Monday, April 30, 2007

Great days on Gigha

Fresh from our retreat from the Mull of Kintyre we were facing a long drive home in the heat of the day when I spotted the lovely Isle of Gigha lying enticingly off the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula. We had no maps but I have been several times before so off we went! I love the dazzling white shell sand beaches and turquoise and ultramarine waters of the Hebrides.

It's a 36 km round trip and we camped overnight.

The Sound of Gigha can be a bumpy place. especially when the tide is running. On the crossing we had a great downwind blast in a fresh wind.

The west side was very sheltered and we enjoyed lovely views over the Sound of Jura to the Paps of Jura.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Mull of Kintyre did not happen!

Mull of Kintyre
Oh mist rolling in from the sea,
My desire is always to be here
Oh mull of Kintyre
-"Mull of Kintyre", Wings

An east wind holds up the surf on the 6km long beach at Macrihanish on the west side Kintyre peninsula. (Photo Jennifer Wilcox)

As the crow flies Macrihanish is only 45 miles from Tony's house in Ayrshire (on the east side of the Firth of Clyde) but it involves a 166 mile drive round all the sea lochs that branch deep into the mountains on the north of the Firth.

The Mull of Kintyre lies 10 miles away to the south round this headland, the Irish coast is in the distance.

Our destination was the Mull of Kintyre. This fearsome and remote headland juts out into the North Channel which separates Scotland from Ireland and is only 12.6 miles wide at the Mull. All the tidal forces that link The Irish Sea and the Firth of Clyde to the Atlantic and the Sound of Jura are forced past this spot. As a result, HW times at Macrihanish and Sandhead (which are separated by only 15 miles of coastline and lie on either side of the Mull) differ by 2hrs and 15 minutes. Just to the east of Sron Uamha, low water "slack" is characterised by 20 minutes of breaking rollers close to the cliffs, as opposing currents sort themselves out, truly fearsome!

The Paps of Jura lie on the far side of the Sound of Jura.

Things did not look much better from sea level.

We needed calm conditions for the trip, Magicseaweed predicted falling surf heights from 9.5 feet on Thursday to 4.5 feet on Friday. The Met Office, BBC, Metcheck and were all predicting force 2 easterlies on Friday and Saturday.

We went for it, leaving home at 5am on Friday morning. All the way round the Clyde lochs, the sea was flat calm but on arrival at Macrihanish there was a force 5 easterly blowing. Was this just a local and transient wind? Surely all the forecasts could not be be wrong? It would be 4 hours before we got down to the Mull, surely the wind would have dropped by then?

What did we do? We WIMPED OUT! Our image of hardened sea kayakers, able to down raw puffins in a single swallow, is dented. I had been so confident of a successful mission, I had not even bothered to bring maps of other locations. Did our lack of confidence mean it was a wasted 372 mile journey?

With dry paddles, we turned the car northwards in retreat....

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Convertible Kayak Test

I have spent three weeks in the autumn of 2006 and the spring of 2007 paddling the Advanced Elements Advancedframe Kayak and Advancedframe Convertible Kayak on the Solway. They are innovative inflatable boats which use aluminium frames to give the bows and sterns a traditional kayak shape. They were supplied by Mike Thomson of Scottish Paddler Supplies. They share a packable design that can be unfolded from a suitcase sized bag and inflated within about 5 minutes using a two handed double action barrel pump.

180 kg of finely toned muscle can drive the Convertible Kayak up to a maximum of 10.4 km/hr, which is faster than some composite single seaters!

This is the one man Kayak version which I also tested in 2 foot waves and a force 5 wind. It surfed well but was blown about more than a conventional kayak. It was surprisingly rigid crossing steep waves. I was very impressed by its performance in these conditions. I am not saying that it is the ideal type of kayak to set out on a long trip in these conditions but it is great fun to use off the beach. I would also say that a competent kayaker would be quite happy to paddle home a fair distance, if caught out in these conditions.

The single Kayak version in comparison with the Valley Nordkapp LV. Side on to steep waves you do feel the boat rocking but it does not feel insecure. In contrast a narrow boat like the Nordkapp LV just bobs up and down with the waves from the beam.

A 9 and 6 year old were able to paddle the Convertible Kayak version for 1.5 miles with no previous experience. Despite their inexperience, it tracked well due to an inbuilt permanent skeg. Despite their diminutive size, they were able to turn it using sweep strokes.

The bow and stern are formed from cloth stretched over an aluminium frame giving a surprisingly fine entry for an inflatable boat. (Most inflatables) just have a big blunt round tube. In rough water the bow cut cleanly through the waves. In calm water the fine stern meant there was little visible wake behind the boat which is a sign of an easily driven hull.

Standard on the one man Kayak , and an option on the longer Convertible Kayak , is a deck with an inflatable rim that will take a spray deck. The seat base and back are comfortable and in the convertible you can have two (fore and aft) or one (mid) seat positions with zip on decks available for each option. There is also an adjustable inflatable footrest. There is a puncture repair kit in the seat back pocket.

There is a continuous air chamber which runs right round the boat. Inside this are two separate air bladders, so if one punctures you still have air right round both sides of the boat. Three layers of cloth contain the air. The hull has excellent longitudinal stiffness and I suspect that the two bladders within the one air chamber contribute to this stiffness. The materials and finish are superb, it just oozes quality. It can carry a lot of gear in dry bags below the deck, it has lots of lashing points and deck elastics. It has decent carry handles and the assembly instructions are printed on a waterproof label tied to the rear handle. The boat can be completely deflated for easy packing by reversing the pump and using it to suck air out. If you have 4 piece paddles there is room for them in the carrying case.

A wide range of accessories are available. These include a full length bow to stern "backbone" to provide extra longitudinal stiffness. I did not test this and I found the stiffness to be very good in the shorter Kayak in rough conditions. The longer Convertible Kayak was only tested in flat water conditions without the backbone but it seemed to have very good stiffness when crossing speed boat wakes. For those requiring extra stiffness in more demanding conditions, the backbone is collapsible and fits in the carrier bag.

Both boats paddle very well in a wide range of conditions. These are most definitely not toys, they are serious sea kayaks. In calm conditions, I paddled the convertible, one up, for 12km with no discernible extra effort than a companion in a composite P&H Quest.

I think they would especially suit:

those with children
those who fly to destinations where it is difficult to hire
those who have no space to store a traditional kayak
yachtsmen who would like to explore from an anchorage
those who want to potter in all but the most exposed coastal environments
those who like snorkeling
they would undoubtedly make fantastically stable fishing platforms, though the thought of sharp hooks makes me reluctant to recommend any inflatable for this purpose. (It has to be said that many people fish safely from inflatable dinghies.)

I would thoroughly recommend either of these kayaks.

European distributor: Luftkajak

Advancedframe Kayak
Length: 318cm Width: 81cm Weight: 16 kg Carrying capacity: 136 kg
Colours red/grey or green/grey
Size of packed carrying case: 77 x 41 x 30 cm
Cost: £399

Advancedframe Convertible Kayak
Length: 457cm Width: 81cm Weight: 25 kg Carrying capacity: 249 kg
Colours red/grey or green/grey
Size of packed carrying case: 90 x 54 x 30 cm
Cost: £619 (£699 including both single and double decks).

Monday, April 23, 2007

Solway Sunset(s)

Murray's Isles, Fleet Bay 14/4/2007.

Simon Willis said...
Absolutely gorgeous

Edited 23:00 23/4/2007

Simon, you smooth talking.....
....just for being so appreciative, here is another one from the night before:

I had several solo paddles home in the pitch black that week!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cruggleton Castle

Cruggleton Castle was built by Earl Malcolm of Galloway sometime about 1050 AD. It was built on the edge of a 200 foot precipice into the sea in Wigtown Bay, which is an indentation of the Solway Firth. It covered 1.5 acres and its central courtyard was surrounded by a stone wall with 8 towers. It was protected from the land by a 50 foot wide moat that was crossed by lowering a drawbridge which had a portcullis behind.

After Malcolm's death in 1064 it was taken over by King Magnus of Norway in 1098. It then changed hands many times during its history and was involved with the wars with the Vikings and the English. It was last occupied in 1583 and sadly, at the end of the 18th century most of its stones were plundered for building farms and dykes.

Nowadays all that is left is the vault of the kitchen and even the cliffs it stands on are crumbling away. Beneath the castle there are several interesting caves.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Next Generation

Edited 24/4/2007

Alison said: "and who is this fine crew? i want to get my two ( 9 & 12 yrs) more involved in s-kayaking. the older one has been in my kayak a bit. i may have to get a double. what do you suggest douglas?"

Hello Alison, Elliot 13 and Fraser 7 are my wife's nephews. This is the really excellent inflatable Advanced Elements Advancedframe Convertible Kayak. It is great for youngsters as it is warm with no nasty hard edges. Elliot had been in a kayak briefly about 5 years ago but this was Fraser's first time. Note how well they are paddling in synch! Note also the junior paddle that Fraser is using and Elliot is using a light carbon river paddle. The following day they paddled 1.5 miles. With regard to introducing youngsters to paddling...first you have to toughen them up a bit

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Family Easter Holiday

Not only did I get to hit some major headlands over Easter, I also enjoyed some gentle paddles with my wife Alison. Here she is paddling past the little chapel at Cardoness on the Solway. We had a really great time together.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Isle of Whithorn

On our paddle round the exposed headlands, reefs, wrecks and tides of Burrow Head, Tony and I, like countless seafarers before us, found shelter in the harbour of Isle of Whithorn. The surrounding waters of the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea are cruel mistresses. In January 2000 the Solway Harvester , a scallop boat, went down and all her crew, seven local men, were lost.

I have mentioned the Isle before. It was indeed an isle until a causeway was built in 1790 connecting it to the mainland and enclosing its safe harbour. The houses above are built on this causeway. The harbour served pilgrims from afar who wished to visit the shrine to St Ninian. He founded a Christian church (The White or Shining House: "Whithorn") in approximately AD 397. The White House was situated 6km inland from the Isle. Recent archaeological digs have found evidence of trade with Mediterranean countries dating back to the 4th century AD.

Turning to starboard, our eyes fell upon on the Steam Packet Inn, a potential sea kayaking pub! We felt duty bound to assess whether it came up to the standards required of such an establishment. Being visible from the kayaks was a promising start. We had some reservations on entering by the main door and seeing freshly pressed, white table linen on the tables in the dining room. Turning into the pub, our salty boots sank into a deep carpet. Would the staff welcome two thirsty kayakers in dry suits? We need not have worried! The true test of a sea kayaking pub was passed. The bar maid did not bat an eyelid as she took our order for two pints of Guinness which was offered at two temperatures, including my preferred ice cold.

Regular readers of this blog will appreciate our never ending quest for oases of refreshment such as pubs and ice cream parlours. On this occasion, we were stunned to discover that the Steam Packet Inn also served the local delicacy of Cream of Galloway Ice Cream. Tony and I were delighted to award a 5 star rosette to this esteemed establishment!

The staff of do hope that readers appreciate the hardships that are endured in bringing these reports to their attention.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The wreck of the SV Chile

While paddling round Burrow Head, Tony and I came across the wreck of the iron sailing vessel Chile. She lies at the low water mark at the foot of a defile through the cliffs, which are to the north west of Port Castle Bay.

Her riveted iron plates and winches litter the shore. She was a German vessel, built for the nitrate trade with Chile and was impounded in Liverpool at the outbreak of WW1. Captain Weaver was taking her to Glasgow when she was driven on to the shore by a storm and the powerful tides round Burrow Head. Her great masts towered above the cliffs but the sea was pounding her to pieces. The Captain managed to get the crew safely ashore in the boats then led them to safety up a steep path through the cliffs, known as the Ladies' Steps. They were so grateful that they presented him with a picture of the ship which can still be seen in the Wigtown Bay Sailing Club clubhouse.

The resting place of SV Chile.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Burrow Head

Last Wednesday, Tony and I paddled Burrow Head in south west Scotland.

It juts into the strong tidal streams of the Solway and separates Luce Bay and Wigtown Bay.

We found strong tidal streams, some of the best rock architecture, caves and rockhopping which either of us have found anywhere on Scotland's west coast or the Hebrides. Another plus for the magnificent south west.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Solway sunset.

I am just back from a week down at Fleet Bay on the Solway. We had fabulous weather. By coincidence, Simon Willis has published a podcast on this wonderful area.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Weatherman.

They don't call me The Weatherman for nothing you know!

Despite all odds, today Tony and I spent our third consecutive paddle completing the last section of the 85km round of the Rhinns of Galloway. It is a remote peninsula washed by the tides of the North Channel that run at up to 5 knots in springs. There are few places to land.

When we arrived at Killantringan Bay there was some pleasant surf which delayed our start as we just had to do several runs! A big dumper carried away one of my splits but Tony recovered it. Unfortunately another dumper got Tony but he rolled up nae bother. Despite being a bit damp, he carried on with no complaints.

We decided to press on...

...but were diverted by another surf beach.

Fortunately all this delay let the spring ebb pick up and it shoved us along at a fair rate. Just as well really, this was a 31km leg. At the north end of the peninsula a force 4 wind was running againt the ebb, what with the swell as well, it was quite a bouncy trip so there are few on the water photos. Even though it was Good Friday we did not see any other sea kayaks or even fishing boats. All we saw were ferries leaving Loch Ryan.

The Rhinns of Galloway; what a location and I doubt many have paddled it. Isn't seakayaking great?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Glorious Galloway #3

Yet another cave on the Rhinns of Galloway.

Dunskey Castle was built in 1510 by Adair of Kilhilt. It fell into the hands of the Blair family but was a ruin by 1684. They built Dunskey House in 1706 as a more comfortable replacvement.

Tony surveys the attraction of the Crown Hotel in Portpatrick. (The building with the red sign.)

End of a perfect day.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Glorious Galloway!

The Rhinns of Galloway really are superb. We launched from Port Logan in the lee of its ancient jetty. In the excellent Scottish Sea Kayaking, Cooper and Reid recommend launching from the fish pond car park which is marked on the map at 096104 (I presume they mean 096410) but access to the beach from here is down a steep wooden staircase with a right angled bend. I would suggest launching from another car park which is not marked on the map but is right beside the beach, 094404, in the shelter of the quay.

Approaching the Mull of Logan you will hopefully find yourself in the strong push of the tide. If not, you might need to brush up on your tidal planning. Close inshore, the north going ebb starts 3 hours before local high water at Portpatrick.

The Mull of Logan is riddled with caves, stacks and channels. It is easy to lose sight of your friends in the maze.

As you can see, David had an enjoyable swim in a cave. A swell shoved him in sideways till his bow and stern got jammed on the narrowing sides. When the swell receded he was left momentarily hanging, until gravity exercised its inevitable effect. A Palm Stikine dry suit and Fourth Element Xerotherm Arctic under suit meant that his swim in 9 degree Celsius water was a jolly jape and not a serious incident. This happened just 3km into a 27km day but it did not spoil our day.

In fact we spent so long exploring the Mull of Logan's fantastic arches that the tide turned against us for the last 7km.

The Rhinns of Galloway has tides with overfalls, surf beaches, rocky coves, caves, arches, isolation, ancient castles, quaint harbour villages and towns. It even has excellent sea kayaking pubs and ice cream shops. Tony and I have paddled extensively on Scotland's west coast. A lot of Scottish sea kayakers would say the Garvellachs area is their favourite, but this coastline really beats the islands of Lorn. Paddle it before the crowds arrive!