With the weather window closing, it's time to move on again - The Orkney Islands were a surprise for us, I had expected a lot of rain and probably too much wind - but I was wrong, the islands were beautiful and conditions were perfect - and it is with a heavy heart that we leave this place - Maybe one day we'll come back!
The wind was gusting as we left, our gauges recorded one gust at 27kts - and we felt it! But, on average it was 20-25 kts for the first Hour. It was at this time we had wished we had put a reef or two in the mainsail as we could feel the rig straining under the pressure of the wind, despite slackening all the lines. It was about this time I heard a strange noise coming from the base of the mast. Quickly examining the base of the mast revealed movement - not cool.
On deck where the mast connects through the deck to the compression-post we could see that with each gust the aft-side of the base of the mast would lift from the deck approximately 1-2mm - which may not seem like much - but it's more than I would prefer - I prefer zero movement. I quickly went below and pulled off the ceiling panels surrounding the mast fittings, this revealed a horrible reality - Loose bolts - at exactly that moment a gust hit the boat and I could see two of the bolts moving. This is the stuff of nightmares.
Immediately, I grabbed my tool bag and grabbed a wrench to tighten the offending bolts. Once tightened, something still was not quite right about the situation - the mast shouldn't have been moving anyway - assuming all stays and shrouds were tensioned correctly. A quick check revealed that the back-stay was not as tight as it should have been and the lack of tension was permitting the lifting at the base to occur...4 turns of the adjuster and all was well again - no more lifting - possible disaster averted.
For the next two hours a close watch was maintained on the newly tightened fittings to ensure there was, in fact, no additional movement, meanwhile, Chloe occupied the captain's lap keeping his legs nice and warm! And after a while the issue was declared fixed - for now.
I later discovered vibrations from the engine had cause two bolts to come slightly loose - this will be rectified with the addition of some locking nuts to prevent this from occurring in the future. I don't feel that we were in any immediate risk - but is still a little scary.
We went back to sailing at full speed again, I went below to make a cup of coffee and while doing so I kept an eye on the AIS watching for large ship or vessels that might get in our way. According to the AIS there were no big ships out there, however - a visual inspection revealed that there was in fact a ship out there - two of them actually!
This tug boat was towing a huge barren hull to god knows where and neither vessel had AIS to indicate their presence - As well as being dangerous, it's a lot more common than you might think.
We encounter quite a few fishing boats who go 'ghost' so as not to reveal their prime fishing ground(s) to anyone who might be watching - even though I understand why they do it - we still don't like it.
As land came into view we were going to have to figure out where to go, the initial plan that was formed was to possibly go to the Rabbit Islands, but as we approached them and the wind was still favorable, a decision was made to carry on to Loch Eriboll while the going was good.
Loch Eriboll is about 6 nm long and only has a few suitable anchorages, and a real nice one right up at the top of the loch, which is where we're headed. The crossing back to the mainland of Scotland toward the West Coast route much more straightforward, and without currents to worry about and a favorable tide - we made good time.
Arriving, our intention was to sail all the way up to the top (Southern End), but upon arrival, there was a gale blowing down the loch the made sailing almost impossible - Sails were stowed and furled, and we switched to the motor to make it up to the Southern end of the loch.
The loch is really beautiful - kinda looks like the backdrop to every fancy Scottish Whisky brand I've ever seen - very nice and quite remote with almost no signs of human life except for duo of cottages at the top - we sort of wonder who might have the pleasure of living in such a place surrounded by such beauty.
After getting to the top we dropped the hook and the crew came up to check out what scenery the Scottish Highlands had to offer. I never tire of seeing their little faces light up as they check out each new anchorage - it really makes me happy - every time.
Although, the water was like glass and this was a secure anchorage - The Captain had a strange feeling about the place, and although it was very nice - there was something very uneasy about the place that compelled the Captain to pull up the anchor up and leave before dark set in.
The loch has quite a few lobster/crab pots dotted around and it would be impossible to get out of there safely in the dark without possibly fouling the prop on a rope.
We got out of the loch safely and quickly looked for a new anchorage before the sunset completely - maneuvering in the dark is shady business, especially in shallow water used by fishermen - at night you just can't see the marker buoys, it was a race against time.
But we made it, like we always do - and we're super happy with our new anchorage. We settled upon Balnakeil Bay and water was smooth with no swell and after dropping anchor the crew had a good look about before being ushered down below for a well-deserved dinner and brushing session before some sleep. There are no other humans here.
At this point, both the Captain and Crew were pretty worn out after quite a bit of sailing, and we collectively decided to stay for a few days to rest up before sailing the last leg of the North Coast of Scotland and working our way around Cape Wrath. The weather wasn't quite right to do the Cape and that's really the main reason we stayed for a few days, had the weather been ideal we would've just carried on - The Cape is not to be messed with - It's called Cape Wrath for a reason - and we are right to be cautious, it's a very dangerous place, or at least it can be.
We only have enough supplies and drinking water for about another 48hrs, so we'll have to make a move toward some populated place where a shop might be located - and by supplies - I mean cat food, namely Chloe's food. They both have their favorites, and they get a little upset when the Captain doesn't provide their favorite things in a timely fashion - and they care not for the Captain's excuses. Soon we will be moving again...