To and from the Outer Hebrides

Having picked up new crew member Paul in Mallaig, we headed up towards the Kyle of Lochalsh but dipped into Loch Hourn for a night. A typical wide open sea loch at the entrance, it narrows a little and we found a wonderfully quiet anchorage to starboard, protected by an island with resident seals who watched over us.

Anchorage at Eilean a’ Phiobaire, Loch Hourn, with seals on the rocks and a volcanic backdrop

After a quiet night we had to time our passage north through the tidal gate of Kyle Rhea, which sends you smartly backwards if you get the timing wrong. Sadly we saw no otters at the well known spot on the left as you go up, but we passed through without incident and passed under the bridge to Skye (I remember my first visits to Skye in the 70s and 80s when it was ferry only).

Sailing under the Skye bridge

Once round, we had a good sail up past Kyle of Lochalsh and round to Plockton, our destination for the night. It is a lovely setting, with sub tropical gardens, a dominating castle and a beautiful anchorage. We picked up a mooring and explored. The photographs give you an idea.

The castle is on the extreme right
The view from the Plockton Hotel, where we had a good meal, starting with…
Haggis with whisky poured over
…and finishing with more of the latter back on board

In the morning it was a bit driech, but we headed off, aiming for Rona but with a potential further destination in mind.

Admin in Plockton: taking on water, taking out refuse, and pumping the dinghy

On passage to Rona we were invited on the radio to skirt around some MOD testing which was going on, which we did happily. We anchored briefly in the delightful Arcarseid Mhor in Rona, but found it a bit crowded (although very beautiful) and so after a cup of tea decided to cross the Little Minch to Loch Seaforth, which is at the top of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. By now the wind had got up, and Seafort is known to funnel the wind beautifully, which it did. After negotiating a large salmon farm at the entrance, which appeared out of the mist, we hived off to port into the relative shelter of Loch Mharaig, to escape the wind and the driving rain.

Anchorage at Loch Mharaig. I’m sure it is pretty but we were just grateful for the shelter…and the anchor held well in some big gusts. The pontoon is one of many in the area for the fish farms
I keep the chartplotter zoomed in when we are settled at anchor, as it gives an immediate indication should we drag (and also has an alarm). Here is the night’s plot after some gusts of 25 knots+ through the night; we barely moved, swinging in a gentle arc as expected. The lines at the bottom were when we set the anchor

The next day the wind continued to howl but we explored up into Loch Seaforth, encountering a gust of 44 knots as we motored back out. We hadn’t seen a great deal of the surrounding mountains either, given the mist, but got a glimpse on the way out.

Motoring out of Seaforth in a strong headwind

We motored around to the next loch, Claidh, and found a wonderful anchorage which gave perfect shelter, with red deer waiting to greet us on the hillside. Eilean Thinngarstaigh is a special place.

The photo doesn’t do justice to the beauty of Eilean Thinngarstaigh, which cuts out the swell of the Little Minch in beautiful surroundings

The next morning the poor weather had passed over, and we decided to sail out to the lovely Shiant Islands, known for their beauty and bird life. They were stunning, and we took the opportunity to stretch our legs, having been rather cooped up at anchor over the previous 48 hrs. Landing at the foot of Garbh Eilean, we climbed up to get a view, and Jonty, Caspar and Paul ascended a ridge to get a fine view over the islands, and of the many puffins and guillemots, amongst others.

We had a fine broad reach out to the Shiants

…admiring the stunning rockfaces and thousands of birds on the water and wing…

...motoring through a sea arch in the dinghy…
…getting close to guillemots…
…and puffins…
and seeing Spellbinder from one angle
and another

They were fabulous islands. Having enjoyed them we then had a broad reach on the other tack to Stornoway, where we were met by old friends James and Dorothy, who looked after us royally. Having entertained them on board the first night, James showed us around part of Lewis the next day and invited us to dine in their lovely house the next.

Spellbinder dressed overall in Stornoway harbour, to mark HM’s official birthday
Carloway Broch – an Iron Age structure
Calanais Standing Stones
Jonty surveying a fine Hebridean beach, and another below

We enjoyed Lewis a great deal – many thanks James and Dorothy.

Our final voyage before heading up further north saw us cross the Minch is some quite lively conditions – a SW wind gusting regularly to Force 7, with two metre seas, with frequent rain. Not for the fainthearted, but entirely tenable when the wind is behind you. We had a fast, if rather damp crossing, entering Loch Laxford and finding a great anchorage in Loch a’ Chadh-fi, where we escaped the wind and swell.

3 reefs in the main and genoa, and reaching fast into Loch Laxford in the mist
Loch a’ Chadh-fi is known for its pink rocks and adventure school

After a quiet night Paul and I dinghied across and were delighted to meet some residents of this really remote place – the road head is a mile and a half away, and everything has to be carried along a steep and rocky path, or brought round by sea. We first met the remarkable Rita, who told us about her life here.

A slightly ‘Swallows and Amazons’ feel to the dinghy landing

Rita, in front of her remarkable and remote cottage, where she has lived with her husband for 30 years, despite the huge logistical challenges

As the owner of a croft, Rita has to keep livestock. This is her front garden

We then headed on and were delighted to meet John and Marie-Christine Ridgway. John was hugely famous in his time as a yachtsman and adventurer, and they have lived on and off in this remote place for 57 years, founding an adventure school which is now run by one of their daughters. They are remarkable people, and we much enjoyed our coffee with them.

John and Marie-Christine
English Rose IV, the yacht John sailed in the famous 1968 Golden Globe race
English Rose VI, a Bowman 57 which has been around the world twice, hauled up to the bottom of the garden

After a wonderful morning we headed back to Spellbinder, and motored round to the last sea loch before Cape Wrath, Loch Inchard, and berthed at Kinlochbervie. Here we await an early morning start, to time the tides right to get to round the Cape and get to Orkney tomorrow.

Kinlochbervie, just south of Cape Wrath. There is a surprisingly large fish factory here

4 thoughts on “To and from the Outer Hebrides

  1. Neil

    Nick, I am aboard St Barbara with a novice crew and Ed Middleton. We crossed the Moray Firth today in a W F5-7 and experienced some testing sailing at times. Now in Wick (lovely and worth a stop on your way back south) and heading for the Orkneys tomorrow too. I plan to go into Scapa Flow and find an anchorage there before the wind gets up in the early evening. Any thoughts about where you might be? Would be fabulous to RV – we will be there for 2 or 3 days. Probably won’t make it further north due to low wind forecast, and heading west past Cape Wrath next week. Neil
    P.S. my mobile is inop but I can receive texts and email by other means.


  2. Charles Delaney

    Fantastic post! What great pictures, and always nice to see Spellbinder dressed overall. This is a must on our travels now. Hope you are well.

    Charles and Caroline

    Liked by 1 person

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