Thursday 18th July – Loch Inchard & Kinlochbervie (KLB)
We decide to have a good sleep and have a lay day to catch up on things as it is still blowing strongly and the forecast tomorrow is more kindly. We shower (once again shared showers with the fishermen, this time at the back of the cavernous fish market) but they are clean and work well. We pay our harbour dues – at £18.50 for two nights including showers and electricity they are the best value yet.
The lady in the harbour office is very friendly and helpful, printing us off the weather forecast and giving us local information. We have often found that the out-of-the-way, working ports are often the friendliest, most helpful and best value and Kinlochbervie is no exception.
We shop at the one and only shop (a Spar). John has found a fishing rod on board and thinks he needs a thing called a paravane to enable him to fish for our supper on the move so we track one down at the local chandlery. (It later transpires that fish hooks are a further useful accessory so the fishing is on hold until we track those down!) We have a walk around and discover the Kinloichbervie was effectively created as a serious fishing port from a minor crofting community from 1964 by the Highlands and Islands Development Board to bring employment into the area. Fishermen are attracted from the whole of the north and eeast of Scotland as well as the locality and apparently many foreign boats land their catch here to sell thoroguh the KLB market. The lady in thge chandlery tells us that the harbour is empty as the fleet is all out fishing for perioids of 10 to 14 days. During our stay we only see a few boats coming into harbour and the whole place does not seem as busy as, say, newlyn in Cornwall. However, the market hall is huge and there are quite a few refrigerated lorries lined up.
We return to Sundart and let Aaron Lass, the boat we tied up against, out from her moorings. There are three jolly ladies of a certain age on the boat, one of them being the boat owner. The boat is a traditional fishing boat converted to a motor ketch. The ladies are out for a week and are thinking of going to the Outer Hebrides early tomorrow morning but we shall see. They set off on a settling down sail out to sea.
We decide to have a little sail inland, up Loch Inchard, which is not far. We sail up the Loch with just the foresail and after passing thorough numerous fish farms anchor up at the head of the Loch for lunch. However, there are strong wind gusts coming down the hillsides so we decide to move to a small side loch where we re-anchor in relative calm. We did some more jobs, re-finishing some of the woodwork in the companionway and generally doing a bit more polishing and cleaning before settling down to catch up on our reading and the diary.
We return to KLB and as there is no space on the limited pontoons we tie up against Aeron Lass again as they have also returned. However, they declare their intent to leave at 5 am tomorrow so we move round against an Australian boat. The owners now keep the boat in Sweden so they have travelled a bit to get here. (In fact, once we came north of Skye, we only seem to meet the more adventurous sailors, having left the “caravan” sailors in the Inner Hebrides).
We decide to eat out and climb the hill to the Kinlochbervie Hotel, the one and only hostelry in town, and have a good meal of baked local haddock before returning to Sundart and a good night’s sleep.
Day’s run: 5.0 nm
Engine hours: 1.5
Friday 19th July – Kinlochbervie to the Kyle of Tongue
We arise to find Aaron Lass still moored up and locked up and no ladies to be seen – in fact they make no appearance before we depart! The weather is looking good and the forecast update likewise so we will go north today. We delay leaving until 11.30 so as to catch the tides round Cape Wrath as recommended by the excellent Clyde Cruising Club (CCC) pilot book.
We leave harbour and hoist full sails as we leave Loch Inchard but the wind falls light so we motor sail to be sure of reaching the Cape at the right time. (Cape Wrath has a notorious reputation for rough seas and although its name is derived from the old Norse name of Vrath meaning Turning Point it might as well be due to its reputation amongst sailors for inhospitable seas).
We motor sail up the coast using the auto helm (“George”), there is a hazy sun and the sea is relatively calm so we enjoy watching the coast go by. The geology in this area is Devonian Sandstone – some of the oldest sandstone known in the world. The sea has carved various rock arches, caves and sea stacks from the cliffs. There are some lovely bays with golden sandy beaches, all deserted and many inaccessible by road. Add to that the mountainous wilderness behind the coast and it all makes for an interesting and varied coastline.
Before we know it we are at the Cape, almost half an hour before schedule but there is tide with us. The pilot books recommend standing off 3 to 5 miles to avoid the overfalls and rough seas but the high pressure and calm weather means there is very little swell so we can take the inshore route round the Cape and see it close to. We celebrate passing this infamous point at the north-west tip of the UK mainland with a glass of rosé and turn eastwards.
The cliffs along this stretch are even higher than before, being the highest coastal cliffs in the UK peaking at 920 ft (280 m) at Clò Mor. There is a noticeable increase in bird life along this part of the coast. The haze clears after we round the Cape and it starts getting warm – at long last! We don tee shirts and as the breeze increases a bit we set the spinnaker, switch off the engine (peace!) and sail gently by this wild and (for the most part) deserted coast.
We pass Durness and then Loch Eriboll. Loch Eriboll is a deep loch that goes about 8 miles into the land. In WW2 it was the assembly point for transatlantic convoys (whose crews dubbed in “Loch Horrible”). The small island of An Dubh Skeir at the entrance to this loch was used for target practice by bombers assigned to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord of similar shape. At the end of the war, crews of German U-boats surrendered to the British Navy at Loch Eriboll.
Today Loch Eriboll looks peaceful and we see the only other boat we have seen all day (another yacht) passing in front of us into the Loch. However, we press on to the next (and last inlet on this stretch) of Kyle of Tongue so we are further east ready to complete our journey to the Orkneys tomorrow.
The wind drops so we motor into the Kyle. There are a number of houses on the sides of this loch, including the village of Tongue. We find out little anchorage at Skullomie, tucked up in a little bay behind some rocks and below the cliffs on the eastern side to shelter from the south- east wind that is forecast to spring up tonight. There are a few local boats moored further in the little bay but we anchor out in the deeper water. We are a bit disconcerted at the closeness of the rocks that appear as the tide falls so move a few yards to a bigger area of water to exactly where the CCC pilot book shows and we are snug there for the night.
A multitude of cormorants dry their wings on the adjacent rocks and we have the inevitable oyster catchers with their piercing calls and distinctive plumage and red beaks to accompany us. We have had oyster catchers at nearly every anchorage we have been at and they are a welcome and familiar sight and sound.
We dine on deck, do the detail planning for tomorrow and watch the sun set over the far hills. It is a truly beautiful evening and a tranquil place.
Day’s run: 1320 nm
Total miles to date: 1326.7 nm
Engine hours: 5.5
Total engine hours: 162.9
Hours sailed: 6.5
Total hours sailed; 298.7 hours
Saturday 20th July – Kyle of Tongue to Stromness
We have a tidal gate to meet at Hoy Mouth at the entrance to the Sound into the Orkneys plus we will be against the tide for some of the journey today so we rise at 0630 and are on our way by 0715, having had a good breakfast. The day is fine with a slight mist and little south-easterly wind (even though it blew a bit overnight) so we motor sail out of the Kyle and turn east-north-east past Eilean na Ron (Rabbit Island). We can clearly see ruined crofts on the island, testimony to a hard existence that the local inhabitants finally abandoned.
The wind gradually sets in so we can set full sails, switch off the “iron sail” and set the auto helm to sail in peace. The coast gradually recedes as we are going straight to the Orkneys which lie about 20 miles off the mainland. Theoretically we should be able to see the nuclear establishment at Dounreay but the weather is too hazy and we loose sight of the land once past Strathy Point. In the distance to the north of us we see a large cruise ship; which we surmise is going from the Orkneys towards Iceland judging by its course. We are just able to make the correct course on a fetch (close hauled to the wind). As time goes by the wind increases so we set two reefs in the mainsail and reduce the genoa. The sea is relatively flat so we have a fine fast sail and as the haze clears and the suns warms us up we feel good. We see a few yachts passing the opposite way, benefitting from the tide and wind to travel to the Western Islands and Highlands.
By around 1300 we can see the high land of the island of Hoy, one of the southernmost islands in the Orkneys and we are on course for the Mouth of Hoy which leads into the Sound of Hoy and Scapa Flow, wherein lies our destination Stromness. At around 1430 the wind drops light so we shake out the reef but end up motor sailing. We can see the high cliffs of Hoy very clearly together with the Old Man of Hoy sea stack made famous by Sir Chris Bonington in 1966 when he became the first person to climb it. We are too far away to photograph it and in any case the wind is doing strange things, coming back in strong gusts from straight ahead. We take in the genoa and grapple with the mainsail before getting it under control and everything calms down. The pilot book and charts warn of a strong tidal rip in the Mouth of Hoy but we are near enough to the turn of tide for the rip to be absent, even though the wind whips up a bit of a chop. We follow the North Link ferry Hamnavoe up the Sound past the Low and High Hoy lighthouses and turn to port as Stromness comes into view. It is a good sight, with the sun and blue sky, a little wind and some local dinghies racing in the bay. Stromness is well sheltered and well placed for access from the mainland and as a result has been used as a port for a long time. (The alternative name is the old Norse name of Hamnavoe meaning haven). It is busy with shipping as it combines being a ferry, fishing and yachting base as well as the base for the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). We carefully find our way past the ferry and fishing parts of the port and a new pier being built for EMEC and moor up in a near deserted marina by the town.
The marina is not manned and is looked after on a very part time basis by one man so we discover the gate code from a local working on his boat and find our way into Stromness for a stroll. It has been a busy day so we decide to eat out and book into the nearby Ferry Inn where we enjoy a decent meal before taking a stroll down the main street and then retiring for the night.
Stromness has been compared to St Peter Port in Guernsey or Fowey but of course it is neither of these and is its own place. However, we will leave Stromness and the rest of our time on the Orkneys to the next episode. In the meantime, we are delighted to have reached this most northerly point of our journey at 59 degrees north and plan to stay here a few days to enjoy these islands and explore some of their attractions.
Day’s run: 45.3 nm
Total miles to date: 1372.0nm
Engine hours: 3.7 hours
Total engine hours: 166.6 hours
Hours sailed: 9.0
Total hours sailed; 307.7 hours
A following wind and fair weather to you all (although we hear the soft English are complaining of their heat wave now!)
Yvonne and John