Friday, April 30, 2010

Going with the flow, round the Mull of Oa!

The dolphins eventually got bored with us and headed off to the main race, which was now a distance offshore. For the first time we saw the still distant Mull of Oa itself, capped by its prominent monument.

To the east of Sgeirean Buidhe there had been surprisingly little current but, as we approached the rocks at the foot of the point, our speed accelerated and we were blasted through a gap in the reef. Needless to say my camera was put away! The water was damming up on the east side and there was a distinct slope down to the west. By staying in close, we avoided the really confused part of the race that ran in a westerly direction from the point. We were here at 11:55, just 24 minutes after predicted slack water. I have no doubt that the flow inshore turns at least an hour before the main flow further offshore. If it was just a counter eddy, I would not have expected much movement so close to slack water.

Once beyond Sgeirean Buidhe we were again out of the main race.

The foot of this great blade of rock is riddled with caves and rock arches.

We were now approaching the Mull of Oa itself. Again, the current picked up on our approach.

We whistled past the rocks below the American Monument. It was erected in 1920 to commemorate American service men who had lost their lives when two troop ships sank off the Oa in WW1.

The inscription on the monument reads:

Sacred to the Immortal Memory of those American Soldiers and Sailors Who Gave Their Lives for Their Country in the Wrecks of the Transports 'Tuscania' and 'Otranto' February 5th 1918 - October 6th 1918

This Monument was Erected by The American National Red Cross near the spot where so many of The Victims of The Disasters Sleep in Everlasting Peace

On Fame's Eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread
While Glory keeps with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

The race off the Mull of Oa was bouncy rather than confused and once through it, we entered a broad but smooth stream of water moving at 10km/hr towards the distant Rhinns of Islay race, on the other side of Loch Indaal. Our next task was to break out of this stream and start making our way up the incomparable west coast of the Oa peninsula.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sea kayaking with dolphins at the Mull of Oa

Beneath the great rock fin of Sgeirean Bhuidhe at the Mull of Oa, a dorsal fin broke the surface of the sea.

In this wild place we were the sole witnesses...

...of an amazing display by a pair of bottlenose dolphins.

Sadly both were scarred... small high rpm propellers. I have reported this siting to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. I hope they will be able to identify these individuals.

Their past experience did not put them off entertaining us.

Their party trick was bring up rocks with kelp roots in their beaks...

...tossing them in the air then whacking them with their tails.

They dived beneath each of us in turn and they surfaced so close that we could have touched them. Clearly they were very curious about sea kayaks. I don't suppose they see much mid week winter sea kayaking in these parts! I am pretty sure that we have seen these particular dolphins before, off the southern end of Shuna and to the east of Cara.

Just amazing!

PS there are more dolphin photos over on Misha Somerville's blog. In one of Misha's photos there are three dolphins though I thought there were only two!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The point of no return, Rubha an Leacan to Gob an Rubha Dhuibh, Oa, Islay

As we approached Rhuba nan Leacan at the SE corner of the Mull of Oa it was 11:19 and should have been slack water as the NW flow was not due to start until HW Dover i.e. 11:31. However, the flood was already established and we had to quickly decide whether to commit to rounding the Oa. I had to put my camera away as the point was pretty rough. The water was being squeezed through a gap between the headland and a reef and the water level was about two feet different on either side. We slid down the slope and wetted our faces in a series of standing waves beyond. There would be no return!

However, the action did not last long and in the bay beyond, there was only a gentle current.

We felt very isolated below the great cliffs of the Beinn Mhor which became higher and bolder with each paddle stroke.

Looking back towards Rubha nan Leacan, the horizon was empty until the distant coast of Jura.

The scale of the place was awesome and we felt very small...

and very alone as we passed under Gob an Rubha Dhuibh.

Then we realized, we were not quite alone...

Monday, April 26, 2010

We have lost our friend.

Our friend Jim Broadfoot died unexpectedly on Saturday. I can't begin to imagine how his mother Margaret, wife Dorothy and daughters, Pamela, Lorna and Alison are feeling at the moment and I send them my deepest condolences.

Some may think that this blog is about sea kayaking or the Scottish coastline but in truth it is about sharing these things with like minded, kindred spirits. David said you get to know someone better after a few days sea kayaking than after a lifetime of socialising. He is right because everyone's safety is dependent on their fellow paddlers. Jim was the perfect companion at sea. He was totally dependable and always considerate of others. Without his help my paddling would have been much more restricted after my accident on Coll last year.

On the night before we left Coll, I was literally rolling on the ground in agony beside the campfire, it put a real dampener on what should have been a great end to fantastic trip. Jim disappeared for a while then reappeared with a big grin, hotdogs in rolls with ketchup, followed by hot buttered scones, jam and whipped cream, followed by hot chocolate! He was always pulling surprises like that out of his kayak, just when people felt down.

He came to visit me last Wednesday and we reminisced about past adventures and planned our future ones. It was a really pleasant day together and I am grateful that Jim took the time to spend with an invalid.

Primarily Jim was a family man and he was so proud of his three daughters. This photo shows Jim and his youngest daughter Alison on the family's Easter holiday to Loch Leven. He also told me that he and his wife Dorothy had been paddling together on Loch Long last week and that this had meant a great deal to him. Jim and Dorothy spent his last day on a paddle in beautiful Loch Striven and shared a magical picnic together on its shores.

My friends and I feel privileged that we have been able to share great times with a true gentleman.

So thank you Jim....there should have been so many more good times to share with your family and friends...but we will never forget those precious moments in your company.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The SE coast of the Mull of Oa, Islay

From the lighthouse we started our exploration of the remote SE coast of Islay's Oa peninsula. We entered a wild world of offshore stacks, with names like Am Plodan, and this one, An Ganradh; The Gander.

For the most part, the land plunged steeply into the sea making it a remote and trackless coast.

There were only occasional breaks in the line of rock such as here, at the delightful Port an Eas. The landing of the waterfall.

The rain and sleet showers sometimes relented giving a blink of sun as we made our way along the coast towards Rhuba nan Leacan, which was the start of the Mull of Oa tide race.

The NW flow is said to start at HW Dover which was at 11:31. We were still an hour before HW Dover and would have expected an adverse current but, with little effort, we were making between 7 and 8km/hr between the skerries and stacks along the shore. Either there was an eddy or the tide turns earlier close to the shore....

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oa what a beautiful morning, Oa what a beautiful day!

We drove off the ferry and parked a short way along the broad sweep of Traigh Gheighsgeir, the white sand beach on Port Ellen's NW shore.

We were on the water by 10:07. In the background the White Hart Hotel reminded me of an incident when we were unable to purchase an Islay Malt in a licensed premises on the island!

No sooner were we on the water than a downpour of cold sleety rain fell from a darkening sky. The forecast wall to wall winter sun bore little relationship to the actual weather here on the Oa!

Our first way point was the Carraig Fhada lighthouse which guards the entrance to Kilnaughton Bay. As you can probably tell from the architecture, this is not a Stevenson lighthouse. It was built by David Hamilton and Son in 1832. It was taken over by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1924. From the SE, the correct approach shows a white sector which is flanked by red and green sectors. The light flashes every 3 seconds.

Beyond the light, headland after headland disappeared into the greyness of the day and towards the Mull of Oa.

The Laird of Islay, Walter Campbell commissioned the lighthouse in 1832 in memory of his wife, Lady Eleanor Charteris, who died that year when she was only 36.

Walter had this poem about Eleanor inscribed in a large plaque above the lighthouse door:

Ye who mid storms and tempests stray in
dangers midnight hour.
Behold where shines this friendly ray and
hail its guardian tower.

Tis but faint emblem of her light my fond
and faithful guide.
Whose sweet example meekin bright led
through this worlds eventful tide my happy course aright.

And still my guiding star she lives in realms
of bliss above.
Still to my heart blest influence gives and
prompts to deeds of love.

Tis she that bids me on the steep kindle this
beacons flame.
To light the wanderer o`er the deep who safe
shall bless her name.

So may sweet virtue lead your way that
when life`s voyage is o`er.
Secure like her with her you may attain the
heavenly shore.

We were quite anxious not to encounter storms and tempests on our trip round the Oa!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The most southern point of the Hebrides.

After crossing the Sound of Jura, the Islay ferry, the MV Hebridean Isles, made her way along the south coast of Islay. Heavy snow showers suddenly appeared, blotting out the clear blue sky of the early morning. Away to the SSE, the bold headlands of Kintyre rolled away until suddenly ending at the Mull of Kintyre.

Today we were bound for another Mull, the Mull of Oa (pron. Oh!), which is the most southerly point in all the Hebrides. In this view from the ferry you can see the summit of Beinn Mhor, 202m, the highest point in the Oa peninsula. It lies behind low lying Rhubha nan Leacan, which forms the eastern most point of the headland. All the tidal streams that fill and empty the north part of the Irish Sea are squeezed past the Mull of Oa and it was spring tides! We would be in for an exciting time but fortunately there was not much wind forecast, despite the snow showers.

The ferry has to wend its way in through a series of islands and skerries as it approaches its jetty at the entrance to Loch Leodamais.

All round the coast of Islay there are a series of very large sign posts telling you where you are. To some people, some will have very familiar names! This is the Port Ellen malting works which prepares malted barley to the exact requirements of many of the distilleries on Islay. Sadly the Port Ellen distillery closed in 1983 but its bonded warehouses are securely locked and still contain many barrels of whisky.

Our sense of anticipation rose as, ever so slowly, MV Hebridean Isles made her final approach to the jetty. Port Ellen's characteristic whitewashed houses with black windows and doors clustered round the head of Loch Leodamais. It was good to be back.