Scotland: Loch Scavaig and Loch Coruisk

High tide at 6.30 so to ride the ebb south we left at 7am as we had 36nm to reach Loch Scavaig. With little to no wind and unusually calm conditions, we headed south along Kylerhea passing under a 60m electricity cable (they never actually look that high though). This strait can run up to 8kn, but we only experienced 2-3kn. The fastest speed-over-ground for us was a mere 8.5kn. Our friends Kathy and Alan were staying nearby so we took a detour into their bay and waved goodbye, a text confirming they had seen us.

Rounding the bottom of the Sound of Sleat, we headed north west towards Loch Scavaig. To port: the small island of Eigg, and the much larger island of Rhum. Canna is further west and just visible on the horizon.

The entrance to Loch Scavaig is a little tricky, as the chart is not 100% accurate; charts never really are. With the aid of a raster chart and Google Earth, we could identify a rock at the entrance which we gave a wide berth. Two yachts were already anchored and we dropped the hook in 2.5m and laid back to sit nicely just ahead of them, allowing passage for tourist boats ahead of us.

Towering over the anchorage are the high Cuillins of Skye – the highest mountain Sgurr Alasdair at 992m – making this anchorage one of the most outstanding we’ve anchored anywhere in the world. Entry is only by boat, and no roads lead into this pristine area.

From the anchorage at Loch Scavaig, following the fresh water stream over the rocks, the valley opens up over the fresh water lake of Loch Coruisk. Having first met our friends Brian and Chris from yacht “Coruisk” back in 2014, it was a delight to actually be at the place of their yacht’s namesake.

Tourist boats drop people off at the rickety metal steps every half hour or so. Paddling our dinghy across, we tied up to a nearby metal ring to keep dinghy away from the landing area.

This part of the world is truly captivating. I would have liked to have stayed overnight and enjoy the subtle tones of a setting sun or the warm tones of a morning sunrise, but as the anchorage is quite exposed to southerly winds and swell, after a hike and a refreshing dip in the water (in 16degC mind you!), we continued on our way to reach the isle of Canna, some 15nm west, by early evening.

Canna harbour, Small Isles

The harbour at Canna has around ten yellow moorings available for yachts. We anchored south of the landing area in 6m and made sure the anchor was dug in well as we wanted to explore the island on Tuesday and a big blow was due on Wednesday. It’s not clear how much boat weight these moorings can take and with winds expected of up to 35kn we decided to ride it out on anchor.

But before the blow came, we enjoyed a day out with hairy coos, woolly ewes and just a few hundred orange-footed puffins.

 

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Scotland: Skye hooked

Heavy rain, no wind and poor visibility on our way to Skye, we were glad we’d taken the photos the day before at Rona. Dropping the mooring lines we left on high tide and motored along the Sound of Raasay. The peaks of Skye were obscured under low cloud, unlike the previously clear day. Blue Heeler putted into Portree harbour and we found a good anchoring spot away from the mooring area. We dropped anchor in 8m of mud and kelp, making sure to put up the anchor ball to identify our vessel was anchored not moored. Anchoring is free, but moorings are £10 per night payable to an honesty box at the RNLI.

Portree, Skye

Since I hadn’t washed clothes since Kirkwall, I decided to check out the only self-serve laundrette on Skye located next to the brightly yellow painted hostel. Returning the next day while the rain continued to pour down, I arrived just after opening time of 11am to find that of the five machines, two were broken and three were already busy. So I had to wait 45 minutes until my turn. No matter. I walked through town, bought a Scottish flag to replace mine that exploded in the strong winds and poked around the souvenir stores.

Ally and Kathy, Portree, Skye

On our voyages around the world we sometimes meet up with other sailors, but rarely do we meet up with friends from our former land-lubbing lives. I learnt to sail on Port Phillip Bay from 2007 to 2010 aboard a 36′ Beneteau First “Allegresse“. At Skye we met up with skipper Kathy and first-mate Alan from Melbourne – quite a surprise.

We joined them on a couple of day trips around Skye and the weather was perfect. One afternoon we got together at the pub with friends Brian and Chris of ‘Coruisk’ who had eventually managed to leave the windy Orkney isles and head south. It was good to see them again too!

Kyle of Lochalsh

The Kyle of Lochalsh is around 19nm east of Portree. Motoring south of Raasay we then navigated north of Scalpay passing under the 24m Skye Bridge at later in the afternoon. There are small pontoons at Kyle with a ‘donation’ of £2 per metre can be paid online or directly with the friendly pontoon manager. A Co-op supermarket is located conveniently up on the hill, and overlooking the harbour is a community centre which offers showers, toilets and laundry facilities that are better than Portree. Water is available at the pontoon but we had no electricity during our stay as they’d only just put the pontoon together for the summer season.

Kyle of Lochalsh pontoon with Skye Bridge in the background

The next day Kathy and Alan picked us up at around 10.30am for a drive around the mainland. We drove to Plockton where we walked around the small waterfront village, stopping to chat to a local man who was potting about in his veggie garden. He had a good sense of humour and was happy to see a few Aussies visiting his small village, apparently made famous by the series ‘Hamish McBeth’.

Lunch at Uig

The tourist traffic was quite relaxed with ‘passing places’ dotted along the roads to allow vehicles to pass safely. Hikers can be seen on various routes around the rugged hills and forests, and we even stopped to photograph a handsome deer. Our trip took us through Strathcarron and Lochcarron, Kishorn with views across to the hills of Applecross, then up to Shieldaig and finally Torridon where we stopped for a picnic lunch. The road to Kinlochewe gave us excellent views of Beinn Eighe. On the road to Achnasheen we stopped at a roadside cafe opposite Loch a’Chroisg for a coffee and piece of tasty whisky loaf as we sat in the afternoon sunshine.

The following day Alan drove us to the west coast of Skye to Dunvegan, the largest town on the west coast. Before this we visited the lighthouse at Neist Point, Milovaig, plus the unique white Coral Beach south of the island of Isay, near Claigan. The day was beautifully sunny and clear and so picturesque. I took lots of photos, way too many in fact. Once again we stopped for a picnic lunch, seating ourselves amongst the heather and thistles with views of Dunvegan Castle.

The Cuillins

The drive back with the Cuillin mountains to the south was spectacular. We said our farewells to Kathy and Alan – we had a great time exploring Skye and beyond with them.

We planned to leave the following day, making good use of the calm weather. On the high tide we would ride the ebb through the Kylerhea and head around the Sound of Sleat to the south coast to enter the magnificant Loch Scavaig and Loch Coruisk with views of the Cuillins.

It won’t be long before the sou’wester blows in…

Photo by Alan Richardson

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Scotland: The Minch and Highlands

The Minch is the strait of water between the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebrides. Strong south-westerly winds regularly blow up this strait making the trip sailing south particularly challenging.

At the end of June after days of strong south-westerly winds, Blue Heeler had a chance to sail from Orkney. The wind was light and this particular day was the only day with a forecast southeast wind allowing us to leave Kirkwall in relatively light conditions.

Heading north from Kirkwall, Blue Heeler then passaged through the bubbling overfalls or ‘roosts’ of Eynhallow Sound to the south of Eynhallow Island. Although the wind was light – around 12kn from the southeast – an outgoing ebb meeting the incoming Atlantic swell at the breakers around Reef of Burgar, certainly kicked up a fuss.

Tide against swell – Eynhallow Sound

We kept the breakers well to port and wondered why a fishing vessel went north of Eynhallow Island. Perhaps we should’ve followed the local boat? Later though we’d read that it’s not advisable to sail north of Eynhallow. Within moments we’d punched our way through the angry waters and into the incoming swell of the Atlantic. It was still a couple of miles before we could get the sails out and turn south towards Cape Wrath some 65nm away riding the incoming swell along the way. We had wanted to try for Stornoway on the Outer Hebrides, but already the wind had backed.

Loch Inchard

Having just passed the summer solstice, the nights were still quite light. In the darkest hours between 12.30am to 2am we made our way through to an anchorage at Camus Blair in Loch Inchard. Access to the anchorage was straightforward and fortunately there was no fish farm to upset out plans. A couple of buoys nearby didn’t cause any problems when we dropped anchor in 8m at 1.30am.

Night sailing in The Minch

Sleeping late to catch up, we left by 1.30pm for a 20nm trip south to Kylesku in Loch A’Chairn Bhain, located between Kylestrome and Unapool. The famous Kylesku bridge has a 24m vertical clearance and the narrow passage can get lively during strong tides, although it was benign when we navigated our way through.

We tried the anchorage to the south of the small hotel/pub, but with many fishing moorings and the likelihood of fouling our anchor probable, we decided to anchor behind the islands to the east of Kylestrome in 17m. The chart indicated a muddy bottom and once we’d decided where to anchor, avoiding the fish farm platform plonked in the middle of the anchorage, we dropped the pick and it held straight away.

Kylesku

With wind upwards of 30kn for a few days, we remained holed up at Kylesku. My handmade Scottish courtesy flag blew apart at the seams from flogging against the capstay. The few days on anchor were drizzly and cold. On the nearby island I could see seals sleeping on the sun-warmed kelp as the water level dropped 4m due to spring tides. We didn’t venture ashore as there was no decent place to land, and the fetch on the water was fairly rough. The anchorage is remote and we could pick up just enough 4G signal to download the weather forecast. Alternatively the Stornoway Coast Guard reports the weather every three hours from 0710 on VHF16.

 

Anchored at Kylesku

A few days later, the tides, wind, weather gods, all aligned so we planned to leave in the evening and sail 40nm south to Ullapool. Our ETA was 4am, which at this time of year gave us enough light to enter the harbour.

We weighed anchor and I was surprised to see absolutely no mud or kelp! I have no idea what we had hooked onto over the four day blow, but it had grabbed and stayed put on something. One lonely piece of slippery kelp was all I had to remove as the fluke of the anchor positioned itself into the bow roller.

The seas were rough, despite the wind at a relatively comfortable 12/18kn. Blue Heeler was knocked around, making the trip slightly less comfortable that we’d hoped. We motored through the Loch A’Chairn Bhain on a west heading before passing the Old Man of Stoer column as we turned south. With rough seas causing our sails to flap and fold, we decided to motor-sail this trip.

With no moon that evening, and plenty of rain clouds around, surprisingly we could still see the horizon in the darkest hours between midnight and 2am. In the drizzle we navigated our way south-east through the Summer Isles. Amazing as it sounds, our radar did pickup some of the buoys from fishing floats, but that wasn’t always the case. To be sure we didn’t snag any on our prop, I sat outside the cockpit in the cold with the binoculars to keep a lookout for buoys, which weren’t easy to spot in the semi-darkness. It’s all very well to snag a rope in the tropics and jump in to remove it, but up here it’s not a task that either of us would want to do at midnight in cold water.

By 2.30am the glow of the morning sun started to brighten the sky. Fishing vessels from Ullapool left for work as we entered the exposed harbour. I hooked one of the eight visitor moorings and we went to sleep until late morning.

Ullapool

The dinghy hasn’t been used much over the past year. We did use it at Papa Stour in Shetland but ‘Trusty’ the Tohatsu outboard didn’t play nice and we had to row back to the boat. Wayne took Trusty apart to see if there was a problem, but no evidence of fuel problems. So we launched the dinghy, pumped it up then put Trusty on the transom. Wayne gave it a spin around the harbour and it ran fine.

Ullapool, Scotland

After a hot shower and lunch we went into town, tying dinghy up to the floating dock, out of the way of incoming tourist vessels.

At the Ferry Boat Inn overlooking the anchorage, we had a couple of ‘Speckled Hens’. Tesco is a short walk away and after replenishing our supplies with fresh food, we bought some deliciously hot fish and chips; the warm salt and vinegar steam teasing our tastebuds until we could indulge back on board.

The next day had winds up to 30kn so we sat aboard and did mundane tasks. The bay was like a washing machine as it’s quite exposed to the south and west.

Eventually the blow dissipated and the calm returned. We had thought of getting fuel at Ullapool, but the only option was to utilise 20 litre jugs to fill up with. Not so convenient for 250 litres, so we would wait. We had to go ashore and pay our mooring dues of £13 per night for three nights, then we went back to the pub for a beer, then Tesco’s then the chippy…

Next day we departed at 10.45am on high tide and 12kn wind. But the wind was from the west so it didn’t take much of a decision to go only 3nm to Loch Kinaird and drop anchor there. No point bashing head on into wind and waves.

Loch Kinaird to Loch Shieldaig, Gairloch – 36nm

We sailed west for a couple of hours, but the wind died and we had to motor the rest of the way. The day was sunny and fresh and the visibility was clear enough to see the Hebrides.

The anchorage within Loch Shieldaig to the south of Gairloch is open to the north. With light winds forecast we anchored in 6m to the north of the moorings.  On the way into the anchorage we pulled into the floating dock at Gairloch to fill our water tanks.

Gairloch to Arcairseid Mhor, Rona – 18nm

Another fine and warm day of around 15degC. The cockpit is like a conservatory, often 10degC warmer than outside. We sat and had our morning coffees in the cockpit, but again no 4G signal, so we listened to some podcasts instead.

Our plan was to get diesel from the Gairloch wharf. I had only £140 cash remaining on me and the harbour master only accepts cash. Once tied up I went to the store/post office to withdraw money, but they wouldn’t accept a foreign debit card. I then walked to the Bank of Scotland about five minutes walk away but the ATM was broken. When I was finally served in the bank I was told they couldn’t help me with a withdrawal either. Bummer. So I had to walk back to the boat and hoped that Wayne hadn’t already started filling the tanks. In the end we put in 100 litres of red diesel and said goodbye to the friendly harbour master.

The wind was on the nose but no more than 10kn and slight seas. Visibility was excellent and we could see all the way across The Minch to the Outer Hebrides. The lighthouse of Redpoint is at the head of Loch Torridon to the east and we travelled south into Inner Sound before turning west through the strait between Raasay to the south and Rona to north.

The entrance to the anchorage was hard to spot visually, but charts are good and we made our way through at mid tide. There isn’t much room to anchor and five moorings now fill the only available space. Clearly marked in Sharpie on the buoys, the fee to moor is £15 per night plus a landing fee of £1 per person. An honesty box is located up from the jetty, complete with change if you need.

To get the most out of our stay we went ashore and walked along dirt tracks until we found one that lead to the highest point. Views across to Skye were excellent and our little Blue Heeler bobbed down below us all alone in the bay. The day was warm so we knew a change was coming. Back on board we settled in for the night listening to bird calls and heavy morning rain.

The following day we headed over the sea to the mystical island, Skye.

 

 

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Something about Scotland

In 2017 when we sailed across the Atlantic from the Caribbean to Ireland and UK, Scotland was just a little too far north to see everything in a few weeks. By all accounts, Scotland’s waters are considered the world’s best sailing grounds, This year, 2019, Blue Heeler and crew are giving Scotland our full attention.

Sailing around Scotland in summer offers stunning landscapes, historic castles, Neolithic and Monolithic sites, an abundance of birdlife and sealife, and for the sailor, strong winds and currents, and even a few sunny days to remind you it is actually summer. Sou’westers roll in regularly from the Atlantic, taking a break before returning with a fury to test your sailing skills, your patience and your diesel heater. There are plenty of anchorages to hole up for a few days and day hopping is fairly easy. Sailors from warmer climes will use their wet-weather gear and sea-boots more than they may have done and possibly stow their swimming togs, for now at least.

By the time of the summer solstice, daylight extends to over twenty hours giving sailors plenty of daylight to make good distance before darkness. Nowadays there are few places where a 4G signal does not penetrate – Many anchorages have little to no coverage, although weather is announced every three hours from 0710am on VHF16. The modern sailor may find this isolation alarming!

In the north there are fewer marinas than you’d expect and some harbours have visitor moorings, usually for a small fee payable into an ‘honesty box’. Either way the locals will offer a friendly welcome when you visit their village. Anchoring is typically good on a muddy or sandy seabed, once your anchor sinks beneath the thick carpet of kelp. In the larger towns diesel is available from a fishing wharf, but you might find yourself lugging 20 litre containers to fill your tanks. It’s a good idea to carry cash, including a stash of £1 coins, in some cases there is no card machine to pay for fuel. Likewise with laundrettes which may not be so easy to locate. There’s usually a supermarket in a larger town, but provision well, as you may be on anchor for some time.

Tourist towns are bustling in summer and the unique drone of bagpipes is never out of earshot. Despite the crowds, there’s always a seat at a pub for a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties washed down with a local ale. Alternatively your nose will identify the frying smells of a nearby fish and chip shop. Souvenir stores peddle toy puffins, shortbread, tartan, a Celtic quaich, the famous Harris tweed, as well as sweet tablet, jams, gins, and of course, whisky. Summer accommodation is at a premium so living aboard a boat is a great way to travel around. For the sailor, there are hundreds of miles of remote coastline to explore. For the landlubber, there are thousands of miles of hikes and boating day-trips to enjoy too.

The next few posts follow our journey from the northern isles of Shetland and Orkney, then down the western coast of mainland Scotland, the Inner Hebrides islands of Skye and the Small Isles then across to the Outer Hebrides. Along the way my DSLR absorbs much of this enchanting country and I had a hard time choosing my favourite pics!

There IS something about Scotland: it’s simply magical.

Links to posts:

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Scotland: Orkney

The distance from Scalloway on Shetland’s west coast to Kirkwall on Orkney’s Mainland Island is almost 90nm. Our plan was to sail overnight and arrive at Kirkwall the following morning. Although we would have liked to have stopped a night at Fair Isle, located between Shetland and Orkney, the forecast conditions didn’t work in our favour. Nonetheless, sailing conditions were good and with a south-east breeze 10-15kn we made good time. The seas were lumpy, particularly as we crossed the strong current flowing east towards Sumburgh on the south point of Shetland. From there we had around 50nm to reach the northern Orkney Islands.

Midnight in North Sound, Orkney

As we navigated through North Sound the current of up to 2kn was against us, but once through the narrow Lashy Sound between the islands of Sanday (east) and Eday (west), we were lucky to have arrived at the right tide and spurted along the strait at over 12 knots. We had thought of anchoring at the Bay of Carrick in Calf Sound and grabbing a few winks before continuing in the morning, but as we’d entered on an ideal tide we decided to make the most of the speed and continue on. Despite entering the sound at midnight, there was just enough light to see the islands.

Balfour Castle

With a flood tide still in our favour and running east, we crossed the firth and skirted the eastern coast of the isle of Shapinsay. From here we rounded the south coast and headed west through Shapinsay Sound in time for the flood to ease, with less than 2kn against us. Crossing ‘the String’ we arrived at Elwick Bay at Balfour on the south of Shapinsay and anchored at 2am. Balfour Castle was just visible on the hilltop overlooking the quiet harbour. It was light enough to see what we were doing and gradually becoming lighter. The two moorings at Balfour were occupied so we dropped the pick a little farther inside the bay. Conditions were calm and peaceful and I was happy to get some sleep, at least for a few hours. The bay was calm the following morning and after reviewing the tidal information, we decided to leave around 8am for the short 3nm trip to Kirkwall.

Click on the image to read the article

Upon entering Kirkwall Harbour we could see our good friend Brian of “Coruisk” waving us in. We hadn’t seen Brian for over a year and it was good to see a familiar face. Not long after arriving we were approached by a Senior Reporter from the local newspaper “The Orcadian”. He had already done his research on Blue Heeler from our blog after spotting us on AIS, and thought a visiting Aussie crew would have a story or two to tell.  Blue Heeler and Coruisk first met in Sri Lanka in 2014 so it was serendipitous that we should both appear in the same article.

Kirkwall is a pleasant town to stroll around. At least two cruise ships arrived each day increasing the town population by 150%. Orkney Fudge, Orkney Ice-cream, hot pies, tasty meats and treats and souvenirs can be found along Broad Street. Highland Park whisky is distilled on the island so we bought a bottle to try a few drams. There are enough pubs around town to grab an ale and steak pie or perhaps just an ale; a small Seafarers Centre providing help for international seamen supported by an op shop; and standing high above the main street is the impressive St Magnus Cathedral built between 1100 to 1400AD. The Kirkwall Museum is free to enter and has informative displays of neolithic times to the 20th century.

Stromness, at the opposite end of Mainland, is a bus-ride away and can be reached via Skara Brae or directly. The small village is situated along the length of a long coastal road bordered by historic homes, museums, local shops, harbour cottages, and various eateries. A feed of fish and chips and it’s back to Kirkwall.

The Orkney islands are known for their remarkable neolithic ruins – Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Ring of Brodgar, Ness of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness to name a few on Mainland.  The ancient Standing Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar have stood for thousands of years dating to roughly 3,000BC to 2,000BC.

The Ring of Brodgar has the third largest diameter stone circle in the British Isles and is classified as a ‘henge’. We couldn’t access the Ness of Brodgar as excavation is currently underway and it won’t be open to the public until early July.

Stones of Stenness and a woolly ewe

In the same locale are the Standing Stones of Stenness. The stones within this ring are taller than those at the Ring of Brodgar, standing up to six metres high.

Within walking distance from the Standing Stones is the Maeshowe Visitor Centre where you can join a guided tour of the Maeshowe Tomb. It’s not possible to visit the tomb on your own so best to book for the tour online.

Maeshowe Tomb, Mainland, Orkney

This tomb is fascinating – built circa 2,500BC, the mound rises over seven metres from the surrounding field. The entrance to the chamber is low so you have to bend right over to walk in for ten metres or so. Photos aren’t allowed within the tomb, and with the group limited to 20 people, the tour guide had our full attention without people taking distracting selfies. Around the rock walls of the chamber is Norse graffiti which the tour guide translated. Many of the Viking inscriptions were written around 1200AD and the guide’s translation was quite humorous.

Waiting for the bus

Taking the bus out to Skara Brae is around an hour from Kirkwall. Skara Brae is located on the west coast of Mainland. Even if you’re not into neolithic archaeology, the completeness of the remains are significant given they are 5,000 years old – older than Stone Henge and pyramids of Egypt. The stone buildings are close to the water’s edge and I wonder where the beach was when they were built. A storm in 1850 uncovered the stones and since that time the site has been preserved and is recognised as a remarkable example of how our ancestors lived.

All is peaceful now at Scapa Flow – Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney

Jump forward a few thousand years. Orkney was a major strategic location for British military during the two World Wars. To the south of the Orkneys is Scapa Flow – a large body of water with access for trading and war vessels over the years.

On June 21st 1919 after the armistice of the Great war, the Scuttling of the German Fleet took place. This is yet another fascinating wartime story. Of the 50 ships scuttled that day by the Germans, eight ships remain on the bottom of the flow. We arrived the day before the 100th anniversary and Kirkwall and Stromness held a number of commemorative events including the Kirkwall Pipe Band performance down Broad Street.

Later at the start of WWII in October 1939, the HMS Royal Oak was sunk by a German U-boat at the eastern end of Scapa Flow. After the sinking of the Royal Oak, four causeways were built with the intention of protecting the anchorages of Scapa Flow. These causeways, built by Italian prisoners of war, now cater for tourists buses and local traffic.

After crossing one of the causeways to the small island of Lambs Holm, is an ornate Italian Chapel. Built from two Nissen huts, Italian prisoners used limited materials to create a extraordinary chapel in the wilds of Orkney. Above the alter, prisoner and artist, Domenico Chiocchetti, recreated an exquisite depiction of Madonna and Child. The walls and ceilings of the chapel are painted to look like tiles. Really amazing!

During our stay strong westerly winds pinned Blue Heeler on the dock with our fenders about ready to burst. Other days were sunny and some a little drizzly; either way the temperature is steady at between 12-15degC – somewhat cooler than the heatwave happening in Europe.

So after a pleasant week exploring Kirkwall and surrounds, the forecast showed one day of favourable winds so we took the opportunity to depart before the westerly wind resumed.   It wouldn’t be long before the westerlies returned.

Until then…

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