A New Start
May 28th, 2012 - CHRIS HAS LANDED IN THE FAEROES !!!
I have received news from Lisa this morning that Chris has successfully completed the first leg of his journey and landed on one of the southern islands of the Faeroes group. He called Lisa at 2 am on Sunday morning. I imagine he was very tired after completing the last 59 miles non-sop and he needed sleep badly. I will update as soon as he contacts us again.... Al Z.
May 26th, 2012 - Telephone message from Chris:
Hello Al, it's Chris again. It's Saturday morning and the water is really crappy, lot of fog, and the wind is out of the northeast, so things are not going like I had planned, but the boat is doing very well, very seaworthy.
We are 59 miles out of the Faeroes, so we have covered about 120 miles. So there is nothing really to report, I saw a couple of whales yesterday. It's pretty grim out here actually right now, but hopefully it will get better. Take care!
May 25th, 2012 - Telephone message from Chris:
I am calling to give you an update. I am about 78 miles north of Butt of Lewis, it is just the beginning of my third day and I have got about a hundred and four or five more to go. So far the weather has been pretty good, so today the wind is supposed to be increasing, not from the south as I had hoped, but from the east, which I may be able to use for sailing. I have to use for sailing, but I would prefer southerlies. For some reason the forecast has changed since I have been out here.
All is well, and there is not too much more report. I call you when I get to the Faeroes.
May 21st, 2012 - Almost ready to go!!!
Today is the day I thought would never arrive.... the forecast for the next six days is for southerlies!! A big high pressure system has developed over Norway, spinning southerlies and south easterly winds. The timing is a bit poor, but I'm not complaining.
After all of the waiting, I rowed south from Port Of Ness on last Thurs- just feeling like I needed to get some miles in and save my sanity. I rowed south to Stornoway, rested one day, then rowed south another 30 miles to Tarbit, which is on Harris Island. I just arrived back in Stornoway this morning - Monday, at 10:30, having gotten an early start at 4:30 this morning. Murty Campbel l- the RNLI coxswain, met me on the pontoon with the wind report..... now there is a mad rush to organize food, make last minute phone calls and make sure that everything on board the boat is ship shape.
I had a great time testing everything on the row south these past three days. The very exciting thing is having the right wind to kite sail, regular sail and row at the same time - I had the GPS on and registered a very consistent 5.7 knots in a 12 knot wind. If I get lucky with a bit more wind, I can expect more speed - more speed means a greater margin of safety for getting to Faeroe. The other thing I did was to slip inside the forward cabin for a test "nap" while the boat was sailing herself at 3.7 knots. I didn't really sleep of course - just wanted to lay down and see what it felt like to feel the boat underway without anyone in the rowing seat. I have to get going - tons of things to do before heading north for a port about 12 miles from here. I hope to leave from Port of Ness either tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday morning after a last minute weather check with Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle.
Before I leave, there will be a safety net loosely cast out--- I will call Stornoway Coast Guard and let them know my departure time. They in turn will notify all offshore fishing vessels as well as the Faeroes Coast Guard. Each day, I will call Stornoway Coast Guard and give them my position. I will also give Al Zob a call from somewhere in the middle so he can keep everyone appraised of how things are going.
May 17th, 2012 - Heading south from Stornoway
I'm sending this from Stornoway after spending nine hours yesterday rowing south from Port Of Ness. I had hoped to leave Port Of Ness on Tues but this past weekend's wind, and an extremely low pressure system, built a massive swell running in from the north. The forecast for the next week and a half is for the wind to stay in the north to northwest. I've been patient enough - its time to move.
I woke at 2:30 on Wed morning to the sound of the rising tide gently lapping around Northern Reach. Within a half hour the boat was floating and I set to work readying the boat and myself for the row to Stornoway. It took an hour working by headlamp to free the anchor lines and the two lines running to the pier of all the seaweed that the swells had brought into the harbour. Tangled lines were sorted out, weed was cleared off the boat, and everything not needed in the forward cabin was stowed in the aft cabin. I pulled the dry-suit on and rowed out to deeper water in the harbour, tied off temporarily to a float, and called Lisa to let her know I was heading south. Lisa told me she was sitting in the living room having a glass of wine after a long day at work. Rex was apparently snoring on his back on the couch, his legs straight up in the air... he likes a good stretch before dosing off, and then seems to forget that his legs are pointing toward the ceiling. As I sat in the rowing compartment of Northern Reach, listening to the roar of the surf just beyond the seawall, Lisa told me the garden is going crazy - plants are finally getting a chance now that we have a deer fence in place. Temperatures have been in the low 70's and everything is green and lush. As we talked, a huge black cloud moved directly overhead and the first hailstones started pelting down. The phone went dead as the hail bounced off the decks of the boat. "It must be time to row."
Getting out of the harbour was tricky. Sets of swells rolled in and broke on the outer submerged rocks, completely closing out the entrance. I sat, watched and weighed the decision to go. Getting out was one thing. Getting back into the harbour was not going to be possible. It would be way to dangerous to have a wave surf the boat onto the outer seawall.
After sitting and watching - oars at the ready for the sprint - a wave broke over the rocks and then.... something told me, GO! Northern Reach is a brilliant boat- light, seaworthy and fast. Three full power strokes from within the last protection of the seawall and we were moving at nearly four knots over the entrance. Wind, the noise of the surf to my left, heavy hail stinging my face and the backs of my hands, and black hills of rolling water coming from the open sea. It is a place of no emotion and full on focus, focus, focus. Pull evenly and strongly- my back angled back to sleeping cabin, shove the oars aft, follow with the legs and grab the next big bite of ocean. Pull again. And again. And again. Deep water is safe water and slowly the thunder of broken swells on rock and concrete grows distant. As I turn south, there is only the smooth massive black lumps of ocean rolling in from astern. A single faint yellow light glows weakly from the porch of the large house above the harbour. Over my shoulder is the first headland and the reef extending a quarter mile out. I angle further out to sea to give it plenty of room.
For the next five hours the swell rolls in from behind - obliterating the horizon, advancing and towering over the orange of the aft cabin and then smoothly lifting and sweeping under Northern Reach. The northwest wind shifts to the southwest, then south, then back to the north west. And still the rowing continues and. I am happy. In fact, I am thrilled just being out there amid all that power and beauty. Dawn turns a break in the clouds over Cape Wrath a rich peach colour. Gannets, puffins and razorbills fly past then swoop back for another look. Life is good on the open water.
My plan right now is to leave Stornoway this evening and run with these north winds towards Skye. I'll be making for the Shaints - three islands about 18 miles down the Minch. I won't get all the way there tonight because the wind will be against the tide where I need to make the five mile crossing. I'll hole up in one of the lochs along my route and make the crossing tomorrow. Maybe I am overly cautious but that's how I like to do it. I don't know how long I will be south of here... it all depends on the wind. When it shifts, and if it stays in the south, I will once again head for Port Of Ness and the friends that I now have at the far northern tip of Lewis.
Ps. Very interesting to hear that Erden Eruc is also having trouble with the wind. I like that quote "A man does what he can and destiny reveals itself."
May 10th, 2012 - The northerlies persist
I had hoped to row to Stornoway this morning but one look at the sea changed that plan - NE winds and a large swell hammering the cliffs. I caught the bus instead...frustrating to say the least.
The northerlies are forecast to swing to south westerlies on Sunday and go up to force 9 (36 knots). Then it's back to northerlies. I am heading over to Ullapool for the windy weekend after laying some heavier anchor lines out for Northern Reach on Friday morning. If the winds allow, I will row south toward Skye the first part of next week...have to keep my fitness and my attitude up.
I went over to Stornoway Coast Guard this morning and introduced myself. A very professional group indeed. They had just received word of a yacht loosing all steering and heading for the rocks. Phones and radios were busy but they certainly welcomed me and took down all my info and plans. When and if the winds shift, I will call them on the sat. phone just before heading out of Port of Ness for Faeroes. They will in turn pass on that info to Faeroe Coast Guard and any offshore shipping. I will then call them at some point in my crossing and give them my position. That is, if I get away at all. Everything is feeling a bit too theoretical all of a sudden....all this planning and I haven't gone anywhere.
May 8th, 2012 - Hoping for a shift in wind direction
A bit of a positive spin is needed here in Port Of Ness... I looked at the winds up in the Faeroes. As of Tuesday midday, the winds are from the NE at 9 mph in Thorshaven. OK, that's something positive to focus on. I think the crux of this trip is right in front of me - the leg from Lewis to Faeroe. If I can get a five day break in the northerlies and get to Soudrey, I can use any wind in the north quadrant to get to Iceland. That may seem like getting the horse in front of the cart but at this point, I have to look for the positive and focus on that. Ninety percent of this trip is psychological. I need to hold that edge.
May 7th, 2012 - Heading South Towards the Isle of Skye
Monday, May 7th and another day of wind from the northwest. I was out quite early this morning on a training row but the swell was to steep and the wind waves were running in the opposite direction. Very choppy and not safe so back into the narrow harbour opening with a sharp eye on the approaching swells.
It looks like the north winds are going to continue right through this week. I'll call Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle and see if he concurs. If so, I'm going to head back towards Stornoway and then further south toward Skye. I'll keep an eye on the winds and if they go into the south, I'll turn and get back to Port Of Ness as quick as possible for the start of the Faeroe crossing. There is no sense in sitting here, waiting and not being able to get out on a regular basis for training rows. I'm concerned about loosing fitness while I wait. The harbour, though safe, dries out so I can't get out as often as I need.
The Coast Guard helicopter came overhead this morning as I was reading on board in the harbour. The chopper swung low and did a tight circle - presumably checking out Northern Reach before thundering off to the west.
With all these north winds, the swell has built up to be quite large. Though I'm tired of waiting, I am not at all tempted to head off towards Faeroes. The North Atlantic is nothing to toy with when its even moderately stirred up as it is and I know how futile any attempt would be. Having said that, I need to get away from the constant heavy rumble of the surf beyond the seawall. I could wind up waiting here for another two weeks if these winds continue as they are and that is to frustrating. Heading south into The Minch will bring some protection from the open ocean swell and let me get in some good mileage. So tomorrow morning off I go - as long as the wind isn't to strong.
May 1st, 2012 - In Port Of Ness at the north end of the Isle of Lewis
I'm sending this from a new friend's house here in Port of Ness. Paul's living room window looks down on the small harbour here in Port of Ness and then out across the Minch to mainland Scotland. On a clear evening like today, the sun is hitting the distant mountains on the mainland - melting the miles away and making them look so much closer than they really are.
I left Stornoway on Sunday - the first calm day in well over a week. Instead of the cold northerlies that had been blowing, I woke to a near flat sea. By 7:15am I was pulling away from the seawall and heading for open water. What a great feeling - the boat loaded with food, water, all unnecessary gear is stowed away, the tether line is fastened around my waist and instead of a training row, I am heading out for real trip miles - getting a little closer to the Faeroes.
After three hours, the wind picked up a little and I set the parafoil up. Seven and half hours after leaving Stornoway, I lowered the kite and rowed into the tight harbour entrance here in Port of Ness. Iain Maciver, my friend in Stornoway who is a freelance journalist and who had done a great interview and video shoot, showed up a couple of hours after I arrived. Iain drove me to meet Dods Macfarlane (sp), a local man who for the last 30 years has been going out to Sulasgeir and Rona Islands - forty miles due north. Every August there is the annual Guga Hunt - a gathering of young gannets that are killed, cleaned, salted and brought back to Port Of Ness. The men go out for two weeks, land on the rocks and camp out in stone huts while they collect their quota of young gannets. The Guga Hunt has been going on like this for centuries. It is a dangerous trip - forty miles into the North Atlantic in the hopes the seas will be calm enough to get the men ashore. In the days of old, the boats would have been just a bit bigger than Northern Reach, but open boats - no compartments for flotation. Today, the boats are of course proper diesel powered fishing boats, but still the sea rules - forty miles out is a long way. Dods is very well known throughout Lewis. He knows the currents, knows the ledges on Sulasgeir where, if the sea is calm enough, a small boat can be pulled above the swell. He also knows where to hide from the wind if the weather turns suddenly.
Dods and his wife Mary welcomed us warmly as if we had been expected. For the next hour, Dods and I talked about my Faeroe crossing - and in particular, what shelter I may find - if I need it, on either Sulasgeir or Rona. What I really appreciated about Dods is that he understood my hesitation about setting off this week - despite the local forecast looking quite good. My doubts came from what was forecasted closer to Faeroe - north and west winds - not strong, but still there they are. I didn't like it and voiced my concern to Dods. I felt like we were connected right away and he understood what I was fearful of - winds that I could not push up against with any speed. Speed is my greatest asset and I'm not going out there until the winds are in my favour. As a young man, Dods used to row from Port Of Ness around the headland to the Butte of Lewis - the very northern tip of the island. He loves to row but understands that the power doesn't come from pushing a lever forward and feeling the surge of an engine kick in. The power comes from the oars - human powered and human limited. This is the kind of man who I need to talk with when planning a crossing like the Faeroe crossing. The waiting continues.
The other day, before leaving Stornoway, I met Amanda and Kenny, two sailors working on their Swedish built sailboat. They invited me to their home for a wonderful lamb meal. One thing that stands out is a quote which Kenny said he had heard from a Danish sailor, "The patient skipper always has wind in his sails." I like that thought.
Back to Port Of Ness. Today, as a training row, I took Northern Reach out and around to the lighthouse at the tip of the island. A nice swell was running from the north west - a bit of swell and a bit of light wind - just enough to make the water lively. Gannets, fulmars, razorbills and gulls - my companions for the crossing, whenever that actually begins.
I called Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle this morning. Dave says the north winds will build tomorrow and continue through Sunday. The only calm day was the one I had this past Sunday. I'm glad I took advantage of it. We are now in a perfect position for the departure.
During the two hour training row today, I was thinking how good I feel physically - no soreness, no blisters (thanks to Jan Dawson who gave me some great rowing gloves) and just smoothly moving with the heaving and dropping of the boat amid the swells. I've gotten the feel of rowing back, after a winter of not being on the water. There is a rhythm to rowing on the sea that goes against the normal rhythm of rowing. One has to time the pull and the recovery somehow so the oars don't slap the top of the waves on the recovery stroke. If I think about it too much, I make a mess of the stroke... if I just do it by feel - settle into that weird and wonderful almost non-rhythm - the rowing becomes hypnotic and smooth. When it's all flowing smoothly, it is a thing of beauty - the following sea lifting the boat with a slight surge, the pull of the oars - strong and even, the hesitation while the boat picks up speed, and then the recovery stroke as the boat settles into the trough - another second or two of hesitation and then it starts again - the next smooth pull. It goes on and on and on, reading the waves not by sight but by the feel of the boat.
It occurred to me that since I arrived in Ullapool, I've rowed somewhere around 100 miles. For me, there is no replication of the feel of rowing a loaded boat - that weight, that solid feeling of pulling evenly and steadily against the resistance of a boat ready for a long trip. The boat has been ready--- and now, I feel ready as well. If the winds allow, I'll continue to row every day. That's it for now from Port Of Ness at the very tip of the Isle of Lewis.
April 27th, 2012 - Rowing to Port Of Ness on Sunday
It looks like I will be rowing to Port Of Ness on Sunday, possibly with the company of the local sea paddling club. There is a slight weather window opening next week but right now I am a bit cautious... Although the winds are light down close to the Hebrides, it looks like they may be westerly and a bit stronger on the approach to Faeroes. After waiting so long, I have to say that it is tempting, but the consequences of getting it wrong are way too great for me to be impatient. I would rather have the stronger winds at the start of the crossing when I am fresh, than at the close, when I may indeed be quite drained. Its hard to sit and wait and wait, but I also know what it feels like to be out there in really bad weather - or just rowing into a wind that just about stops me - it just isn't worth the risks, or the wear and tear. This trip has been three years in the planning so another week or so of waiting is just part of the journey.
Back to local rowing.... I was out this morning for a two-hour workout and will get back out this evening for another two hours. The weather is still very unsettled - squalls come through with local blasts of wind accompanied by sleet or rain.
On Sunday, I'll row to Port Of Ness and get a feel for how much shelter the small harbour actually offers. If I feel like the boat is truly safe, I may consider an offer from the owner of the hostel here in Stornoway - free lodging for as long as I need while I await the right winds. If I have to wait another week, it will be nice to be able to catch the bus back and forth from Stornoway and just kind of keep busy while waiting.
When the day for departing finally arrives, I will call Al and Lisa on the satellite phone and let them know I am on my way. Until then, it's more of the same: keep checking the weather on the RNLI Internet, training rows, and finding small jobs on the boat to pass the time.
April 26th, 2012 - Weather window
It looks like there may be a weather window opening up on Sat - if the forecast is right, it may settle out enough for me to row to Port Of Ness. It's 26 nautical miles from the inner harbour here in Stornoway - a fairly easy day. I'll check the weather again tomorrow morning and make a final decision on Saturday morning.
April 23rd, 2012 - Exploring Lewis Island
One week after arriving in Stornoway I am still waiting for the southerly winds to appear. It's been a busy week with plenty to do both on the boat as well as visiting different areas of Lewis. I've met Murty Campbell, the coxswain of the lifeboat here in Stornoway. Murty has done a lot of open water crossings in his kayak and understands the nature of these trips. He has given me a key to the lifeboat station and has offered whatever help he can while I await the winds.
Just a bit about the RNLI - Royal National Lifeboat Institution... The RNLI is a totally donation funded organization whose sole function is to be on call 24 hours a day for sea rescues. The crews are all very highly trained and have some of the most advanced rescue boats in the world. The UK waters are especially challenging due to the severe tides, weather, and currents affecting the seas around the islands. The coxswain and engineer are the only paid members of the crew - the other five crew members have other full time jobs and are on call 24/7. Murty has invited me on board for a training run later this evening - I'll get some photos and forward them a bit later.
While waiting for these mythical winds to appear, I caught a bus across the island to the Calanish Standing Stones, a 5,000 year old circle of massive stones set on a barren hillside overlooking a loch on one side, and the distant hills of Lewis on the other. In the chill of a north wind, I walked around with one other person, each of us lost in the wonder, the mystery and the power of the human spirit, which built this monument. So much is unknown about the people, or the reasons for the setting of the stones. To imagine the ancient people of old gathering as a community in transporting and then raising the stones is enough for me. I have visited these types of places since first living in Scotland in 1981. They have always inspired me and drawn me further into the mystery of the ages, the myths and the legends of old.
After my visit to Calanish, I caught another bus to the "Black House" museum - a group of old thatched roofed cottages - one of which was last inhabited in 1974. The homes are simple, small and clustered around a tiny harbour. One end of the house was where the cattle and sheep lived, the other end was for the families, the crofters themselves whose lives were by our standards, extremely hard yet simple and reassuring. These small communities were self-reliant, close, and dependant on one another. As the young people left for employment or emigrated to Canada or America, the old people remained, living the lives they had known. As the population dwindled, the old ones could no longer maintain the thatch, dig the peats, and look after the animals. The last ones to leave were three elderly woman and one old man. Today the houses stand as a glimpse into the recent past. The sounds of the surf on the rocks still rumble, the winds push the waves into whitecaps and the sheep, of course, still roam the hills. One only has to quiet themselves to imagine how timeless are the simple ways.
These north winds are supposed to be with us for at least most of this coming week. My plan - as soon as there is a small break - is to row about 15 miles up the coast to the next harbour, hide out there for the next break, then row to Port of Ness on the very tip of Lewis. It is key to be in that position in order to get every hour of the southerlies when they develop.
I've just finished an interview with Ian Maciver, a freelance journalist here in Stornoway. He has also helped me with uploading photos for Al. Funny thing how just two days ago I was standing in a 5,000 year old circle of stones and today I struggle to understand how to upload digital photos. The journey continues.
April 18th, 2012 - Crossing the Minch from Ullapool to Lewis
I am sitting in the Stornoway library - the children's section - hunched over the little people's computer.
I crossed from Ullapool to Stornoway on Monday the 16th - one of the finest days in almost two weeks. Jan and Topher invited me for a farewell diner Sunday evening - with John - my rudder building friend, and Paul and Kate Copestake - neighbors and fellow rowers as well as sailors. My original plan was to leave at midnight after a few hours of sleep but a last minute look at the weather suggested the SE winds that I would need for the crossing were delayed until 3am. What to do?? If the north winds had dropped down at the harbour, why not leave tonight? A sudden shift in plans and we were all headed out the door for an immediate departure for a small island just five miles from Ullapool. The five-mile jump would shorten the next day by at least an hour....
By the time I arrived at the island, it was pitch dark and I was tentatively moving along the shoals looking for the pontoon to tie up to. Four hours of restless sleep with the boat nudging the pontoon every half hour - I was up, had breakfast and moving again at 4:15am - anxious and a bit nervous about the almost 40-mile crossing. As Paul said, "Butterflies are good, they keep you on your toes."
Flat calm water for the first two hours - a crescent moon rising between bands of predawn black clouds. Gulls appear from nowhere - shadows silently wheeling and circling overhead the veering off and calling out in the darkness. The land slowly takes on details of rock and cleft, and further inland, fresh snow on the higher elevations.
Pulling clean and even on the oars - taking it easy knowing that nothing stays the same on the sea especially when it is calm flat. Three hours go by - slide aft, reach for the next stroke, grab the sea and slide forward with that full feeling of the oars biting in. So much is happening that seems even now, so very mundane as I sit within four stout walls and listen to the tap tap tap of the computer keys. Out there on the sea there is only the sound of the water slicing smoothly past the boat, the soft clunk of the oars as I feather from a pulling stoke to a recovery grab, listening to the silence and listening to my mind going over and over the plan for the day if and when things change...is the sail ready, is the para sail ready, have I checked and rechecked all the hatches? What is that slight pulling pain in my left shoulder? How is last year's strained knee doing? Is the boat trimmed right - she seems to be leaning ever so slightly to my right. Or is that just my imagination. I hear the gurgle of the bow cutting into the smooth sea and if I focus my ear, I can discern a softer gurgle behind the rudder. All is good as the sun touches the highest peaks, glancing off the snow and rises above that band of earlier cloud.
I pull past the Summer Isles and feel the first rise of swell in The Minch. Nothing but open water for the next 35 miles. I don't know where the miles or the hours go. I certainly am not bored. There is too much to listen and look at. The boat, the receding shoreline of mainland Scotland, my first gannet of the year, a lone puffin winging its way south, pairs of razor bills. And still the forward and backward slide and catch of the oars.
I set the parasail up at about hour four. Not really sure how much it was helping as the winds were only about ten knots and not straight behind me but more at a bit of an angle. The GPS was showing 4.2 knots - a good speed. Somewhere around hour 8 or 9 I tried the sail just for fun. Sailing, para sailing and rowing at the same time. Still the winds were not quite right.
The Minch crossing took a total of 13 hours, not counting the hour on Sunday evening. Quite surprisingly, although I was tired, I wasn't anywhere near as exhausted as last year's crossing from Fair Isle to Orkney, which took 12 hours. Granted, that was at the end of two and half months of struggling with the wind...
Northern Reach is moored safely to the Lifeboat pontoon thanks to Murty Campbell, the lifeboat coxswain. He gave me a key to the lifeboat house as well as to the locked access to the pontoon. I can come and go and not worry about leaving NR unattended.
Now that I am on the Isle of Lewis, I am in waiting mode - there is a series of low pressures that are stacked up behind one another but they seem to be spinning northeast and north winds... certainly not the winds I want for the Faeroe Crossing. I'll wait for a high pressure over the North Sea and hopefully some winds from the southern quadrant. I'll be calling Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle tomorrow to see what he makes of the present weather. It is very early in the year and time is on my side at this point. I just finished reading "A Fighting Chance", the story of John Ridgway and Chay Blyth's row across the Atlantic in an open dory... sure makes me appreciate how fast and cozy Northern Reach is.
I will try to find someone who will let me download some photos and get them to Al. Until then, that's me tucked safely away in The Hebrides.
April 14th, 2012 - Rowing to Scorraig and back
Although I've been doing a lot of rowing the last few days, I'm still safely tucked away at night in some little harbor. The north and northwest winds just won't quit so I'm spending a lot of time tweaking the boat, experimenting with my ballast placement and learning the fine art of sailing a rowing boat. I just got in from a ten-mile training row and will head out again this afternoon to work with the parasail.
Two days ago I rowed to an isolated village out on one of the peninsulas. Scorraig was originally settled by crofters who had been "cleared" off the large estate further inland. The Clearances are a dark part of Scotland's history with the many ruins out on the headlands telling some of the story. There was a time (1850's) when the lairds of the huge estates forced the crofters off their lands and basically left them to starve or barely survive on the poorer lands out on the islands or headlands. Scorraig was one such settlement where the crofters did their best to pull from the land and the rocks, a subsistence way of life. What remains today are some of the ruins from those times, but also some very clever and beautiful homes built over the years by folks who have wanted to live far beyond any roads or any "mains electricity". The only way to get to Scorraig is to walk the ten miles of dirt and rock track, or take a boat.
Topher and Jan raised their family out on Scorraig and were back visiting for a few days so I rowed the 11 miles over and had a lovely two-day visit. Topher lived there for 25 years, Jan for about 15. They both took me around the village, introducing me to their friends of many years and sharing stories of building boats, raising their children and living a rich and at times a challenging life out on the edge of mainland Scotland. It is nearly impossible to imagine what it must have been like back in the 1850's to have been forced off of the good land and moved unwillingly to this remote and beautiful but very poor crofting land. There seems to be almost more rock than there is soil in places, yet people of yesteryear and today have, and are still making a living from the land. Topher showed me trees that he planted 35 years ago - trees that offer a buffer from the cold winds coming off the Atlantic - trees that shelter their house today and help hold the soil in place. On a sunny day, Scorraig is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place - a world away from what lies across the loch and over the hills. There are miles of stone walls - built as a way of paying the laird back for the rent of his stony land. It must have been a brutal existence. Today, each home has either a windmill or a bank of solar panels that provide power. The homes are small, warmed both by the Rayburn stoves as well as by the warmth of the people who welcomed me.
After my visit to Scorraig, I rowed back to Ullapool and got hit by some nasty northeast winds. It seems that the winds will always shift direction as soon as they see which way I intend to row. Such is the life of rower, a bicyclist or I suppose anyone who is trying to get from point A to point B using their own muscles. I had to hide beside the cliffs and make a mad dash for the opposite side of the loch as soon as there was a break. I chalk it all up as part of my training - try to smile, shift into a lower mental and physical gear and keep pulling on the oars.
After my training row this morning - against the wind again - I was met by Dave More and Mary Lucy on the beach. They are both avid kayakers whom I met yesterday as I was eating my lunch in the forward cabin. Dave had told me he had a "hard to find" copy of Chay Blyth and John Ridgway's row across the Atlantic in 1966. As I clambered out of the dingy I use to get between Northern Reach and the landing, Dave handed me a padded self addressed envelope. "I thought you might want a bit of reading material why you wait for these winds. There's fiver in there for postage. Just drop it in the mail when you've finished." This is the kind of welcome I am getting from nearly everyone in Ullapool. Its just fantastic. And so appreciated!
Time to get back out on the water for some parasail training. The instructor is a bit daft at times - seems he's never done this kind of thing before and there is quite a bit of tangled lines at times and a lot of zig and zagging going on but in the end, I learn some little trick which makes the next time even more productive and fun. Until the winds change, that's it for now.
April 6th, 2012 - Testing Northern Reach under sail
I rowed Northern Reach to Ullapool three days ago - a little over an hour, against a fairly strong wind and the tide. It was wonderful just being back in the boat and feeling those rowing muscles. For the past two days I've been sorting out all the gear, stowing it all in the various compartments, filling the water ballast bags and stuffing them into their proper places and, most importantly, fussing with the sail, mast and all the rigging lines. After a final coat of varnish on the rudder that John made for me, I was ready for the big test - actually sailing Northern Reach.
Topher rowed me out to the mooring where Northern Reach lay bow into the 12 knot wind. After a bit of last minute fiddling, I raised the telescopic boat hook mast, the sail filled, and very slowly, Northern Reach began her first sail. Topher was rowing beside me, calling out instructions and telling me what lines to pull when and what angle to the wind would be best. It wasn't long before I sort of had the hang of it and Northern Reach hit 2.8 knots. The sail has about 18 square feet of surface area - perfect for winds up to about 20 knots. I had about 125 pounds of water ballast on board and the boat was just fine in terms of leaning over. Being such a narrow boat, Northern Reach is fairly tippy until she leans over a bit and then becomes quite stable. I had hoped that this secondary stability would be enough to carry the sail-- and it is. Fantastic!!
After an hour of playing and learning, I would have been plenty happy to call it a day but Topher was curious to see how the parasail might work in the light winds. So off I went for a quick run back to the house to get the parasail. Once back, Topher rowed a tubby little rubber dingy upwind alongside me to get some photos - which I will send later today. Despite the dropping wind, I was able to bet the sail aloft and up maybe fifty feet where the winds were still about 12-15 knots. The kite is about 5 feet wide by three feet deep and has four baffle sewn into it for lift. Once it was flying in the more stable air above the water, I just held onto the spool of line with one hand and tweaked the rudder cable with the other. The kite just hung overhead in this splash of color against the gray sky, pulling us along at 3 knots down wind and 1.7 knots 45 degrees across the wind - and that was only in about ten knots of wind. Another successful test!
April 3rd, 2012 - Progress on upgrading Northern Reach
I've been staying with Jan and Topher Dawson here in Ullapool - the same folks I stayed with at the end of the trip last year - and have very much settled into life in this small lovely Scottish village. The warm weather that greeted my arrival has slipped away and been replaced with typical early spring weather - sunny skies one moment and blustery snow showers the next. The surrounding hills overlooking Loch Broom are covered with fresh snow, but there is a tulip outside the living room window that apparently knows it really is Spring.
Work on Northern Reach has progressed very rapidly. Topher and I lowered her from her nest in the rafters of the barn where she has been staying all winter and I immediately went to work on her. I drilled a hole for the mast in the after deck, reinforced the area around that hole, built a nice wooden mast step and after a bit of fussing, raised my telescopic boat hook mast. With an aft stay and two side stays, the sail can be tightened very nicely from a point just forward of the sleeping compartment hatch. The barn where Northern Reach sits on two old car tires is a perfect place for all of the work that has to be completed on her.
Two other boats are being built in the barn and the guys there have all been absolutely fantastic. Dan is building a thirty-foot sailboat for his and his wife's future home. Adriana and Matis are building a lovely traditional row/sail boat. And John McIntyre is finishing up projects for his 50 foot steel boat that will be launched sometime in the next month. 'll send photos of all these boats at a little later date. Once again, Northern Reach seems to have an energy about her that draws people in. John has taken on the task of building a beautiful wood rudder, which will get another coat of varnish today and should be ready for the water tomorrow. Dan helped me line up the mast and position it for the "get it right the first time" hole in the aft deck. Adriana walked past the boat yesterday, which was sporting her new sail, all rigged and ready for testing. He looked Northern Reach over and asked if I had lee-boards. I explained that I would be basically sailing across or downwind and though a leeboard might be of some help, I felt it was just too much of a hassle rigging it and then stowing it. He asked if I would mind if he just "banged something up just to see if it might work?" What he has come up with is really quite ingenious. I'll send photos of this too but for right now I'll see if I can explain it. He has taken a piece of 1/2 inch ply about three feet long by ten inches wide and shaped it like a shark fin - that's the obvious and easy part. Then he carved two indentations for the different circumferences of the rowing outrigger aluminum pipes. With the outriggers raised just a half inch or so, the leeboard is slipped between the gunwale and the outrigger. When the outrigger is lowered into its rowing position, the leeboard is pinched and held in place. The triangular shaped outrigger holds it in one direction and of course the gunwale holds it in the other. As I said, I'll send photos and it will all make sense. Another big change is that I installed two small hatches in the forward compartment so I can access food without getting out of the compartment. It will also encourage me to keep the forward compartment tidy - no peanut butter or jam jar flying around and conking me on the head if I get rolled over in a storm. Just getting those hatched in gave me a huge sense of accomplishment.
The plan at the moment is do a bit more work on Northern Reach this morning and then row her the three miles down the loch to Ullapool this afternoon. The winds are out of the NE and NW for the next few days and I have to get some sailing and rowing time in so I'll spend the next week right here enjoying Ullapool. When the weather is right, I'll set off for the Hebrides. I just got an email from my friend Patrick Winterton, who was such a huge help last year. He is sending me a tidal atlas for the Faeroes. It's all coming together. That's it for now.
March 30th, 2012 - Arrived in Ullapool
I finally arrived in Ullapool yesterday - Friday. I'll start working on Northern Reach today and should have some photos in the next couple of days.
I got an email from Howard Sprouse who found a mistake on the webpage that I completely missed....... Tom Berg should be Tom Beard. Don't know how I made that mistake.....
The weather here is really quite nice - west winds around 20 that are supposed to drop. The daffadils are all up but there is a prediction for some snow early next week. That's OK though because its only March and I have at least a week of work and testing the boat before even thinking of setting off.
Hope all is well. I'll write more and send photos later. Chris
March 25th, 2012 - My new plans
Six months have flown by with home and carpentry projects, wonderful time spent with Lisa and Rex, visiting family on the east coast, and planning for a second attempt at rowing - and now sailing - from Scotland to Faeroe and then hopefully onto Iceland. Once again, Al Zob will be updating my website with photos and text that I'll send him from villages along the way. I thought this would be a good time to bring everyone up to date with changes to my route, a few changes to Northern Reach and an update as to my plans.
With the help of Randy Washburn and Tom Beard, I've added a small sail to Northern Reach. We experimented with several sail designs and decided a jib sail was the best way to go. The criteria for the sail rig was that it had to allow me to row while sailing, it had to be out of the way of the forward hatch entry, and it had to be simple and fast to raise and lower. I decided to go with a fairly small sail - 18 square feet - to reduce the chances of getting knocked down in a sudden gust. I have an eight foot mast aft of my feet - an aluminum telescopic boat hook that I can collapse when not in use. I'll be able to attach the sail to the lowered mast, raise the mast, attach the forward point of the sail to a jam cleat on the roof of the forward cabin and control the loose foot of the sail with a fair lead and jam cleat mounted near the rowing outriggers.
Randy sewed up a blue tarp as a test sail and then rigged a temporary mast on Lisa's rowing wherry. I then took the boat out in about 12 knots of wind. It was a little scary because Lisa's boat is wide open to the sea without any built in floatation. With much care, I was able to sail at about 2.5 knots. Sailing Northern Reach will be easier and safer because she is so much heavier with all the water ballast, food, gear, and of course the cabins and compartments. Rowing will be the primary propulsion, but having the sail for an assist is a huge psychological help. The sail will be most efficient in a beam wind or in a wind slightly aft of my course. I'm not expecting the sail to add any huge amount of speed to my rowing but it will give me a chance to actually pull the oars on board, eat, drink and take small breaks while still keeping the boat moving. I also have a parasail that I'll be experimenting with if I get winds straight aft of my course.
Another big addition to the boat is what are called "Rocker Stoppers". They look a little like traffic cones - sort of - and hang from the rowing outriggers, one on each side and down about 8 feet. They are designed to dampen the rocking motion of the boat when anchored or when the sea anchor is deployed. I'm hoping they'll help me get some sleep during the long crossings.
One more change to the boat will be the addition of two small hatches on the inside of the forward compartment which will allow access to the storage compartments in the middle section of the boat. It seems an obvious thing that should have been in the original design, but somehow I missed that one. Row, Live and Learn. With the hatches installed, I can access food without having to open the main hatch. I'll also be more likely to keep the forward compartment clear of smaller items that tend to clutter up the already cramped space- the "take it out-put it away" philosophy.
So now for my plans....
My route for this year's attempt will be quite different than last year. Instead of approaching the Faeroes from Scotland's northern isles, I'll be heading straight west from Ullapool, across The Minch, and basing myself out of the northern tip of Lewis Island, the northern most Hebridian island. When the weather allows, I'll head due north for the 205 mile crossing to the southern-most Faeroe island, Suduroy. From there I hope to cross to the other islands, spending as much time exploring and meeting the Faeroese people. If the weather allows - and that is the crux of the entire trip - I will, at some point, set off for the east coast of Iceland - a 280 mile crossing that should take about 8 days.
Once again, Dave Wheeler from Fair Isle will be my weather man. Dave was a huge help last year. Every time I picked up the satellite phone and asked for the latest weather synopsis, he was on the other end of the line deciphering the weather charts for me.
And speaking of the satellite phone… Ken Birdwell and Tommy Cook have loaned me, once again, an EPIRB and a satellite phone for this year. Both pieces of equipment are expensive "must have" items and it was a relief not to have to purchase them from the remaining and limited trip fund of last year's attempt. I owe a huge THANK YOU to Ken and Tommy for their continued support!
I am leaving much earlier than last year in the hopes that the previous four year pattern of calm winds in the early spring will hold true. I have about a week of work to accomplish on the boat and at the same time, get some rowing/sailing in on Loch Broom. I have some wonderful friends in Ullapool who have offered not only a bed, but also a work space for Northern Reach.
I'm quietly optimistic about this year's attempt. The summer promises to be challenging, exciting and full of adventure. I will try to update the website as often as possible. I hope we ALL have a great summer!