Monday, November 30, 2009

Queuing up the Clyde!

As we left the dark rocks of Portencross...

...we could see the vast bulk of the Bellatrix, a 225m bulk carrier, coming up the Clyde behind us.

It looked like she was heading up the Hunterston Channel between Ayrshire and the Little Cumbrae. We were headed across this channel to the distant isle of Bute beyond.

Rather than cutting straight across, we went well up the channel towards the channel marker buoys. Big ships keep between them, so it is quite safe to sit there and wait until they pass.

It turned out that Bellatrix wanted to go up the main Firth of Clyde channel, on the far side of Little Cumbrae. We realized this when we saw the Navigo emerging from behind Little Cumbrae. The Navigo is a 142m Swedish tanker and she was the first of many ships to make her way down the Clyde that morning. Bellatrix was in for a long wait!

We were not sure if Bellatrix would so patiently wait for us, so we nipped across the channel as quickly as we could!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A new dawn for Portencross castle

After leaving two cars at Ardrossan ferry terminal, we drove 10km up the Ayrshire coast to Portencross.

It was high tide, so most of the evil, slippy rocks that characterise this shore were covered. Tony and Phil launched my kayak, then helped me into the cockpit. My recently injured knee was hurting, just at the sight of those rocks.

A lovely dawn light reflected on the little waves.

Soon we were on our way, paddling past Portencross castle, which is currently swathed in scaffolding. Centuries of weather and neglect had caused the castle walls to decay to a perilous state. It is now undergoing a restoration thanks to the Friends of Portencross Castle.

A trinity of tideraces: circumnavigation of Scarba

Circumnavigation of Scarba: a day trip of 38.5km from Crinan, October 2009.

We rush to pull the kayaks out of the clutch of the sucking white tendrils of the Corryvreckan whirlpool!

The school of sea kayaking: lesson one, paddling in a current.

Crossing the Rubicon in the Dorus Mor

A whiter shade of pale in the Sound of Jura

Pool of the Song in the Sound of Luing

Sleeping Grey Dogs

Friends to watch over you

Free fall on Scarba

Menace hung in the windless air, even for the most daring and venturesome.

Showdown with a goat in the Corryvreckan!

Calculating slack water in the Corryvreckan

The mystery of the goats of Reisa an t-Sruith

Back for more in the Dorus Mor!

End of another Glorious Dorus Day

Crinan's pyroligneous past.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Crinan's pyroligneous past.

As we entered Loch Crinan, the setting sun lit the north shore with a crimson light. The lonely farmhouse of Ardifuir nestles in a bowl in the hills. The agricultural land between it and the sea is a former raised beach.

Further into the loch we passed below the ancient walls of Duntrune castle.

We entered the shade at the head of the loch and, as we paddled through the yachts in Crinan Bay,I thought I caught a whiff of woodsmoke. A tall chimney betrays an interesting facet of sleepy Crinan's past. It was a factory for making pyroligneous acid. The process involved distilling wood and it operated between about 1840 to 1890 until the market for pyroligneous acid evaporated.

It was high tide and we pulled our boats up the little slipway in the heart of the village as darkness gathered round us. It had been a really great day. We had covered 38.5km, albeit with some tidal assistance!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

End of another Glorious Dorus Day

The Sound of Jura, beyond the Dorus Mor, is a beautiful place but the tides still run strongly as the ebb from Loch Craignish mixes with that from the Dorus..

Despite her powerful engines, this fishing boat was slewed sideways several times by the strong eddies.

The temperature began to drop as the sun...

... dipped towards the western horizon, bringing to an end another Glorious Dorus Day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Back for more in the Dorus Mor!

From Reisa an t-Sruith we were transported on a tidal conveyor belt across the Sound of Jura.

We were propelled through the Dorus Mor at 12km/hr.

We broke out into a counter eddy on the north shore of Garbh Reisa and went back for more, several times!

Once through the Dorus Mor we were on the home straight to Crinan.

To the south, the Paps of Jura soared above the dark rocks of Eilean na Cille.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The mystery of the goats of Reisa an t-Sruith

We now were on a course back to the Dorus Mor and Crinan but first we had to clear the north end of tiny Reisa an t-Sruith. Its name means something like the race of the torrent.

Initially we were carried north but very quickly the ebb started carrying us south and we just scraped past its north end under the eye of watchful goats. How they got out here I can't imagine. Either goats are very powerful swimmers with a built in ability to understand tides and ferry angles or they were brought by man. I can understand sheep being left on small islands until they grow for market, but goats?

Overhead, these pink footed geese seemed to know where they were going.
They will recently have arrived from their summer grounds in Spitsbergen Iceland or Greenland. If they get the weather right it does not take them long. This year a mute swan with a GPS tracker took 14 hours to cover 800km from Iceland to Scotland.

Rounding the top of Reisa an t-Sruith, we took a quick look back at the Gulf of Corryvreckan before we were swept onwards to the Dorus Mor.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Calculating slack water in the Corryvreckan

I am currently writing a sea kayaking guidebook book for Pesda Press "Argyll and the South West, Ardnamuchan to the Solway Firth by Sea Kayak. (ISBN 978-1-906095). This is one of the most complex areas of the UK coastline and I am determined that it will be a piece of work which is thoroughly researched, both in terms of previously published information and also of first hand experience.

I think I am pushing the good will of Franco, the publisher, but I do not want to rush a guide based on my experience of a piece of coastline on one trip, one way, in one set of weather conditions. The Corryvreckan is an example of a serious bit of coast, a key point in the planning of any voyage in these parts. If you click the Corryvreckan tag link on the right, you will discover that we have passed through this Gulf E/W both ways, along both coasts, crossed it N/S both ways, at a variety of states of tide and in a variety of wind and swell conditions. We have camped on both its north and south shores and climbed into the hills of Scarba and Jura to photograph the various eddies and over falls.

For those of you who are interested in such a sea kayaking guide, I appreciate your patience, thank you.

According to published data, in the Corryvreckan, the west going flood starts at -0100 Dover springs and -0015 at neaps. The east going ebb starts at +0515 Dover springs and +0600 at neaps, a time difference of about 6.5 minutes per day between springs and neaps.

On the 16th October 2009 it was 2 days after springs, HW Dover occurred at 1025 and 2256, so the slack between the east going ebb and the west going flood should occur at -0047 HW Dover ie 0938 and the slack between the west going flood and east going ebb should occur at +0528 HW Dover ie 1553.

We entered the west end of the Corryvreckan at 1446 and landed at Camas nam Bairneach at 1500. We enjoyed a view of the flood in action and a short luncheon but were keen to be on the water, in mid channel, to observe the exact moment of slack water. We launched again at 1525.

Phil powering into the last of the flood at 1530. The current was still flowing west at 2.5kn.

At 1539 several yachts entered the Corryvreckan. At 1544, in mid channel, the current was still flowing west at 2kn (see map below).

Then at 1549, with the soaring ridges of Ben Cruachan in the distance,...

...the water turned oily calm and slack water had arrived. It lasted a whole 5 minutes until the ebb started with a bang and boils and eddy lines disturbed the surface again. In the distance, you can just see the small lighthouse on Reisa an t-Sruith in front of Tony's bow.

So the published start of the flood was calculated at 1553 and we observed slack water between 1549 and 1554. Pretty good Eh?

Well, err, actually no. There was no wind and we were in a high pressure system with preceding light winds and little swell. There are very many factors that can alter the change of tide in these parts and you need to go prepared to observe what you find on the day (and of course to have checked your calculations).

Thank you for your patience while I get the book right... :o)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Showdown with a goat in the Corryvreckan!

We entered the Corryvreckan in somewhat calmer circumstances than our last visit. Even in windless conditions the flood was bubbling and boiling like a witch's cauldron. The sight and sound of such a huge volume of water rushing by at 18km/hour was quite moving, in fact Phil later described it as a buttock clenching experience.

We took the counter eddy (that runs east along the south shore of Scarba) right into the heart of the Corryvreckan until we came to the headland before Camus nam Bairneach. The eddy ended at a small headland and swung out into the main flow where it joined the rotating mass of water which forms the whirlpool. I said “Phil you need to get round this headland so paddle quite hard and don’t look back.”

The best chart for discovering the various eddies is the 1856 Admiralty chart.

The headland is in the bottom middle of this photo taken from high on the slopes of Scarba. Here the eddy (calmer water in lower right in the photo) swings out into the main flood (which is flowing to the right) where it joins in a great swirl that creates the whirlpools of the Corryvreckan. To get round this headland into the shelter of the bay you do need to paddle quite hard for 150 metres. If you can't PLF and get round the headland, you are in for a very special treat. The eddy will carry you right into the whirlpool and the Great Race beyond, so you can get a really close look at this natural wonder. Make the most of this experience but just don't expect to be able to share it with others afterwards.

We got round the headland and landed in a little bay to wait for the flood to ease off. We took this territorial goat by surprise, it clearly was not used to having its privacy invaded during the flood! The smelly brute squared up to us and stood his ground but his harem of females all ran off up the hill. Ultimately he found them more attractive than a confrontation with us and he made a measured retreat.

We had to drag the boats well up the beach... seething surges of tidal water threatened to whisk them away into the jaws of the ‘vreckan.

Tony took some photos from the headland, which we had recently fought our way round.

This is the Corryvrekan on a windless day. In a westerly gale the standing waves reach 5m in height and can be heard in Crinan 13km away. Fortunately for Phil, this is just about as calm as it gets.

While Tony was taking photos, Phil was content to sit and gaze in wonder. I think he was still a bit shaken after our confrontation with a goat!

P.S. Please remember that the Corryvreckan is a very large and serious tide race. It is in a remote location and, if you do get into trouble, it will carry you straight out into the open Atlantic for 5 miles before the Great Race subsides. Mike Murray knows a great deal of the Corryvreckan and how unpredictable it can be. A visit to his website should leave you under no illusions about the seriousness of this paddle. Another website well worth a visit is David Philip's Hebridean Wild. His gallery contains many photos of the Corryvreckan such as this one, which is enough to send a chill through any kayaker's heart.

John F asks: "Okay, so how bad would it be if one were swept through the whirlpool? If you had to hang on to your boat, do you think you could keep your head above water? Don't know if I want to find out, first hand."

Well John, a recent TV documentary about the Corryvreckan called Lethal Seas featured an interesting experiment. A weighted dummy wearing a life jacket was dumped into the sea just before the Corryvreckan whirlpool. It disappeared within moments. It was recovered several miles out to sea half an hour later. A dive meter showed that it had been down to at least 200m and the dummy's life jacket had gravel in its pockets and straps.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Menace hung in the windless air, even for the most daring and venturesome.

Common sense would suggest that we should have relaxed on the beach on Scarba's NW coast until near slack water in the Corryvreckan.

We were not having any of that, we wanted to see the whirlpool in action!

As we paddled down the west coast of Scarba, with Colonsay on the horizon, it gradually dawned on Phil that the only way back, was through the Corryvreckan!

As we worked our way down the coast...

...Jura began to appear...

...above the raised beaches of Scarba's wild SW corner.

The rule of thirds does not apply to the Corryvreckan. The spring tidal flow remains at a full 18km/hr almost until slack water, which at springs only last a few minutes. This was the situation as we rounded the SW tip of Scarba with an hour and 10 minutes before slack water.

We were going to use a counter eddy along the south Scarba shore, which the Clyde Cruising Club describes thus: "There is a ribbon of comparatively smooth water within 10m of the whole of the S Scarba shore, but this passage is not recommended, even for the most daring and venturesome."

As we approached the entrance to the Corryvreckan, a fine mist hung in the windless air, which betrayed the menace of the seething currents below.