Life at the end of the road

January 5, 2018

It’s all over now :-)

Well that’s it, a ‘dry’ January ahead and ‘the party is over’ so to speak. Just as well really cos me liver couldn’t cope with any more drink and we’ve all had waaay too much in  the way of rich food and treats. The last side of hot smoked salmon is just about to go into a creamy pasta and we officially stopped drinking yesterday, though me thinks that’ll just be a temporary thing once my figure returns Smile Smile Gonna take more than stopping drinking to get rid of my belly right enough.

A proper rest

After all the excess and activity on the diving front I’ve been taking easy this last couple of days which really is not like me. The weather has been good with light winds and hardly any rain but I’ve been staying in my bed until after 8:00 and just pottering about outside for an hour or two before coming inside and doing a little reading or net surfing.

On Thursday I managed a couple of wee jobs outside, dumping the old scallop shells on the shore for the crabs to clean them and collecting the cleaned ones for spreading around the house.

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Trust me, in few years time it will look lovely, it’s amazing how quickly they mount up, there’s only so many ashtrays you can have so this will be a good way of using them.

Also tried out my new cordless grinder that me mum bought me for Christmas.

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The exhaust had broken on the Benford PST3000 dumper (again) so I hacked it in bits and re routed it a different way, hoping it would be less prone to breaking.

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Also replaced the fuel return pipe which was looking decidedly dodgy, just about every injector ‘leak off’ pipe has split over a few weeks so I’ve replaced those previously. This pipe is made of the same stuff and is the same age so I figured it can’t be far behind.

Apart from taking ‘wee dug’ out for a gentle walk and making a beef curry I didn’t do a lot else as my ‘right hand man’ boat driver, dive partner and son wasn’t feeling great.


Even before I’d gone to bed on Thursday completely sober for the first time in ten days I’d decided to do a repeat performance today. It would be my son’s last day before going back to uni and I’d rather enjoyed Thursday, so at 8:30 I got up having had the best sleep since the full moon. I let out the hens then took ‘wee dug’ for her wee walk on a short leash. Now it’s really not uncommon to see golden or sea eagles daily pretty much anywhere on Raasay and the North End is probably better than anywhere. What is unusual though is to hear them, I cannot ever recall hearing one in all the years I’ve lived here. Well this morning (perhaps cos I had my hearing aids in) I heard a pair. They were right over head but very difficult to follow with the camera


Much less vocal than the buzzard, the golden eagle can sometimes be heard making a ‘yelping’ call. The male and female may also perform aerial displays, where the male will make mock attacks at the female and the two will cartwheel downwards uttering their call.

And that just about sums up what they were doing, which struck me as a little early for mating. Pretty impressive I’ll tell you Smile

I also solved a mystery from last night and on previous dark nights.

P1130249 We’ve been seeing a large vessel off Manish Point from the living room windows late at night. The lights suggested a vessel over 50m with an aft wheelhouse but that row down the side made it look like windows lit up. Well it headed back north this morning having spent the night in Portree, the 63,3m long fish farm vessel Vestland. Strange how we’ve never seen it in daylight before.

Topping up the thermal store

It was whilst removing my boots in the ‘Bunker’ that I heard a noise from ‘Immersion 1’ we have 5 in the store and this one is connected right into the house grid rather than dump load circuits. It’s at the top of the 1500lt store for the DHW (domestic hot water) and I switch on most mornings till the store top reaches 80 degrees C. I used to leave it on 24/7 as the store is extremely well insulated. However this was causing my inverter to loose track of the battery SOC (state of charge) over a couple of weeks. The noise sounded just like a kettle starting to boil and had me puzzled for a while, then I figured it must need the pressure topping up in the store. The Akvaterm thermal store is designed to run at 3Bar.


Trouble is, what I thought was the store pressure gauge for two years turns out to be the heat pump one!! The store does not appear to have one!! Nay problem methinks, I know my water pressure from the well above the house is 2Bar so I just topped it up with that.


We have a pump at work with a gauge on so I can take it up the final 1Bar with that and add some more corrosion inhibitor at the same time. I shouldn’t have been surprised but it was interesting to hear the noise get quieter as the pressure rose. Funnily enough the addition of the cold water didn’t alter the temperature of the store so I guess it couldn’t have been much water.


Wee dug loves the smell in there Smile so do I right enough, nothing quite like the smell of curing salamis and ham.

More dumper work

The starter switch packed up on the dumper about a month ago, mainly cos it lives outside and gets power washed regularly. So rather than spend £40 on another I got a couple of waterproof ‘button types’ from China.

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The magnetic drill proved more than a match for the 8mm steel bulkhead where I mounted it. A magnetic drill is one of those things that you don’t realize just how useful it is until you’ve had one.

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Next it was a few air cleaner mods, rather than spend £50 on a Benford air filter element I fitted a £9 Land Rover one which is actually better cos it’s longer. However, it does mean that the element sticks out of the housing making the dumper even noisier than it already is, well one of my wife’s modified plant pots sorted that Smile

Out for the winter

It would have been nice to ‘bash a few clams’ before my son went back to uni tomorrow but he’d much to do and still wasn’t feeling 100% so I went to collect the Searider from the sowf end.

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Nice big ebb round the Sgeir Chnapach, had many a productive day around there with my good mate Willy Eyre Smile


Lashed the Searider to the trailer, put all the cylinders, weight belts and fuel tanks in the Landy and tootled home.

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Snow covered Torridon mountains, the solid rock ‘North End’ and Brochel Loch from the top of Croc an Uan (Hill of the lamb)


That was it really, I flushed out the Tohatsu 90TLDI and my son did a couple of hours in the digger on the Torran track. Even when not firing on all cylinders you can do a lot of work with a Kubota 360 Smile


January 3, 2018

It really could have removed Kyle from the map :-(

Filed under: Avon Searider, boats, daily doings — Tags: , , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:44 pm

I just can’t believe the weather to the south west of us!! Darling wife and MiL have been watching the new and it looks like some coastal areas in Dumfries and Ireland are getting pure pasted. The full moon, large tides, low pressure and onshore winds pushing tides well above their predicted heights. Here around Skye and Raasay it’s been almost calm by comparison. Sure there’s been light winds from the south east but the sea has been pretty flat, so flat and so settled in fact that my son and I went out for a day in the boat, a good 50 nautical mile round trip to Ratagan and back. Primarily to see my mum but with a little submersible jaunt along the way.

HMS Port Napier

At almost 10,000 tons the HMS Port Napier was one of the largest mine layers to ever serve in the Royal Navy but she did not start life as one, or even for the Royal Navy. The MV Port Napier was ordered for the Port Line and built on the Tyne at  Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd yard in 1940 as a refrigerated cargo ship for the Port Line . Designed for the Australasian meat trade she was relatively fast for a merchant ship and her twin screws and large cargo holds made her an ideal proposition for conversion. So, at some point whilst still ‘on the stocks’ she had 2” of armour plating added, huge stern doors for launching mines and a couple of 4” guns. Launched in June and sunk in November I’m not actually sure if she ever laid any mines for the ‘Northern Barrage’ or not but her story is better told by Bill Ramsey here

Talk given by Bill Ramsay on 27th October 2010

I believe that it will be worthwhile to consider some events that took place in 1939, before World War II broke out. The Admiralty had thought to close off access to the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans by laying a barrage of mines across from Orkney to the Norwegian coast, but later in July 1939 a new scheme was planned. They decided to lay minefields from Greenland, across the Denmark Strait to Iceland and from there to the Faeroe Islands, and thence to Orkney. Other fields would be laid from there along the route by Cape Wrath and the north west of Scotland, thereby closing the passage through the Minch. A minefield was established at the south end of the Irish Sea, with another on the east coast of Scotland and England. There were to be gaps to permit our own ships to pass through. The distance from Greenland was some 540 nautical miles and weather conditions in the northern waters were far from ideal. Protection for the minelayers would be difficult enough without stormy seas.

To launch a minelaying campaign, four essential requirements must be met: a base for the control, planning and loading facilities; minelaying vessels and crew; protection vessels for these ships; and regular manufacture and supply of mines.

Lochalsh was an ideal situation as it had a good harbour, and there was a rail link to the main network. The terrain was not too difficult to defend and it was almost out of range of the Luftwaffe bombers. Kyle of Lochalsh was to be re-named Port ZA and the base itself was given the title H.M.S. Trelawney. Stationed there were minesweeper drifters, net-laying drifters and barrage balloon drifters, in addition to two harbour defence vessels, the Convallaria and the Favour. There was also a system of controlled mines for the protection of the port and harbour.

In July 1940, the First Minelaying Squadron was formed, with fast merchant ships of the Blue Funnellers Line, Prince Line and Port Line, the Southern Prince (10,917 tons gross), the Port Napier (9847 tons gross), the Port Quebec (8490 tons gross), the Agamemnon (7592 tons gross) and the Menestheus (7494 tons gross). They carried mines to the total of 560, 550, 548, 530 and 410 respectively. These vessels were all converted to minelayers in British shipyards. The mines were mounted on small trolleys that ran on small gauge rail tracks between decks leading to launching ports in the stern.

The 17th Destroyer Division provided protection with old destroyers from the U.S.A. They were given in exchange for bases in the Caribbean and Newfoundland. These warships had to be completely refitted in the U.K. as they were unfit for service before major overhaul. Four of these escorts were the St. Margaret’s, the Bath, the Hopewell and the Charleston. At times, other British warships supplemented cover. Sea trips from the base lasted from two to eight days depending on the area being covered and the prevailing weather.

The mines were manufactured in Dagenham, Oxford and Birmingham before loading of explosives in Bandeath near Stirling. Many a consignment of mines I saw passing whilst I was at home in Kingussie . They were left on sidings in Duirinish and on ships’ lighters until needed. A total of 110,000 mines were laid before the minelaying squadron was paid off in late autumn (November) 1943. The Agamemnon remained on a care and maintenance routine for a further year, in case more deep minefields were needed at short notice.

The Port Napier was at anchor one evening before setting off and a fierce gale caused her to drag her two anchors. She was almost uncontrollable without ‘tugs’ in a howling gale at night in confined conditions. Every effort was made to get underway and re-anchor in safety, when the ship was blown across the bows of an anchored collier and her screws fouled the collier’s anchor cables. Immediately, both of Port Napier’s main engines were put out of action. The two ships continued to scrape anchors across the deep centre of the loch towards the southern shore of Skye until their combined anchors found bottom, and good holding ground again, and finally settled in the entrance to a shallow bay (near Sron an tairbh) close under the slope of Beinn Na Cailliche.

The fleet were making ready to sail out on a minelaying mission at this time in early November 1940, but Port Napier was left behind to disentangle herself, access the damage and await further orders. The following morning work began clearing her screws of the anchor cables from the collier’s, and the opportunity was taken to complete fuelling with diesel oil. During this operation, a fire broke out in the engine-room, which at once became impossible to control. Within moments the engine-room was a raging furnace. The two mine decks, fully loaded, were above the engine-room and the mines had been prepared for launching with detonators and bungs in place, as was the habit at that time.

A mining party courageously worked to remove the detonators which had been inserted earlier, whilst the rest of the ship’s company abandoned ship aboard the numerous small craft that were standing by . Within twenty minutes of the outbreak of fire the lower mine deck was white-hot and the danger acute. The last men were ordered to leave the ship.

At the subsequent board of enquiry, the mining party who had remained behind to the last minute declared they believed that all detonators had been taken out from the casings but they could not be sure.

After the ship had been abandoned, the Kyle residents were told to leave their homes and go to the hills for safety. Trains were sent away and all shipping was cleared from the port. The Port Napier was left to burn. There would have been multiple casualties and widespread damage to Kyle if the mines on board blew up.

Strange to say, I have not heard of any evacuation of property in Kyleakin at this time but this might have been on account of the situation of the village.

A mine loaded with explosives, but with primer and detonator removed, will not explode but it will burn fiercely. With primer inserted but no detonator in place, it is unlikely to explode but may do under certain conditions.

After the ship had been abandoned, the fire seemed to have died down and to burn less fiercely, although smoke still appeared, pouring up from around the engine-room.

A party volunteered to return to the ship to see if anything could be done. On board they discovered the fire was raging furiously and the mine decks were white-hot and buckling above the engine-room. They began to discharge some of the mines from the stern chutes but the heat and smoke forced them to abandon the vessel once more. They had scarcely cleared the Port Napier when two distinct explosions occurred which blew debris into the air. A moment or two later, there was another explosion and a hugh column of smoke and flame shot skywards and mushroomed out, and spectators saw the vessel roll over to starboard and sink, until her starboard side rested on the bottom of the loch in seventy feet of water. She lay on a firm base of sand, her port side, or what was left of it, above water at low tide and the whole wreck, except for a few twisted frames, was submerges at high water.

Divers examined the wreck later and found that about one hundred and fifty feet of the fore part and two hundred feet of the aft part of the wreck’s hull plating was reasonably intact, but the centre portion on the port side and decks above the engine-room was completely blown out for a distance of over one hundred feet and that the ship’s back was broken. Salvage of the ship was impossible and the wreck was abandoned as a total loss. A beacon was erected on the site to mark her position, as she lay in a good anchorage not far from the main traffic route through Lochalsh.

Steel was in short supply, particularly later in the war years, and a firm of shipbreakers was given a contract to cut away and lift as much of the upper (port-side) armour and plating as could be economically reached at low water. The firm decided to remove the phosphor-bronze propellers which were of great value. The propellers were still fouled up with the cables of the collier and the diver working on the job made a decision to cut these cables using a small charge of explosive placed around them. He had reported that there was a mine lying on the bottom nearby but as it had been flooded, with the watertight cover removed, it was considered that it presented no danger.

Some precautions were taken and men and craft who were involved in the venture were removed to a distance from the wreck, thought to be safe as the charge was a small one. When the explosive charge was around the cables, it was fired up, but then there was a tremendous explosion which sank the diving-boat and damaged the salvage ship nearby. The mine had gone up and it was fortunate that others in the vicinity had not, otherwise a serious loss of life would have occurred. The salvage party refused to continue working on the wreck and the Port Napier was again abandoned.

In 1953, some adventurers aboard an ancient trawler decided to attempt removing the two propellers without blowing themselves to bits. They removed the screws without any casualties, but were unable to lift the propellers which each weighed around ten tons.

They were arrested on the job and duly prosecuted.

I guess I first dived the Port Napier in the late seventies and lastly in the early nineties and probably a dozen times in between, she is quite impressive, lying in around 18m on her starboard side. Her entire portside removed for the armour plate and to gain access to the 400 or so mines and 6000 rounds of ammunition still aboard her. I can’t say that I had any great desire to dive her again other than to take my son on his first big wreck. We did dive a small lighter in Malta off Manoel, X127 which had the distinction of serving at Gallipoli . The Port Napier however is ‘something else’ and poses little in the way of hazards for the well trained diver,

especially since most of these have been removed, we even have one in the garden at the old house I kid you not. Apparently it came ashore at Tarbert during or after WWII, dunno which brave soul removed the Amatol  but it sits in the garden of Arnish cottage now full of flowers Smile


Here’s some of the mines being salvaged from HMS Port Napier by Royal Navy Clearance Divers after the war. Had a few hundred of these gone off then Kyle of Lochalsh would have been a distant memory.

Anyway’s Ross and I got the Avon Searider launched at 10:00!!! well he did have to have a shower first!!!!

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I was hoping for a 9:00am start but ‘hey ho’ that’s life with a student for ya Smile

It’s a good 15 nautical mile to the wreck site but at 18 knots and 3300RPM the 90HP Tohatsu had us there in less than an hour.

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Still, by the time we did get there the tide was actually low enough to see the wreck Smile


And, somebody had kindly put a decent mooring rope amidships of the wreck a few meters away from the wreckage. So, as soon as we got fastened up to the buoy we kitted up and went down to check it. All was sound in that department so the first thing I did was swim away from the wreck to look for scallops. This was after all primarily a trip to visit me Mam down Loch Duich, a good 10 nautical miles to the east. A dozen clams later we headed off for the wreck and eventually found it Smile Hitting the teak decks amidships we headed aft past what remains of the superstructure and masts to the stern doors and twin prop shafts. Around the stern doors were a couple of the mine trolleys and after examining them we swam towards the bow, finishing up at one of the 4” guns before swimming back along the sea bad to gather more clams for me Mammy. Methinks the Dude was well impressed Smile

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Then it was the 10 mile hike down Loch Alsh, by the Racoon Rock and Eilean Donan Castle before heading up Loch Duich to Ratagan.

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I guess we left around 15:00 and the first 20lts of fuel ran out after around 32 nautical miles near Longay. That must have been some 45 minutes after leaving me Mum’s, so knowing we’d plenty of juice we swapped tanks.

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With the second (and last) tank online we opened her up just a little more to 21 knots so we’d be back to Raasay before Hallaig returned. The boat was recovered without incident and we were back home before 18:00, what a day, all that needed doing was :-


Gear washing.

Gear drying.

Cylinders filling,

Scallops cleaning.

Boys showering, dinner eating, blah, blah, blah Smile

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