We left Sinclairs Bay early in the early afternoon to time our crossing so as to miss the worst of the currents and to use the tide to our benefit. Crossing at the wrong time can be very dangerous even for larger boats – the Orkney Islands are littered with wrecks – and we did our best not to become one of them.
The first part went just fine, but as soon as we passed the last bit of Mainland Scotland – it got a bit crazy! The water churns and froths where the currents compete generating huge eddies that can spin the boat on a dime, very alarming to watch the bow of your home spin 60 degrees without warning can be quite alarming, and it happened about 5 times.
After the second or third time, you get a feel for the anomalies in the water and can easily correct the steering, but it is still a little scary to feel the whole boat being pushed around like a toy!
On our final approach to the Southern entrance our GPS systems all malfunctioned for some reason, I later discovered some electrical interference has caused this issue at the most important part of the crossing, and we had to veer away for fear of being swept in a disastrous direction. It took about 15min to restart all the receivers and get the data flowing to the chart plotter so we could have accurate headings for the autopilot.
The Islands have a low elevation on the southern side and all of the land seemingly blends into one large flat landmass - you just can't see where the gaps are from sea-level, it also makes it difficult to look for any visuals to get a bearing on – so without proper data, it would have been very dangerous forus to continue.
After the systems were restarted, data flowed and we continued on without any further complications and proceeded to Wha Taing (just a few letters away, I know). We dropped anchor in 5.5m of water and with a 15-20kt wind and good holding, we sat quite snugly on the hook.
The crew were quick on deck today, and rightly so – These islands are just breath-taking – the photos do not communicate the level awe experienced by the Captain and crew – looking at what we had gone through I was on a bit of a high from the trip and was soo excited I forgot to eat dinner!
After the crew and I watched the sunset, the first of a few here in these islands, we sort of realized that because we had not stopped in Wick as planned some supplies were short – namely drinking water and milk for the Captain's Coffee. We quickly hatched a plan to go to Stromness the following day on a supplies raid.
Stromness is about 16nm from where we were anchored, and also on the opposite side of the islands. Stromness has a marina, Marinas = money, we did call and ask if we could tie up for 20mins to take on supplies but there was to be a charge! – back to the charts.
Just North of our current location there was a small town called Holm, after consulting with another sailor we discovered it has a shop and a visitor mooring! YAY! The anchor was lifted, sails raised and course dialed in. Our elation was short-lived as upon arrival the visitor mooring ball was nowhere to be seen, but as we got a bit closer we could see the mooring ball was in fact – on the shore! Either washed there by weather or taken in by the locals who don't want visitors due to COVID-19.
We don't need mooring balls – we dropped anchor in 6m of water and blew up the dingy. A strenuous effort was made to make use of an outboard engine but the engine itself could not be started. After a long, long string of chalky pirate words my fate was accepted, and the oars were fetched from the stern locker and the Captain rowed ashore in 22kt winds – Easy on the way in with the wind blowing us ashore – different story on the way back.
The shop was very small and only had about 50 things in it, small places have small shops. I located the milk and bought it all with the exception of one pint that I let the locals keep, I wanted to buy it also but felt a bit bad for clearing them out.
A garage behind the shop let me fill my water canisters, everyone I spoke to was very nice and were very keen to assist me – this was a theme that continued on throughout our time in the islands - the people were just lovely!
I humphed it all back to the dingy that I had tied to the pier. I had kinda hoped that the extra weight might have helped keep the dingy more stable on the return trip – I was a victim of error. Still in a chalky mood about the outboard and seeing I was about to get very wet as the wind and waves were entirely not in my favor – I got even chalkier after the first wave hit me in the face.
I eventually got back after 20mins of furious rowing and enjoyed a fresh cup of coffee – and when you have to row for your milk and water – it somehow tastes better – as I enjoyed my coffee the crew had a look over Holm.
Supplies acquired, mission success – time for a sail
After just cruising around for a while, we noticed many oil rigs and big ships in storage, one even had the crane painted to look like a giraffe!
After a while of checking them out, we figured we had better find a nice place to stay for the night, and we were spoiled for choice! But as we were looking we noticed some commercial mooring balls in Ore Bay that were unoccupied – of 10 balls, only 2 had boats on them – we made our way to furthest away one and picked up the line, and just like that - we were tied up for the night.
A strong wind blew up for a few hours and we quite smug about being on this industrial-strength mooring with no fears of the weather – this ball can hold boats 50 times our size! We all slept like babies! (plus the price was right)
The following morning we had to collect some fuel from Stromness, so we went for a sail about and meandered our way up to the marina that's located at the back-end of the harbour. Sometime later we were tied up and were waiting 'the guy' to come and fill our spare tanks. We didn't actually need fuel as we've hardly used the engine but the Fuel we had picked up in Eyemouth before leaving was contaminated with water – it was later confirmed that a few other boats had some similar issues, one chaps engine just died on him as the engines water separator had filled up entirely and was feeding water to the engine!!
We also just stayed in the marina that night as we had been out on the hook for quite a few days we felt we had earned it, and the boat was getting very salty as well so we made the most of it with a wash down of the boat, and the Captain, both were in need of it! And while we were in the marina, Phoebe took some time to meet our neighbors and gain a new fan! Hi Beth!
We had planned to stay another day but the weather window was closing and best to leave with some spare time to allow for any possible issues – this is one place you don't want to mess with the weather, so we left the following morning. I would really have loved to stay a bit longer and check out the northern part of the islands, but it is what it is and we have been blessed with the weather so far – don't want to be greedy!
As we left the winds really picked up to 20-25kt winds and had to be careful with the sails and the rig – this is an older boat, and although she is strong – I really don't want to push her to her limits – losing your mast is no joke and that would be an adventure-stopper!
Once we got clear of the Islands, the wind dropped to a comfortable15-18kts and we sped away to our next anchorage on the northern coast of mainland Scotland... Wait! don't go - there's more! BONUS PICTURES!!!!!!