28/05/2020 0 By Chris Phillips

One of the features of cruising to and in the Faroes is that one has to take quite seriously the problem of getting home again.  Therefore when one has a forecast for two days of northerly winds, it would be a fool who did not take up the opportunity to sail South, if that is what he had in his plan for the near future.  Although there were other harbours in the Faroes which we would very much have liked to have visited, the weather forecast dictated that it was time for us to leave.  The original intention was to sail from the Faroes to Shetland, then Orkney and finally to Inverness and the Caledonian canal and home.  Two things made me reconsider this plan: 1. That the forecast, following our two days of favourable winds, was for predominantly southerlies, and therefore potential difficulty in covering the still not inconsiderable distance left to go after arriving in Shetland; 2. The timing of the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival (HebCelt) in Stornoway, in mid-July.

After some mental calculations (or guesswork) and looking at the HebCelt website, we decided that we would sail due south and back into the Minch, rather than going eastabout.

On Tuesday, therefore, we had an easy morning of some final walking around Torshavn, in preparation for our departure at 1400.  After a lunch of coffee and stickies at the cafe adjacent to the marina, we left the berth and headed across the harbour to the fuel berth.  This was an interesting berth, nestled in a kelpy cleft at the end of the commercial bunker station, and made for a slightly nervy berthing manoeuvre.  However, once alongside, taking (quite cheap) fuel was straightforward, with a self-service pump paid by credit card.  We took our fill, and then moved off the berth and out of the harbour.  The forecast initially was for NW’ly force 5-7, and we had at least a 5 as we left the shelter of the harbour.  We set the main with 2 reefs and, shortly afterwards, the staysail, and headed SE at best speed to get clear of the islands and the malign influence of the tides.  We chose a good time to leave, avoiding all the red fingers, but keeping a fair tide to sweep us South.  With the strong wind (by now nearer 7 than 5) across, if not against, the tide, however, there was quite a large and irregular sea running, and by dinner time, Stu was feeling far from hungry.  We handed the main, running under just the staysail and Stu got his head down.  Whether it was a wee bit too much time spent below, or the lunchtime cream cake, the mate was not a happy sailor for a few hours that evening, and when he rose to relieve me on watch at 2300, so did his gorge, and the slice of bread he’d shoved down by way of sustenance prior to coming up… came up, and decorated the cockpit as he shoved his head through the companion hatch.  I was looking away tactically, as if there’s anything which will set me off, it’s the vomiting of another.  I managed however to get a few bucketfuls of seawater to wash away the offending stuff and Stu eventually managed to get himself dressed and up on deck.

We carried on under reduced canvas overnight and through most of the next day, making mostly 5 knots, but by mid afternoon the wind was definitely dropping, and at 1600 I reset the main, close-reefed.  Another 3 hours later, and we had shaken out the second reef.  By the second evening Stu had pretty much fully recovered from his episode, and ate a hearty evening meal as a result.  As we sailed into the short northern night, we continued to make good progress and in far more comfort than the previous evening.  

I had calculated that if we were likely to encounter any of the fleet from the Tall Ships Race, en route from Belfast to Aalesund in Norway, it would be from midnight onwards; the fleet had split into 2 groups, most of the Class A square riggers going outside the Outer Hebrides, whilst the smaller and fore-and-aft vessels stayed in the Minch.  As it turned out, a lot of the fleet had already passed by, but at 0430 we encountered the impressive sight of the Brazilian training ship Cisne Branco under full sail as she passed us quite close just SE of North Rona.  Later, as we approached the Minch and Cape Wrath, we spotted a couple of ships close into the Cape, and then the Dutch Gulden Leeuw passed us close as she beat northwards out of the Minch.  Shortly after she passed, the wind fell light – a shame, as for much of my watch I had been steadily increasing sail, and for a time we were romping along under a full spread of canvas at seven knots (only the second time this trip that the topsail has seen the light of day).  As our speed dropped below 2 knots, and we were only around an hour and a half away from Kinlochbervie (at 5 kts, anyway), I decided it was time to fire up Red Peter and we motored in.  We arrived in Kinlochbervie harbour in blazing sunshine and the warmest temperatures we had so far encountered, frantically stripping off layers of clothing as we approached.

Kinlochbervie is a fishing harbour developed from almost nothing in the sixties.  It saw a boom time up until, I would guess, the early noughties – certainly my pilot book says that it is a busy harbour (the third busiest fishing harbour in Scotland) and a yacht is unlikely to find more than a temporary berth.  Times have changed, however, and although it is still an active harbour, there were two bigger boats alongside when we arrived, with a few small potters, and the recently installed yacht pontoon was busier!  There is little other infrastructure – a Spar, a hotel and a few house just about complete the picture.  There was some interest in Meander though, both from other visiting yachtsmen and a local boat owner.  We had an easy afternoon and after dinner went up to the hotel to sample the local hospitality, which proved to be very good, getting some important paperwork photocopied, and put in a hotel envelope and stamped all for free!  The beer and wifi were not too bad either.  

For our plan to get to Stornoway in time for HebCelt to work out in the predominantly southerly forecast, however, we needed to get down the Minch a wee bit further, so I decided that we would use a forecast lull in the wind overnight on Friday to get ourselves down to Ullapool, which also has the distinct advantage over Kinlochbervie of actually being a fully-functioning town.  We had a very lazy morning, and then after some shopping and other essentials we slipped at 1700, just as the drizzle set in.  The forecast was for light SE’lies, and that they were – too light to sail, so we made best speed under engine, and after feeling our way into Loch Broom in the 2 hours of true darkness, picked up a visitors mooring at 0330, just as dawn was beginning to brighten the eastern horizon.

Having secured and tidied everything away, we had a quick and very wobbly hot chocolate (thanks for the Grouse, Vinnie!) whilst the fire established itself in the stove, and then we went to bed thawed, whilst our wet oilies once again adorned the saloon.

Annoyingly I awoke at almost the normal time in the morning, but my body was persuaded to try again, and this time slept in until 1100, when I was disturbed by the sound of tannoys and hooters coming from the shore.  Poking my head out of the hatch, I saw that there was a bit of a beano going on ashore.  It turned out that we had arrived on the day of the rowing skiff regatta and pier open day.  It was a far livelier event than Stornoway had had to offer a couple of weeks earlier, and there was lots going on in the harbour, with the rowing going from the beach.  Stu and I had a good walk around, checking out the fishery protection vessel Hirta, as well as the various stalls, being particularly attracted by those selling venison burgers (having failed to eat puffin or whale in the Faroes, Bambi would have to do) and Italian ice cream.  We must have looked into every shop in town, and bought half of the bookshop’s stock, before we felt the need for coffee and cake.  I have only visited Ullapool once before, and remember little of that, but I have been impressed by what a friendly and busy town it is.  It is going down on my list of Places I Would Like to Live.  In the evening we we had fish and chips ashore and then joined in with the Ceilidh on the pier.  Shyness prevented either of us from dancing, even the easiest dances, but we enjoyed watching everybody else make a fool of themselves.  It was here we bumped into Isobel, owner of a beautiful 100 year-old yacht called Glance, both of whom have featured in this blog before, and were over from Strangford Lough to promote next year’s skiff championships over there.

We rose at a civilised time this morning to make happy hour at the local swimming pool- 50p each for swim and sauna!  We spent a relaxing couple of hours there, and then went to Tesco to top up our stores again, before returning to the boat and doing a few little maintenance jobs, reading the rest of the weekend papers and writing our respective journals / blogs.

Tomorrow we hope for a favourable forecast to head back out to the Summer Isles to anchor prior to crossing the Minch to Lewis once again.