The anchorages around the Monach Islands in the Outer Hebrides offer total isolation for the intrepid sailor, as Jonty Pearce discovers

Monach Islands, off North Uist: a Scottish paradise

Sheltered anchorages on the western coast of the Outer Hebrides are not commonplace, especially south of the Sound of Harris.

The Monach Islands, also know as the Heisker Islands, tucked some five miles off the south- west coast of North Uist, offer a welcome haven for those venturing on the Atlantic side of the Hebrides.

This great natural island wilderness of machair, meadows, beautiful untouched beaches, rocky ledges and dunes has been uninhabited since 1948.

The main islands are made up of Stockay Island, Shillay Island, Ceann Iar Island, Shivinish Island and Ceann Ear Island – the latter three are connected by sandbars at low tide.

The tall red brick lighthouse on Shillay was built in 1864 but was out of use from 1942 until its reinstatement with an automated light in 2008.

Chart of the Monach Islands

Credit: Maxine Heath

It can be accessed via a jetty, which can be popular with tour boats.

There are three marked anchorages; the Sound of Shillay between Shillay and Ceann Iar is considered the best, though can be crowded with moorings for potting and trip boats.

It should be entered from the north-east (never through the rocky south channel) – the leading line of two stone beacons on a bearing of 231° will bring you safely in.

Idyllic Croic Harbour nestled in the north-east side of Ceann Iar is more sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly winds, though keep an eye out for isolated rocks.

On the approach, give Heanish Point a two-cable offing as it is not clean.

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The gently shelving beach means you end up a little way off shore but the shelter is good; this is my favoured place to anchor.

South Harbour anchorage is on the other side of the Monach Islands between Ceann Iar and Shivinish.

Approach the isthmus between these two islands on 023° to avoid drying rocks and anchor in your chosen place, well sheltered from the north-west round to the east, but exposed to southern quadrant winds.

Pay heed to the chart on approaching the islands; the main hazards are Huskeiran rock, Middle Dureberg reef, and West Dureberg.

The two-mile wide John’s North Channel passes between Middle and West Dureberg and offers a safe approach to the two  northern anchorages.

Coming from the south, pass well west of Huskeiran before turning into this channel, while from the north and the Sound of Harris aim to start two miles west of Griminish Point before heading south-west until Shillay Lighthouse bears 175°; turn to pass between the Durebergs into John’s North Channel. Beware pot buoys and floating lines in the whole area – a good lookout is vital.

A definite effort has to be made to reach these inaccessible anchorages, you are unlikely to find any other yachts there and facilities are non-existent. But that is the joy of this group of islands.

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