12 May Stormbreaker log to Orkney and back
Scotland Cruise – in Redbay RIB
Redbay -Cape Wrath –Orkneys- Caledonian Canal – Redbay
From 1st April 2009, planned to take 9 or 10 days
With our Redbay Stormforce 8.4m diesel rib we had always planned to do some long distance cruises. An opportunity presented itself by utilising ‘Storm Breaker’ while she was in storage at the Redbay yard, away from our normal ‘down south’ location.
This cruise was going to be interesting in that the first week in April is early for a trip like this, weather and all.
Day one Wednesday 1st.
Bryn my 13 year old son and I Flew to Northern Ireland to collect the boat, things got off to a slow start with the Eddy’s taxi breaking down and a recovery truck to allow completion of the journey!!. It was good to arrive and meet again with the Redbay team.
Tom is always enthusiastic about seeing one of his boats being ‘pushed a little’. So thanks Tom for your enthusiasm on this.
Stores and supplies were all packed aboard and we were in the water for 15.00 – We wanted off about this time as the tide in the North Channel (and right up to Oban) had just turned to the North. Having a sailing background I always look for a favourable tide. We had a very slight Southerly tail wind. We had initially planned for Oban, how easy going was it going to be?
We split this leg into sections first targeting Gigha Island then on past Crinan/Corryveckan all went well and with the tide with us we rushed through Sound of Luing (Awesome rocks here) and on into the Firth of Lorne, with a southerly 4 we made good progress and Tobermorey became our destination. We arrived just ahead of dusk and moored to the pontoon by the new Harbour Office facility(thank you Jim) In good company with two P2000 navel training patrol boats.
Dawn was calm and sunny, we Fuelled up visited the post office/general store This was required not only for food but to post back car keys ‘borrowed from Redbay!’ we then Left Tobermorey to get as far north as we could get for today.
Brilliant day the sun was out and stayed out – wind increased during the day to force 6. Between the islands this was fine for our run up the Sound of Sleat, around Kyle of Loch Alsh and on past Applecross (Monty Hall’s croft) then up north. As the lee of the land fell away then so the heavier seas built up, heavy going from here. We turned right into Loch Torriden and found a mooring buoy for lunch in a small idyllic bay. Once refreshed we headed on into bigger following seas. We stuffed once in a big way – and despite the cabin – we had water everywhere! After this we had to run 30 degrees or so off the waves then ‘tack’ and run 30 degrees off the waves the other way while rounding the point of Stoer, to effectively increase the wavelength. As the wind increased we hid behind every headland and went between Handa Island/mainland then made good progress into Kinlochbervie. Arrive 16.45, discussed fuelling and got fed from the Ice plant where they feed ice and red diesel to the fishing boats.
The Harbour Master did say we were the first boat to visit this year! This was the most beautiful harbour to date we have visited. We had a great meal at the Hotel and sat watching the sun set to the west over Loch Inchard.
Cape Wrath has a reputation, and we wanted to respect it, the problem was the favourable tides were from 01.30 or 13.30 for 5 hours.
So we got up at 3am and left at half past, we run out into still airs but some rolling swell. In the dark and you see nothing so even 10 knots seems fast. Slowly we built up our speed and ran at 20 kts. Steering by the chart plotter and compass is real hard work, so the moon added a welcome reference to steer by. We rounded the cape while in the dark and the seas flattened out from here to dead flat. We aimed to make a landfall at The Old Man of Hoy rock on Hoy Island..
Our course was directly into the dawn and soon we were treated to a spectacular sunrise, we made the Old Man rock just as the sun was up. Problem now in leaving at 3am and not 1am was that the tide was wrong in the Sound of Hoy, it had turned and was against us. We had huge standing waves and as the depth dropped from 60 metres to 8 they were breaking, we slowed to 10 knots and got through into Scapa Flow. Stromness marina for 07.30 we signed in and used the great facilities, showers etc. Within 1 hour the whole place was fogbound for the whole day – so the early start didn’t seem so bad at this point.
After freshening up and a tidy of the boat we had breakfast at ‘Julia’s’ and then did some shopping and had a look around. The fog had come down, to stay…we did the Museum at Lyness taking first a taxi to Houghton then the inter-island ferry, The Museum helped us learn more about Scarpa Flow and the Orkneys role during two world wars – Fascinating , the scutterling of the German Fleet (after WW1) and the sinking of the Royal Oak (WW2)
Looking at the forecast before leaving Redbay we had seen big winds coming in for Orkney, initially we had until Sunday noon before they hit, but each time we looked the arrival was to be sooner. It meant keeping moving or waiting a week in Orkney!
So we had a window until what was now noon Saturday before we had NW7 winds – they were forecast to arrive that suddenly.
Again the Pentland Firth tides needed to be got right – up to 8 knots! We were up again early to catch the East then SE tidal flow. The fog was here thicker than ever.
We left at 03.30 and followed a preset route. I have never seen such poor visibility. We saw only 3 lights – We ran out and had a few genuine scares and false alarm scares also. We ran at 17 kts. just on the plane. The Raymarine plotter was showing a combined screen of chart (with Radar overlay) and ‘roadway’ showing our route to next destination and x track error. The radar has various settings, we didn’t want it finding land miles off we wanted it to survey the critical 2Nm around us, we had 3 radar contacts the first two came together and one was directly in our path, one difficulty in fog and dark is being able to steer a steady enough course such that the radar angles to targets remained constant for assessment. The third contact came also with an overlayed AIS marker, so determining the other vessels speed and course was straightforward. In some ways the slower we went the harder it became…
We had two narrow sections one of which is also the main shipping channel – between Flotta Island and an isolated danger beacon. Channel width 0.8Nm we were towards the edge of the channel and still couldn’t see Roan Head light!
Duncansby head was not seen, despite there being no wind the waves were big and irregular and with fog and darkness very disorienting. We could take no more so planned to bale out at Wick.
Bryn was flagging so I got his sleeping bag out and he was soon gone. I stopped for 15 minutes to let me recover my senses; at this point while drifting we were doing 4.1kts in the right direction! Dawn was here but still fog. A small regular wave pattern was developing so I could steer to this, just checking the compass/plotter from time to time. Which would be more risky entering an unfamiliar port in very thick fog or staying out on a virtually empty ocean?
With dawn and some coffee inside and Bryn still asleep – I chose to run on for Helmsdale, during which the seas eased and the vis slowly improved.
So I could now see a chance to get right down to Inverness before the winds reached the forecast 6-7 possibly 8 in the East (from midday). Any part of this leg not done today would be extremely hard work the following day.
Timing was looking good also for the Caledonia sea lock – at Clacknaharry
We had a completely flat Murray Firth and saw seals and birdlife, we passed under the Kessock road bridge ahead of radioing Clacknaharry Sea Lock – These guys were very attentive and locked us in and we paid our dues of £135 for 8.4m one way transit permit.
After each lock or swing bridge one lock keeper will radio the next – this was great in that they were always ready for us, but stopping seemed that it would disrupt their flow!
We got through the last lock or bridge onto Lock Ness, we stopped to eat and sleep.
Then late in the afternoon we reviewed moving on and thinking where to stop that evening, the best place and choice for pubs was Fort Augustus at the far end of Lock Ness. By now the wind was on the nose force 5 with surprising short steep seas (Just like the Solent on a bad day) so we cruised the length of Loch Ness and moored at the bottom of the flight at Fort Augustus, on an almost deserted pontoon, and enjoyed a superb evening at ‘The Bothy’ a local canal side pub.
Having felt we may have rushed Loch Ness, after breakfast we went back a mile or two in bright clear conditions to review the scenery fully for a final time.
We waited for a Severn class life boat to exit the flight and then it was our turn to ascend. It takes about 10 minutes per lock so this flight took 50 minutes. Once out the top we had 4 miles and two single ‘up’ locks before reaching the highest point of the Caledonian Canal at loch Oich. Thereafter it would be descent all the way back to sea level.
Lock Oich is narrow and shallow but well buoyed, and surprisingly well detailed on the chart plotter! So we pressed on to Laggan locks ahead of Loch Lochy. Laggan locks has an old barge which operates as the ‘Eagle Pub’, with some great real ales – and Ginger Beer for Bryn.
Loch Lochy was reported to have 1m waves as the wind was close to a force 6 blowing directly down the loch towards us. It was one of those occasions where going faster made the ride smoother and hence we ran along around 32 knots bridging the troughs in the waves. Gairlochy (at the far end of Loch Lochy) was very picturesque. We nearly stopped here for overnight, but at the highest point we were exposed to very strong winds and with no where to eat… so we moved on to just above the final flight ‘Neptune’s Staircase’ at Corpach.
We had avoided big winds so far while at sea, but had to keep moving and had cut out our lay days… The problem now was a severe low off Ireland giving strong S or SW winds forecast today for 6-7 just when we needed to go south once again.
After showers and breakfast we descended into Corpach basin, very pleasant, we fuelled up and purchased supplies from the village shop. Then following a discussion with the lock keeper we learnt we were not going to get to sea until 14.00 as the exit from the sea lock is tide dependent. We reviewed the forecast on their PC and had a coffee with them – all very civilised,
A sensible plan today was to get as far south as comfortable, we could get to Oban or even further down to Craobh Haven. We had a smooth run down Loch Linnhe past the narrows at Corran Point then we slipped between Lismore Island and the mainland into the Lynn of Lorn. We then had an exposed section across between Lismore Island and Oban, before again slipping between Kerrera and the mainland down Kerrera sound. We worked around Seil Island into Easdale Bay and then through the Cuan Sound and on to Craobh Haven. A superb stop with the ‘Lord of the Isles’ pub offering good food.
We had an invitation to visit Gigha Island and meet the owner of Achamore House – A splendid B&B/county Hotel we had planned to stop the night here as the owner has a near identical 8,4m Redbay for Gigha Seatours. Thusday forecast was even worse so stopping over would add to our getting back difficulty.
With extreme frustration I got the lady at Craobh Haven Marina (itself a very nice place) to eventually allow me to see her computer screen so I could get an up to date forecast. She only wanted to point me to a 3 day old forecast printed and stuck on the wall. The result was the possibility that winds would ease for 3 hours from 15.00 to 19.00 before becoming even stronger with gale force 8 forecast overnight.
We made our way south hiding behind every small island, however getting to Gigha was proving hard work. When conditions were particularly uncomfortable we stopped in a small anchorage on Eileen Mor (off loch Sween) the anchorage faced north and we dropped the hook at 11am and sat it out rested and eat while listening to the winds ripping at the canopy and veering the boat on its anchor cable. By 3 pm the winds had eased so we poked our nose out and successfully made the final 15Nm to Gigha, taking 1 hour.
Whilst on Gigha, within the beautiful 50 acres of ornamental gardens, we climbed to a view point Northern Ireland and the sea/weather conditions could be seen and were currently looking OK.
So a very short visit (sorry Don) and we hoped to make Ballycastle on or about dusk.
Just as we left Gigha the coastguard issued an imminent gale warning for Irish Sea and Malin Gale 8!. We got 3/4 across and then the squalls and high winds came in – but all OK we had got far enough that the last 10Nm at 10 knots into increasing seas was acceptable, we slipped past Rathin Island on its East coast and into Ballycastle marina.
The winds overnight were very strong. Yacht halyards frapped and the boat needed extra springs. The winds were due to back overnight to be a W7 for Wednesday. Well after breakfast and a walk around the marina (6 other Redbays at this one) we headed out, the winds were lighter than forecast, with only one headland to round and then shelter from the land the last leg was really perfect conditions, we added the final hour to the engine and tied up at the lifeboat slip.
Tom from Redbay brought the tractor down and hauled the boat out – we flushed the engine, cleaned her up, fuelled her up and put bags of dry unused clothing in to Redbays store room.
We had had a cracking trip and really enjoyed ourselves.
650Nm in 8 days we averaged 18knots of speed and used 22L/hr of diesel.
The Yamaha ME432 engine ran faultlessly and the TRP (twin rotating props) kept the boat straight and level.
Some points about our boat. Storm Breaker
Our Redbay 8.4 has the expedition layout, that is a twin berth forecabin. It is tight in here but sleeping on board saves time (and money!) and is actually fun, and beats trying to find B&B accommodation at each stop over. It also gives the flexibility to arrive or leave at any time, or to have an afternoon kip!
We specified the boat with two Ullman Suspension jockey seats and behind these a pair of KAB suspension seats. These are more conventional but each type has its advantages – but both are very welcome over those traditional fixed jockey seats.
We have a sea toilet – for when ladies are on board and an Eberspacher diesel cabin heater. This was specified to allow the boating season to be extended at both ends. Over the winter 08/09 we extended so far each end that the two joined up!
The boat performed very well, as did Raymarine plotter/radar/AIS
No damage, no specific boat failures – no extra work upon getting back
Ready for the next cruise…….watch this space
Paul and Bryn Beaurain
Pictures From the Cruise
Swell in North Channel
Achnamore House Gigha
Day6 Narrows at Corran Pt Loch Linnhe
Day6 Corpach Basin Nr Fort William
Day6 Ben Nevis Backdrop
Day5 Loch Ness
Day5 Fort Augustus locks
Day5 Fort Augustus
Day4 Fog Fog Fog
Day4 arrive Clacknaharry Sea loch Inverness
Day3 Museum on Hoy at Lyness
Day3 Landfall at The Old Man of Hoy
Day3 Dawn and the Orkneys
Day3 Bryn at Stromness
Day2 Skye Rd bridge
Day2 Loch Inchard & Supper
Day2 Kyle Rhea
Day1 arrive Tobermaray