Isle of Canna to the Outer Hebrides

I write this now we’re safely berthed in Loch Boisdale’s new marina, we’ve been trying to reconstruct the amazing change scenario that happened during the day we sailed from Canna to South Uist. We set off in a relaxed fashion at about 10:30am – we knew that if we motor sailed we could get to Loch Boisdale within 5 hours as the total trip was only 28.3 nautical miles. But when we ventured out we found the winds were light and behind us, blowing us along at a gentle 3-4 knots and it was sunny and intoxicating, so why not take our time and sail the whole way across.

Ros enjoying the the first part of the trip leaving CannaIMG_1088

The Island of Canna retreating in the distanceIMG_1086

The downside of not motor sailing in light winds is that you do not make much progress. By 3pm (when we could have arrived) we were still 12 nautical miles out, but we’d had a lovely relaxed lunch at sea, had been having fun bird watching, reading and planning what

The approaching Hebrides with groups of three mountains – large on the right (North Uist), medium in the middle (South Uist) and small on the left (Barra) – our approach was to the left of the three medium peaks.IMG_1091

to do on Uist and Harris when suddenly everything changed – the wind freshened and veered to the north so that we were more closed hauled and the sea state became considerably worse. Earlier we had called the Stornaway coastguard and learned that the winds were cyclonic and freshening to 4(5) later but our computer wind predictions put this at about 10pm in the evening, not 3pm in the afternoon.

We put the motor on and in no time were breezing along motor sailing between 6.5 and 7.5 knots. We’d be safely in port within two hours we thought, but as we got nearer and were hoping to get some relief from the lee of the land – we found it getting rougher and rougher with wave heights reaching 2m. Later we were told that NE winds in the Minch are the worse case scenario as they have the whole length of the North and South Minch to build up. Another reason it was difficult for us, was that we had decided when the winds were light to shake out the reef in the main that we had started with, so we came in with near gale force winds under full sail. While Loch Boisdale harbour sheltered us somewhat from the waves – the wind was persistent – it took quite an effort to get the sails down. When we came into the tiny new harbour of Loch Boisdale the wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to manoeuvre. Luckily the harbourmaster helped us with our lines and another boat owner pitched in, but it took all their strength to bring us in – at one time we were blown broadside between two pontoons.

Wind conditions on arrival in our berth showing gale force 8IMG_1114

Despite the howling winds, the noise and pitching about even when berthed, Ros managed to cook a delicious meal, with venison steaks that we had bought in Tobermory.

Ros preparing mealIMG_1097

The evening was one of contrasts – despite gale force winds – the sunset was glorious. A routine engine check led to the discovery that the water pump was leaking and we decided to hire a car the next day to travel north while the problem was being fixed. Ros did not take too much persuading to find a comfortable hotel on our route north. She later admitted that she’d been rather frightened at the end of that last hairy leg of sailing to the Outer Hebrides.

A lovely sunset despite the gale force windsIMG_1099


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