Sunday, 1 August 2010

Over the top

We had decided to go back to the east coast over the top of Scotland. The 115-mile leg between Stornoway and Stromness in Orkney was very unusual in that we had no wind! We had to motor around Cape Wrath across an uncharacteristically glassy sea. A skua kept us company for a while leaving Stornoway and we saw quite a few dolphins, but they were too busy hunting to do any bow riding. These northern dolphins seem to be a bit more business-like than their southern cousins.

Skua over Lewis

We had planned our arrival in Stromness to coincide with the last of the east-going tide in the Sound of Hoy, where tidal streams run up to eight knots. We were right on schedule as we approached the Sound of Hoy at 5 in the morning. However, we'd been able to see a fogbank hovering over Hoy and mainland Orkney from 15 miles off and it didn't budge. We had to make our way into Stromness in thick fog, with both radar and chart plotter keeping us straight.

Typical sandstone building in Stromness, with inch-think slates

Stromness is a lovely town. Beautiful architecture and a characterful main street with traditional shops. We arrived during Shopping Week (an old Stromness tradition) with pipe bands playing and each shop having special offers. Jim got rather into the spirit of things and acquired a Fladen system floatation suit. An ideal garment for summer cruising in the north of Scotland!

We were by a fair margin the smallest visiting boat in Stromness Marina. The others were mostly pretty massive - quite a change from the West Coast. Roy on Credeau had overtaken us on the motor to Stromness and later cooked us a lovely dinner.

Unfortunately we couldn't hang around (must cruise Orkney by itself for a few weeks sometime!) as we had an appointment with Hoxa Head the next afternoon. It was a neap tide, an ideal time to cross the infamous Pentland Firth, where tides can run up to 16 knots and there are rips, overfalls and general nasties everywhere. We left Stromness in a Force 6-7, but the wind was behind us and we had a blast sailing through the Scapa Flow. We duly arrived at Hoxa Head at High Water Dover minus 6 and the crossing of the Pentland Firth went very well, with only 1 knot of tide with us most of the time. 

We pulled into Wick at around 1900 and fell in with a fun bunch of RAF chaps who accepted us 'snivelling civilians' into their company for a few pints. The wind continued favourable the next day, so we pressed on for Arbroath, the longest leg of the trip at about 140 miles. Arbroath Marina was lovely if overpriced (a standard charge of £19 regardless of the size of boat!) and the smokies we had for dinner were magnificent.

We still had a couple of days of holiday remaining so decided to stop in the fishing harbour of Pittenweem on the East Neuk of Fife. It's a cute traditional fishing port and we were the only sailboat in there. A little pub crawl in Pittenweem and Anstruther, 1 mile east, rounded off our holiday. All that remained was a hard beat up the Forth to Granton, where we received a warm welcome from some fellow Corinthians who, fortunately, numbered exactly the same as our remaining cans of beer.

Rafted up to a trawler in Pittenweem

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