Life at the end of the road

March 30, 2014

Forward into spring :-)

At last, the weather has changed, the clocks leapt forward and the signs of spring are everywhere. Easter is just around the corner and already our little island is starting to see unfamiliar cars, Gore-Tex, cameras and mountain bikes. Right enough it waited until after my months holiday to stop raining and I’ve been buried in the depths of the MV Hallaig during all the fine weather but who cares. I’m almost halfway through my first weeks shift and already starting to get excited by all that I can do when I finish, just in time for Easter.

To be honest it wasn’t a chore going back to work, I like my job and the new shift pattern means that I joined a different crew, or at least 50% different. A change is as good as a rest they say and I’m sure my regular shipmates will be glad to see the back of me until my next month off in October Smile We’re all really enjoying the ‘two weeks on two weeks off’ aboard the Hallaig as she’s such a pleasure to work on, demanding but a pleasure. Whether we’d be so keen cramped aboard a ‘loch class’ I’m not so sure but then the ‘motorman’ will generally stays with his own ship on this route Smile

Of course I’d joined ship after visiting my folks on Tuesday so didn’t do a full day until Wednesday and was overjoyed to be leaving home in full daylight with early morning sun highlighting Manish point.


Sure I’d have been happier staying to do some work on the croft or house, but not much, it was indeed a fine day to be alive Smile


And far, far pleasanter than a 22 mile trip into Manchester down the M66 which is what I did in a previous life. Gosh, almost thirty years since I said goodbye to all that, how time flies!!

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It was good to be ‘back at the office’ sandwiched between two generators and a bank of transformers lies the main switchboard and the ‘nerve centre’ of the ship. OK perhaps not ‘the’ nerve centre as Hallaig has many ‘back up’ systems and an identical station on the bridge, but this is where it’s all operated from normally.



Wednesday saw an interesting ‘Moggy’ depart Raasay after spending some time removing dodgy trees from around Raasay House.



Just put on the market, though for the life in me I can’t find a link to it, is the Raasay steading, with plenty of development potential I seem to think it was around 250k. It was in last weeks WHFP but I can’t seem to find that either. What I did come across whilst ‘Googling’ though was this gem of a transcript from the Napier Commission’s visit to Torran schoolhouse  in 1883

Torran, Raasay, 22 May 1883 – John Gillies (Fladda)

JOHN GILLIES, Crofter and Fisherman, Fladda (50)—examined.
7783. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected by the people of that island of Fladda?
7784. Have you a statement to make on their part?
—They are complaining, as others are, about the hardness of the land, and the dearness of it. It is dear, it is bad, and there is little of it. They are also wanting to speak about the channel between them and the island. They come from the island to the school here, and the channel is not wider than thirty yards at high tide. Sometimes the children are starving waiting for the tide, when they cannot get over —when the men are away from home.
7785. You mean coming back from school?
—Yes; but many days they cannot go to school at all.
7786. How wide is the channel at high water?
—Thirty yards, and it is dry at half tide.
7787. What remedy do you suggest for this?
—Either to bridge the channel, or else to give us another place to live in, from which our children could go to school in safety.
7788. Would it be easy to bridge the channel?
—It would not be difficult at all. There are plenty of materials—plenty of stones thereabout.
7789. Would you propose to bridge the channel with a light iron suspension bridge, or do you think of building a regular stone bridge?
—I think a suspension bridge would be easier made, with plenty of stones at each end.
7790. Are the sides of the land on each side steep and high, or is it low and flat?
—It is steep on the Raasay side, but it is a gradual slope on the island side.
7791. Would a causeway of stone between the two islands not do?
—Yes, but I think it would cost more than the bridge I allude to.
7792. Mr Cameron.
—Do many vessels pass through that channel?
—Boats pass through at high tide.
7793. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many souls are in the island?
—About fifty altogether.
7794. How many children?
—I have eight myself. I don’t know how many the others have.
7795. Have you as many as all the others put together?
—Another man has got quite as many as I have.
7796. Did you ask the proprietor to do anything for you about the bridge?
—No, we did not give him a trial at all. Though the rent is high, Mr Wood is not blamed for that; it was Mr Mackay, and Mr Wood simply left us as he found us in regard to the rent.
7797. Professor Mackinnon.
—How many are there paying rent?
7798. What is the rent each pays?
—The island altogether pays £30, and before Mr Mackay’s time it was £22.
7799. What stock are you allowed to keep?
—Two cows and two young beasts —a stirk and a two-year-old.
7800. Sheep?
—I am not sure how many sheep the others have, but I have five. I don’t think any one of us has more than seven.
7801. You are allowed to keep six?
7802. Do you fish?
—We work at every work that comes in the way.
7803. What fishing do you get off the island?
—The only fish we get about our own shores are eels.
7804. You don’t fish for cod and ling?
—Yes, but it is not good fishing ground for ling. The ground is too foul, too deep. If we get anything
at that depth it is skate.
7805. Where do you go for the fishing? Is it to the east coast?
—I was not there for the past three years. I was staying at home working for Mr Wood, but I have been eighteen seasons at the east coast fishing.
7806. Are there many of the people from your place working with Mr Wood as well as yourself?
—No, they work a little about this time of the year, just to get sufficient money to take them away to the fishing.
7807. Then is it your complaint that the crofts are too highly rented ?
7808. The old rent was not too high, was it?
—It was high enough. It is too high now, but we never complained to Mr Wood about it. We don’t know what he might do if we complained to him. He is a kind man. If all the island landlords were like him, a man might have remained at home.
7809. I suppose in a bad year, with a good excuse, he would not be hard on you with the rent?
—No ; I sowed last year four barrels of oats, and I did not reap as much as would sow it back.
7810. That was a bad year. Do you ever change the seed?
7811. Where do you get the change of seed from?
—From Mr Wood’s manager I got it last.
7812. How many returns of oats and potatoes do you get in a fair year?
—I might get three returns.
7813. Is that all you get in a good year?
—In a good year I might get three. Our ground is peat altogether.
7814. Then if you got the bridge you want, and the old rent, would that exhaust all your complaints?
— I think it would. It would take away a good share of our complaints, at any rate.
7815. Do you get steady work?
—Yes, and 13s. a week of wages.
7816. Would the other men who go to make money at the fishing get steady work if they remained ?
—Yes, but they expect to make three times as much as that per week at the fishing. Some nights I made £8, and other nights I made nothing at all, at the east coast fishing.
7817. But you think, upon the whole, that 13s. a week and steady work is better?
—No, I think the fishing is better. When I pay 2s. for lodgings off that 13s. and also my personal expenses for the week, my family would be starving at home.
7818. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the nearest place to the people of Torrin here where they could get work?
—Twelve miles from here.
7819. And there is no place nearer?
7820. The previous witness stated that there is a farm steading about two miles from here belonging to the proprietor. What place is that ?
—A few of those living near the square may get work there—the Ballahouran people; but it is up at Mr Wood’s own house that the most of the work is to be got.
7821. Mr Cameron.
—Is the pasture upon the island good or bad?
—It is bad. You would not think it would keep four sheep altogether.
7822. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are there any shellfish on any of the beaches round Fladda?
—No, nothing but limpets and a few whelks.
7823. Do you make a trade of the whelks?
—Yes, some women work at them.
7824. What do you get per bushel for them?
—Sometimes Is. 6d. and sometimes 2s. 6d. a bushel; sometimes 20d.
7825. How long does it take to collect a bushel?
—Two days a bushel, at any rate, and sometimes three.
7826. The Chairman.
—How are you off for sea-ware on this shore?
—Our sea-ware is out on rocks about our own shores. We have a pretty sufficient quantity of peat, but we have to take it ashore with boats, and then carry it on our backs to the ground.
7827. Do you pay anything for it ?
—No, we don’t pay for it.
7828. Arc there any horses ?
— No horses ; they would be drowned


The following day was just as nice



with some stunning views of Cathedral rock and Dun Caan on the way to work.


The low and bright sun picking out ancient dykes long since covered in heather.


Some interesting traffic in the shape of an old grey Fergie tractor.

Friday was yet another peachy day and the ‘wee dug’ just wouldn’t let me leave her at home, lying down on the path and refusing to budge, barring my way to the Land Rover.


Of course I took her, whereupon she spent the whole day curled up on the ‘Old Girls’ drivers seat in a huff.



Friday saw the Hebridean Princess anchored in Churchton bay, having spent the night there prior to heading up to Portree for the day.


For the first time on the Hallaig I picked up a roller and did some painting,


it wasn’t much right enough, just yellow strips on changes in deck levels in the machinery space but it’s a start.


And for the first time in months, or at least that’s what it seems like, I saw a sunset at work.

Linnhe is back

A possible ‘juggling’ of the fleet due to MV Courisk’s untimely encounter with the Dunoon pier in fog on the 11th of March

had the MV Loch Linnhe returning to Raasay today.






Gosh, she’s very small Smile


I also ‘de mothballed’ the 1970 Thomson Glenelg and gave her a good clean inside and out just in case I got called away unexpected like Smile

March 24, 2014

On the rocks :-)

Well, that’s my ‘months hard labour’ over with, apart from a few hours with my parents tomorrow doing the odd job, I’ll be back at sea on the Hallaig before the afternoon is out. To be quite honest I’m looking forward to the rest, the last few days has really taken it out of me and bits of are aching that i didn’t even know could ache.

It’s not quite 19:30 and the only reason that I’m blogging now and not soaking in Radox is that I can’t actually move anything other than my fingers without wincing. As soon as I digest dinner and loosen up a little once the Chardonnay starts to work I’ll be off for a dip.

Gosh, almost 21:00 now and I’m feeling almost human so I’ll try and recall what’s been happening, well it’s not rained for almost three days so that’s something. Sunday felt like spring proper with frogspawn, birdsong, me out of the house long before 7:00 and all the pigs waiting for me at the end of the road. Ellie and the two boys live under a rhododendron bush by the road sign so are often roused by my loading up the feed bucket on the croft. Rocky and Jamie Lea on the other hand live in an ark at the bottom of the hill so usually have breakfast delivered, not on Sunday though. Whatever had me up at ‘cock crow’ also infected the pigs and had them charging around the car park a good hour before their normal breakfast time.

Quad track rod ends (tie rod ends in the US)

A long overdue job that I tackled ‘early doors’ on Sunday was the track rod ends on my mates Yamaha 350 Bruin. The inner one had failed some months ago and this was me just getting around to fixing it properly for him after the temporary bodge I’d done last year.

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That picture was actually from when the other side failed in 2012 but you get the picture, the track rod ends point the wheels in the right direction and stop you getting ‘knock kneed’ Smile Anyway I ‘fixed’ it last year by squeezing it in a vice and like many ‘temporary repairs’ it became a little permanent. Sadly, I can’t even blame that on the shipping from America, as the parts arrived in around ten days and were still much cheaper than buying them in the UK by a long shot. Though bizarrely it wasn’t the track rod ends themselves that cost an arm and a leg in Britain it was delivery, yup, it’s cheaper to get them sent from North Carolina than Cumbria!!! Just imagine what they’re going to charge if Scotland gains independence Smile This Yamaha 350 Bruin is a seriously reliable and well worked machine but dealers are thin on the ground and this model with it’s automatic transmission seems poorly supported over here. Fortunately it’s very popular in the States where Americans seem to have a problem with gears and clutches Smile

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Changing them is pretty straightforward, one is a LH thread and one a RH thread, they won’t go on the wrong way, so all you have to do is measure the overall length so as not to have to set the tracking afterwards.


With the Yamaha sorted I then got on with giving Lachie’s telehandler a good greasing prior to breakfast and another marathon stone gathering session.



The gathering of suitable building sized stones for the gable continued until around 14:00 when my back started to complain.


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I then proceeded with the labourious task of drilling 28mm holes 400mm deep into the very hard rock that’s going to be the base for my Proven 11m mast.



Four holes was all I managed, but that took me until almost 18:00, by which time my hands were numb and I’d had enough. I only actually had for studs anyway so saw little point in doing the other four until I had the rest of the tensile rod.




Well, it was a bonny, cool and frosty morning, not that you’d guess from the photo from the bedroom window. However, puddles on the road were covered in ice this morning and the ground was ‘stiff’, not frozen solid but hard and decidedly firm underfoot Smile

After dropping off the boy for the school ferry I headed to our community shop with eggs, expecting to leave them on the doorstep and surprised to find it occupied.


Our shop has been in turmoil of late due to a major refurbishment and the workers had started early so I had the chance of a ‘wee peek’.



The post Office section was looking far brighter, roomier and better laid out that’s for sure.


Of course there’s still an awful lot of stuff to go back in the shop but all the extra insulation certainly made the place warmer than it’s ever been on such a fresh morning.

The community owned shop is looking for volunteers to help paint it if anyone can spare a few hours later this week or next week, just be careful with that lovely new floor Smile

Back home before 9:00am and the place really did have a different feel about it,

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the washing was on the line and the ‘wee dug’ out in the sun guarding it.

Molly looking far slimmer and acting a little more ‘chilled’ since we stopped feeding her that Baker’s muck with it’s 5% sugar and thirteen e numbers.

After breakfast it was up to the wind turbine base once more to start cleaning out the bore holes and injecting the Hilti HIT RE500 resin to secure the studs.


A good blast with compressed air from a diving cylinder followed by a suck out with a hoover then a final buffing up with a ramrod made from a length of M6 threaded rod and a 4” paint roller.

The last time I did this was in the summer and the resin went off far too quickly but the cool rocks of March meant a good two hours to play with.

That done it was back to moving rocks once more with the wife Smile


and of course, the ‘wee dug’.

Meanwhile on the Loch Seaforth

Just arrived this morning in my ‘in box’ and at Flensburg from Gdansk is the accommodation, superstructure and bridge module for the MV Loch Seaforth.


Thanks to John Alan Gillies once more for that one.

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