I'm awake, at least I think I am. Yes, the daylight is coming in through the cabin deck light, subdued by it's smoked glass. I get up, remove the top companionway board and look outside. Everything is still, the water a glassy calm and the decks damp with dew. Good! it's not raining!
Down below - breakfast - bacon and eggs, fried bread and sweet tea - finished, wash up - on deck and hoist the sails.
Lazy Beaver and I have a long sail today, sixty six miles across the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra. There's a name to conjure with - Barra - one of the little islands at the bottom of the Outer Hebrides, sitting hull down, a sentinel to the Atlantic and beyond.
I slip quietly from Drum na Buie to meet the wind and head for Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point on the British mainland. Past Ardmore Point and Kilchoan Bay, the excitement mounts. The seas become short and choppy as the tides around Coll meet the ebb from the Sound of Mull. The wind appears to come from all directions, it always does off Ardnamurchan Point, and suddenly I can see the great lighthouse of Ardnamurchan and it's buildings standing sentinel over the western approaches to the sheltered waters from which I'm about to emerge.
The wind is free, and it's taking Lazy Beaver along at five and a half knots. I go below, and set the way point for the entrance to Castlebay on Barra, fifty five miles away across the Sea of the Hebrides, and not yet in sight. I check the barometer, it's still dropping, but slowly, 1003 millibars. I return to the cockpit and set the Haslar. Satisfied I sit back.
All around me are the islands. They bring a lump to my throat as I write, and as soon as the two of us, my boat and I, reach the open seas beyond the Cairns of Coll, they all move slowly into place - little Muck green and fertile - Eigg's peak hidden by the early morning mists - Rum rearing out of the sea like a lost mountain, it's peaks inside the clouds. To the north the Cuillin's on Skye, like black teeth waiting to be pulled, and there ahead, forward off my starboard beam, Canna, lying on the water like a floating cheese. Compass Hill, its highest point, well below the cloud. Off my starboard quarter and far away, the great mountain ranges of Moidart and Knoydart shape far inland.
Little Eigg, the island where many years ago a terrible tragedy took place. A party of vengeful MacLeods, on a day trip from Skye, smoked to death the entire population in a cave. This cave can still be seen, and two hundred and fifty years after the event a visitor to the island recorded:
'The bones of the victims lay scattered about the floor, a considerable number at the far narrow end, to which it may be supposed the wretched creatures had retreated when the horrid choking smoke began to roll its fatal wreaths upon them. A good many lie also near the entrance, being the skeletons of those who had clung to the hope of fresh air, or freedom, or mercy from without. In the intermediate spaces they are few in number and apart, as if certain individuals from the huddled masses at either end had tried, by a last desperate effort, to change their respective positions when too late, life had failed them after a few haltering footsteps'.
With this terrible tale fresh in my mind, we sail on, my boat and I, lost in thought, when I notice a yacht, a thirty footer by the look of her, about two miles ahead. I get my glasses, and sure enough I recognize her. It's Katriona, another boat out from Crinan, owned and crewed by an elderly gentleman and his daughter. She must have left earlier than I this morning to be so far ahead. As I look I notice she appears to be rolling around with sails flapping and so I go below and give her a call on the VHF, - 'Katriona, Katriona, Katriona, this is Lazy Beaver, Lazy Beaver over' - She answers immediately and I ask if everything is OK - 'Yes thank you, where are you heading' - I reply - 'to Castlebay from Drum na Buie' - she replies - 'So are we, see you there and thank you, out'
The exchange only took sixty seconds, but now I know that I'll have company in Castlebay tonight. I sail on towards my way point, passing Katriona about two miles to my south and the Oigh-sgier light to my north.
Ahead, creeping over the horizon, I begin to see the high points of Barra and slowly, Eriskay, Sandray, Mingulay and Berneray appear. I can now take a bearing on the high point of Barra and check my heading. I can see from the Decca that we're creeping a little north, it must be the north-going tide. All that is required is a little trimming of the Haslar and we're back on course.
I go below and make a pot of tea, and with it eat a meat roll and a bar of fruit and nut chocolate. I watch Lazy Beaver running down to the way point, and then suddenly it's passed and we're into the approaches to Castlebay. Passing the buoys that mark the skeirs we swing north and there before us, Kisimul's Castle. This early fortification was the home of the Macneil's of Barra and is believed to date from the 11th century. It is called, by the present day Macneil's, their 'Castle in the Sea' - however, my anchorage awaits.
I round up and drop sails, very conscious of the expert eyes watching from the pier. With the sails off her, Lazy Beaver comes up all standing and I drop the anchor, letting the wind take her back to dig in. Satisfied, I sit down and look around. For many years Barra had simply been a place on the map to me, and on my first visit some years ago it didn't disappoint and it still doesn't. To my right and over the stern is the Castle, dark and brooding. To my far right the new roll on roll off pier and above that, the main street topped by the church with it's small tower and bell. The houses, dotted about the hillside, are mostly white with slate roofs, but here and there a metal roof painted red or green stands out among the crowd.
Alongside the pier are four fishing boats, all named after Saints, obviously local, the car tyre fenders on their free side indicate more to come. No sign yet of Katriona, so I go below and prepare a meal - tinned beef in its own gravy, or so the tin says, peas and boiled tinned potatoes, treacle pudding and mugs of sweet tea.
I hear the putter of a small engine and poke my head out of the hatch. Sure enough it's Katriona just about to round up and anchor. As all's well I shout a greeting and receive a reply - 'see you later we're hungry'. I return below and note that the barometer is dropping fast, 998 millibars and still dropping. This means a blow, let's hope it's all over by the morning.
I sit listening to some programme on BBC Radio Four, with half an ear on channel 16 VHF. The wind blows stronger and the anchor chain begins to rattle over the bottom. Every now and then, as if to remind us that we're still afloat, a wave slaps the side of Lazy Beaver then lifts her stern and slaps her overhang.
It's been blowing for some three hours and I see from the wind instrument that it's gusting to forty five knots from the south west. Am I glad to be snug in Castlebay. Suddenly I'm brought out of my stupor by the sound of powerful engines, I look out and see the Castlebay lifeboat being readied for sea. Suddenly she's off, great plumes of spray and exhaust smoke as she speeds on her errand of mercy.
A little later, I hear the unmistakable sound of a helicopter flying overhead and look out just in time to see its lights disappearing over the hill top. There is also activity in the village, with a number of cars moving about, their headlights sweeping the hillside and lighting up the white walls of the houses - something has happened and I am left to wonder what.
Its time for bed, but first the washing up and then a hot sweet coco. In my bunk with the oil lamp out, I listen to the midnight shipping forecast and hear, Malin, Hebrides, storm force ten. A little later during the inshore forecasts I hear, 55 knots at Benbecula, 58 knots at Malin Head and 52 knots at Tiree. I turn off, turn over and fall fast asleep.
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