Wednesday began with sunshine but by departure time, had become very grey and windy. Wednesday was the day when we were planning to tackle the infamous Pentland Firth passage out of the Orkney Isles and south to the Scottish mainland. Much of the evening before and part of Wednesday morning was spent on careful tidal planning….. studying tidal stream maps and making calculations based on High Water Dover.
The Pentland Firth is the the channel that divides north east Scotland from the Orkney Islands. This stretch of water links the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. To quote from one almanac …. ‘Passage through or across the Pentland Firth, which is one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the British Isles, where tidal streams may reach 16 knots, requires accurate timing’. And we did.
Our plan was to leave Stromness at least two hours before the east flowing flood tide started moving in the Sound of Hoxa…. the southern exit/entrance to Scapa Flow.
So we departed Stromness at 12.30pm hoping to cross the inland sea of Scapa Flow first and then join the east flowing tide south of Hoxa. Then allow the tide to guide us to the mid point between Duncansby Head and the Muckle Skerry group of rocks.
Crossing Scapa Flow first, we were able to locate the graves and shipwrecks that litter the floor of this small inland sea. It was wet and windy…. and as we looked to the north east…. history had reminded us that this was the graveyard of over 800 British sailors who died when a German U-boat sank the British battleship HMS Royal Oak in October 1939. Much of the German Grand Fleet was also scuttled here in the First World War.
We felt the strength of the tide as we exited Scapa Flow…. pushing us towards the south east. Unfortunately that is where the wind was coming from…. and wind against tide is not a good thing. This creates short choppy waves which are generally uncomfortable.
Poli Poli held her course admirably, as we navigated through a series of small islands with wonderful Norse sounding names…. Flotta, Hunda, Farra, Swona and Stroma…. ever conscious of the golden rule… avoid the Skerries at all costs. Once into the Pentland Firth keep well clear of the Pentland Skerries, the Muckle Skerry, Little Skerry, Clettack Skerry and the The Merry Men of Mey ( the latter were too far west to bother us ).
Once mid channel betwen Duncansby Head and the Pentland Skerry…. we were able to turn southwards…. and for every mile we travelled south…. the less we felt the force of the Pentland Firth flood tide. We were safely through….
By 6pm… after an uncomfortable two hours or so from the wind over tide scenario, we entered Wick Harbour….. back on the Scottish mainland. We tied up in the marina…. having first gone the wrong way up a river…. but a friendly cargo ship called us up on the VHF radio and told us to turn round! In a similar manner, a friendly Harbour Master helped with our lines and bid us a warm welcome. Then the heavens opened…..!!!!!!!
Distance travelled…. 41.2 n. miles from Stromness to Wick via the Pentland Firth.
Distance travelled from Eastbourne: 1,926.1 n.miles.
Day 103 to follow tomorrow Friday.