Having spent two days in Lochinver tied to a pontoon gave the crew a chance to properly relax and recuperate - I'm almost always exhausted and I sometimes forget the crew need a break too!
We tend to run this boat pretty hard as we have to keep moving and sometimes it's just nice to have a little break - But taking a break, even for a day or two, in a marina means we have to be on the anchor for at least as long as we were on a pontoon - pontoons cost money - but sometimes just to see the crew nice and relaxed is really worth it. But - it's time to go - I tried to make another little video - at least the camera didn't fall over this time which seems like progress, of a kind...
Leaving Lochinver seemed uneventful - it was so quiet with a light morning haze with the sun coming up - it just seems to make everything really beautiful - well, I think so...
But then, an entire pod of dolphins completely surrounded the boat - I was just stunned. Never having seen that many dolphins in one place at one time was mesmerizing.
Then, I remembered my camera was below decks, when I got back topside most of them had left but I did manage to get some decent snaps of the one that were still following!
After the dolphins had moved on to where ever dolphins go, we carried on down the coast and the scenery continued to be breathtaking - it really is just stunning - some of the best I've ever seen.
Everywhere has its own charm, its own brand of beauty but having spent a considerable amount of time in this country, and never having been this far North - I am blown away by how pretty it is...and discovering that it's been here all this time makes me wonder why I've never been up here before.
A little while later the sun started to cut through the clouds and I always have to stop and take a minute to appreciate it - in my old life I easily worked 100+ hours per week and never - and I mean never - got the chance, I never had the time, always just so focused on earning a living - so when I see it, it always kinda takes me a little bit by surprise.
Once we got out of loch Inver and started heading down the coast, it wasn't long before our old friend Mr. Fog came back - only this time there was a bit more visibility and I decided just to carry on - keeping a close eye on the Radar and AIS Display for any oncoming vessels. After about 4hrs the fog didn't seem to want to burn off, and I was tired of keeping a constant and persistent watch.
There was a small marina coming up called Gairloch coming into range and I figured that would be as good a place as any to stop for a bit - possibly visit the shop there and anchor in the loch. I tried to call them, email them and as we got closer attempted to radio them - to no avail. We entered the Loch and fog almost immediately disappeared keeping itself out to sea.
As we made for the marina at the eastern end of the loch, we noticed quite a few other yachts anchored of in little bays and inlets along the way - I suspected the marina might be full - and as nobody was answering any form of messages, we had no way of checking...and with the pontoon behind the pier we couldn't see how full or empty it was - but it looked like there ware no masts behind there....so no other yachts....perhaps there would be plenty of space.
As we pulled up to the pontoon - we could feel the disapproving gaze from the locals, as I began to tie up the yacht - it seemed to intensify. I just put it down to paranoia...we hadn't done anything wrong. The real story is this, Lochinver was nice place but the shops were crazy expensive, and we really don't have enough money to be spending on way over-priced basic goods - so we really needed the shop here.
After securing the yacht to the pontoon - the crew had a bit of roll around in the sun while I made a list for the shop...
There were a couple of guys on the pontoon who seemed friendly enough and told me where the shop was and directed my attention toward an honesty box...
The people who run this pontoon don't answer email, phone calls or the radio - plus they can't be bothered to come down to charge you for your stay - and according to the note above the honesty box it would appear I was going to have to pay top dollar for this unmanaged, and unserviced pontoon...not cool.
As I found the shop, this moment marked the beginning of the weirdness - I managed to get a few supplies, mainly cat food for the crew but something wasn't quite right - everyone was looking at me. I wasn't treated with any level of politeness, despite being polite to anyone and everyone I spoke to.
When I got back to the pontoon - there were three people standing next to my boat, and one of them had started to untie my lines and I wasn't even on the boat! My cats were on board though and were about to be cast adrift into the harbour - I asked what the hell he thought he was doing - apparently, they didn't want 'my virus'!
I was wearing a mask and had observed every precaution - as I always do - but it would seem that we're not welcome here, and they said so with a rather an unnecessarily long string of foul language, and they got right in my face - and THEY weren't even wearing a mask. It became apparent why there were no other boats in the marina, and why all the other boats were anchored out.
Despite being late in the day, we were forced to seek shelter - elsewhere - back into the fog we go - as dangerous as it is - it's probably safer out there on the sea than taking my chances on an over-priced pontoon with unpredictable locals on the loose, so we had to leave without topping off our water tanks or anything.
When I got inside the boat - I found the crew hiding - something had been going on prior to me getting back, I suspect these insane people were banging on the boat, not knowing that I wasn't on board trying to find the owner and had freaked them out a bit....luckily I had locked the boat up before leaving so they were at least safe from the crazies.
Within the loch, there were a few places to anchor, but the spaces were already taken up with other boats, so we're going to have to travel a good bit further South to find somewhere safe to anchor out for the night, and on top of that, the weather was picking up a bit also, so finding a nice place to hide from that weather was going to require some extra special care and planning to keep myself and the kitties safe.
This day started out so well but was now taking a bit of a dark twist. I poured over the chart plotter for hours trying to find a safe haven, but the closest place was over 30nm away, it would be dark before got anywhere safe. Despite that situation - the fog eventually lifted and the scenery, was again, lovely and our problems seemed to melt away - until the wind died and now the sun was setting, and we're back in pot country again, and we were going to have to act fast to stay safe.
As the sun was setting I managed to find a small bay, a little further away than I would have liked but I feel we would at least be safe there for the night. With a destination selected, and a course plotted - all that was let to do was watch the sunset on yet another day - I had just hoped we can get there before it too dark.
We're trying to get to a place called Applecross Bay which is a tiny little place, and given we are not going ashore - we're unlikely to meet any more Covid Crazies. A lot of you may think this lifestyle is easy and carefree, but right now - the way the world is - it is anything but easy and carefree.
We eventually get to the top of the loch where Applecross Bay is located and slowly crept our way up the loch toward the shallows where we had hoped we could anchor for the night - but the loch was blanketed in fog so we reduced our speed and I return to 'pot watch'.
After two hours on watch, we found ourselves where we needed to be for the night, just in time, as the last of the light is beginning to fade away. I wasn't able to take any pictures as the nature of the situation was getting a bit extreme again.
Getting into position to drop the anchor while dodging pots in the fog is just a real drag on morale, I can't explain fully how stressful that is - having to keep track of EVERYTHING is such a drain, mentally and physically - what was supposed to be a light-hearted short sail turned into an 18hr day full of craziness - much of it, completely unnecessary and caused by people who had taken it upon themselves, without authority, to make life extra difficult for others. I really don't know what wrong with the world anymore. Now anchored in 6 meters of water, and although I can't see it - I know there is a town behind that fog.
The fog covers everything in a layer of dew and by morning everything on deck is soaking wet and slippery. What a miserable start to the morning. I skip any kind of breakfast just so we can get underway and to try and get out of this horrible fog that's so thick - you're lucky if you can see 50ft in front of the boat - pot watch is again, very intense.
We eventually get out of the foggy loch and began to make our way toward the Skye Bridge, we have to pass under it in order to continue South or face a rather long detour around Skye - we need to get out of this place. Around mid-morning, the fog thinned and eventually lifted enough for us to relax a bit and we can at least see where we were going - The bridge is now in sight!
Now, you would think that being in buoyed entrance would mean that that last thing you have to worry about are lobster pots - but yet there they are - totally illegal but around here no one seems to care - and with covid keeping all non-essential people at home - no one is even checking...
I actually hate bridges, you can do the math and make sure you have plenty of clearance for the mast, but from the deck it just seems like you're going to hit it - every time.
Once under the bridge, I was pretty sure we were out of the woods, and the next part should be plain sailing - there was supposed to be some pontoons on the other side - but no pontoons were present - again I tried to call, email and radio a marina - and again no answer - to hell with it - we're pirates now - and quite frankly - we need to stay away from these expensive pontoons so we just carried on up Loch Alsh.
As it stands we are about two weeks away from being completely broke, so we are just gonna have to increase our level of pirate-ness - there are a few anchorages in this loch, so we go to have a look at these anchorages and see what we think.
It did not take long to realise this loch is absolutely covered in pots! buoys everywhere, some only a few feet apart and trying to navigate through them was a nightmare. There must be easily 100 pots down in this loch. This loch is actually part of a short-cut around and through the back of the Island of Skye shaving miles off of our journey and seemed to be worth it, but looking at all the pots - I feel like I may have made a mistake.
Loch Alsh is as nice as any other loch we have seen with big hills and rocky outcrops, but hard to appreciate it when you are tired and dodging pots - it just doesn't seem to end.
After zig-zagging all the way up this loch and avoiding countless pots, we discovered every anchorage was also covered in pots - there will be no staying here. Now, finding ourselves at the top of the loch with nowhere to anchor safely and at the mouth of the Kyle Rhea cut-through, we have no option - but to go through.
We are again in a dangerous position, there are tremendous currents, rip-tides and eddies that flow through this channel - you should only really attempt to go through here at a slack tide for safety reasons - but we're here now, with nowhere to anchor and everything to lose...but we've come this far - and if we were going to give up, we should have given up a long time ago - we can't go back, we're not going back - we're doing this now.
On the other side, Kyle Rhea is an anchorage in a beautiful bay, if we can just make it through this, we can anchor and rest for a day - at this stage I am so freaking tired I'm almost seeing double, and can't even remember when I last time I ate something, running on adreneline and caffeine, its moments like this that you find out just how you react under pressure...
I took one last look at the warnings all over the chart telling me not to do what I'm about to do - the thought of turning back running through my mind but high on caffeine I swing the tiller into the mouth of Kyle Rhea - here we go - buckle up kitties.
Almost immediately I can feel the current on the rudder as it vibrates against the oncoming water, even the sound of the engine changes as it strains to push us against the oncoming current. The water looks still, but its deep and moving very quickly and we are barely moving - I increase the throttle slightly, just a little to help push us further into the Kyle Rhea cut-through.
Halfway through, the rip-tides and eddies grab the bow and swing it from one direction to another, and at one point nearly forcing us into the shore, I increase the throttle a little more. The current increases and the whole boat is making noises I've never heard before - but its moments like this we live for - this is living.
About three-quarters of the way through the water is swirling all over the place, more revs on the engine are needed to power through this aquatic mess. The throttle is almost maxed out and I can barely keep the boat on any heading, I just try to keep the bow pointed towards the exit - the charts were right - I shouldn't be doing this.
The last part of Kyle Rhea was the strongest and by now, the engine is at maximum revs - we've used up every bit of horse-power in our engine - we've got nothing left to give - we have to make it now or we're in big trouble, really big trouble - at this stage there's no turning around, the current would drive your bow straight into the shore and onto the rocks.
The cats are down below, probably completely unaware of the immediate danger that surrounds us at this moment, I can hear Phoebe in the cat-box and see her go back to her cabin curl up in a ball and go back to sleep - completely confident that everything will be just fine - I wonder where she gets her confidence from - I guess when we get to that age - whatever happens, just happens.
These are big risks I hadn't intended on taking, but the situation has forced us to behave in this way - the environment we find ourselves in forces our hand at every turn, all planning has gone out the window as the boat encounters an even stronger current as we approach the final quarter-mile of Kyle Rhea and we are making no headway now. I managed to manouver the boat to the starboard side of the channel where the surface currents appeared to be less and we begin to make almost half a knot of speed, I take the boat in to even shallower water, we have barely 3ft of water under the keel and the engine is maxed out but we're now making a full knot of speed - we only have a little bit further to - we can make it.
30min later we manage to pick up speed as the current eases and we progress into the final furlong of the Kyle Rhea, we almost have it beat. But even here, one wrong move and we're done. The depth gauge flashes zero for a sec as the current is driving us into the shore, I swing the tiller to move towards deeper water. I have no idea how close we came to complete failure but I think we narrowly missed a huge rock - not on the chart - but we missed it and we are still floating and are now exiting the Kyle Rhea. The depth gauge flashes a healthier depth as the engine strains to push us into the centre of the remaining bit of the channel - 5min later we are doing 3kts and are finally clear and making our way slowly into the Sound of Sleat and heading over to Bernera Bay.
The water changes from a swirling mess to a glassy pond and I ease back on the throttle and begin to look for our target depth of 5m to anchor in. A few minutes later, I'm dropping the anchor and the chain rattles away into the water. I go back to the helm, engage the engine astern to pull on the anchor and drive it deep into the seabed.
We're anchored, and done for the day. This bay is peaceful and quiet, there are no other boats here, and more importantly - no crappy over-priced pontoons with crazy people untying my boat, it just me and the cats in a little bay, all to ourselves.
Anchored with the engine idling on tick over just to cool it down, "Gretta" our diesel engine served us well, and she performed as we needed her to - but she is burning hot after being at max revs for over an hour - beyond the limit of normal use, but she got us through the Kyle Rhea and we are now safe from the rest of the world. 10mins later the engine is shut down - now, its really quiet.
Time for the crew to be released so they can enjoy this wonderful little place we find ourselves in, and time for a cup of coffee for the Captain.
As we were not able to fully stock Gairloch, by this time tomorrow we will be out of everything again, water, sugar, milk, human food and cooking gas and just about anything else you can think of - so whether we like it or not - we will have to visit a place with a shop - I have a box of cheesy macoroni I'm going to thoroughly enjoy tonight while I plan tomorrows resupply mission, but first, time for the crew to have a play about.
With the crew seemly happy enough just lounging around, a few repairs were tended to but before long the sun was setting, yet again...and some planning was needed before we leave this place tomorrow morning - plus there was a box of macaroni with my name on it, and the crew needed to be fed also.
A quick check on the anchor to make sure we weren't going to drag during the night was performed and quick tidy up on deck of the lines to make sure if I had to get up in the night I wasn't going to trip over anything.
The crew were rounded up and sent below as the sunset behind us. This was a long day - tonight, we're all going to sleep well. Tomorrow is another day and we're going to get another early start if we're going to make it back to civilization for some supplies.
Still can't really believe the events of the last 48hrs, the world has gone covid crazy and we're on the edge of life, and loving it.
Till next time....