16thJune.  Today we achieved a sailing milestone: we crossed the Pentland Firth, one of the most dangerous stretches of water on our coastline, due to the strong tidal flows. Our friends Nigel and Caroline are on board as crew for the next week.  We read the pilot books carefully and then took advice from one of the helpful locals. He advised us to head for Skirza (once clear of Noss Head) and then stay close in – on the 30m contour – to Duncansby. This, he said, would pick up a north-going stream which runs for 9 out of 12 hours and would get us a good way north whilst the tide was slack. “Oilies off, slippers on” across the Pentland Firth. The key, he said, is to arrive at Duncansby Head an hour before the Pentland Firth tidal stream turns north west. We were already a little late to achieve this earlier timing at Duncansby so we motor-sailed, successfully picking up the useful north-going eddy and arriving at Duncansby about 30 minutes later than the secret plan. The tide was therefore soon starting to run west but we switched off the engine and crabbed across at good speed under sail in about an hour, enjoying the sunshine.  We kept a lookout for orcas – the owner of a Wick coffee shop had told us several known pods (from Iceland and other far-flung places) are around at the moment – but they were not in evidence today.

Passing Duncansby Head

Arriving at the Orkneys, rain showers arrived and the wind picked up. We tacked vigorously into Longhope bay, at the south of Hoy. Passing an impressive cloud of gannets and Great Skuas on the way, we picked up one of the two visitor mooring buoys for the night.

gannets and skuas

Once we got our mooring sorted out (we decided to put plastic tubing over the lines of our rope-and-chain mooring line to prevent chafe), extracted the dinghy from the locker for the first time in our entire trip, pumped it up, and got ready to go ashore. Longhope has a few houses and a tiny harbour where the high-tech lifeboat is moored. A friendly local appeared in a large motorhome. It turned out to be one of the lifeboatmen we’d met at Wick the day before and he kindly gave us a lift up the hill to the the Stroma Bay hotel which is run by Rosalyn, another of the lifeboat crew. We enjoyed sampling the local Orkney beers before walking back to our dinghy in the evening sunshine.  

Long hope harbour – view from Nova
  • Distance: 33NM. Sailed 3 hours, motor-sailed 2 hours
  • Wind: SE then SW 3-4