The Hebridean Saga

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ISLAND GIRL


Photographs in this article are attributable to Teresa Morris who has copyright of them.
The concept for this cruise arose in 2011. I jumped at the chance and signed on for a
berth.


I did not foresee that this voyage would start within six week of the epic cruise of my boat
CORALEE on her delivery trip to the River Alt from Portsmouth harbour!
THE NARRATIVE LOG OF THE CRUISE ON “ISLAND GIRL” ISLAND PACKET SP
LOA 42’ 00’


Our cruise started on Saturday May 25 on yacht “Island Girl” an Island Packet SP 42.
She is owned by Sue and Keith Jones. The crew consisted of Keith our skipper , Royal
Highland Yacht Club and Loch Carron Sailing Club, Cedric of Blundellsands Sailing Club,
RNSA, RNVRYC and Hornet Sailing Club. Teresa was the other crew a brilliant natural
historian, deer expert and our photographer.


As per usual a plethora of information is required for planning. Paper charts, electronic
charts, Road maps, OS maps of various scales; pilot books and tourist information books
all play their part in the big picture. From experience one useful addition in pilot books
would be to indicate where one can get a WiFi and phone signal and where one definitely
cannot. Keith was working at his port equipment business during our cruise.
My journey north was broken at Keith’s Crossthwaite farm prior to driving to his Loch
Carron croft house.


DAY 1 SATURDAY 26 MAY


SLUMBAY LOCH CARRON TO ISLE ORNSAY SOUND OF SLEAT, SKYE


Slumbay – It sounds so exotic – not – but actually is very beautiful. We set sail on “Island
Girl” after victualling and watering ship, from her moorings at the Slumbay anchorage,
Loch Carron and sailed under the Skye Bridge for Isle Ornsay on the Eastern side of the
Sleat Peninsula of Skye. We saw two salmon carrying ships that afternoon. Some 15
boats are on moorings here. The annual costs are the £42-00 fee to the Crown Estate
Owners make their own mooring arrangements. Chain is despatched in drums from
Glasgow at a most reasonable delivery fee.

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 SLUMBAY LOCH CARRON


Isle Ornsay has a well-protected anchorage open to the North. One can have a meal at the
hotel if ones home has been re-mortgaged. We did not go ashore.


Logged 22 miles

 

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DAY 2 SUNDAY 27 MAY


ISLE ORNSAY TO RUM VIA LOCH SCAVIAG


After the usual breaking of the fast – you can’t beat a bit of dead pig and a chicken that
has not hatched yet, in the forenoon; we set sail for Loch Scavaig, sailing South down the
Sound of Sleet to the Point of Sleet and thence North Westerly to Loch Scavaig.


After walking in the Cuillins as a Sea Scout teenager – seemingly a few weeks ago, it
became one of my ambitions to anchor and walk up to Loch Coruisk at some stage in the
future, also, timing it before the midges were about their demonic work.


As an aside, on the midge free status of the Highlands, the RHYC reckon that the best
weeks for cruising on the West Coast are the last week in May and the first week in June –
hence the timing of the cruise.

 

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  ISLE ORNSAY


LOCH SCAVIAG


We managed to get a good anchorage with three boats in the pool and set off in our boots
for our walk. Most enjoyable. One can fully appreciate why this is recognised as the most
evocative and magnificent anchorage in the British Isles. Snugged down at the foot of the
menacing Black Cuillins. The pilot book warned us of unpredictable katabatic winds.
Thankfully they did not visit themselves on us. After a pleasant lunch we headed south for
Rum.

 

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 LOCH SCAVAIG


Our overnight stop was to be at anchor at Rum which was midge infested and has become
rather institutionalised by the National Trust for Scotland or Scottish heritage. I am not sure
which. The magnificent Kinloch Castle has been taken over in part by the YHA. It was
originally built by an industrial magnate for entertaining his friends and clients with a little
dear stalking and Scottish country pursuits. One can almost imagine his lairdship’s tartan
carpet and endless Jimmy Shand type tunes, liberally sprinkled with shortbread. Och Aye
the Noo.


Island Girl is ideal for cruising with a ships company of three. Her bridge deck is as
comfortable as a well-appointed orangery, which makes life very comfortable in the cold
and wet. Her galley with two fridges could cope with a small regiment. Running hot water –
luxury. Our whole two weeks avoided wet weather but cool, it was at times.


24 Miles Logged

 

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 RUM HARBOUR

 

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KINLOCH CASTLE RUM

 

DAY 3 MONDAY 28 MAY


RUM TO COLL VIA CANNA


From Rum we went North about the Island, before heading West and had a motor in and
out of Canna Harbour, on the way to Coll. What a little gem. It would be good to go there
again and spend some time.

 

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CANNA HARBOUR

 

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 CRUISE SHIP OUTSIDE CANNA HARBOUR


COLL


We were able to pick up a visitor mooring in this friendly, seal rich harbour. Everybody we
passed on the way to the hotel, for a modest dandelion and burdock, stopped to talk to us.
The shop was not opening until ten in the morning so as we were planning to leave earlier
in the forenoon we delayed our purchases until Castle Bay, on the magical Isle of Barra.
Coll was a light and pretty place the antidote to dark and sombre Rum.


36 Miles Logged

 

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COLL HARBOUR

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 SEALS IN COLL HARBOUR

 

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COLL TO BARRA This was our longest sea passage, so far on the cruise. We sailed
across the silvery Sea of the Hebrides and arrived in Castlebay. Looking at the churches
ashore I reckoned the church featured in Island Parish was the one on the right. The
tourist information office confirmed this. All of the outer Isles, from Barra Head up to North
Uist are predominantly Roman Catholic. We completed most of our passages in daylight.
Having spent years on watches at sea, I am now extremely happy to go to the land of nod
at night.

 13

 WRECK OFF RUM


(In my day job I had spoken to the media about this incident following the court case. I
didn’t expect to get so close to the location)


BARRA


Again we were lucky in finding a visitor mooring available. We were adjacent to the
Caledonian MacBrayne pier; the lord gave most of the world to man but the western
highlands to CALMAC. We overlooked Kismul Castle the ancient home of the clan
MacNeil. What was becoming apparent on our cruise was the huge number of illegal
ensigns being flown. Whether by ignorance or malice, we were finding people flying the
Scottish Saltire as an ensign and in Barra saw one boat with a conventional red ensign
with the Saltire in the upper canton – very insulting for the queen in her jubilee year -more
later. We went ashore the next morning and bought some good “gizits” from the tourist
information office – no Jimmy Shand music! Then purchased some stores and a day old
newspaper from the general store. We were fortunate in finding a hardware shop. This
could be described as “the other shop” – every island should have two. We were able to
purchase a British Standard tin opener, like the one mother had, as we were having
trouble, with the selection of various exotica in the galley drawer. Why is it that these
modern contraptions never work properly? We had two of the type with the modern
version of the old standard conventional mechanism and another that cuts the whole lid off
– or should. Confucius he says if you cannot get the lid off the quintessential yachting
supper, the Fray Bentos “snake and pigmy pie”, then the job is no good. With the new “like
mummy’s” we were able to achieve our goal. It is imperative for good morale that
crewmembers have one Fray Bentos each and heavy helpings of vegetables. Mars bars
unfortunately do not count as one of the five a day. The good men of Caledonian
Macbrayne allowed us to come alongside and take water, once the ferry had sailed. It is
surprising how much water is used on this personal hygiene concept. Not a lot of it about
in the North however so for yachtsmen without running hot and cold many of the hotels will
allow you to have a shower for a small fee, if you ask nicely. Amazingly both Talisker and
Tobermory distilleries were close for lack of water.


50 Miles logged

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CASTLEBAY HARBOUR

 

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DAY 5 WEDNESDAY 30 MAY


BARRA TO ERISKAY VIA BARRA HEAD


What a magical day. Learning that Barra head is not on Barra but many Islands south
enhanced my geographical savvy. It should come in useful in a quiz sometime.
Heading south we passed Vatersay where the inhabitants of St Kilda were moved in the
1930’s, Mingulay and Berneray on which is Barra Head. The pilot book decreed that “here
be dragons” but apart from a heavy ocean swell, all was in order. This part of the trip
became like an eye spy for wildlife. Cormorants, Seals, Dolphins Minke Whales, a Basking
Shark, Gannets and Puffins, were in abundance. The Puffins description of Sea Parrots,
given by the old shellbacks, was most apt. If only we could have some of these little
fellows on our very own Puffin Island.
I was very pleased to see the magnificence of Barra Head itself, the weather being seldom
suitable for such a passage. Huge basalt cliffs thrusting skywards on this uninhabited
island.

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 BARRA HEAD


We passed to seaward of Mingulay, heading north in a rolling ocean swell and were
astonished to see many teams of climbers who had abseiled down to the waterline from
the top, only to climb back up again. My mast is more than high enough for me – thank
you very much.

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 CLIMBERS ON MINGULAY

 

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MINGULAY - GUANO GUANO EVERYWHERE


Eriskay harbour is a short fjord on the Eastern side of the island – the opposite side from
the ferry terminal. This fact confused the possible meeting between Sue, Hon Sec of the
RNVRYC and myself. Sue was travelling around the Hebrides in her camping van with her
son. We missed each other on a number of occasions. I was last on Eriskay in the winter
of 1993/ 1994. At that time a ferry trip was required but a causeway has now been built to
assist the islanders. After breakfast we repaired ashore to visit the local store for
provisions and take a wee look at Am Politician, the pub. The pub had not improved with
age. It is nothing like one imagines from the Whisky Galore film. It is but a modern brick
bungalow with additional plastic Victorian conservatory. If pubs have charisma – this has
had the by-pass. On the walk back we were given a lift by Angus in his van. When asked if
I had been there before. I informed him “yes” in 1994 but had stayed at Ludag on South
Uist he asked me who I had stayed with. My memory is sharp and full of trivia but even I
do not trouble myself to remember the surnames of the owners of B & B’s from nearly
twenty years ago. I informed him that it was a middle-aged couple in a new bungalow and
that their son drove the tangle (seaweed) lorry to the processing plant a Girvan. He
informed that they were his next-door neighbours the McKinnons. With the prompt I did
remember the surname after all. I must get a life! From Eriskay right up to North Uist, by
the building of causeways it is now a continuous landmass up to the Sound of Harris. As I
may have mentioned the population of these Islands and Barra are avid followers of the
Roman Church and do not have the hang-ups of the “We Frees” (fundamental
Presbyterians) further north.

 

36 Miles logged

 

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 ERISKAY CAUSEWAY

 

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DAY 6 THURSDAY 31 MAY ERISKAY TO LOCH LOCH BOISDALE


Lochboisdale has little to recommend it as a village but we did take coffee at the Huge
Lochboisdale hotel. We tramped in, in typical yachting mode, marching like the goons and
looking rather yachty and ordered coffee for three. We sat in large leather club chairs
surrounded by stags heads and a tartan rug. A silver coffee pot came and a jug of hot milk.
A plate of shortbread was thrown in for good measure. When Keith went to pay (I was
hiding), the Maitre D said a fiver for cash – priceless.


14 Miles Logged

 

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DAY 7 FRIDAY 31 MAY

 


LOCHBOISDALE SOUTH UIST TO KETTLE POOL LOCH SKIPPORT
On entering Loch Skipport we decided that the “wizard pool” was too open from the East
so continued until we were able to enter the “kettle pool” where we anchored in 6 metres of
water just on the edge of a shelf to the deep. Sadly there seemed to be very little wildlife in
this place. I do like to see the wildlife. I am not interested in seeing animals in zoos but find
it a great privilege to see them in God’s firmament.


12 miles logged

 

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DAY 8 SATURDAY 1 JUNE Anniversary of the Glorious First of June.


LOCH SKIPPORT TO KALLIN GRIMSAY


I have always thought of the Uists as being flat, this is not an unusual assumption as the
road follows the fertile machair to the West. Our passage was to the East within the Sea of
the Hebrides and indeed there are some notable mountains and numerous big hills.
Grimsay harbour is a delightful place which has had a crock of grant money spent on it.
Sadly maintenance and general cleaning had not kept up with the financial confidence
shown originally. We berthed on the outside of the harbour wall. Her Majesty’s Coastguard
had been advising that the approach buoy was off station and indeed it was well away. A
good walk ashore was undertaken to have a “lookey see”. An inter island art exhibition
was being held in various locations, at Grimsay in a barn. The delights, for some, were
modern art, some of it so modern one has to struggle to determine the art from the
ridiculous. What a naysayer I can be!


20 Miles logged

 

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KALLIN HARBOUR

 

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DAY 9 SUNDAY 2 JUNE


KALLIN GRIMSAY TO LOCHMADDY NORTH UIST


This was a relatively short hop to get to where my fellow ships company could gain access
to the WiFi. Both had a pressing need to meet some outstanding deadlines. As mentioned
God gave the world to man and the Western Highlands to Caledonian Macbraynes who in
turn had free WiFi available, with a good signal, which we could pick up from the visitors
moorings. Entries of such availability were made in the pilot book for the future. Stores
were taken and yesterdays newspaper. In the islands, today’s newspaper is always
yesterday’s newspaper and manana is a great sense of urgency. Nothing much
counteracts the magnetic and inexorable pull of the pub in these parts. The cost of a Fray
Bentos pie in the village shop was £3-45, What! We didn’t purchase any.


20 miles logged

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26

 

DAY 10 MONDAY 3 JUNE


LOCHMADDY TO TARANSAY VIA COPE CHANNEL – ABANDONED. TO ST KILDA


We set off with, yet again, a dodgy weather forecast for Taransay. Many will recall the first
of the modern television “fly on the wall” genre programmes called “Castaway”. This
exhibited a goodly number of people from challenging urban backgrounds, trying to
organise a village community, whilst living in “Pods” for a year. Ben Fogle has made a
good career out of appearing as a normal, nice guy in the series. I was keen to see some
living pods. We struggled down the Cope channel with neither the paper chart, the chart
plotter nor the pilot book agreeing with the buoys we could identify. Thank the Lord it was
not foggy. I had always imagined that the Sound of Harris would be a deep channel as it
connects the Atlantic with the Little Minch –no such luck. We had at times less than two
feet under our keel so proceeded gently. We were in the Atlantic at 1600 hours and mused
that if we ignored the weather forecast, that on the appearance and our experience of the
likely weather, we could have a crack at the elusive St Kilda, variously called Hirta or Hiort.
So off we went, blow the expense. The pilot book advised that we would see St Kilda
about half way there. I actually saw it after an hour. The pilot book advised it would look
like a ship in full sail – what was the author smoking or drinking? None of us could see
anything that looked like a ship in full sail. En route one of our two fridges went on the
bugle. The computer controlled temperature module was freezing that which should have
been chilled. Our tomatoes didn’t like it. After about 4 hours the ominous Borayray showed
to Starboard. This island really is a spooky “Hollywoodesque” contrivance that would strike
terror into a mariner if he was to be cast up on it.
Village bay at St Kilda has some very useful leading lights that require you to enter on a
course of exactly 270 degrees, so even I could manage it. We anchored in the ocean swell
close to the pier. Qinetic the defence contractor have about 10 people on the Island for
the rocket range and the National Trust about 4 permanent staff and a load of volunteers.
The girls in the gift shop were extremely pretty and very easy on the eye (I recall from our
visit the next day) – anyway we anchored in 6 metres along with a small 12 person,
boutique passenger ship, another yacht and an adventure vessel that let its young charges
out in canoes on the ocean. The whole night, I am told, was a flip-flop roll/bang ocean
swell. I don’t remember a thing.


54 Miles logged

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VILLAGE BAY ST KILDA

 

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DAY 12 TUESDAY 5 JUNE


ST KILDA TO TARENSAY VIA BORERAY


Next day up with the lark to break our fasts with crunchy healthy stuff and a little dead pig
as an antidote. We repaired ashore and were welcomed by a warden who gave us a large
bag of don’ts to carry around with us. I purchased the aforementioned gizits from the
pretty ladies, stretching myself to a fridge magnet and a key ring. Will my munificence
never cease? It was then off to visit the ancient and abandoned high street. They are
having an experiment with the Soay sheep by allowing them to become feral with survival
of the fittest being the watchword. I was not happy with this posture as I feel it is
unnecessarily cruel. Had I been subjected to such a regime I would have been dead 47

years ago? Surely animals that need a vet can have it but remove them from the St Kilda
flock to elsewhere would maintain the veracity of the experiment. I am off my soapbox
now. We left Village Bay anchorage and had lunch on the hoof, proceeding towards the
Western side of the Islands for some photos. We lurched and lunched whilst making over
to Borayray. There is a huge cliff that looks white as quartz but is actually guano from the
biggest gannet colony in the UK (bigger even than a BSC buffet queue). Early in the
evening we were approaching Taransay and noted the adventure boat from St Kilda had a
bone in her teeth. We had seen her earlier, hard against the cliffs of Boreray to allow the
young people to kayak into the caves. Rather them than me. I had a feeling in my water
that they were after our chosen anchorage in the bay. They were beginning to overhaul us
so we gave it the gun. They were left for dead and conceded the best anchorage to us.
Sometimes life is, as it ought to be.


44 miles logged

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DAY 13 WEDNESDAY 6 JUNE


TARENSAY TO TOB BRULLIN


On a sunny morning we repaired ashore to Taransay for exploration and a little beach
combing. The results were 300 feet of rope, a big piece of new fishnet, two yacht
buoy/fenders and two fishing floats. The sand whistled and was white with shell debris. No
evidence was found .of the camp of 2000 No pods - I was bereft.


Late forenoon we weighed and departed for Tob Brollum and proceeded down the
Leverburgh channel. This was equally at variance with our paper and electronic,
inaccurate reality. We passed Leverburgh, a bespoke fishing village set up by Lord
Leverhulme when he bought the Island from Lord Matheson. As an aside Lord Matheson
had left Harris as a humble youth and did good in Hong Kong and Canton. He became
Taipan of the huge trading concern Jardine Matheson and came back and bought the
island. The huge wealth was made from the import to China of opium from India. It was all
acceptable business in its day. Thankfully time has changed. He sold Lewis to Lord
Leverhulme the Lancastrian soap and chemical baron, who as the richest man in the world
gifted it back to the people of Lewis. What a nice chap.


Passing North we saw the new high bridge to Scalpay and later entered Loch Brollum. We
realised Tob Brollum would be a squeeze for a boat our size but managed to shoehorn her
in and anchor in deep kelp – slippery as butter. I noted what looked like a coffin ashore
and was keen to go and explore. This was not to be as we had come to nature heaven.
Two families of seals with their numerous furry offspring were sunbathing on the rocks.
They held us spellbound for hours. From this anchorage one would have to walk through
twenty miles of wilderness to the nearest road. As dusk advanced four red deer were
espied on the hill. Our presence had spooked them but slowly over time saw them
descend to the shoreline to graze upon seaweed. The iodine must do them good. A
magical place I feel privileged to have visited.


28 miles logged

 

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DAY 14 THURSDAY 7 JUNE


TOB BR0LLUM TO BADACHRO VIA STORNAWAY


When we weighed anchor we had hooked the biggest ball of kelp I have ever seen hooked
by an anchor. It won our prize for the cruise.


We arrived in Stornaway before lunch and were given a berth that needed the skills of
keyhole surgery to enter. A cyclist was watching us intently and eventually asked if I was
Cedric. He was the Coastguard area operations manager for the Islands and we had met
briefly in the Orkney Sheriff Court over a very sad fatality. He asked if the boat was mine –
ha ha. I said I worked with him in the MCA not as the PA to Rockerfeller. On our approach
Stornaway it was noted that the town had definitely picked up her skirts and gentrified. I
was last there in the winter of 1994 and it was a poor miserable place. Now the houses
look maintained and cared for. The properties on the front have been “Tobermoryed” in
pastel shades. Pedestrianisation has been undertaken with York stone pavements and a
big new Morrison’s supermarket built and, all in all, quite spruce. I would like to visit again.
We settled at the harbour office for fourteen quid and found we could have stayed
overnight for that – a fair price.


After lunch we departed, heading south for Rona but en route the wind changed and we
set course for Badachro in Gairloch. We found ourselves over pressed twice and had to
reef. The business of reefing by button pressing on the console can be quite tiring!


35 miles logged

 

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26

 DAY 15 FRIDAY 8 JUNE

 

BADACHRO TO TOSCAIG


Badachro. What a pretty little place. I imagine it appears on tins of shortbread with Jimmy
Shand music playing gently in the background! We were able to pick up a mooring and
had a quiet night surrounded by red-faced whisky swilling motor boatmen.


Slimming involves fasting. I have been doing this every day between evening dinner and
breakfast, believe me it doesn’t work. After breaking our fast on little porky snorkers, we
set sail for Loch Toscaig at the entrance to Loch Kishorn – not far from home. We arrived
in the early evening and saw nothing to delight us or induce us ashore.


30 miles logged

 

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DAY 16 THE LAST DAY 16 SATURDAY 9 JUNE


TOSCAIG TO SLUMBAY VIA KYLE OF LOCH ALSH


Up with the lark and set sail for Kyle of Lochalsh to clean and water ship. Salt had
encrusted everything. We departed and I requested a victory roll around Plockton. It was
good to see Catch 32, a friends boat sold from Liverpool, tugging gently on her mooring.
On entering the Slumbay anchorage we found our mooring riser in a frantic wrap. We had
arrived. This cruise has been one of my ambitions for decades; to have completed it in a
boat that never has you worrying was a great experience.


I am somewhat sated with the Highlands until my next visit.


22 miles logged

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SUMMARY


We were very fortunate in having two weeks of dry weather. The Hebrides has been dry
for months. The distillery at Tobermory has been out of operation for weeks because of the
lack of water in the reservoir.


2012 is the Queens Jubilee. The celebrations happened during our cruise. It was
disappointing to find a plethora of illegal ensigns, wheresoever we went. A lot of boats
were sporting the Saltire, some ensigns with the Saltire in the upper hoist canton of the
flag. I found this most discourteous to Her Majesty, however standards of flag etiquette
have plummeted and many would not understand the situation if a conversation ensued.
As BSC members know, regional flags may properly be worn at the starboard yardarm.


POST COMMENT


I have been back to the Highlands in August and have sailed Kiribili a friends boat from
the marina at Portavadie. Vince Sweeney of RNSA also keeps his boat at Portavadie.


If only our season in Liverpool Bay had been better. This is our third, and worst, season of
poor weather.

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BIRDS AT LOCH CARRON