The sea looked peaceful and inviting as we gazed down on it yesterday. We were high in the mountains and tired from a long and difficult day. We remembered that just the day before we had been frightened and struggling in sea kayaks out in those same waves.
Today, however, the sea was kind to us. We cast off the bowline and set sail, heading south once again, down the east coast of Skye. So far on this adventure we have traded sea kayaks for bicycles for hiking boots. Today it was time to sail, to get a different feel for this island, and to try our best to harness the power of the wind.
We climbed aboard the yacht with tired and aching muscles. All of us were glad that this phase of the challenge was more about harnessing the wind than pounding our muscles. We set sail from Portree’s picturesque little harbour and watched the jaunty, colourful buildings slowly grow smaller behind us.
The wind was gentle so progress was slow. But that was fine with us. We are not here to race. We are here to explore Skye, to test ourselves, and to spend time enjoying each other’s company. We trimmed the sails and enjoyed the landscapes as they slid slowly by.
“There’s Sligachan, where we began,” pointed out Alex – a good friend of mine, a local to these parts, and a hell of an accomplished outdoorsman; we worked together to compile this whole adventure.
“There’s Bla Bheinn,” he continued, pointing to a dark mountain coated with snow and half-hidden in swirling mist. “We’ll have to climb that later this week.”
Our team is not made up of elite athletes. It’s a team of enthusiastic, tough, but ordinary men. And the thought of the Cuillin mountains fills them with a sensation of fascinated, nervous anticipation.
So the sailing phase of the challenge was a time to reflect and relax a little. A porpoise breached (briefly) and a curious seal peered at us from large, dark eyes. I watched the team control the boat: Tim helming whilst Seb and Thomas winched in the sails as we tacked in search of better wind. Today was the first time that Seb or Thomas have put to sea in a large boat. I have really enjoyed watching this adventure unfold through fresh eyes, for people who have never enjoyed Skye, nor tried some of the different ways in which we are taking on the journey.
It is noticeable that, as we work our way steadily around this rugged island, spirits are rising and laughter increasing. As we get to know each other we joke more, laugh much more, and express ourselves more.
Sebastian is showing remarkable fortitude. He – frankly – hates cycling long distances and his muscles are really suffering. This afternoon, as we cycled westwards from the boat towards our camp spot, I heard the awful sound of a skidding bicycle behind me as we careened down a tight and narrow road. I looked and saw that Sebastian had crashed. He was in a lot of pain – he still is – but he resolutely refuses to complain or do anything other than smile and repeat how much he is enjoying this journey.
We finished the day on a beach of smooth black pebbles. A steady drizzle is falling, but it is still a beautiful place to camp. We have lit a big fire on the beach, Tim has been for a swim in the freezing sea, and so many people are watching the cooking pot in Pavlovian excitement, that surely there is no chance of it ever boiling.
Across the sea are the Cuillin mountains. These peaks are the barrier that separate us from completing our journey around Skye. Even though they look so close – dark and massive – we still have two more days before us.
We are all excited about this, but tired and hungry too. It’s a great way to feel.