Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Long views from Ailsa Craig.

The path to the top of Ailsa Craig led us past the old castle which was a Catholic stronghold established to welcome the Spanish Armada to Scotland. Unfortunately the Armada never arrived though several of its ships escaped round the north of Scotland and some were wrecked elsewhere on the west coast.

I had warned Mike and Phil that it would take me some time to get up. The path was obscured in places by a thick growth of bracken and nettles but my walking poles were of great assistance though my shoulders ached afterwards.

The MFV Glorious from Girvan arrived with a load of tourists but they were much quieter than the lot she carried on our last visit!

 Mike was surprised how green the summit of Ailsa Craig was.

 We caught our breath at the summit. Unfortunately Phil discovered that his mobile phone did not care much for 12 year old Glenfiddich. His hip flask had leaked in his bag!

There was a stunning view from the top. Pladda and Holy Island could both be seen off the coast of Arran. We counted 21 fishing boats, mostly Belfast registered circling the Craig. MPV Minna was on fishery protection duty and shadowed the fleet.

 The rocky ridges of the Arran mountains rose high over the lower land in the southern half of Arran.

 Sanda, tiny Glunimore and Sheep Island could be clearly seen off the Mull of Kintyre.

To the east the Merrick rose majestically above the hills of south Ayrshire and Galloway.

Whoops, the tide was rapidly approaching the kayaks... It had taken me longer than expected to get up, time to go!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Of golden funnels and mushrooms.

We set off along the spit towards the main beach of Ailsa Craig.

 looking back we could hardly see the kayaks behind the spit but notice we have tied them to a large boulder as the tide was coming in!

A small cruise ship with a gold funnel proved to be the MV Glen Tarsan of the Majestic Line. Those of you who remember the Para Handy '60s TV show about Clyde puffers, might remember the episode when the Vital Spark's engineer McPhail walked out. Then to hide the fact that he could't get another position he made up a story of working for the "Majestic Line" on a ship with a golden funnel!

 These golden mushrooms did not tempt us.

 The old gas works is nearly a roofless ruin. On my first visit in the '70s the roof was still complete.

Outside the cottage where I lived for a week in the '70s two granite blanks (from which curling stones would be cut) had been set on top of an old grinding stone from the nearby forge and smithy building. This was to be the end of the flat part of our little walk!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Return to the rock.

I am afraid I have not posted much recently, I have been having a lot of pain in my joints and have not paddled much. As I don't particularly like long car journeys, what paddling I have done has been local, so I am afraid you are just going to have to put up with another trip out to Ailsa Craig!

 Phil, Mike and I left Lendalfoot on the south Ayrshire coast.

Soon we were heading out to the rock accompanied by many gannets returning with bellies full of fish for their hungry chicks. There was a light NW wind and despite it being at the end of the ebb, halfway between  springs and neaps, we were being carried out of the Firth by the tide. We had to maintain a ferry angle of 20 degrees above our bearing to the rock for about 2/3 of the 14.5km crossing. There has been a lot of rain recently and this strengthens the ebb in the Clyde.

We landed on this spit of rocks, which was formed by winter storms. It is not yet old enough to have a growth of the lethal green slime seen on the main beach behind. It was a great place to have lunch

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fitting a Flat Earth sail to a Necky Chatham 16 Polymer kayak.

The Necky Chatham 16 is a manoeuvrable kayak that should suit a Flat Earth Kayak sail very well.
Unlike the P&H Delphin, which has a rigid foredeck, the Chatham deck is soft and would not be stiff enough to support a mast foot without some modification. The stiffest area was between the compass recess and a central deck elastic fitting. This was also in line with the deck line fittings, which saved drilling extra holes for the side stays. To make the stays easily adjustable I used Clamcleat white CL266W/R Mini Line-Lok cleats.

To stiffen the deck, I cut a piece of 3" thick black closed mini cell foam and pushed it into place so that it was under moderate compression.

The black sheet and the red uphaul were led aft to a pair of Clamcleat CL 213 and CL214 low profile line cleats. note how the red uphaul is threaded behind the rear deck elastic then forward...

...where it is tied off to the loop formed where the yellow back stay goes through the snap shackle. To lower the sail if there is a strong wind from behind (on a run), uncleat the red uphaul, then pull on the end. This pulls the back stay towards you collapsing the mast. If you rig the Karitek way (with two rear set stays and no back stay) you can't do this and in a strong wind you need to turn the bow of the kayak from down wind round into the wind to drop the sail.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

It's a hard life rearing cormorant chicks.

 It was a beautiful calm June evening and I paddled out to an island...

 ...that was teeming with birds.

As I got closer, I drifted in the tide to avoid startling the birds. I was rewarded with the noise of the cormorant colony and the fishy smell of their guano.

High rocks are favoured sites for their simple nests of sticks...

 ...but the cormorants are under continual harassment by wheeling gulls...

 ...that will swoop in and snatch an egg or a chick in the blink of an eye.

Despite it all, this pair had raised three chicks, which were now of a size to fend off gulls with their sharp beaks.

 This was one proud parent.

These herring gulls didn't have it all their own way. Indeed some of them weren't so smart. These ones made their nests and laid their eggs on the rocks above high water neaps. A week later, high water springs washed their nests away.

Last spring, the weather was much better. I saw a party on sit on top kayaks (without BAs) paddle right up to the colony then start shouting and clapping their hands to see the cormorants fly off. The gulls stayed put and swooped in clearing the rocks of cormorant eggs and chicks. So I was pleased to see so many chicks this year and felt privileged to have spent a little time sharing their world.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Basking shark Code of Conduct.

At this time of year basking sharks frequent the waters of

..the west coast of Scotland such as here in Gunna Sound, between Coll and Tiree. Indeed the Shark Trust  blog has recently reported a flotilla of approximately 52 basking sharks off Hynish on Tiree.

The Shark Trust have just produced a Code of Conduct for kayakers who come across basking sharks. You can download the full size pdf file here.

The Code:

Remain calm and quiet.

Never paddle your kayak directly towards the sharks or allow
several kayaks to surround them, as such actions will probably
frighten them and make them dive or act unpredictably. Stay in
a group, rather than stringing out around the sharks.

Kayakers should not cross the path of the shark so the sharks
can maintain their course without changing direction or speed.

Avoid sudden movements which will disturb the sharks. Never
use your paddle or kayak to touch a shark.

Avoid pairs or large numbers of sharks following each other
closely. This may be courting behaviour and they should not be

Although Basking Sharks are filter-feeders and mostly placid,
they can startle if disturbed, often thrashing their tail with
enormous power. Also be aware that Basking Sharks do breach.

Sharks appear attracted to kayaks and often swim alongside
and below, very close to the hulls. If you stay calm, still, and
observe, there is a good chance they will come to you.

I recently wrote an article for Ocean Paddler magazine entitled "Close encounters... of a marine kind." (This was not my photo! It was taken by Linda Pitkin, a specialist underwater photographer.) I discussed basking sharks and how to avoid disturbing them in the article, which you can download in pdf form here.

The Shark Trust have a basking shark project and would welcome any sighting reports especially when accompanied by photos but remember to switch the flash off, if you use the camera underwater!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Keeping critters out of the cockpit.

When I started sea kayaking I got fitted out by the late Mike Thomson of Scottish Paddler supplies. He advised me to invest in a cockpit cover because: 

"All that wet, sandy, salty gear we inevitably accumulate on a trip. Don't chuck it all in the boot where it immediately sets about rotting your car away. Heave it all in the cockpit and bang on one of these covers.

They also keep the lovely British climate out of your cockpit in transit or on the beach. The Americans add that they "keep dirt and CRITTERS out of the cockpit". Come to think of it, finding a critter crawling up your leg while out at sea would not be the happiest of experiences!!

Until recently I had used the cockpit cover only when the kayak was on the car roof rack to keep fuel consumption down, my kayaks were always well protected from weather and critters in my garage. Unfortunately my knees have not been so good recently and I have been having trouble getting a kayak on and off the car roof. So I have started leaving a kayak down at our weekend retreat on the Solway.

I leave it just above the springs high watermark, under the shade of a sessile oak that hangs down over a little beach in Smugglers' Cove. You can see the oak at the right of this photo.

Winter storms had undermined the bank of earth at the back of the beach. I was just pulling my kayak out onto this beach when I spotted this critter among the roots of the tree.

 It is an adder. They have a venomous bite but are usually very retiring in the heat of the day.

This one was trying to warm itself so it wasn't going anywhere fast. I left it well alone, they are a protected species.

We often see adders sunning themselves on the rocks around the Solway shore. Even more common are slow worms, which are not snakes but legless lizards. Slow worms are non venomous and can be distinguished from adders as they are a uniform brown colour with no obvious neck.

In contrast, the adder has an unmistakable diamond pattern and a distinct narrowing at the neck. Adders are widely distributed on the British mainland, and the Inner Hebrides (especially Jura but not Colonsay). They are not found on the Isle of Man, Ireland, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland.

I was really pleased my cockpit cover was firmly in place, I shudder to think what might happened if it was sitting in the cockpit when I set off.