Saturday, June 30, 2007

Eithne's grave.

This simple stone, incised with a Celtic cross, can be found on a peaceful knoll, high above the monastery on Eileach an Naoimh in the Garvellachs.

We have wandered and spent time reflecting here several times before traversing the tides of the Grey Dogs or the Corryvreckan. I have always enjoyed the contrasting emotions experienced on such sea kayaking trips.

The grave is thought to be the last resting place of St Columba's mother, Eithne.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Praise the dawn.

Sammy razorbill greets a new day.

It's always reassuring to have another day ahead of you.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Leaving of Jura

A charter boat enters the Corryvreckan at dawn to pick up a party from the Glengarrisdale bothy. I wonder if they had managed to drink all their supplies and if they were ready?

It may be calm but the water is accelerating and it is against us!

Looking back to the Corryvreckan. Tony decided it would be fun to paddle back to Carraig Mohr with the start of the flood back into the Corryvreckan. I was not so sure and what I did not realize is that Tony thought Maol Eilean was Carraig Mor (which was actually a half kilometer further on). So Tony hung back at Maol Eilean while I paddled on down the accelerating slope! Fortunately I managed to break out next to the rocks. I then had a stiff paddle back round the point, much to Tony's amusement!. This was at 07:39 am two days after neaps and slack water before the start of the flood was predicted to be 06:59. A few minutes later and we would have been back on the west coast of Jura!

Sammy the white tailed sea eagle and friend.

A blink of sun on barnacle covered rocks on the east coast Jura. The north going flood was building against us all the while so we eddy hopped up the coast. Breaking through the current round each headland was tricky as it was all too easy for the bow to swing wide carrying us far out into the strongest current. The sharpest eddy line we met was at Rubh' an Truisealaich, just round the green hill above. After that the current dropped and in places we had a helpful counter eddy.

Sammy the otter.

Tony with the Paps of Jura disappearing into the mist.

Sammy the puffin.

A last blink of sun while crossing the Sound of Jura and approaching the Knapdale coast. This was the end of a perfect weekend. We arrived at Carsaig Bay just as the drizzle started and the midges came out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sunset over the Great Race of the Corryvreckan

Sunset over the Gulf of Corryvreckan with Scarba behind.

After we came through and crossed the Corryvreckan twice we found this great little bay to camp at with a ringside seat of the tides rushing by.

LW water was at 18:04, this photo was taken at 18:24 and our observations confirmed that slack water lasts about an hour at neaps, very roughly 30 minutes on either side of LW and HW. On a previous visit to the Corryvreckan, at springs when we landed on the Scarba shore, slack water lasted no more than 10 minutes and it very quickly accelerated to 18km per hour so forget the rule of thirds in these waters! At slack water, the wind also dropped and hordes of midges descended upon us. We were no longer top predators and our ranking in the food chain dropped a notch. A very persistent cuckoo seemed to be laughing at us.

Tony and I climbed high into the hills above the Corryvreckan at the north end of Jura. Sitting on a rock we witnessed the most amazing sunset. We were not the only witnesses. hundreds of larval and adult ticks attacked us. Our position on the food chain dropped a further notch. At least the last wolf was shot in the 18th century!

The Great Race began to form as the flood built up and stretched far out to the western horizon.

Then as the sun set and the golden light turned to pink, we began to hear a roar like a distant river in spate. Right on cue the Hag appeared, her breaking waves twisting and dancing in a sunset maelstrom. This photo was taken at 21:26 3hours and 20 minutes after the start of the neap flood. The waves of the Hag had just started to break. On a previous visit at springs (see top photo) the waves began to break much earlier. It was very noticeable that at neaps the strongest current hugged the east and north side of the Jura shore for the first 3 hours of the flood then in the last 3 hours it moved over towards the Scarba shore.

This wide angle shot will give a better impression of the scale of the Hag. She rises above a pinnacle on the sea bed.

Photo Tony Page.

The end of a perfect day. On return to the camp each of the millions of Jura midges seemed to have rung several friends and invited them to dinner. The air was thick with the blighters. My Canadian midge jacket did the business, none of that dreadful itch round the midriff, and by extracting my arms from the sleeves, I was able to sup a most appropriate libation, a 25 year old Jura malt whisky, bottled from a single barrel! Sea kayaking heaven!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Gulf of Corryvreckan

The Corryvreckan viewed from high on Scarba looking SW to Eilean Mor and Jura. The tanker gives some idea of the awesome scale of this place.

We rested here floating above a sandy bottom in a lagoon just before the Corryvreckan. We entered it through a narrow cleft in the rocks and it opened out behind. I wonder if it was "Paradise Bay" as described by Robin Lloyd-Jones on page 67 of his wonderful book Argonauts of the Western Isles.

One slightly confusing factor to watch for on approaching the Gulf of Corryvreckan is with the tides. It is that the ebb flows northwards on the west side of Jura but the flood flows northwards on the east side of Jura.

Despite the lack of wind and swell on the approach, a swell appeared at at the final headland before we entered the Corryvreckan.

An uphill view back the way we came! The tide spun me round and we were moving at up to 18km/hr.

On 09/06/2007 high water Oban was at 12:54 BST and it was 1 day after neaps. In the Gulf of Corryvreckan the flood (west flowing) starts at +04:30 Oban at springs +05:15 Oban at neaps; the ebb (east flowing) starts at -01:45 Oban at springs, -01:00 Oban at neaps. Rate is 8+ knots. We approached towards the end of the ebb. Slack water was predicted to be 12:54 + 05:10 which is 18:04. Please note that although we found these times to be accurate in the middle of a high pressure system, these times are affected by many weather and tidal factors and should be viewed as approximate.

We entered the Corryvreckan at 15:30 which meant there was another 2hours and 30 minutes of ebb to go. We only did this because it was neaps and there was no wind. On the ebb, the most turbulent water is often round the islands on the south shore of the Gulf.

If you look at the left hand track where we crossed the Gulf, you will see the current slackened off towards the Scarba shore. The track then gives an impression of the ferry angle we had to use throughout the crossing. It would be very easy to be swept right out of the Gulf and miss the far shore.

This is an extract from my old 1970's chart from my sailing days. The flood is shown with feathered arrows and the ebb with plain arrows. The brown stains are a mix of coffee and blood!

Eilean Mor and Buige rock (near the "68" on the map above) with Scarba in the distance.

Eilean Mor and Buige rock, photo by Tony Page.

Great smooth areas would well up from the bottom then spill outwards. Fortunately there was no wind or it would have been very rough. See whirlpool-scotland for warning of a dangerous anomalous wave which can rear up without warning on the ebb in this glassy calm patch to the east of Eilean Beg. You can also order from them a hdtv DVD of video footage of the Corryvrecken in more violent mood than shown in these photos.

Passing the mouth of Bagh Gleann nam Muc it was all happening too quickly so we decided to savour the Corryvreckan experience and ferry over the Gulf to the Scarba shore.

Looking back to Jura from Scarba. We had worked our way up the Jura coast in the distant right of this photo.

Tony crosses the final eddy line on the way back to the north shore of Jura from Scarba.

Normally if there is any wind, the Corryvreckan is a fearsome place. We felt privileged to have caught the Corryvreckan in an unexpected and unpredictably quiet mood. Consequently we were able to play in its current rather than waiting for slack water as any common sense person should.

Health warning. Scottish waters have already seen several rescues and claimed 4 sea kayakers' lives in 2007. Sadly one death was only a few miles from the Corryvreckan. We passed through the Corryvreckan in very benign conditions but do not think it is always like this. Tony and I were well equipped, experienced in interpreting weather forecasts and tidal flows, confident enough to handle rough water if the unexpected happened, sensible enough to turn back if conditions deteriorated and patient enough to have planned but waited for two years for the best conditions for this trip. Yes, on the day it was a piece of cake but make sure you are ready for the Corryvreckan or it will bite you. I know the next time I approach it, it will be with considerable trepidation and care.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sammy porpoise leads us on to Maclean's skull bay!

Having tarried long on our idyllic resting spot it was now time to continue our journey round the north of Jura. Ahead lay the brooding bulk of Scarba, gatekeeper to the great Gulf of Corryvreckan and its tides and whirlpools. Fortunately Sammy porpoise acted as our guide all the way to Glengarrisdale Bay, our final stop before entering the maelstrom.

Glengarrisdale Bay was a Maclean stronghold in the mid 17th century. Their stone built fortification, Aros Castle, no longer remains but its site is marked by a solitary tree. The Macleans were defeated here by the Campbells in 1647.

If you want to avoid some very smelly mud and slippery rocks at low tide, it is better to land at the east side of the bay and not the west as we did.

The former shepherd's house was finally abandoned about 1947 and is now a well maintained bothy. When we visited there was a large party in residence. They had been brought in by boat and had a huge supply of alcoholic beverages. Strangely, they had almost no food.

Looking from Glengarrisdale Bay across to Scarba. The Garvellachs can be seen to its left. The entrance to the Corryvreckan is on the right.

A gruesome skull and femurs sat on a rock at the edge of the bay for many years. They disappeared in the 1970's. The skull had a "sword" cut in it and allegedly belonged to one of the defeated Macleans from the 1647 battle. Modern legend says it was situated in Maclean's skull cave at the east of the bay. However, in John Mercer's book "Hebridean Islands, Cononsay, Gigha, Jura" published in 1972, the above photo shows the sad relics on a rock at the west end of the bay. Their current whereabouts are unknown.

We now had an appointment with the Corryvreckan.....

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sea kayaking paradise on Jura!

Floating on crystal clear waters, we continued our journey north along the west coast of Jura.

We passed more amazing bays with arches and dunes which had been carved by ancient storms on seas which had long retreated.

The mist burned off and midsummer sun beat down on a windless sea. We landed on this idyllic cove.

From above the water looked so inviting....

that we went for a swim. (Photo Tony Page. )

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Misty skies and crystal clear waters.

Leaving Shian Bay on the west coast of Jura, Tony and I came across our old friend Sammy the seal.

We passed islands of quartzite cobbles.

Under misty skies the waters of the North Atlantic were crystal clear and we watched the seals cavorting beneath our keels.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summer mist on Jura.

Last Saturday dawned clear but a bank of sea mist rolled down West Loch Tarbert and hid Ruantallain from the world. Our clothes and tents became completely saturated as the droplets of water settled on every surface. Even the midges were grounded.

It was a surreal experience rockhopping up the wild coast of Jura. The mist muffled all sounds and we paddled steadily on, isolated in our own world.

Finally the sky began to clear at the great bay of Shian where we stopped for second breakfast. The vault of the sky became blue and the sun burned down. The adventure continues...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Wild West of Jura

After a fantastic day on West Loch Tarbert, Jura, Tony and I headed for the rampart of cliffs which bound the unpopulated and roadless wilderness of the west coast of Jura.

As the dying sun slipped below the horizon behind Colonsay, we looked down on rockhopping heaven. The next day 27 kilometers of rugged coast lay ahead of us. It finished only on our arrival within the jaws of the great Gulf of Corryvreckan.

Even West Loch Tarbert would be exceeded on our quest for seakayaking heaven.....