Stowed away in Stornoway

Stornoway has me locked in! I always planned to spend a few days here but this is the first time that I only have one option of which way I go from here and that is to the northeast. I have made my peace with the elephant and I’m happy to go and meet him but the wind hasn’t allowed me to put my money where my mouth is. It’s either been blowing a gale albeit in the right direction or blowing some kind of wind, either too much or not enough out of the east or northeast, the wrong direction. It’s just over 70 miles to the only viable stopover which is called Loch Eriboll which is just past the northwest tip of the mainland. I need a favourable wind for this, firstly for the obvious reason and secondly because at over 70 miles I need to be doing it in a straight line and not tacking against the wind which would make the distance too far and too tiring for a one man crew and too hard on the boat if it’s windy.
Throughout this entire trip all the way here to Stornoway I have taken shelter from three or four gales but since being in Stornoway there have been three in a week! This place is right in the path of anything that rolls across the Atlantic and up to the windy Norwegian sea area. After I got here I didn’t check the weather for a few days because I didn’t want to feel pressured to take an opportunity to leave early as I wanted to explore and enjoy being here. After a few days I did check and realised that I wouldn’t be going anywhere soon so that’s it! This is my longest stopover but I don’t mind at all because I love it here.
The main port area is busy and has some heavy commercial ship movement but round the corner where I am is a lot quieter and although still busy from a fishing perspective, it’s not noisy. There is enough going on to make it interesting and so far I haven’t got bored of watching the very tame harbour seals follow each fishing boat in and wallow around in the water right next to them waiting for any unwanted fish to be thrown over the side. I’ve been busy too. Ok, not in the sense of actually having a job but over the last week I have dismantled and bled my hydraulic steering system for the engine’s outdrive unit in order to work a little gremlin out which I think I have now done, resealed a couple of leaky windows, changed the engine oil, filter and fuel filters and even treated Fiesta to a new carpet. The old one was a bit grubby and after I gave Max his hair cut on it I could never get the dog smell out! I happened to walk past a carpet shop with a sign saying ‘Remnant Sale – Huge reductions’ so I went in, spoke to the owner who was more camp than a row of tents, bought the carpet and his lads very kindly delivered it free of charge to the marina where I spent 5 hours on my knees getting it fitted. What a satisfying job although I have no idea how anyone does that for a living because after 5 hours my knees were f*cked and as I found out the next day, so was my back!
Stornoway Castle and it’s grounds are beautiful. It takes a day to do it justice and whilst I was walking the grounds I noticed all these signs warning pedestrians of the fact that cyclists have the right of way on certain pathways. It turns out that the council here approved and supported the building of five dedicated mountain bike trails in and around the castle grounds and golf course. They are awesome trails and the beauty of being unemployed is that when I am using them everyone else is at work so I have had them to myself and loved it! One big crash into a deep peaty puddle in the first thirty seconds on my first go caused some personal humiliation and pride issues but it didn’t put me off and thereafter I have managed to stay upright!
Last Friday night I decided to mix with some locals and I went out for a beer. This beer turned into a bit of a frenzy. It was the first time I had been in a pub for a few beers since Sarah was with me in Tobermory and the bright lights on the bar, the big thing on the wall which I do remember is called a television and the novelty of being in a small place with lots of people really got me going!
I met and had drinks with quite a few people although the only three that I remember are Ailis who was charming although I can’t remember what she does here in Stornoway, Robert the local bagpipe teacher and Mark the fireman who plied me with Laphroaig! I can remember the pub shutting and the last of us stragglers being shown the door but I can’t remember talking to one of the bar staff who said to me the next night (when I decided to visit the scene of the crime) ‘You found your way back to the boat then last night’!
Yeah, I must have done but I didn’t remember talking to him about anything let alone being the visiting prick who says ‘Oh yah, I have a yacht don’t you know’! Seems that I still have the capacity for alcohol but none of the tolerance!
There has been a steady stream of yachts coming and going whilst I’ve been here and I have outlasted every one of them and that’s because they have all been heading south, only coming here to commence the southbound tour of the Hebrides.
This makes me a little nervous to be honest but doesn’t put me off my quest to round the top. The only thing that I sometimes wish I had is the opportunity to bounce ideas off someone else. It would be nice to have another person to say ‘Yeah, let’s go for it’! Or ‘No, don’t be a knob! Instead I have to form my own plan and work through it a few times to ensure that I am happy before actually setting out to do it. However, this is also one of the things that I love about single handed sailing and in fact that is indeed the whole bloody point of it!  Making you own plans, your own decisions, untying the lines and giving it a crack.
So, my weather window….. As I type it looks like there might be one! After 8 days of wind in the wrong direction it appears that it is swinging to the south again for a time. I can’t just take the opportunity of the correct wind direction being forecast for a day because I have to factor in the 70 mile sail, taking shelter in Loch Eriboll overnight and then needing favourable winds again to take me to Scabster which is another 35 miles to the East. At that point I can go into a harbour where there is proper shelter. Loch Eriboll does apparently provide good shelter but the weather has been changing so much up here lately that I wouldn’t want to be in there trying to hide from a northerly gale. Loch Eriboll is open to the north so that would be far from ideal and I have no idea how good the sea bed is there from an anchor holding perspective. The other thing is that I would actually like to spend a whole day and another night in Loch Eriboll. It really is in the middle of nowhere and I’d like to enjoy that if I can. What this means is that I am looking for a favourable weather window of at least three but for the sake of safety, four or five days of stable and established weather. A few days ago, the top of the country had a forecast of 12 mph from the west but 30 miles above that location the forecast was for 45 mph from the east! So you can see my problem. The last place that I want to be exposed to a surprise vicious full teeth blow job is up on that coast! If the shelter is no longer good enough or safe in Loch Eriboll, what would I do? Go out into the storm? It’s worth thinking about that scenario but really that scenario doesn’t bare thinking about at all! The sea up there can produce 30 plus foot waves and in a wind against tide situation you are in for a whole world of hurt! I feel that both Fiesta and I would have a fighting chance in those conditions but something has gone completely against the plan if I end up putting that feeling to the test. No thank you!
So there you go. In case you haven’t got the message, I’m watching the weather like a pedo watches a playground. Whoops! Sorry about that but what can I do? Sometimes I’m inappropriate.
If my window of opportunity presents itself then I will present myself to it and if it doesn’t, I will stay put for a while longer.
Whatever happens, I need to time my run through the Pentland Firth to coincide with the tide. If this all sounds a little over dramatic then it’s only because of what is written in the pilot books and on various web sites. An extract that sums up the challenge for me is what follows, taken from the ‘Sailnorthscotland’ website:
Tide flows strongly around and through the Orkney Islands. The Pentland Firth is a dangerous area for all craft, tidal flows reach 12 knots between Duncansby Head and South Ronaldsay. West of Dunnet Head and Hoy is less violent. There is little tide within Scapa Flow. Tidal streams reach 8 – 9 knots at springs in the Outer Sound and 9 – 12 knots between Pentland Skerries and Duncansby Head. The resultant dangerous seas, very strong eddies and violent races should be avoided by yachts at all costs.
There you go, that’s why my mouth is dry and my hands are clammy as I type this. However, in the interest of not being over dramatic, this is a passage taken by countless yachts and the point is that with the correct weather, tide and timing this is a totally achievable passage for Fiesta, Max and I and I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve been trying to photograph one of these annoying little runts since I was in Solva and this is the best I’ve managed. Talk about camera shy! Not so for the dolphins that escorted me into Stornoway!
Looking out to sea from just inside the entrance to Stornoway harbour and the lovely sheltered harbour itself
Stornoway lifeboat and the last fish wife
See those things you’re standing on? Yep, they’re called legs…. Ridiculous invention and almost as bad as an adult on a scooter!!
The beautiful castle and it’s grounds
He found out the hard way that it’s just not deep enough
Lastly, with a little extra time on my hands I have uploaded two new videos in the ‘Other bits’ section. If you want to watch them in order, look at “The Crinan Canal” video first!
Stornoway out.

2 thoughts on “Stowed away in Stornoway

  1. Mark, really enjoying the blog freedom is seldom given but worth grabbing with both hands when offered. Escape. Most won’t to do it , I have been recently reading books written by Peter May called the Lewis trilogy as your there seeing the landscape you may enjoy them either now or when you return. Nick W-J


    1. Cheers Nick. Good to hear from you. It was you at the boat show who said ‘You’ve got to do a blog’ so it’s all your fault!
      Thanks also for the book recommendations.
      All the best


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