Oban to Orkney sailing expedition report
Sailing adventure from Oban on Scotland to the Orkney Islands
After a fantastic expedition from Oban, Narwhal is currently in Peirowall on Westray in the Orkney Islands. The weather is a bit 'changeable' with moments of bright sunshine and sudden heavy hail showers. Hiding from the elements has given me a good opportunity to look through and share some of the pictures from the expedition...
Anchorage on Canna
One of the first stops on the expedition was Canna. With a combined population of just 21, Canna and the adjacent Sanday two of the smaller of the Small Isles. The bay formed between the two islands makes a fantastic anchorage and staging post for venturing further north or to the Outer Hebrides. The inner part of the bay has excellent shelter, while if you anchor further out you can enjoy the changing light playing on the Cullin mountain range as the sun sets and rises. With a small ship in the outer anchorage, we chose the inner part under the impressive St Edward’s church, now used a Gaelic language centre.
Over the sea to Skye
Leaving Canna we had a nice downwind sail along the south west coast of Skye. With Narwhal powering through the water, Eric was able to deploy the hydro generator tow. A new addition this year we have been pleased with it’s performance. With a decent breeze blowing it generates power, keeping the batteries topped up while we sail, allowing us to avoid running the engine solely for the purpose of charging the batteries. Meaning that we can enjoy more sailing with just the sound of the wind in our hair as well as reducing our fuel usage and carbon footprint.
Distillery by sail
Approaching the coast of Skye we sailing in to Loch Harport. This was our first visit to this part of Skye and we weren’t disappointed. As the Loch bends to the south east it narrows, focusing your eye to the dramatic bowl of the Cullin Mountains at it’s head. The beautiful setting wasn’t our only reason for choosing this anchorage, the fact that it is also home to the Talisker Distillery had a bit to do with it to. The recently installed pontoon made it even easier for the crew to get ashore, and get stuck in to the tour and a tasting.
Sailing from Skye to Orkney
Fortified by a pub dinner the crew were up bright and early the following morning. With the winds looking favourable but with a short window before they turned against us it was time to begin our passage to the Orkney islands. A good breeze saw us starting our passage reaching along the coast of Skye, with only one other sail far on the horizon.
We made good progress in great downwind conditions, quickly clearing the north of Skye and heading for Cape Wrath, the last we would see of the Scottish mainland before we headed out into the ocean. As the evening began to draw in we started our ‘watch’ system, some of the crew taking turns to sleep while the others sailed the boat. Using this shift system to keep sailing through the night towards our destination. It was my first ‘off watch’ and I was just dropping off to sleep in my bunk close to the cockpit when I was startled awake by a shout from on deck. I grabbed my lifejacket and raced on deck worried that there was a problem, quite the opposite, there was a minke whale slowly making it’s way past Narwhal. We stopped the boat and everyone watched with bated breath for another glimpse. The whale surfaced another couple of times close to the boat before diving and heading on it’s way. Seeing these beautiful creatures is one of my favourite experiences on the ocean. We continued on our way as well and it wasn’t long before the sun slipped below the horizon and night rolled in. The lights of Lewis glittering off to the port side were the only clue to the existence of the outside world as we continued north. The lighthouse on cape Wrath came in sight, the shining beacon representing the end of the mainland, it felt as though it could be the end of the world.
The Orkney Islands
Having chosen to head for the more northerly of the islands, the low lying Westray and Papa Westray, it was after nearly 200 miles had passed under our keel that the Orkney Islands began to come into sight. By the time we arrived at our chosen anchorage on Papa Westray the sun had set and we dropped anchor in the darkness, waiting for the morning to reveal the sunning beach in Moclett Bay on Papa Westray.
We made the short hop over to Westray, replicating the route of the shortest scheduled flight in the world between Westray and Papa Westray. We weren’t quite as quick as the flight which only takes 2mins! In a strengthening breeze, we were happy to get Narwhal safely tucked away in the harbour in Pierowall. We were told all about the local area including the location of the hotel, bakery, crab factory and the one that my ears pricked up at, the showers. After a week at sea a hot shower feels like such a welcome treat.
As well as beautiful scenery and yummy sea food, Westray has some interesting historical sights too.
Watch a video of our time on Westray here: