Sunday, 1 August 2010

Hopping up the Hebrides

Loath as we were to depart Barra, we finally left to make our way north. This was probably the toughest sail of the trip, beating into a Force 6 for 13 hours, bashing through lumpy seas, to make it into Loch Skipport on South Uist, a mere 40 straight-line miles away late in the evening. To top it off, we picked up an old rope around the prop while manoeuvring into the anchorage. This is when I discovered I hadn't packed the wetsuits so Jim heroically jumped into the 12C water with a diving torch (Lidl buy of the year) and a sharp knife to hack off this lump of rope:

Loch Skipport is remote and wild. There's precious little sign of man's existence other than a fish farm at the entrance and a few ruined crofter's cottages dotted about.  We anchored in Caolas Mor, a secluded pool with a fine view of Hecla on a clear day. There was an otter in there when we arrived but due to the rope fiasco we couldn't just sit and watch it.

Caolas Mor, Loch Skipport

After a promising shipping forecast at 0520, we left in glorious sunshine the next morning and had a lovely sail up to Harris with the wind behind us - bliss! It was only sunny on the water, however, and when we closed in on Scalpay, our next destination, visibility was down to about 50ft.

North Harbour, Scalpay, with Islander II and Quaver

The Cretetree, a ferrocement coaster built in 1919, which since 1955 has provided handy shelter and storage space for Scalpay's fishing boats

In Scalpay we were surprised to find two other boats in the anchorage, two Vancouvers. It proved to be a most sociable stop, with Kevin and Sue on Islander II, Willie on Quaver and us taking turns as hosts. All in all, the socialising when you're cruising in Scotland is superb. 

The rainy weather gave Scalpay a rather gloomy aspect, not helped by the fact that this is one few remaining strict Presbyterian places where even the children's playground is locked up on Sundays. The island of Scalpay is now connected to Harris by bridge and the convenience of bus transport to Tarbert has led to all its shops apart from the post office shutting down and the school closing. We ourselves took the bus into town to meet one of Jim's old professors, who is a native of Harris. This was one of the rare occasions where a sea-land rendezvous worked out and we had a nice lunch with her and her family at the Hebrides Hotel.

We left Scalpay on a Sunday (with no ill effect that we've noticed so far) and with a Force 6-7 behind us flew up to Stornoway, where we met up with Paul again and hung out with him a new friend Roy on Credeau. Stornoway had been renamed 'Stormaway' in the days previously, but we were lucky to arrive in brilliant sunshine.

Rafted up to Hyskeir and Credeau in Stornoway

Stranded by the tide: a Stornoway harbour seal spotted early in the morning on one of the beams under the pier. She was a long way up from the waterline by this time and must have been sleeping there while the tide receded.

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