total hours sailed;       284.3 hours

Wednesday 17th July

We awake to rain and wind – we have not enjoyed a lot of good weather so far in Scotland which is a shame as there has been some wonderful scenery up the west coast. Once again we cannot enjoy the views.

Our bottle locker - slightly re-arranged after a sail but cool beer! Bottles and fresh salad and vegetables (in another locker) are kept cool by being in the bottom of the boat below water level so the lockers are always cool - around 9.5 degrees C.

Our bottle locker – slightly re-arranged after a sail but cool beer! Bottles and fresh salad and vegetables (in another locker) are kept cool by being in the bottom of the boat below water level so the lockers are always cool – around 9.5 degrees C.

The tide will turn north today at around 1300 so we settle down to do some jobs. Yvonne does some boat cleaning (there is always that to do!) then has forty winks to recharge her batteries after yesterday’s exertions. John sands down the teak hand rails etc in the companionway (the steps leading down into the boat from the cockpit) and roof hatches and then seals the teak with the same stuff as we used elsewhere in boat interior.

We pre-cook our supper in anticipation of a late finish (chicken chorizo except we have forgotten to buy chorizo so it morphs into chicken bacon with paprika), have lunch and are ready to set off by 1 o’clock. The wind remains in the southwest (which is great for us) and has moderated to force 4 so we set the main sail with 2 reefs plus the genoa and venture forth. The weather is damp and there is a sea mist so we can only see a mile or two – thank heavens for electronic navigation!

We sail on northwards but can see little or nothing of the countryside due to the mist. We pass Stoer Head, the second of the major headlands up this stretch of coast but cannot see the lighthouse or the Old Man of Stoer (a sandstone rock pillar like the Old Man of Hoy. Once upon a time lighthouses had foghorns but in this age of electronic navigation Trinity House has removed most of the foghorns to cut costs on the basis that everyone has electronic navigation aids these days. (This is great if you are on a warm bridge of a ferry or destroyer but not so clever if you are bouncing about on the waves in a small boat when the noise of the foghorn would be a real help to help locate the lighthouse without having to go down below to the chart table or electronic aids – if you have them).

The wind drops a bit so we shake out one reef and pole out the genoa so we can run goose wing once we are past Stoer Head and change direction to Kinlochbervie. The sail is quick but not very comfortable due to the rolling waves and the sea mist deprives us of any view or the sun – and no photo opportunities. The wind gets up just as we arrive off Kinlochbervie, which makes taking the main sail down a challenge – oh for lazy jacks in this situation! (Lazy jacks are a system of strings that guide the mainsail down into a bag along the boom. They avoid the need to go up on deck to drop the mainsail, which is an advantage in rough conditions, but they can make raising the sail and reefing it more awkward so they have mixed benefits and disadvantages. We wear lifejackets and safety harnesses when handling the mainsail on deck in these conditions).

We enter Kinlochbervie which claims to be the best sheltered harbour on the west coast of Scotland. It is like a mini-fiord and all is calm once we get inside the loch. We call the harbour master who directs us to the small visitors’ pontoon and helps us tie up against a local boat – such help is much appreciated at the end of a tiring sail.

Kinlochbervie is said to be the third busiest fishing harbour in Scotland with an active market where many foreign fishing boats as well as local boats unload their catch. The facilities and harbour appear to be relatively new but there are few fishing boats around – maybe they are out or on holiday? Visiting yachtsmen (and women) share the unisex loos and showers with the fishermen but there are also laundry facilities for visitors. Apparently there is one shop and one hotel/pub in this small community but we will find out more tomorrow.

The chicken non-chorizo casserole tastes even better for not having to be cooked when we got in, washed down with a glass of red wine.

There is a good 3G signal (the first mobile signal we have had at a mooring or anchorage for three days) so we catch up on texts, e mails and the blog and down load the weather. High pressure is coming our way which will bring the sun (hooray) but turn the wind round to the east (which is the wrong way for us at present) so we have two more days to get to the Orkneys before the wind turns against us.

We turn in with the wind moaning in the rigging so its still there!

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                    29.9 nm

Total miles to date:      1289.7 nm

Engine hours:              2.0

Hours sailed:               5.8

Total hours sailed;       290.1 hours

A following wind and fair weather to you all (although we hear the soft English have been having fair weather for some time now!)

Yvonne and John

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