Saturday, 13 June 2015


We left Robinetta on a mooring near Goat Island and walked round towards the bus station. We fly to Glasgow at 12:25 and then take the train home. We'll be back in a month.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Last day in Stornoway

Stornoway is a great place from which to explore Lewis, so we hired a car yesterday while Robinetta sat in the marina, sporting a few new patches of grey metallic primer. She is looking much shabbier this year than last, mostly because we did not have enough time to get her ready. Hopefully the grey metallic will stop water getting under more of the paintwork and increasing next winter's work!

After getting back from our road trip we used the car to go shopping, and to fetch diesel from a local garage before returning it.

Today Julian totalled up our three week trip. Robinetta (and Worm) have travelled 282 nm in 91 hours under way, 32 of those with the engine on. We only made one passage on engine alone - the short hop from Kyle Rhea to Loch Hourn. We did motor sail now and again but unlike last year, most passages were sailed. We spent 8 days ashore either stormbound or sightseeing. Despite the weather we made full use of our time and achieved all our main objectives.

We had been planning to leave Robinetta in Stornoway Marina. I had phoned and checked that there were no rules on how long visitors could stay since I did not want a repeat of our Bridlington fiasco of last year! They had been fine with it, but now we were there the marina attendants wanted to know who would be keeping an eye on the boat, as it was not their job. This seemed odd, boats are left in marinas all the time! We had made a few friends on the pontoon, with Julian helping out with computer type stuff, and so we asked if anyone knew someone who could keep an eye on Robinetta to keep the marina happy.

We were introduced to Ken Linklater who runs the local moorings society, and he suggested that we might be better on a mooring belonging to a friend of his. The boat that normally used that mooring would be elsewhere for the month that we needed it, and it was in a well sheltered part of the harbour. The owner had dived on it to check it in the spring, and Ken gave us very detailed advice on how to approach it and which bit of the bay to stay clear of. Perfect! A wooden boat is always better on a swinging mooring than on a pontoon, as the drying effect of the sun is spread more evenly.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Skebadale Bay

Our last stop was Skebadale Bay, which is gorgeous, and very close to where the Lewis Chessmen were found.

Bosta - Great Bernera

Great Berbera is the main island in the beautiful Loch Rog. The Iron Age house reconstruction at Bosta has a thatched roof in most photos online but they have now replaced it with turf as the thatch was only lasting a couple of years.

One of twelve tide bells installed around the British Isles. It rings at high water.


There are three stone circles at Callanish, although most people only visit Callanish I, the largest, where the interpretation centre is located.

Dun Carloway Broch

It was interesting to compare Dun Carloway with the brochs in Orkney. The basic idea is very similar, but different sites bring different issues, and there were no obvious buildings outside Dun Carloway, unlike the Broch of Gurness. The inside was larger, and the presence of openings from the intrawall stairs into the main area made it obvious that people did move around inside the walls.

Butt of Lewis

The Butt of Lewis is officially the windiest place in the UK.

The light house has been converted so it no longer has a traditional Fresnel lens.

The cliffs are spectacular. From some aspects there is a weird optical illusion where the left hand bay looks about 300 feet below the level of the water to the right of it and the far right ocean looks even higher. It doesn't show in these pictures.
Even on the calmest day we had, the surf is impressive.

Nesting shags are a feature. I'm quite pleased with the new camera. These are at almost full (50x) zoom.

We aren't sure what these birds are.
The seals seemed to be enjoying the surf.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Loch Shell to Stornoway

Last night's anchorage was not as flat calm as Plocrapool, but we only rolled a little bit in the gusts, and Worm stayed solidly out of the way on her rope off Robinetta's stern. A bit of kelp came up on the anchor chain, and I needed a little engine assist to help break out the anchor, but nothing major.

The Wykeham-Martin gear had no spare turns on it, so I put some on by hand before raising the no 1 jib. This turned out to be a bad idea as I wound them on the "wrong" way so the job unfurled itself as I hoisted it. It had to come down again, the Wykeham-martin drum reloaded, then the jib hoisted.... By the time I had done all this we were at the entrance to Loch Shell and beginning to roll in the sea swell. I had been planning to raise the main as well (it was my turn) but Julian took pity on me, and handed over the tiller so he could raise the main. I turned back into the loch to go head to wind while he did it, then it was out towards the sea.

The course towards Stornoway was a dead run, and there was a lot of swell to make the boom waver, but once we rigged a preventer all the fears of an accidental gybe disappeared and we had a lovely sail up the coast.

Back in Mallaig I had bought a snap shackle, and Julian spliced a rope round it with a thimble. The idea was to use this as a mooring line, but the snap shackle turned out to be too small to fit on to the massive rings on the local mooring buoys. However the rope and shackle turned out to be a good piece of kit to use as a preventer, with the rope tied round the boom and the shackle clipped onto the shrouds. This is much easier to disengage than a rope tied both ends.

Once round Kebock Head we were able to gybe Robinetta onto the port tack and by the time we passed the entrance to Loch Erisort the wind had come round enough for us to be on a broad reach rather than a run. Approaching Stornoway the wind strengthened, and we thought about reefing, but Julian was on the helm and strong enough to hold her, and we did not have far to go.... We did furl the jib away though, and were still doing 5 knots.

We lowered the main just opposite the ferry dock, as that stretch of water was head to wind, then motored towards the marina. I called the harbour up, and for this first time this cruise there was someone there to answer! We got directed to a berth, and helped into it by the crew of the Norman James. We had seen them in Canna and Loch Boisdale, and talked to them in Loch Maddy. Now we met them again for the last time before they head towards the Orkney's tomorrow.

Stornoway marina seems like a good place. There are well places cleats on the pontoons, good showers, and plenty of local amenities. Tomorrow is a shore exploration day!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Shiants to Loch Shell

Leaving the Shiants was disappointing but the right decision. I had made sure there was a plan B and Loch Shell was less than two hours away. Outside the narrows we really got into overfalls and the wind was nasty too, and we had an uncomfortable ten minutes before things settled down.

After a while Alison noticed I was sailing very badly. I realised I was tired too and had been resting rather than concentrating. We got the jib out and trimmed the sails, picked back up to 4-5 knots and headed towards Loch Shell. The sun shone on Lewis, and then on us, so we had a lovely sail back across the Little Minch. Once in the shelter of Loch Shell we were soon getting the sails down to pick a careful path through rocks to an anchorage tucked in behind Eilean Lubhard, north west of Sgier Ghlas.

Anchoring two nights in a row, with a brunch anchorage thrown in, has certainly given us both practice at anchoring. So far the fisherman's anchor has worked well for us. We put out 3-4 times scope of chain (sometimes 5 if we are feeling anxious), and have not dragged once.

The Shiants

We both wanted to see the Shiants. They have been on our radar since we read Adam Nicolson's book 'Sea Room'. Alison thought we would want to reef more when clear of Scalpay but the wind was steady and the sea was a nice gentle roll from the stern quarter. We had a glorious very broad reach all the way to the Shaints, making 5½ knots on reefed main.

The wind did shift a little. Initially I set a course for the recommended entry from the south. There are overfalls marked but they are a good way south of the islands. Then the wind backed and it looked easier to make for the north end. The tide runs up to 3 knots through the narrows but it is the standard way in from Stornoway. Then the wind veered again and we ended up at the south end. The stack heading out west was stunning and the terns, cormorants, fulmars, guillemots and puffins were out in force. Both sky and sea were thick with birds. As we rounded Eilean an Tighe the sea did get up. The overfalls do get close after all. The wind was stronger than we had hoped too. The cliff is an incredible display of columnar basalt, painted with lichen, and decorated with nesting birds.

I was afraid the wind would blow straight across the isthmus where the normal anchorage is and I was proved right. I hoped the alternative northern anchorage would be calmer but there was swell in the whole bay and the wind seemed to be blowing down the steep slope of Eilean Garbh. We knew it did in strong winds but I had hoped for calm weather.

We went head to wind, turned the engine on and got the main down.

Once Robinetta was under easy control we explored the bay between Eilean an Tighe, and Garbh Eilean. Staying overnight had always been dependant on how the anchorage felt, and we both decided that we would rather not risk it. It felt a shame to leave the birds, but we got the main back up and set off towards the mainland through the north entrance.

Alison was tired - she had helmed all the way from Tarbert and didn't want to stop but it was time, so she handed the helm over to me.

East Loch Tarbert

After a lovely peaceful night in Plocrapool it was time to up the anchor and head further up the Loch. It was only about 3 miles to East Loch Tarbert, so we could have just motored, but with a lovely wind just outside the shelter of the anchorage Julian decided we should sail. After hauling up the anchor and stowing it we turned back to get the main up inside the anchorage. A surprised seal fell off the tiny pinnacle of rock it had been hauled out on as we changed course in front of it. Until I heard the splash I thought it was a rock itself!

Once clear of the rocks the engine went off, and we had a lovely sail up to East Loch Tarbert. There used to be visitor's moorings there, but they have gone, and now everyone needs to anchor. I laid out fifteen meters of chain on the deck and dropped anchor quite close inshore to be out of the ferry's turning circle.

After a trip ashore in Worm to check out Tarbert and have brunch at a lovely coffee shop it was back to Robinetta to up anchor again. The ferry was in, but seemed to be having problems, so although it was fully loaded even before we got back on board Robinetta it stayed put. The bow doors were up, but it was using its bow thrusters the back wash from which sent Robinetta dancing round her anchor in an interesting way! We were glad to get clear.

We got the main and staysail up, but left the jib (no1) furled as we were sailing on a virtually dead run. A gust came, and Robinetta set off like a scalded cat. I found her difficult to hold, so we went head to wind and reefed away a couple of rolls of sail round the boom. There were no problems after that as we sailed under Scalpay bridge and set course for the Shiants.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Loch Maddy to Plocrapool

After a morning of shopping, museum visiting and blogging we left Loch Maddy at 1300. It was another cold and damp day, but with a good sailing wind and calm seas. Once again, after the sails were up, we did not need to tack, but stayed on port, with various sail sets all the way up the coast. We stayed quite close in until we got to the end of North Uist and had good views of the coast, but then we headed directly for East Loch Tarbert. Visibility decreased as we got further off shore, and thick cloud often hid South Harris, meaning we needed a compass course rather than aiming for a headland.

Our speed was generally good, with 5 knots in the gusts, and never dropping below 3 ½ knots, so it was a good sailing day. The weather was pretty dreary though. We had a lovely five minutes when we were in a patch of sun shine, but that was all.

We had been thinking of anchoring at Scoravik on the east side of Scalpay (a large island in the entrance to East Loch Tarbert), but the wind backed a little, and threatened to go round further which would have put us on a run, which is not a relaxing point of sail. In order to keep the wind more on the beam we shifted our destination to Plocrapool inside East Loch Tarbert. It looks scary on our GPS charts, but the Antares Charts surveyed it last summer, and using them took the worry out of the “uncharted rocks” danger area of our other charts!

We dropped the anchor exactly as recommended by Antares, which does feel close to the rocks, but the anchor is holding well, and it is very sheltered. Anchoring always feels like an adventure, but the Clyde Cruising Club pilots, and the Antares charts take the worry out of it.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Lochboisedale to Loch Maddy

The wind was still blowing hard when we woke this morning. The 07:10 forecast sounded hopeful but we had a lie in and then pottered about waiting for it to sound better. There was one essential job to do before we could leave. On the way out of Eriskay the gaff outhaul had chafed through. When we got to Lochboisedale I checked the gaff and the end plug was loose so I pulled it off. Yesterday we found some PVA in the shop so I glued it back in and tensioned it with gaffer tape. This morning I took the gaffer tape off and the glue seems to have worked a treat. I untied the broken outhaul line and brought it below. We had only lost about 18" so I cut, heat sealed and served the broken end and all was good.
I didn't want to just tie the sail back on, if the line chafed once, it would do it again. I found a piece of threaded rod - the same as I used to bolt the spar end to the gaff. It fitted the hole in the gaff perfectly, tapping itself in. I cut it to length and screwed it in, using the mole grips to twist it. About 3/4" poked out each side to make a cleat. I wormed the thread on the ends with serving twine and parcelled them with gaffer tape and served them with tarred marlin. That made a nice smooth cleat that will not slide or put load on the inside of the hole.
The wind was still blowing but I took the sail cover and ties off so I could raise the gaff a few inches and tied the outhaul round the new cleat. We were a sailing boat again. We got the No. 2 jib on and untied the two extra shore lines so we just had bow, stern and springs. We were being blown strongly onto  the pontoon.
There is a weather station on the internet quite near. It was reading 12 mph gusting 18. We seemed to be in a blowy part of the island. We debated with the boat next to us - they were off to Barra via Eriskay. About 12:30 we decided to poke our nose out. Our berth companion did a sterling job of pushing Robinetta away from the pontoon as we motored out. In the outer loch we turned towards the wind to raise sail but had to wait a moment to let a fishing boat in and then raised the deeply reefed main.
Outside it was fine. The wind blew mostly west giving us a nice close reach. The seas were really slight. Throughout the day we had periods when fronts went overhead and the wind got flaky but mostly we had a really good reach at 4 1/2 to 5 knots. It went light enough that we shook out some reef and tied the bottom hoop back on and fitted the No. 1 jib but the gusts were strong enough were were both happier leaving some reef in.
Ushenish Lighthouse plagued me for what seemed like hours. It felt like we couldn't get past it. We dropped below 2 knots and then got back up to 4 but we still seemed stuck. It just took patience though and once past we picked up speed again and had a fantastic sail with plenty of blue sky between the cloud fronts. The coastline is quite fine along both Uists but very flat past Benbecula.
As we neared Madagh Mhor I looked to find the entrance to Loch Eport - the stone circle we walked to is at the head of the loch. The entrance is invisible until it is abeam and then it stands out clearly as a complete hole in the coastline! Madagh Mhor itself is an impressive site. Almost vertically sided on the west and sloping on the east.

We lost the wind as we neared it and went between it and the mainland under motor. Once through and round the headland we were perfectly head to wind and had just the right amount of time to drop the main, shake all the reef out and flake it nicely on the boom for once.
The ferry startled us a bit, deciding to leave just as we approached the harbour, but it decided to take the other channel out. Both visitors moorings were taken but there was plenty of space on the brand new pontoons. A lady from another yacht took our line as we moored - they had seen us in Canna but came straight to Loch Maddy and have been here ever since.
It was about 8:30 pm. We were both too tired to want to explore so Alison stayed outside to put covers on and I cooked. The cupboard was a bit bare but I suddenly discovered I was making pipperade so I looked for some fish to put in it. Alison remembered she had bought a tin of eel in some kind of sauce. It made a delicious slightly Chinese tasting anti-pasta which we followed with penne pasta in tomato and wild mushroom sauce (courtesy of Mr Grossman). I had a bottle of Skye Red ale and Alison had red wine. I think we set a better table than some establishments, even when the larder is bare!