Heimaey to Stornaway

Iomramh 2011.

Westmann Islands to Scotland.

22nd to 26th June.

Photos - Eldfell

Although scheduled to spend another free day in Heimaey, the weather reports show that it would be advantageous to move immediately and to try and get ahead of some bad weather forecast for mid Atlantic on Wednesday.

Gisli has given us copies of all his film material and the total amount of material is mounting up. All the phots and video are now depending on my laptop so to provide some back-up it was agreed to wait till the computer shop opened, at 1.00pm and buy a HDD.

This delay gave Frank and I a chance to climb to the top of Eldfel volcano (1973) and there we could stand in the ‘crater’ and feel the heat still coming from the ashes on top.

About 3.00pm on Wednesday 22nd June we motored out of the harbour. Facing a 500 mile journey to St Kilda – if the weather suits.

The wind was directly against us but not too strong, so far (I’m writing at 1.00 am) as to cause serious discomfort.

Writing now in Stornaway on 27th June.

We motored all of the first day against a mild Northerly wind doing three-hour shifts, two people on duty. The only problem is the terrible noise and vibration from the engine.

The rota, for the 5 man crew, works like this:

Paddy and Liam on for three hours.

Danny and Me on for three hours

Frank and Paddy on for three hours

Liam and Danny on for three hours.

Me and Frank on for three hours


On the second day out the wind moved to North-East and we hoisted sail and had a fairly pleasant day without the engine. It still stays bright all night and being on duty every three, or six hours left me very disoriented.

On the third day the wind moved South-East again, directly against us. Back to the engine!

The time between watches is spent lying on bunks trying to sleep. It is not possible to do anything else - even reading, with the noise of the engine and motion of the boat. Although I thought that I slept a good bit between watches, I was still, always as tired as if I hadn’t slept at all.


On the evening of the third day we were still heading for St. Kilda when the wind rose so that even with the engine running flat out we were making no progress but using a lot of diesel. We were 150 miles out in the Atlantic and a gale force wind was blowing us towards South America! Progress in any other direction was impossible, or wildly wasteful of fuel. We were well out of range for radio contact with anyone and nobody knew where we were!

The solution was to ‘heave to’ – turn off the engine and leave just a very small head sail (“to stabilise the boat”) and let the boat drift with the tide and wind. Padraig can’t remember the last time he had to do this. It is not quite that simple, but that’s the best explanation I can give now. It was a very difficult night. The boat swayed and rocked violently, sometimes it seemed to spin around on top of a wave and then drop into a trough with a crash. Because the boat was not moving forward the stern, where my bunk is, was more out of the water than normal, so that the waves pounded against it – something I hadn’t heard before. It felt and sounded as though someone was smashing the hull with a sledge hammer – often two blows together. With each bash a shudder or compound double shudder ran through the fabric of the boat.

Once I was thrown out of my bunk by the motion of the boat – fortunately not far to fall, because of the bags and ropes beside the bunk. On another occasion me and the mattress and all slid off the bed, so I rigged up a rope to hold me in place

How long would the gale last?

As it happened we were alive and afloat in the morning, we had drifted about 15 miles West – more or less back in the direction from which we had come. About 11.00am the wind subsided and moved to the South-West, we hoisted our sail and set course due East, the only course possible! So we were no longer heading for St Kilda but for the ‘Butt of Lewis’ (Butt = Top). If we could get around the Butt, Stornaway was about 30 miles to the South. Stornaway was not a destination favoured by Pádraig, but any port in a storm!

For a while the sailing was quite tolerable. The watch was re-arranged so that either Padraig or Liam, was on duty – four hour watches, so Danny, Frank and I had plenty time off – if only we could do something useful with it.

Before long the wind rose again from the East and we were back to the engine, going straight against wind.

With still 100 miles to go, cooking was impossible, one meal a day – Danny heated three tins of beans and three of sardines in a single pot and we were real glad to get a bowl of this. Then the cooker fell out of it’s frame! The only other food was bars of chocolate.

The water meter showed that the tank was empty though there was still some at the tap.

I hadn’t taken off the oilskins (except the jacket) since we left Iceland.

Water was constantly dripping down on my head, or if I wasn’t there, onto the bunk, but at least my sleeping bag was still dry, and my clothes inside the oilskins were dry.

We struggled on like this for thirty six hours, wind force five to seven, directly against us, bashing into the bow and sending up clouds of spray.

The sail was still hoisted but in ‘neutral’ position when we were called to lower it because the “steering was gone” There was a problem with the Auto Helm we would have to steer manually. With 30 miles to go, to Stornaway, and the wind was at least gale force, directly against us. Danny took the helm and for an hour he stood stoically at the helm, his oilskins only half closed, drenched to the skin. Pádraig took over for the last 20 miles.

At about 10.00pm we got into the pier at Stornaway where about a dozen people had gathered on the pier to watch us coming in.

A race to the pub – really lucky to find one open on a Sunday in this country, a very quick pint then I was dispatched to find grub. Found an Indian takeaway – 5 chicken and chips, with three extra portions of chips. Liam came in after me and ordered some gourmet stuff for himself. I raced back to the pub and the stuff was eaten as fast as it could be got out of the bags!

Slept well, for the first time in five days!