Saturday, July 30, 2011

Discretion is the better part of valour on the north coast of Tiree!

From Vaul Bay on Tiree's north coast we paddled south west along the coast towards Balephetrish Bay. We had hoped to land at the "ringing stone". This is a granodiorite erratic boulder, which was carried here by the ice during the Ice Age. Its rock is geologically recent but it sits on the ancient gneiss of the Tiree foreshore. Fortunately graniodiorite is very hard, because generations of tourists have thrown other rocks at it to make it ring. 4,000 years ago the locals were made of sterner stuff and managed to carve multiple cup marks on its surface. Unfortunately the wind and swell made it impossible to land on the rocky shore.

The wind increased to force 4 and the swell also rose. We had had no sleep the previous night, as we had driven through the night to catch the 05:45 ferry so, with the wind still increasing, we decided to cut short our paddle and look for somewhere to land. Another issue for me was that the pain in my bad knee had become almost unbearable. I had sat too long... through the night in a car then in a kayak morning and afternoon... my knee had now locked up.

We found a narrow sandy inlet to the east of Balephetrish Bay. Its direction and offshore reefs meant it was almost completely sheltered from the north east wind and westerly swell. Even so, I couldn't get out my kayak without the assistance of both David and Phil.... Thanks guys!

After a third luncheon of NSAIDs, COX2 inhibitors, codeine and paracetamol I was able to get going and then we had the tents up and our wet gear out to dry.

We had found our own little piece of paradise!

From the rocks above the tents wee looked out to sea...

...and we were glad we had stopped when we did. Discretion is the better part of valour on the north coast of windy Tiree!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Away with the fairies in Vaul Bay, Tiree.

High above Gunna Sound, cirrus clouds streaming from the north confirmed that we were lying between an intense low pressure system lying over Denmark and a high pressure system lying in mid Atlantic.

It was now time to go. We hoped to cover another 20km and clear the north coast of Tiree before the wind increased in the evening.

 I had hoped to show some more photos of an idyllic Sound of Gunna, like this one 2 years ago. However, the ebb tide was running strongly  through the sound from NW to SE, so we had to eddy hop up the skerries. Once we emerged onto the north coast of Tiree, beyond Urvaig Point we had hoped to find the ebb tide running SW down Tiree before the NE wind. However, there was so much water flowing into Gunna Sound that the ebb tide was being sucked NE up the Tiree coast and into the sound.

So we had a foul tide against both us and the wind. This resulted in some glorious bouncy conditions, which Phil described as somewhat reminiscent of the Mull of Galloway. Unfortunately I couldn't take any photos in the sound but this one was taken after the water flattened off, about half a kilometer beyond the point. You can just see Phil on the right edge, I didn't compose this shot!

Once onto the north coast the wind was from the NE and we fairly shot along to Vaul Bay. Its west coast was sheltered by the extensive reefs and since...

...we hadn't slept at all the night before, we stopped for a welcome second luncheon.  Belief in the fairies was deep rooted in Tiree. There was even a word for it in Tiree Gaelic: "siobhairean" To this day the island is famous for stories about fairies. They often lived in green knolls round the coast and sometimes they would kidnap people, especially children, hence the expression "away with the fairies".

Whoever our new neighbours were, we found ourselves in a sun trap, sheltered from the wind and had a great view to Eigg and Coll.

Soon David was fast asleep and away with the fairies.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ruffled feathers in Gunna Sound.

As we made our way round the east coast of Tiree we became more exposed to the northerly wind.

The majority of houses on Tiree face east so that the door opens on the side where the wind comes from on fewest occasions throughout the year.

These shelduck were sheltering from the wind in a gap in a reef. Despite this it was ruffling their feathers.

We now entered the Gunna Sound, which separates Coll and Tiree. The tide runs through here at 5km/hr and we could see breaking white water ahead. Phil and David were now feeling a little chilly in the wind so we decided to land to let them put on their dry suits. The water temperature was a bracing 12 degrees C.

We landed in the shelter of the reef at Rubha Dubh.

Phil had never seen water of this colour before. He stood tansfixed, gazing at the turquoise in the shallows, which turned to ultramarine in the deeper channel.

We took our luncheon on this dazzling white shell sand beach which looked out over the SE entrance of Gunna Sound to the distant blue mountains of Mull.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unfinished business on Tiree.

At 10:26am we set off on our circumnavigation of Tiree, which is known as the "Land Beneath the Waves" because most of it is low lying. The houses are often the highest points on the landscape and from a distance appear to float above the waves.

This trip very nearly never happened because recently I have been having such severe pains in my injured knee. In fact, we had previously to cut short our circumnavigation of Coll and Tiree on the 13th of June 2009 after I had dislocated my knee on Gunna, in the Sound between Coll and Tiree.

However, my companions were David and Phil, and like all my sea kayaking friends, both have proved so willing to do much of the heavy work on a sea kayaking trip. So I decided to go and complete unfinished business!

I had originally planned a clockwise circumnavigation but the weather forecast had deteriorated since that of the previous evening. A force 3-4 northerly wind was due to increase to 5 in the afternoon both this day and the next day. I really did not fancy getting stuck on the north coast of this exposed island in that sort of wind so decided on an anticlockwise trip and aimed to get off the north coast and onto the west before the wind increased.

Where the Tiree rock is exposed, it is ancient Lewisian gneiss. At 3,000 million years old, it forms some of the oldest rocks on Earth.

Seals were basking on the offshore reefs and distant Ben More, 967m, on Mull dominated the horizon to the SE.

Monday, July 25, 2011

En route to Tiree.

We drove through the night to arrive in Oban in time to catch the 0545 ferry to Tiree. There is no car park at the Oban ferry terminal so we drove into the back of the railway station car park and dropped the kayaks there before trollying them through to the ferry terminal. I left the car in the free long stay Lochavullin car park, which is entered off Lynn Road.

Once aboard the MV Clansman ferry we made straight for the dining facilities, where we enjoyed the full trucker's breakfast before...

 ...taking a postprandial perambulation on the viewing deck...

...where we watched the Sound of Mull slip astern.

Soon we were disembarked...

...and launched our kayaks on the little white sand beach beside the ferry pier at Scarinish on Tiree. We had arrived!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A mixed bag from OverBoard: waterproof kayak deck bag and SLR bag review and test.

You either love deck bags or hate them We rather like them. I keep my DSLR in a deck bag so that I can get at it quickly when I see a photo opportunity. We recently got two new deck bags from OverBoard. (We already have other bags from Seal-Line and Northwater but these have weatherproof zip entry rather than a dry bag roll top. They resist rain and spray but not a quick immersion when rolling.)

OverBoard make some pretty strong claims for these bags:

"Keep it all dry in our range of waterproof kayak bags.
Designed to take a beating and a dunking, our range of durable waterproof kayak bags includes everything from waterproof kayak deck bags and backpacks down to waterproof pouches for smaller valuables.
Clothes, technology and even maps – chuck it in an OverBoard kayak bag and keep it all dry…"

OverBoard 20 litre waterproof Kayak deck bag.
The first bag is the 20 litre waterproof kayak deck bag at £37.49.  At first it looks much too big but that is because you roll the top over on itself 4 times to seal the bag. It is made of heavy duty PVC tarpaulin with welded seals. It comes with a removable shoulder strap for off kayak use and has three quick release straps with buckles on either side to secure to the deck lines. On the top of the bag there is a weatherproof (not waterproof) zip flap for storing thin items that could stand getting a bit wet such as a waterproof VHF radio, sun tan lotion bottle etc. There is also an overlapping set of elastics with an adjustable toggle that is great for holding water bottles, pogies, a hat or even a cag.

It is advertised as: "Waterproof Rating 3Waterproof so tight it floats or can handle quick submersions. The product could be permeated by water in any of the following applications: prolonged submersion, submersions greater than 3 feet in depth, high water pressure applications."

We took the bag for a test of this bold claim. A rolling session seemed to fit the bill and even after about 10 rolls and wet rescues, only a couple of drops of water made their way in to the interior. The bag has remained totally dry after many kilometers of paddling in rough and wet conditions. We have used it on day trips and also camping trips where space is at a premium. There is plenty of room for flares, midge jackets, energy bars, mobile phones (perhaps in their own waterproof case) etc.

Jennifer was so impressed with the OverBoard kayak deck bag that she trusted her Hasselblad medium format film camera to it (albeit with it wrapped inside a smaller lightweight nylon dry bag to ensure no stray drips did any damage).

The verdict? 10/10 for this really excellent bag.

Over-Board 6 litre waterproof SLR camera bag
The next bag was the one I was really interested in. It is the Over-Board 6 litre waterproof SLR camera bag at £22.49. It also has a roll top and is made of the same material as the deck bag and also has welded seems. Very promising. It comes with a shoulder strap and also has 4 sturdy D rings, which can be used with 4 mini carabiners or shock cord with quick release clips to secure to the deck lines. There was plenty room for my Canon 5D Mk2 full frame DSLR fitted with a Canon 70-200 f4.0 IS L lens. The inside of the bag is lined with soft nylon fabric to help  protect the camera. All good.

Did I test the bag with my Canon kit? Thankfully no! I tested it with an old newspaper. After rolling the top of the bag, I did one quick roll in the kayak. Afterwards half of the newspaper was soaking wet.

I noticed that the lining was very wet indeed. I decided to try an easier test. I held the bag just under the surface of water in a pail for 5 seconds. Less water got in but the top of the newspaper ball was wet and the lining was again all wet. This bag has a slight taper to it and as you put the rolls in to the bag seal, the rolled material gradually works its way in from the buckles. I noticed that the edge of the lining material was exposed to the outside. This is undoubtedly the source of the water ingress.

Ireally wanted to like this bag but would I trust an SLR to this bag on a kayak? Absolutely not and as it clearly does not live up to its claims, I award it 0/10, yes, that's nil points.

A bit of a mixed bag from OverBoard then! However, the 20 litre deck bag is really very good indeed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sails on the Shetland Bus

BBC Scotland had an interesting piece on tonight's television news.

Mick Berwick, Patrick Winterton and Olly Hicks have set off from Shetland on an epic unsupported crossing of the North Sea to Norway by sea kayak. The crossing is to highlight the importance of the Shetland Bus: small fishing boats that linked these two communities in the dark days of WW2. They are also raising money for Make a Wish and the RNLI. You can support their fund raising by making a donation here.

I was delighted to see they were using Flat Earth kayak sails. They had been having some problems with the rigging of the sails and I gave Patrick some tips before they departed. I hope that the other's will be able to tighten up Mick's (yellow sail) starboard stay. His sail is sagging to leeward a bit! I hope their energy levels and spirits don't sag on their 4day/3night crossing!

Good luck guys! :o)

Sadly, it looks like they have had to turn back.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fish and ships, part two.

No sooner had we finished our freshly caught fish suppers than the explanation of the VHF radio chatter was apparent. a procession of tall ships was making its way down the Clyde. The leader was Mir, St Petersburg, Russia. She is a 108.8m long square rigged ship  and was built in Poland in 1987.

 We paddled out to the edge of the shipping channel.

PS Waverley, Glasgow, Scotland appeared, followed by...

 ...a procession of the most beautiful ships. This is Sorlsandet, Kristiansand, Norway. She  is a 64.2m long square rigged ship and was built in 1927.

The Waverley was built in Glasgow in 1947 in the Inglis Yard, which is now the site of Glasgow's new transport museum.

The Waverley now turned round to head back up the Clyde.

Europa, The Hague, Netherlands. She is a 54.6m long 3 masted barque built in 1911.

Constantia, Stockholm, Sweden. She is a 31.45m long 2 masted gaff schooner built in 1908.

Europa and Pelican.

Pelican and Europa.

Pelican of London, Weymouth, London, UK. She is a 44.42m long 3 masted barquentine built in 1948. However her rig is a very modern, designed to go to windward much better than a fully square rigged ship.


Europa was one of the few to turn right towards the Kilbrannan Sound on the west coast of Arran.

the ex RNLI lifeboat Grace Patterson Ritchie (70-002) is now privately owned and based at Largs. She was built by Yarrows on the Clyde in 1966. She was the first of three Clyde class lifeboats and the first steel hulled RNLI lifeboat.

MV Llanreath is a converted Milfordhaven pilot vessel/tug. She is privately owned and based in Girvan.

Gloria, Cartagena, Colombia. She is a 65.61m long 3 masted barque built in Bilbao in 1968.



Irene, Bridgewater, UK. She is a 35.45m long gaff ketch built in Bridgewater in 1907.


Pogoria, Gdynia, Poland. She is ia 49.52m 3 masted barquentine built in 1980.



Eventually we decided to land on the Little Cumbrae again but had to paddle past the resident pod of porpoises.

 It was time for a well deserved third luncheon...

...then home for tea. All this within an hour's drive of home!

The full list of tall ships in the 2011 tall ships race can be found here.