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Old 03 June 2016, 10:25   #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, 10:37   #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, 11:26   #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, 11:44   #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, 11:52   #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, 11:57   #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, 12:02   #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, 12:06   #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, 12:17   #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, 12:20   #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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Old 03 June 2016, 12:25   #11
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Day 6

I awoke, or was awoken at 0430 by cuckoos - lots of them. Coll was infested with the damn things and the racket wasn't helped by the (wait for it) peacocks! Cuckoo! CUCKOO!! SCREAAACKE!!! They were giving the snoring donegaldan a run for his money *sighs* so I got up at 0530 and went for a walk where I was rewarded by the sound of the Corncrake - that odd bird from my distant childhood in the far west. A shower and breakfast at the hotel set us up for another big day. We were on a mission to bag yet another Lighthouse and then bring the fight to Jambo in Tayvallich. We made an early departure and headed over to Iona, recrossing our track north and drifting past the abbey founded by our fellow Irishman, St Columba - a local man from distant days. Sobered by thoughts of what his crossing must have been like (we'd done it the easy way) we pointed to sea again and drove out to find Dubh Artach Light. It was looking grim and forboding but we took the snaps anyway and peeled off for Colonsay and the Gulf of Corryvreckan. We both have a soft spot for the Corry and drifted a while there - revelling in being pulled along at 8+ kts. Finally lunch called and we shot over to Crinan for an excellent plate at the hotel. Afterwards we slipped around to the boatyard for some 200L of alongside diesel - not the cheapest ever but the service was good and the filling easy. Off to Carsaig Bay and then Lough Sween. Sween is a gem and we were very pleasantly surprised to find that Tayvallich wasn't quite the isolated clachan city dwellers would have us imagine. Jambo collected us at the pontoon and wafted us to our campsite (tent again!) and onward to a very good dinner indeed. Heads down early after a wee jar back at Jambo's digs. A handy day's cruising at 92Nm, no fuel taken (there is none )
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Old 03 June 2016, 12:30   #12
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Day 7

Our last day at sea (maybe). This was to be our trip home across the North Channel and onward to NW Donegal. We would have to contend with Rathlin's races and overfalls and Malin Head. What could possibly go wrong? Well, funny I should ask....
We set sail for Gigha as I wanted to check out the new pontoons (they're legend, very good but very late) After some classy cake in the Boathouse we headed south into yet more dense fog that lasted beyond the tip of the Mull of Kintyre. We had noticed some oil gathering in the engine bilge and decided to pay Redbay Boats a visit - time for a pitstop! When the fog cleared we made best speed into Red Bay (Leave Fast - Arrive Fast) and tramped up to find poor Gary. Some investigation ensued and a "so small I couldn't see it" perforation was found in an oil pipe. We were snookered! Until I remembered that Tom had a pair of these engines in boxes ready for his new baby. Some tense negotiations ensued - Ban Ki Moon wouldn't have got a look in, but finally, with the tacit understanding that it was "only because it's yourselves" a donor pipe was implanted and at 2000hrs the Flying Test Monkeys shipped out for home. There were worried women-folk waiting and we didn't want to disappoint them...

Rathlin Sound proved to be a touch bumpy in the freshening north-easterly but we pushed on into the setting sun. After we rounded Malin Head things settled a bit, the sun dipped below the north west horizon and we got her opened up to mid 30's, flipped on the nav lights and raced up the Lake of Shadows at 40kts - making our home port at 2245. We had done 138Nm since breakfast and 738Nm (849 miles) since the start of the trip. It was beginning to tell on the body and it was a very tired and creaky willk that crawled into bed at 0130 - tired and creaky, but very very content indeed.
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Old 03 June 2016, 12:33   #13
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..and finally

So there it is - a week of ribbing that surpassed all expectations and just kept giving. Obviously the weather was king - I don't remember a week as good for boating. I'm going to give myself some kudos too as I put a lot of work into it. Redbay Boats get a big thumbs-up also as they stood me in a workshop and built (to measure) an amazingly capable seaboat around me. Donegaldan was pivotal in the whole deal - better boating company does not exist. Curiously I had expected to (hopefully) return home with enduring memories of sights and places in the Isles. But that isn't so, my strongest memories are of the people I met on my travels, their welcome, their assistance, their humour. John MacKay and The Witch on Mull, the Skooshie Girl in the bar at Tobermory, Nigel the Glass Bottomed Boat dude and the odd lad from the Balkans in Kylekin, Bill the Factor on Rona & his cat George, Seumas, Mike, the various boat guys, Ruaraí, the Wee Van Man and the staff in the Anchorage in Leverburgh, the cute Warden and the QinetiQ fella on St. Kilda, the lads in the Coll Hotel, Jambo, Darryl on Gigha (get that RIB sorted!) and Malin Head Coastguard. Thank you all for the memories.

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Old 03 June 2016, 13:25   #14
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Cracking write up we had a good chat with the chap running the Redbay out of Uig very helpful
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Old 03 June 2016, 13:33   #15
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Cracking write up we had a good chat with the chap running the Redbay out of Uig very helpful
Derek "not so speedy" Gordon?
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Old 03 June 2016, 13:49   #16
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Great write up willk stunning pics a fantastic trip thanks for sharing.

Cheers
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Old 03 June 2016, 13:49   #17
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Really Enjoyed the write up Wilk! Well done.Great trip
A few of us are Going up again... and hopfully across to St kilda this August (weather window permitting)....either way it's some area for Ribbing eh!!
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Old 03 June 2016, 13:56   #18
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Looks like you had a great trip Willk..and I agree entirely about the weather that week..and its still continuing although a tad fresher. Im heading back north tomorrow for some more.

Great to read someone else’s adventures too ..I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and looking at your photos. ..you are no slouch with a camera either

One day I will make St Kilda..just have not worked out a way to get there yet


Thanks for sharing
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Old 03 June 2016, 14:02   #19
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Excellent report and pics willk you must have had an awesome week :thumbup:
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Old 03 June 2016, 14:04   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willk View Post
derek "not so speedy" gordon?

😳😳!!!!
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