Pierowall, Westray island Orkney 59:19.392N 002:58.555W

Frans & Sarah Toonen
Sun 4 Aug 2013 17:14
4 August 2103 SW5, later W6 and WSW5. Sea state rough. 

We were intending to make passage from Stromness to Shetland and hoped to leave Hoy Sound ahead of the recommended 30 minutes before the end of the ebb to give us more time rather than wait until 1600 to depart. After leaving the harbour we could see very heavy breaking seas in the Sound so we anchored off Graemsay to wait in the hope the turbulence would abate towards slack water. It seemed to improve and so we set off at 1500 head to wind through the Sound in wind against tide. It was very exciting for a short while with Pelagia doing submarine sailing as the stern was lifted high and the bow pointed downwards through huge waves for a time. 

We were soon clear of the worst and heading north along the magnificent coastline of Mainland past the Bay of Skaills where we had visited Skara Brae. With the wind almost fully astern and the sea state remaining rough the sunshine and coastline plus the usual sea birds surrounding us proved a welcome distraction for the crew from the pitching and rolling. We were averaging 6.7 knots over the ground so we soon rounded Noup Head and then Bow Head, Westray, and made a welcome course change into Papa Sound and on into the tiny working harbour of Pierowall.  A pontoon is laid for visiting yachts in the summer and we joined 5 others alongside by 2100. 

The fine sandy horseshoe bay of Pierowall was first used by the Vikings and the largest cemetery they left behind in Britain is nearby. The island has rich farmland and so agriculture has taken over from fishing other than the creel boats returning regularly with Orkney crab to the processing shed in the harbour. Tractors are used to unload the crabs in stacking containers the size of builders 1 tonne sand bags. 

5 August - Monday. A fine day so we hopped on the tiny ferry to Papa Westray and set off to hike around the coast of the whole island. The sand is pure white, the shallow bays are turquoise, there are carpets of flowers underfoot, you are surrounded by birds, the seals sing as you stop to eat your picnic and yet there is virtually nobody there. All day we saw maybe 20 tourists so it seems this very natural and isolated style of holiday is not popular. We saw lots of white rumped finch type birds which we later identified as Wheatears. We also saw Arctic Skua who are more graceful than the lumbering Great Skuas we have seen so far. We have not seen either of these birds before.

The Atlantic ocean meets the North Sea at Mull Head on the tip of Papa Westray and even on this calm day the turbulence was visible on the water. Unbelievably there is a scheduled air service by Loganair from Westray to Papa Westray and the distance travelled is shorter than the length of the runway at Heathrow. Flight buffs are amused by this apparently and travel long distances to take the flight. 

Having walked 13km in blazing sun (there are no trees so we found no shade) all day we were glad to get home to the harbour. Our Swedish neighbours had been fishing and presented us with a large smoked mackerel which we enjoyed in the cooler evening sun. The Swedish boat was a Malo named 'Altair'.

Arctic Skua with a Summer Pale Morph plumage:


Ringed Plover: