The Storm Petrel Circumnavigation Leg 7

With our family chores done and suitable checks on the condition of two pregnant daughters in law we headed north again on the 6th July, this time by car with stops on the way at the Roache household for a gossip and then overnight at a friendly B&B in the Lake District. The plan was to leave the car at our new home marina at Inverkip so that we could bring home all the dirty washing and general mess for the winter. That accomplished we took a train ride to Glasgow and thence to Perth, Inverness and on to Wick. All of this eight hour fantastic scenic train ride for £17, yes £17. Now that is Scottish thrift for you, probably not available to Sassenachs after independence so enjoy it while you can.

We found the boat in good condition, there had fortunately been no bad weather in our absence. The engine had been serviced while we were away so it was a good idea to start it up to make sure all was well. It roared in to life, sputtered and died. Well those who have done their diesel engine course would guess that this could only be fuel starvation after a fuel filter change so that was quickly fixed and we were ready to go. After the statutory trip to the northern-most Tesco in mainland UK we were ready to receive our new crew. As a footnote you will be relieved to hear that the northernmost Tesco is just as charming as all the others, indeed it has views over open countryside and every modern convenience.

Tim’s brother Michael and his old university pal Peter arrived in good time and with a good weather forecast and helpful passage advice from the Wick HM we set off on the 12th July, destination Orkney. For those contemplating what can be a dangerous passage the tides are crucial. Touch the cliffs up to Duncansby Head to get the back eddy from the end of the flood and dash out in to the middle of the Pentland Firth for the ebb to sweep you in to Scapa Flow with a strong breeze to add some interest. An easy passage if done right and another milestone complete. We were soon tucked up in Stromness Marina with a warm welcome from the part time manager Bobbie who it appears is actually a retired businessman doing the job as a hobby.

There is no need to enlarge on our Orkney cruise, the weather closed in the following day and with a bad forecast for several days we hired a car and are now world experts on Neolithic man, the Picts, the Vikings and the standing stones. Don’t bother with Stonehenge, it is a modern tourist attraction with no comparable history – or so it is said! On our last day the weather thankfully lifted and we took a ferry to Hoy and walked to the Old Man which is a spectacular photo opportunity with wonderful views.

But this is a sailing story so back on board we took off south on the 17th July in the morning to pick up the slack in the Firth at lunchtime. It immediately started to blow a hoolie, rather as the previous days but we pressed on and picked up a mooring in Long Hope to wait. The wind moderated and we crossed over in lumpy seas and had a cracking sail from Duncansby down to Wick. A little disappointing in sailing terms but Storm Petrel has now taken us safely further north than we have ever been. Orkney and Shetland may well see us again.

From Wick time began to press again so we set off to find a haven and some sight-seeing. Now Lybster is a place no cruiser would consider, it is a defunct herring fishing port now used by crab and lobster fisherman. So we sailed in and found ourselves in a most delightful haven up against the wall with no one around except some friendly locals. Peter is a bit of an expert, well more than a bit of an expert, actually (Yachtmaster Instructor, treat with respect). He was invited to step forward, pad and pencil to hand, Almanac open at the right page and on the spot was anointed Honorary Docking Admiral. The (now truly humbled) skipper and crew received there crisp orders and nice long lines were set with precision to avoid hanging off the quay at midnight. It is also handy to be able to get ashore but this had all been fed in to the Docking Admiral’s razor sharp calculations and presented no problem to the more nimble of the crew. A super and most memorable overnight stop.

We were sad to leave Lybster and also to say goodbye to Peter who had been great company but who, would you believe, needed to get off back home to the Firefly National Championships. Crikey he is older than me for goodness sake.

We now needed another stopover and headed for Helmsdale which brother Michael thought might be a bit silted up. We consider ourselves past masters at touching the bottom so in we went on a tricky transit, turned sharp to starboard and there was the one space left on the pontoon which we grabbed in a hurry. Well brother Michael has also been sailing since he was a lad so your skipper should have listened. We settled nicely in to the soft mud, rose again with a loud sucking noise, up and down we went until it was time to leave on the 21st. It doesn’t seem to have done any harm, at least not that we can see. Helmsdale has a sad history associated with the Dukes of Sutherland who were less than kind to their people and who figured large in the cruel Clearances. That is a story of how cruel man can be to man.

Tim Bizzey, 06.08.2013 | More from Tim Bizzey’s blog