South east Scotland and Edinburgh

Tuesday 30th July – Whitehills to Peterhead

The tides round Rattray Head will not be in our favour until the afternoon so we decide to leave at midday. Judith and Yvonne do a bit of shopping essentials whilst John and Charles do engine checks and treat the companionway steps with teak sealer. Most of the internal teak has now been cleaned and treated.

North Sea Gas and oil usually comes ashore in pipelines to innocuous looking terminals, such as the St. Fergus terminal north of Aberdeen

North Sea Gas and oil usually comes ashore in pipelines to innocuous looking terminals, such as the St. Fergus terminal north of Aberdeen

We leave at 1145 in glorious weather with a fair wind. We set one reef but after a while the wind drops so the reef comes out but the wind keeps dropping and we end up motor sailing. The coast here is lovely and we can see the land clearly as we sail along about half a mile off-shore. We pass some pretty little villages, such as Findochty (pronounced ‘Finnechty’) with its brightly painted houses nestled at the foot of the cliffs and Cullen, reknown for the fish soup Cullen Skink which is based on smoked haddock.

The eerie ruins of Slains Castle at Cruden Bay, south of Peterhead, was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's story of Dracula in 1895

The eerie ruins of Slains Castle at Cruden Bay, south of Peterhead, were the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s story of Dracula in 1895

Charles and Judith Saunders accompanied us on the trip between Whitehills (on the Moray Firth) and Burntisland (in the Firth of Forth)

Charles and Judith Saunders accompanied us on the trip between Whitehills (on the Moray Firth) and Burntisland (in the Firth of Forth)

By the time we reach Rattray Head (a major headland on this coast at the end of the Moray Firth) we are doing 7.6 knots with the full tide helping us along. Rattray Head is a disappointing headland – just sand dunes and low-lying country, not the impressive headlands and cliffs of other heads but nevertheless the tide and overfalls around it are real enough. South of Rattray we pass the St. Fergus gas terminal, a collection of buildings, tanks and flare stacks. This is the first of the gas and oil terminals we have seen on the east coast – innocuous places where so much of the North Sea bonanza lands for our use.

We pass Fraserburgh, which is a big commercial and fishing port that does not really welcome small yachts and press on. We approach Peterhead and get permission from the harbour control to enter after a large oil platform service vessel. Peterhead is a major fishing and oil industry support port so there is a strict control on ship movements through the harbour entrance. We see that some of the parapet of the massive harbour wall is missing – perhaps a result of the devastating storms last winter on this coast that caused £22 million of damage at Peterhead alone.

Sometime harbour masters and marina managers go that little bit extra mile to help their customers. One such is Bruce at Peterhead. Even the rather unprepossessing area round his office is bright and tidy

Sometime harbour masters and marina managers go that little bit extra mile to help their customers. One such is Bruce at Peterhead. Even the rather unprepossessing area round his office is bright and tidy

We contact the marina by VHF to get our berthing instructions and the assistant marina manager, Bruce, meets us on the pontoons to take our lines. He is a very helpful and friendly person and the marina is tidy with the little garden looking a picture. Bruce is one of a kind along with his friend Bertie, the harbour master at Whitehills – friendly, helpful and efficient. Such people make a real difference and a lasting impression on our trip.

Supporting the North Sea oil development and production has long been a lifeline to many North Sea ports that would otherwise have struggled as fish stocks declined. Inevitably the equipment is big and specialised such as this support ship at Peterhead. There is currently a boom in exploration as the bigger companies pull out and the smaller oil companies who have taken over try to develop the more marginal oil fields. Some within the oil industry believe there is still two generations of development to go.

Supporting the North Sea oil development and production has long been a lifeline to many North Sea ports that would otherwise have struggled as fish stocks declined. Inevitably the equipment is big and specialised such as this support ship at Peterhead. There is currently a boom in exploration as the bigger companies pull out and the smaller oil companies who have taken over try to develop the more marginal oil fields. Some within the oil industry believe there is still two generations of development to go.

Peterhead was Britain's largest whaling port until the end of the 19th Century. Whilst fishing has declined somewhat in recent years it is still one of the largest white fish ports in Europe, with much if its catch exported. This large, well kept fishing boats is one of the pelagic fleet (i.e they catch fish that swim near the surface such as herring and mackerel). Hearsay at Peterhead suggested that although these ships use up the annual quota of fish in three months they are highly profitable, as the good state of this ship would seem to indicate.

Peterhead was Britain’s largest whaling port until the end of the 19th Century. Whilst fishing has declined somewhat in recent years it is still one of the largest white fish ports in Europe, with much of its catch exported. This large, well kept fishing boat is one of the pelagic fleet (i.e they catch fish that swim near the surface such as herring and mackerel). Hearsay at Peterhead suggested that although these ships use up the annual quota of fish in three months they are highly profitable, as the good state of this ship would seem to indicate.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       33.5 nm

Total miles to date:          1571.1 nm

Engine hours:                  4.0 hours

Total engine hours:          187.2 hours

Hours sailed:                   5.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           343.7 hours

Wednesday 31st July – Peterhead to Stonehaven

We leave at 0800 to take the best of the tide south. We have to wait for clearance to leave from port control whilst one of the very big pelagic fishing boats manoeuvres. Once out at sea we set full sails and sail south in a fresh breeze in sunny weather. After a while the breeze fails so we motor sail. (So often good weather is a result of high pressure which means light breezes). We motor south and as we approach Aberdeen the wind picks up so we reset the sails and tack down the coast into Aberdeen bay.

Some of the large number of oil platform support vessels anchored outside Aberdeen, "awaiting orders"

Some of the large number of oil platform support vessels anchored outside Aberdeen, “awaiting orders”

There are large numbers of oil platform service ships anchored off “awaiting orders”. At least one is painted bright yellow – we assume this is an emergency vessel.

Visitors moorings at Stonehaven - squashed between the dredger and the fishing fleet. Fishermen always jealously guard their piece of harbour wall!

Visitors moorings at Stonehaven – squashed between the dredger and the fishing fleet. Fishermen always jealously guard their piece of harbour wall!

Wednesday evening racing at Stonehaven - ex Staunton Harold SC member John Deacon now sails a Blaze here - we hear the red mist is alive and well!

Wednesday evening racing at Stonehaven – ex Staunton Harold SC member John Deacon now sails a Blaze here – we hear the red mist is alive and well!

The Georgian harbour front at Stonehaven. Many of the buildings are built with the attractive local red sandstone. This whole area of coast was devastated by two great storms last winter with some ground floor flats still not being back in occupation in Stonehaven. Boats were flung up the harbour wall (despite the harbour gates being shut) and large rocks off the shore were hurled into buildings. The local volunteer life guard has been permanently put out of action due to the total wrecking of their equipment by the storms.

The Georgian harbour front at Stonehaven. Many of the buildings are built with the attractive local red sandstone. This whole area of coast was devastated by two great storms last winter with some ground floor flats still not being back in occupation in Stonehaven. Boats were flung up the harbour wall (despite the harbour gates being shut) and large rocks off the shore were hurled into buildings. The local volunteer life guard has been permanently put out of action due to the total wrecking of their equipment by the storms.

Eventually we reach Stonehaven. The harbour master is absent so the local fishermen direct us to the berth on the harbour wall allocated for visiting yachts. The only problem is a big, rusty Danish dredger that is taking up most of the space so we end up tying up against a motor cruiser with two other boats rafted up outside us.

Pam Deacon joins us at Stonehaven for a cup of tea and catch up on four years of news

Pam Deacon joins us at Stonehaven for a cup of tea and catch up on four years of news

A phone call to our friends Pam and John Deacon (formerly members of our sailing club at Staunton Harold) fixes up getting together with them at the Aberdeen and Stonehaven Yacht Club for a fish and chip supper after John D has done the Wednesday evening race. Pam arrives and after a bit of catching up we walk along the boardwalk across the beach at Stonehaven to the local Co-op to stock up on supplies. Stonehaven is an old town with an attractive waterfront with buildings mainly constructed from the local red sandstone. Last winter there were two big storms that devastated Stonehaven and many other ports along this coast. At Stonehaven, despite shutting the harbour gates, huge seas picked up rocks and boats which were hurled into the front of the buildings. Most of the damage has been repaired but some ground floor flats are still unoccupied. The local Marine Rescue Institute (MRI), which is a voluntary body, had their boats wrecked and could not afford to repair them so it has ceased to function.

We have a great evening with John and Pam. (Older members at Staunton Harold SC will remember them as very active members who contributed greatly to the club, including running some very lively socials as well as competing keenly on the water). Pam would like a big boat sail so will try to see if she can join us further down the coast when family commitments permit.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       42.6 nm

Total miles to date:          1613.7 nm

Engine hours:                  4.2 hours

Total engine hours:          191.4 hours

Hours sailed:                   10.5 Hours

Total hours sailed;           354.2 hours

Fish and chip supper after Wednesday night sailing at Stonehaven Sailing Club with Pam and John Deacon

Fish and chip supper after Wednesday night sailing at Stonehaven Sailing Club with Pam and John Deacon

Thursday 1st August – Stonehaven to Arbroath

The weather forecast for the next few days is for strong winds from the south, which would be directly against the direction we need to travel. We would rather be further south before that weather comes in, not least as the wall at Stonehaven is not the best place in the swell. It’s another grey day with some overnight rain and some fog around but we decide to go south. Once out, the fog thickens so we rely on our electronic aids plus four pairs of well peeled eyes! The sea is choppy and with little wind we have to motor. Gradually conditions improve so we can set the sails and press on. Our charts show that Arbroath harbour dries but a prior phone call to the harbour master at Arbroath has assured us that we can get into the inner harbour (which has lock gates that operate over low tide to keep boats afloat) up until 1445. We might have liked to go to Montrose but that harbour is for commercial vessels and is reported not to welcome yachts.

As we travel south we come across a forest of lobster pots which we have an active time spotting and dodging. (Lobster and crab pots are always an issue for yachts and small boats as the pots have buoys with pick up lines that trail in the water and can snag the rudder or propeller. Pots are typically positioned in relatively shallow water inshore out of the big shipping lanes where small craft such as us will usually sail).

The run down harbour at Arbroath has had new lock gates fitted and pontoons installed to breath new life into the waterfront and harbour, benefitting fishermen and leisure boaters alike. Here all boats, including Sundart,  are dressed for the annual "Boatfest".

The run down harbour at Arbroath has had new lock gates fitted and pontoons installed to breath new life into the waterfront and harbour, benefitting fishermen and leisure boaters alike. Here all boats, including Sundart, are dressed for the annual “Boatfest”.

The Reaper is the last remaining Scottish sailing herring fishing vessel which is now preserved under the national historical boats register. Apparently it can show a good turn of speed - up to 13 knots apparently.

The Reaper is the last remaining Scottish sailing herring fishing vessel which is now preserved under the national historical boats register. Apparently it can show a good turn of speed – up to 13 so we heard.

Arbroath is famous for its "smokies" - haddock that is smoked over beechwood in the traditional manner. We saw several smokeries, all cottage industry establishments. The designation "Arbroath Smokie" has been protected since 2004 under the European Protected Food Name Scheme. This is the Spinks Smokerie - highly recommended from our experience.

Arbroath is famous for its “Smokies”. We saw several smokeries, all cottage industry establishments. The designation “Arbroath Smokie” has been protected since 2004 under the European Protected Food Name Scheme. This is the Spinks Smokerie – highly recommended from our experience.

Arbroath Smokies - traditionally smoked at Spinks in Arbroath and absolutely delicious

Arbroath Smokies – traditionally smoked at Spinks in Arbroath and absolutely delicious

The Charlotte Dundas, which was built in 1801 for carrying goods on the Forth Clyde Canal, was designed by William Symington and was the first practical steam driven ship in the world. The original was broken up in 1861 but this is a more modern 2/3rds replica built in 1986, now languishing at McKay Boat Builders in Arbroath

The Charlotte Dundas, which was built in 1801 for carrying goods on the Forth Clyde Canal, was designed by William Symington and was the first practical steam driven ship in the world. The original was broken up in 1861 but this is a more modern 2/3rds replica built in 1986, now languishing at McKay Boat Builders in Arbroath

Arbraoth has a long tradition of boat building which is still carried out. However, as space is tight the road bridge over the boat builder's slipway has to open up when boats are winched up the slipway.

Arbroath has a long tradition of boat building which is still carried out. However, as space is tight the road bridge over the boat builder’s slipway has to open up when boats are winched up the slipway.

On our walk round Arbroath we came across this surprising series of murals in a back garden in the older part of town near the harbour.

On our walk round Arbroath we came across this surprising series of murals in a back garden in the older part of town near the harbour.

Arbroath has one of the two oldest lifeboat stations in Scotland, with boats being stationed here since 1803. This is their Mersey class boat, which is slipway launched. This station is currently under review. We saw this boat launched three times whilst we were at Arbroath.

Arbroath has one of the two oldest lifeboat stations in Scotland, with boats being stationed here since 1803. This is their Mersey class boat, which is slipway launched. This station is currently under review. We saw this boat launched three times whilst we were at Arbroath.

We reach Arbroath at 1400, in good time to get into the inner harbour where the marina is located before its lock gates close as the tide falls. The marina is pretty full as Arbroath is holding its annual Boatfest over the weekend. Happily this means there is a special cut price deal for all boats which we benefit from. We raft up against a motor sailer with help from the harbour assistant who also gives us the fob to get out of the marina. It is a council run marina so the arrangements are peculiar as only local councils know how. Not only does the harbour lock work to council hours in the day time only (rather than the norm of operating automatically with the tides over 24 hours) but there is the oddity that you cannot get to the harbour office outside the marina security fence to get the electronic fob that opens the gate in the fence without the fob! Added to that they only have one loo which is in with the shower to serve the hundred or so boats that they can accommodate but they do have a room to hold meetings in and make coffee. This is local council thinking at its best!

Arbroath has a linked series of green spaces that lead from the abbey in town out to the coast and along the coast that are both unexpected to the visitor and a real feature of the town. This grand entrance is at the start of the public park along the coast.

Arbroath has a linked series of green spaces that lead from the abbey in town out to the coast and along the coast that are both unexpected to the visitor and a real feature of the town. This grand entrance is at the start of the public park along the coast.

We have a late lunch then take a walk into town. We are surprised that Arbroath was an old abbey town, with some fine ruins dating from the 12th Century. We also find that the town has a linked series of attractive green spaces and parks from the abbey in town out to the coast and a little way along the coast. We wander through these areas before finding ourselves back at the coast in the old part of town.

Arbroath is reknown for its Smokies – haddock that is smoked for a relatively short time over smouldering beech wood. Fish smoking is still a cottage industry located in the old part of town near the harbour. (Apparently the industry started in a nearby village as a result of an accidental fire which burnt some salted haddock in barrels: when the remains were tasted and found to be very edible someone had the bright idea of smoking haddock and hence the Smokie was created. The Arbroath town council later persuaded the smokeries to relocate to the harbour area on very attractive terms to bolster the flagging local economy and hence the Arbroath Smokies came in to being. Nowadays the product has European protection to its designation). We sample some smoked haddock and salmon at the Spinks smokerie, which are both delicious, and purchase some traditional Smokies to consume at supper.

Back at the harbour we wander around, reading the information boards that the local tourist office has provided. Charles spots an old looking boat named Charlotte Dundas over the local boat yard fence. This turns out to be a 2/3rds size replica of the original boat, which was the first practical steam-powered boat in the world.  The original, named after his sponsor’s daughter, was designed by William Symington in 1803 for use on the Forth and Clyde Canal, and demonstrated its capability by towing two loaded barges along the canal against a strong headwind, a feat that was impossible by other means available then. Despite this success, the boat did not get much used due to fears of erosion of the canal banks and it was broken up in 1861. However, it paved the way for the development of the steam ship in the UK and USA. This replica was sponsored by Falkirk Council and was intended as a Youth Training Scheme project to complete but when the YTS went the way of such schemes the replica was left stranded by the Falkirk Wheel and is now stored at its makers yard in Arbroath pending some decision on its fate. Hopefully something can be done as the original was truly a world first.

Back on board John cooks supper and we enjoy the Smokies for our starters, helped down with a cool glass of rosé.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       28.3 nm

Total miles to date:          1630.9 nm

Engine hours:                  5.0 hours

Total engine hours:          196.4 hours

Hours sailed:                   6.2 Hours

Total hours sailed;           360.4 hours

Arbroath abbey dates back to 1178; the ruins are testimony to the power and wealth of this religous foundation. Bell Rock, a dangerous reef about 5 miles off Arbroath is so named as the local abbot had a bell fixed to the rock to warn seamen of the danger. In the 19th century the Stevensons, a famous family of lighthouse builders, overcame immense difficulties and constructed the lighthouse which still serves today.

Arbroath abbey dates back to 1178; the ruins are testimony to the power and wealth of this religious foundation. Bell Rock, a dangerous reef about 5 miles off Arbroath is so named as the local abbot had a bell fixed to the rock to warn seamen of the danger. In the 19th century the Stevensons, a famous family of lighthouse builders, overcame immense difficulties and constructed the lighthouse which still serves today.

Friday 2nd August – A day at Montrose and St. Cyrus

The brackish sea lagoon on the River South Esk seen here behind the railway at Montrose is now a nature reserve and is home to a huge variety of migratory wild fowl. In medeaval times it was a natural refuge for the ships of the time and a major reason why Montrose was only one of four ports in Scotland that was granted a royal charter to import/export goods, thereby laying the foundations to Montrose's prosperity.

The brackish sea lagoon on the River South Esk seen here behind the railway at Montrose is now a nature reserve and is home to a huge variety of migratory wild fowl. In medeaval times it was a natural refuge for the ships of the time and a major reason why Montrose was only one of four ports in Scotland that was granted a royal charter to import/export goods, thereby laying the foundations to Montrose’s prosperity.

Montrose harbour is host to a wide variety of North Sea oil support vessels, including this one with its helipad on the foredeck. Much of Montrose's prosperity has always been derived from its harbour.

Montrose harbour is host to a wide variety of North Sea oil support vessels, including this one with its helipad on the foredeck. Much of Montrose’s prosperity has always been derived from its harbour.

Montrose used to have a fishing industry - now no more as North Sea oil support and general import/export trade has taken its place. This is a statue near the life boat station in memory of the long gone fishermen by local artist William Lamb

Montrose used to have a fishing industry – now no more as North Sea oil support and general import/export trade has taken its place. This is a statue near the life boat station in memory of the long gone fishermen by local artist William Lamb

Scotland has a reknowned tradition and pride in its education system. This is Montrose Acadamy.

Scotland has a renowned tradition and pride in its education system. This is Montrose Academy.

The museum at Montrose overlooking the Links. There are some fine houses in Montrose, testament to its prosperity over many years. - another example of Victorian philanthropy.

The museum at Montrose overlooking the Links – both being examples of Victorian philanthropy . There are some fine houses in Montrose, testament to its prosperity over many years.

The Links Hotel at Montrose is situated on the Links - a wonderful chain of green spaces and gardens in the middle of Montrose that were the result of Victorian philanthropy. This hotel, which is housed in a former mill owners house, has been providing good quality accommodation for many years - John used to visit Montrose 30 years ago on business and stayed here.

The Links Hotel at Montrose is situated on the Links – a wonderful chain of green spaces and gardens in the middle of Montrose that were the result of Victorian philanthropy. This hotel, which is housed in a former mill owners house, has been providing good quality accommodation for many years – John used to visit Montrose 30 years ago on business and stayed here.

Montrose boasts the widest High Street in Scotland - albeit created by knocking down the row of houses in the middle and extending the gables on the houses at the sides

Montrose boasts the widest High Street in Scotland – albeit created by knocking down the row of houses in the middle and extending the gables on the houses at the sides

The next two days are forecast with strong southerly winds, which would make it hard work for us to go south, so we decide to explore this part of the Scottish east coast. We shower before breakfast – not as easy as it sounds given the lack of facilities and the fob system. Around the harbour a variety of stands are being set up ranging from caravan sales through hot dog stands to bric-a-brac stalls and the local lifeboat support stand. A local group starts playing over the loudspeaker system.

A full cooked breakfast sets us up for the day before we walk to the station and catch the train along the coast to Montrose. There is a good service along this line and the ride along the coast is very pleasant with stretches of the line running along the cliffs overlooking the sea.

We have arranged to meet Tammy, Yvonne’s niece who lives at St. Cyrus just north of Montrose but as we have two hours before meeting her we have time to wander round Montrose. John used to work here for Cadbury’s about 25 years ago when they had a food cannery at the harbour and is curious to know what became of it all. We walk to the Links – a lovely stretch of linked green areas through Montrose with some fine buildings that were the result of Victorian philanthropy and planning. We visit the local museum and tourist information office.

Montrose has long been a wealthy town with much of its wealth being derived from the harbour. It was one of only four medieval Scottish ports that were licensed by the Scottish kings to import and export goods on account of its good river and shelter for boats. The harbour continues to bring prosperity to the town to this day, augmented by there being excellent farming inland and various manufacturing g concerns such as Glaxo Smith Kline (the pharmaceutical giant).

John and Charles set off to the harbour to discover that the cannery is now a fertiliser factory and the Montrose harbour is given over to being a major North Sea oil support centre with some big and complicated looking ships in harbour. Judith and Yvonne wander into town for a few bits and pieces before repairing to the Links Hotel in search of coffee where we all meet up.

Tammy8 and Paul Kefford's house at St. Cyrus: a lovely family home dating from 1727

Tammy and Paul Kefford’s house at St. Cyrus: a lovely family home dating from 1764

The Kefford family at home - Paul, Tammy and Evie. Son Robbie was away at playschool;

The Kefford family at home – Paul, Tammy and Eve. Son Robbie was away at playschool;

In due course Tammy collects us to take us to her home with the rest of the Kefford family at St. Cyrus.

Tammy and Paul have a lovely old house at St. Cyrus with fine views south over Montrose and a wonderful beach. Their house was built in 1764 and is a fine family home. Elder son Robbie is away at playschool but we meet daughter Eve, who is a happy little soul. Paul is working from home today so it is nice to catch up with him too. Tammy feeds us well on chicken salad before driving us down to the beach.

The fine view across to Montrose from the Keffords residence at St. Cyrus

The fine view across to Montrose from the Keffords residence at St. Cyrus

Three generations of White's - Yvonne, Tammy and Evie - on the beautiful, unspoilt beach at St. Cyrus

Three generations of White’s – Yvonne, Tammy and Evie – on the beautiful, unspoilt beach at St. Cyrus

St. Cyrus was once the centre for salmon netting. This is the old ice house complete with turf roof which has been converted into a holiday let

St. Cyrus was once the centre for salmon netting. This is the old ice house complete with turf roof which has been converted into a holiday let

The River North Esk used to run along this valley until a huge storm about a hundred years ago broke through the sand dunes to create a new exit for the river to the sea further south. The bridge was built by the ghurkhas in the 1950's. Former salmon fishermens cottages behind the bridge. The village of St. Cyrus is up the hill, the beach is behind the camera position.

The River North Esk used to run along this valley until a huge storm about a hundred years ago broke through the sand dunes to create a new exit for the river to the sea further south. The bridge was built by the Gurkhas in the 1950’s. Former salmon fishermens cottages behind the bridge. The village of St. Cyrus is up the hill, the beach is behind the camera position.

The beautiful sandy beach, salt marshes, cliffs and sand dunes at St. Cyrus is a wonderful national nature reserve.

The beautiful sandy beach, salt marshes, cliffs and sand dunes at St. Cyrus is a wonderful national nature reserve.

Tammy with one year old daughter Evie. The smiles say it all.

Tammy with one year old daughter Eve. The smiles say it all.

The beach at St. Cyrus is a gem, with a huge expanse of unspoilt sand, with bits of driftwood here and there and a feeling of wildness. The rolling dunes behind (that are a nature reserve) boasts a huge array of wild flowers with an old river bed and impressive cliffs just inland. There is the curiosity that the River North Esk used to run along behind the dunes until an enormous storm breached the dunes further south and gave it a shorter way to the sea. The area used to support salmon netting but all that remains of this are the converted fishermen’s’ cottages and the old ice house. We wander along the beach in the sunshine, enjoying the day, before it is time for Tammy to return us to Montrose station and pick up Robbie.

Back at Arbroath even more boats have crammed into the inner harbour, including some heritage boats such as Reaper, the last of the sailing herring fishing boats in Scotland. It is a colourful sight with the boats all dressed in their bunting. After supper, we put up all the flags we have in our locker to decorate Sundart in keeping with the other boats in harbour for Boatfest.

In the evening we see the local lifeboat being launched down the slipway on a “shout” to search for a body in the waters north. Later we see the boat being winched back into its shed – an interesting exercise for those of a technical mind.

All in all a good day.

Hauling the Arbroath lifeboat back up the slipway after a night "shout".

Hauling the Arbroath lifeboat back up the slipway after a night “shout”.

Saturday 3rd August – a day in Dundee

The Discovery Centre at Dundee by the River Tay - an excellent exhibition and beautifully restored ship

The Discovery Centre at Dundee by the River Tay – an excellent exhibition and a beautifully restored ship

We awake to a lovely day – sunny but with a strong wind from the south. We decide to visit Dundee by train rather than in Sundart. Once again, the train ride is along the coast, past Carnoustie and its famous golf courses and the up-market town of Broughty Ferry just outside Dundee.

RRS Discovery - returned to the city of its builders after a long service life and now given pride of place on the waterfront in Dundee

RRS Discovery – returned to the city of its builders after a long service life and now given pride of place on the waterfront in Dundee

Discovery is built out of three layers of wood and fitted with a steel sheath to its bows to suit it for service in ice. Wood was chosen in preference to steel as it is better able to flex and withstand the crushing effect of the ice.

Discovery is built out of 12 types of of wood with three layers forming the hull skin and fitted with a steel sheath to its bows to suit it for service in ice. Wood was chosen in preference to steel as it is better able to flex and withstand the crushing effect of the ice.

The naturalists quarter. It took four assistants to work through and help publish just this body of work after the expedition, such was the quality and quantity of information and samples collected.

The naturalists quarter. It took four assistants to work through and help publish just this body of work after the expedition, such was the quality and quantity of information and samples collected.

Captain Scott's cabin.

Captain Scott’s cabin.

Earnest Shackleton was a junior officer on Discovery and had his first taste of the Antarctic on Scott's 1902-1904 expedition.

Earnest Shackleton was a junior officer on Discovery and had his first taste of the Antarctic on Scott’s 1902-1904 expedition.

The mens' quarters on Discovery. The boat was run as a Royal Navy ship, with the same differentiation between men and officers. The mens' quarters were cramped with little privacy. It appears that Scott ran a good ship.

The mens’ quarters on Discovery. The boat was run as a Royal Navy ship, with the same differentiation between men and officers. The mens’ quarters were cramped with little privacy. It appears that Scott ran a good ship.

The galley on Discovery. Great efforts were made to ensure the expedition had a varied and healthy diet. They went through three cooks (including one who was clapped in irons for insubordination) before finding the ideal person. Stores had to be carried that were sufficient for two years, supplemented by what they could hunt. Scott forbade any hunting except for food or research.

The galley on Discovery. Great efforts were made to ensure the expedition had a varied and healthy diet. They went through three cooks (including one who was clapped in irons for insubordination) before finding the ideal person. Stores had to be carried that were sufficient for two years, supplemented by what they could hunt. Scott forbade any hunting except for food or research.

Makers plate for Discovery. The boat was constructed to the design of the Royal Navy designer of ships. It was constructed in Dundee as they had the greatest experience of building and sailing whaling boats for Arctic and ice bound regions.

Makers plate for Discovery. The boat was constructed to the design of the Royal Navy designer of ships. It was constructed in Dundee as they had the greatest experience of building and sailing whaling boats for Arctic and ice bound regions.

The Wardroom where the officers and senior scientists lived. The cabins open directly off this room. The table and chairs are fixed to the floor, although the chairs swivel

The Wardroom where the officers and senior scientists lived. The cabins open directly off this room. The table and chairs are fixed to the floor, although the chairs swivel

The chart room on Discovery. We use the same size Admiralty charts as seen here - but in a tenth of the space!

The chart room on Discovery. We use the same size Admiralty charts as seen here – but in a tenth of the space!

The bridge on Discovery. Two men would normally steer the boat.

The bridge on Discovery. Two men would normally steer the boat.

Dundee was once a city known for “jute, jam and publishing”, to which could be added whaling and ship building. Nowadays it only has the publishing left out of these industries. The planners have not always been kind to Dundee and we walk past 1960’s buildings awaiting demolition or reduced to heaps of spoil on our way to the Discovery Museum. A branch of the V & A Museum is due to be located here on a rejuvenated waterfront. One hopes the planners make a better job this time round – but we are unconvinced by the billboards depicting the new development.

The Discovery Centre is based round RRS Discovery, the ship specially built in 1901 in Dundee for research in the Antarctic. The ship itself has been fully restored but before going on board we pass through the exhibition. This is excellent and we spend the best part of two hours in it before going aboard.

The Discovery Expedition was originally promoted by the Royal Geographical Society of London for the British National Antarctic Expedition and was assisted by the British Government through the Royal Navy. Antarctica was an unknown place at the end of the 19th century and its exploration was akin to exploring the Moon or Mars today. Various countries had staked claims to bits of the edges of the continent and the British were keen to establish their own chunk as well as to explore the geography and fauna there.

The Royal Research Ship Discovery was the first ship specifically designed for exploration of the polar seas and a great deal of thought went into its design and construction. The design relied on experienced gained by the Dundee and other whaling fleets that frequented Polar Regions. Twelve different types of wood were used for the construction as this was believed to be better able to flex and withstand the pressures of the ice rather than steel which could buckle and fracture.

The ship was crewed by Royal Navy personnel with Captain Robert Falcon Scott chosen to lead the expedition. Earnest Shackleton was a junior officer. Leading scientists of the day were recruited to lead the research into a diverse range of disciplines including geology, the earth’s magnetic fields, biology, zoology and the climate.

It was expected that the expedition would take two years and sufficient provisions had to be carried for this duration, to be augmented by what they could hunt and catch whilst in Antarctica. A lot of thought went into ensuring there was a wide-ranging and balanced diet to ensure the ship’s company stayed healthy and could enjoy their food.

The Expedition was a remarkable success, both in terms of the exploration and the scientific results. The ship was locked in the ice for over two years whilst the work went on. Eventually the Royal navy sent a rescue ship with orders not to stay for a third winter and to abandon the ship but Scott and his crew used controlled explosions to work their way through ten miles of ice to the open sea and returned triumphant to London. They had surveyed huge areas to the continent, opening the way to subsequent expeditions to the South Pole. There was a huge body of high quality scientific work that took years to collate and publish.

Discovery had to be sold as despite the success the expedition was in financial difficulties. The ship became a cargo vessel for the Hudson Bay Company and with the exception of a brief return to Antarctica to rescue the Shackleton Expedition in 1916 continued as a cargo ship until the 1920’s. In 1924 she was fully re-fitted and once again returned as a research ship to Antarctica to chart whale migrations and be part of the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE). She subsequently became a cadet ship and a Sea Scouts Ship. In decaying condition, she was rescued from the breakers yard in 1979 and moored on the Thames Embankment. Finally, she was purchased by Dundee Heritage Trust in 1985 and returned triumphant to the city of her construction for full restoration to her condition in 1924 and dry dock as the centre piece of the Discovery Centre.

We spend two hours in the exhibition before boarding the ship, which has been beautifully restored. There is a good postscript after leaving the ship in the form of a presentation of the work on the current British Antarctic Survey and its scientific work including climate change and understanding how the ecology of this region works and is changing.

This is rightly rated as a five star attraction and is well worth the time to visit it. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Discovery is primarily a sailing ship with auxilliary steam propulsion. The steam engine consumed 7 tonnes of coal per day when running so with abut 300 tonnes of coal capacity and no re-fuelling possible in the Antarctic it was only used when the poower was needed. Most of the coal carried was used for heating and cooking.

Discovery is primarily a sailing ship with auxiliary steam propulsion. The steam engine consumed 7 tonnes of coal per day when running so with about 300 tonnes of coal capacity and no re-fuelling possible in the Antarctic it was only used when the power was needed. Most of the coal carried was used for heating and cooking.

There is not room in this blog to list all that was done on the Discovery Expedition but further information can be obtained at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_Expedition and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RRS_Discovery

Probably the best filled sandwich you will ever get - found at Soo Tasty at Dundee with its proprietor

Probably the best filled sandwich you will ever get – found at Soo Delicious at Dundee with its proprietor

Rather hungry, we walk into the city centre and find what has to be the best lunch deal in town – big bowls of excellent soup and the best filled sandwiches we have seen.

Caird Hall, City Square dating from 1914

Caird Hall, City Square dating from 1914

Dundee was known for its jam, jute and printing but only the latter survives. It is the home of comics such as the Beano - here celebrated by Desperate Dan, Knasher and Mini the Minx in HighStreet.

Dundee was known for its jam, jute and printing but only the latter survives. It is the home of comics such as the Beano – here celebrated by Desperate Dan, Knasher and Mini the Minx in High Street.

Not all old area of Dundee have been torn down by the city planners. This is the restored Chandlers Row by the old docks.

Not all old area of Dundee have been torn down by the city planners. This is the restored Chandlers Row by the old docks.

After a short walk through the city we walk on to the other historical ship in town – the Unicorn. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a frigate dating from 1924 and is billed as the oldest floating warship in the world.

The richly decorated stern of HMS Unicorn.

The richly decorated stern of HMS Unicorn.

Ships need ballast at their lowest point to keep them upright - especially saiilng vessels. This is the standard navy cast iron ballast used 200 years ago. Note also the solid construction of the hull of HMS Unicorn - all English oak.

Ships need ballast at their lowest point to keep them upright – especially sailing vessels. This is the standard navy cast iron ballast used 200 years ago. Note also the solid construction of the hull of HMS Unicorn as seen in the bow – all English oak.

The Royal Navy toasts

The Royal Navy toasts

The captains quarters on HMS Unicorn. These were typical of the day, although the fine furniture was traditionally towed behind the vessel in a jolly boat and guns were mounted in this area when the ship was cleared for action.

The captains quarters on HMS Unicorn. These were typical of the day, although the fine furniture was traditionally towed behind the vessel in a jolly boat and guns were mounted in this area when the ship was cleared for action.

It should be on a par with Discovery as it is the genuine article, having been built at Chatham in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars as a fast, 46 gun frigate. It was never sailed, but was laid up “in ordinary” in the naval reserve without masts and rigging and with a roof over the deck (which was the standard laying up procedure of the day) which is still in place. The ship is afloat in the run down docks to the east of the city and is in a mixed state of repair. However, there has been no money spent on the ship or the exhibition. The Trust that runs it is clearly short of funds as the ship is used for weddings and other functions. It is fitted out with fibre glass replica canon, some very shabby seating and is generally in a poor way. We leave rather disappointed as heavy metal rock music sounds out from the next wedding and people turn up with dreadlocks and kilts – all rather bizarre. One hopes that the ship can be rescued properly and made into something that its historical provenance deserves.

The gun deck - although these canon are fibreglass replicas. Frigates like Unicorn carried 46 guns and werre the fastest ships in the fleet. Headroom is very limited!

The gun deck – although these canon are fibreglass replicas. Frigates like Unicorn carried 46 guns and were the fastest ships in the fleet. Headroom is very limited!

We return to Arbroath after another good day.

Sunday 4th August – to the Firth of Forth

The weather is looking good to travel south so we leave Arbroath when the harbour lock opens at 10, pausing to fuel up in the outer harbour before setting sail south. There is a stiff breeze and bright sun so we set two reefs and beat down the coast, past the Tay Estuary and along the Fife coast.

A Minke whale in the Firth of Forth. Although much larger than seals or dolphins, whales keep their distance and are much harder to photograph.

A Minke whale in the Firth of Forth. Although much larger than seals or dolphins, whales keep their distance and are much harder to photograph.

Before long we are tacking past the Isle of May at the mouth of the Firth of Forth and knocking out the reefs as the wind moderates an d turn from south to west – bang on the nose for our journey west up the Forth! Chris Mitchell, who sailed with Charles on Sundart from Mallaig, lives at Kinghorn near Burntisland opposite Edinburgh and has offered us a free berth there. We end up motor sailing into the wind as the Firth of Forth is big – it is nearly 50 miles from Arbroath to Burntisland. We spot a Minke Whale near the boat and try to take a photo but it is rather far off. (Whales tend not to get close to boats, unlike dolphins and seals which seem naturally inquisitive).

Evening arrival at Burntisland on the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh is on the far shore.

Evening arrival at Burntisland on the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh is on the far shore.

We eventually reach Burntisland at 9 PM. Chris is there to see us in and show us the old pontoons in the vast but nearly deserted inner harbour which will be our home for the next couple of days whilst we visit Edinburgh.

Chris has prepared a curry at his home for us, which is excellent. He returns us to the boat around midnight and we wearily turn in.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       54.9 nm

Total miles to date:          1685.8 nm

Engine hours:                  6.8 hours

Total engine hours:          203.2 hours

Hours sailed:                   11.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           371.4 hours

Monday 5th August – Edinburgh

Before the Forth Railway Bridge was constructed in the 1890's passengers for the north east of Scotland had to take the railway ferry from Granton to Burntisland on the north shore and continue their journey from there. Once the bridge was complete the railway line was diverted round the original Burntisland station, which has been standing forlorn since then complete with redundant buffers. These days it is used as offices - a splendid Victorian building in a run down location.

Before the Forth Railway Bridge was constructed in the 1890’s passengers for the north east of Scotland had to take the railway ferry from Granton to Burntisland on the north shore and continue their journey from there. Once the bridge was complete the railway line was diverted round the original Burntisland station, which has been standing forlorn since then complete with redundant buffers. These days it is used as offices – a splendid Victorian building in a run down location.

Sundart moored in the vast harbour at Burntisland with only a few work boats for company. We were happy to have a free mooring so convenient for Edinburgh

Sundart moored in the vast harbour at Burntisland with only a few work boats for company. We were happy to have a free mooring so convenient for Edinburgh

Charles and Judith are leaving for home today so the ever helpful Chris returns to ferry them round the large harbour to the railway station on the other side. We get a lift into Burntisland for some basics shopping. Chris finds us a replacement Gaz bottle (as we having difficulty finding this) and kindly donates the cost to our charity.

Shopping done, we take the train into Edinburgh to visit the Festival which we have heard much about. The train crosses the Forth Bridge, which is a bonus (at least for John!).

The Forth road bridge as viewed from the Forth Railway bridge. A second road bridge is under construction to provide more capacity. The wires in the suspension cables have been corroding, whcih had been thought to limit the life of the original road bridge but new techniques involving passing warm dry air over the cables within an insulated sheath may well overcome this problem. meanwhile, the massive railway bridge which is over 100 years old carries on: new paint technology means that the railway bridge does not even have to be continuously repainted.

The Forth road bridge as viewed from the Forth Railway bridge. A second road bridge is under construction to provide more capacity. The wires in the suspension cables have been corroding, which had been thought to limit the life of the original road bridge but new techniques involving passing warm dry air over the cables within an insulated sheath may well overcome this problem. meanwhile, the massive railway bridge which is over 100 years old carries on: new paint technology means that the railway bridge does not even have to be continuously repainted.

The Queens Gallery at Holyrood for exhibiting the extraordinary artistic riches that are in the monarch's collection.

The Queens Gallery at Holyrood for exhibiting the extraordinary artistic riches that are in the monarch’s collection.

The end of the Royal Mile and part of Holyrood Palace at the end.

The end of the Royal Mile and part of Holyrood Palace at the end.

The Scottish Parliament Building - the pinnacle of commisar concrete design so favoured in Scotland. Some of the concrete is already showing signs of staining. Inside there is some fine woodwork

The Scottish Parliament Building – the pinnacle of commissar concrete design so favoured in Scotland. Some of the concrete is already showing signs of staining. Inside there is some fine woodwork

The Edinburgh Festival is well-known, with world-class performances of music and theatre plus the ever-expanding Fringe over most of August. We have wanted to visit it for some time and have the added incentive that Alex, son of our friends Jenny and Steve Hollingsworth, is performing in a Fringe production this evening in the centre of Edinburgh.

The Queen's Gallery at Holyrood - modern and asttractive.

The Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood – modern and attractive.

Leonardo's drawings of a foetus in the womb. He was very curious about how the mother's and babies blood are separate but the one nourishes the other. As with so many of his anatomical studies, modern science has shown how accurate his observations were: in this case the child is in the breach position. Leornado always wrote in mirror writing as he was left handed and found mirror writing easier; it was not done for concealement.

Leonardo’s drawings of a foetus in the womb. He was very curious about how the mother’s and babies blood are separate but the one nourishes the other. As with so many of his anatomical studies, modern science has shown how accurate his observations were: in this case the child is in the breach position. Leonardo always wrote in mirror writing as he was left-handed and found mirror writing easier; it was not done for concealment.

A further attraction is that there is an exhibition of the anatomy drawings and studies by Leonardo da Vinci at the Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood Palace. John has wanted to see these for a long time, having read about the remarkable feat that Leonardo achieved. The exhibition lives up to its reputation. The drawings are truly remarkable. The exhibition compliments the drawings with a good audio commentary and 3D images from modern CT and MRI scans of the human anatomy to show how accurately Leonardo portrayed the human body. Leonardo was, of course, a skilled artist and engineer as well as an anatomist so his insights into how the body functions and moves are special. Sadly, Leonardo was unable to publish his works so they were collected together at his death, bound and effectively lost to sight. They were purchased, along with many other works by Leonardo, by Charles II and remained hidden in the Royal Collection until their worth was finally recognised at the end of the 19th Century, when their publication caused huge interest and admiration then and since. Had they been published at Leonardo’s time they would have been the single most important medical treatise to have been published.

One of Leonardo da Vinci's studies of the leg and foot showing how the tendons and ligaments work. His very  finely detailed drawings and extensive descriptions and notes were all done using a goose quill pen. Leonardo believed that you had to have accurate drawings AND text to be able to explain the intricacies and interactions of the anatomy. Other drawings showed his studies on the layers of bone, muscle, tendons, blood vessels and the skin that make up the human body and also how they worked and the lines of the forces that are generated as the body works.

One of Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of the leg and foot showing how the tendons and ligaments work. His very finely detailed drawings and extensive descriptions and notes were all done using a goose-quill pen. Leonardo believed that you had to have accurate drawings AND text to be able to explain the intricacies and interactions of the anatomy. Other drawings showed his studies on the layers of bone, muscle, tendons, blood vessels and the skin that make up the human body and also how they worked and the lines of the forces that are generated as the body works.

This sheet shows Leornardo's very detailed anatomy of the hand and arm. He was fascinated with the way complex joints of the body work such as the shoulder and hand and produced numerous "freeze frame" drawings that we only now can we produce as moving 3D images using techniques such as CT and MRI scans.  These manuscripts are Leornardo's notes which he intended work up to publish as a book on anatomy.

This sheet shows Leonardo’s very detailed anatomy of the hand and arm. He was fascinated with the way complex joints of the body work such as the shoulder and hand and produced numerous “freeze frame” drawings that we only now can produce as moving 3D images using techniques such as CT and MRI scans. These manuscripts are Leonardo’s notes which he intended work up to publish as a book on anatomy.

We leave the Leonardo’s and wander back up the Royal mile. It is a warm and sunny day and the Fringe is in full swing. The top half of the Royal Mile is closed during the Festival. Around St. Giles Cathedral and beyond the street entertainment is in full swing and we enjoy the jugglers, music and performances along with the huge crowds. We buy tickets for Alex’s play at the Fringe Box Office – there must be a very effective computer system behind the Festival given the huge number of events that are on and the different outlets for the tickets.

There is a wonderful ambiance during the Edinburgh Festival with many free performances and street entertainment as part of the Fringe. Hundreds of young (and not so young) hopefuls flood into Edinburgh with literally hundreds of different performances throughout the Festival in August. various streets are shut during this period, such as parts of the Royal Mile by St. Giles Cathedral.

The Fringe ticket office - a slick operation with other outlets all plugged into the same system and mainky staffed by young people.

The Fringe ticket office – a slick operation with other outlets all plugged into the same system and mainly staffed by young people.

We enjoy an evening meal in the sun sitting outside at a café watching the world go by before moving on to the venue for the play. By good chance Alex turns up with the rest of the actors so we can pass some time with him before the play starts at around 9. Called Vessel, the play concerns the circumstances surrounding building a boat by five siblings in memory of the death of their brother. It is billed as a comedy but it is certainly more than that. The play is very well done by the cast of 5.

The cafe society gets into full swing during the Edinburgh Festival

The cafe society gets into full swing during the Edinburgh Festival

Alex Hollingsworth poses in front of the poster for the play Vessel that he is acting in Edinburgh Fringe. Go and see it!

Alex Hollingsworth poses in front of the poster for the play Vessel that he is acting in Edinburgh Fringe. Go and see it!

We return to Sundart and turn in before midnight after another different and entertaining day.

Tuesday 6th August – To Dunbar

John sets the alarm wrong so we get up at 0645 but no harm as we have plenty of time to breakfast and meet Chris around 0830. Chris will sail his boat with us for some of the way out of the Firth of Forth on our way to Dunbar (which is at the southern entrance to the Firth around 26 miles from Burntisland).

Chris Mitchell was tremendously helpful with arranging the mooring for Sundart at Burntisland, feeding us after a late finish and generally looking after us. He accompanied us at the start of our sail east out of the Firth of Forth in his boat Mistral

Chris Mitchell was tremendously helpful with arranging the mooring for Sundart at Burntisland, feeding us after a late finish and generally looking after us. He accompanied us at the start of our sail east out of the Firth of Forth in his boat Mistral

It is a lovely morning, with a light westerly wind. We leave our berth at 0900 and sail with Chris towards Edinburgh. As the wind is light and we need to be at Dunbar by 3PM to get into the harbour, we set the spinnaker and gradually leave Chris behind as we pass Incholm and sail east. It is a lovely sail as we cruise along the Firth.

Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth opposite North Berwick. This rock (which is an ancient volcano "plug") is famous for its colony of gannets and even provides the scientific name for the gannet: sula bassana. The rock looks white from any direction from the gannet guano.

Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth opposite North Berwick. This rock (which is an ancient volcano “plug”) is famous for its colony of gannets and even provides the scientific name for the gannet: sula bassana. The rock looks white from any direction from the gannet guano.

We pass Edinburgh, and later pass North Berwick then Bass Rock, which is famous for its gannets. The rock is extremely white and although the nesting season is over there are gaggles of gannets to be seen. We pass round a fleet of RS400 dinghies racing – North Berwick is a popular place for dinghy racing and national championships.

We reach Dunbar on time with a little help from the engine as the wind dies. The entrance to the harbour is spectacular – it was blasted through the rock and old castle walls about a century ago. There is a leading line and bearing that we have to follow into the narrow cleft between the rocks before the harbour opens out. The assistant harbour master meets us and takes our lines at the visitor’s berth, which is immediately below the old castle walls. Kittiwakes are nesting in the walls, being kept very busy feeding their young which are nearly ready to fledge. There is a considerable noise but it is a wonderful display. We will wait at Dunbar until tomorrow afternoon when Pam Deacon will join us so we will look forward to exploring this attractive little town.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       26.5 nm

Total miles to date:          1712.3 nm

Engine hours:                  2.2 hours

Total engine hours:          205.4 hours

Hours sailed:                   5.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           376.4 hours

A following wind and fair weather to you all.

Yvonne and John

The little known North-East of Scotland

Sunday 21st July – Across the Pentland Firth to Wick

Duncansby Head and the pentalnd Firth in the early morning. This Head is the north-east corner of the Scottish mainland and is our third "corner" of the UK which we have rounded. John O'Groats is a couple of miles to the west.

Duncansby Head and the Pentland Firth in the early morning. John O’Groats (which is named after the Dutchman who set up the first ferry service from there to the Orkneys) is a couple of miles to the west. This Head is the north-east corner of the Scottish mainland and is our third “corner” of the UK which we have rounded – just South Foreland to go!

Our alarm went off at 0530 – not out of choice but the necessity of crossing the Pentland Firth to mainland Scotland when the tides are slack. The Pentland Firth has the strongest tides in the UK and we are crossing at spring tides when the tides are strongest. The pilot books make a lot of fuss about crossing this stretch of water and the charts show tidal streams of up to 9 knots. (Although Neolithic Man seems to have got across with his wives, animals, children, goods and chattels to settle the Orkneys!). We are a bit apprehensive as a result of all the warnings but have studied the tide tables and charts and done our calculations twice.

We set off from St. Margaret’s Hope (South Ronaldsay, Orkney) at 0615, setting two reefs as there is a brisk wind. We sail round South Ronaldsay and head south, keeping close to the land as we have opted to start in adverse tides at the end of the west going tide. The aim is to avoid the eddies and overfalls downstream of the various islands and rocks across the Pentland Firth, which are severe at full tidal flow. As we head out of the shelter of the Orkneys the tide dies away, getting ready to turn eastward. We opt to sail with the engine on as the wind is variable to ensure we get across the 5 miles or so of water to the mainland in the minimum time. In reality, the sea is calm and we have no trouble. The pilot books recommend that we keep at least a mile off Duncansby Head (the headland nearest to John O’Groats at the north-east corner of the mainland) but the sea is so flat that we can sail close to the Head to photograph it. As we pass the head the tide starts to set south and a few small overfalls appear but there is no problem.

The wind and south going tide settle in and we are soon sailing south at a good speed. The coast is rocky with sandstone cliffs and rock arches and sea caves clearly visible. We soon reach Noss Head, just north of Wick, where some uncharted overfalls appear but we sail on through and reach Wick at 10:45.

In common with many old harbours, Wick has used European and Scottish Government money to convert the inner harbour basin into a marina. These are usually located near the centre of town – in Wick’s case the harbour is across the Wick River from the original town centre. (We later find out that the town round the Harbour is Pulteneytown which is an early example of a planned, integrated industrial development – but more of that later.

Our neighbour on the next pontoon is a retired Belgian gentleman who has sailed his 26 ft. boat from Nieuwpoort to here with the intention of reaching the Orkneys. He asks us advice as we have just come the opposite way. We are surprised to find that he has just a rudimentary set of tide tables, a small scale chart for the whole of the north of Scotland and the Orkneys and a basic chart plotter. We discuss the passage planning with him, showing him our tidal atlases and pilot books and giving him our free book of information on the ports and tides on the Orkneys that we were given at Stromness. We wish him good luck.

On the other side is a 44 ft boat with three Norwegians on who sailed across here earlier this summer and went through the Caledonian Canal to Western Scotland. They were about to set sail for the 50 hour voyage back to Southern Norway and Oslo. We have met quite a lot of Scandinavians who have crossed the North Sea to visit Scotland, often not for the first time.

Wick old town and the bridge across the River Wick. The end of the railway to north Scotland and now rather faded grandeur.

Wick old town and the bridge across the River Wick. Wick is at  end of the railway to north Scotland.

The fog comes down as we walk across the river to the town centre, where we locate the laundrette and a few shops. The Tourist Information is located in a clothing shop but there seems to be nothing on this particular Thursday. We walk back across the old bridge to Pulteneytown and come across the local heritage museum, which we decide to visit.

Wick heritage centre in Pulteneytown by the fish harbour. Enthusistically run by the locals and winner of several awards.

Wick heritage centre in Pulteneytown by the fish harbour. Enthusiastically run by the locals and winner of several awards.

The museum is enthusiastically run by local retired people as far as we can see. We are introduced to the museum by a quick tour by one of the staff. We learn from her that Wick was once the largest herring fishing town in the UK, with 1100 fishing boats. There was an annual movement of fishermen and women up the east coast of the UK from East Anglia to the north of Scotland, following the fishing season – the men doing the fishing and the women doing the gutting, salting and packing into barrels. The women worked in threes, being on a basic wage plus piecework.

Are depicting the fish preparation that the women used to do in Wick.

Are depicting the fish preparation that the women used to do in Wick.

Our guide’s grandmother was a fish filleter: apparently the norm was to fillet 60 fish a minute, sorting them into three size grades as she went. The women bound their hands with old bandages to protect them so they could work faster. Our guide said she could never see how granny worked so fast or what she did: all she had was a little blade in a handle. The work force used to sharpen their blades as they walked to work in the morning on the stones of the bridge parapet.

Ther is so much "stuff" collected in the museum - here are two old fishing boats plus religeous banners etc etc

There is so much “stuff” collected in the museum – here are two old fishing boats plus religious banners etc etc

Part of the beautiful terraced gardens behind the museum - a lot of hard work by the volunteers

Part of the beautiful terraced gardens behind the museum – a lot of hard work by the volunteers

The museum is a jumble of items collected together and housed in four old houses and a work yard. Out the back the steeply terraced garden has been beautifully cared for with flowers in profusion.

The museum is in the area known as Pulteneytown, named by the great engineer Thomas Telford in honour of his patron. Telford was commissioned to design a new integrated industrial area around the harbour at the end of the 18th Century as the fish trade developed. Telford had high standards and laid the area out with good quality housing for the workers, decent width streets and with workshops integrated in with the houses. The area took 20 years to build to Telford’s exacting standards. The workshops provided the support industries for the fishing trade – coopers, rope and sail makers, boat builders, fish smokeries etc. In its heyday this was a thriving area and at one point LS Lowry was commissioned to create paintings for publicity material for Wick.

Preserved workshops in the Heritage Museum. Telford integrated workshops within the housing so people did not have to travel far to their work.

Preserved workshops in the Heritage Museum. Telford integrated workshops within the housing so people did not have to travel far to their work.

The fine houses and broad streets that typify Thomas Telford's design from two hundred years ago for an integrated industrial new town that was properly fit for the workers. Much of this area has now been sympathetically refurbished rather than just pulled down as the planners wished.

The fine houses and broad streets that typify Thomas Telford’s design from two hundred years ago for an integrated industrial new town that was properly fit for the workers. Much of this area has now been sympathetically refurbished rather than just pulled down as the planners wished.

The fish trade lasted until the early 1950’s, then died as the herrings disappeared from the seas. Pulteneytown languished and in common with so many other traditional areas in the country, started to get knocked down by the planners and replaced by uninspiring and rather shoddy housing, Happily, the local council has changed its stance and many of Telford’s streets and buildings have been preserved, often with modernised interiors but keeping the original exteriors.

Kilt shop at Wick - only in Scotland!

In search of the fish shop at Wick, passing a kilt shop – only in Scotland!

These days the main fishing ports in this part of the world are Scrabster (Thurso), Frazerburgh and Peterhead. It has been surprising hard to find decent fresh fish but we are directed to a little fish shop up a long flight of steps where we buy some excellent Dover Sole which we enjoy baked in foil in the oven with a little pesto for our supper.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       24.0 nm

Total miles to date:          1429.5 nm

Engine hours:                  3.2 hours

Total engine hours:          171.4 hours

Hours sailed:                   4.5 Hours

Total hours sailed;           319.7 hours

Friday 26th July – Wick to Dornock Firth

We awake to thunder and lightning and it is still foggy! We take a leisurely breakfast and John gets a shower (or rather half a shower as the money runs out so they are not free after all!). The weather forecast is for the fog to lift so as it seems to be brightening up we decide to move south – Wick is a bit grey and depressing.

We leave harbour and it is reasonably clear for a while before the fog descends once more and the wind dies. We have heard of the North Sea har – mist that is due to warm moist air over cold sea – and now we are experiencing it. There is little wind so we decide to motor on, using our electronic navigation and the AIS to spot any ships. However, this is a much unfrequented area and we motor on in a bubble of visibility, keeping far enough off shore to avoid any problems. This should have been a lovely trip down past the hills of Caithness and Sutherland as we pass out of sea area Fair Isle into sea area Cromarty but sadly they are invisible. The only thing we come across all day is a yellow float with a flag on it – presumably a sea monitoring buoy. Even the few birds we see seem rather inactive, floating lazily on the water. (Maybe this is how sea birds exist for much of their time). We try using the auto helm but every so often it goes awry, steering us off course and necessitating manual intervention so we take over from “George”. Later we notice that the compass swings a bit strangely. There are some areas of the sea where magnetic rocks distort the earth’s magnetic field and although one is not marked on our chart there could well be a local anomaly. “George” steers using a magnetic flux gate compass so maybe he was not to blame – we shall try him with care in another area on a quiet day.

Our anchorage off Portmohomack in the Dornoch Firth - wall to wall sunshine and not a trace of fog!

Our anchorage off Portmohomack in the Dornoch Firth – wall to wall sunshine and not a trace of fog!

We decide to head for Portmohomack just inside the Dornoch Firth. Yvonne’s niece Tammy married Paul in a castle overlooking the Dornoch Firth some years ago and we remember the area as being a beauty spot. We just hope the fog will clear when we get more land locked.

Sunset over the Dornoch Firth from our anchorage with the mountains of Sutherland in the distance

Sunset over the Dornoch Firth from our anchorage with the mountains of Sutherland in the distance

Right on cue, the fog rolls away as we enter the Firth by Tarbert Ness and we sail along to Portmohomack in brightening sunshine and anchor off its sandy beach with a splendid view of the distant mountains. The village opposite our anchorage is decked out in flags ready for their carnival day – this is proper summer! We enjoy the view with G & T’s on deck whilst a lone bag pipe players plays cheerfully in the distance – this can only happen in Scotland and makes up for the rest of the day.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       41.9 nm

Total miles to date:          1471.4 nm

Engine hours:                  7.2 hours

Total engine hours:          178.6 hours

Hours sailed:                   8.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           328.7 hours

Saturday 27th July – Portmohomack to Buckie

Checking the bank accounts anchored in Dornoch Firth

Checking the bank accounts whilst anchored in Dornoch Firth

What a beautiful morning and the same stunning views as yesterday evening! We have breakfast on deck before setting off with the intention of getting to Whitehills, a small port on the shore of the Moray Firth half way between Inverness and Peterhead.

We set full sails and beat out of the Dornoch Firth and past the lighthouse on the end of Tarbert Ness before setting out on a long fetch towards the north coast of the old counties of Morayshire and Banff (now Aberdeenshire). As the day goes by the wind strengthens and the flat sea becomes confused with short waves from different directions, typical of a shallow sea. We decide to shorten our journey to Buckie. We reef down twice and the seas become rather rolling with steep waves that stop Sundart so we put the engine on to help the boat against the wind and waves. The easy start to the day has become hard work.

Moored in Buckie Harbour against an old fishing boat being converted. The blue hulled boat with "Guard" on its side is used to monitor and keep trawlers off the pipelines from the large oil fields Beatrice and Jackie north of Buckie. (These are some of the most productive oilfields in the UK sector). Oil support service operations are a major source of income to many Scottish ports. More recently, development of wind farms and future developments of tidal generation will help offset the gradual decline in North Sea oil and gas activity.

Moored in Buckie Harbour against an old fishing boat being converted. The blue hulled boat with “Guard” on its side is used to monitor and keep trawlers off the pipelines from the large oil fields Beatrice and Jackie north of Buckie. (These are some of the most productive oilfields in the UK sector). Oil support service operations are a major source of income to many Scottish ports. More recently, development of wind farms and future developments of tidal generation will help offset any gradual decline in North Sea oil and gas activity.

The entrance to Buckie, which is reported in Reeds Almanac to be a major fishing port with good facilities, is rather difficult to spot as it entered by turning round the end of the sea wall and does not open directly to the sea to protect the harbour from the waves so we use the Samsung tablet to help ensure we have the right point and harbour light.

Once in the harbour we call up the harbourmaster and are directed by the night watchman to moor against an old fishing boat. We climb up the vertical ladder up the harbour wall to find that Buckie is a rather run down fishing port with no real facilities for small craft.  There is no shore power or water or any realistic way to refuel (as they only have equipment suitable for trawlers and larger ships). However, it is a safe haven for the night and the night watchman is friendly and helpful so we will review the situation in the morning. We use the facilities in the fish market then climb back down the ladder to make supper and retire for the night after a long day.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       41.6 nm

Total miles to date:          1513.0 nm

Engine hours:                  2.9 hours

Total engine hours:          181.5 hours

Hours sailed:                   6.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           334.7 hours

Sunday 28th July – Buckie to Whitehills

One hears some strange tales in harbours. This fine but decaying 3 masted ship - the Regina Caelis - has been moored in Buckie for 15 years. It is apparently owned by an Austrian couple who are now in their 80's who visit every summer to live on it and try to get a crew to sail it. The local kids seem to like swinging in the rigging!

One hears some strange tales in harbours. This fine but decaying 3 masted ship – the Regina Caelis – has been moored in Buckie for 15 years. It is apparently owned by an Austrian couple who are now in their 80’s who visit every summer to live on it and try to get a crew to sail it. The local kids seem to like swinging in the rigging!

We wake up to…rain again! The rest of the country seems to be basking in perpetual sun whilst we get the rubbish! John decides to fetch the Sunday papers and some essential shopping so dons full waterproofs, walking boots and back-pack and walks up the hill to the town centre where he finds a Co-op. (The Co-op seems to be the mainstay of many small towns and villages in Scotland). He stops at the harbour watchman en route to check the way and discovers that this harbour is nearly always quiet with little work for the fishermen or boat repairers which the watchman puts down to the location of the port (it being too far for fishing boats to come to unload up the Moray Firth, Frazerburgh, Peterhead and Scrabster being better located. They seem to have missed a trick by not catering for small boats, unlike other ports). John returns fully laden but looking like a drowned rat. The shopping has to be lowered on a rope onto the deck of the old fishing boat from the quay then moved across to Sundart alongside.

We had planned to wait here for Charles and Judith Saunders (who will be joining us on the 29th) but it is not really suitable.  We study the weather forecast which sates that the wind will drop and rain abate in the middle of the day so we put away the stores, John dries out and we read the papers over a coffee.

In due course the weather brightens and the rain stops so we decide this is the window of opportunity to go 10 miles along the coast to Whitehills, where facilities are much better. We set off with 2 reefs, the wind then drops so we take out the reefs and put the engine on. 30 minutes later the wind changes direction and blows again but from behind us. For a while we make great progress but after a bit the waves and wind build up so we have the strenuous task of getting rid of the sails and motoring the last couple of miles under better control to Whitehills.

The narrow entrance to Whitehills Harbour - not much more than  one boat width which can be a challenge in windy weather!

The narrow entrance to Whitehills Harbour – not much more than one boat width which can be a challenge in windy weather!

The narrow entrance to Whitehills with the sharp left turn into the harbour

The narrow entrance to Whitehills with the sharp left turn into the harbour

Whitehills is a small port with a narrow entrance. We have studied the charts and pilot books before leaving so we readily identify the entrance but had not realised how small it is. We tried to phone ahead to the harbourmaster to arrange our berth but with no joy so we will have to sort ourselves out. (We later discover that this normally extremely helpful gentleman was enjoying his ruby wedding celebration and was very apologetic for not having seen us in but he missed our phone and radio calls). There is a sharp 90 degree turn into the harbour which we negotiate but it is all rather exciting in the waves! Once in the harbour we have little room to manoeuvre as there are a lot of boats and no spare space on the visitors’ pontoon. We just manage to spin Sundart round in the space against the wind and moor up against a 36 ft Rival yacht (which is a solid boat and big enough for us to go against). It is all rather hectic but all is well and we are thankful to be in this snug little port that is clearly set up for small boats.

We decide to stay here tomorrow to have a break and text Charles to ask them to meet us here.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       13.5 nm

Total miles to date:          1526.5 nm

Engine hours:                  1.7 hours

Total engine hours:          183.2 hours

Hours sailed:                   3.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           337.7 hours

Monday 29th July – A day in Whitehills

We awake to a lovely day – at last with sun and a light wind. Charles and Judith have travelled to Inverness on the sleeper train and text us to say they will be with us by midday.

The Harbour Authority and staff at Whitehills go out of their way to welcome yachtsmen and have a full harbour as a result. The lamposts on the harbour are adorned with flags where yachts visit from, including Sweden and Norway.

The Harbour Authority and staff at Whitehills go out of their way to welcome yachtsmen and have a full harbour as a result. The lamposts on the harbour are adorned with flags where yachts visit from, including Sweden and Norway.

Bertie the Harbour master introduces himself to us and apologises for not being around to receive us yesterday.  We tell him that we will wait today for Charles and Judith; Bertie offers to fetch them from Elgin station half and hours drive away but by then they will already be ion the bus to here. Whitehills has a reputation for being a very welcoming harbour to yachtsmen and we can see why.

Charles fixes the wind indicator up the mast at Whitehills Harbour

Charles fixes the wind indicator up the mast at Whitehills Harbour

John catches up on some work before C & J arrive. When they do, we spend the time settling them in and doing routine jobs – watering and fuelling up etc. Charles has bought various spares with him that we have had sent to his home. Most replenish the spares stock but the new part for the wind gauge has to be fitted so after checking that it works Charles volunteers to be winched up the mast to fix it to the top. At last, we can measure the wind speed and direction accurately, which really helps with our sailing.

Downies excellent fish shop at Whitehills - one of the few fishing ports so far who actually sell fish to the public.

Downies excellent fish shop at Whitehills – one of the few fishing ports so far who actually sell fish to the public.

After a coffee we walk up the hill to the village to get essential supplies at the only shop around. On the way we find Downies – an excellent fish shop, and buy fish for one of Yvonne’s excellent fish pies for supper. (Curiously, despite visiting many fishing ports, it has proved hard to buy fresh fish as it often gets whisked off to market).

The village of Whitehills with typical single story traditional Scotch stone houses

The village of Whitehills with typical single story traditional Scotch stone houses

After supper we have a leisurely walk around the headland before returning to Sundart to plan our next stage of the trip to Peterhead and down the eastern coast of Scotland towards Edinburgh

A following wind and fair weather to you all.

Yvonne and John

The intriguing Orkneys

Sunday 21st July – a leisurely day around Stromness

We have mentioned before that many coastal communities have developed their own traditional boats over the centuries. This is a Strmness "yole" - albeit with the addition of a modern outboard

We have mentioned before that many coastal communities have developed their own traditional boats over the centuries. This is a Stromness “yole” – albeit with the addition of a modern outboard

After a leisurely start we find the local information centre to find out how to get about Mainland Orkney. This being Sunday things seem to be shut or limited opening here so we sort out a full sightseeing day tomorrow and decide on a day around Stromness and a walk along the coast.

"Flattie" racing in Stromness harbour. This girl took her dog with her! Flatties are traditional flat bottomed boats that children and teenagers learn to row around Stromness harbour area. The growth in the size and amount of ships using Stromness must limit this activity these days. The local golf course seemed to attract far more youths on this particular Sunday!

“Flattie” racing in Stromness harbour. This girl took her dog with her! Flatties are traditional flat-bottomed boats that children and teenagers learn to row around Stromness harbour area. The growth in the size and amount of ships using Stromness must limit this activity these days. The local golf course seemed to attract far more youths on this particular Sunday!

A passer-by tells us that this week is “Shopping Week” in Stromness – their carnival week. (The information centre is so clued up that they did not even have any information on this event 100 yards from their door!). This afternoon there is “flattie racing” for teenagers in the harbour. A flattie is the local flat bottom rowing boat young people learn to row in at Stromness so we take our lunch to watch from the harbour wall. There don’t seem many takers and there is little fanfare but a few youths take part. We decide to walk on after a couple of people complete their timed circuit round the harbour. (Later we find a lot of youths playing golf with their dads – maybe Lee Westwood leading the Open is more inspiring to them).

Mrs. Humphrey's House - a temporary hospital for scurvey ridden whale men who had been trapped int he ice for months

Mrs. Humphrey’s House – a temporary hospital for scurvy ridden whale men who had been trapped in the ice for months working fo the Hudson Bay Company

Some of the older buildings have sandstone slabs for rooves - such as this restored shed

Some of the older buildings have sandstone slabs for roofs – such as this restored shed

We walk through Stromness’s main street – a collection of houses, pubs shops and churches constructed from the local sandstone. Many of the houses have been rendered, mostly in the pebbledash much used in Scotland, which is a pity as it is rather drab. The road is often narrow with flagstones and cobbles up the middle with traffic and pedestrians mingling. There are information plaques along the route as Stromness has various claims to fame, many relating to it providing many people to work for the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) in Canada. Stromness is celebrating the 200th birthday of Dr John Rae from the town who worked for HBC and made the final discovery of the North-West Passage. Unlike the other great Victorian explorers, he seems to have been shunned by Victorian society as he “went native” (befriending and imitating the Inuit and learning much from them) and also reported that the ill-starred Franklin expedition seeking the NW Passage resorted to cannibalism before freezing to death – something which, although later proved to be true, ran against the Victorian notion of a heroic death.

Traditional houses on the waterfront at Stromness

Traditional houses on the waterfront at Stromness

Although interesting in its way, Stromness is not particularly attractive other than its main street (which is a conservation area) and there is a limited amount of interest to (or it seems in) visitors.

We walk on round the headland on a good path past the Hoy Sound and Hoy Mouth towards the open sea.

Scapa Flow was an important naval base in both World Wars so there are inevitably remnants of defenses, such as this search light station overlooking the Sound of Hoy entrance to Scapa Flow. A rapid fire gun emplacement, control tower, generator house and encampment completed this group of buildings.

Scapa Flow was an important naval base in both World Wars so there are inevitably remnants of defenses, such as this search light station overlooking the Sound of Hoy entrance to Scapa Flow. A rapid fire gun emplacement, control tower, generator house and encampment completed this group of buildings.

We pass the remains of WW2 defences, including a generator shed, searchlight post and gun emplacement. Across the Sound we can see a similar establishment on Grimsay, compete with control tower. The Hoy Sound was one of two entrances to Scapa Flow – a great inland sea that was the base in the north for the Navy in both world wars. We found much more about this aspect later in our travels around the Orkneys.

A WW2 gun control tower on the island of Graemsay overlooking Hoy Sound at the entrance to Scapa Flow next to Low Hoy lighthouse. The mountains on the island of Hoy are behind.

A WW2 gun control tower on the island of Grimsay overlooking Hoy Sound at the entrance to Scapa Flow next to Low Hoy lighthouse. The mountains on the island of Hoy are behind.

Sandstone pavement at low tide off the island of Mainland, Orkney. The Mouth of Hoy and part o fthe mountainous island of Hoy in the background

Sandstone pavement at low tide off the island of Mainland, Orkney. The Mouth of Hoy and part of the mountainous island of Hoy in the background

Wind blown sand bonded to become rock by the action of ground up shells

Wind blown sand bonded to become rock by the action of ground up shells

John walks on round the coast to view the wave energy test site for the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). On his way he passes the house of the last protestant bishop on Orkney (of which more tomorrow).

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) is based at Stromness. A wave energy trials area is located on the west coast of Mainland Island with several devices on test. Here two of the support vessels are returning from the trials area via Hoy Sound against the back drop of Hoy island, the most mountainous of the islands. The Devonian sandstone "pavement" formation in the rocks in the foreshore is typical of this area of the Mainland Island

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) is based at Stromness. A wave energy trials area is located on the west coast of Mainland Island with several devices on test. Here two of the support vessels are returning from the trials area via Hoy Sound against the back drop of Hoy island, the most mountainous of the islands. The Devonian sandstone “pavement” formation in the rocks in the foreshore is typical of this area of the Mainland Island

The UK is regarded as the country within the EU that can most benefit from wind, wave and tidal energy. Wind energy is being rapidly developed (witness the huge number of wind turbines being installed) but wave and tidal energy are in their infancy, being largely at the research and development stage. The Orkneys are well placed for wave and tidal energy, being on the Pentland Firth (with one of the greatest tidal flows in the world) and being open to the waves from the north-west Atlantic. EMEC was set up on the initiative of the UK Government and is headquartered at Stromness with a wave energy test site at Billa Croo on the west coast of Mainland and a tidal test site on Eday. So far about 6 different wave devices from the UK and other countries have are or about to be tested with the British “Pelamis” wave snake being the first device to generate electricity into a grid system (in 2004). We saw some of the devices on the shore awaiting installation and the installation vessels in the Sound of Hoy on our walk. A new quay was also under construction at Stromness to support this work. We could see the Pelamis device out to sea in the distance on the walk.

Cattle farming is big on the Orkneys - as are some of the live stock. Anyone know what this breed is chap is?

Cattle farming is big on the Orkneys – as is some of the live stock. Anyone know what breed is chap is?

The walk took us through a lot of farmland. There seems to be little arable land in the Orkneys, although there was much hay and silage making in evidence. However, they are big on cattle and sheep rearing. The land is generally undulating rather than mountainous (with the exception of Hoy which is mountainous) with lush looking fields with plenty of stock in them. The local papers had stories of the dairy farmers being hit with low milk prices so no change there – perhaps beef farming is more remunerative. On one island (North Ronaldsay) the sheep have adapted to eating the seaweed – apparently it gives a tangy flavour to the meat!

The house built for the last bishop of Orkney at Breckness over looking the Sound of Hoy in ??

The house built for the last protestant bishop of Orkney at Breckness over looking the Sound of Hoy in the 17th century

A detail in the ruined bishop's house at Breckness - an oven perhaps? The stonework is noticeable better quality than most other buildings in the vicinity.

A detail in the ruined bishop’s house at Breckness – an oven perhaps? The stonework is noticeable better quality than most other buildings in the vicinity.

On his walk John came across the house built for the last protestant Bishop of Orkney in the 17th Century – now in ruins.

Back at Sundart John finds a loose little wire that had been stopping the radio linking properly to the GPS. (Our radio is a digital type based on the GMDSS system. The radio is linked to the GPS so the boat’s position is always known; in the event of an emergency (mayday) the radio automatically sends the position with the distress signal).

We eat on board and enjoy the Sunday paper (which only arrived in Stromness at midday – such is island life).

Monday 22nd July – Sight seeing in Mainland, Orkney

The local lifeboat gets a Sunday morning clean, ready to transport the local Shopping Week (Carnival) Queen the following day. This is a Severn Class lifeboat - the largest type built & used by the RNLI and stationed at ports with the heaviest weather and most open seas. Powered by two large Caterpillar motors, these boats can cruise at over 25 knots - but don't ask about the fuel consumption or costs!

The local lifeboat gets a Sunday morning clean, ready to transport the local Shopping Week (Carnival) Queen the following day. This is a Severn Class lifeboat – the largest type built & used by the RNLI and stationed at ports with the heaviest weather and most open seas. Powered by two large Caterpillar motors, these boats can cruise at over 25 knots – but don’t ask about the fuel consumption or costs!

At last - a pipe band! At the Stromness "Shopping Week" awaiting the Shopping Week Queen coming to be crowned via the lifeboat

At last – a pipe band! At the Stromness “Shopping Week” awaiting the Shopping Week Queen coming to be crowned via the lifeboat

We do a quick bit of shopping for essentials, passing the preparations for the crowning of the “Shopping Week Queen” and the pipe band to serenade her.

Our transport round Mainland, Orkney. Hang on to your hat and hair up top!

Our transport round Mainland, Orkney. Hang on to your hat and hair up top!

We then catch the double-decker open top tour bus that goes round much of the island, visiting some of the main sights. There is a good travel deal – £8 for all day, hop on and off any of the island buses. The bus is full as it has already stopped at the capital, Kirkwall, and filled up with passengers off a cruise liner so we have to sit at the back on top in the open air. As we board an American lady totters off the top deck complete with oxygen trolley! The open top is great until the driver decides he is behind schedule and puts his foot down – over 40 mph is a full-blown severe gale when riding on an open top! Perhaps we should have borrowed the oxygen trolley. We don’t hear his commentary but arrive some what wind-blown at Skara Brae, the first stop and stagger off the bus. At least the scarecrow hair and odd hairless patches support our claim for concessionary tickets.

Modern mock up of a Skara Brae house with tunnel access passageways and turf covered roof (much like the rooves of traditional Skandanavian houses).

Modern mock up of a Skara Brae house with tunnel access passageways, primitive doors and turf covered roof (much like the roofs of traditional Skandinavian houses).

Modern mock up of the houses at Skara Brae.

Modern mock up of the houses at Skara Brae. This is the living area with hearth in the centre and dresser behind with a hiding place for valuables in the wall.

Orkney has the highest concentration of prehistoric sites anywhere in the UK (and probably of most places in the world) with more being discovered to this day. Skara Brae is one of the must-see places in the UK. It is the best preserved Neolithic village in Northern Europe. It was discovered by accident in 1850 when a storm blew the sand off the top of the Neolithic village to reveal some tantalising structures. The Laird of Skaill and landowner, William Watt, was intrigued and started to excavate to uncover four compete houses and amassed a rich collection of objects. In the 1920’s the site was taken into state care and Gordon Childe, the first Professor of Archaeology at Edinburgh University, was given the task of excavating and preserving the village. Childe was keen to ensure it was well presented to the public and made a painstaking excavation of the site. In the 1970’s further excavation was undertaken using new techniques. A recent survey has shown that there is a bit more of the village buried under the sand dunes which may get excavated in due course. One issue that has to be resolved with each dig is that the village developed over many years with newer houses being built over older ones, so the depth of excavation is often a moot point.

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Skara Brae is situated next to Skaille Bay. When the village was built the sea would have been along the line of the mouth of the Bay. A great storm in 1859 blew away the layer of sand that had been covering the top of the village. The on-lookers are walking along the top of a sea wall that has been built to protect the site from coastal erosion.

Skara Brae is situated next to Skaille Bay. When the village was built the sea would have been along the line of the mouth of the Bay. A great storm in 1859 blew away the layer of sand that had been covering the top of the village. The on-lookers are walking along the top of a sea wall that has been built to protect the site from coastal erosion.

Later period house from about 3500 years ago. Stone beds each side, fireplace in the centre and stone dresser on the far side.

Later period house from about 3500 years ago. Stone beds each side, fireplace in the centre and stone dresser on the far side.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe settlement at Skara Brae dates back nearly 4500 years. There is a wonderful time line along the path leading to the site along which one passes stones marking the Aztec, Mayan and Egyptian civilisations (including the building of the pyramids), Jesus Christ and many other historical points before arriving at the village and 2500 BC. A reconstructed house at the outset sets the scene and is complete with stone furniture, beds and doors that could be closed which gives an immediate impression of homely comfort and a standard of living that probably exceeded that enjoyed by 19th century crofters. The houses are partially sunk in the ground with “midden” (refuse) around the outside to insulate and give stability to the stone walls. Sunken passages link the houses.

The actual houses are well-preserved. Some are now open to the elements to be viewed from raised walkways whilst others have been re-roofed with turf roofs to protect the inscriptions and artefacts within.

Quite apart from the construction of the houses, numerous questions arise including how did these people get to these islands across a difficult stretch of water, together with their families and animals and why did they come in the first place? Our guide suggested the climate was warmer which would have helped (so global warming is not new!) but more questions are asked than are answered.

Skaille House - next to Skara Brae and an elegant example of 18th Century living at the top of the hierachical tree on Orkney

Skaille House – next to Skara Brae and an elegant example of 18th Century living at the top of the hierarchical tree on Orkney

The Laird of Skaille's drawing room

The Laird of Skaille’s drawing room

Skaille House bedroom

Skaille House bedroom

Skaille House interior

Skaille House interior

The site also includes Skaill House, the old laird’s home, which is a delightful glimpse of how the better off lived here in the 19th century.

As the bus is running late we have to hurry a bit which is a pity but there is much more to see. We would not make good tour bus customers!

The Ring of Brodgar. Originally around 60 standing stones in a perfect circle within an area rich in bronze age burial mounds.

The Ring of Brodgar. Originally around 60 standing stones in a perfect circle within an area rich in bronze age burial mounds.

Next stop is the Ring of Brodgar, roughly in the middle of the island between the large fresh water inland lochs of Stenness and Harray.

The Ring of Brodgar stones are not small!

The Ring of Brodgar stones are not small!

The Ring is surrounded by a ditch - who knows why?

The Ring is surrounded by a ditch – who knows why?

This is a ring that probably consisted of over 60 standing stones set on a small hill dating from the Bronze Age (around 2000 BC). As with all of these prehistoric rings no-one really knows how they were used. This one still has many of its stones standing (although at least one has been felled and split by lightning in modern times). The ring is surrounded by a ditch and is set amidst numerous burial mounds. Once again, the sheer scale of what the ancient builders achieved is remarkable, with stones being bought a long way then stood up in a near perfect circle. There must have been a high degree of organisation amongst the local people to have achieved this.

Individual standing stones align with and link the stone circles and the sun

Individual standing stones align with the sun and link the stone circles.

The remains of the Circle of Stenness

The remains of the Circle of Stenness

The Ring of Brodgar is linked by single standing stones over a mile or more to the smaller circle of Stenness, where far fewer stones remain standing.

Maes How neolithic tomb - plundered by the Vikings who left their own ruinic graffitti within.

Maes How neolithic tomb – plundered by the Vikings who left their own runic graffiti within.

Not far away is the burial mound of Maes How where carefully constructed burial chambers were made, covered by an earth mound. Access is limited so we were unable to visit this site. Earlier visitors include the Vikings, who opened and robbed the tombs and left their carved graffiti on the walls – which has now become one of the largest examples in Europe of Viking runic script!

The latest neolithic find under excavation at Brodgar Ness

The latest neolithic find under excavation at Brodgar Ness

Also nearby is the latest archaeological site – Brodgar Ness – where a dig is in progress using trained volunteers to uncover and record another Neolithic village. The quantity and quality of these sites is quite remarkable.

The Strynd Tearoom, Kirkwall - rejuvenation after the open top bus tour and excellent home cooking by the three young people running it.

The Strynd Tearoom, Kirkwall – rejuvenation after the open top bus tour and excellent home cooking by the three young people running it.

The bus finally deposits us at the capital, Kirkwall, after a further perfect storm on the open top deck in the Orkney mist! We recover by seeking out a delightful little tea shop in a side alley off the main street which is run extremely well by three twenty-something year olds who can cook and run an excellent establishment. We recover our composure over a delicious bowl of home-made soup and buy cakes for later sustenance.

Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall. The most northern distillery in the UK

Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall. The most northern distillery in the UK

Having recovered we decide to seek out the Highland Park Distillery which is the most northern whiskey distillery in the UK located on the outskirts of Kirkwall. A mile and a half later up a hill we find said distillery in time for the scheduled 3 o’clock tour only to find that a cruise ship has fully booked the tour. We plead our case and after being mollified by a shot of 12 year old single malt whiskey and a film show on making their product they magic up our own personal guide – the amiable Chris. Tremendous! Chris immediately plies us with 18 year old single malt whiskey before taking us on the tour. This is more like it!

Rebuild dates of the peat kiln

Rebuild dates of the peat kiln

Peat kiln for drying the malted barley, which gives the whiskey its characteristic flavour.

Peat kiln for drying the malted barley, which gives the whiskey its characteristic flavour.

Mash tuns and filter vessels. Our amiable and accomodating guide Chris explained everything in excellent depth.

Mash tuns and filter vessels. Our amiable and accommodating guide Chris explained everything in excellent depth.

Copper stills. Two to make the first distillation, two for the final one. They are normally padlocked when in production by Customs and Excise.

Copper stills. Two to make the first distillation, two for the final one. They are normally padlocked when in production by Customs and Excise.

Whiskey maturing in oak barrels. 2% is lost by evaporation - the "angels share". Armour plated glass seperates us from the product!

Whiskey maturing in oak barrels. 2% is lost by evaporation – the “angels share”. Armour plated glass separates us from the product!

A brief description for those not familiar with whiskey making. Most distilleries started as illegal stills that became legal (in this case 200 years ago). Scotch whiskey basically involves making malted barley (i.e. selected barley which is germinated under control to convert the starch into sugar in the seeds of barley). This is then dried and roasted in a peat fired kiln to impart the characteristic flavour before making beer out of the malt. Batches of 30000 litres of 8% alcohol beer are made from which the liquor is separated from the barley (the spent grains being fed to happy cattle) and is then distilled twice in copper stills to end up with around 4500 litres of raw whiskey. At that point the government taxes the distillery. Unsurprisingly, the distillery is keen not to lose a drop thereafter!

Whilst all this is going on, there is the saga of the barrels. Whiskey is matured in oak barrels that have previously been used to make other liquor – in this case sherry – that helps smooth and flavour the whiskey. The distillery owns Spanish and American oak woods from which the barrels are made. These are then provided to sherry makers who typically use the barrels for two years before returning them to the distillery to be filled with whiskey ands left for…ages. About 2% of the whiskey evaporates through the oak – the angels share.

There are a number of surprising facts that we learnt. Firstly, it is not always clear exactly what the whiskey will be used for when it is laid down. Whiskey fashions change and the distilleries feel they need to keep customers interested so they will develop different types of product as they go along. Thus 40 years ago only about 5% of Highland Park’s output became single malt whereas now the vast majority goes into single malt. There is a certain amount of risk taking nevertheless: for example keeping whiskey for longer periods to develop and satisfy different markets assumes that there will be the disposable income to buy these products when they are ready.

A second surprising fact is how few people work at a distillery given the thousands of litres produced each year. Highland Park employs just 20 people (some of whom are on shift) plus 9 guides such as Chris.

A third surprise is that the distillery owns and operates most of its chief inputs including the moorlands it cuts its peat from on Orkney, the oak forests for the barrels and the two burns (streams) and their sources where the water comes from. It also controls the barley strain (tartan by name of course!) and how it is produced and shares the bottling plant with three other distilleries in its group.

We depart Highland Park clutching our purchases and well impressed by their service (and of course product!). A bus comes by so we hail it and ride back to town. (The buses here operate on a “hail and request” basis as there are few bus stops. This is a terrific idea as people often get collected and dropped off at their front gates if the bus route runs that way and it is safe to do so).

St. Magnus's Cathederal, Kirkwall. Largely constructed in the Norwegian period, then passed to the protestant community and finally the Church of Scotland.

St. Magnus’s cathedral, Kirkwall. Largely constructed in the Norwegian period, then passed to the protestant community and finally the Church of Scotland.

Back in Kirkwall we enjoy our cakes previously purchased from the youths, then visit St Magnus Cathedral. This is a 900 plus year old building, constructed from warm red sandstone in the Norman style (rather like an enlarged version of the Parish Church at Melbourne).

The floor and altar, St. Magnus' Cathederal

The floor and altar, St. Magnus’ cathedral

The nave, St. Magnus' Cathederal with massive sandstone columns and arches in the Norman style dating from the 11th Century

The nave, St. Magnus’ cathedral with massive sandstone columns and arches in the Norman style dating from the 11th Century

Graphic 17th century tombstones adorn the side walls of the Cathederal

Graphic 17th century tombstones adorn the side walls of the cathedral

It was originally started when Orkney was a Norse Earldom and as Orkney was owned by Norway it came under the Diocese of Trondheim. When Orkney passed to the Scottish Crown in 1468 (of which more tomorrow) it started being used for protestant worship until the last protestant bishop left in 1688 when it became the property of the Church of Scotland, where it remains. It’s a wonderful building and well worth the visit.

After the cathedral we pass by the ruined Bishops Palace but that is now shut.

The Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall

The Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall

We await our bus over a cup of tea in a nearby café-cum-art and craft shop selling (amongst many things) Fair Isle jumpers.  Yvonne tries some on but at over £100 a go she decides against one. We discover that Kirkwall have a town football game on New Years day called “Ba” a bit like the Shrove Tuesday game at Ashbourne, complete with “Uppies” and “Doonies”. It seems these games were popular in many British and French towns but only a few retain them, Jedburgh and Workington being others. The game has remained popular and overcome official suppression. Shops are boarded up and gates barricaded but it remains a great public event with typically 200 players and many more supporters and onlookers.

Wearily we find the bus home (a completely enclosed design thankfully) and pass by many of the sites we have seen today. It’s been a great day out and yet we have seen only a little of what the Orkneys offer.

Tuesday 23rd July – Scapa Flow and St. Mary’s

We decide to sail eastwards across Scapa Flow to anchor off the island of Lamb Holm to visit the Italian Chapel. The weather is rather grey and misty as we set off down the Hoy Sound and into Scapa Flow. Scapa Flow is a natural inland sea, bounded by the island of Mainland on the north and various islands round most of the other three sides. It is big – around 125 sq. km – and was used by the Royal navy in both World Wars for their fleet.

It is also famous for being the site where the German Battle Fleet was anchored after the Armistice after the end of WW1 whilst the reparation negotiations took place. These dragged on so much so that the German commanders feared they would break down so rather than leave the fleet in British hands they scuttled the whole fleet whilst the British Fleet was out on exercises. Many of the smaller vessels were subsequently raised by a scrap metal merchant and broken up for their scrap value but around 8 of the larger vessels were left on the sea bed and stripped of their non-ferrous metal and armour belts. The wrecks are apparently well-preserved and are a top destination for divers.

As we tacked down Scapa Flow we passed over the wrecks off Cava Island, the depth meter registering momentary sharp reductions in depth.

At the start of WW2 block ships were sunk between various islands in the east to block off access to Scapa Flow by German U Boats but they were not enough. On a particularly high tide a brilliant German commander manoeuvred past the block ships by Lamb Holm and managed to sink the battle ship Royal Oak with the loss of around 600 lives before escaping. Our route eastwards also took us round the Royal Oak wreck off Scapa Bay, which is now a war grave and a prohibited area.

As a result of the sinking Churchill ordered the construction of four permanent causeways to link Mainland, Lamb Holm, Burray, Glimps Holm and South Ronaldsay. These took nearly three years to complete, including linking roads across the top and are now an integral part of the infra-structure of these islands, improving their access and prosperity. The Churchill Barriers were constructed by the contractor Balfour Beatty with a considerable amount of labour being contributed by Italian prisoners of War who had been captured in North Africa. The enterprise was an enormous undertaking, with new quarries, roads, camps and all the rest of the paraphernalia of a major construction project being required.

We anchored off St. Mary’s within sight of the chapel with the plan to row ashore to visit it. However, the weather deteriorated to a thick scotch mist, stopping even the local dinghy sailors getting their evening race in the bay. We decide to visit tomorrow, shut the hatches and retire for the evening

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       25.8 nm

Total miles to date:          1397.8nm

Engine hours:                  0.8 hours

Total engine hours:          167.4 hours

Hours sailed:                   5.5 Hours

Total hours sailed;           313.2 hours

Wednesday 24th July – St. Margaret Hope, the Italian Chapel and the Churchill Barriers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext morning we awoke to find the weather windy so we invoke Plan B which is to sail down to St. Margaret Hope on the island of South Ronaldsay where the pilot book reports that there is a pier we can tie up to. We duly sail in but find the pier has local boats tied up with the only free spot being under a drain pipe gushing water so after a phone call to the harbour master we end up anchoring in the bay out of the way of the fast catamaran ferry that operates to the mainland. However, it is sheltered and we are able to go ashore in the rubber dinghy.

The cafe at St. Margaret Hope typifying the effort the local people make to present their village

The cafe at St. Margaret Hope typifying the effort the local people make to present their village

The Old Smiddy Museum, St. Margaret Hope

The Old Smiddy Museum, St. Margaret Hope

Inside the Old Smiddy

Inside the Old Smiddy

St. Margaret Hope is named after Margaret, “Maid of Norway”, who died here aged 10 on her way to marry Edward II of England. The Orkneys were her dowry. By a complex set of circumstances too long to relate here (see Margaret, Maid of Norway for more information), the Orkneys were never returned to Norway, but came under the Scottish crown.

The actual village is pretty, with hanging baskets. We have to wait for the bus so refresh ourselves at the local café with Orkney crab sandwiches and tea – very British! The bus duly arrives and whisks us back north, over three of the four Churchill barriers to the Italian Chapel.

The Chapel exterior. The wayside shrine to the left is centred on a gift made in 1961 of Christ crucified  from Domenica Chiocchetti's home town of Moena to the people of Orkney with the cross and canopy made in Kirkwall.

The Chapel exterior. The wayside shrine to the left is centred on a gift made in 1961 of Christ crucified from Domenica Chiocchetti’s home town of Moena to the people of Orkney with the cross and canopy made in Kirkwall.

The back ground to the construction of the Chapel is that the Italians working on the Barriers were housed in a series of camps on the adjacent islands, constructed from Nissen huts. Over a period of time they were permitted to make their camps more homely with a few leisure facilities. However, the HM Inspector of POW Camps noted that they lacked any sort of church, which was deeply felt by the Italians.

The Italian flag flies outside the Chapel

The Italian flag flies outside the Chapel

By good fortune, circumstances bought together a new Commandant of Camp 60 on the small island of Lamb Holm, Major T.P.Buckland, an enthusiastic padre, Father P. Gioacchino Giacobazzi and an artist named Domenico Chiocchetti. Chiocchetti had already constructed a memorial of St. George (the patron saint of soldiers) slaying the dragon made from concrete and barbed wire. In late 1943 two Nissan huts were made available to the POW’s; these were joined end to end to form a chapel and (initially) a school. With the commandant’s blessing, Chiocchetti was allowed to gather together a small group of artists and skilled tradesmen and set to work to build a sanctuary at one end of the hut furthest from the camp.

St. George slaying the dragon. Sculpted from barbed wire and concrete by Chiocchetti as a centre piece of POW Camp 60 (the camp having long ago been dismantled).

St. George slaying the dragon. Sculpted from barbed wire and concrete by Chiocchetti as a centre piece of POW Camp 60 (the camp having long ago been dismantled).

As he worked his imagination caught fire. Ideas flooded into this mind but he had to express them using the simplest of materials, often reclaimed scrap.

The chapel entrance

The chapel entrance

The whole chapel interior

The chapel interior

The rood screen - made from scrap metal

The rood screen – made from scrap metal

The chancel ceiling.

The chancel ceiling.

The alter and behind it Chiocchetti's masterpiece depicting the Madonna and Child, painted from a miniature he carried with him throughout the war.

The altar and behind it Chiocchetti’s masterpiece depicting the Madonna and Child, painted from a miniature he carried with him throughout the war.

Originally just the chancel was to be made but as this was done the rest of the hut looked barren and ugly, so with help from the commandant further materials were found and the whole building was eventually beautified. The outside also received attention, with a concrete front added.

The chapel was finished just as the war ended. A promise was made to Chiocchetti that the Orkney Islanders would look after his beautiful chapel. The fame of the chapel spread across the Orkneys and the islanders started to visit it. Experts advised the owner of Lamb Holm, Sutherland Graeme, that the nature of the materials used made permanent preservation impossible. However, Mr Graeme formed a committee to help preserve the chapel and some repairs were done using the donations of visitors. The BBC became interested and broadcast a programme throughout Italy about it in 1959. Chiocchetti was traced to his home town of Moena, a village in the Dolomites. In March 1960 Chiocchetti and his wife were sponsored by the BBC to return to Orkney to restore the paintwork and chapel, which was followed by a service of re-dedication.

Before he left Orkney, Chiocchetti wrote a letter to the people of Orkney. He wrote “The chapel is yours – for you to love and preserve.” Since then the chapel has become one of the top 20 churches visited in the UK and money has been raised to ensure its preservation.

The chapel is truly remarkable and worth the effort of getting there. The photos tell the story better than words. The chapel and the statue of St. George are all that is left of Camp 60 – only the spiritual parts of the camp remain and none of the material parts.

The font, which Chiochetti stayed on at the end of the war to complete.

The font, which Chiochetti stayed on at the end of the war to complete.

Ecce Homo - Behold the Man. Made from concrete in the portico over the Chapel entrance

Ecce Homo – Behold the Man. Made from concrete in the portico over the Chapel entrance

Tromp d'oeul painting on the flat side walls of the Chapel

Tromp d’oeul painting on the flat side walls of the Chapel

We take our time in the Chapel, and then walk over to the Orkney Wine Company, a local family enterprise making and selling wines made from local fruit and flowers. We enjoy a little wine tasting and buy some little silver earrings for Yvonne depicting the Italian Chapel.

A memorial at the Chapel in the shape of the silhouette of Churchill with the names of the people who perished building the barriers.

A memorial at the Chapel in the shape of the silhouette of Churchill with the names of the people who perished building the barriers.

We get chatting to the girls running the shop, both Orcadians. It seems that true Orcadians regard themselves as Orkney people, not Scots. They do not speak Gaelic on the islands and there are no dual language signs (unlike some parts of rural Scotland) but the local dialect is mixed in with many words of Norse origin. The issue of independence is not very popular here and the girls felt that people would generally vote against it. We shall see.

Churchill Barrier No. 1 between Lamb Holm and Mainland. The core structure of rock and infill is protected by a skin of concrete blocks laid randomly to break up the sea waves.

Churchill Barrier No. 1 between Lamb Holm and Mainland. The core structure of rock and infill is protected by a skin of concrete blocks laid randomly to break up the sea waves.

Remains of sunken block ship off Burra Island

Remains of sunken block ship off Burra Island at Barrier No. 3. The block ships proved insufficient to protect the fleet, hence the barriers were built.

We find there is a gap in the bus timetable so we decide to start walking back to St. Margaret Hope, across the Churchill Barriers. This proves to be more interesting than might have been thought as there are display boards at each barrier describing how things were done plus some of the old block ships are clearly visible.

Hailing the local bus Orkney style - no bus stop needed!

Hailing the local bus Orkney style – no bus stop needed!

Eventually the bus time comes round so we hail the bus Orkney style at a suitable place (there being no bus stops) and ride the rest of the way back. Soon we are back on board Sundart after another full day.

After supper we check the weather forecasts and then plan the trip back across the Pentland Firth to the mainland, which will need an early start to catch the tides right. (The Pentland Firth has some of the strongest tides in the world, leading to strong overfalls and eddies when the tide is at full strength. We need to cross at the change of tide when the flows are minimal). We set the alarm and turn in.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                       7.7 nm

Total miles to date:          1405.9 nm

Engine hours:                  0.8 hours

Total engine hours:          168.2 hours

Hours sailed:                   2.0 Hours

Total hours sailed;           315.2 hours

A following wind and fair weather to you all.

Yvonne and John

To the Orkneys!

Thursday 18th July – Loch Inchard & Kinlochbervie (KLB)

Kinlochbervie. The fishing harbour is nearest with the market hall to the right and the ice plant (the large block) in the centre and the marina nearest the entrance from the loch

Kinlochbervie. The fishing harbour is nearest with the market hall to the right and the ice plant (the large block) in the centre and the marina nearest the entrance from the loch

Moored at Kinlochbervie.

Moored at Kinlochbervie next to Aeron Lass – the static local boat.

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 Kinlochbervie harbour seal - one of a number of opportunistic animals who seemed to feed off the waste from the fishing fleet.

The Kinlochbervie harbour seal – one of a number of opportunistic animals who seemed to feed off the waste from the fishing fleet.

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.

Looking out to sea through the entrance to the fjiord-like Loch Innard with Kinlochbervie to the right - a perfectly sheltered port from the might of the Atlantic.

Looking out to sea through the entrance to the fjord-like Loch Inchard with Kinlochbervie to the right – a perfectly sheltered port from the might of the Atlantic.

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.

The local fishselling company

The local fishselling company

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.

The inland end of Loch Innard. There are high hills and mountains in this area such as Ben Arkle (at over 2550 ft) and Caenh Garbh (2921 ft) seen here shrouded in cloud. Walkers classify Scottish hills & mountains into Munros (over 3000 ft), Corbetts (2500 to 3000 ft) and Grahams (2000 to 2500 ft) after the originators of these classifications. As of 2012 there are 284 Munros recognised by the Scottish Mountaineerng Club. Keen walkers like to "bag" Munros with the current record being just under 40 days to bag all 284 peaks by Stephen Pyke of Stone, Staffs.

The inland end of Loch Inchard. There are high hills and mountains in this area such as Ben Arkle (at over 2550 ft) and Caenh Garbh (2921 ft) seen here shrouded in cloud. Walkers classify Scottish hills & mountains into Munros (over 3000 ft), Corbetts (2500 to 3000 ft) and Grahams (2000 to 2500 ft) after the originators of these classifications. As of 2012 there are 284 Munros recognised by the Scottish Mountaineerng Club. Keen walkers like to “bag” Munros with the current record being just under 40 days to bag all 284 peaks by Stephen Pyke of Stone, Staffs.

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).

Nearly all the buildings at Kinlochbervie date from the 1960's or later. Only a few, such as the church, remain from its previous existence as a crofting community.

Nearly all the buildings at Kinlochbervie date from the 1960’s or later. Only a few, such as the church, remain from its previous existence as a crofting community.

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.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                    5.0 nm

Engine hours:              1.5

Friday 19th July – Kinlochbervie to the Kyle of Tongue

Numerous sea stacks and arches can be seen along this part of the coast such as Am Bhuachaille (by Sandwood Bay).

Numerous sea stacks and arches can be seen along this part of the coast such as Am Bhuachaille (by Sandwood Bay).

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.

Sandwood Bay just south of Cape Wrath - miles of golden sand but hardly ever visited with the nearest road nearly 5 miles away over a rough track.

Sandwood Bay just south of Cape Wrath – miles of golden sand but hardly ever visited with the nearest road nearly 5 miles away over a rough track.

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).

Cape Wrath - the north western tip of Scotland and the UK mainland. Named from the Norse name Vrath meaning turning point, it has a reputation for heavy seas but when we passed it was a rare calm day. The lighthouse was built in 1828. There is a vast expanse of wildnerness behind Cape Wrath with a MOD firing range and few tracks.

Cape Wrath – the north western tip of Scotland and the UK mainland. Named from the Norse name Vrath meaning turning point, it has a reputation for heavy seas but when we passed it was a rare calm day. The lighthouse was built in 1828. There is a vast expanse of wildnerness behind Cape Wrath with a MOD firing range and few tracks.

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.

Toasting our passage round Cape Wrath.

Toasting our passage round Cape Wrath.

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.

There were large flock of birds along the north Scottish coast - in this case guillemots fishing in front of the highest cliffs in the UK mainland at Clo Mor which rise to 920 ft (280 m)

There were large flock of birds along the north Scottish coast – in this case guillemots fishing.

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.

Spinnaker set and the auto-pilot set gave us time to relax and enjoy the north Scottish coast as we sailed by less than a mile off-shore

Spinnaker set and the auto-pilot set gave us time to relax and enjoy the north Scottish coast as we sailed by less than a mile off-shore

Sailing past the north coast of Scotland - a much better sail than we ever imagined we would get.

Sailing past the north coast of Scotland – a much better sail than we ever imagined we would get.

Looking back along the north cost of Scotland towards Cape Wrath. The sea cliffs in this view include Clo Mor, the highest sea cliffs in Britain at 920 ft (280 m). The cloud front marks the division between the cloudy weather we left in the west of Scotland and the fine weather to the north.

Looking back along the north cost of Scotland towards Cape Wrath. The sea cliffs in this view include Clo Mor, the highest sea cliffs in Britain at 920 ft (280 m). The cloud front marks the division between the cloudy weather we left in the west of Scotland and the fine weather to the north.

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.

Sailing past Loch Eriboll, a 7 mile long loch deep into the land. Nicknamed Loch 'Orrible, this was the gathering point in the far north of Scotland for WW2 transatlantic convoys and the place the German U boats surrendered at the end.

Sailing past Loch Eriboll, a 7 mile long loch deep into the land. Nicknamed Loch ‘Orrible, this was the gathering point in the far north of Scotland for WW2 transatlantic convoys and the place the German U boats surrendered at the end.

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 entrance to Kyle of Tongue with Eilean nan Ron (Rabbit Island) on the right.

The entrance to Kyle of Tongue with Eilean nan Ron (Rabbit Island) on the right.

Cormorants overlooking our anchorage at Kyle of Tongue

Cormorants overlooking our anchorage at Skullomie, Kyle of Tongue

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.

Sunset over Kyle of Tongue

Sunset over the Kyle of Tongue

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.

Ship’s log

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

Eilean na Ron with abandoned crofts

Eilean na Ron with abandoned crofts

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.

Approaching Stromness from the Sound of Hoy

Approaching Stromness from the Sound of Hoy. The houses for the population of 2200 are spread out round the three sides of Stromness harbour.

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.

Stromness marina - half deserted when we arrived but the better weather allowed yachts, including Dutch and Swedish boats, to reach the Orkneys

Stromness marina – half deserted when we arrived but the better weather later allowed many other yachts, including Dutch, American, British and Swedish boats, to reach Stromness.

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.

Small paved walkways lead down to the older part of Stromness. Some of the attractive old stone buildings have been rendered and pebble-dashed which may improve their weather resistance but turns many of them into typical grey, dull houses that are seen all over Scotland.

Small paved walkways lead down to the older part of Stromness. Some of the attractive old stone buildings have been rendered and pebble-dashed which may improve their weather resistance but turns many of them into typical grey, dull houses that are seen all over Scotland.

The narrow main street in Stromness - paved and cobbled with stone houses and with traffic mixed in with pedestrians

The narrow main street in Stromness – paved and cobbled with stone buildings either side and with traffic mixed in with pedestrians

The main street in Stromness is paved with sandstone slabs with cobbles up the centre. Much of it is residential with surprising enclosed gardens where the width allows. This house is built in the local warm coloured sandstone and has not been rendered.

Much of the main street of Stromness  is residential with occasional  enclosed gardens where the width allows. This house is built in the local warm coloured sandstone and has not been rendered.

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.

Ship’s log

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

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

Heading north through the Scottish islands – Mull, Skye and on to Mallaig

Tuesday 2nd July

Janet leaves us at 0730 to catch her train. We use the facilities which include excellent showers with, for once, adequate space in each shower cubicle, a chair and plenty of hooks to hang ones clothes on. (We are becoming shower and facility experts. Aberystwyth has the prize for best showers so far!). We got our key to the marina from the Frog Hotel last night as the marina staff go home at 5 at Dunstaffenage and therefore reclaim our deposit from the Frog. Each Marina and harbour have their own arrangements so we generally call ahead to book in and find out the local knowledge. We are getting the feeling around here that business is not brisk and several of the marinas are seeking extra business – Dunstaffenage offers us cut price moorings for the winter sailing season!

Some of the Cal Mac ferries are quite large - testament to the seas they have to withstand during the seasons and the volume of traffic they carry. This is the ferry for the Outer Hebrideas entering Oban

Some of the Cal Mac ferries are quite large – testament to the seas they have to withstand during the seasons and the volume of traffic they carry. This is the ferry for the Outer Hebridees coming out of the Sound of Mull

Today we want to sail up the Sound of Mull (between the island of Mull and the mainland peninsular of Morvern) to the town of Tobermory on the north western end of Mull. The weather forecast is not great – south-east wind force 5 to 6 occasionally 7 which is the limit for us. However, the wind will be behind us and the actual weather does not look too windy so we decide to go. We set off with 2 reefs (again!) and part of the genoa set on a fast reach at over 7 knots of speed past the southern end of Lismore before turning north-west along the Sound of Mull. This should be a spectacular part of our journey but the clouds come down to shroud the hills and there is occasional mist. We are glad of our electronic navigation aids as there are a few rocks within the Sound to avoid – our Yeoman Plotter which uses our paper charts and plots our position using the boat’s GPS and our Navionics software on our Samsung tablet as a separate system.

There are a few other yachts heading our way and from time to time we see other boats, mainly the Cal Mac ferries travelling along the Sound or across between Mull and the mainland. Although we are sailing and steam generally gives way to sail, the narrowness of the Sound means that in reality we go down the side of the Sound, leaving the big boats plenty of room in the middle as they are limited in their manoeuvrability.

Moored up by the colourful waterfront of Tobermory. The Sound of Mull is in the background

Moored up by the colourful waterfront of Tobermory. The Sound of Mull is in the background

It is a real shame that we are continuing to have such a bad spell of weather as there is some magnificent scenery here and we only get tantalising glimpses through the mist and clouds. We do see some wildlife, including a solitary puffin which is the first time Paul has seen one of these birds. The sailing goes well and we reach Tobermory by early afternoon. We call ahead to the harbour master to find most of the harbour full of boats sheltering from the weather but we are allocated a mooring at one end of town.

The World - this ship is in effect a floating apartment block owned by its occupants that travels the world. Tobermory lifeboat moored on the left.

The World – this ship is in effect a floating apartment block owned by its occupants that travels the world. Tobermory lifeboat moored on the left.

We see a large liner moored off Tobermory with boats shuttling between it and the town. This turns out to be The World – a luxury cruise liner owned by its residents which people buy apartments on and live full time as it cruises around the world. It is an impressive size (43500 tonnes and nearly 200 meters long) with 106 apartments & around 50 studios. Apparently the residents who own the ship are from about 40 different nations. Welcome to soggy Scotland!

The "Severn" Class Tobermory lifeboat returning to base in the mist with a rescued dory. This lifeboat was called out every day during our stay in the area.

The “Severn” Class Tobermory lifeboat returning to base in the mist with a rescued dory. This lifeboat was called out every day during our stay in the area.

After lunch we inflate the rubber dingy and row ashore. Tobermory is a delightful town that was founded as a fishing community around 200 years ago in the natural harbour off the Sound of Mull which is sheltered by Calve Island from the Atlantic swell. It still has a fishing fleet (although relatively small) plus a distillery and numerous hotels. It is a very picturesque little town with attractive, brightly painted buildings along the waterfront and also along the top of the steep hill that surrounds the bay.

There remain a few traditionally built fishing boats still operating out of Tobermory - with suitably Scottish names

There remain a few traditionally built fishing boats still operating out of Tobermory – with suitably Scottish names

We find a chandler to buy a replacement pin to secure the spinnaker pole, the previous one having jumped ship somewhere along the way, then make our way to the excellent new facilities for visiting yachtsmen. Like many of these fishing communities, Tobermory has obtained grants to build facilities to attract leisure sailors – what a pity they cannot buy good weather!

There are around 100 active whiskey distilleries in Scotland, with many named after their locality such as the one at Tobermory.

There are around 100 active whiskey distilleries in Scotland, with many named after their locality such as the one at Tobermory.

We visit the local distillery but are too late for a tour and decline to buy the whiskey as it is £5 cheaper in the local Co-op!

Back on board we enjoy Chris Fox’s excellent cake and consider going back on shore to eat but as the rain sets in earnest we shut up the hatches and cook on board.

Ship’s log

Day’s run: 23.0 nm

Mileage to date: 1124.0 nm

Engine hours: 0.5

Hours sailed: 4.2

Wednesday 3rd July

Tobermory is set in a natural harbour. The houses are almost universally brightly painted and well kept. There is a strong island community on Mull including Tobermory.

Tobermory is set in a natural harbour. The houses are almost universally brightly painted and well kept. There is a strong island community on Mull including Tobermory.

We awake to a brighter day (hooray!) with less wind. We row ashore to buy various provisions and shop for a few presents. John samples the local whiskey but decides against a purchase as it is expensive and not to his liking.

The Tobermory Cat - a local character and subject of a page on Facebook, a childrens book and a copyright row!

The Tobermory Cat – a local character and subject of a page on Facebook, a children’s book and a copyright row!

We see a large ginger cat strolling along the beach and later John photographs him stretching out in the sun on a car roof. This is the Tobermory Cat which we later discover has been the subject of a children’s story book and a copyright row. (See Tale of the Ginger Cat). He is a magnificent and apparently fearless cat!

Back on board we plan our days sail to Armadale on the Isle of Skye opposite Mallaig. Although today’s weather forecast is good, the next day is forecast to have storm force winds and as we have to be at Mallaig in two days time we cannot afford to get stranded at any of the smaller islands on the way, much as we would like to visit them.

Ardnamurchan Point - the western most part of mainland UK at 06 degrees 13.4’  west

Ardnamurchan Point – the western-most part of mainland UK at 06 degrees 13.4’ west

We have a fine sail out of the Sound of Mull to the open sea, after which the wind dies and we end up motor sailing round Ardnamurchan Point. At 060 13.4’ west this is the westernmost point on the British mainland (not Lands End as many people think!). We motor on north across an almost flat sea past the islands of Muck, Eigg, Rhum and Canna (known collectively as the Small Islands).

The Small Islands: Muck on the left, Rhum (with the high mountains) in the centre and Eigg on the right.

The Small Islands: Muck on the left, Rhum (with the high mountains) in the centre and Eigg on the right. Canna (the smallest) is hidden by Rhum.

These are the islands we would have liked to visit, along with Iona and Staffa (renown for Fingal’s Cave) off the west of Mull but we will have to leave these islands for another visit. Eventually the breeze sets in from the south west so we set the spinnaker and proceed in quiet and stately manner up the Sound of Sleat between Skye and the mainland. Yvonne starts singing the Skye Boat Song so we get the Sundart Song Book out to get the proper words:

The "egg on Eigg" - Sgurr of Eigg

The “egg on Eigg” – Sgurr of Eigg

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclouds rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare

Sailing serenely up the Sound of Sleat: the Isle of Skye to the left, the mainland to the right

Sailing serenely up the Sound of Sleat: the Isle of Skye to the left, the mainland and the Hills of Moidart to the right. The Sound of Sleat is part of the Moine Thrust – a great geological fault running up the west coast of Scotland where the Moine Schists have been pushed over the Torridonian Sandstones. The resulting geological complexes have created the varied and spectacular landscape from here northward to Cape Wrath (the north-western tip of the Scottish mainland).

Another place we would have liked to stop at is Loch Scavaig which is reckoned to be one of the most spectacular anchorages in the UK as the Cullin Mountains come down to the water edge in an almost sheer drop. Apparently, eons ago, this was part of a volcano where the side blew out and which is now filled by the sea but once again the weather forecast precludes us going there this time.

Rhum is home to a very large colony of Manx Shearwaters. We disturbed large flocks of young birds which we assume were this year's fledglings getting strength before their migration to the South Atlantic.

Rhum is home to a very large colony of Manx Shearwaters. We disturbed large flocks of young birds which we assume were this year’s fledglings getting strength before their migration to the South Atlantic

We arrive at the little bay at Armadale, which is sheltered from the south and west (the direction tomorrow’s gale is forecast to come from) and pick up a mooring buoy as the bay is filled with moorings and there is no room to anchor (which is free unlike mooring). We listen to Radio 5 live as Andy Murray wins his quarter final at Wimbledon whilst John cooks vegetable curry.

The harbour at Armadale: calm before the storm

The harbour at Armadale: calm before the storm

Ship’s log

Today’s run: 34.0 nm

Mileage to date: 1158.0 nm

Engine hours: 3.9

Hours sailed today: 6.8

Total hours sailed: 260.8

It is said to be a tradition that boats passing Ardnamurchan Point fix a sprig of heather to their bowsprits. Sundart sports on the pulpit - the nearest we have to a bowsprit.

It is said to be a tradition that boats passing Ardnamurchan Point fix a sprig of heather to their bowsprits. Sundart sports a sprig on the pulpit – the nearest we have to a bowsprit.

Thursday 4th July

American Independence Day! Another gale forecast and the wind is rising with the boat being rocked around a bit on its mooring so we decide to spend the day on Skye. First though Paul and John swap the gypsy on the new anchor winch for the old one as the new one does not fit the chain correctly and the chain jumps as the anchor is raised under load. (The gypsy is the drum with gear-like teeth which the anchor chain passes round as it is wound into the boat). We use the outboard this time on the rubber dinghy to get ashore at the little harbour as the wind is too strong for paddle power.

The fine gatehouse and restaurant at the Clan Donald Centre

The fine gatehouse and restaurant at the Clan Donald Centre

On shore we walk half a mile to Armadale Castle. This has been set up as the Clan Donald Centre – a visitor attraction set round the ruined castle of Clan Donald and its 20000 acre highland estate which includes some fine walking country.

Walking up through the forest at the Clan Donald Centre. This area is known as the Garden of Sleat - much of Skye and the other islands are treeless.

Walking up through the forest above Armadale Castle. This area is known as the Garden of Sleat – much of Skye and the other islands are treeless.

After a coffee at the very smart café/restaurant we set off to walk the path that leads steeply up the hill through a coniferous forest to an excellent view point several hundred feet up. This gives us splendid views (as much as the weather would allow) over the south of Skye and across the Sound of Sleat to the mainland and the peninsular of Knoydart.

The top of the hill above Armadale. The post has coins pressed into it

The top of the hill above Armadale. The post has coins pressed into it

An enigmatic sign under the post!

An enigmatic sign under the post!

A classic Scottish island view over the Sound of Sleat from the south of Skye

A fine view over the Sound of Sleat from the south of Skye at Armadale

The view from Skye south over the Small Isles with Eigg and Muck visible (just).

The view from Skye south over the Small Isles with Eigg and Muck visible (just).

The ruined farm attached to the Clan Donald Centre

The ruined farm on the Armadale Castle Estate. Occupied until recently, it remains a working farm.

Some delicate looking plants survive in the highlands such as these orchids

Some delicate looking plants survive in the highlands such as these orchids

We push some coins into the wooden pole at the top for good luck and collect some sprigs of heather on the way down.

The ruined castle of Clan Donald.

The ruined castle at Armadale.

An archery contest at Clan Donald centre - interesting in 30+ mph winds!

An archery contest at Armadale Castle – interesting in 30+ mph winds!

Back near sea level we wander past the ruined castle before coming across some people taking part in an archery contest on the castle lawn. Given the wind this must have been a challenge but the very hi-tech equipment of the modern archer no doubt allows them to succeed in a way that the archers of past centuries could only dream of.

The gardens are beautifully kept

The gardens are beautifully kept

We could not find a kilted Scotsman but did find a sporting American awaiting his son's wedding - is he wearing Clan Ronald Macdonald?

We could not find a kilted Scotsman but did find a sporting American awaiting his son’s wedding – is he wearing Clan Ronald Macdonald?

We wander further through the pleasant gardens and come across a wedding being prepared including the groom’s father in full highland outfit. He turns out to be an American gentleman from Seattle – the whole family has come across to the Isle of Skye even though some of them live in Hawaii – the wedding isle many choose. There is always an American connection somewhere associated with Scottish history!

The happy couple - from Hawaii

The happy couple – from Hawaii!

The nearest we have come to an otter so far

The nearest we have come to an otter so far – statue in the gardens of Ardmore Castle

There is a fine Study Centre in the grounds covering the history of Clan Donald and the wider history of the clans and history of this area. As with so many parts of Scotland, human occupation can be traced back thousands of years with successive waves of people arriving from various places especially Ireland and Scandinavia (i.e. the Vikings). The rise and fall of the clan system is complicated but in brief, the Clan Donald gradually became very powerful in the medieval times through strategic marriages, alliances and warmongering with their territory cantered on the island of Islay and stretching from Inverness across to most of the islands on the west of Scotland. Theirs was a sea based stronghold with a strong hierarchical, feudal type organisation and a tradition of passing down their customs by word of mouth and through songs rather than the written word. . The head of the clan became known as the Lord of the Isles. Eventually the Scottish kings felt threatened by their power and by a combination of statute and force of arms cut the powers and strength of the clan. The clan’s power and cohesion was already well on the wane when they backed Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite revolution, which proved a disaster for them and the rest of the clans who rallied to that cause. The ensuing years saw a long period of gradual decay in the clan system with growing reduction of wealth and income at all levels. The feudal nature of the clans disintegrated and with it the two-way nature of the feudal relationship with the heads of clans becoming straightforward landowners. A steady reduction in real income over the 200 years or so after the Jacobite revolution that could be gained from the land and the disaster of the potato famine lead to wholesale clearances of the rural population and their replacement by sheep farming in many areas as landowners sought to reduce the costs of their limited income. The population of Skye, for example, reduced from around 20000 in the early 19th Century to around 9000 today. Many estates were broken up and sold off.

Gaelic was the principle language of this area of Scotland and the clans and is still spoken in much of rural Scotland today, although the number of people speaking the language is diminishing. (Approximately 1/3rd of the people on Skye today are reported to be Gaelic speaking).

Washing up duty - All hatches shut whilst a gale blows outside

Washing up duty – snug down below with all hatches shut whilst a gale blows outside

Having had our fill of the history of the clans and this part of Scotland we walk back to the ferry pier opposite our mooring for a late lunch at the little café, and then go on round the bay to the village for some supplies and the Isle of Skye Yacht Company who offer showers. These are located behind a steel door in the side of a shed but they suffice. No two arrangements for showers are the same!

The wind is rising further so we head back to Sundart and cook up a large Spanish omelette for supper to use up our supplies.

Friday 5th July.

Terminal morain at the entrance to Loch Nevis. Many Lochs and Sounds were ground out by Ice Age glaciers. The morain is the debris left at the end of the melting glacier

Terminal moraine at the entrance to Loch Nevis. Many Lochs and Sounds were ground out by Ice Age glaciers and can be extremely deep. (The deepest is Loch Morar near Mallaig). Terminal moraine is the debris left at the end of the melting glacier

Loch Nevis - typical of the dramatic scenery in the West Highlands of Scotland

Loch Nevis – typical of the dramatic scenery in the West Highlands of Scotland

We rise to yet another windy day, but not quite the gales of yesterday. We decide to sail across the Sound to Loch Nevis (just north of Mallaig) before finishing at Mallaig. We set 2 reefs and reach across the Sound in no time before entering Loch Nevis. For once we can see the scenery clearly and it is spectacular with lofty peaks all around us and a few houses around the north side. The Loch stretches 12 miles inland but we only have time to sail round the outer part. Sailing is a challenge in these places as the mountains deflects the winds all over the place. On our way over to the loch we see a dolphin and seals.

Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsular, Loch Nevis which includes the Old Forge Inn. This is claimed to be the remotest pub in the UK mainland as the village is only reached by boat and has a good reputation for its fish menu

Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsular, Loch Nevis which includes the Old Forge Inn. This is claimed to be the remotest pub in the UK mainland as the village is only reached by boat and has a good reputation for its fish menu

We sail past Inverie which claims to have the most inaccessible pub in Scotland as it can only be reached by boat. It has a good reputation as a gastro pub with a special line in sea food and is highly rated but we don’t have time to stop and partake.

There are some wonderful houses even in remote locations. This is overlooking Loch Nevis. We saw 3 white tailed eagles soaring overhead whilst anchored for lunch here.

There are some wonderful houses even in remote locations. This is overlooking Loch Nevis. We saw 3 white-tailed eagles soaring overhead whilst anchored for lunch here.

Instead we anchor off Glaschoille and are rewarded by the sight of 3 white-tailed eagles soaring over us – we think they are two parents and their off-spring as one bird is a bit smaller. The birds are unmistakable with their huge size, soaring flight, distinctive wingtips, white tails and the fact that other birds rush away from them. They are a magnificent sight in a wonderful setting. Sadly our little camera is not up to taking photos of the birds.

Mallaig is the latest of several fishing harbours in Scotland to have had a grant to add pontoons for small craft but the money did not stretch to any facilities so its showers at the local swimming pool and the use of the public loos. Cal Mac ferries to Skye and the Small Islands in the background.

Mallaig is the latest of several fishing harbours in Scotland to have had a grant to add pontoons for small craft but the money did not stretch to any facilities so its showers at the local swimming pool and the use of the public loos. Cal Mac ferries to Skye and the Small Islands in the background.

Paul Fox helming in a fresh wind

Paul Fox helming in a fresh wind across the Sound of Sleat

After that excitement we up-anchor and sail to Mallaig, arriving around 3 o’clock to find the harbour chock-a-block with yachts as there is yet another gale forecast overnight. We raft up (i.e. double up) against another yacht. We need to fill up the diesel, water and gas for Charles and his crew who are having the boat whilst we are away. Mallaig has only just got pontoons installed for yachts as it is really an active fishing and ferry port and they have not yet got facilities to match. Diesel has to be fetched in 20 litre cans borrowed from the berthing manager from the local commercial oil and chandlery company on the other side of the harbour so Paul and John get their exercise doing that whilst Yvonne clears up the boat and packs. The good side of the diesel saga is that it is incredibly cheap – 75p/litre!

Mallaig is the terminus for the steam train that runs daily in the summer along the West Highland line from Fort William. This is rated as one of the top 10 spectacular railway journeys in the UK by Michael Portillo.

Mallaig is the terminus for the steam train that runs daily in the summer along the West Highland line from Fort William. This is rated as one of the top 10 spectacular railway journeys in the UK by Michael Portillo.

John walks back into town to swap the empty Gaz cylinder; as he passes the station the daily steam hauled special train pulls in – better known as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films as the train sequences were filmed on this stretch of railway line which runs through some of the finest scenery to be seen from a train. The history of Mallaig is bound up with the railway as the port only flourished once the railway arrived in 1901. Unusually, the dividends of the company that built it were guaranteed by the government who wanted to bring more prosperity to this relatively poor part of Scotland.

Mallaig is an active fishing port with a boat repair yard and all the other facilities that are needed to support its fishing activities. The boat on the left is being re-plated.

Mallaig is an active fishing port with a boat repair yard and all the other facilities that are needed to support its fishing activities. The boat on the left is being re-plated.

Fishing is still a major industry here – there is a ship repair yard opposite where we have moored with two fishing boats hauled up for repairs, one of them needing a significant re-build. It is difficult to understand the economics of the fishing industry as here boats are being re-built whilst elsewhere they are being scrapped. It is good to see working boats being put into good order here.

We had hoped to meet up with Malcolm Lawrence at Mallaig, who contacted us via the Sudep website as he has is sailing his boat in these waters but he rings to say that Mallaig harbour is full up and cannot take him tonight so we will miss him. This is the first time we have ever heard of somewhere being full up but the Scottish school holidays have started and with the bad weather forecast people tend to migrate to harbours and marinas rather than stay out on anchor.

Watching Andy Murray win his semi-final at Wimbledon in the Steam Engine Pub at Mallaig. The doubting Scotsman next to me did not think Andy would win Wimbledon - we should have had a bet with him!

Watching Andy Murray win his semi-final at Wimbledon in the Steam Engine Pub at Mallaig. The doubting Scotsman next to me did not think Andy would win Wimbledon – we should have had a bet with him!

We decide to eat out and are recommended the Steam Engine  Inn by the lads at the petrol station. This is a good choice as we eat excellent local fish and chips whilst watching Andy Murray win his semi-final at Wimbledon and pick up knowledge from other sailors on the next leg of our journey around the north of Scotland to the Orkneys. However, that will have to wait a week as tomorrow we return to Melbourne to go to Nicky’s graduation at Nottingham and no doubt tackle a mountain of post, do the washing and so on. Our good friends Phil and Maggie Dobby have offered us a lift back to Melbourne as they have been holidaying on Skye so we won’t be taking the train home from Mallaig.

Sundart will continue her voyaging around the Western Isles in our absence as Charles Saunders and three others from Staunton Harold Sailing Club are using the boat – this area is far too good to miss the opportunity! We hope they have good weather.

Ship’s log

Day’s run:                    18.0 nm

Total run to date:         1176.0 nm

Engine hours:              3.0 (inc 1 hour yesterday to charge up computer etc)

Total engine hours:     149.6

Hours sailed today:     4.0

Total hours sailed to date:       264.8

A following wind and fair weather to you all

Yvonne, Paul and John

Out in the islands in the West of Scotland – the southern part

Tuesday 25th June

The Paps of Jura overlooked our isolated anchorage off the east coast of Jura at over 2500 feet high these are impressive hills.

The Paps of Jura overlooked our isolated anchorage off the east coast of Jura. At over 2500 feet high these are impressive hills.

We sail out of Crinan and turn south, having got ahead of our schedule so we have time to visit the southernmost of the Hebridean islands of Jura, Islay and Gigha. The wind is light and we are against the tide so we alternate sailing with motoring depending on how strong the wind blows. Janet has read in the pilotage guide about a secluded anchorage on Jura called Lowlandman’s Bay. This turns out to exactly as described – a sheltered anchorage miles from anywhere and set below the impressive Paps of Jura mountains which rise to over 2500 feet. The bay is only overlooked by some former light-keepers cottages and an isolated farm. In the distance we see a van travelling along one of the few roads – white van man gets everywhere!

We enjoy a pleasant meal and plan tomorrow. Our intention will be to sail to the next island Islay (pronounced I-la) to visit the Lagavulin whisky distillery which is reported to have a small anchorage next to it and free tours of the distillery.

Ships log

Days run: 29.8 nm

Total mileage to date: 991.0 nm

Engine hours today: 4.3

Hours sailed today: 7.3

Total hours sailed: 222.3

Wednesday 26th. June

Janet joined us for this part of our trip - here seen sailing out of Lowlandsman's Cove off Jura with the paps of Jura behind

Janet Wragg joined us for this part of our trip – here seen sailing out of Lowlandsman’s Cove off Jura with the Paps of Jura behind

We awake to a bright morning with early morning clouds touching the top of the Paps and a gentle breeze from the north-west – just right to sail down to Islay. We are off by 9:00 and set the spinnaker as we pass one of the few significant places on Jura – Craighouse. Jura is very sparsely inhabited – apparently only around 160 people live there, working at the one distillery and on the land. The southern end is dominated by the Paps of Jura Mountains whilst the northern end is flatter. Overall it is a wilderness of rock, moor and peat bog.

The wind shifts south so the spinnaker is dropped and we sail on in good style, passing the Sound of Islay that separates Islay and Jura. Islay is flatter and much more populated than Jura – around 3500 inhabitants we read in the book The Most Amazing Places on Britain’s Coast. It has a thriving whiskey industry with eight distilleries and the headland of Oa, which shares the distinction of being one of Britain’s shortest place names along with Bu in Orkney and Ae in southern Scotland.

The entry to the anchorage at Lagavulin is described in detail of the yachtsman’s pilot for the area. We have to line up the last four letters of the distillery name (painted in large letters on its wall) with the edge of the ruined castle on an island in front and go in on that heading to avoid the submerged rocks either side. We duly identify the distillery from half a mile out at sea, drop the sails and motor in. We have to do a zigzag in front of the castle to navigate round the rocks then enter into a narrow channel between red and green port and starboard marker beacons. All goes according to plan until just inside the marker beacons in front of the pool at the distillery where the water gets too shallow for us to proceed. This is not marked on the chart or in the pilot book. We are within 30 yards of the distillery but have to give up the attempt as we dare not leave the boat amongst the rocks. No whisky tasting today!

We carefully back-track and invoke Plan B. Hoisting the sails, we give up on Islay and head for its smaller neighbour Gigha (pronounced Gear) about 12 miles away across the Sound of Jura. However, it is one of those days as the wind falls and we end up motoring. We need to find a mobile phone signal by 4:00 as Nicky gets her finals results after 5 years at vet school. Luckily we pick up a weak signal just off Gigha so we can hear the good news that she has got a good degree and won a prize for her portfolio so she is now a qualified vet – look out livestock! As we make the phone call the wind kicks in from nowhere so the call is cut short whilst we deal with the immediate requirements and resume the call once we are safely tied up to a mooring buoy at Ardminish in Gigha. The approach to Ardminish needs careful attention as so often with these places there are rocks aplenty to avoid.

Veggie lasagna for supper and a glass of wine to toast Nicky’s success and the fact that we have now sailed over 1000 miles on this trip.

Ships log

Days run:  34.5nm

Total mileage to date: 1025.6 nm

Engine hours today: 3.6

Hours sailed today: 8.2

Total hours sailed: 230.5

Thursday 27th June

We awake to a drizzly, drear morning with low cloud – a proper Scotch mist. Our plan is to travel north with the afternoon tide so as we need some basic supplies so after doing our routine engine checks we decide to go don full oilies and go ashore in the dinghy to see what Gigha has to offer.

The 2 acre walled garden at Achamore, Gigha. This is the first area to have received renovation attention in these gardens

The 2 acre walled garden at Achamore, Gigha. This is the first area to have received renovation attention in these gardens

The micro-climate at Gigha allows Achamore gardens to grow a very wide variety of foreign species including these specimens from the South American rain forest. The Scottish weather was creating a very good impression of a train forest this day!

The micro-climate at Gigha allows Achamore gardens to grow a very wide variety of foreign species including these specimens from the South American rain forest. The Scottish weather was creating a very good impression of a rain forest this day!

Bird of Paradise flowers at Achamore Gardens, Gigha

Bird of Paradise flowers at Achamore Gardens, Gigha

Gigha is a relatively small island (about 5 miles long) and has few facilities. The local shop is shut awaiting new owners but the Post Office sells us milk and cheese whilst the Gigha Hotel nearby sells us bread and tomatoes.

There is a large display board by the hotel from which we learn the recent history of Gigha. It turns out that the island was privately owned until 2002 when it was put up for sale. The islanders decided to take matters into their own hands and raised the staggering sum of £4.15 million (mainly from the Lottery and Scottish heritage & Community funds) to purchase the island and put it into a community trust. It was the biggest community buy out up to then in the UK. As part of the deal, the islanders had to repay £1.2 million within two years, which they managed to do. Since then they have achieved a lot within their objective of maintaining a viable island community. Housing has been a primary concern as three-quarters of the island housing stock was assessed as being below standard for human habitation so a programme is being worked through to upgrade the houses and a deal has been done with a development company to build new houses with the caveat that they did not spoil the island ambience and the houses were affordable to the local population. A mini wind turbine farm has been installed to sell power back to the national grid and various business initiatives made.

Another project that has been started is the restoration of the Achamore Gardens  which date back to Victorian times in which successive owners used the unique micro-climate of Gigha to develop a fine array of rhododendrons (including 26 out of 48 new cultivars developed at these gardens). The gardens also feature many varieties of camellias, azaleas and plants from all over the world. The Gigha Island Trust now manages the gardens and has recruited a new head gardener to inject some enthusiasm into the project and working with the Duchy College in Cornwall maintain and propagate this unique collection of plants and turn back the years of decay that had set in under the old owners. It was not the best day to see the gardens and we were certainly not crowded out but we were able to appreciate the magnitude of the task which faces the restoration team and the progress so far. The walled garden alone runs to two acres and the whole site must be 20 to 30 acres so it is a big task.

We returned to the Gigha Hotel to dry out and lunch on mushroom soup and Gigha bread before returning to Sundart.

Gigha is a far more interesting island than we had realised and we wish the community well in their endeavours. The only down side for us was the inevitable comparison with our favourite island of Sark as Gigha has narrow tarmac roads and traffic including full size articulated lorries as well as the normal cars & vans. Unlike Sark, it is not possible to amble down a road as one has to avoid the occasional passing traffic.

The weather clears in time and there is enough wind for us to sail away from Gigha and up the Sound of Jura to another small anchorage, this time at a place called Loch na Cille on the Mull of Kintyre. Once again, as we near our destination, we use the Navionics programme on the Samsung to navigate round the various rocks and islands, cross referencing to he chart and the pilot book. Pilotage like this is so much easier in the days of electronic navigation! The wind dies and we end up motoring to our anchorage, which is just as the pilot book describes  a large lagoon with a good anchorage near a little stone jetty. Four or five boats are moored around this little loch but it is otherwise pretty uninhabited. The weather is so poor that we have no photo opportunities.

The rain and mist come down again so we shut ourselves into our snug saloon below decks. Cheese and onion and potato pie followed by pears for supper rounds off another interesting day.

Ships log

Days run:  16.8 nm

Total mileage to date: 1036.4 nm

Engine hours today: 2.3

Hours sailed today: 3.5

Total hours sailed: 234.0

Friday 28th June

We awake to another drizzly, drear morning with low cloud, a sea mist and the wind blowing strongly from the north-west. We check we are still where we anchored up and our new Knox anchor seems well dug in so we shut the hatches, have breakfast and attend to matters below deck – there are always jobs on boats!

Yvonne has previously cleaned the various hand holds, rails and trims in the main saloon with sugar soap so she and Janet treat the wood with some new sealant we bought at Tarbert specifically for this sort of use on a boat. The effect is very gratifying and the wood looks a whole load better. John dismantles and services the heads (loo) door latch – an important fitting when the boat is rocking around! He also re-reads the manual about the winches and decides to re-orientate the winch that broke to position it as described in the manual to reduce the load on the gear train inside the winch.

Over lunch we debate our next move as we need to get to Craobh Haven this evening if possible as Paul and his family are arriving tomorrow. The weather forecast looks as if the rain will let up later this afternoon and the tides will be in the right direction (which is important as they are stong where we pass the whirlpools at Correyvreckan) so the optimum time to go looks to be around 4 pm.

Sailing with 2 reefs past Jura. Reefing down in strong winds makes for a more comfortable ride as well as being faster and more controllable than having the boat laid over on its side

Sailing with 2 reefs past Jura. Reefing down in strong winds makes for a more comfortable ride as well as being faster and more controllable than having the boat laid over on its side

We duly set off at 4 directly into strong winds so we set the main sail with 2 reefs in and plug away into the wind with help from the engine to cross to the west side of the Sound of Jura to be in the lee of Jura itself. Once on that side we can set the storm jib and switch off the engine. The tide gives us a good push and we shoot northwards, the sun tries to come out and we end up with a good sail.

As we sail along we see a large, grey creature slowly arch its back out of the water. We identify it as a lone Minke whale due to its size and the fact that they are usually solitary creatures.

We pass the northern end of Jura and skirt a mile or so round Correyvreckan. The strong tides in this area flow round the various islands and some times come together with spectacular results. Correyvreckan is renown amongst sailors for the remarkable whirlpools and standing waves that form when the tides are in full flow between the islands of Jura and Scarba. All the pilot guides and almanacs warn small craft against passing through this are as the whirlpools can swamp them. (Correyvreckan attracts adrenalin junkies as yesterday we heard a canoeist being rescued from there over the VHF and later we notice advertisements for  white water rides through the whirlpools). By necessity our route takes us to within a mile of Corryvreckan but the tides work well for us and we pass by at over 9 knots, picking our way through the overfalls.

Craobh Haven - set in a near perfect natural harbour

Craobh Haven – set in a near perfect natural harbour formed by 3 islands that have been linked up with rock infill.

(Overfalls are rough area of water formed when strong tides hit submerged rocks and well up to the surface. Where we sailed the rocks are deep below the surface but the effect is still remarkable). We are too occupied with sailing the boat to take photos. We soon arrive at Croabh Haven, a marina set in a natural harbour in the wilds of the western  Scotland mainland.

Depending upon the type of sea bed and the conditions, we sometimes get various specimens of livestock coming up on the anchor - especially when the bottom is muddy. Anyone know what this is?

Depending upon the type of sea bed and the conditions, we sometimes get various specimens of livestock coming up on the anchor – especially when the bottom is muddy. Anyone know what this is?

After mooring up we find the anchor has come up with a load of mud plus an unknown sea creature from the bottom of Loch na Cille – we send both back to the deep!

Ships log

Days run:  16.8 nm

Total mileage to date: 1043.2 nm

Engine hours today: 1.9

Hours sailed today: 3.5

Total hours sailed: 237.5

Saturday 29th June

Paul Fox (the “Cabin Buoy”) is driving up to join us today, accompanied by wife Christine and youngest daughter Emma. They will all stay on Sundart tonight before the girls have a couple of days in Edinburgh. We set out to replenish our stores but find the local shop poorly stocked and very expensive so decide to ask Christine to run us to Tesco at Oban when she arrives. John spends the morning cleaning the hull of the boat with “Y10” – a jelly that we wipe on which removes the brown discolouration that has built up over time plus the various other marks whilst the girls clean and polish the inside of the boat. After our exertions we retire to the nearby Craobh Haven Watersports Centre for an excellent lunch with a good view. They kindly let us pick up their wi-fi so we can do this blog and we stay there some time as yet again the weather has closed in. (If you are ever in this area we can recommend the centre for their food – and no doubt their sail training is as good!)

The Foxes arrive mid-afternoon bringing excellent cakes, bacon and eggs and much jollity. They kindly run us to Oban to shop, but the drive is so wet with low cloud that they cannot enjoy any of the scenery. We are in a patch of bad weather and the weather forecast is not good for the next few days.

Back at the boat we head off to the local pub for supper before everyone beds down on Sundart – luckily we have 9 berths on board!

Sunday 30th June 

The facilities here are good so various people take showers before Chris cooks us a good fried breakfast, after which she and Emma decide to make tracks.

We want to head north but the tides dictate an afternoon sail. Paul has bought up the replacement anchor winch with him plus various tools from John’s workshop so he and John set to work fitting the new anchor winch and the new mast gate, completing both jobs by lunchtime. Yvonne & Janet pre-cook supper for tonight.

The anchorage at Phuladhobrain - Gaelic for the Bay of the Otter but we saw none. A very pleasant anchorage between Dunstaffenage and Oban

The anchorage at Phuladhobrain – Gaelic for the Bay of the Otter but we saw none. A very pleasant anchorage and one of the most popular between Dunstaffenage and Oban

We leave at 1600 to head for a little anchorage at Phulladhrobrian (celtic for the Bay of the Otter. We need to sail; past Corryvrekan again then turn north past the islands of Luing and Seil before coming into the little anchorage. The sail is windy so we set 2 reefs  in the main and the storm jib. Progress is good and we do over 7 knots over the ground, helped by the tide and reach our anchorage in under 4 hours. Although small the anchorage is one of the most popular up this coast as it is so well protected from the swell so we are not surprised to see half a dozen other yachts at anchor but there is plenty of room for us all.

Ship’s log

Days run: 15.8 miles

Engine hours: 1.8

Hours sailed: 3.8 hours

Monday 1st July

Oban waterfront which is a well sheltered harbour - it was nice to see Oban without rain!

Oban waterfront which is a well sheltered harbour – it was nice to see Oban without rain!

The northern entrance to Oban. Oban is protected by the island of Kerrera - seen here on the left

The northern entrance to Oban. Oban is protected by the island of Kerrera – seen here on the left

Oban water front with the cathedral to the fore

Oban water front with the cathedral to the fore

Today we need to end up at Dunstaffenage, just north of Oban, as Janet has booked her train home to Kent from Oban early tomorrow morning., Although the distance is not great we have, for once, a decent weather forecast and the wind in the right direction and strength so we decide to explore the area a bit. First off will be to sail past Oban and see what we missed two days ago int he rain. Oban is set on a natural harbour with the islands of Kerrera and Mull shielding it from the Atlantic in the west.

The sail goes well. We initially set 2 reefs but reduce this to one reef then no reefs as the winds moderate. We sail with the wind behind us and “goosewing” past Oban in the sun and out into Loch Linhe to the north of Oban.

We decide to circumnavigate the island of Lismore, which will take us up Loch Linhe towards Fort William before doubling back to end up at Dunstaffenage Marina 3 miles north of Oban. The landscape is spectacular, with hills and mountains on each side of the loch. Ben Nevis is visible in the distance at the far end of Loch Linhe.

Floating breeding pens used by common terns in Loch Creran

Floating breeding pens used by common terns in Loch Creran

We decide to stop at Loch Creran, off the east side of Loch Linhe, for lunch and find a mooring buoy. nearby are some floating cages that we initially mistake for more fish farms but on closer inspection prove to be breeding cages for terns.

Water bourne transport is common around the lochs and islands as this is often the only way some communities can be reached. here a local contractor's JCB gets a lift from Loch Creran.

Water bourne transport is common around the lochs and islands as this is often the only way some communities can be reached. Here a local contractor’s JCB gets a lift from Loch Creran.

Sailing up Loch Linhe past Lismore in the direction towards Fort William with Ben Nevis in the far distance. The scenery is spectacular in this whole area.

Sailing up Loch Linhe past Lismore in the direction towards Fort William with Ben Nevis in the far distance. The scenery is spectacular in this whole area.

As we leave Loch Creran we see a local lighter transporting a contractor’s digger – water transport is much used in these areas as it is often the only viable way to reach remote communities.

The sail round LKismore is excellent with wonderful views up Loch Linhe towards Fort William. We can see Ben Nevis in the far distance. High hills and mountains line each side of the Loch and make a spectacular picture with the blue sky above.

In due course we round Lismore, skirting the rocky southern end before Janet takes the helm for a last sail into Dunstaffenage whilst John prepares a supper of chorizo chicken (a Hairy Bikers recipe from John’s daughter Katharine that we have modified to suit our galley).

Paul Fox gets to grip with helming up Loch Linhe

Paul Fox gets to grip with helming up Loch Linhe

...but the exertion took its toll!

…but the exertion took its toll!

Days log

Miles sailed: 42 nautical miles

Total sailed to date: 1101.0 nm

Engine hours: 2.0

Total engine hours: 142.2

Hours sailed: 9.5

Total hours sailed: 250.8

 

 

 

 

Following winds and fair weather to you all,

Yvonne, Janet, Paul and John

Heading to the Western Isles

Saturday 25th June

The Arran ferry leaves Ardrossan. The "Cal Mac" ferries are an essential year round life-line to many Scottish islands. The ships have to be sturdy to deal with the winter weather - one ship has even been converted to a luxury cruiser which the Queen has chartered.

The Arran ferry leaves Ardrossan. The “Cal Mac” ferries are an essential year round life-line to many Scottish islands. The ships have to be sturdy to deal with the winter weather – one ship has even been converted to a luxury cruiser which the Queen has chartered.

We arise to wind and rain so after breakfast the girls make another trip to Asda. The weather forecast is for the weather to clear later this morning for the rest of the day before another “unseasonably deep low” sweeps bad weather in. (The fifth storm system we have had to hide from since we started). By late morning the sky has cleared and there is a brisk force 4 to 5 south westerly wind so we decide to sail to Tarbert which is on the way to the entrance to the Crinan Canal which we will take to regain the open sea and the Inner Hebrides. (There are lots of Tarbert’s in Scotland – this one is on Loch Fyne – think kippers!)

Ardrossan marina in the old inner harbour. A rather souless development but the amenities are good, the railway station is on the harbour wall and there is Asda right next door. The harbour control tower is on the left with the useless control lights and the hard to reach operative!

Ardrossan marina in the old inner harbour. A rather souless development but the amenities are good, the railway station is on the harbour wall and there is Asda right next door. The harbour control tower is on the left with the useless control lights and the hard to reach operative!

As we are about to set off we hear the Cal Mac ferry reporting in to the harbour control over the VHF. There is a very ineffectual harbour traffic light set up by the control tower which we see has turned to 2 red lights and a green – go for the ferry and stop for us so we hang about for 20 minutes or so whilst the ferry docks. The harbour control is meant to re-set the lights to all green once the ferry is in but earlier experience has shown that this harbour control is a bit wayward and does not respond to yachts radio messages so as no-one seems to be at home in control we venture out once the ferry is docked and its bow doors are open. Out in the Firth we just set the foresail (genoa) and make good progress at 6 knots or so over a rather bouncy sea on a reach towards the north of Arran and Tarbert. (For non-sailors, a reach is when the wind is at about 90o to the side of the boat. Sailing boats sail quickest and easiest on this point of sailing which in sailors slang is known as a “soldiers wind”, dating back to transporting troops by sailing boat). There is a cloud plume from the mountains of Arran which our course takes us under and we duly get rained on. The wind dies under the clouds, so we motor. Later, a light wind fills in again so we re-set both sails. Such is sailing! As we hoist the mainsail using the winch in the cockpit there is a bang and the winch fails. We have another winch we use but we have another repair on our hands. As we pass into Loch Fyne near the Mull of Kintyre by Tarbert we see some very large birds with enormous wing span soaring very high up – sea eagles!

The narrow entrance to Tarbert harbour protects it from the sea. The Portaverdie ferry connecting the Mull of Kintyre to the mainland is departing.

The narrow entrance to Tarbert harbour protects it from the sea. The Portaverdie ferry connecting the Mull of Kintyre to the mainland is departing.

Tarbert is a small and very well protected harbour at the end of a narrow inlet off Loch Fyne known as East Loch Tarbert. It is accessed via a winding passage between rocks which give added protection from the waves – just right for sheltering from heavy weather!

The attractive waterfront at Tarbert. The Tarbert Hotel on the right provides old fashioned but good food with a Sunday special roast.

The attractive waterfront at Tarbert. The Tarbert Hotel on the right provides old fashioned but good food with a Sunday special roast.

Once inside the entrance, the harbour opens out with the attractive village nestled around three sides of the harbour and with a back-drop of hills and a ruined castle. It makes an attractive picture. Once in port John dismantles the winch and discovers the broken part – a bronze cog that has failed before. Happily, we have one spare on board so the winch is soon repaired. However, our winches date from 1984 and spares can be difficult to get. Phone calls to co-owner Phil and John Steer draw a blank (John used to make the parts for us but has now retired and the workshop is no longer available) so the hunt is on for a source of spares.

View of the entrance to Tarbert harbour which is well protected by several rocky island and reefs from the swell of the open sea. The channel in is narrow and a bit tortuous with several buoys to mark the way.

View of the entrance to Tarbert harbour which is well protected by several rocky island and reefs from the swell of the open sea. The channel in is narrow and a bit tortuous with several buoys to mark the way.

John gets on the internet and sends a message to Lewmar, the original manufacturers but we will have to wait until Monday for an answer.

Many seafaring communities around the UK developed their own craft to suit their needs and waters. Some survive, the design kept alive by enthusiasts who often race them. A very few are still work boats (e.g.  the Falmouth Oyster Boats). These are Loch Fyne Skiffs - clinker built with the distinctive raked backed masts. The town can be seen in the background with the ruined castle on the hill above. The active fishing fleet of around 20 boats are at the fish quay on the right, the new leisure and small boat marina is on the left, centered on the site of a former boatyard.

Many seafaring communities around the UK developed their own craft to suit their needs and waters. Some survive, the design kept alive by enthusiasts who often race them. A very few are still work boats (e.g. the Falmouth Oyster Boats). These are Loch Fyne Skiffs – clinker built with the distinctive raked backed masts.
The town can be seen in the background with the ruined castle on the hill above. The active fishing fleet of around 20 boats are at the fish quay on the right, the new leisure and small boat marina is on the left, centered on the site of a former boatyard.

We enjoy G & T’s on deck, then cook up sausage supper (one of our “one pot” dishes) before turning in. Ships log Days run: 25.5 nm Total mileage to date: 942.7 nm Engine hours today: 2.5 Hours sailed today: 5.5 Total hours sailed: 206.0 Sunday 23rd. June With the stormy weather forecast we decide to stay and explore Tarbert today so we walk to the village to find a Sunday paper and see what we can do.

Tarbert hosts a classic boat rally each July. It is also home to a number of classic boats including Swn y Mor, a converted Colvic Watson lifeboat that was converted to a sailing yawl and subsequently sailed round the world.

Tarbert hosts a classic boat rally each July. It is also home to a number of classic boats including Swn y Mor, a converted Colvic Watson lifeboat that was converted to a sailing yawl and subsequently sailed round the world.

The harbour office gave us a welcome pack and the weather forecast when we booked in yesterday (which is rare for any harbour or marina in the UK) which included a fine yearbook. From this we learn that Tarbert has been a shelter for both fishermen and traders for over 1000 years. Like so many fishing ports, it grew with the rise of the herring industry from the 18th century until the “silver darlings” became scarce in the 1970’s and fishing rapidly declined to the 20 or so fleet of today who fish for prawns & clams while dive boats fish for razor shells, clams and otter clam shells (a Chinese delicacy).

There was a boat yard in Tarbert until the current millenium building boats up to 100 ft including MTB's and gun boats in WW2. This was the slipway winch, re-cycled from the battleship HMS George V when it was broken up in the '50's. When the electric motor started the lights in tarbert were reported to dim!

There was a boat yard in Tarbert until the current millenium building boats up to 100 ft including MTB’s and gun boats in WW2. This was the slipway winch, re-cycled from the battleship HMS George V when it was broken up in the ’50’s. When the electric motor started the lights in tarbert were reported to dim!

Over the past 100 years Tarbert harbour has been administered by its own Harbour Authority Trust that has always been run by unremunerated Trustees despite the considerable responsibility that they carry. The Trust has developed the harbour considerably over the past century to meet the local needs and develop it for the benefit of its community. In order to offset the decline in fishing the Trust has developed facilities for leisure boating whilst still looking after their fishing fleet. Today, Tarbert has become a favourite with yachtsmen. Recent developments, assisted with grants, have included the expansion of pontoons for yachts and motor boats with electricity & water plus a basic amenities block, a harbour walk and a games area.

There seem to be dive boats in nearly every harbour - typically catermarans (for stability). They are used for both leisure diving and work work including setting and servicing moorings and fishing for razor shells, clams and (in Tarbert) otter clam shells (a chinese delicacy)

There seem to be dive boats in nearly every harbour – typically catermarans (for stability). They are used for both leisure diving and commercial work including setting and servicing moorings and fishing for razor shells, clams and (in Tarbert) otter clam shells (a Chinese delicacy)

Alongside this they have developed a programme of summer regattas and meetings which this year includes a regatta in May which they claim is the second largest in the UK, a traditional boat festival in July and numerous other festivals and fairs. Of all the harbours and marinas we have visited so far, Tarbert is the one where they make the biggest effort to promote themselves and welcome their customers as well as getting feedback from their customers. No wonder they have become such a popular place for yachtsmen. All in all, it is a tribute to the local Trustees for moving their harbour with the times without losing its charm.

The castle at Tarbert was originally an iron age fort and was subsequently fortified by Robert the Bruce. By the 18th century it was in disrepair and most of the stone was re-cycled into expanding the port and the local houses. The remains are today in the care of a local Trust and a small flock of Hebriddean sheep. Traditional materials may be hard to work but can usually be re-cycled unlike modern concrete which usually ends up as hardcore.

The castle at Tarbert was originally an iron age fort and was subsequently fortified by Robert the Bruce. By the 18th century it was in disrepair and most of the stone was re-cycled into expanding the port and the local houses. The remains are today in the care of a local Trust and a small flock of Hebriddean sheep. Traditional materials may be hard to work but can usually be re-cycled unlike modern concrete which usually ends up as hardcore.

The local tourist office provides us with some maps of local walks so we don our walking boots and take to the hills, stopping at the local castle en route. There has been a fort here for over 1000 years. Robert the Bruce and other Scottish kings fortified it but by the 18th century it was in disrepair and most of the stone was re-cycled to make the harbour and local houses, leaving just the keep standing. (Traditional materials may be harder to work but can generally be recycled, unlike concrete which usually ends up as hardcore).

There are some fine walks around Tarbert with great views over Loch Fyne - when the weather permits!

There are some fine walks around Tarbert with great views over Loch Fyne – when the weather permits!

The hill walk is quite strenuous, climbing several hundred feet above the village and giving good views up Loch Fyne and across the Firth of Clyde (when the weather permits). These hills a partially wooded with many open areas and attractive patches of wild flowers. It is good to get out on these hills. We visit the local chandlery that carries a surprising amount of stock and think they can get our winch spares. We buy some fibreglass restoration polish for Sundart and a Scottish courtesy flag to fly from our spreaders. After our exertions on the hills we have Sunday supper at the local hotel – old fashioned, good food and welcoming.

Swans live in many harbours and sheltered areas of the sea - these are the resident mute swans at Tarbert cadging for food.

Swans live in many harbours and sheltered areas of the sea – these are the resident mute swans at Tarbert cadging for food.

Typical in small, relatively isolated villages shops and businesses will have many strings to their bow.

Typically in small, relatively isolated villages shops and businesses will have many strings to their bow.

We are impressed by Tarbert. Not only is it an attractive place but after Campbeltown and Ardrossan it is nice to get back to somewhere where people are proud of their locality and are friendly and helpful.

Monday 24th June A 7:00 am start today. Our plan to day is to sail up Loch Fyne to Ardrishaig where we will take the Crinan Canal across the Mull of Kintyre to the open sea and the Inner Hebrides. The morning is bright and there is still a good breeze blowing so we reef the mainsail and tack up the Loch, arriving at Ardrishaig around 11:00. The sea lock is open and another boat is about to enter so we go straight in.

Entry to the Crinan is via sea locks ate each end. These are the ones at Crinan. Each fill of a lock takes around 300,000 litres of water, which works its way down from the summit through successive locks until being discharged to the sea. The canal has a system of water holding lochs and reservoirs above the summit but there can be a water shortage during dry, busy summer months.

Entry to the Crinan is via sea locks ate each end. These are the ones at Crinan. Each fill of a lock takes around 300,000 litres of water, which works its way down from the summit through successive locks until being discharged to the sea. The canal has a system of water holding lochs and reservoirs above the summit but there can be a water shortage during dry, busy summer months.

The CrinanCanal was built at the end of the 18th Century to shorten the sail from the Firth of Clyde to the Inner Hebrides by up to 80 miles and avoid ships having to go round the Mull of Kintyre. It made for sea going boats and is wider with bigger locks than normal inland canals. In its commercial heyday it carried a considerable volume of traffic, including over 30000 sheep and cattle per year for market.

Goods still move by local coaster such as these logs awaiting loading at Ardrishaig quay but there is little commercial traffic these days on the Crinan Canal

Goods still move by local coaster such as these logs awaiting loading at Ardrishaig quay but there is little commercial traffic these days on the Crinan Canal

Today it carries around 3000 vessels per year, mainly leisure boats including yachts and motor boats.

The route of the Crinan and sights along the way

The route of the Crinan and sights along the way

The Canal is about 9 miles long with 15 locks and 7 sliding and swing bridges. Officially, the canal works from 0800 to 1630 with half an hour break for lunch. The official literature states that there are paid lock keepers at the sea locks at each end and to operate the bridges but all the rest has to be operated by the boat crews. With the exception of the sea locks at each end and one modernised main road bridge, all of the rest of the system uses the original 200 year old equipment and systems using human muscle power alone so it is quite hard work. The official instructions are full of regulations and guidelines which seem intimidating. What the official documents do not prepare you for is the cost – over £100 for a 4 day licence to use the canal! We had thought the cost would be half this so it’s a shock! The only consolation, apart from the shortening of the journey, is that this includes the use of the showers & amenities along the way plus up to 3 overnight stops. In reality, the experience is far better than the official documents might suggest. The staff is very helpful and friendly and over the summer months extra staff (in the form of students) is employed so there are few locks where help is not available. Once away from the outskirts of Ardrishaig, the canal runs through some fine countryside, rising up to its summit in a forest. Part way along we have to wait for a boat to come down a flight of locks so we stop at Cairnbarn Hotel for a coffee. Nothing happens quickly on a canal and sitting in the sun having a coffee for half an hour is no problem!

View from the summit, with the upland mire nature reserve of Moine Mhor on the right

View from the summit, with the upland mire nature reserve of Moine Mhor on the right

The canal reaches its summit at Dunardy. It is an unusual experience to look out from up a hill over the surrounding countryside from a sea-going boat!

The traditional lock and bridge keepers cottages are still lovingly maintained

The traditional lock and bridge keepers cottages are still lovingly maintained

As we travel along the canal we admire the well kept lock keepers cottages with pretty gardens.

There are some wonderful 18th century mechanisms still in daily operation such as this sliding bridge. They are all still manually operated.

There are some wonderful 18th century mechanisms still in daily operation such as this sliding bridge. They are all still manually operated.

The old equipment to move the bridges is well kept and simple but effective in its design.

Janet earns her keep! Moving the lock gates is hard work as they are larger than the normal inland lock gates

Janet earns her keep! Moving the lock gates is hard work as they are larger than the normal inland lock gates

Working the locks, even with help, is heavy work. As the canal is wider than most inland canals the lock gates are correspondingly bigger. Each lock changes height by around 8 to 10 feet and there is usually only one ladder up each side of a lock wall.

Careful control is needed of the boat bows, especially when ascending in a lock due to the strong currents as the water fills the lock. Yvonne is doing the business here.

Careful control is needed of the boat bows, especially when ascending in a lock due to the strong currents as the water fills the lock. Yvonne is doing the business here.

We find going up harder than going down for controlling the boat in the lock. We evolve a technique, with Janet jumping off to take the ropes and hook them on the “meat hooks” or little bollards that are used at each lock whilst Yvonne & John control the boat. At the start we share the lock with another boat, which is a squeeze but later we have the locks to ourselves. The canal runs through an interesting area as it has been inhabited for at least 5000 years. The Kilmartin Glen has Scotland’s richest prehistoric landscape whilst there is a hill fort at Dunadd dating from 500 AD when the Scotti migrated here from Ireland and established the first line of Scottish kings. There are several sites with prehistoric rock carvings and a Bronze Age cairn.

Our personal showers and loo at Bellanoch Bridge!

Our personal showers and loo at Bellanoch Bridge!

The Crinan has an abundance of wild flowers, along its banks, such as these yellow irises

The Crinan has an abundance of wild flowers, along its banks, such as these yellow irises

We choose to stop the night at Bellanoch Swing Bridge, about three quarters of the way along the canal. This is by the Moine Mhor (Great Moss) Nature Reserve, which has been established in one of Scotland’s last remaining raised mires. Apparently this supports a “rich and varied ecosystem” so after supper we go in search of the bird hide and wildlife. Sadly the bird hide blew down in the 2012 gales, leaving only a bare platform but there is a bench on the tow path from where we can look over the bog lands and see sundry ducks, heron, wheatear etc. Perhaps one has to wade through said bog to really get the full range of ecosystem but it does not seem to be teeming with life. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been given a key to the amenities along the canal as part of our fee and sure enough we have our own little shower and loo block on the tow path – simple but sufficient – as we cannot use the sea heads on the boat. It is all very peaceful and we sleep well.

Swing bridge mechanism at Bellanoch - hand operated

Swing bridge mechanism at Bellanoch – hand operated

Ships log

Days run: 18.7 nm

Total mileage to date: 964.2 nm

Engine hours today: 6.2

Hours sailed today: 9.0

Total hours sailed: 215.0

Tuesday 25th June

The Crinan canal is largely used for leisure boating these days and is being developed for this business. This is a new sculpture by a local artist at the Crinan end

The Crinan canal is largely used for leisure boating these days and is being developed for this business. This is a new sculpture by a local artist at the Crinan end

A leisurely breakfast looking over the marsh lands in the sun – it really is a lovely spot. The showers are used and the bridge operator arrives so in due course he winches the bridge open for us and we proceed to Crinan.

There are some fine settings along the canal, such as these buildings at Bellanoch

There are some fine settings along the canal, such as these buildings at Bellanoch

Clyde Puffers were developed in the 19th century for the Crinan and Forth-Clyde canals. Some have been lovingly preserved - this is Vic 32 in action at Crinan. Some such as this one were designed as small cargo vessels

Clyde Puffers were developed in the 19th century for the Crinan and Forth-Clyde canals. Some have been lovingly preserved – this is Vic 32 in action at Crinan. Some such as this one were designed as small cargo vessels

Another preserved Clyde Puffer, this time configured as a tug that towed barges

Another preserved Clyde Puffer, this time configured as a tug that towed barges

Awaiting our turn to pass through the sea lock at Crinan. Locking through is never quick.

Awaiting our turn to pass through the sea lock at Crinan. Locking through is never quick.

We soon arrive there and see White Magic the boat we set out with yesterday at the start of the canal. Pleasantries are exchanged and we pass through the final two locks in their company. Whilst waiting we see a “Clyde Puffer” – the Vic 32 – steaming along the sea outside the last lock. These ships were specially constructed to work this canal and the Forth – Clyde Canal. There is another example in the basin between the last two locks. There is clearly an active preservation movement looking after these old ships. Apparently it takes 12 hours to raise steam from cold and ready them for action! Finally, two hours after starting out, we leave the sea lock and head out to the open sea. We are a bit ahead of schedule and the weather forecast is good for the next few days so we have decided to turn south and see something of the southern most Inner Hebridean Islands of Jura, Islay and Gigha before heading north to Croabh Haven to meet up with Paul Fox at the end of the week.

Fair winds to you all,

Yvonne, Janet and John

Cruising the Firth of Clyde

Tuesday 18th June

Campeltown has a working harbour. Yachts have to moor up to one side (on the left). Felled trees were stacked up on the harbour wall, ready for shipping out.

Campeltown has a working harbour. Yachts have to moor out of the harbour to one side (on the right). Felled trees were stacked up on the harbour wall, ready for shipping out.

We awake rather late, having caught up on our early start from Northern Ireland yesterday and take a leisurely breakfast before walking to the local swimming baths for a “yachtsman’s shower”, there being no amenities provided by the Campbeltown Berthing Company who administer the yacht pontoon. The shower facilities turn out to be adequate but basic and we are soon done. Campbeltown is the first place on our travels that Yvonne has felt uncomfortable walking around on her own so it was a useful staging post but nothing more. The Royal Yacht Squadron has moored along the pontoon from us to the delight of some of the locals but we don’t know our celebs well enough to recognise anybody (and they don’t seem to recognise us!)

The Firth of Clyde is one of the UK’s great cruising grounds, combining good access from the sea and land, some glorious scenery, plenty of options and space around the lochs and islands and some excellent sailing and all within a set of sea lochs with almost inland sailing conditions in many parts. We have three days to explore this area before we collect our friend Janet from Ardrossan. We decide to go to Lochranza on the northern end of the Isle of Arran.

We depart just after 11:00 in pleasant sun and a light breeze so we can sail out of Campbeltown Loch and up Kilbrannen Sound with the Mull of Kintyre on the west and the Isle of Arran on the right. (For the record, a loch is open to the sea at one end; a sound is open at both ends. We are led to believe that anchoring can be charged for in a loch but not a sound – we shall see!).

Sailing past the Isle of Arran with spinnaker set and the sun shining. If only it could always be like this!

Sailing past the Isle of Arran with spinnaker set and the sun shining. If only it could always be like this!

We are able to set the spinnaker and it is a pleasant, easy sail using the autohelm for the most part. The Isle of Arran is good scenery to sail past, being very mountainous with peaks reaching up to 857 m (over 2800 feet). Habitation and communications are generally round the edge with much of the interior comprising of rugged hills and craggy peaks.

When the sun shines, the light is remarkably soft around here. It is not the only place by the sea which gives this effect by any means but it gives the area a special quality.

The water in this area is generally very deep. Our depth meter stops at around 100 m; the depths we encounter in the Firth of Clyde are often greater than this, a result no doubt of ice age glaciers grinding out the rock. These depths compare markedly with most of those we have encountered so far, which rarely exceed 50 m and for large areas of the Irish Sea are somewhat less for considerable stretches. It is little wonder that the Firth of Clyde and its approaches are a favourite area for submarine training.

The geology around here is varied and interesting too. We don’t pretend to understand it by any means but as we sail past Arran we can see sandstone, granite and various other rocks. Away to our south is the island of Ailsa Craig, which is a domed shaped island and apparently the granite plug to a long extinct volcano. Nowadays it is home to thousands of gannets and its stone is said to make the finest curling stones.

Lochranza with the ruined castle at the waters edge and the high mountains of Arran poking over the far hills

Lochranza with the ruined castle at the waters edge and the high mountains of Arran poking over the hills

The winds come and go but we are able to sail most of the way and reach Lochranza around 5 pm in time for tea and cake, admiring the scenery around us. We take some photos but it is difficult to take good photos of landscapes that truly portray the scene with our simple camera as they all tend to become lines of land with much sea in the front!

Sundart at the moorings in Lochranza as viewed over the garden of the Lochranza Hotel

Sundart at the moorings in Lochranza as viewed over the garden of the Lochranza Hotel

Yvonne remembers Lochranza from 30 years ago as a quiet place with a few boats moored and plenty of space to anchor. As we round the corner into the Loch we see this is no longer the case as the bay is largely laid with moorings and there are plenty of boats. Such is the march of time and the increase in wealth and boat ownership! We moor up to a buoy near to the landing place and pontoon as we have decided to eat ashore this evening. According to the pilot book there is one hostelry – the Lochranza Hotel so we will try our luck there.

Lochranza Hotel

The Lochranza Hotel

The rubber dinghy is blown up and the little outboard carefully attached then we set off to the shore. The pontoon makes an easy landing with no need to go paddling and the dinghy can be left afloat tied to the pontoon.

Lochranza is an attractive village strung out along each side of its loch with a ruined castle overlooking the loch (relic of when the area was owned by a local laird who would receive his tithes and dispense his justice).

The Dutch trio at the Lochranza Hotel

The Dutch trio at the Lochranza Hotel

We soon come across the Hotel, a pleasant looking building with a colourful garden and venture in. Although it has only just gone 6 it is already busy with locals and visitors and we take the last table with a view across the loch. The beer is good and we order Lochranza sausages and venison pie which are excellent. Whilst we are eating a trio start playing lounge jazz in one corner of the bar – clarinet, guitar and accordion.  It turns out that they are Dutch – husband and wife plus friend, who are touring Scotland, offering to play in the various bars and hotels they stay at. Apparently, the reception has been very warm across Scotland and no wonder – they are very entertaining with an excellent command of English. We have been fortunate to come across them as they are excellent and along with the rest of the clientele we enjoy their playing. The bar man, however, looks dour throughout. Next to us a Scots lady enjoys a plate of chips with melted cheese and white bread and butter. Some other locals start dancing and foot tapping. Seems like we are getting our full dose of stereotyped Scots this evening!

The music ended, we leave the pleasant atmosphere at the hotel and walk along to view the castle then back to the boat, the rubber flubber is packed away and we plan tomorrow’s trip to the Kyles of Bute.

Ships log

Days run: 20.5 nm

Total mileage to date: 837.7 nm

Engine hours today: 2.0

Hours sailed today: 6.0

Total hours sailed: 186.1

Wednesday 19th June

We set our alarm so we don’t lie in and breakfast  on deck before sailing off our mooring at around 9:30. It is a lovely sailing day – sun, steady breeze in just the right direction and the prospect of sailing through some of the best scenery in this area. Once outside the loch, we set course and hoist the spinnaker, enjoying one of our best ever sails in fine conditions. This is what we ordered!

View up the Western Kyle of Bute with the village of Tignabruaich on the left, Bute on the right and Loch Riddon ahead. The village was established as a tourist centre when the Clyde steamer service started up in the 19th Century.

View up the Western Kyle of Bute with the village of Tignabruaich on the left, island of Bute on the right and Loch Riddon ahead. The village developed as a tourist centre when the Clyde steamer service started up in the 19th Century.

The Island of Bute is much lower than Arran and is set close into the mainland with a relatively narrow channel round its north end and long sounds each side which are known collectively as the Kyles of Bute. The beauty lies in the surrounding hills and lochs that branch off the main waterway.

Rhodendrons provide a stunning display of colour up the hill sides in June. These plants are gradually invading the indigenous plants domain. There are many fine houses up the Kyles, many dating from Victorian times and generally kept very smart with well tended grounds. There must be some quiet wealth here.

Rhododendrons provide a stunning display of colour up the hill sides in June. These plants are gradually invading the indigenous plants domain. There are many fine houses up the Kyles, many dating from Victorian times and generally kept very smart with well-tended grounds. There must be some quiet wealth here.

Once into the West Kyle Sound we change to the two “working” sails (genoa and mainsail) as we are sailing at a different angle to the wind and there are occasional gusts of wind coming down the hills and valley at different directions so we can handle those better with the working sails. We have a good sail up the Sound and decide to pick up a mooring for a lunchtime stop which we do off the villages of Auchenlochan and Tighnabruaich: the first mooring is on poor state with a rotting mooring warp so we try another.

Later, we sail on, eventually having to motor as the waterway narrows and the wind becomes unpredictable. There are many fine houses along the mainland side of this loch and there are glorious swathes of pink and mauve rhododendrons up some of the hill sides. Some people around here regard these plants as foreign weeds as they spread steadily, supplanting the indigenous flora but they look tremendous from the water. They were introduced from the Himalayas in the 19th century as part of the development of this area as a tourist resort when the steamer service opened up in the Firth of Clyde.

Dusk at 11 pm: the view from our anchorage at the Kyles of Bute towards Loch Riddon

Dusk at 11 pm: the view from our anchorage at the Kyles of Bute towards Loch Riddon

We have a look into Loch Riddon and then anchor in a quiet pool behind the Burnt Islands at the heart of the Kyles of Bute. The views are splendid – it is hard to imagine that we are not so far from Glasgow. Yvonne remembers the jelly fish from her previous visit and sure enough, there they are as we anchor, but what little tide there is wafts them away and soon the water is clear. A couple of other boats share our little bay at anchor but all is generally calm and peaceful. We enjoy a quiet gin and tonic – the sun is well over the yard arm and it is turning into a warm summer evening.

Over on one of the islands there is a big gull colony – very noisy neighbours for a time! We cook potato cheese and onion pie and bacon for supper which we eat in the evening sun in the cockpit. The gulls must have incredibly sharp senses as they detect our bacon rinds and come over mob handed to swoop on the rinds, picking them off the water.

Half moon at neap tides reflected in the still water at our anchorage in the Kyles of Bute

Half moon at neap tides reflected in the still water at our anchorage in the Kyles of Bute

We are nearly at latitude 56 degrees north, There is plenty of light in the sky even at 11 PM. A half moon rises and is reflected in the still water. It is neap tides and there is very little tidal movement here.

We sleep well.

Ships log

Days run: 27.7 nm

Total mileage to date: 865.4 nm

Engine hours today: 0.8

Hours sailed today: 5.4

Total hours sailed: 191.5

Thursday 20th June

Our plan to-day is to sail down the east side of Bute, into Bute Sound and to anchor off the little town of Lamlash on the east side of Arran, in the shelter of Holy Island. The inshore weather forecast from the met Office that has come in over night on the Navtex gives force 3 to 4 occasionally force 5 south-east winds, becoming force 3 to 4 variable later. In reality it is grey, misty and with hardly a breath of wind. Clearly the met office is having a problem forecasting accurately when there is a high pressure system around plus a low to the south of us, the movements of which are hard to predict. When we can get a signal, we try to download the weather map and alternative forecasts via the laptop so we can make our own mind up but we cannot do this today so have to rely on the one forecast.

(The Navtex is an instrument that we leave switched on all the time. The Navtex is a world wide system. In the UK its long wave signals are transmitted at pre-ordained times every day from one of 3 stations around the country. It is possible to programme it for what information is picked up and which stations are used, depending on the area we are in. We always select the weather (which is provided by the Met Office) and for a trip such as this go for the inshore forecast which covers the coastal areas up to 12 miles off-shore. We decline things that are of no interest including piracy reports!).

The mountains in the centre of Arran dominate almost every part of the island, in this case Lamlash as viewed from Holy Island across an anchorage big enough for a fleet of warships.

The mountains in the centre of Arran dominate almost every part of the island, in this case Lamlash as viewed from Holy Island across an anchorage big enough for a fleet of warships.

We raise the anchor and motor sail down the East Kyle. The weather remains misty, sultry and windless for most of the day so we end up motor sailing the whole 28 miles to Lamlash. On the way we have a look into Loch Striven, which our pilot book describes as “a bleak and rather featureless loch” but which was where the midget submarines crews trained in WW2 which were used on attacks on the Tirpitz in Norway.  Today’s sail is a complete contrast to yesterday, with only the odd coaster going past, bound for the Clyde and some land marks on the misty distant shores.

Anchored off Holy Island, opposite Lamlash in the Isle of Arran. A community of Tibetan monks live here, sharing the island with feral ponies, sheep and goats

Anchored off Holy Island, opposite Lamlash in the Isle of Arran. A community of Tibetan monks live here, sharing the island with feral ponies, sheep and goats.

In due course we arrive at Lamlash and after a cursory motor past the town we anchor on the other side of the bay in the lee of Holy Island in calm water. The sky is slowly clearing and there is a little breeze, lifting the overcast at long last and giving us a good view across the bay towards the distant mountains. It is warm and we sit outside int he cockpit until darkness, when the moon comes out and is reflected off the still water.

Ships log

Days run: 28.3 nm

Total mileage to date: 893.7 nm

Engine hours today: 6.0

Total engine hours to date: 116.8

Hours sailed today: 6.0

Total hours sailed: 197.5

Friday 21st June

We awake to grey skies and clouds covering the higher peaks of Arran. A small wind  has sprung up from the west, swinging us round in the night and making the anchor chain rumble as it takes up its new position. Breakfast done, we sail off the anchor (which we practice from time to time in case the engine ever fails) and set sail to Ardrossan about 15 miles away for a “pit stop” to stock up on provisions, do our washing, have a shower, get rid of our rubbish (it is surprising how it builds up on a boat) and meet our friend Janet who will be with us for the next week or so. Unlike previous days, the water is choppy with little confused waves and the wind comes in different strengths and directions, partly due to the mountains around us and partly due to a forthcoming change in the weather.  This makes the sail more strenuous as we have to keep adjusting the sails but in due course the wind settles down to one direction and strength and we make good progress. We steer round a few trawlers and a large sludge ship going up to Glasgow.

As we reach Ardrossan and are taking our sails down we see the “Cal Mac” (Caledonian Macbrayn) ferry from Arran closing in on the harbour entrance so we give way to “might” and follow them into the harbour. Once again, we find the marina has been laid in the old fishing harbour,  Ardrossan’s fishing fleet having almost totally disappeared. Although marinas don’t provide the employment that the old fishing industry used to , they must make a significant contribution to the local economy by way of fees plus the inevitable boatyard, chandlery and service industry.

Ardrossan harbour is well served: Asda have built their supermarket within 100 yards, the laundry and shower arrangements are good. Even the railway terminates right on the harbour wall (Ardrossan having kept its harbour rail link to connect to the Arran ferry) so Janet can walk right off the train and onto Sundart.

Over supper we plan our next step, which is to sail to Tarbert in Loch Fyne, then Ardrishaig to enter the Crinan Canal which will provide a short cut to the Western Isles and the North of Scotland, However, the weather is breaking with a large low pressure system coming in from the Atlantic so we will need to have a look again tomorrow before finalising our plans.

Ships log

Days run: 14.6 nm

Total mileage to date: 908.3 nm

Engine hours today: 0.8

Total engine hours to date: 117.6

Hours sailed today: 3.0

Total hours sailed: 200.5

Fair winds to you all

Yvonne, Janet and John

 

Farewell Northern Ireland, hello Scotland

 Sunday 16th June – Glenarm.

Glenarm harbour and village

Glenarm harbour and village

We awake to a hazy day but no rain! John has Father’s days cards from Katharine and Nicky plus a Gruffalo card from Grandson Rohan. At breakfast we have phone calls to all three – a good start to the day.

Cleaning the hull. Why do other boats gleam - don't they go anywhere?!

Cleaning the hull. Why do other boats gleam – don’t they go anywhere?!

After breakfast we pay our harbour dues and get the low down from the harbour master’s deputy on Glenarm and the surrounding area. John finds the village store to buy the Sunday paper and we spend the morning over a leisurely breakfast catching up on the Lions tour (that’s rugby for any Philistines!) before hanging our oilskins, hats & gloves to dry. The harbour has been turned into a little marina and the very reasonable charge includes free use of the washing machine and dryer plus the showers so the rest of the morning is spent on catching up with these things. John starts on cleaning the brown film off the hull  that has built up over winter at her moorings in the river to get it back to white and gleans some advice off the Irish boat next door (which is pristine). So many boats always seem to be gleaming but we have concluded that they only travel in calm weather and then get lovingly cleaned after sail. We decide life is too short for that but without turning ourselves into complete anoraks (!) we have set ourselves the goal of getting Sundart’s hull a bit shinier despite her 30 or so years of age and much use.

Glenarm nestles in its bay surrounded by the County Antrim hills. This is a view from one of the signed village walks

Glenarm nestles in its bay surrounded by the County Antrim hills. This is a view from one of the signed village walks

After lunch we head off to Glenarm which is a large village with added stately home in the form of Glenarm Castle complete with incumbent blue blood family, the Earl of Antrim and his family.

In the village walk at Glenarm with a sign and a seat complete with local poetry

In the village walk at Glenarm with a sign and a seat complete with local poetry

Glenarm originally made its living largely through quarrying of the local limestone, exporting the majority to Scotland for the iron industry. The road connection has only been in existence for about 100 years so in common with other coastal villages in Antrim communications were via the sea with very strong links to Scotland.

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Allium and poppies in the lovely Glenarm Castle walled gardens

Allium and poppies in the lovely Glenarm Castle walled gardens

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are several well signposted walks: we choose the one that takes us to the walled gardens of Antrim Castle. These are well worth a visit and we are surprised at the variety of relatively tender plants that thrive including the huge fig tree against one wall of the garden.

Bill & Jenny Wood having a "proper tea" Northern Ireland style for Father's day

Bill & Jenny Wood having a “proper tea” Northern Ireland style for Father’s day

We stop for a cup of tea and cake and enjoy the company of Bill and Jenny Wood, who are enjoying a proper tea to celebrate Fathers’ day: sandwiches, fancy cakes and a good pot of tea. This seems to us typical of an aspect of Northern Ireland: there is a definite movement to improve themselves after years of languishing in the Troubles but they enjoy their traditions.

Typically, Northern Irish houses are smartly painted. Note the decorated pavements seen all around Glenarm

Typically, Northern Irish houses are smartly painted. Note the decorated pavements seen all around Glenarm

After the gardens we walk up to Glenarm vilage. In common with most places we have seen in Northern Ireland, there is a sense of pride in their locality; most houses are in good decorative order, usually brightly painted and smart. In Glenarm even some pavements are decorated!

Back at the boat we plan our week ahead. We need to be in Ardrossan next Friday to pick up our friend Janet who is joining us for a sail. We decide to go acrossd tomorrow to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kyntyre whilst the weather is good rather than risk going north to Rathlin Island off the north coast of Northern Ireland. This will mean an early start to catch the north going tide so this evening wil bve our last in Northern Ireland.

We have enjoyed Northern Ireland, especially the people. Far from being head down dour (which some Ulster people are characterised as) we have found people almost universally friendly, cheerful and very helpful. We have picked up a strong sense of pride in their localities and a desire to improve them without losing their traditions. We would definitely return.

We have now done 4 of the Celtic areas of the UK – Cornwall, Wales, Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. It will be interesting to see how the biggest of the Celtic areas – Scotland – measures up to the high standards we have found in the other Celtic areas.

Monday 17th June – to Scotland!

We are up at 0630 and leave Glenarm at 0730, having breakfasted. There is not a breath of wind and quite a lot of mist as we motor out and set course across the North Channel towards the Mull of Kyntyre. Normally it is easy to see Scotland from this part of Norhtern Ireland but not today. We have our AIS on to check if there is any shipping around as there is a TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) in operation in the relatively narrow North Passage between Scotland and Ireland rather like motorwat lanes across the sea. (Ships of over 300 tonnes have to have AIS transmitters fitted which continuously transmit their details including vessel name, radio number, speed and direction and what they are doing (e.g. fishing). We have a receiver that picks up theses signals and displays the location and movement of the ships on a little screen rather like radar). The sea is flat so we put the autohelm on and settle back for the journey. Slowly the mist clears as we enter the Firth of Clyde and the Mull of Kyntire comes into site. We see the occasional dolphin in the distance and a seal but they are not playing today. A little breeze sets in so we try to sail but we only do about 3 knots so we give in and motor into Campbeltown, arriving about a quarter to four.

Campbeltown is a small working port and yachts have to moor outside the harbour on a pontoon to one side in the bay. We moor against a rrestored fishing boat, obviously someones pride and joy as space has been reserved for members of the RYS (Royal Yacht Squadron) who duly arrive. We go ashore, pay our harbour dues at the loacl hotel and walk down to the local Tesco and butcher to get provisions. We find the local swimming baths which is where yachtsmen have to have their showers as there is no local amenity block here.

Campbeltown is rather run down and the people seemm dour after the freindliness of Northern Ireland so we return to the boat and have a good curry with Scottish lamb. Tomorrow we plan to go up the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran, whoise mountains we can see in the distance.

Ship’s log

Distance today:  35.7 nautical miles

Total distance to date: 817.2 miles

Engine hours today: 6.2 hours

Hours sailed today: 8.3 hours

Total hours sailed: 180.1

Fair winds to you all

Yvonne & John