Outer Hebrides: The Sound of Harris

Standing by the slip on Berneray, a small wind turbine whirring nosily close by, I hunched my shoulders and squinted into the wind and clag. Visibility was down to about 500 yards. When the clag became more like rain I retreated into the ferry waiting room. Feeling pretty lukewarm about the day's plan I studied the map.
We would be paddling on a bearing, that much at least, was clear.
Agreeing a route across The Sound, we worked out the bearings, distances and timings; to my surprise I found I was becoming quite enthusiastic. Here we were, about to cross one of the most notoriously difficult stretches of water to navigate in the Hebrides, with tidal flows that seemingly follow no pattern but reach 4kn, in poor visibility and a F4. Well, it seemed better than sitting around drinking tea.
No sooner had I marked all the bearings and times onto the map, then the clag lifted and while the sun remained reticent, we could at least now see the first group of skerries on our route.
By the time we had carried the boats to the water, things looked better still. Quite enjoying the navigational exercise, we set off following our bearing anyway...
...to arrive at the first skerries, Sgeir a Chail almost exactly 50 minutes later as calculated.
Having explored the lagoons and surrounding islands, it was on to the next landmark.
On a new bearing and with an estimated 30 minutes paddling to do, we headed for Sgeir Chruaidh. A small race in the channel delayed proceedings as we surfed in the waves, (the flow incidentally going in the opposite direction to that indicated in the guide for the eastern end of The Sound), but we arrived once again more or less on time.
Again we dallied, watching the seals but were soon heading northwest on our 3rd bearing.
The 30 minute estimate to reach a beach on Killegray was knocked down to 20 minutes to allow for the wind, now at our backs. In fact, running straight into another tidal stream, again flowing the 'wrong' way, it took the full 30 minutes after all.
The chill breeze soon had us moving again and with a little swell from the west now making itself felt, I gave up on the navigation exercise and enjoyed some entertaining rock hopping instead.
Rounding the north westerly point of Killegray, we paddled close inshore, a cat and mouse game with waves dumping on beautiful sands.
The penalty for getting too close.
Passing through Caolas Sgairidh, the channel between Killegray and Ensay, the rock hopping continued...
...weaving through the skerries...
...on the approach to Leverburgh and Harris.
Hitching a lift back to Berneray, we talked at length with one of the crew. Quizzing him about the tides, he just smiled and said they'd changed when the Berneray causeway was built, but gave some useful advice about the flows at either end of The Sound.
Having worked for 30 years on the ferries, in fact he turned out to be a mine of information on all things Hebridean. He even knew the my local walks, his wife being from Yorkshire.
Whether he forgot to charge for the crossing or thought we'd earned our return passage who knows?
Perhaps like us, he simply cared more about the view. Another hard day at the office.

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