Promising sky the evening before setting off from Wick
I was (almost) up when I heard Andrew and a friend come down the pontoon. Yes, finally it looked like the weather was 'on' for this morning. A very light Northerly going wind met us in the bay, but there were some very black clouds to the South. Mudlark lead the way out of Wick harbour and once in the bay we both made sail, this was definitely going to be a topsail day.
I've annotated the sketch below to help the less nautically minded (Is that okay Bianca?)
Mudlark off Wick
It's been good having another Crabber around but, after playing together for a while towards Noss Head, I realised that if I were to make my appointment with the tide at the Pentland Firth I needed to head off. So with a wave I left Mudlark and headed North. The wind had filled in just a little and I was being chased by the rain. We were progressing at about 2.5 knots against the last of the South going tide. Unfortunately with this progress we were going to be late for our appointment so I started the engine to give me the required 4.5 knots to make my rendezvous at Duncansby Head. The wind sometimes came then died away along with the rain showers that still trailed me, so the engine went alternately on and off, just too keep up my average speed. It looked like I was keeping up with the front of the rain clouds too as I could see more persistent rain falling over the land astern and to port.
Just past Duncansby Stacks, as Ruach and I approached Duncansby Head the water got quite choppy and confused, the wind again had gone very light, so yet again it was on with the motor for the few hundred yards it took to get me to the head. On rounding the head the wind was still from the South so it became a gentle broad reach in flat calm water. I guess I was sailing through the water at about 2.5 knots, but due to the tides through the Pentland Firth in actual fact Ruach was flying at an unprecedented 10 knots. The only time Ruach has ever done over 10 knots before will have been on her road trailer.
Within a matter of minutes we were at that imposter of the far North - John O'Groats. It used to boast that it was "the furthest North you can get by road", but in recent years it has changed its boast to "Our claim to fame: Not the most northern village... but the northerly end of the longest distance between two points on the British mainland. Land's End being the other".
Eh? Not only does this mouthful hardly trip off the tongue, but now it barely even makes sense.
How about this one for them "John O'Groats, not quite as far North as you can get" See, much easier and factually correct.
Dodging between the mainland and the island of Stroma, my next obstacle was the Merry Men O' Mey; this is an area of confused water that can be extremely dangerous in a West going tide. They run North West from the 'Men of Mey' Rocks to the island of Hoy. For me though today they were only doing a gentle dance which hardly impeded my progress.
Passing Dunnet Head, the real 'most Northerly point on the British mainland', I had planned to turn into Thurso Bay and spend a night in Scrabster, but because of the fantastic progress made with wind and tide working in concert it was still only 11:30, not even lunchtime. At this time I was also still racing along at 8 knots so I pressed on. My next potential stopover was the remote Sandside Bay, a little past the Sphere of the Dounreay atomic power station. By now I had slowed to a sedate 5.8 knots (Usually for Ruach this would be a fast 5.8 knots) and it was still only 13:30. I calculated that if I were prepared do take a couple of hours of foul tide on the nose at the end of the day I could press on and make it to the Kyle of Tongue, 62 miles from my start point that day. This wind and tide were too good to waste, so off West we sped.
About 10 miles from Tongue the wind departed and the tide turned foul, thankfully the tide is much weaker this far West, so I turned on the engine and watched the isle of Eliean nan Ron slowly grow in my view.
But then, quite suddenly an evil menacing cloud appeared over the island, engulfed it and eradicated it. My horizon was drawing in fast. I doused the topsail and staysail just in case. I guessed that whatever was coming was either going to steal the last of the wind, or increase it, potentially violently. On it's arrival, the sky above me was leaden then I heard the shhhhhh of the rain, a powerful dousing rain that took all visibility, stung the skin where it touched and totally flattened any waves. The wind increased, but nowhere near to the extent that I expected, it changed direction by 180 degrees, so was now from the North, then we were off, no engine needed now, sailing towards the goal. Now sailing a compass course as the island was gone from sight.
The approach of the cloud
By the time I reached Eliean nan Ron the rain and wind had gone so I motored into the small derelict harbour of Skullomie in the Kyle of Tongue.
A man with a very satisfied grin on his face.
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