28/05/2020 0 By Chris Phillips

It has been a wee while since I last posted.  What can I say? It has been a busy and exciting few days, and our ears are still whistling from their bombardment by all kinds of Celtic and related music at the festival in Stornoway.

But first, I left you in the sauna in Ullapool, I think.  After a very pleasant weekend there (Ullapool, not the sauna – Ed.), we sailed on the Monday morning out towards the Summer Isles.  Motoring for the first part until Loch Broom opened out, we set sail and tacked out to the west and then north-west, weaving in and out of the islands in a very nice WNW’ly breeze.  We had all sail set for a large part of the trip, which this summer has been an all-too-rare occurrence.  It was around 15 miles as the crow flies, with some bonus miles added in the tacks, and we arrived at around 1600 in the sheltered anchorage on the NE side of Tanera Beg, a lagoon surrounded by smaller islets and skerries.  The pilot book describes this as prone to strong tides and with a kelpy bottom, but we held very securely and had a very peaceful night.  It would have been a perfect swimming spot had it not been for the hungry-looking jellyfish drifting about looking for fresh meat (and fresh it would have been, at still only 12 degrees).

The following morning we set off at a respectable hour to cross the Minch to Lewis once again, heading for one of the anchorages in the entrance to Loch Erisort.  We had very light winds, so this was mostly a motor, with some sail assistance.  Again we arrived at around 1600, and anchored in a very sheltered inlet convenient for the entrance to the loch.  I decided that, having finished our Tesco loaf that morning, I would try my hand at baking a loaf from one of the bread mixes I had stocked up with in Oban.  Well, it was not a resounding success, although we did get an edible loaf at the end of it.  Unfortunately, I misread the instructions and added 150ml too much water, and ended up with a very sloppy dough.  This took an awfully long time to rise, eventually persuaded to do so by placing it in the tin directly on top of the solid fuel stove, which by this time was well alight.  In the interim, I decided that I needed to cool off, so for the first time this season I actually went swimming (after a careful jelly-check of course).  The water was by now a balmy 12.6 degrees.  Being the first dip, it took some gentle and gradual immersion, but I did eventually let go of the ladder and swim a couple of lengths of the boat before the numbness reached my torso, and then I even got back in for another couple of lengths.  The best bit is always getting out and letting the air (and in this case the gentle rain) play on the tingling skin before retreating below into the warm fug created by the stove.  The bread by now was ready for the oven finally, and we settled in for a quiet evening at anchor.

The next morning was a lazy one, but once we were up we set off under engine for Stornoway, about an hour and a half up the coast.  We arrived to find the marina was already full, so were rafted alongside a very nice Seastream 45, who assured us that they were going nowhere in a hurry, as their starter motor was away for repair.   After I dangled over the stern in the Bosun’s chair to tighten up George’s mountings, which had inexplicably come loose, we settled in for beer and nibbles, watching the local kids messing around in Picos and toppers across the harbour.  Then we learned that the Seastream had their starter motor back, and would be leaving at 0900, leaving us on the inside of a raft against the piled jetty.  We decided to move while the going was good, and ended up alongside the quay adjacent to the marina, a much more sheltered spot.  This entailed tending the lines as the tide went down, but once that was done we were cosy.  However, in the morning we were told that the fishing boats would want that spot for the bad weather coming in, so off we went again, this time to the pilot boat out on the commercial quays, where we were assured we would be safe and undisturbed.  To be fair on the harbour staff, they were having to cope with a lot of yachts, like us in for the festival, as well as a larger than normal number of commercial movements, and they still offered service beyond what one would expect, happily running me out to get gas and coal from the local filling station.

We stayed alongside the pilot boat one night, enjoying the first night of the festival, but overnight the chop in the harbour picked up, and it started getting uncomfortable.  We went to the festival again on Friday afternoon, taking in an excellent set from Québécois band Le Vent du Nord, but by the end of this at 1800, a squall had come through and I went to check on the boat.  She was pitching violently, and the fwd mooring fairlead had pulled off the bulwark (note to Santa – through-bulwark fairleads for next season please), and I was not happy.  Fortunately for us, a former Clipper yacht, Clyde Challenger, had berthed on Esplanade Quay, and lent herself perfectly to being our home for the night, so we shifted alongside them before heading back to the festival.  On our return at about midnight, her crew invited us to join them for a dram, so it proved to be a late, but ultimately quiet, night.

Unfortunately, Clyde Challenger were leaving in the morning, so we got up at 8 and shifted back to the pilot boat- by now far more peaceful as the wind was back in the west.  A lazy morning followed our (final) move, followed by shopping in Tesco and then heading back to the festival for the final night.  

There were a lot of great bands playing at HebCelt this year, but the highlights had to be Salsa Celtica on the first night, Le Vent du Nord, and on the final night in the more intimate Islands Stage, veteran acid folkies Shooglenifty, who showed the younger, brasher bands a thing or two.

Yesterday morning then was a prompt start at 0800 for the 60+ mile run to Plockton.  We set off with a NE’ly F3, and soon had all sail set running down into the Minch at 4-5 knots.  We had to hand steer in these conditions, as George doesn’t like steering downwind with the mizzen set, but by now it had stopped raining and was quite pleasant.  We remained under sail until 1700, by which time we had Rona lighthouse abeam and the wind had gone right aft and light.  We started the engine and peeled off the headsails, making 5-6 knots motorsailing with economical revs.  By 2000 we were in the entrance to Loch Carron, handing the rest of our sail as we went up towards Plockton, picking up the mooring just before 2100.