Passage 18, Scrabster to Loch Ewe

This passage begins with a synopsis of each day I have been stranded in Scrabster:

Day 1: Saturday 23rd May

Arrival day ignominiously being towed by a lifeboat. Called local engineering firm to start engine repair proceedings.

Day 2: Sunday 24th May

A chap from the engineering firm came down and confirmed my water pump had seized. I then decided to do one of my explorations upon my bicycle. I chose to go west along the cliff road to Raey past the decommissioned Dounraey power station (no entry permitted). There was a harsh westerly wind and I made painfully slow progress. I had to control myself not to get angry as cycling into a 25 knot wind is really, really not fun at all. Despite this I had two very pleasant diversions.

First, I was able to assist a shepherd herd his flock with his dog. I wrote a separate blog which details the experience in a slightly jocular manner, though all of it is true (except for the wolf suit). That was fun.

Next I happened across a sign to an historic 12th century church ruin. Lovely, let's go see. I rode down a little track, and then the signs indicated  to cross sheep-filled fields so I walked the rest of the way. It was beautiful countryside indented with rocky inlets from the sea. I then had to traverse a bridge crossing a small river which bore the sign "Do not cross this bridge. It is unsafe". I peered around it and it all seemed pretty robust to me. In fact in consisted mostly of two extremely stout iron girders astride which were fairly hefty planks of wood to walk on. I think H&S must have had a look at it and discovered some rot in some corner somewhere. I walked gingerly across it along the side with my weight on those girders. Not a judder. As I neared the ruins I heard loud gunshots and immediately took cover. At ease ... there was a firing range shooting out to sea on the other side of the church. Anyway, the church was indeed in a thoroughly ruinous state and appeared to have been built to cater for a flock of about 3, such was its size.

When I returned to my bike I continued to Raey (10 miles in total). By the time I got there I was thoroughly pissed off with the wind and freezing cold. A large cappuccino will do nicely I thought. Sadly Raey was not the kind of village to support an enterprise as ambitious as a coffee house and I wearily turned the bike round for the 10 mile return journey. It may well have been cold and wet, but I never felt a breath of wind on my face as the miles flew by.

Day 3: Monday 25th May

I got another visit from the engineering firm who took my water pump away - they did not have one in stock and they'll order one tomorrow (today is a bank holiday). I decided today would be jobs day. I went into Thurso (a mile or two east of Scrabster) and bought a few provisions and various bits and pieces. Hooks in particular so that I have more designated places to hang stuff out of the way on the boat. I also fixed up an extension to my shore power so I can now locate the heater in my front cabin and charge my phone while it is beside me in bed. Perfect. Otherwise, I was pretty tired today and didn't do too much else worthy of note in this illustrious journal.

Day 4: Tuesday 26th May

Today was trip to the Orkney's day. Yes, I know, I've just spent 3 days there but there's lots to see. I wanted to see the museum in Lyness which was all about Scapa Flow being the home of the British naval fleet in the 1st and 2nd world wars. Fascinating stuff and although I could only spend 1.5 hours there it was well worth the other 9 hours it took for the round trip!

It began at 8:15 as I cycled the few hundred meters to the ferry in good time for it's 8:45 scheduled departure. Only to discover that I was just in time as they have a policy of leaving early if all booked passengers/cars are on board! 2 hours later I'm cycling from Stromness to Houton to catch another smaller ferry to Lyness. I had the wind behind me for most of the time and made the 7 mile trip within half an hour to be in plenty of time for the 1 hour ferry ride to Lyness. Got there at 12:30, rushed the museum to get the return ferry at 2pm. Ideally I'd have liked 3 hours for the museum - it's an indoor/outdoor experience based on the principle site (now mostly dismantled) of operations at war time.

I was apprehensive about the ride back - 7 miles to windward. Horrible. As it turned out I managed quite well and got back in just under an hour. I went and bought a bottle of whiskey to give to my RNLI friends and was on the return ferry at 4:45pm. I indulged in a ferry canteen supper and ... wait for it ... a PUDDING. I felt stuffed after all that. Back at the boat by 6:45pm.

A good day. 

Day 5: Wednesday 27th May

Got the bill for the engine repair. Let's just say that my friendly engineering firm didn't miss an opportunity. Diametrically opposite treatment I got from Ralph in Stromness who, despite being the most qualified and respected engineer in the whole region, attended to my needs with scant regard for profiteering.

In the morning I went over to the RNLI station and hung out with them for a couple of hours (having brought a modest offering). Andy the engineer was most forthcoming about the station, their activities and general mode of operation. I feel satisfyingly informed about all things life boaty. All very interesting for a nosy, curious being like myself.

The afternoon seemed to take care of itself as I made a few short excursions, worked in my office (the smelly fish market laundry room) and poured over the latest weather forecasts to go over various passage scenarios both in terms of getting out of Scrabster and my subsequent progress down the west coast.

Day 6: Thursday 28th May

In the morning I cycled to Thurso in order to buy some largish plastic containers in which I intended to store my soya milk and my gas bottles. Both need to be kept dry and their current location was not achieving that.

Actually, before that I went and pestered the RNLI bods again and now have nice photos of their boat and of "Wing" the coxswain and Andy the engineer.

On the way back from Thurso my wallet dropped out of my pocket onto the road and despite a car warning me that it had dropped out, I completely failed to find and retrieve it after several hours of searching. I am now without id, cards or cash. Great. Police informed etc etc. Afternoon spent cancelling cards and blog writing. Very frustrating.

I went back at 5pm to have one final look and to search further afield. Quite literally; in the neighbouring fields. Full of Mummy sheep who really did not look like they were going to behave like sheep are supposed to behave. They faced up to me and advanced! Once or twice I spotted what might have been my wallet but turned out to be a lump of brown sheep dung. I was just a little perturbed to think that my nice smart brown leather wallet could resemble these evacuations. Perhaps next time I'll buy a pink wallet with yellow spots.

I did have a highlight of the day, however: Cups tea room. This was a little oasis of genteelness right on my doorstep! Literally opposite my boat was this little tea room sandwiched between drinking and eating establishments clearly designed for hardened, rowdy fishermen. I only noticed them because they favourited one of my tweets! So in I went. To be greeted by a transition so stark it took my breath away. Out from the cold, harsh environs of a working fishing harbour and into a pastel coloured, dainty tea room with fancy cakes and little tables with fine bone china tea cups and pots. I ordered conservatively given my new financial circumstances. Tea and a modest slice of carrot cake. Tea came in a little pot with a hand knitted cosy to keep it nice and warm. All served by a most agreeable tea lady. I chatted with her and then with a bloke who appeared to be he who made the cakes. I remarked on the extraordinary juxtaposition of this little pool of tranquility and the harsh outdoors. He assured me that the hairiest and hardiest of fishermen and bikers alike frequently took tea here. Judging by the size of the little cups, I would have thought many would be pouring their second after just one gulp. But perhaps they have all learned the art of sipping as did I.

Day 7: Friday 29th May

The day started well: The police rang me and I went "Oooh" on the phone when they said who they were. Yep my wallet had been handed in. The only fly in the ointment is the fact that I've cancelled all my cards. But I got £40 cash back as well as another £100 by paying a local business by bank transfer and they then giving it me in cash.

I also prepared the boat more and re-organised stowage space in a better way. I gave the boat a scrub inside and out. I'm fully provisioned, fuelled and ready to go.

I've paid my dues to the Harbour master who has been very generous with his charges. I've said good bye to the RNLI folks and told them to have their bleepers ready as I'm going out!

And finally … the passage

This was going to be a biggy. Weather windows these days are few and far between and I intend to make the most of this one. I have 24 hours. While this window is better than none, it’s not exactly ideal. Winds on my nose to start followed by no winds at all followed by some wind on my beam hopefully towards the end. So lots of motoring.

As it turned out 77 miles of motoring to be precise, which required no less than two in-flight re-fuelings. Meaning that I had to fill up my main tank from my jerry cans while underway. First one was just before going round Cape Wrath in a fair old sea swell - turned out easier than I expected and I hardly spilt a drop. Second one was before nightfall some 30 miles before arrival (needlessly as it turned out because I sailed for most of this).

I’d met a nice chap called John who needed to get his boat to the west coast as well and he decided to leave with at 6am. It’s nice to have another boat with you.

It was a tough old passage. Not just because it was long. Apart from a brief 5 mile spell of windward sailing on the North coast I motored the other 45 miles solid with wind against (while it existed) and a sea swell. What with tides one way and the other I was going at anything between 3 knots and 5 knots. Slow progress.

Not as slow as going round Cape Wrath, mind. I crawled round there at an agonising 2 knots. This was worse than expected, though I knew I’d have contra tides. I can’t choose my tides AND my weather window! By this time there was no wind at all, but the sea was pretty rough because the waves were coming from more than one direction and they were generally against the tide. Not pleasant motoring. I had to helm as the autopilot could not manage at that ground speed what with the boat being tossed from side to side.

As I rounded the cape at a snails pace I rejoiced as the north coast slowly disappeared from view. It’s not been a happy union, me and the north coast. I thought the cape looked menacing, ominous and unfriendly, though very grand. It was another 30 miles before its light finally disappeared from view and I was rid of it.

I was now sailing (well, motoring) south and I didn’t care how fast I was going - this was a real turning point. As the tide slowly eased my speed southward gradually increase over a period of a few hours from 2 knots up to 5 knots. Some dolphins put in a brief appearance and danced for me by way of congratulations (so I liked to think).

As expected, the wind started to pick up on my beam as night began to fall so I put my sails up and eventually turned the engine off just before passing Stoerhead. The moon was out and my night sail started very pleasantly. A decent F3 breeze on my beam pushing me with the tide at 6 knots, sometimes 7. Perfect. 

Except, passing Stoerhead in shallower waters, I suspected there may be rich pickings for lobsters so I kept an eagle eye out for pot buoys. Luckily I was heading straight towards the moon and it shone a convenient light on the waters in from of me. No pots, though, so all good. After that I knew I had an uninterrupted (deep water) run and so I cat napped for an hour or two.

The wind increased however and the weather deteriorated so I then had to pay attention. As I neared Loch Ewe, it started raining so things became rather unpleasant. Entering Loch Ewe was definitely unpleasant. Now the wind was strong against me (sails down motor on), and I was being blasted with freezing rain. How I begged for Summer to please come soon. It’s just like Winter and I had my full set of layers on as usual to keep the cold out.

I got to my intended anchorage point (Loch Thurnaig) at 6am - exactly 24 hours since I started and exactly my ETA. I chose my anchoring spot carefully as I new the weather was about to get nasty and the wind was going to come full pelt. I wasn’t wrong.

So I anchored, tidied up, had some soup and got some sleep.


After a week’s wait for a weather window and with my engine fixed, an epic passage (for me) of 106 miles in 24 hours exactly. 77 miles motored unfortunately, but needs must. Engine performed flawlessly. I’ve broken the back of this stage 2 and two more passages will get me to Armadale

Passage 19, Loch Ewe to Kyleakin