I have just read 'Cruising to the Isle of Man from the Fleet Estuary, Scotland by Martin Bywater'
in the features section. Thanks Martin, very interesting. It made me think about my own plans for the summer. It shows that with a little planning, preparation and patience you can make your journey safe and enjoyable.
I used to live on Orkney (in the late 70's) and have crossed over the Pentland Firth many times by ferry and by 'plane. Much of the time it is a nasty looking piece of water but sometimes it is calm and peaceful. I often wondered what it would be like to cross in a small boat. Martin's article made me think about it again, and made me think about if it would be possible in my own little SIB.
I am well aware that the first rule (or one of the first anyway) of safety is 'Be Aware of your own Limitations'. Well, of course my little SIB is only an 'inshore' boat (4-5 miles from shore) and the nearest point on Orkney Mainland is Brough Ness on the island of South Ronaldsay. This is now connected to Mainland Orkney by the Churchill Barriers so it is no longer really an island. This is about 8 miles over the water from the slipway at John O'Groats. So I thought well that's out then as it is over 5 miles.
Ah, then it dawned on me, stupid boy (I often insult myself like that - it saves other people the time), yes it is 8 miles from shore to shore but it is therefore a maximum of 4 miles from land! Just within the theoretical capability of my boat. At halfway over I am 4 miles from land and then it gets less! In fact If I took the island of Stroma into account the distance 'offshore' is even less.
The maximum speed of my boat is about 20 mph (I know because I checked it on my GPS), allowing a margin of 50%, so giving a lesurely speed of 10 mph, I should easily do the crossing in less than an hour. That would mean no more than 30 minutes from land (15 minutes at top speed) at any time.
Calculating to do the trip at slack tide, on a calm day with perhaps a East or South Wind if any. This now looks entirely possible (well to me at any rate, but this is where Rib Net comes in).
Leave John O'Groats, head to the East of Stroma, then towards Brough Ness. Keep West of South Ronaldsay (with a possible landing site at Burwick) and another 8 miles and you are in Scapa Flow up by St Margarets Hope and it's harbour if needed, within another 45 minutes or so. So far 1.5 to 2 hours and about 20/23 miles (depending if you go into St Margarets Hope or not).
I could then follow the coast, inside the Flow, with its many places to land, between Handa and Burray up past St Mary's, over the 'Royal Oak' and into Scapa Bay, pulling up on the beach.
Total trip about 27 miles,depending on deviations, at a steady 10 mph about 3 hours. Much of the trip would be inside the shelter of Scapa Flow and as close to the coast as needed. Fuel needed would be about 3 gallon (small engine remember and small boat), with a tank size of 5 gallon. I could easily carry a couple of spare gallons of fuel. The only real 'open water' would be the 8 mile crossing.
I would have my course plotted on the gps, my marine radio, mobile 'phone, some hot soup and emergency chocolate etc.
The real discipline would be in choosing a day with perfect conditions. It would also be a good idea to study the charts and mark some possible emergency landing points on the gps.
So what do you think? Could a 3.4m SIB with a 15hp engine do such a trip? Is Keith Hart mad? It can't be as risky as taking a RIB around the world!
Well I suppose if all else fails I could always pack the boat in the back of the car, take the ferry fron Scrabster, launch the boat from Scapa Bay and pretend I went over by boat. But where's the fun in that?
Keith (flights of fancy) Hart
For non UK residents who may not be familliar with the area I am taking about take a look here: