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Old 03 June 2016, 09:25   #1
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International RIB cruise to St. Kilda and the Western Isles

Many moons ago donegaldan and I took my Redbay Stormforce 6.5m from Donegal to Scotland. On the second day, while bobbing in the Gulf of Corryvreckan two thoughts raced through my mind - how much fun I was having followed by how much I needed a bigger boat for this cross channel international malarkey. Some years later donegaldan shipped out to Antarctica and I commissioned the willkcraft II. When he was down there he talked about the things he was going to do when he got home - one was to cruise the Western Isles. I happily agreed to a trip over this summer and asked him which particular islands he had in mind. I wasn't expecting his answer: "All of them, dude..." I countered that it was all well and good but that his expectations were a bit high - St. Kilda is in that list, the Monachs too, you'd need a week of absolutely perfect weather, a load of gear, careful planning and a ton of fuel. "Best get cracking then" he replied...

I had a very long think about it - was I REALLY up for it? I decided that life is short and started to prepare. I talked to a lot of people about fuel, accommodation, useful contacts, safe havens and odd scenarios. I ordered up the charts, maps, almanacs, cruising notes and guide books. I made lists - such lists! I spent a VERY large amount of time getting the willkcraft ready. Spares boxes, first aid kits and toolkits were assembled. Gear was serviced. I bought the right clothing, a small outboard for the tender and self heating meals (MREs). I had a very long chat with the willkcraft one night too and explained that this was her big moment and not to be going and letting me down.

She's an odd boat - but then she would be as she was made for me. She is my RIB. There are more like her, but this one is mine...
She's essentially a 10m open boat with a wrapped back canopy console and a couple of cabin berths. She can travel 300Nm at 30kts without stopping for diesel. She was up for it. She looks a lot (but not entirely) like this:
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Old 03 June 2016, 09:37   #2
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Day 1

I had travelled to her homeport in Donegal and prepped her the day before. Unneeded kit and seats were removed, fuel and stores were taken on. At the end she was carrying 650L of diesel, a 2.7m inflatable & outboard, camping gear, comestibles, personal gear, "in water kit", helmets and a lot of spares - especially of various oils, fluids and filters. I stood back and looked at her - this was it!

The forecast had been exceptional - wall to wall good for the full forecast period but no mention of the thick fog that awaited us off Dunaff Head in Donegal. Still, fog generally means calm seas and so it was this time. We picked our way north to the Inishtrahull Tor, the most northernly point of Ireland. We finally saw it at a range of 100 meters! That done we turned North and ran in fog for over 50Nm until we arrived at the infamous Skerryvore Lighthouse to the south of Tiree. Hardly an exciting trip but certainly one to focus the attention on Lookout Duty and AIS watching. Donegaldan is pushing for RADAR but the finance committee is stalling Skerryvore eventually rose out of the fog and as we watched in awe, she cast her filmy garments aside while we got the cameras out That cheered us no end as we warmed up in the sun.
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Old 03 June 2016, 10:26   #3
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Day 1 - part 2

Done snapping we headed for Tiree and immediately ran into a pod of dolphins - maybe 70-100 in all. They entertained us for a while and once they departed, the minke whales arrived - three of them! We got some excellent video that I won't trouble you with on account of how it would just upset you :-P
We nipped into Gott Bay on Tiree, pinched a mooring and had lunch. I was then ready to make the trip to Staffa, a long time ambition of mine. We threaded our way in through the gap in the Treshnish Isles and slipped up close to Fingal's Cave - nice in a Giant's Causewayesque way. That done we lit out for Tobermory approaching it from the north side. I really like Tobermory and we found it as welcoming as ever after our 140Nm passage.
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Old 03 June 2016, 10:44   #4
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Day 2

We awoke to birdsong, ferry bells and another clear blue sky. We took on 200L of diesel from MacKay's dockside pump. Petrolheads will have a short haul with cans - LOL! We decided to take it easier today and see some of Scotland. We set off north and passed out past Ardnamurchan Point, running up to the Small Isles where we landed at the excellent new pontoons on Muck and had a really good lunch at the cafe. We were mobbed by hens in the middle of nowhere which was a bit random...
That done we continued north and looked into the loch at Knoydart. Landing was by tender only, the “most isolated place in Britain” looked kinda overpopulated and I couldn't be bothered so we went on towards Mallaig. I was delighted to see the beach location from Local Hero again and scope Mallaig out from the sea. Onwards then up the sound to Kylekin where we rafted off the Glass Bottomed Boat and retired to the pub. The mileage was 67Nm, a wee dander after yesterday so no fuel taken on.
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Old 03 June 2016, 10:52   #5
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Day 3

We had an early start because our rafting host had a 0800 tour departing. We slipped over to the mainland and scoped out Applecross and nearby quays. It's not a particularly approachable coast for bigger boats. We proceeded north to the QinetiQ range building and crossed the sound to slip between Raasay and Rona. I'd long wanted to check out the moorings and bothy hidden in the bay there and I was delighted to find them more useful than I'd expected. The manager of the island met us and we had a very interesting chat with him over an extended lunch. I'll post about Rona later in another thread, but suffice to say it has a lot to offer the travelling ribber. 1500 came quickly and I had to prise donegaldan away from the table. We took our leave of Rona, Bill & Lorraine, the hens and the cat and poked a bow out into the sea. Rona Bothy - Isle of Rona
It had freshened up considerably and we had a lively enough passage across the Minch to Harris. We arrived there around 5pm and tied up on the very good visitor's pontoon. There is diesel fuel at the pontoon but a council PIN and account is required to access it. Generally a local account holder will come to some arrangement with a civil ribber. There is a very good restaurant at the pier and the nearby Bothy Bus serves middling breakfast rolls. We crashed at The Bothán (hostel), an interesting place well managed by the laid back (almost horizontal) Ruaraí. Distance covered was 65Nm - a mere bagatelle so again, no fuel taken on.
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Old 03 June 2016, 10:57   #6
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Day 4

We were up early and checked the forecast. Seumas Morrison of Sea Harris told us that today was a "go" for him and that Mike, his skipper of the day would keep an eye out for us. We were bound for St. Kilda. We let the day boats depart and vanish to sea before starting out. The idea was to arrive just after them and so it was. The passage is about 45Nm with 40 of that properly offshore. Conditions were good with a small broken swell. We managed 22-28kts and arrived around 11am. We were fairly stoked at having made it out and the lads on Enchanted Isle (the 16m Redbay) allowed us to stream off their stern and dropped us ashore in their dinghy - good blokes all. We were met by an extremely nice warden lady. I'd been warned about the warden, but this lass was all charm and smiles. We decided to climb the hill and eat lunch after.
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Old 03 June 2016, 11:02   #7
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Day 4 part 2

Once on the hill we overheard some chit-chat on the VHF between the warden and the MOD contractors regarding us. They wanted to meet us. Back at the quay I was approached by a fellow with "QinetiQ" on his fleece. What were my intentions? Departure time and planned route back? I asked what was up and he replied "We are conducting a Range Evolution and we need a clear sea". He stressed that he could only ask for our cooperation - not force us to follow a particular plan. We discussed various options and he radioed for advice. What to do with paddy?!? He returned and said our planned departure time was a tad early and could we delay a while? He looked a bit unhappy and explained that "we already have an armed Typhoon in the air..." so I stopped him right there and exclaimed, "You should have just said that at the start - a tooled up Eurofighter beats four aces anyday and we're two Irish lads in a grey RIB who probably appear in a HUD as Legitimate Target - we'll be behind the boats full of innocent English tourists!" He did giggle a bit ;-)
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Old 03 June 2016, 11:06   #8
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Day 4 part 3

By the time we were "allowed" to depart, Enchanted Isle had offered (Go Team Redbay!) to guide us through the outer stacks around Boreray so we unhitched and followed them under cliffs and overhangs on a breath-taking mini cruise. By 1630ish it was time to return to Leverburgh and we hung back again - letting the day boats run on a bit before we lit her up and got up to a cruising speed of 30-35kts all the way back. First in, we took on 335L of fuel, squared the boat and retired to the restaurant having covered 107Nm. A brilliant day - the finest in a long time for me. Many, many thanks again to Seumas Morrison, an excellent specimen of humanity.
A lot has been written about St. Kilda so I won't add to it other than to say that I found the place made me a bit sad - I felt for the Kildans who had such a hard existance and were eventually forced to abandon life there.
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Old 03 June 2016, 11:17   #9
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Day 5

A quick planning session was conducted over charts, forecasts, coffee and bacon butties. North or South? Barra or Stornoway? I'd hoped to visit the Shiants but we did the sensible thing and decided to visit the Monach Isles instead (I collect Lighthouses). We said our many goodbyes in Leverburgh and set a course down the western shores of North Uist to the Monachs. Our dry spell came to an end and we donned the Geckos for an hour. Luckily it faired (somewhat) at the Monach Light and we took a few pics and continued down the beach lined coast, entering Castle Bay on Barra from the west. Barra was bustling with a cruise ship visit but we deployed the tender for the first time in the trip and scored lunch. As we sat there the RNLI Severn shot away to recover a trawler in difficulty - a sobering sight for two lads about to cross the Sea of the Hebrides to Coll. Out on the tide again the wind died away completely and the sun shone. As Barra slipped down behind us the whales came up for air and the seals spy-hopped as we passed, interested in this odd speeding thing. The ocean was speckled with birds of many kinds - terns, gannets, puffins, razorbills, gillemots and gulls and we encountered a small group of common porpoise - we stopped the engine and drifted among them for a while - they're quiet unassuming souls and you have to let them get the measure of you.
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Old 03 June 2016, 11:20   #10
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Day 5 part 2

Eventually Tiree and Coll came up and we slipped between them and entered Arinagour bay where we took up a mooring and relaunched the tender (it sits on the engine cover while inflated). We had covered 129Nm from Leverburgh. You can come alongside the middle pier at anything above a quarter tide but a visitor mooring is the way to go. There was a wedding on Coll that night (read chaos) so we begged some food in the Coll Hotel and wild camped in the field behind it. I can't recommend the hotel and it's staff highly enough - they're the go-to place on Coll - moorings, showers, breakfasts, camping, beer - the lot. I saw a fuel sales hut beside the hotel with Derv and Petrol on tap. Finally at our tent we counted the golden sheep of Coll and drifted off to sleep, serenaded by drunken wedding guests across the valley :-P
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