Navigating the Pentland Firth.

These are some of the most dangerous waters around UK and before venturing into the area get hold of charts and a copy of the Clyde Cruising Club, Sailing Directions and Anchorages - Orkney and Shetland Islands and follow what it says religiously. 

Be warned that the seas west of the Merry Men of May takes longer to subside after wind than I would have thought, after 36 hours of no wind at all and 3 days since strong winds it was still uncomfortable when I went through. Once past the sea immediately calmed for a pleasant trip into the Flow.

East Bound

Clockwise through the Firth is not complicated given correct timing,  Lock Eriboll is a reasonable start point although it may require a very early start, but beware of poor holding and listed anchorages crowded with buoys (see my post "Loch Nedd to Loch Eriboll.") but there are many other places to anchor for the night, they just need hunting out.

If the tidal gates at The Merry Men of May & Hoxa Sound or Hoy Mouth are likely to be missed or even a bit "iffy" divert to Scabster or anchor off somewhere and wait. If going into Scarpa Flow then I would recommend the southern route through the Firth as there is more latitude on timing compared with very brief "slots" to get through Hoy Sound to avoid 8 Knot streams and the roost. 

Keep a look out for the local Killer Whale pod and Minke Whales that frequent the waters.

My Track from Scabster to Stromness

Tip: Set up a waypoint 5 or 6 miles west of the Merry Men and plan to be there an hour before the tide turns. I set up an Excel spread sheet to calculate the timing based on transit times from the navigation software:


Leaving Scarpa to the East it not difficult but again needs very careful timing and you will almost certainly need to use the engine for the first part of the trip. The full story of my exit is in my post "Stromness – Hunda Sound – Sinclair’s Bay".

Scarpa to Sinclair's Bay (Nr Wick) following the 
CCC directions taking the last of the west going
tide before striking out into the Firth.

West Bound

Given sensible weather and very good timing off of Duncansby Head the entrance into Scarpa Flow should not be difficult but get the timing wrong on a spring tide and you could be faced with 16 knots of tide just west of the Pentland Skerries and serious roosts all over the place. 

A lot of ships use the channel and will be under similar time restraints so keep a good look out, particularly at night when you will be very busy with pilotage. When I went through north bound they were passing north of Pentland Skerries but when going south there was one coming from the south east that passed to the south.

Give yourself plenty of time to get in position, there is likely to be a strong south going tide from Noss Head to Duncansby Head that is not reflected in the sailing directions, the tidal stream atlas or tidal diamonds and so not reflected in my navigation software.

Passing west of the Pentland Skerries.

Going west to Scabster is rather more complicated and I have not done it so see the Sailing Directions. 

A good compromise is to go into Scarpa, take a few rest days in Stromness then head west leaving via Hoy Sound, it is short and the east entrance is only a mile from the marina so timing should not be a problem and you can stand off to check for yourself that the roost has subsided. If the weather is very kind you might get to go up to the Bay of Skaill and Skarabrae.

The entrance to Hoy Sound (left of the beacon) seen from the
channel out of Stromness

My trip (at night) into the Flow from Peterhead is described in detail in my post "2021 Round GB Days 25 - 26. Peterhead to Hunda Sound (Orkney)" and the passage out via Hoy Sound in my post "2021 Round GB Day 29. Stromness to Loch Eriboll."

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