After a break to attend to matters domestic, John and James make journey once more to Orkney, via Caledonian sleeper, beautiful train ride to Thurso from Inverness and then ferry to Stromness. Great night in the bar on the sleeper chatting to an Aussie who tries to convince us that the wildlife there doesn’t always see you as dinner. For the first and only time we out-drink an Aussie….but probably due to the fact that he is still jet lagged.
The photo of the Old Man of Hoy is a cheat as it is taken from the ferry…more of that later, but the winds and down draft off the high mountains of Hoy give both of us serious pause for thought, as we are due to sail out past here tomorrow.
We both spend a slightly restless night trying to think through the passage from Stromness to the Western Isles round Cape Wrath in forecast strong winds. Wind in the rigging always sounds grim and at 4 in the morning, the howling and whistling does nothing to reassure. We meet up with Alan and his old fishing skipper colleague who are of the opinion that a Friday lunchtime depart would not be for them. That settles it! If old fishermen aren’t going for it, then neither will we. The forecast for a Friday night departure looks better(ish) with Windy (our favourite weather app) suggesting 5 and 6. But…our own instruments are showing steady winds of F6 with gusts up to 7. We have an afternoon snooze anyway as prep for a night sail. Again, sleep is fitful and finally we have a brain wave…what about a Saturday am departure? The winds should be lighter and although we will have foul tide for a while, it means we can do the whole trip in daylight. It helps to see the waves coming (sometimes)!
We sleep that evening much more soundly but 4am comes indecently rapidly. However, the northern morning sky is already light and we busy ourselves with the usual pre-passage prep. Getting off the berth is tricky, but we are almost like a well oiled machine and soon we are punching out into Hoy sound, sad to be leaving Stromness, but great to be on the move again.
The GPS and our nav instruments tell us that Hoy is there, but we see almost nothing of it as we are spat out with the last of the ebb tide through Hoy Mouth. Completely surrounded by around two shades of grey it feels like we are living in a Rothko. We hope the similarity ends there, as his grey and black paintings were about death (after suffering an embolism), although some describe their desolate landscape-like qualities as an arctic wasteland…
Occasional patches of blue appear…”enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers” as my old grandma used to say, but we see nothing of the north coast of Scotland as we sail with a fresh breeze over the quarter towards Cape Wrath. We have had some conflicting advice about the cape. Some have suggested keeping close inside Duslic Rock, with others saying 3 miles off is the minimum. As it happens, the wind makes the decision for us by veering to a more southerly direction and it makes sense to plan the course for 3 miles off.
The cloud lifts after lunch and Cape Wrath appears faintly off the port bow. Its full majesty isn’t really apparent at first, but as we close the headland we start to get glimpses of the towering hills of the North West Highlands.
As the visibility improved so the wind died and we turned properly south, motoring into an ever more calm sea. By 3pm our first decision…do we head for Kinlochbervie or make some further southing to Lochinver. The weather for the following few days is not brilliant for passages south and we have a date with our wives in Kyle of Lochalsh on Thursday…it would be nice to meet them. We press on in the knowledge that we have a couple of hours fair tide left in our favour and daylight until at least 10pm for the final approach. We settle in for another few hours and the hazy coastline slides past.
We approach the Point of Stoer with a foul current, rain squalls and increasing murk when a school of at least 7 dolphins pass close by making their way north with the tide.
We can finally confirm that David Attenborough has not been guilty of ‘fake dolphins’ and it lifts our spirits as we start to make out Soyea Island and the entrance to Loch Inver. The beauty of this part of Scotland becomes truly apparent in a weak evening sun and we are moored by 9.30 as the only visiting yacht. It’s is not about the numbers, but we covered a distance of 98.3 NM in 16 hours and 45 minutes with an average speed of 5.9knots and a maximum of 10.9 knots…