23rd June. Another milestone passage, rounding Cape Wrath in early evening sunshine today. New crew members Ben and Sally joined us in Stromness on Saturday evening and we said goodbye to Nigel. Caroline is on board with us for another week. We had planned to sail to Loch Eriboll, just east of Cape Wrath, for the night, but the forecast is for stronger winds and rain on Monday so we made a last-minute decision to continue on round the Cape today: a long first passage for our new crew members. We motored out of Stromness catching the last of the ebb tide through Hoy Sound, so we avoided the disturbed water of the ‘roost’ when the tide is strong. We turned down the coast of Hoy under the massive red standstone cliffs to see the Old Man of Hoy, a stack rising out of the sea, which would seem huge if it were not next to the highest cliffs in the UK. After waiting for the Scrabster ferry to zoom past us close to the Old Man, with passengers lining the decks for the view, we turned west and set out along the north coast of mainland Britain.
Unexpectedly, the sun blazed all day. To start with the wind was light and behind us, but as we settled into an hourly watch system for the 50 NM to Cape Wrath, the wind gradually increased and after an hour or so motoring we put out our gennaker (without a main up) and made good speed. Later the wind got up beyond 15 kts so we switched to genoa only and made over 6 kts boat speed.
The mountains stretched out as far as the eye could see along the north coast, appearing as mysterious misty shapes on the horizon as we sailed 10 miles off the coast. In this remote location we saw no yachts all day, but were amazed to pass close to a small open boat of unusual design, sailing north with one person on board, presumably heading for Orkney. There were fewer sea birds this far offshore but we spotted the usual gannets, puffins and guillemots – also several shearwaters gliding gracefully over the waves. Eventually we could pick out the lighthouse high on Cape Wrath in the distance.
We neared the Cape at about 6pm. The wind was strong now and we kept more than 3 miles off to avoid rough water, but the swell was still quite uncomfortable with our downwind course. Once we were west of the Cape we rounded up into the wind and swell to put the main up before turning to head south on a broad reach, picking up speed to a steady 8-9kts. The Cape and its lighthouse were spectacular in the evening sunshine – we felt privileged to see them in such clear weather, and their scale and dramatic form left a big impression on us.
Just after 9pm we arrived at our anchorage in Loch Clash, just north of Kinlochbervie, after a 13 hour passage. The loch is sheltered behind a rocky island and at its head is a small settlement of a few houses and a pier that we gather is for a single local fishing boat. We dropped anchor and sat down for supper at 10pm as the evening sky reached a crescendo of evening colour and the wind dropped.
We ate and slept with a sense of achievement at having successfully rounded the most north-westerly point of mainland Britain. We are now heading south!
- Distance: 77 NM. Sailed 8 hours, motor-sailed 5 hours
- Wind: 3-5 E