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Old 20 May 2019, 13:02   #1
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Lewis in August... small boat worth the ferry fare?

We are heading to Lewis in August and will be staying on the NW of the island. Weíll have an assortment of water related kit with us - but are trying to decide whether to book the boat (and trailer) on the Ferry.

Weíve taken her to Tiree in the past, and whilst we have had some good experiences itís not cheap on the ferry and Tiree is so exposed that a small (3.9m boat with 20hp* and no room for an aux) doesnít actually get that much use, so when you add the petrol for towing it there and back and the ferry fair adds a couple of hundred quid and might only get used once. Especially as facilities for keeping a boat afloat are rather scarce there so launch and recovery makes a 1/2 hr blast along the coast more hassle than itís worth?

So any thoughts on: 1. Is it usually too wild to make a small boat pleasant? 2. Are any of those long narrow bays particularly small boat friendly - especially if they have slips etc? 3. If you were going to take the boat is there one part of the island in particular that is a must see (from a little boat).


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Old 20 May 2019, 13:15   #2
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Poly I always take my boat especially to areas like Lewis I fully expect to only get a day or two any more is a bonus the place is beautiful and you will regret it if you don't one good day with the family is well worth the dosh IMO I spoke to rolflat on here he lives in UIG sheltered waters there with slip and pontoon stick the boat on there job done. It's on my list to do too don't let it slip by mate is my opinion
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Old 20 May 2019, 13:18   #3
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There’s loads of spots you can trailer a small boat to, and if you’re based in NW Lewis then even in a breeze you have loads of options down the East side. Might clock up a few road miles but you’ll always be able to launch somewhere (unless you totally luck out and hit a summer gale all week).
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Old 20 May 2019, 13:54   #4
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Don't leave it too long to book the ferry....
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Old 20 May 2019, 14:18   #5
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Yeah, ferries are crazy short of summer capacity. That’s probably best advice here! Book now...
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Old 20 May 2019, 14:47   #6
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Valtos and around Great Bernera stick in the mind. Good chandlery in Stornoway - Fisherman's Co-op and a GaelForce Marine.
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Old 20 May 2019, 15:06   #7
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If you take your boat, you'll have a week of it blowing a hooley and horizontal rain. If you don't, it will be a week of ideal boating weather.

North of Stornoway looks a bit bleak but to the south it looks pretty interesting on either the east or west coast.
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Old 20 May 2019, 15:10   #8
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If you take your boat, you'll have a week of it blowing a hooley and horizontal rain. If you don't, it will be a week of ideal boating weather..
I know - thatís the dilemma! At least a glorious week there without the boat is still special! Iím inclined to take it. We will be booking ferry tomorrow hence the decision!
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Old 20 May 2019, 15:45   #9
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South of Stornoway along the East Coast has some amazing little bays and inlets to pop into, sometimes youíll be the only boat there and lots are very easy access from launch sites.
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Old 20 May 2019, 17:09   #10
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Lewis is a boating paradise. Don't forget your rod if you plan to go fishing. I regularly catch codling, red gurnard, pollack, mackerel and the odd lobster if you can bait and return.

The north west of the island is beautiful. Miavaig, Uig, Valtos, Bernera, especially around Loch Roag. If there's a storm brewing, the Atlantic is unforgiving, but around the coast is fine. Take tools and usual assortment of spares. Fisherman's Coop is Stornoway is an Alladin's cave. Nice prices to match!

Cal Mac are a lot better than they used to be. Arrive in plenty time. Gone are the days when you could rock up with minutes to spare!
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Old 21 May 2019, 00:22   #11
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Gone are the days when you could rock up with minutes to spare!
A long time ago (nearly 40 years ) we arrived at the ferry terminal in Lochboisdale 30 seconds after the ferry had departed. The captain took pity and returned, dropped the ramp and we drove on!
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Old 21 May 2019, 12:26   #12
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Ferry booked. With the trailer!
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Old 21 May 2019, 13:04   #13
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Have a FANTASTIC time!
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Old 21 May 2019, 13:56   #14
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Good man a full report will be expected though.
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Old 21 May 2019, 15:30   #15
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Good man a full report will be expected though.

Got TV to do first. Should be getting boat back this week after a teething trouble with new engine. Got other stuff on this weekend but trying to squeeze in another test run. Fingers crossed!
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Old 21 May 2019, 15:45   #16
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Might bump in to you, Il be in Lewis that week as well.
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Old 19 August 2019, 17:18   #17
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If you take your boat, you'll have a week of it blowing a hooley and horizontal rain.
Guy, are you able to provide long term forecasts like this for all locations? You were amazingly accurate!

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Good man a full report will be expected though.
OK, so we were based in Bragar. The weather did not play ball, but we did manage to get out on one day. The first learning point is that Lewis and Harris are much bigger than other Scottish Islands (that is of course obvious from looking at the map). But, Bragar probably isn't the ideal spot if your main aim is to get out in a boat. I did spot a promising looking slipway north of Calanish on the map and satellite images. A visit in real life revealed that its owned by BASF for a Chemical production facility (a surprising location until you google what they are making!), which suggested that "public" use might not be too welcome; but I didn't get as far as asking as it was the steepest slip I've ever seen and so I moved on.

If I was going back (and likely we will at some point) then I would follow the advice in this thread and base myself in the Uig area, possibly Miavaig or Valtos. We had already booked accommodation before I posted here. There's nothing wrong with Bragar, and it is quite a central place for visiting the whole island, however its about an hours drive to the those rather amazing places for boating. But this would be my second learning point, if you want to visit Lewis and Harris and feel you've given everything a good look and not spend every day running around like mad in the car then go for two weeks. We saw Basking Sharks and a Sea Eagle, albeit all with our feet firmly on dry land.

With so much to squeeze in (not just the island geography, but various other toys, kids who want to surf, a wife who wants to visit various places her friends have recommended) and the weather gods not playing ball (CalMac gave out over 1000 sick bags on the ferry over!), there was never going to be loads of boating done. Mrs P prefers to go boating on days with nice weather, and I prefer to go boating when Mrs P is happy! She therefore allocated Thursday - the driest day to boating, despite my murmuring about wind speeds and directions.

My plan had been to travel around Great Bernera but the NW wind direction was probably the worst it could be for Loch Roag and I had my doubts we would get out at all. There was a contingency plan for the East Coast but having spend a few weeks planning the Bernera option I wanted to see it through. As we passed down the road on the side of L. Carloway things looked remarkably calm and I decided to try launching at Miavaig. After more driving (via the Petrol Station at the Mangersta Shop to top off the tank [probably the most expensive fuel I've ever bought - but worth it for the convenience]) we arrived there in relatively sheltered conditions and negotiated reversing round an interesting twist at the top of the narrow slip with little embarrassment, and noted the slipperiness of the last section of the concrete. I'd stuck my head into the Seatrek office to check about paying for launch and was assured it was free - and I only needed to pay to use the pontoons.

I'd made the decision that a circumnavigation of Bernera wasn't going to happen, not least for the wind conditions, but also because the Pilot Book made no reference to it being possible and showed numerous rocks on the narrow passage around the bridge - this wasn't the time or place to be using the prop as a depth sounder! So I input a plan into the RYA safetrx app with a waypoint at the far end of Little Loch Roag, and off we headed, my emergency contact having been texted my passage plan.

We headed out of Loch Miavaig and began weaving our way through the numerous fish farms on the way south. This presented an interesting challenge on the chartplotter - there are so many potential fish farms on the small screen you can not really see where you are going, or have to zoom in you can't really appreciate the general direction you want to go. There is probably a third lesson there, actually inputting the passage plan into the plotter in advance might have helped avoid constantly changing scale to get big picture and not covered in rectangles like a 1980's arcade game. Anyway the new engine was making good progress and we soon found ourselves at the narrow opening to Little Loch Roag. It was clear from the chart this was going to be a fairly tight passage but what I hadn't expected was this would actually present some "interesting water".

I've passed through the Cuan Sound, the Grey Dogs, the Corrywreckan and the Falls of Lora on both my tiny little boat and some much larger vessels. Admittedly on my boat I've usually timed it for relatively benign conditions. The tide was ebbing but it was about 2.5hrs before low water at Stornoway (so probably not as fast as it gets), on the other hand whilst it was not quite a full spring tide, the range was pretty high. I hadn't expected to see swirling whirlpools around me, but I was soon passing through a gap not much larger than my living room with mini whirl pools suddenly appearing and disappearing either side of the boat. I slowed to watch this and found that it was like steering on ice. We popped out the other side and Little Loch Roag opened up and we passed down the loch before eating lunch at anchor near its southern tip. I handed over control to my son for the return trip - with the strict instruction to stick to the dotted line on the plotter that showed our previous trail. It must have been an hour and a bit later that we passed back through that tiny entrance and whilst there was still some sign of eddies, and my son said he could feel a difference in the steering it was much more sedate.

We had some time to kill and as we headed north through the collection of small islands I spotted a rib travelling fast towards the bridge at Bernera. Realising it was probably one of the seatrek boats, that its skipper obviously knew the waters and wasn't intimidated by the pilot book I suggested to my son he stick to the middle of its wake and follow his route around the southern tip of G. Bernera. Fortunately for me, where I was sitting I couldn't see the plotter screen, as I saw later we passed some rocks at 20 knots that I might not have been so comfortable with! However, were soon out into East Loch Roag and my plans of a circumnavigation of Bernera were starting to come alive again. After we were north of the small lighthouse though we were directly into the wind and the swell was continually building. By the time we were north of Vacasay Island the waves were rolling in at 2m+. Those who have seen my little tub making way will know that it is not a particularly dry ride in those conditions, and even having dropped to 12 knots we were regularly testing the waterproof. Apparently when we left in the morning I had answered the question about putting the other two Gecko's in the locker with a shake of the head (although of course I vehemently deny this!). I watched a local out in a small open boat fishing, take a turn for cover and aware that my crew were probably a little too refreshed to enjoy this for another 20 minutes and no idea what the North West side of the island might be like in the exposed conditions I made a made a decision to duck around Vacasay and back through the bridge. With no RIB to follow my son passed the helm back to me and then I say on the plotter how close we came to those rocks!

We made good progress back to Miavaig though arriving when the tide was still too low to recover. Tying up to the pontoon we made use of the 'cafe' at the top of the slip and got some scallops from the honesty shop whilst the tide came back in. There was another slip on the north side of Loch Miavaig which looked like it might be accessible at slightly lower tide that the one at the pontoons. More importantly, from a quick reckie it seemed to be slime free, and so less stressful. I took the car over whilst entrusting my son to bring the boat. In what was probably our least stressful recovery so far we soon had the boat winched back on board and were on our way. It was a pleasure to pay Western Isles Council for the use of both slipways and the pontoons, the vast sum of £5. I sent a message to my emergency contact to confirm my safe arrival and closed the passage in the app. To my surprise the contact was confused I had been at sea as he hadn't received the original message. This was a final lesson - if you use Safetrx beware it "texts" the default number for the contact, but this may be a landline which will not receive the message.

On the way home we stuck our head into Vathos, and were impressed with the sheltered facilities there enough that we vowed to return.
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Old 19 August 2019, 19:38   #18
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Hehe, sounds good for a little boat. Did you call in on Roflhat?
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Old 20 August 2019, 01:10   #19
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Excellent writeup, Poly!
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Old 20 August 2019, 02:25   #20
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Hehe, sounds good for a little boat. Did you call in on Roflhat?


No Mrs P thinks meeting strange men I meet on the Internet is odd! (I think the only ones sheís met are Jambo and 9d280 - so she may have a point!!!)

Seatrex were certainly busy so he may have been earning his keep - but I did have my eyes open for supersonic zapcats but didnít see any.
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