Life at the end of the road

November 19, 2017

The Hunter is back :-)

Filed under: animals, boats, daily doings — Tags: , , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:23 pm

Well, he was probably back sooner right enough but ‘Orion the Hunter’ is one of the many good things about winter in the Highlands, along with the woodcock you only ever see him in the darkest of months. The woodcock who normally arrive in droves around the first full moon after the equinox though have yet to put in an appearance, perhaps they’ll be here on the 4th December. Anyway’s I saw him last night on the way home from work and this morning, dominating the southern sky. Sure he’ll have probably been visible earlier but the skies either have not been clear enough or I’ve been tucked up inside.

The favourite day

So, it’s Sunday now and my favourite day of the working week, the one where I’m always late for work Smile Well, not actually late, but late for me, I’m still there an hour before sailing, just I’m never the first on a Sunday.


Trouble is, I keep getting distracted, I awake at the same time, lie in bed an extra 10 or 15 minutes, perhaps even an hour or so if it’s scabby day. Today however it was a peach so I was outside at first light,

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and, after dealing with the animals,

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13 impatient chooks and two hungry pigs, I started messing about.

Clam diving kit

In preparation for some pre Christmas clam diving with me boy I started fixing up and power washing my various storage bags and creels.

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Unused for some 15 or so years they’ve sat in a nearby ruin for long enough, probably since clearing out ‘Number 3’  prior to selling it. The trawl netting bags and mesh boxes are what I used to store my weeks catch in prior to landing. If scallops are kept cool, damp and out of the wind they’re quite happy for an hour or two and can be put back into the sea in bags or keeps where they’ll stay healthy for long enough.

Clam diving 2001 1 001

Here we are in 2001 putting them in the very same keeps and so long as you didn’t put too many in, made sure they were well away from freshwater and preferably on a clean bottom. That is clean as in rocky or hard, not muddy or silty and out of turbulence. Providing they’d not been exposed to heat, wind and rain prior to going back in the sea then the healthy clams would keep for a couple of weeks, more at this time of year.

Clam Diving 2001 2 001

My sons job at the tender age of three was to catch my marker buoy and count the scallops, probably explains why he’s so good at maths and is now at university Smile Anyway, who would have thought we’d be doing it again, this time together Smile

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After pressure washing by bags and kit I filled up the car with petrol from the boat tanks, at least one of which had had fuel in it for a long time. Petrol goes off much quicker than it did in the past and six weeks is considered to be about as long as you can keep it. Personally I think that that is bollox and 3 months is probably just fine, however it seemed like a wise idea to ‘play it safe’ and use the old stuff in the car. It’s one thing spluttering and misfiring on the road, quite another when you are at sea.


I do love driving the wee Daihatsu Terios on Raasay, it’s tall stance, narrow wheelbase, low gearing and good ground clearance make it perfect for the poor single track roads. However, as with all the Daihatsu’s we’ve owned, the fuel tank is pathetically small and Phoebe struggles to do a weeks worth of commuting without refuelling.

That done, I headed for work in daylight, albeit a later later than normal.

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Deer being plentiful at this time of year as they search for a mate and then try to hang onto them. The scabby looking stag on the right is unlikely to breed this year, there are far healthier and larger beasts on the hill hanging onto their harems.

On the job training

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Ben Tianavaig and some of its rocky outcrops highlighted in the morning sun.

I finally arrived at work around 9:05 just as my crewmates were lifting the gangway aboard and after ‘start up’ and a morning coffee we sailed in ‘Battery Only’ mode with an almost full deck of cars. The return trip was less profitable but did bring with it a couple of chaps from SMT

Stream Marine Training Logo

who were here to give us some ‘on the job’ training


in rescue from ‘enclosed spaces’


which have all done before and regularly drill for. However it was still great to run through a realistic scenario and rescue Duncan (again).


Duncan having just returned from ‘sick leave’ after being rescued from the sea during the annual ‘sea trials’ after dry dock.

Perhaps we should have put him in ‘the recovery position’ afterwards Smile The Hallaig’s ‘fifth man’ Duncan the dummy has the worst job in the fleet Smile


Still, at least he didn’t get another ‘dunkin’ when we did a boat drill too, all in all it was a rather busy day for a Sunday!

That was it really, we tied up in the dark and still I saw no woodcock on the way home!


November 17, 2017

More Leaks :-(

Filed under: daily doings, New hybrid ferry, Trucks and plant — Tags: — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 8:19 pm

Well, that’s it, the month’s holiday is over and it’s ‘back to the grind’ with me ‘tied to the mast’ an all that. Mind you, things could be much, much worse, I could have a ‘proper job’ where you work 5 or 6 days a week for four weeks holiday a year. Sure, I still pinch myself sometimes to make sure I’m not dreaming. I really don’t think I could hold down a regular ‘nine while five’ and I’m waaaay too old to go back doing serious clam diving. Having said that, in the fifteen or so years I’ve worked for CalMac, I have missed my previous job at least half a dozen times. Usually in the summer on a calm sunny day when I’m unblocking the ladies toilet, why is it always the ladies!!!

Sure, it’s actually good to get back in some respects, for one I don’t have to plan what to do for the day or put three pairs of socks on to keep my feet warm. It’s always good to work with the other ‘deckies’ too, at least for a short while Smile Only kidding, the way our holidays are set out we always come back to work with the two opposite shift seamen until they take their holidays. A ‘change is as good as a rest’ as they say and Ali’s home baked bread is always most welcome, As is Emby’s soup or chowder.

The more you have, the more you have to fix Sad smile

Before returning to work however, and after my last effort in posting it was the usual manic ‘pre work clear up’, visit to my mum’s, trip to Sconser quarry and washing down all the muck off the digger, dumper and quad. I’d also ‘lost’ the clutch on the Land Rover on Monday, just after unhitching my trailer in a layby near the quarry. The clutch pedal started to get harder and harder, the clutch dragged more and more before eventually failing altogether some 40 miles from Sconser at me Mam’s house. The pedal was solid, no fluid was missing and the clutch just would not disengage, not an uncommon problem on a Land Rover and usually a sign that the clutch release fork that has worn through. This puzzled me somewhat as when I fitted the engine some years ago I welded a reinforcing plate across the fork to prevent this happening.

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Something like the one on the right.

After taking my mum for a spot Christmas shopping at Home in the Highlands in Balmacara square, in her car of course Smile I ordered a new clutch from Dingbro and headed home without one Sad smile Long years of owning bangers have made me quite adept at driving vehicles with no clutch Smile I even managed to call at the quarry on the way back and collect two tons of 20mm concrete mix, quite an achievement, though it did take me an inordinate amount of time to hitch up the trailer. Still I made it to the ferry without incident and fully prepared to be removing the gearbox on Tuesday morning as Dingbro would have clutch waiting at Sconser before 10:30am.

Bizarrely, when I got back in the ‘Old Girl’ when the ferry arrived on Raasay, the clutch started working again!!!! I’ll be removing it anyway to replace the gearbox in my next ‘rest period’ right enough but at least I didn’t have to do it on Tuesday. The Land Rover has been needing the gearbox replaced for a couple of years now so it’s as good a time as any to do it. The LT77 gearbox in the early Defenders is a bit lame and very prone to wearing the teeth off reverse gear. This causes it to jump out of reverse, usually under load and it gradually just gets worse and worse until the thing just will not go backwards at all. I’ve had an uprated ex military recon gearbox sat in my shed for months now so it’s a good opportunity to ‘force my hand’ into finally fitting it. At least then I’ll be able to reverse my trailer or caravan without getting the passenger to hold it in gear Smile

The mystery ‘self repair’ though, did at least give me chance to fix the Kubota, who’s starter had stopped working.

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It had started acting up the day before whilst loading rock so I just left it running as the starter is a bit awkward to access to say the least. The cab is tiny and you have to remove the seat to get at the inspection plate behind it. The problem I eventually traced to a faulty interlock relay below the drivers seat. This relay breaks the starter circuit when the hydraulics are live to stop you inadvertently starting it when the safety lever is down. The manual has a fault finding guide which is very good for this kind of problem as it tells you the terminals to check and which relay to ‘swap out’ to test it. Anyway after a couple of hours I had it sorted and got on with some work at the chalet site.

Then as darkness began to fall it was a case of putting everything to bed and then rushing down to work to let my ‘back to back’ away at 17:00. A couple of runs on the ferry would ‘break me in nicely’ for the first full day on Wednesday.


Of course, after the annual overhaul there’s always much work to be done, usually ‘wee hiccups’ or jobs that need finishing after the dry docking and journey back home. As usual, and this year was no exception, and aside from the time it takes the Hallaig herself to get into a routine again there were a few snags for the crew to sort out. My first one being a bilge alarm that kept going off, usually when just departing Sconser. Turned out to be a leaky electro hydraulic valve.

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Of course it just happened to be the most awkward one on the ship to get at and required some serious contortions of my ailing body to remove it.

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Once it was finally out I got the body in the vice

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and after lapping  the poppet valve flat on the pillar drill stand I made up a mandrel and guide to lap it onto the seat in the body. Seemed to work a treat and kept me busy until the sludge tanker arrived.


One of the many advantages of our hybrid propulsion is the vastly reduced quantity of waste oil we produce. Normally a vessel of this size like the MV Loch Alainn would have three large diesel engines running all day, 2 x main engines and one diesel generator. Our hybrid propulsion means that we only run 1 engine per day so we produce one third the amount of waste engine oil. Given the cost of the stuff and it’s subsequent disposal this is a huge saving and we easily go the full year without emptying the 1192lt waste oil tank.

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Whilst the tanker does have it’s own vacuum pump there is no direct connection to the waste oil tank without going through our own waste oil pump, which seems a little bizarre but I’m sure there’s a good reason. What this means is that we have to run our pump so the tanker can suck the oil out through it!!

Not so regular these days.

So, that was the first day out of the way and off home I went without ever having seen daylight there and apart from Sundays I’ll no be seeing any on the way to and from work until March 2018. Even though we’re more than half way through November, darkness apart, we’ve not had much in the way of wintery weather yet.


Sure, we had the first snow on Glamaig on Monday but there’s been no frost or ice yet and we didn’t have a power cut until this morning. Well, the island did, I’ve not had one in almost thirty years Smile a huge advantage of making your own. A far cry from November 2013 when we first got Hallaig and barely a week would pass without one. However, as soon as my phone rang at 6:00am this morning I knew there had been one, why else would anyone phone me at that hour? Sure enough the Skipper informed that power was off, not only in the village but at Braes too.

Once upon a time such an incident would have me a little concerned, the Hallaig does not like power failures, they play havoc with her on-board systems. Years of experience and lots of drills later such incidents are nothing more than a minor irritation, so when I arrived aboard at 6:45 to 54 alarms and a ‘red screen of death’

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I was not unduly worried. Less than 15 minutes later ‘we were up and running’ with all systems restored and the batteries at almost 100%

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