Circumnavigating Great Britain in an 18ft speedboat: Round Scotland’s Cape Wrath

After seven gruelling days cruising from Yorkshire to Oban, Scotland via England, Wales and Ireland, Ian Furby and his friend Dobbo push on north via the treacherous Cape Wrath

Having made it to Oban aboard his 18ft open sportsboat, Ian Furby pushes on around Scotland’s north coast in his bid to circumnavigate Britain in less than 12 days.

Make sure you catch up on the rest of Ian’s circumnavigation:

Runswick Bay to Harwich
Harwich to Brixham
Brixham to Milford Haven
Milford Haven to Oban

Day 8: 17 June – Oban to Uist, Outer Hebrides – 70nm

Morning came quickly and by the time I came downstairs, Dobbo was already in the lobby of our B&B eager to start his adventure. We headed back to the boat and put on our oilskins, wary of what lay ahead even though it was a beautiful morning.

I turned the isolator switch on, expecting to hear the usual bleep as the electronics came to life. Not this morning: nowt, nothing, nada. Must be getting tired, I thought. A couple more flicks on and off, along with a good spray of WD40, and things started bleeping as they should.

Recommended videos for you

We were underway just before 6am, taking the north channel out of Oban Bay into the Firth of Lorn. I know this area well, so I didn’t really need the chart, but I’d already paid the price for being complacent when I ran aground near Dublin. At least that was a sand bank – in this part of the world most of the hazards are unforgiving rocks.

The tide was flooding up the Sound and the water was like glass. I took Summer Buoys up to 30 knots, revelling in the idyllic conditions. Before we knew it, we were approaching Calve Island, the rocky islet that protects Tobermory’s natural harbour.

Photo: Ian Furby

It was still only 6.45am but the local fuel station didn’t open until 8am so I took Dobbo on a quick sightseeing tour. We crossed the Sound into Loch Sunart and then on to a magical safe-water anchorage on the southern shore called Loch Na Droma Buidhe (pronounced Drambuie).

From there we went further up Sunart, through the narrow channel between Risga Rock’s sheer granite and the mainland before heading back towards Tobermory, pausing briefly to watch a sea otter sunbathing on its back in the water.

Kyle Rhea’s currents can spell trouble but Summer Buoys was up to the task. Photo: Ian Furby


Once in Tobermory marina, we tied up (leaving the isolator switch on just in case), loaded the four 25-litre cans onto the folding sack barrow and wheeled them off to the Harbour Garage. After filling and paying, I poured the first three cans into the boat’s tank then went back to refill them. Fully loaded with 200 litres of fuel, it was time to rock and roll again.

Back out into the Sound and heading north, I hoped to hop between the inner islands of Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna before making the crossing to South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. From there we’d run up through the islands, passing North Uist, Harris and finally Lewis. That was the plan, but it was heavily dependent on sea conditions. The forecast was for a westerly Force 3-4, fine while we were still in the lee of the inner islands but potentially problematic once we’d poked our nose past Mull into the open North Atlantic.

Less than half an hour later, we were passing Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point on the British mainland, guarded by an imposing lighthouse. Unfortunately, the westerly had already lifted the sea. I battled on for another ten minutes towards Muck even though I knew it was hopeless. Reluctantly, I gave in; the sea was too lumpy and we were getting very wet.

Tobermory made for a colourful refuelling stop. Photo: Ian Furby

Never mind; I had a Plan B. Turning from our current northerly heading towards the north-east, put the wind on our port quarter, making for a more comfortable voyage. My new plan was to pass between the south-east shores of Skye and the mainland, then navigate north up the east coast of Skye in the lee of the westerlies, before crossing to Lewis.

It was a little choppy initially as the water funnelled into the Sound of Sleat but it settled down as we passed through Armadale Bay and picked up the lee from Skye. The channel continued to narrow as we entered a stretch of water called Kyle Rhea, where at times the current is so strong that lower-powered vessels can’t make any headway.

Eilean Donan

Reaching the mouth of Kyle Rhea, we had time in hand, so I took Dobbo on a 10nm detour to see Eilean Donan, one of Scotland’s most iconic castles. We were due a break anyway and needed to refuel, so we tucked into a stunning bay in sight of the castle and topped up the tank. It was difficult to leave this magical refuge but we still had 75nm left to run.

The Firth of Lorn’s mirror- like surface made for a calm start to an at-times turbulent day. Photo: Ian Furby

Passing through Kyle Rhea with Skye to our port, we pushed on west towards the famous Skye bridge. The sun was still out, the scenery was spectacular, we were in the lee of the land and the miles were just flying by.

The passage up the east coast of Skye passed in this dream-like trance but I was conscious that once we poked our nose out past the north coast of the island to make the crossing to Harris, the westerly would be upon us and might curtail our plans.

As it turned out, the sea was accommodating. It wasn’t flat but we made more than 15 knots as we crossed to the Outer Hebrides. Confident that we were going to make it, Dobbo got onto and found some digs. By 3pm we had made it to Harris. We turned north and followed the coast en route to Stornoway on Lewis. Then another minke whale came for a play. It wasn’t as playful as my mate off Jura but it was still a joy to see.

13th century Eilean Donan castle is a ravishing ruin. Photo: Ian Furby

An hour later, we pulled into Stornoway. It wasn’t my biggest day but we’d covered 165nm, with good seas and incredible weather. Amazingly, after eight days and over 1,000nm, I was where I’d planned to be. I think Dobbo was a bit dumbstruck by it all. He had every right to be, even though I’ve been to the Western Isles many times before, it still gets me every time.

As we pulled into Stornoway harbour under the shadow of Lews Castle, we were met by Sammy, the resident seal. I’ve never met one so tame; he reminded me of our labradors back at home. We hailed the harbourmaster on Channel 12 and tied up to an empty pontoon, which he was happy for us to stay on. It was just after 4pm, the sun was out and we still had some tinnies on board, so we cracked open a beer.

Article continues below…

The nearest fuel station was 15 minutes’ walk away, so I asked to borrow one of the marina trolleys, which are a damned sight sturdier than my wobbly sack barrow. We set off through the streets, amazed at the thriving, bustling community on this remote Outer Hebridean island.

Forty minutes later, we were back at the boat, filling up. Opposite, there were a couple of old boys aboard a beautiful catamaran called Hannah MII. We got talking and established that they were both former lifeboatmen who’d been sailing round these parts for the past 60 years.

Talk then turned to tomorrow’s primary concern, how best to round Cape Wrath. They advised us to go with the tide on the flood and steer well wide of the Cape, five miles offshore, then head straight for the Orkneys.

Speed bonnie boat… under the bridge to Skye. Photo: Ian Furby

The north coast of Scotland, and the Pentland Firth in particular (the stretch of water between the Orkneys and the mainland), has a reputation for being pretty wild, even when there’s not much wind. With this in mind, we worked out it would be best to round the Cape at about 1pm the following afternoon.

This meant setting off at 10am to cover the 50nm to the Cape and a further 90nm beyond that to tomorrow’s goal of Stromness. Thanking them, we headed back to the boat, emptied the last jerrycan into the tank and walked back up the companionway to repeat the process.

As we exited the marina gates, one of the old boys offered us a lift to the garage in his van – old-school values, just helping out another human being. He even took me to a different garage where fuel was 2p cheaper per litre; Scotsmen, like Yorkshiremen, like a deal!

A beautiful bay near Eilean Donan castle made for a perfect refuelling stop. Photo: Ian Furby


Back at the boat, we stowed the cans, grabbed our overnight bags and headed to our B&B, Twenty-Seven on Newton Road, Stornoway. It had a five-star rating on Google and I can confirm it was worth every star and another besides. I can also recommend the Crown, where we ate, for its excellent décor, a relaxing holiday atmosphere and superb food.

Stepping outside at 11.30pm after putting the world to rights with Dobbo, four days shy of the summer solstice, and finding it was still daylight, is a moment I’ll never forget. I must have looked at my watch a dozen times in disbelief. Amazing!

Day 9: 18 June – Stornoway to Stromness, Orkney – 140nm

We woke at 7am to another glorious day. After an excellent full Scottish breakfast, we packed up and said our goodbyes. I was excited to get underway. Even the prospect of Cape Wrath didn’t worry me – I was buzzing, bulletproof.

Covers off, kit stowed, oilskins on, slip lines readied, isolator switch on… nothing. Dead, not playing. After switching on, off, on, off, it finally it beeped and after a further three attempts, the engine fired up.

Lews Castle is a picturesque backdrop as Stornoway harbour hoves into view. Photo: Ian Furby

Dobbo looked at me. I shrugged. “She’s just getting tired,” I assured him, making a mental note not to turn her off again until we were safely tied up that evening, hopefully in Orkney.
Lines slipped, we steamed gently away.

Heading east along the Eye Peninsula before turning north-east for the Cape, we saw whales again – loads of them. There were minkes all over the place, buzzing the boat.

Cape Wrath

Conscious of reaching the Cape at the right time, we pushed on. We were making over 20 knots in fairly flat seas but the further north we travelled, the lumpier it became. I’d plotted to round the Cape 5nm off but in truth it should have been 10nm off.

By the time we got there it was clear we were too close. The sea was big and getting bigger. I altered my course to the north, before turning east, but it was still huge. The one saving grace is that it still wasn’t as big as the seas I’d encountered off Dublin during that Force 7 storm, so I knew Summer Buoys could handle it. Dobbo didn’t, and was justifiably concerned.

He asked me if I was alright. I assured him I was. At first I didn’t twig but when he asked a second time, the penny dropped. I was having to stand to helm, reading the sea, choosing my line, and bending my knees to absorb the hits. While doing just this over a particularly big wave, one of us managed to catch the kill cord and pull it out.

Mooring up at John o’ Groats for the obligatory photo opportunity. Photo: Ian Furby

The engine stopped dead – not good, especially given the starting issue we’d experienced earlier in the day Dobbo turned a lighter shade of pale and started mumbling something about wanting his mum. Thankfully, the sea was actually more comfortable now we’d stopped. It was still big but we’d made the ride more difficult by travelling faster than the waves.

I wasn’t as worried as I had been in Dublin. We weren’t in imminent danger of being swamped. We were at least five miles away from hitting anything and the tide was taking us the right way. If all else failed, we’d just have to call for the big boys to come and rescue us – even if it did result in a bollocking from them.

Back in my diving days, there was an unwritten rule that you didn’t call the RLNI unless you absolutely had to. Our skipper would rather have had four of us swimming out front with ropes round our waists to try and drag the boat back first!

Anyway, kill cord back in and she started on the second attempt. We pushed on and 40 minutes later, having battled the Cape, the sea began to mellow. We rounded the peninsula guarding the entrance to Balnakeil Bay and tucked in just off Durness. We were both knackered and in need of a rest. It was time to refuel, have some grub, and take ten. We were both laughing but more with relief than pleasure. We had survived Cape Wrath!

Gazing over Scapa Flow in solitude and serenity. Photo: Ian Furby

Pentland Firth

It was now 2pm but, with 40nm and a couple of hours left to run, it was time to get going again. We followed the coast 2-3nm offshore, heading east. The tide was with us now, and the further we got, the flatter the sea became.

Before we knew it we were in the Pentland Forth, another infamous stretch of water between Thurso, Duncansby Head and the Orkneys that can be just as nasty as the Cape. The tide was ripping through but it was running with us, causing a mass of small eddies and whirlpools but nothing big enough to slow our progress; we were making close to 30 knots.

Then, in the distance, I saw a line of five matching buildings, each painted a different colour, with a white chapel-like building to the eastern end – John o’ Groats. Knowing it had a quaint little stone harbour in sight of the famous signpost, I made for the entrance in the hopes of bagging a quick photo.

I pulled into the harbour, and asked a passing RIB owner if it was OK to moor up against some big tractor tyres on the harbour wall. He said it was fine, grabbed our lines and helped tie us up. I picked his brains a bit about the area, and in particular Duncansby Head, which we would be rounding in the morning if all went well. We got the obligatory photo courtesy of a group of cyclists who’d just completed the Land’s End to John o’ Groats ride.

John o’ Groats is just a staging post for Ian and Dobbo. Photo: Ian Furby

As we went back to the boat, Dobbo got onto and managed to get us the last available room in the Ferry Inn in Stromness. It was a beautiful summer’s evening as we edged out of the harbour, heading due north to the Orkneys. Before long, we passed the Isle of Stroma to port en route towards Scapa Flow. The tide was still ripping but other than surface eddies and whirlpools, the sea was flat.

With the apparent wind rushing past our ears and the sound of our own engine out back, we didn’t hear the sound of another engine approaching fast on our port side until it was almost upon us. Dobbo and I looked round in alarm, straight into the eyes of a pilot flying a Cessna light aircraft barely 50ft away and only 20ft above the water. Wow. It accelerated past us, climbed, banked to port and disappeared over Stroma. As quickly as he’d arrived, he was gone.

Dobbo and I were dumbstruck. We’d no sooner stopped saying how awesome it was when he did it again, this time dipping each wing in turn to acknowledge our presence. Excitement over, we made our final approaches to Scapa Flow, where 52 German warships were scuttled in 1919 to prevent them falling into allied hands.

Today only seven remain, the rest having long since been salvaged. Other than a couple of tankers lying at anchor in the distance, we had the place to ourselves. By 7pm, we were tied up in Stromness harbour.

Tied up at Stromness where sustenance and single malt awaits. Photo: Ian Furby


There was no one about so we grabbed a marina trolley and headed straight to the fuel station. It was closed but one pump had a card machine. We filled the jerrycans and pushed our loaded trolley back, stopping at the Co-op for tomorrow’s supplies. Refuelled, restocked and boat secure, we grabbed our bags and headed to our digs.

The owner, Karen, was incredibly accommodating. The kitchen had already stopped taking orders but she promised to squeeze us in if we didn’t mind eating straight away. Covered in salt, grubby and stinking, we collapsed at a table, ordered fish and chips and a couple of beers. It was a fabulous meal, spoiled only by the looming shadow of a less than favourable forecast, which threatened to put an end to our hopes of completing the circumnavigation in just 12 days. That would have to be tomorrow’s problem but I wasn’t going to let it ruin today.

I asked one of the waitresses for a couple of drams of whisky. She suggested a Scapa single malt – as appropriate as it was delicious, and the perfect end to a perfect day!

Next month

Ian and Dobbo come up with a risky plan to beat the weather in a desperate bid to get home on time and complete their circumnavigation of the UK mainland on time.


Latest videos