Heading for the Outer Hebrides

Date published: 02 August 2018

It is always difficult to get away from the business of running a yacht charter operation during the season but Mark (my husband) and I did manage a four day break in July 2016. This gave us an opportunity to visit some familiar places, as well as a couple of new ones, and see the infrastructure developments over the last few years.

The first day saw us leaving Armadale, Skye on board our Jeanneau SO 439 “Explore of Sleat” at 08.00. It was a calm, if rather grey, day to start with and we set off with intention of heading directly to the Outer Hebrides. As the morning progressed the sun came out and the sea stayed calm so we carried on motoring in the direction of Lochboisdale, South Uist. We saw a few porpoises and a couple of dolphins and there were a lot of wonderful birds, including the precocious puffins in the seas and air around the cliffs of Canna.

We arrived at Lochboisdale Harbour at 17.00 and found a berth in the cosy new marina without any difficulty. The facilities there were impressive and it is useful that the shore power is included in the marina fee. It is a moderate walk from the harbour the Lochboisdale Hotel, although they do offer transport on request, so after a long day, we gave preference to eating on board and having an early night!

The following morning we headed south towards Castlebay, the main town on the Island of Barra. The weather was a bit “soft” as we say in Scotland, but there was a nice breeze so we were able to sail most of the 20 miles. On arrival there were visitor moorings available and there are also options to anchor around the bay but, if you do anchor make sure you are well out of way of the swing of the ferry. The bay is dominated by Kisimul Castle – historic seat of the MacNeil’s which makes it arguably the most attractive of the Outer Hebrides villages. There are several hotels and restaurants within walking distance of the pier but we chose the closest which was the Kisimul Café which offers a very interesting menu including local seafood!

The next day saw us heading further south from Castlebay to fulfil a long held ambition to go with the Mingulay Boat Song and be “Sailing homeward to Mingulay”. There is some interesting navigation through the narrow “Fisherman’s” passage between Castlebay and Vatersay Bay and there are fabulous beaches on Vatersay. Sadly Pabbay and Sanday vanished into mist but it was calm enough for full sail on the way down. On arriving at Mingulay, we anchored off the beautiful beach and had lunch. Getting ashore here is difficult due to almost constant swell, which is partly why the island was last populated in 1912. From where we were anchored it was clear that there were a number of ruined houses to investigate if you do make the effort to go ashore.

Upping anchor after lunch, we set off to complete the circuit of Mingulay and headed towards Beneray which is home to the Barra Head lighthouse. Heading out into the Atlantic brought stunning views of the sheer cliffs on the west side of the islands and sea-birds in incredible numbers. For someone like myself, who is not a bird expert, the puffins were the most easily recognisable but Mingulay and Beneray also host the largest colony of Razorbills in the UK, as well as Fulmars, Black-Legged Kittiwakes and Guillemots in large numbers. A really exciting sight but they were reluctant to stay still long enough to pose for a good photo!

Returning to Vatersay, we motored into the anchorage off the beach which looked safe and attractive but we decided to press on back to Castlebay because of the better mobile phone coverage there. The passage back was rewarded by an escort of two dolphins following us all the way between the islands. What a privilege to have them swimming with the boat. Dining on board the yacht this time, we also enjoyed a fabulous sunset over Castlebay.

The final stop on our trip was the Isle of Canna. We had a great sail across the Minch from Barra although the visibility wasn’t great and the Stephenson designed lighthouse at Hyskeir kept vanishing from sight. Fortunately the modern technology on board “Explorer” was well able to keep track of the vessel’s position. We also sighted a basking shark which hadn’t seen us coming and which crash dived only at the last minute! Wonderful puffins and other sea-birds once again greeted us off the south coast of Canna and its close neighbour Sanday.

Arriving at Canna harbour to a tranquil scene, we secured “Explorer” to one of the 10 visitor moorings. Canna belongs to the National Trust and is a very attractive island with lots of history, interesting walks and sea-birds and is well worth a visit. We had been to Café Canna the charming restaurant on the island before and had booked a table for a meal there in advance, which was excellent! Café Canna is one of the “hidden gems” you can find tucked away on the West Coast but advance booking is essential especially if you want to enjoy fresh lobster.

Back on board “Explorer” we set the alarm early get back to Armadale and the office by lunchtime the following day. We rose to a stunning sunny morning with all the yachts in the harbour reflected in the water. Motoring home with the iconic Isle of Rum on one side and Cuillins of Skye on the other with the light on the hills constantly changing, we were reminded once again of the wonders of Scotland’s scenery! It is privilege to be able share this experience with the charter customers.

Charmian Entwistle

Isle of Skye Yachts