On To Barra

Barra lies 130 miles to the north of the Foyle Estuary, across the approaches to the North Channel and into the South Minch. These are unforgiving open waters exposed to the full fetch of the Atlantic rolling in from St Johns, Canada, 2800 nautical miles to the west. As such they demand the greatest of respect from the crew of small boats. I had been working my way west in the expectation that the persistent northerly wind stream would continue, or that the predominant westerlies would set in. However sitting in the Foyle a forecast for a strong southeasterly stream registered, a wind too good to miss, as it would make the passage to Barra a lighting fast reach. Forecast to top out at no more than 30 knots, it was, like the wind so many months before in the passage from Falmouth to Kinsale, a wind too good to miss.

Foyle Port Marina

Slipping lines at midnight I ghosted down the narrow channel cut through the muddy shallows of the Foyle Estuary, making sail at Moville and being accelerated through the heads by the strong tide ebbing underneath me. The tide pushed me clear of the coast into variable winds, as I waited for the front to arrive, progressively reefing as we did. Then, suddenly – as is the way with fronts – the wind was upon us and Trilleen was sprinting forward, with two reefs in the main and her staysail flying.

The seas were, uncomfortable to say the least. Forecast to be moderate, by the halfway point the inshore forecast had altered to rough. Trilleen was handling it like the thoroughbred ocean sailboat she is. I meanwhile was sick as a dog. I don’t usually get sea sick. I’ve learnt that it usually takes a combination of the weather being truly awful, and the care I have to give my bowel as a result of SCI not having been going very well. Fortunately I don’t get totally prostrated by the malady, but vomit, and am then able to function again. The problem becomes staying hydrated and keeping the calorie intake up.

South Easterly winds meant that while the boat was flying there were also few places to which we could run – except into the vastness of the Atlantic. It was therefore a matter of grinning and bearing it, as Trilleen plunged and smashed her way forward. With two reefs in the main, and the staysail, Trilleen is close to her minimum sail set. I would I think, have pulled the third reef in and possibly reefed the staysail too, saving for the sea state. In the confused sea, Trilleen needed every ounce of power she could carry to smash her way forward up the rhumb line.

Approaching Skerryvore I picked up an exhausted and very wet Meadow, or perhaps Rock Pippit which had obviously been blown off something to our South East. The poor wee thing fluffed itself up and, for a few minutes at a time made its home the cuddy under the coaming. I tried to feed and water the tiny ball of fluff but apparently Pippits don’t do well on crushed nuts. As we came abeam of the end of the island of Tiree, the wee bird lifted away from Trilleen, not to circle and return but to vanish. I hope it found a new home on Coll or Tiree but fear it met a wave.

The approach to Barra is fortunately one of the best lit in the Hebrides, since Trilleen had been absolutely flying and 20 hours after clearing the Foyle we passed the heads of Castle Bay. This meant, that instead of arriving as planned in the rising dawn I was faced with an entrance during the short period of full dark a this lattitude, helpfully coinciding with the time when I was going to be least alert. The unique blue LED leading lights are almost alarmingly bright but were a huge asset in staying orientated. Castlebay approach isn’t complex, but it has very fine margins

Buth Barraigh, Barra Marina Castlebay

The pilot book cautions against the set of the southerly into Castlebay and the potential for this to become an unsound harbour. I’d experienced this many years ago hanging off a buoy in the harbour, and so I’d planned to anchor in Vattersay Sound or Conraig bay as the Clyde Cruising Club Pilot recommends. That plan had been made with expectation of arriving in daylight. Instead it was full dark and I found myself in an unhappy nest of floating ropes attached to workboat moorings. To be clear the workboats and fishers must have priority over leisure yachts – they live and work here and secure moorings are a pre-requisite for their work, but it was unwelcome. I ended up extracting Trilleen without too much hassle and managing to re-anchor in the main harbour which was less comfortable but also less trouble.

The next morning I moved into Barra Marina which is run by Buth Barraigh the local community organisation which provides visitor services, hot desks, laundry, has an amazing shop, and are generally the most awesome people. I settled the boat down for a bit of maintenance and started looking for a window to get round St Kilda. This is another great local marina where the money generated stays in the local community. I love that recirculation becuase its a positive contribution to the island here, rather than money being spirited away to a head office for purposes unknown

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