Log #16k Scalpay on the Rocks

September 19, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log #16k Scalpay on the Rocks

Written at St. Peter Port, Guernsey
The Channel Islands
Sept. 19, 2000
Covers the period July 12 to 16

In the usual grey misting weather we motored from the quiet seclusion of Loch Bhalamuis back out into the Sound of Shiant, past the mouth of Loch Seaforth, and into the Sound of Scalpay. I considered going into Loch Seaforth, as it is such a long loch, penetrating over 10 miles into the southwest section of Lewis and the mountainous hills of Harris, but there were dangers at the entrance, and 7 knot tidal currents at The Narrows of its upper reaches. We decided to bypass it and go into the North Harbour on Scalpay, especially as the wind was picking up and blowing a force 6 (20 to 25 knots) from the south. North Harbour in a south wind – should be a good sheltered anchorage.

We passed beneath the new (opened in 1998) Scalpay Bridge and swung around to port past the northwest tip of Scalpay at Rubha an Aiseig and into the entrance of the North Harbour. The entrance was easy, keeping mid-channel as there were shoals on the north shore and a wreck extending off the rocky islet of Coddem to the south. The harbour itself is a nice large bay about a half kilometer wide, with the town pier occupied by several fishing boats on the south side. We anchored on the east side in 14 feet of water, just an hour or so before low tide, putting out over 70 feet of 3/8ths chain rode on our heavy 35 lb. plow anchor, our standard procedure. There is a 4 meter tidal range which would give us about 24 feet at high water and 12 feet at low. OK, we were here.

The shoreline was rocky and seaweed strewn. A shallowing bay extended to the southeast of us and a sunken cement barge that served as a pier for some local fishermen was to the northeast. 50 yards to the east was a pleasant-looking house with a garage and a patio above the rocky shore. The wind, from which we were well sheltered, seemed to settle down. We had supper and stayed on board with the intention of going ashore in the morning.

Scalpay is a relatively large island about two miles long and a mile wide on a northwest – southeast axis, located off the southeast coast of North Harris (still in the Hebrides). The island, bought by a London architect in 1980, has a population of about 400 which subsists under a reasonably thriving crofting tenure system. Some 40 of the crofts produce crops of oats, although the ground is poor, while 60% of the men are involved in fishing, primarily for prawn. Bonnie Prince Charlie was given refuge here during his flight to Stornoway and over to France after his defeat at Culloden in 1746. The island has a sense of community in its strung-out fashion, with the houses scattered over the rocky hills and shoreline. They had a school, a community center, a playground, and a couple of stores, one with a postal service. They even had a taxi/bus link with Tarbert, a couple of miles to the west on the narrow strip joining North and South Harris. We were planning on going to Tarbert for a Scottish step dancing performance we saw advertised.

After supper, the sky was still cloudy and mist still falling. The usual! However, during the night, the wind picked up. At 0330, I got up, concerned about the strong winds and the pitching of Veleda on her anchor chain. The wind had changed direction, and now was from the northwest, right in the entrance, blowing us towards the rock-strewn lee shore. I saw the garage of the adjacent house shifting forward, and thought we were just swinging around on our anchor. I was about to go back to bed when we heard the anchor alarm on our GPS sounding. I immediately ran into the cockpit, and sure enough, that garage was still moving forward, and we were sliding backwards. The anchor was dragging! We were being driven into the shallow bay to our southeast.

Judy got up, threw on her robe, and went in her bare feet to haul up the anchor while I started the engine. The wind was howling a force 8, shrieking to over 45 knots in gusts, blowing us towards the rocks only 50 feet away!  Judy screamed that she couldn’t lift the anchor. I was in the cockpit trying to angle Veleda into the wind and move up towards the anchor to take the strain off it. Then we BUMPED! We were on the rocks! Beam to the wind, being driven into the shallows!

I increased to full throttle to try to force Veleda over the rocks out to deeper water. We bumped again, healing downwind to port. Come on Veleda! Another bump! We seemed to get off, as we swung towards the wind. But the steering was stiff! The garage was still there, and at least not moving ahead any more. As we were now head to wind, I went forward to deal with the anchor while Judy handled the helm. The cable started sluggishly to come in as I hauled, seated in the anchor well at the bow, my feet braced against the forward bulkhead, heaving with both hands, putting my back into it. Our windlass does not function. I still wasn’t sure whether we were off the rocks or not. I just kept hauling in. Judy was able to keep Veleda head to wind, but we would still dangerously pitch to port or starboard. Starboard took us towards the rocks, port towards the mouth of the shallow bay. Hauling up over 70 feet of 3/8ths chain against a 40 knot wind was extremely fatiguing. At last, the anchor came clear of the water, weighed down with a gigantic clump of weed, trailing ten feet into the angry sea. Judy was able to manoeuvre Veleda into the middle of the harbour. I secured the anchor, weed and all, and went back to the helm.

The rudder still felt sluggish, and I wasn’t sure whether it was just fouled by seaweed or if the rudder post was damaged. I was going to head for the pier rather than try anchoring again. Judy got lines and fenders ready as we headed across the harbour. I wanted to come alongside a fishing boat on the outer wall rather than try to go on the inside and have to manoeuvre between the pier and the inner shallows.

We approached the fishing boat, the wind on our starboard bow, and came alongside with the boat on our port side, nosing up to its port quarter. The wind was still howling, and Judy was trying to get a line on the fishing boat. We were bouncing alongside it and Judy could not find a fitting over which she could throw a loop. While we were pounding alongside it, I went below to throw on some shoes, and came up to jump on the other boat with a line to make fast to it. I didn’t want to jump on a strange boat in a storm in the middle of the night, pitch black, in bare feet. I finally looped a line over a block mounted aft of its wheel house, and then secured our bow line to a stanchion on its stern. We got fenders properly placed so we were cushioned  with lines appropriately led fore and aft and breast ropes securing us safely alongside. Whew! It was now 0405, a very long 35 minutes, leaving us physically exhausted and emotionally drained.

That was the closest we have come to losing Veleda. When she hit those rocks, I feared we were going to be blown hard against them on a falling tide and have major damage done to her. I’m glad we put that new 30 hp Yanmar in before we left. It gave us the power to get off the rocks before we were trapped, and let us head up into the 45 knot winds. We weren’t sure yet about any damage to our rudder post, but that could be checked out later. We were safely alongside this fishing boat, and worn out, and went back to bed.

However, less than two hours later we had a knock on our cabin top. The local fisherman was ready to leave for the day. He was quite understanding, and suggested we secure to the larger boat on the inside of the pier, as it would not be going out for several days. The wind was down to only 25 knots and I felt we could negotiate our way to the inner side of the pier now. I was surprised they would be going out in such heavy weather. This new arrangement was most satisfactory, as we were not concerned about inconveniencing the fishermen, and being tied outside of a boat meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with adjusting the lines as the tide rose and fell. So we hung on the side of that boat for several days, feeling comfortable in leaving Veleda for prolonged periods of time, including a two day period when we took a bed and breakfast back up in Stornoway. But more about that and the Hebridean Celtic Festival, and North Uist in my next log.