I would prefer not to say that it was an anticlimax but in the interest of honesty, it was a bit. I felt exposed on the north coast following my experience in Loch Eriboll and although it was great to reach Scrabster relatively unscathed by the gale and significantly richer for the experience, I was worried about the Pentland Firth. Every single time I have spoken to anyone about this trip there has always been a point in the conversation that goes ‘Oh, you’re planning on going round the top are you’??? That has always been the main objective for me otherwise I wouldn’t actually be going round anything would I. There is of course nothing wrong with preferring to take the Caledonian Canal and I would have gone through there if I hadn’t felt happy or hadn’t found a suitable weather window and I’m sure I would have loved it but I know I would also have been disappointed and felt unfulfilled. The innumerable amount of eyebrow raising and questioning looks about going round the top did get to me on occasion but without wishing to sound like a cock, my view is that there isn’t much worth doing that doesn’t come with a bit of risk and danger. That’s what makes it fun and challenging isn’t it? My approach has always been to pay the sea and the weather all the respect they deserve but to approach, tip my hat and hope to sneak by unmolested! Ok, so the dinghy and outboard did get a bit molested up in Loch Eriboll but the new oar has been ordered and the outboard is running again so we have recovered nicely from that little ordeal.
So. The Pentland Firth……… Put simply, it was a giant pussycat! No, a cute cuddly bear! No, this still doesn’t go any way to expressing how totally benign it was and how relieved and grateful I was to find it so. I’ll put it another way. It was like running naked into a dark alley knowing that somewhere ahead was a mountain of a man lying in wait with a tub of lube, a shoe horn and a massive boner only to discover, once in his clutches, that he’d run out of viagra and was just one big wet floppy harmless cock! Hmmm, not really sure what that descriptive scenario says about me to be honest but there you go.
Anyway, it was a huge relief and as I said, a bit of an anticlimax. I had experienced far worse tidal race situations going though Kyle of Lockalsh, the narrows near the Kyle Rhea and going through Dorus Mor after leaving Crinan. I’m certainly not saying that all the warnings are without merit. It’s easy to see that with the right (or wrong) conditions the ingredients can come together to make the lumpiest, most foul tasting sh*t sandwich known to man but following much research I chose a time when the wind was blowing gently from the northwest and I entered the Firth when the tide was going in the same direction as the wind. Furthermore, the tide was in it’s Neap phase which means that the high tides are lower and the lows higher so there is much less water being moved about than normal and therefore the flow is both slower and more gentle. As it turned out, whilst going past the Island of Stroma in the tidal race area that is marked on the chart as ‘breaking seas’, I was on the roof doing a repair to the boom wearing shorts and T’s instead of experiencing the white knuckled brown trouser ride that I was expecting!
The moral of this story as far as I am concerned is research, preparation, preparation and preparation. If I ever go through the Pentland Firth again I will try to align the stars in the same manner. I have absolutely no wish to see it serving up it’s house special of double feces on mouldy bloomer with a side of devil’s seamen salad cream! No, no, no thank you very much!
As I said at the start, a bit of an anti climax but one for which I’m grateful and in any event this did not detract from the true fist pumping emotion that I felt for reaching and passing this milestone. I don’t think I had realised just how much that bit meant to me until I had another whisky in my hand and was saying thanks and farewell to the north coast and a cheers and hello to the east coast. My home coast! I left the east coast five months ago and it felt good to be back albeit several hundred miles to the north. It was also strange to see the latitudes going down again on the chart after watching them go up since leaving Tresco.
What this does mean is that I have decided to head south rather than go up and explore the Orkneys. I think the weather has shown me what happens from late August onwards and as much as I would like to sail into the Orkneys, I always said that I would be making my way down from Scotland by September and frankly I feel I would be pushing my luck if I changed this plan. I was on lock down in Stornaway and this cost me two weeks while waiting for a weather window so the Orkneys will have to wait for me to return. My Dad used to say ‘Leave a party early while you are still enjoying it. That way it remains a good memory’. I’ve never been very good at that but on this occasion it makes total sense so I’m taking my old man’s advice.
I arrived in Wick last Thursday after a lovely sail down from John O’Groats. Wick served me well for restocking supplies and getting some desperately needed calor gas. There were also several boat jobs that needed doing so I spent two full days getting on top of those. Throughout this time the wind was blowing hard and for the first time in a long time it was blowing from the southeast, the direction that I wanted to go! These wind gods definitely have a sense of humour! On Tuesday the break came. The direction was still wrong but it dropped off a lot and allowed me to head out and sneak along the coast. I wanted to make some progress and also needed a change of scenery after 5 nights in Wick.
The East and West coasts are like night and day. The scenery is far less dramatic on the east side and whilst the east is often seen as the poorer cousin, I feel that this is a little unfair. Granted, there are far less choices of anchorages and no islands to explore but from now on it’s about sailing this very exposed coast and planning ahead for which tiny fishing harbours you can use depending on tide restrictions and whether or not yachts are welcomed by the local fishing community. In the main I think the answer to the second part is yes. Wick never used to be a haven for yachts or even allow them to enter but now they are welcome. As I type I am moored up in Lybster which is a really small fishing harbour where I am the only yacht amongst local commercial fishing boats. All the fisherman have been extremely friendly and welcoming and I was told which boat would not be going to sea and that I could moor alongside that one and stay as long as I liked! The entrance to Lybster is only 10 meters wide and with the harbour wall on one side, rocks on the other and Fiesta being 5 meters wide, it’s a bit of a heart in the mouth moment but speed and momentum are your friends here so it’s a case of being brave and just getting it done as the waves surge into the entrance and break on the harbour wall and rocks either side of you. Other than the fishing boats, there is a visitors centre with a cafe although it’s only open for a few hours each day and there is one house. It is basic, unspoilt, peaceful and totally protected from the big waves that are crashing in from the North Sea. It’s lovely.
Earlier today I had some drama. Whilst not someone who often feels scared I have now had two frights in a week. First was the vicious blowie I got in Loch Eriboll and the second scare came this morning. I’m still in the process of getting on top of some boat maintenance jobs and one involves replacing a deck fitting on the stern. For this I needed to drill a hole. I have an inverter on board which allows me to run 240 volt equipment from my 12 volt batteries. It basically converts DC power that you get from batteries into AC that you get from your mains electric supply at home. The inverter I have is a top grade expensive unit that has so far been perfect for everything that I have used it for. However, whilst using my electric drill there was a loud cracking noise and the drill stopped. I was immediately aware of an electrical burning smell and turned round to see a plume of smoke coming out of my cabin window which is where the inverter is. I immediately scrambled inside and grabbed a fire extinguisher and went into my cabin. The was a lot of smoke in there and I had to get a torch to try and find the source of the smoke which was indeed the inverter. I was about to unload the fire extinguisher when I realised that the smoke had actually stopped pouring out of the inverter so I just stayed put and watched for a while rather than covering the end of my cabin with white gunge (I’m aware that this doesn’t really sound right does it)…… This scared me. Although it sounds like I’m back in that alley again, there are two things that put the willies up any sailor. Water from the outside getting in and fire! Fortunately for me it’s not always true that where there’s smoke there’s fire so all I have to worry about is the acrid burnt electric smell in my cabin and an inverter that has gone pop. The strange thing is that the inverter has three fault diagnosis lights and they are all still green which apparently means all systems are functioning! It also has an overload protector which is showing a green light and yet something very bad has obviously happened inside. It made me realise that the only person who can put a fire out on this boat in quick enough time would be me. Thankfully I have three well positioned fire extinguishers and I had good access to the problem area had I needed to put some flames out but nevertheless it is quite sobering as this is my home and more than that, the thing that keeps me alive provided that it doesn’t sink or burn when I’m out at sea! I now have a phone call to make and despite my usual laid back approach, if some cock lunch mofo doesn’t immediately sympathise, apologise and arrange to send a replacement unit asap, I will be suggest that I make a special trip and do my best to fit something the same size as a ream of A4 paper but with sharper edges somewhere pink and small! The only problem is that in order to get a signal I have to climb a mountain!
Better get on with it then……
Some wildlife to start off with…. Firstly this cute little guy and then what I think was a Risso’s dolphin that cruised alongside me for a minute or so…..
The captain shouted to anyone who was in earshot, referring to his guest in the red trousers ‘Look at one fat f*cker feeding another fat f*cker’! That’s what treating the customer fairly is all about! Equal abuse for everyone…..
Some pretty big swells cruising along the north coast
Moored up next to the old ice house at Scrabster in prefect shelter which was welcome after the previous night at anchor and the Scrabster RNLI crew going out training.
Onwards to the Pentland Firth. So close and yet so far. Next time I will visit the Orkney’s
John O’Groats, Duncansby Head (the start of the East coast) and going past the uninhabited Island Of Stroma where you can see the tidal race merely trickling along…..
Safely tucked up in Wick away from the waves breaking outside
Wick’s old lifeboat station and the memorial garden to the first WW2 German air raid on mainland Britain
Approaching the entrance to Lybster
Keep the lighthouse on your left, the rocks on your right and breath in!
Fantastic little place of refuge, quaint, friendly and peaceful
There is a little mountain bike video from Stornoway under ‘Other bits’.