Tuesday night was another dreadful sleeping night in the aft cabin…. torrential rain and howling winds all through the night. Wednesday morning began with a huge double rainbow stretching from the Isle of Skye over to the Scottish mainland. Torrential downpours became sunshine and showers.
Double rainbow in the morning at Kyle of Lochalsh…one of our last views…note black skies.
Forecast were still bad but we had decided to leave Kyle of Lochalsh at 9am. This we did and within ten minutes or so we were passing under the Skye Bridge ( air draft 29m ) so we had a few to spare. Still a teeny bit anxious as you head for the highest point in the arch… and you look up expecting the Windex and VHF aerial to be torn off. Nothing happened… and we motored out into the Inner Sound. To start with the wind had gone round to the north and was therefore ‘on the nose’…..
Passing under the Skye Bridge…aiming for the middle highest part of the arch.
We headed north west between the Crowlin Islands and the Scottish mainland first. We had noted an AIS black triangle target boat behind one of the northern most little islands… T went downstairs to fill in the log, and returning to the cockpit… found Mike and Christine trying to deal with what looked like a tug boat pursuing us. It appeared from behind one of the Crowlin Islands and sounding its hooter with long and short blasts…. obviously trying to attract our attention. We slowed down and managed to establish VHF radio contact on Channel 16 at first and then Channel 8.
Photo below of the chart showing the “torpedo testing area”!!
They informed us that we were crossing a live firing range and that we should leave by going to the east side of the Inner Sound. All very puzzling…. as we had not seen any warnings on any of the charts we had used to prepare todays journey. The only observation we had made was that the southern part of the Inner Sound was designated as a ‘Submarine Practice Area’… a not uncommon title found on many Scottish lochs. We later discovered that this was a ‘live torpedo firing range’ … and that red flags should have been flown on an MOD building that we later passed. We did not see any red flags. Hey ho…. chased by a tug. That’s a new one.
The rest of the journey northwards to Loch Gairloch was uneventful….. apart from flying our jib sail and the very regular, heavy showers en route. However, we had phoned the harbour master at Gairloch to enquire if there would be any vacant pontoon berths when we arrived about 2pm.
Photo below…the peaceful Moorings at Loch Shieldaig in Gairloch.
We entered Gairloch Harbour at about 1.30pm …. now very windy…. to find that the single pontoon was absolutely full… with many boats rafting up… and no mobile phone signal to speak to the harbour master. There were no other marinas within a reasonable distance. So Plan B….. Poli Poli was running out of depth in Gairloch Harbour… and the wind having now gone round to the west, blowing the boat inwards to the harbour wall, we managed to turn our 15 tons of machine round and high tail it out of there. We were miffed!
There were two Plan B choices…. and they usually are firstly, nearest mooring buoy or secondly, safe anchorage. We chose to head to Loch Shieldaig, only 20 minutes away… the nearest quiet, sheltered bay with a number or suitable mooring buoys. We tied up safely to a big dark red one at about 2pm…. still miffed re no space in Gairloch. However, that feeling subsided as Shieldaig Bay turned out to be wind free, sheltered and very very peaceful.
Our mooring buoy technique…note our safety line and two horizontal fenders to stoop buoy strop chaffing on the gel coat.
There must have been a dozen other boats on mooring buoys .. but not a single human being. So we cooked our pasta bake and steamed our green vegetables on board…. then a late afternoon snooze and rest in the aft cabin… that was sheer paradise… no slapping and no slamming. Only downside…. a mere minor one… no mobile signal and no wifi… oh dear.
Distance from Kyle on Lochalsh to Loch Shieldaig : 34.0 n.miles.
Total distance from Eastbourne: 1,674.7 n.miles.
A big thank you to my lovely niece Victoria who wrote a very detailed e-mail to us…. detailing all the things to do and see in Loch Gairloch.. where to eat etc etc and the views etc etc. Victoria and her family recently owned a holiday cottage in the area and it was evident that she and her family had enjoyed many happy holidays in Loch Gairloch over the years. Having re-established our north bound momentum, we certainly didn’t do Loch Gairloch justice in the short time we were there.
Day 96, Loch Shieldaig to Lochinver ( missing out Ullapool ).
We set off in bright sunshine and very little wind at 9am……. planning to go to Ullapool. However, after a phone conversation with the Ullapool Harbourmaster we changed our minds and headed for Lochinver instead. The latter is further north but a similar distance.
It turned out that in Ullapool overnight stays were not possible on the pontoons… only mooring bouys and anchoring. Never really heard that one before… and none of the almanac entries re Ullapool or marina adverts actually stated sleeping on a boat on a pontoon was forbidden. They had pontoons but you were only allowed to stop briefly to pick up supplies. Most odd. Must reduce their visiting yachts and motor boat trade considerably.
Christine helming Poli Poli out of Gairloch today Thursday.
So we travelled further north… across the 58th parallel of latitude to a place called Lochinvar. Here we received a warm welcome…. the harbour master Mark, came down from his office to show us our berth… and take our lines to assist us in mooring up…. and put us on a side on 60 metre pontoon with water and shore power to hand. Nothing was said about not staying the night!!! We also received a warm welcome in the office from Linda, who sorted our registration and a shore power key, and helped us to organise re-fuelling at the fish dock wharf. Very pleasant, friendly and professional.
Photo of the CalMac …Ullapool to Stornaway in the Hebrides…ferry…passing us east to west as we headed north.
The local wildlife proved to be friendly too…. a huge grey faced growling and puffing seal ( we called him Sammy ) popped up not ten metres away and sniffed and snorted at us. Then he or she actually moved towards us…. growled and dived under…. so close we could see his or her huge size and markings…. looked like a leopard seal. Will have to look that one up…. leopard seals in Scotland. Sammy appeared again a little later on when we had left our berth to go and get diesel from the fisherman’s wharf.
Sammy below…two poses.
We are now only two stops from going round the top…. Cape Wrath.
Distance sailed today from Loch Shieldaig to Lochinvar….. 40 n.miles.
Duration: 5 hours.
Distance from Eastbourne: 1,714.7 n.miles.