Rounding the fearsome Cape Wrath in Scotland proves something of an anti-climax for Jonty Pearce as he cruises north of Ullapool and the Summer Isles

Over the years I have cruised extensively off Scotland’s northwest coast but circumstances have always prevented me from sailing north of Ullapool and the Summer Isles.

It will therefore come as no surprise that when friends Pippa and Allistair suggested joining them on their Hallberg-Rassy 36 Sandpiper for a trip from Ullapool to the Shetlands I leapt at the opportunity.

Carol had initially hoped to join us, but feline health issues kept her at home; great friend and past Penguin Club Commodore Jonathan Walton stepped into her place, giving the four of us a rare chance to sail together.

Sandpiper’s home port is Salen on Loch Sunart, and Pippa and Allistair had already sailed her up to Ullapool to moor off her brother Paul’s house; he was to lead the trip northwards in his 27’ Albin Vega Mollymawk with a series of friends as crew before his wife Kate joined us on Shetland.

This trip was also to be a shakedown cruise for Mollymawk, and fixing a series of on board issues became part of the enjoyment.

After the usual preparations, we slipped our moorings on 28 June on a bright windless day and motored up Loch Broom before turning our bows up the coast.

At last, I was navigating long-anticipated new waters as we passed Lochinver before closing in to the Point of Stoer for the requisite photos of its Old Man.

Kylescu was left far to port as we continued to motor north; suncream and shades was the order of the day, but little were we to know that this would be our last sunny before the clouds gathered and the daily temperatures fell to 13 degrees.

The tides were fair to make a passage of the Sound of Handa so we passed inside the island and enjoyed the peaceful conditions, piloting our way safely past the hazards.

Mollymawk, although a shorter boat, bounded along at an easy 6.5 kts ahead of us; she only drew 1.2m as opposed to our 1.8m, so we were careful to keep to the main channels while Paul seemed obsessively attracted to any available shallows – oh, the joys of handling a small boat that seemed halfway between a Wayfarer and a mini yacht.

They avoided touching base with the bottom, though I’m not certain whether that was by chance or skill.

Continues below…

We had planned to stay in Kinlochbervie until the early hours before continuing north past Cape Wrath, but an approaching weather front persuaded us that it would be prudent to stay for a mere 4hrs before departing at 10pm.

We all enjoyed a picnic in the sun while Mollymawk underwent her first crew change, then dressed and prepared for the night passage up and round the bend. Darkness fell as we motored up inside the islet of Am Balg, and Cape Wrath’s iconic lighthouse beckoned us onward as we approached our turning point.

I’m afraid that passing Cape Wrath was a bit of an anticlimax.

Minimal wind and a manageable swell meant that the conditions allowed a smooth progress, and although there was some adverse tidal current our engines easily allowed good speed.

I wish I could have written poetically about the Northern Lights dancing along the lighthouse’s beam, but the reality was diminishing visibility as a sea fog added to the luminosity of the fast-dawning light.

We motored on, keeping in close line of sight as Mollymawk’s battery charging had gone awry, leaving them with only a torch for a navigation light and a handheld VHF for communication. We kept a wider watch for both yachts by radar, but we seemed to be alone on the seas.

Plans to visit Sule Skerry en route to Orkney were abandoned; a combination of fog, forecast winds, and battery issues meant that Westray‘s harbour of Pierowall made a much more sensible target.

Sure enough, as we approached Orkney the wind rose, and we entered Westray Firth in a brisk following F6 gusting 7.

The overalls were bouncy but manageable, and we cut up through Weatherness Sound to coast back northeastward under Westray’s comforting shelter before entering the welcome haven of Pierowall.

That night the wind howled in the rigging, but we were snug and secure after our long passage. We all slept well.