Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Gales in the rocky isles

Thursday 19th May
I was woken by the anchor alarm at 03:00 and struggled out of my sleeping bag in a frenzy to get on deck. Luckily it was just the predicted wind shift that had swung us round out of the alarm circle, but Mark also woke due to the rattling of the anchor chain dragging round to the new angle, coupled with the sudden lean caused by the wind blast. We decided that we were still safe and retired to our bunks. Breakfast was a revelation to those for whom porridge was a foreign food. The addition of chopped apple and cinnamon makes it particularly special.

Outside it had started to rain hard, but Mark, Richard and Lauri togged up in wet weather gear and went ashore to climb one of the hillocks surrounding the bay. Once back aboard the wind got up, and the "awesome gusts from southerly winds" materialised as noted in the pilot book.

While I sat and listened to Stornoway Coastguard transmit the weather forecast a sudden gust dragged our anchor and Mark rushed up and got the engine going just before we were blown onto the rocks. I struggled into wet weather gear and got on deck as quickly as possible to raise the anchor, and retrieve the trip line and buoy. Just a few feet off the rocks, with Mark at the helm, unable to turn the boat into the wind to escape  I raced to help, and got the bow thruster down and gave it a long blast to starboard, managing to get the bow away from with rocks just enough to allow Mark to give full throttle and drive us into clear water with almost no room to spare. It was a very close call indeed and a reminder that conditions change very quickly in the Hebrides, and can be quite dangerous.

With a forecast for SE 5-7 we set off out sea for a 20 mile sail north towards Loch Maddy. We set the staysail and set off into big seas, making 8-9 knots at times, with impressive rollers breaking under us. The wind rose to 40 knots at times, a severe gale. The boat handled very well under staysail alone, and we made good progress with the crew in varying states of elation and greenness 😉 By 12:30 we had arrived at the entrance to the Loc'h, and I was at the helm trying to judge a safe entrance. As planned the tide was now flooding so that the seas were not so rough at the entrance, and we were soon into calmer water, although the wind became more savagely gusty as it whistled down from the mountain. We sailed up the Loc'h towards the new marina by the ferry terminal, but the squalls were so severe that we were in danger of losing control, and we're not even able to pick up one of the two moorings. The wind was blasting spindrift out of the water in impressive sprays, so we headed back to visitors' moorings that Mark had spotted in a previous bay. There we had a peaceful spot, and enjoyed lunch and a beer and a consequent snooze.

Above us rose protective hills, with swirling mist and rain muting the colours of purple heather, orange lichen and grey rocks. The wind slowly went round to the southwest as forecast, and the rain cleared intermittently. Up on a crest I spotted what I took to be a cairn, and then realised was a bird. At that distance it be a big one, and I guessed it was an eagle. The long lens on the camera managed to get a recognisable picture, and then another of it flying off with the unmistakeable broad wings and primary feathers of a major raptor. That was the second eagle I had managed to photograph including the white tailed sea eagle in Portree. Then looking round we spotted the white rumps of a couple of roe deer on the hillside. The wind had eased a bit so we set off back to the pontoon and made an easy landing. Then off to the Loc'h Maddy Hotel for drinks and supper. Tomorrow gales are forecast again.

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