Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Oystercatcher, Otter Ferry, Loch Fyne.

On our return to Otter Ferry with the shuttle car from Portavadie we could not help but notice that the Oystercatcher was open.

We enjoyed some excellent Guinness (half pints, since we would both be driving within the hour) in the cozy surroundings but noticed that everyone else was sitting outside.

We decided to join them for our meal...

...and we enjoyed it thoroughly...

...while watching a hazy sunset over Argyll's secret coast on Loch Fyne.

The Oystercatcher is well worth a visit and is especially conveniently situated by the shore. All in all, an excellent sea kayaking pub!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fellow travellers on Loch Fyne.

We pulled the kayaks up onto the grass above the shingle beach at otter ferry. We parked beside this hovercraft. Apparently "It's the most environmentally friendly motorised water sport available!" We did not meet the owner and in a way were glad we had not met on the water. Hovercraft produce an enormous number of decibels and it was such a lovely still evening.

I much preferred the look of this lovely old National 18, number 247, Sea Fever. I first came across National 18s in the early '60s, when I was sailing at Chanonry Sailing Club in the Moray Firth. The National 18s from the Findhorn Yacht Club (as it was then known) used to make the 75km round trip across the Firth to take part in the annual Chanonry Regatta.

Having cruised a Wayfarer from '71 to 2007, it was interesting for me to see the adaptations that had been made... allow her to be used for extended single handed cruising and camping.

I had noticed the smaller than standard rig and the owner, Roger Bamford, told me it was a modified Wayfarer rig.

Phil and I had a great chat with Roger, swapping tales of our respective adventures (and sailing rigs!). It turns out that Roger toured regularly all round Britain. This time he had launched at Largs Marina and was spending 3 weeks exploring the Clyde. He had already been up the Gare Loch and Loch Long and had had a wild crossing to Arran the week before. He was now heading up Loch Fyne to Inveraray but hoped to camp at Loch Gair, on the far side of Loch Fyne, that night.

I casually said that I thought he must have a very understanding employer to have so much time on the water. He just laughed and told me his age and that he had retired years ago. It would be rude to say exactly how old Roger was, but let me just say that Phil and I hope that we are as full of life and adventure, when we are that age!

All too soon, we sadly had to say farewell to Roger and recover our shuttle car from Portavadie.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Let them eat oysters, in Otter Ferry.

From Castle Ewen we continued north up Loch Fyne. Phil is a very fast paddler but was no match for my Flat Earth sail in these breezy conditions.

Every so often, I would drop the sail to let him catch up!

North of Kilfinan, the golden sands gave way to grey rocks that plunged straight into the blue waters of Loch Fyne.

A wonderful mixed woodland of deciduous and coniferous trees grew right down to the high water mark. Rounding a headland at Ballimore, Loch Fyne stretched away for 20km until it eventually twisted, out of sight at Furnace. Beyond there, it extends for a further 22km to the head of the loch.

We came across the 19th century Ballimore House which nestles within
designed policies, woodlands and gardens. Unlike many of the big estate gardens round the west coast, it is not open to the public as it is the private estate of Baron Van Lynden. At low tide we would have seen the estate's oyster racks along the shore. The clean water here and tidal flow, accelerated by the spit at Otter Ferry, produces excellent oysters, which may be purchased at the the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar at the head of the loch.

Eventually we arrived at the great spit or oitir that gives Otter Ferry its name. We had chosen to be here near high water. At low tide you could choose to take a 3km detour out round the spit and back or portage from one side to the other. By now we had been paddling for some time and all this talk of oysters had us salivating and ready for dinner. We had in mind a visit to the Oystercatcher Inn, which was within spitting distance away, just on the other side of the spit!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reviresco on the Loch Fyne Riviera.

Photo Phil Toman

Kilfinan Bay is a really beautiful part of Loch Fyne and the sun shone down on its golden sands which stretch for 1.2km. We had it all to ourselves as we crossed to its northern boundary... Rubha Beag. We were ready for second luncheon and landed on a little cobbled beach beneath a conical mound with a flattened top.

We climbed up to get a better view and found...

...this recent monument, erected by the Clan Ewen Society, marking the site of the MacEwan Castle.

"Reviresco" is the clan motto. In Latin it means "grow young and strong again".

Reinvigorated by the rest and the motto (or was it the 18 year old Glenfiddich?) we made our way back to the kayaks to continue our voyage up Loch Fyne...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

High water in Kilfinan Bay.

Many people think that there are no sandy beaches in Loch Fyne. They are wrong, you just can't see them from the roads! Twelve kilometers after leaving Portavadie, we came to the beautiful, broad sweep of Kilfinan Bay.

The Kilfinnan Burn empties into the bay and as it was near high water, we decided... nip upstream where the burn meandered through the sand dune system that backs the bay.

Eventually we could go no further as the water became too shallow.

High on the banks above us, uprooted trees told of days when the burn could be somewhat higher!

We now drifted slowly back out to sea...

... just as the spring tide covered the last of the extensive sandbars at the river mouth.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Auchalick Bay, Loch Fyne

We continued paddling north up Loch Fyne along an unspoiled and remote coastline.

By the time we reached Eilean nan Gabhar at the south end of Auchalick Bay, it was time for first luncheon.

What a place to stop. Above high water the rocks were covered with multicoloured lichens and sea pink.

Down at high water level, the rocks were bare but displayed wonderful and ancient patterns.

The north side of Auchalick Bay is bounded by the distinctive slopes of Gob a'Bharra. I loved the way the yellow gorse flowers matched the golden lichens on the rocks in the foreground.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Missed the gun but not the boat, in Loch Fyne.

As we paddled into Loch Fyne, the view out of the mouth of the loch was completely dominated by the mountains of Arran.

The Clyde Cruising Club were holding their Scottish Series Regatta out of Tarbert on the far side of Loch Fyne. It looked pretty busy over there, as these Sigma 33s tacked down the loch!

Despite the start gun having gone off some time before, the owners of this fine old Moody 346 were still tucked up, down below. At least she was lying at anchor. So many yachts these days just go from marina to marina, or worse, just lie at berth in their home marina all season.

North of Portavadie, the east coast of Loch Fyne has some very attractive reefs and islets. Far from the roads, this is part of Argyll's Secret Coast.

Although I have sailed on Loch Fyne many times, in the 30 years or so I spent yachting, I was always frustrated that we kept well off such interesting coasts. A great joy of sea kayaking is being able to get right in amongst the skerries...

...where the only company is the pipping oyster catchers and the occasional otter.

I am very fortunate to have a well paid job and could afford to own a yacht, if I wished. But do you know what? I saw more of the Scottish west coast in my first two years' sea kayaking than I did in over 30 years' yachting. So I feel no desire to encumber myself and my coastal adventures with a yacht. Sea kayaking is true freedom of the seas.

Not many people know this but, under the waterline, yachts are constructed in an interesting way. Their hulls are a composite material, somewhat akin to a papier mache, made up of £50 and £100 pound notes, which are laminated, with a not entirely waterproof adhesive. Whenever a yacht is in the water, these bank notes steadily break away and drift off in the current. Yachting is an expensive business and no, I don't miss the boat...

...I am still sailing!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

One way trade and a one way voyage.

Embarking from the ferry at Hunter's Quay we stopped at the head of Loch Striven. This loch is one of the most remote but sheltered of the many sea lochs, which branch off the Firth
of Clyde.

Far from the open sea, boats seek shelter from its neighbouring hills and mountains. It was here that the Sealand Performance was laid up for nearly a year. We had passed her at anchor off Greenock fitting out for her final voyage. She was bound for the USA, where she would pick up a supply of empty containers to take to China. Once there she will be broken up.

From Loch Striven we travelled across the fertile farmland of the Cowall peninsula towards Portavadie. To the south the rocky ridges of Arran soared above the blue waters of the Sound of Bute.

Portavadie (port of the fox) is where the departure point of the Calmac ferry to Tarbert in Kintyre. You can launch on the slipway as long as the ferry is well clear. The nearby Portavadie Marina serves an excellent breakfast.

It felt good to be on the water again as we launched onto the waters of Loch Fyne. We were also going on a one way voyage, to Otter Ferry where we had left Phil's car to shuttle us back to Portavadie.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How sweet is the Clyde?

It was time to be back on the water but to begin with, our hulls stayed dry.

We took the ferry crossing to the Cowal peninsula on the west side of the Firth of Clyde. This is Western Ferries' MV Sound of Scarba which runs from McInroys Point to Hunter's Quay. If you plan to use this crossing, you can get discount tickets in Paul's Food and Wine shop at 94, Shore St, Gourock. A return ticket for car and driver is £27.20 if bought on the ferry or £15 bought in Paul's! If you are travelling from the Cowal side you can get the same discount tickets at Sandbank General Store and Post Office.

It was a great morning to be out on the Clyde with views in every direction. As the MV Scarba motored out of McInroys Point at 7am, we passed the MV Nordstrand at anchor. She is an 88.3m grain carrier and was waiting for high tide to make her way up to Glasgow. In the distance, the mouth of Loch Long leads into the Argyll mountains.

A few moments later, the Calmac ferry, MV Saturn, passed on her way from Dunoon to Gourock.

The view to the south showed the Cloch lighthouse and the distant hills of Arran above Bute. MV Aasli, a bulk carrier was making her way up the Clyde with a cargo of granite aggregate from Glen Sanda.

Straight ahead, the houses of Hunter's Quay and Strone flanked the entrance to the Holy Loch.

As we crossed into the middle of the Clyde we saw the Inverkip power station chimney behind the Cloch lighthouse and the steep slopes of Little Cumbrae island on the horizon.

Looking back up the Clyde, past the MV Nordstar, we could see the Maersk Line ship, SeaLand Performance at anchor off Greenock. She was being readied for sea after having spent the recession laid up in Loch Striven for nearly a year. She was finally towed out of Loch Striven on 21st May 2010. Just behind the SL Performance, you can see the capsized hull of the MV Captayannis, which was wrecked here in a storm in 1974. She is known locally as "the sugar boat" and is a popular sea kayaking destination. Her full cargo of sugar soon dissolved in the murky waters of the Clyde.