Sunday, 25th August: Raasay, ‘Isle of the Roe Deer’
We woke up to still waters and the promise of sunshine. Finally!
We tied up the RIB to the fishing pier behind the ferry terminal, and started our explore of Raasay.
Raasay Island sits east of Skye, and is 14 miles long and up to 4 miles wide. The highest point is the distinctive 443m flat topped Dun Caan. A part of the island escaped glaciation and still has rare and ancient living flora. Almost all the settlement is confined to the south western coast, where most of the 200 inhabitants live. Raasay is the birthplace of John McKay, first piper to Queen Victoria. It is also where the Scottish Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean was born. He was a leading light of the Scottish literary renaissance and also our friend Ann’s mother’s 2nd cousin! Many of her mother’s family came from this island, something that I kept thinking about as we walked around today.
We had a wonderful day enjoying the extraordinary scenery, all the better for glorious sunshine and a warm breeze. It was so nice to get out on a proper walk again. And when we got a bit hot and tired we dropped in to Raasay House for a cold cider / beer. They are a hotel and activity centre and it looked like a really nice place to stay.
Very excitingly, when walking through Borodale Wood we saw a golden eagle! We saw it for a long time, soaring over the lowland by the coast, and then coming right over us flying north. One of the very best moments of the day!
It was a bit strange, but in the morning we saw fog developing in the north, and rolling down the Sound, causing fog horns to blare and at one point the ferry stopped. It was very interesting to see how the fog developed and behaved when meeting the island. We asked the barman about this, and he had never heard of fog coming like this, so we were lucky to have this experience.
Our day is best expressed in photos!
Monday, 26th August: A Different Day
It was far windier than expected in the early morning and it got quite uncomfortable so we decided to move on from Raasay. We got ready, and Dominic went out to prepare the mainsail, and then I hear ‘Birgitta, come out here.’ And there he stands with the painter for the RIB in his hand, and the handle which should be attached to the front of the RIB hangs from the rope; ‘The RIB is gone!’. Now, the RIB is what gets us from the yacht to land, so this was a bit of a shock. We got the binoculars out and could see the RIB stranded on the rocky area below the beginning of the village. We had to act quickly, as we were coming up to low tide, and when the water got high again the RIB could float away.
We rang the hotel cum activity centre and asked if anyone could help. The receptionist said that Bob, the boat person was away from the island but she would try to find someone. In the meantime we motored over to the pier, and tied up on to a fishing vessel. The pier is in continuous use by the car ferry going to Skye, and it was there as we arrived. Dominic called them up on the VHF and the captain said it was fine, he could get past us. So far so good.
Now we needed to get off the yacht, and on to the pier. We climbed over on to the fishing boat but the wind was blowing both boats off the pier wall and we couldn’t reach over to the ladder. Dominic tried hauling in the ropes, but the wind was too strong. At this point, a bloke on the pier calls for our attention. It is Dave, and he says they found our RIB on the rocks, and have managed to haul it up and tied it on to a boulder. Phew, that is wonderful news. Dave has to catch the next ferry, but hopes we manage to get the RIB back to the boat somehow .
Luckily, we have the inflatable mini-me dinghy, so we pumped it up and got on shore, bringing a long rope and a bucket and sponge, as Dave mentioned the RIB is full of water. It’s a tiring walk over the rocky beach, and when we get there Malcolm waits for us. He is another of the people who had rescued the RIB. He says he got a ring from the incoming ferry at 8.05am, saying there’s a dingy in the bay. So he, Dave and another bloke rushed down to check it and got it out of the crashing waves and tied it up. This would have been just before we realised it was gone.
We asked Malcolm if he thought we’d be alright tied on to the fishing boat, and he said oh yes, Simon wouldn’t be going out today as it’s strong southerlies, so no problem with us staying there today. They all seem to know each other here which is so lovely.
We bailed out all the water, and sat down to wait for the sea to rise enough to lift the boat off the rocks. The wind was still very strong, and the waves high, so we weren’t quite sure how we would get the boat off the beach. It weighs 150kg, so there is no way we could lift it off, and on to the pier, and on to our yacht. But if we could get it floating, then we could wait til the wind had died down and row it over, if the engine didn’t work.
It was a good couple of hours later that the water was high enough to lift off the back of the boat, but the wind had got worse, and immediately the crashing waves started filling it up with water again. So quick decision; Dominic and I both tried very hard to lift the boat, and very slowly got it out over the rocks, while Dominic kept bailing, jumped into it and started rowing out against the waves, still bailing. He started the engine and it worked! I walked back to the pier as fast as I could over the slippery beach, and Dominic was out there in the sea in a force 6 wind, and he looked so small against the waves. He somehow managed it, and when I got to the pier he was on the yacht with the RIB tied on to it. The ferry was on the pier and the captain had clearly kept an eye on Dominic as he struggled in the waves. Dominic fetched me off the pier then we went to get the mini-me dinghy and after all that it was lovely to get the wet clothes off and have a nice cup of coffee.
We checked out the RIB and apart from a few bumps and scratches on the hull, a partly bent propeller and obviously the handle that’s come loose, we’ve come off very lightly.
Later we went up to the village and found where Malcolm lived, so we could thank him again. He mentioned that Simon, the fisherman would probably want to leave early in the morning and told us where Simon lives. So off we trotted, and yes Simon was planning on leaving at sunrise, at 6am. He had clearly heard about our RIB. To be honest, the whole island probably knew before we did! We thanked him and went off to the village store for a bit of food.
The people here on Raasay have all been fantastically friendly and helpful. And all seem very resourceful and community minded. But I guess you have to be that sort of person to thrive on a small island. Raasay is not as remote as some islands we’ve been to, but you still have to take a ferry to get somewhere, and drive quite some way for most services. And for medical care for example, a nurse comes to the island for one hour on a Tuesday afternoon, unless there is an emergency which takes her off somewhere else. We were very impressed by Raasay.
Back on the yacht we got ready and sailed off with foresail only, heading for Portree, and enjoying a smooth sail up to 7 knots.
We saw several dolphins swim and jump, gannets fishing and despite the ever increasing rainfall, all was well with the world again. It’s been a challenging day, and after anchoring and showering we rewarded ourselves with Jammy Roo red (my new favourite wine) and some strawberry chocolate we’d picked up in the village store.
Tuesday, 27th August: Rona, ‘Rough Island’ or ‘Seal Island’
We got ourselves to the pier in Portree for 9am as agreed with the harbour master, and they filled us up with diesel and water. It all went without a hitch. Dominic got us on and off the pier without any trouble and I managed to throw the mooring ropes almost professionally up high to the harbour master and his helper, which pleased me. It was a long climb up the ladder to pay for the diesel, as we were at quite low tide, but I managed that too. The card machine wasn’t working so I trotted off into town to find a cash machine. I got rid of some waste and recycling at the same time. HM said we could have stayed on the pier for a bit to visit the town, but as it had rained steadily all night, and looked like it would continue all day, we declined. We have been to Portree before so if we were to visit, we would like to go further afield.
We set off out into the sound and saw dolphins again. The wind at the moment is what the Coastguard call cyclonic, ie it goes all over the place. We found that we had NW wind up the sound, so got the sails up and started tacking. But there just wasn’t enough wind so in the end we had to relent and turn on the engine, using our newly purchased diesel.
We had set our sights on the little island of Rona for a while, having read that it has the most wonderful anchorage in Acairseid Mhor (Big Harbour). We also knew that it has one of those entries where you definitely need to know where you’re going. We had read the pilot, the CCC sailing directions and checked on the internet, so with all that, and the electronic navigation, and entering on a rising tide, we felt we couldn’t go wrong! And we didn’t. It wasn’t actually anything like as bad as it had been made out. In time for a late lunch we anchored in front of Rona Lodge where the island manager lives, and where there is a bunkhouse and a small jetty. A seal was swimming about, its head appearing every few minutes, looking round, as if checking his hunting grounds were still a’ ok.
Stats: distance 13.1NM, underway 3hrs 13m, average speed 4.1 knots, max speed 6.4 knots
Rona as well as the northern parts of Raasay are of Lewisian Gneiss which doesn’t make for fertile soil, and hence it is difficult to grow anything much. Rona was inhabited until 1943, by when everyone moved off to Raasay or further. The island is now owned by a Danish lady who has renovated The Lodge and the Bunkhouse and some other cottages for paying visitors, and also laid a few buoys near the jetty. There are well marked walks, and it all looks well cared for. There is a MOD installation on the northern part of the island, but you are ‘discouraged’ to enter that bay.
Dominic had some urgent work to do, so got on with that. There is wi-fi here, but we found we were a bit too far out for it. He went ashore to try, but got a bit wet in the process! This was one of those places where you hotspot one mobile, then the next, standing out on deck holding up the mobile / laptop in exactly the right direction for half an hour to send that one mail.
Another yacht came in shortly after us. Dominic chatted to the Skipper for a bit, a gentleman of a certain age who sails all season with his dog as company. The dog has been on the boat since he was a puppy, and even understands concepts such as ‘lee ho’, which is rather amazing.
A bit later the rain stopped and we went ashore for a lovely walk. We walked almost across the island, then south around the bay up one rocky mound after the other. We had wonderful views over the bay several times and kept taking photos of Idun lying in peaceful harmony. It was a very quiet and peaceful evening. I stopped outside with the binoculars in hand for a long time.
Wednesday, 28th August: Rona and off we go again
I made sure I was up in good time to hear the Butec Range announcement (the British Underwater Testing and Evaluation Centre) at 8am on Channel 16. We’d planned to sail across the northern part of the Inner Sound later today, and need to know whether we can cross the Submarine Exercise Areas, which we understand are much used for weapons testing. The message was short but clear ‘There will be surface range activity in the Inner Sound today’.
We had hoped to go for another walk before lunch, as we were due another break in the rain, but this didn’t happen so neither did the walk. It’s quite galling to keep hearing about unusually hot weather from everyone in the south. Our nights are cold – in single figures.
We set sail after lunch heading north. Dominic called up Butec giving details of our position and intended route, and we got the all clear. Nice to know we wouldn’t get hit by torpedoes today.
We had a slow sail across the Inner Sound but once we got into Loch Torridon we again had to turn the engine on. This is almost comical as the reason we’re heading down this loch is to find shelter from the strong winds that are coming this way tomorrow.
Stats: distance 16.9NM, underway 3hrs 19m, average speed 5.1 knots, max speed 8.7 knots