Monday, June 29, 2009

The Sound of Gunna

Eventually the suppoprt team carried me and my boat to the water and lifted me into the cockpit. The return leg was about to begin.

The turquoise waters of the Sound of Gunna slipped away beneath our keels.

As our shadows flitted over the sands below, we came upon...

 white sand beach...

...after another.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gneiss cowries on Gunna

The following morning none of us were in a hurry to leave Gunna. We slowly gathered our things...

...and had a leisurely brunch on the sands of Gunna Sound. Of David there was no sign, all that Tiree water must have disagreed with his constitution.

Still in no hurry we wandered the strands collecting shells.

I spotted a perfect ledge in the ancient gneiss.

It was just the place to display Jennifer's collection of cowrie shells. I love the way the pink and white of the shells blended with the rock and sand.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tiree sunset and driftwood

We left Scarinish harbour on Tiree loaded with supplies and fresh water for David. Before we left we had scoured the high watermark for driftwood which was nonexistent elsewhere in the islands. Just to be sure, I also bought a sack of logs in the Scarinish Co-op store.

The wind had dropped to nothing as the sun dipped towards the horizon.

We paddled some distance apart, just enjoying the solitude.

We prepared our evening meal as the sun set.

High on the dunes, the view from our tents was stunning...

... but we returned to the shore where we lit our fire with seasoned Scarinish timber. It burned fragrantly in the Hebridean twilight until long after midnight.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Better days: knees in the sand

My eye was caught by this old boat which was lying at the high water mark in Scarinish Harbour Tiree. She was lying as she was when she was driven here by a winter storm but her function can still easily be discerned from her near complete form.

In contrast, little remains of this sad relic of former days the Mary Stewart. Only the stumps of her timber knees project from the sand, hinting at the once proud lines, which carried the essential trade of Tiree.

I wonder if she was this masted sailing ship, photographed by Erskine Beveridge in Scarinish harbour in 1898? Note the hotel building in the background, which has since been considerably extended. Old photographs like these make us realise that our lives are very transitory things compared with places and the environment. All the more reason not to leave a mess!

Better days is also a metaphor for my own current situation. It was the 13th of the month. I dislocated my knee on the sands of Gunna at the south end of Coll. It gave way when I turned to take a quick photo. As I lay there crying out for my mummy, I could see my lower leg was at a funny angle and that my knee cap had slipped round the outer side of my leg. Our mobiles didn't work, I had been unable to get the coastguard MSI broadcasts on the VHF, we were on an uninhabited island but I did have a GPS EPIRB....

The thought of the big red and white Coastguard helicopter emerging from the heat haze on the horizon (with a "wump, wump, wump" and March of the Valkyries blaring from the in flight entertainment system) had a certain appeal. I do love the smell of kerosene in the evenings.

However, I was enjoying our little trip, apart from the screaming agony in my knee, and the prospect of being untimely ripped from the bosom of Gunna was rather upsetting. "Oh dear" I thought, "I had better get myself out of this mess." So I waved the helicopter boys away, took a deep breath, dug my heel deep into the sand and levered my leg straight. I couldn't breathe with the excruciating pain but it went back in with a sickening clunk. I then hyper-extended my knee (to take the tension off my quadriceps) and used both hands to lever the tendon and the knee cap back into place. I screamed at the watching seals as the patella scraped its way over the bones. I nearly blacked out but it is was done. "Oh bother! That smarted some!"

I took a handful of Diclofenac and then strapped up my knee, which was now the size of a melon, with duct tape. I wish I had had the foresight to shave my leg before putting the duct tape on... I was really looking forward to the therapeutic effects of some 16 year old Bowmore distillate and poured us all some snifters, as the others were all looking a little white, even David the vet. Unfortunately the Diclofenac had hurt my stomach, so David ended up with my Bowmore!

What now? Well Jim had brought a walking pole, so I used that to hobble about and direct the others to load and carry my boat down the beach. I filled a 10l water bag and put it in the cockpit floor beneath my knee. Jennifer held my kayak steady in the surf and David and Jim lifted me into the cockpit. It was only 56km back to Portuairk and if we left now it would be high water when we got there and that would save a 500m walk back to the car!

13 days later I am still laid up. Yesterday my calf and foot swelled up and became very hot and painful when I was visiting my wife Alison, who was just out of theatre having had a hip replacement (I was supposed to be her gopher, a very serious loss of Brownie points)! When I hobbled into her ward on crutches, the sister said " I'm sorry we were not expecting you." "That's a pity." I replied "My wife and I thought you had a 'two for one' offer on this week!"

My daughter insisted on dropping me off at the local Casuality Department (Glaswegian for A&E or Emergency Room). It was 8:30pm. I could see it was going to be a long night, in fact, I thought she had dropped me off at the local Police station! It was 5 hours before I was seen but the floor show was better than "Big Brother"!

It turns out I have developed a deep vein thrombosis. Untreated, these can be somewhat troublesome little things (but at least 90% of people don't get a big pulmonary embolism and die). I was quite pleased when the young doctor offered an anticoagulant jab. I'll need a few more of those if I don't want to end up like those boats in Scarinish harbour; on my knees in the sand, at the end of my seagoing days....

I'll be back!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Water levels were perilously low

Despite the appearance of Paradise, our comfortable existence in the Sound of Gunna had one serious threat. David had run out of water. Frankly I was surprised that David drank any water at all but apparently he likes a little to brush his teeth. This crisis of mission critical supplies could only be resolved by a little 20km round trip to Scarinish on the nearby island of Tiree. We left Jennifer collecting cowrie shells on the strand and took to the high seas once more.

Unlike the steep bluffs of its rocky neighbour, Coll, most of Tiree is low lying machair. Its wide horizon is broken...

...only by the roofs of croft houses.

Our approach to Tiree was met by a magnificent 6m basking shark.

The hidden harbour of Port na Banaich is entered through a narrow cleft in the rocks.

No one was more surprised than we three to discover that the Scarinish Hotel was furbished with the appropriately named Leanto Bar and that it was a mere step from the beach. The friendly barmaid disposed of our rubbish bags, replenished David's water bottle and poured three perfect pints of Guinness. What a brilliant sea kayaking pub!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We found what we were looking for...

Sea kayaking is a voyage of exploration...

...and of self discovery.

Well when we enterered the Sound of Gunna, we knew we had arrived.

We knew we did not have to prove anything to ourself or to others.

We had arrived where we wanted to be.

We were on a scrap of land, at the edge of a great Northern ocean, isolated by rushing tides of crystal clear water.

We knew we did not have to paddle any further.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Resplendent in plum on the pink strands of Coll


Resplendent in plum (this season's must have shade for the discerning sea kayaker) David added a splash of colour to the grey scene. His emergence onto the sands of Hogh Bay was greeted by the appreciative pipping of the resident oyster-catchers. His outfit in plum proved to be very harmonious with the pleasing pink tinge to the sand in these parts.

The kilometre long strand of Hogh Bay was totally deserted, the only footprints apart from our own...

...were of geese and oyster-catchers.

I think the P&H Cetus has really lovely lines.

Soon we were paddling past Ben Feall with more headlands of gneiss.

The north facing Feall Bay's sands stretch for 1.5km. It proved to be as crowded as its northerly neighbour.

Ben Feall is only 66m high but it adds shelter, character and ruggedness to Coll's amazing strands.

Feall Bay backs onto a dune system that falls to Crossapol Bay, only 340m to the south.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

The North West Coast of Coll

Overnight, fresh winds and torrential rain had battered our campsite on Coll's NW coast. The wind had begun to drop before we launched but as it did so, hordes of midges attacked what little flesh we had exposed to the elements.

The NW coast of Coll is composed of a myriad of skerries, sandy bays and bold headlands. We made our way in through the skerries to explore Cliad Bay...

...before making our way back out to the swell breaking on Rubha Ard.

TT101, FV Tarka, was tending her lobster pots. Built in 1996 her home port is Coll and she is 11.9m long.

The little bay at Clabhach is backed by crofts.

The pink-grey rocks of Rubha Hogh are typical of this part of Coll and are formed from Lewisian gneiss.

The surf in the NE of Hogh Bay was about 4.5' and we did not fancy risking a landing.

Fortunately at the SE end, there was hardly any swell and we landed on the magnificent Hogh sands to take a first luncheon.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

The poetry of distant mountains' names.

Leaving the Cairns of Coll, we paddled down the NW coast of Coll. As we did so a cold SE wind got up as a front moved in across the sky. We knew that this would bring rain and force 5 winds but that it would pass through within 24 hours. We had come to this area in search of the pod of orcas which yachting friends has recently spotted here. We left without seeing any but sharp eyed Jennifer drew our attention to two breaching minke whales. Fantastic stuff!

We found this bay, which was protected by an offshore island. had predicted a surf height of 4.5' for the next day, so it would make for an easier launch than some of the bigger surf beaches.

We set up camp with the distant mountains of Barra and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides breaking an otherwise empty Atlantic horizon.

A disadvantage of such a sheltered spot was that the entire local midge population joined our evening meal in what proved to be a feeding frenzy, until we donned midge hoods and jackets. Fortunately our midge jackets still allow you to enjoy a cup of coffee in relative peace.

We then set up a little heart warming.

Fortunately as the breeze got up, the midge attack lessened and we were able to emerge into the night from our jackets like giant insects casting off a chrysalis. The aurelian paddlers of Coll were now masters of the night again and not the pesky Culicoides impunctatus.

As we enjoyed our Bowmore and Glenfiddich, the sun slowly went down behind the hazy blue mountains of South Uist. These lay 80km distant, over the now dark Sea of the Hebrides. From the left, we saw Beinn Ruigh Choinnich 276m, Triuirebheinn 357m, Stulabhal 374m, Beinn Mhor 620m, Beinn Corradail 527m and Hecla 606m. We pondered the poetry of their names as the pink clouds slowly faded to ruby red and their summits disappeared into the night.