Round Britain – Muck to the north of Skye

The delightful cafe on Canna was threatening to soak up all our cash, so we had to depart… and make our way south towards Muck, sailing under cruising chute alone down the west coast of Rum. This is such an imposing island with its huge mountains. Little Muck is quite modest by comparison. Entering between the red and green poles into the little harbour, we could see how small it really is.
We picked up a ridiculously heavy-duty buoy and then I went ashore to ask if we were OK to use it for the night. I first met a chap who had bought a decent-looking cruising boat for 4000 quid on eBay (!), then was offered a beer by the men installing fish cages, as it was their mooring… and it was Saturday afternoon. They were great company, but must get bored stuck on an island for work. Apparently the cages containing salmon can have up to a million fish in them, and it looks to be quite regulated these days from an environmental point-of-view, as the cages get moved around. But at 30 quid each in Tesco’s, that’s a massive business.
Muck was very laid-back. An honesty box invited you to make donations to the local school (5 pounds a night for the boat and 2 per solar-powered shower). I managed to walk to the far end of the island and climb its highest peak, sorry hill, in a morning. We spent the second night alongside the pontoon, a strange fish-farmy sort of affair seemingly constructed out of big plastic tubes. Fortunately our round fenders did their job well.

Andy found a little graveyard on Muck, with some sad reminders of the war. Bodies of sailors would wash up on the beach, and the islanders gave them a decent burial. Many could not be identified.

A frustrating sail – no wind at first, then enough to warrant a reef, then by the time it was all up the wind just dying away – brough us back to Mallaig again, a whole week later. More washing and shopping to do!
Striking out again, this time aiming to get as far as the Outer Hebrides if possible, we pootled up the Sound of Sleat (pronounced ‘Slate’, apparently) to IsleOrnsay to take up another oversized buoy for the night. We went ashore to the quite posh hotel and fell to drinking with some house painters outside (as you do!). The midges chased us all indoors after a while, where we paid our dues by having a meal.
Unfortunately the bay was open to swell from the north and during the night it all became quite uncomfortable. On a boat you get accustomed to every sound, so when there is something unusual it demands to be investigated… even at 3 in the morning. All sorts of bumpings and grindings, booms and gurgles get amplified inside the hull, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep. A skipper’s lot…
Next day we pootled even more slowly, just across the Sound to Loch Hourn,

anchored in a little bay for lunch, then pootled back again, this time to Loch na Dal, a couple of miles north of Ornsay. Swell once again got everything squeaking, but not as badly as the previous night and only for a few hours.
An early start, well 8am, and we took the tide with us up to Kyle Rhea, the narrow passage between Skye and the mainland. It was quite fun, with about 4 knots of tide sweeping us through. Seals were enjoying the upwellings and looking for fish. Then out into the Kyle of Lochalsh, under the bridge and suddenly the Inner Sound, Raasay and northern Skye opened up before us.
We motored round into Broadford, given a thumbs-down by the Sailing Directions as having nothing much to offer. Clearly everyone has paid attention to this, as the visitor moorings looked as if they had not been serviced for years.

But there was a supermarket nearby and a petrol station. Broadford feels like it could do a whole lot better. So many other places have put in a pontoon, offered showers and services and attracted visitors. There is even a Youth Hostel nearby, so the shower provision wouldn’t be hard. But while they just have a few slimy and dodgy-looking buoys, they should not expect yotties to come flocking.
Onwards and northwards…. From Broadford we sailed (yes, actually sailed!) slowly round to the narrows in the Sound of Raasay. The wind left us before we could get through, so we motored just enough to clear the hazards, then returned to sailing. Tacking up the Sound was great, made even better by overtaking a monohull, but we have yet to perfect our autopilot-assisted tacks. Eventually we rounded the headland to get into Portree.

The cliffs here are vertical basalt on top of a sloping base, and all along the coast there is an amazing variety of spectacular rock formations.

Portree was preparing for a half-marathon the next day (Saturday 9th June) but could not persuade us. Excellent showers at the swimming pool/leisure centre, but I nearly got charged double for being under 60 – and I am only half Andy’s size!
A really quiet night on the mooring was a skipper’s delight. We departed at 1000 for an inevitable motor northwards again. As Raasay and Iona dropped away to starboard and the open sea beckoned ahead, we fell to wondering what it must have been like for the Vikings making sea passages in open boats without GPS or any real aids to navigation.
We passed the Old Man of Storr,

a rather phallic detached rock, and saw some more seals and a couple of porpoises, but no sea eagles despite scanning the high cliffs. The breathtaking scenery continues right up to the nothernmost tip of Skye. Truly an amazing island.
Tonight we are in a little bay about as far north as one can get on the island, and tomorrow we shall strike out across the Little Minch towards Harris, hopefully taking in the Shiant Islands on the way. It will probably be a motor, given the current weather conditions, but with a little luck we should sail at least a few miles. Mindful of the strong winds and rain forecast for sometime next week, we want to get to our furthest point north while the going is easy, then tuck ourselves up in a safe harbour for the blow.