July 2012

Monday 2nd

Fair Isle

Fair Isle is about half way between the Orkney and Shetland archipelagos and a natural night stop for a cruising yacht going from one to the other.  We arrived here yesterday in poor visibility and were delighted to wake up to a clear blue sky this morning.  North Haven is the only harbour on the island and we spent our first night berthed alongside the island’s supply vessel, Good Shepherd IV.

The day was spent at leisure chatting to other boat crews and locals.  In the afternoon we went for a walk to the south end of the island.  This is a really lovely place and a worthwhile destination in its own right.

The island is owned by the RSPB and has a large bird observatory.  There are certainly a lot of different species here.  Sheryl got this shot of a Razorbill having lunch…..

Thursday 5th

Lerwick, Shetland

We arrived here yesterday having motor sailed up from an anchorage next to Sumburgh airport in thick fog.  On the way up we crossed 60°N and as Falmouth is at 50°N (well nearly) we have now done 600 Nm of northing.  Fortunately the fog lifted enough for the entrance to the harbour to be quite easy, even if it was pouring with rain!  Today was spent doing laundry, grocery shopping and fixing even more deck plugs.  Tomorrow we are heading north again with two objectives – one is to visit the Valhalla brewery on Unst, the most northern in Britain and the other is to round Muckle Flugga, the northern tip of the Shetlands and Britain.

Thursday 12th

Bruntasound, Yell

No update for a week as we have not had a WiFi connection until we got here on Wednesday afternoon. We left Lerwick last Friday and motored north to the bottom of Yell and the safe haven on Burravoe. This is a lovely spot with a very small marina that proved to be perfect shelter for the NE’ly we put up with for three days.  The local people run a trust that provides four visitors berths and an amenities block which has toilets, showers and a small laundry.  There is even shore power available and all for the cost of £5 per night!

Eventually the wind died away and we were able to leave Burravoe on Tuesday morning.  More motoring though as the wind was from the North (just for a change).  Bruntasound is on the East coast of Unst, fairly close to the top of the island and within striking distance of Muckle Flugga and the top of Britain. Unfortunately for our visitor, John, he was unable to stay any longer and sail round the top with us. Nevertheless he had a good view of the lighthouse from a spot close to the old RAF Saxa Voord radar station.

On arriving in Bruntasound we hired a car for 24 hours.  Where else in the world would you be able to get a car with absolutely no paperwork!!??  They didn’t ask to see my driving licence nor want a deposit. The only paper I got was an insurance form to fill in my details on and take with me.  When we returned the car I simply topped it up with petrol and paid the £22 hire fee.  The people here are really friendly and its great to be in a place where even strangers are given the respect of trust without question.  Long may it be that visitors don’t abuse this trust.

In addition to sailing around the top of Britain we picked up a secondary objective whilst in the Shetlands and that was to visit Britain’s most northerly brewery.  This was duly achieved, with John in company, and here is the photo to prove it…The brewery occupies the fire station at the now closed RAF base.  They brew a variety of beers and although we haven’t tried them all the ones we have are pretty good.  Their website has more information – www.valhallabrewery.co.uk.  The local hotel, catchily named “The Bruntasound Hotel”, has one of the beers on draught and we enjoyed a pint before dinner on Wednesday evening.  Whilst at the brewery I bought Sheryl a long overdue birthday present and we now have a new crew member on board…

This is Larry ‘o’ Hermaness, an original Burra Bear.  They are hand knitted by a local lady from old Fair Isle jumpers.  If you’d like one have a look at www.burrabears.co.uk.

On arriving in Bruntasound we were greeted by the Harbour Master, Ian Mackay.  You would think he was local with a name like that, not at all, from his accent he sounds like a Geordie.  He made us most welcome and apologised for having to charge us £9.04 to lie alongside their only pontoon – and that’s for up to four nights!  £2.26 a night!  Outrageous!  To put this in perspective we have got used to paying £10 per night for a visitor’s mooring on the west coast and have paid over £40 for one night in a south coast marina.  Admittedly the facilities here are a bit spartan – there is no shore power and everything else is available including showers at the local boat club.

For more pictures of our visit to the Shetlands have a look at the slideshow I have done under the “Slideshow” menu item.

Monday 16th


Last Friday was my 58th birthday and so what better thing to do to celebrate than to sail around the top of Britain?  We left Bruntasound about 1045 and two hours later were at the most northerly point of this trip – 60° 52.08′ N 000° 51.84′ W, for the record.  Out Stack is the most northerly of the British Isles but its only a storm lashed rock about 1000m north of Muckle Flugga which features the most northerly lighthouse in Britain.  Built at the insistence of the Admiralty to aid ships in the Crimea war David Stevenson’s first view was that it couldn’t be done.  Nevertheless he and his brother Thomas achieved the seemingly impossible and the light was first lit on 11 October 1854.  It was automated in 1995 and still stands today…

This shot is taken from the east and shows Out Stack on the right and Muckle Flugga with its lighthouse on the left.

Having achieved our most northerly point we turned southwards and with a quartering wind started on the 1000 plus nautical miles back to Falmouth.  By mid afternoon we were enjoying a perfect sail down Bluemell Sound which separates Yell from Unst.  Our port of call for the night was Mid Yell, the major centre of population on, you guessed it, Yell.

On Saturday we had a short sail further south to Symbister on Whalsay and on Sunday continued to our present location, Lerwick.  For further pictures have a look at the Shetland slideshow.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, we are planning to sail down to Fair Isle and from there to Wick via a night in the Orkneys.  If all goes well we will be in Edinburgh by 27th July and Newcastle a week later.  Don’t expect another update before Friday at the earliest.

Saturday 21st


We got here in time for a late lunch yesterday afternoon.  Since Lerwick we have made good progress south stopping at Fair Isle for the night on Tuesday and a couple of passage anchorages in the Orkneys on Wednesday and Thursday.  Generally the weather has been kind with wind from the NW and mostly dry.  What it hasn’t been is warm but anyone reading from the misery of this British summer will know that.  We have been wearing thermals and sailing boots every day!

The crossing of the infamous Pentland Firth yesterday was a complete non-event because we dodged around it to the east and so avoided the huge tidal stream and consequential rough water the area is known for.  Wick marina is in the old fishing port which is adjacent to an area of Wick known as Pultneytown. The streets here were laid out by Thomas Telford in the mid 1800s.  It seems to have been in decline ever since and there are many derelict and boarded up buildings in what used to be a major herring port, not an unusual sight in such a place.  Apparently L S Lowry had a couple of holidays in Caithness here and produced at least two works in Wick including this one entitled Blackstairs…

Wick does have one thing to recommend it and thats a Wetherspoons.  Now I normally don’t particularly like Wetherspoons because of their clientele (yes, I’m a snob) but in a beer desert like Wick we made an exception and very nice it was too.  They had an excellent pint of Deuchars at £1.69.  After that it was an average fish supper from the harbour side chippie (for those who aren’t familiar with Scots patter a fish supper is what the English call fish and chips).

Today we are off down the coast to Lybster (my brother, Simon, tells me the Y is pronounced I) which is about 15 Nm SW of here.  There are strong winds forecast tomorrow so I expect we’ll be there Sunday night as well.  Oh, I forgot to mention that the Old Pultney malt whiskey distillery is in Wick.  We bought a bottle and sampled it last night, not bad although I still prefer an Islay malt.

Tuesday 24th


The weekend was spent in Lybster, another place whose heyday is well in the past.  It used to be a major herring port and whilst the herring fleet is long gone there are still a few shellfish boats and the harbour survives…

As you can see from the above it was quite a tight squeeze to get Emma Louise into the small inner harbour for Sunday night.  However, it was worth it for the shelter and there was actually more water inside than we had had in the outer harbour where we were bumping on the bottom on Sunday morning. There is the mandatory heritage centre and this one has a shower for visiting yacht crews and a laundry, they also did very good cake!

We left as soon as there was enough water to get out, about 1230 on Monday and headed off across the Moray Firth.  Now in what I call “passage making mode” we have a plan for a few days ahead and something of a timetable.  The current objective is Edinburgh for the weekend and catch up with my brothers and their better halves.  This means making about 40Nm a day which translates to about eight hours underway.  After that its Newcastle for the following weekend and so on until we get back to Falmouth in early September.  Cruising isn’t about timetables and making set distances and not what we have been used to for the last couple of months when we have simply stayed put when we felt like it or stopped when we got to somewhere we liked the look of.

Monday night was spent at anchor off Portsoy on the south coast of the Moray Firth and today we motored from there around Rattray head (thats the corner of Scotland north of Aberdeen).  We pulled into Peterhead about 1600 as there is nowhere else to go within an hour or two further south.  In fact this coast isn’t great for a cruising yacht as good anchorages are few and far between, as are ports that can take keel boats.  Still, only three more legs and we’ll be in Edinburgh.

Tuesday 31st

Holy Island, aka Lindisfarne

Actually this entry is being written on Monday 6th August in Newcastle but I haven’t managed to get on the internet for a while.  We arrived in Edinburgh on Friday 27th and parked up in Granton harbour. Having consulted with a most helpful member of the Royal Forth Yacht Club we were reliable informed we would be able to get alongside their pontoon at about two hours after low water.  Not actually true and we ran aground about 10 feet from the pontoon.  This wasn’t a problem as the tide was rising and the bottom is soft mud.  It was  however, very amusing for my brother, Simon, and various other onlookers standing on the pier!

We didn’t actually do anything by way of sightseeing as we have both been to Edinburgh many times before and we spent the time socialising with my brothers and their partners.  However, so as not to disappoint photographically here is one I took earlier……

This is the Scottish Parliament building.

The highlight of the weekend was probably watching the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony at my brother, Marks, in company with people we love.

We left Granton on the top of the tide at Sunday lunchtime and sailed off down the Forth on what passes for a glorious afternoon in those parts.  On the way down to our planned anchorage off Dunbar we passed the Bass Rock…

The white dots all over the rock are Gannets!  There are apparently 50,000 breeding pairs in this colony. Thats 100,000 birds and their chicks and that adds up to a whole pile of guano!!!

After a quiet night at anchor off Dunbar we set off down the coast and round Rattray Head.  This was the day we left Scotland after over two months sailing around what must be one of the best cruising grounds in the world.  We passed Berwick on Tweed late in the afternoon and continued south to anchor off Holy Island.  As we ran into the anchorage we passed dozens of seals splashing around in the bay, apparently playing on a fine summer evening.

For more about Holy Island go to the August entry.

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