Saturday, 27 August 2011

My boats and the start of a new adventure

Apologies for the lack of updates the last week or so but I have had a lot on my mind lately, some difficult decisions to make and some crossroads to cross but unsure of which direction to take. That is all just fancy words to say .. life can suck at times .. as it can be for us all.

I did manage to find some time to paint my mother a watercolour for her birthday. It was to thank her in my own small way for the gifts of my late father’s boats and also to thank her for still being the anchor in the family even thought she is in her eighties.. thanks mum :-D

To give a quick resume of my inheritance, I will start with the one I have been using this year. Its a Highlander Family Fisherman and made by W A Simpson Marine of Dundee. It is a 12ft fibre glass boat weighting 150kg and it is powered by a 4HP four stroke Tohatsu outboard engine. I believe a complete package of boat, trailer, engine and boat cover is around £4000.

Because it is a “displacement boat” it is slow compared to a boat that plains, but it is stable in the water. It cuts through a reasonable chop bow first and I remain dry behind the cuddy (open cabin). It can be a little hairy with a following sea as all short boats are. The waves tend to try to turn her sideways so its a constant fight to keep the waves straight on to the stern. It has a good freeboard which means it has high sides and transom so hopefully the waves will keep out.

It is a “Class D” boat that means it is designed for sheltered waters and waves no more that 1 foot high. That is why I have to be careful taking it to sea although I confess to having been in some seas where I’m certain the waves have been around three feet high. I know from experience that when the waves start to break and white horses appear, its time to get on shore as quick as possible.

Its a great boat for me as it is easily launched and recovered by one person using the trailer on the beach, although I stop short of putting the wheel bearings under water. I also carry an auxiliary 2.5HP Suzuki four stroke which cost me around £500 new. Both engines are very reliable and I have never needed to use the auxiliary, its only there for peace of mind. The boat also rows well but in a strong wind tends to blow across the water due to its high freeboard.

My first boating experiences were in an 8ft Avon inflatable. Because it is made of hypalon it is very expensive for its size. I believe this is because they are hand made ? It was powered by a 2 HP two stroke engine but I would now use the 2,5HP suzuki four stroke. It rows very well and handles the sea well but it is a very wet journey as the waves tend to come over the front. In anything over a one foot wave I have to bail out the water as I go. It is also a Class D boat and only suitable for sheltered waters, however it is also unsinkable as long as it doesn’t burst. I think it would be around £1500 for this setup new ? Its advantage is it only weights 41lb and fits in a small bag in the boot of the car when deflated.

The second boat was also an inflatable and is a Seago 2.7m PVC boat made in China. Its tubes are bigger in diameter than the little avon and it is also a foot longer so it is a little better in a wave but still quite a wet journey in anything but calm seas. It has a wooden transom and I carry two outboards on it. Both are around the 2HP and I only use one , the other is for emergency. It rows ok but is hopeless in a wind.

I love this boat and would get another without hesitation. It costs around £450 new. I think I would get one with an airdeck and inflatable keel though as I have heard they are a bit drier in a wave ? It weights 35kg and can be carried across the shore. Deflated it fits in the boot of the car. It is also a Class D boat, designed for sheltered waters

I will be absent for a bit as I am now on holiday for two weeks and heading for the wilderness again. Im taking the Highlander Fisher and also the little Avon inflatable. Like last year, I intend to rough it and try to survive on the fish that I catch and the shellfish on the shore. I may smell a bit like a seagull with that diet but I will post about my adventures when I return.

Thanks for looking at my blog.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Skye and the fish at Harlosh Skerry

Fortunately for me, the weather forecast proved to be correct, the high pressure area had arrived and the winds remained light after the early morning front had passed. I rounded Idrigill point in calm water and was almost half way back to Harlosh when I met the first boat I had seen all day. It was a creel boat checking his lobster pots that he had put out all along the cliff line to Idrigill point.

I confess, he looked a little surprised at seeing such a small boat as mine this far out ?

I was now heading full steam ahead for the Harloch Skerry. That’s where the fish finder showed an interesting sea bed full of holes. I had to wait for the tide to come in before attempting to recover the boat at the slipway so decided to do some bottom fishing.

The skerry was high and dry but there was still twenty feet of water below my boat. The cormorants watched with interest as I caught a couple of nice Pollack on a fake rubber sand eel bait. I also got another couple of mackerel.

That was enough fish for me so I headed back to the sandy bay on Harlosh Island for another coffee and sandwich. The Cuillin hills looked very rugged and spectacular in the afternoon sun.

I cleaned the fish in the sea before putting them in a pail of seawater to keep them cool till I got home. The guestimate biggest Pollack to be well over 3lb in weight.

I then wandered around the island to get some more photos and to reflect on my day. Tarner Island looked very clear with the sun on its west side.

I thought this point on Harlosh Island looked like a miniature Neist Point, with Rum and Canna in the distance.

I watched and waited until the tide was well up the beach again then headed over to Harloch and the slipway. I recovered the boat and headed for home as the sun set. I would recommend Loch Bracadale and a trip to the Maiden’s to anyone... it is simply magic .. on a calm day :-D

Monday, 15 August 2011

Skye and MacLeod's Maidens

As I approached Idrigill Point , I looked back along the full length of the cliffs towards Harlosh and the safe landing places almost four miles away. I felt vulnerable and exposed knowing I was the only boat for miles around.

The boat rocked from side to side in the gentle swell as I checked my mobile phone. As I expected, there was no signal. I carry a couple of hand flairs in the boat but wondered if anyone would see them if I needed them. Soon I would be on the seaward side of the huge cliffs that would hide me from mainland view.

I thought of the Fourth Chief of MacLeod’s wife and two daughters who are said to have drowned near here in a ship wreck around the 14th century.

The sea stack on the very tip of Idrigill point also looked like the bust of a rock musician to me and I heard it whisper softly ....

“Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
Follow they will not dare.

Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean's a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head.”

I was now in the open Sea of the Hebrides and there was still no sign of the fair maiden’s that I was longing to see. There was another point to round.

I was leaving Idrigill point behind. Still the sea slumbered, only its swell rose and fell, gently rocking my little boat like a mother rocks a cradle. I hoped the maidens were not mermaids calling on me.

As I passed the weather beaten cliffs I saw they were riddled with holes and covered by strange rock formations.

Then at last, as I rounded a headland, I caught sight of the first of the daughter maidens. I felt like I did a couple of weeks ago when I first saw the summit of Ben Lui coming within my reach.

Then the view was filled with the sight of MacLeod’s Maidens. It was a magnificent moment for me and I felt I was on top of the world. It felt as good as reaching any mountain summit. The Mother maiden stood 200ft tall and her two daughters played in the swell at her feet.

I admired them for a few moments then turned the boat and ran as fast as my little outboard could carry me. I didn’t want to linger too long least the maiden’s broke wind and the waves start to rise. I felt lucky and honored to have been in their presence but didn’t want to over stay my welcome..I still had five miles of coast to cross before I could feel safe....

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Skye and the lead up to Idrigill Point

To my delight and relief the sea remained sleeping as I approached the natural arch shown on the O.S. maps. I had missed seeing it on my cliff walk several years before but now it was directly in front and at sea level. It didn’t disappoint as its the largest I have seen yet :-D

If the tide had been in I would have tried getting the boat through its archway but sadly, with the tide out, it was full of rocks.

As I continued past the natural arch I couldn’t help but think of the second L.P. record I ever bought as a kid. It was Deep Purple in Rock and the cover depicted a cliff with the bands heads carved in the rock, emulating the Presidents of America at Mount Rushmore. On the cliffs around the arch I could see many fallen hero’s of my distant past looking out to sea.

Looking back, the sound of the swell rolling gently in the rocks and amplified by the acoustics of the arch sounded like the quiet but firm blues organ instrumental starting the track “Sweet Child in Time”

A quick check across the full width of Loch Bracadale towards Harloch Island and Tarner Island showed the sea was still sleeping.

This calmed my own thoughts as I now set my sights on Idrigill point, which is the entrance to Loch Bracadale. I knew the Maiden’s lay some distance beyond the point and in the open and exposed Sea of the Hebrides. I heard the pace of “Sweet Child in Time” start to quicken and move towards a crescendo as I neared the point .......

"And if you have been bad ....
Oh Lord I bet you have ....
You Better Close your eyes
And bow your head ...
And wait for the ricochet ...

Ohhhhh...ohhhhh.... "

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Skye and the caves of Loch Bracadale

I crossed the open sea between Harlosh Island and the coast that heads for Idrigill point without further excitement. The wind and sea stayed calm during the half hour crossing, with only the swell rolling the boat. I was headed for a huge dark cavernous mark that I could see on the cliffs just south of Loch Bharcasaig, a smaller bay off Loch Bracadale. The trees on top of the cliffs help give some scale to this cave.

I could have fitted the boat in this one with plenty of room to spare but unfortunately the tide was now almost out and I could see some rocks guarding the entrance just below the surface. The swell would surely drop the boat onto them if I tried to land so I decided to stay out.

As I went further up the coast towards Idrigill I saw more and more caves

The cormorants sitting on the rocks outside this one give some idea of the size, but again the swell prevented me landing and exploring them.

I was now heading for the open sea. I knew there were almost five miles of cliffs with few places to land if the wind decided to ruffle the sea again like it did earlier in the morning. It was a long expose run for shelter if it did. The bright sun and blue sea helped give me the courage to continue. Gray seas and cold dark clouds sap my sense of sea adventure so I confess to being a fair weather sailor.

The two white dots in the sea in front of these cliffs are lobster pot markers and give some sense of scale in this photo. There was no way out if the sea turned nasty.

I knew from my walk several years before that around the half way mark to the maidens there was a breach in the cliffs called Brandarsaig Bay. I kept this in the back of my mind as the closest escape route if it was required. I reached it while the wind and sea still slept.

In the far distance I could see the natural arch that I wanted to photograph... I continued past the bay hoping to reach it ... without any problems......

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Skye and the sandy bay of Harlosh Island

Refreshed after my coffee and fish breakfast, I went for a wander around the north end of Harlosh Island. The wind seemed to drop as quickly as it had blown up and the sky slowly started to clear of low grey clouds. I noticed the wind was now coming from the south which was the forecast of calm southerly winds and sunny skies. I was hopeful that the squall was the passing of the weather front which would allow the high pressure area to settle.

The beach that I had landed on was one of the few sandy bays I have seen on Skye. It was flanked with large round pebbles at the high water mark and sheltered on the western side by a rocky cliff.

It was possible to look around the north of the island as there was a breach in the cliffs that surround the other three sides. It would make a great wild camp spot, in fact there were a few fire pit remains that proved it was quite popular.

It was a very peaceful little bay, far from the stresses and strains of my working life. I felt completely at home here in the solitude, not like the fish out of water feeling I get being in the claustrophobic cities.

Beyond the cliff to the west end of the bay was a rocky raised beach, and in the long grass at the top was the remains of a ruin croft. I wondered what the people who lived in it were like and what they thought when the left it for the last time, perhaps to live in the cities or to emigrate to America or Australia as a lot of the crofters did during the clearances. I wondered if they ever regretted leaving it in their later years.

I climbed to a high vantage point which overlooked the northern aspect of Harlosh island and the mainland Skye. Took three photographs in succession and joined them together to give this panorama view of the scene. It is worth clicking on it to see a larger version.

A couple of kayakers arrived as I was wandering around the cliffs. I chatted with them before I left the island and discovered they had paddled all the way down from Neist Point the day before. They had never seen a coast line like it and were full of enthusiasm at the sea views on their route. Their tales of discovery made me determined to see the sea maidens for myself.

When I left the sandy beach behind, the sun was shining and the sea looked far calmer and far more stable than when I arrived. The high was finally arriving and it heightened my spirits as the temeprature started to rise too. I was ready to cross Loch Bracadale to head for the cliffs on the western side then hopefully onto Idrigill point and the Maidens.

But first I went for a closer look at the small sea stack off Harlosh point on the mainland.

Just to make sure the sea was going to be kind to my journey, because I knew once it started, I was going to be very exposed... if the wind should rise again...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Skye and Tarner Island

I headed straight across loch Bracadale, aiming for the southern tip of Tarner Island. I could see an interesting rock structure right at the point and wanted to get closer to examine it in more detail.

The passage across the loch proved uneventful although I kept a close eye on the waves as they approached the boat. They were striking parallel to the boat’s length, causing it to rock a bit. This is the angle when the boat has least stability. When I saw a bigger wave approaching, that looked as if it could start breaking, I turned bow into it which gives the boat most stability, then turned back on course after it passed.

A photo of the rock formation that I was heading for.

It was a huge slab of rock that looked as if it had broken free from the 150 foot hight cliffs and stood on end forming a natural arch.

As I rounded the point the cliffs loomed high above me. I realised that if the waves got too much for the boat then there was little chance of landing safely and even if I do, zero chance of scaling the cliffs to safety. I though of the five miles of almost continuous cliffs that I had to follow if I wanted to visit MacLeod’s maidens.

I toured round the east side of Tarner island then cut engines and went into a drift along the sheltered north end of the island. I lowered a set of mackerel flies and started “jinking” them along the bottom but had little luck. It was cold and I had to put on my windproof trousers and jacket to stop me shivering. I wondered what had happened to the high pressure area that was forecast for today ? Over on the mainland on west side of Harlosh Island, the cloud started to clear from MacLeod’s table which is the flat top in this photo.

I then started to head up the west side of Tarner Island to complete a circumnavigation of the island. The west coast looked very rugged and exposed.

I passed a huge cave that I could easily fit the boat into, except the wind was now starting to gust and the waves were beginning to rise again. I didn’t want to damage the boat by hitting rocks so just took my photograph as I bounced past its opening.

Approaching the south western tip again, the wind was still rising and the waves started to have white horses most of the way to the horizon. The boat's bow was throwing up clouds of spray as it hit them head on. That’s when I decided to turn and run for shelter.

Photographs never seem to show the true height of the waves and when they are at their worst, I don’t try to take photos as there is clouds of spray flying around. However it proved to be a very interesting run for shelter. I can only describe the feeling as being similar to a rock climb on a mountain. Adrenalin starts to flow and you become totally immersed in the situation.

The waves were now coming at the boat from 45 degrees astern. Many of them were breaking into white water and trying to get over the low back corner of the boat when it dipped into a trough. I was worried that if one did, the boat would quickly swamp and then be at the mercy of the sea. I watched every single wave as it approached the boat and if it looked like breaking, then I turned the stern parallel with the wave so the boats length offered the most stability and didn’t rock side ways.

This method worked and fifteen minutes later I was in the shelter of the northern coast of Harlosh Island. I found a lovely sandy bay to land on and wait until the squall had passed.

That’s when I realised how cold I had become and how hungry I was. It was time for a coffee and then cook some breakfast. Moments later I scoffed the two mackerel that I caught off the southern tip of this very island. Fried in hot olive oil with some ground sea salt and Cajun pepper.. they were delicious.