To Stornoway

Trip Start May 06, 2008
Trip End Sep 30, 2008

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The wind was still with us and still blowing from the North. The forecast was for it to decline during the day, to a F3 or 4, then to back to the SW and pick up again. The orientation of the Hebrides is such that a Northerly wind is OK to sail in, so again we were able to set off. At this juncture, we were very close to the Shiant Islands, a group of 3 islands 6 miles off the coast of Harris. Ever since reading the book 'Sea Room' by Adam Nicolson, I've wanted to see them and today was my opportunity.
Adam Nicolson inherited the islands from his father, who had acquired them in the 1920's from Compton Mackenzie, the novelist. Nicolson loves the islands and his fascination with them was infectious and I was very eager to see them. In fact, I had been hoping to anchor there but there is no good safe anchorage, it is only possible to over-night in settled conditions and the weather was anything but settled. However, it was with high anticipation that I approached the islands, shooting along at 6 - 7 knots in the F3/4 winds. It was very grey, in fact virtually the only colour was grey but the very monochromatic nature of things made for a unique Hebridean beauty.

The Shiants do not have any full time inhabitants. There is only a single little bothy on the central island that Adam Nicolson used to use. I think that he is happy for people to use it, provided they seek permission first. The only full time inhabitants are sheep, which graze the 500 acres or so of the 3 islands. There are, of course, myriads of seabirds but many of these, such as the puffins, are only on shore to breed, spending the rest of the year out in the north atlantic, the amazing little things.
We sailed into the bay housing the bothy and then furled the sails and motored round the headland and 'round the back' of the islands and thence onwards towards Stornoway. Over in the distance, we could see a small yacht with a bright, dayglo orange headsail. It later transpired that this was Jalina - Roger told us that he has been narrowly missed twice in his little yacht so he decided to make himself as conspicuous as possible and it certainly works!
The rest of the afternoon we motorsailed, as the wind was now pretty much against us. The periodic bouts of rain had passed and the sun occasionally and fleetingly, fought its way to the lightest patches of cloud, thereby increasing the temperature slightly. When we were an hour from the harbour at about 16:30, we called the harbour master and asked if any berths were available on the pontoons, to be told no and to raft against a boat called Jacobea, an old Mirage. Roger was already in and against the harbour wall when we arrived. The owners of Jacobea, Colin and Julia and their two dogs, made us very welcome and assisted with the tying on business. Colin and I also dropped a kedge anchor out in the harbour, the idea being if the wind picks up from the south and thus pushes us against the harbour wall, I could pull us out on the kedge which should keep us off. That is the theory.
After a quick shop in the Coop ( everything closes in Harris for the Sabbath) we invited Jalina and Jacobea's respective couples on board for a drink, which they all attended bar Liz, who opted for a shower in the public toilets / showers instead. There then passed a convivial 90 minutes or so, with stories and adventures being swapped. One that really stuck out was Roger's tale of how he got knocked down by a wall of water in the Shannon estuary in Ireland and broke 3 ribs, a bone in his hand, his nose and suffered huge contusions and haemorrhaging of his torso. He continued to sail for 70 miles and picked up a mooring at his destination, then set about sorting himself out. Plaster for his nose, splint for his hand and wait for it - cut his abdomen open to allow the blood to flow and sealed the cut with super glue, then donned a thin vest and a wet suit to keep the wound closed!!! He was like this for 2 weeks before he finally went to the hospital to get things sorted. I must say I'm not sure if I think he's certifiable or very brave - bit of both, I guess.
Everyone departed at around 9 o'clock, so Julie and I had a quick dinner of Fray Bentos steak & kidney pie and tinned peas. The first one this trip and we do so enjoy them!
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