Friday, November 30, 2012

Laughing in the lee of Little Cumbrae.

You will just need to imagine the fun we had at the south end of the Little Cumbrae. It was too rough to get the camera out but I think David's face tells how good it was. My GPs showed a maximum of 24km /hour on one particularly good wave.

 We now entered the calm...

 ...under the lee of the Little Cumbrae cliffs.

 We passed below first the new and...

...then the old lighthouses and decided to stop for a well earned luncheon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sea kayaking heaven.

I took a last photo while the sea was still calm enough. Phil's sail stood out against the dark outline of the Little Cumbrae, which rose out of the increasing waves in the channel ahead. In the distance the summits of the Arran mountains were dusted with snow. We were truly paddling in sea kayaking heaven, yet I was only 35km from my front door!

I then put the 5D mk3 away in its waterproof bag and we enjoyed a roller coaster ride of steep 2m waves in the tide race to the east of Little Cumbrae.

We finally got off the roller coaster by breaking out into the calm behind Trail Isle, a low rocky reef that lies to the south east of the castle. I knew that beyond its shelter the south end of the Little Cumbrae would be rough. The wind had now settled into a good force 4 south easterly and the flags at the house were board straight and snapping in the wind.

It was now three hours past HW and at the height of the ebb which was running out against the wind. I checked my camera bag a last time then we set off round the heaving wind against waves at the south end of the island. As we bore off round Gull Point, we picked up speed and  bows of our kayaks rose and fell as they sliced through the irregular waves. With the wind now behind us the spray was no longer stinging our eyes and we savoured the view as Arran's rocky ridges gradually revealed themselves from behind the cliffs of the Little Cumbrae.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

We set off in the general direction of Little Cumbrae.

We set off from Largs in the general direction of the  Little Cumbrae.

We had originally intended launching at Portencross, 9km south of Largs because the wind was forecast to be F3-4 SW, backing 4-5 SE increasing 6. When we arrived at Portencros,s the wind had already gone round to the south and was a fitful F4 gusting to 25knots. We decided to move up to Largs, which would allow a reach out to Little Cumbrae and back in a SE wind.

In the shelter of the Largs hills, the wind was a lot less than at Portencross (well beyond the cranes on the horizon). However, it had already gone round to the SE, which allowed us to lay the end of the Little Cumbrae on a very tight reach.

 As we approached Hunterston, Phil noticed...

 ...two new masts. They are anemometer towers to test the wind prior to building 3 huge (198.5m) test offshore wind turbines for the SSE company. About £180 per year of every UK electricity bill is used to subsidise building such monstrous devices.

As we drew level with the port no 9 buoy of the Hunterston Channel, off the south end of the Great Cumbrae, it was apparent just how much all the recent flood water had increased the flow of the neap ebb tide. It was now two and a half hours after HW and the tide was zipping past the buoy. With the increasing wind against the tide, we knew we would be in for a rough crossing to the Little Cumbrae....yippee!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

RNLB Grace Ritchie 70-002

Just as we set off from Largs, the former RNLI lifeboat, Grace Ritchie 70-002, left her berth at the marina. She is a steel hulled Clyde class lifeboat and was built by Yarrows on the Clyde in 1965. She is 70 feet long and weighs 85 tons. She is powered by two 230 BHP Gardner diesel engines giving her a top speed of just over 11knots. She is now privately owned but has a very interesting service history.

In the winter of 1988/69 she was based in Kirkwall, Orkney for winter trials. On the tragic night of 17/3/1969 she launched together with the Longhope lifeboat, TGB, to help the Liberian steamer Irene, which was drifting out of control in the Pentland Firth. The two lifeboats entered the Firth, south of Ronaldsay, at the worst possible time. The race was running at 9 knots against a force 9 wind. At one point Grace Ritchie climbed a huge wave, broke through the crest then fell for nine seconds. Waves that night were estimated to be 60 to 120 feet high. She survived the giant waves but sadly the TGB did not and all eight aboard her died. Seven bodies were recovered the next day and their coffins were returned to the grief stricken community at Longhope aboard the Grace Ritchie.

TGB has been restored and can be seen at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine.

As a water user I am pleased to be an RNLI supporter. The volunteer crews are prepared to risk their own lives to assist those at peril on the sea. In the UK and Republic of Ireland the RNLI operate a lifeboat service that is a charity, dependant on public donations. It is not a government organisation.

Thank you to the brave volunteers.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vikings and IKEA bags at Largs.

 Yesterday we reconvened at Largs...

 ...less than a week after our last trip. We unpacked our IKEA bags for a trip to...

 ...Little Cumbrae island, which can be seen on the horizon on the left beyond the bulk of its bigger sister the Great Cumbrae.

Soon we were on the water below the Largs Pencil, which commemorates the departure of another group of seafarers from these waters...

...the Vikings. I am not sure if they had IKEA bags to help with their packing.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Packing the IKEA bags at the Largs checkout.

All too soon, our sojourn on Little Cumbrae came to an end and it hadn't cost us a penny. It got quite bumpy with an exciting few moments crossing the east end of the Tan. Then the wind dropped completely as we made our way up the Hunterston Channel past the ore terminal... Largs.

Then it was time to pack the IKEA bags and make our way home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

With as much aplomb as possible in a public place.

One of the great problems of sea kayaking is trying to look cool in all the gear required to survive the Scottish winter. Simon has done a passable job except for that necessary evil, the spray skirt. I call it a skirt not to beat about the bush (as some commentators do) and call it a "spray deck".

What a euphemism but even in Scotland, land of the kilt, we are usually adverse to calling it a skirt. To Simon's great credit he is wearing his with as much aplomb as possible in a public place.

I think his mugshot sums it up rather well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The tale of Wee Cumby.

One of the great joys of sea kayaking is the second luncheon. We gather round on the rocks at the top of the beach, often under the walls of an ancient castle, and share stories of past expeditions while we eat. On this particular stop, on Little Cumbrae island, we were joined by the local pack of assorted hungry hounds. They are clearly doing well on visiting sea kayakers as their number has recently increased from four to five. No sooner had Phil opened his sandwiches than...

...pleading eyes caused the good natured Phil to donate half his luncheon to such needy canine creatures. He then escaped up to the castle to enjoy what little sustenance he had left.

He was not quick enough. This little fellow (Wee Cumby, the pack's latest arrival) spotted an opportunity and ran expectantly after Phil, just as fast as his little legs could carry him.

However, Phil was not to be parted from his few remaining crumbs. He was resolute. "Back to your mother" he commanded.

Wee Cumby obediently (but hungrily) made his way back to the beach. His ears were back and his tail was between his legs.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Little Cumbrae island is now private. At £5 each, that'll be £35 then.

As we pulled into our usual spot between Little Cumbrae and Castle Island a new sign greeted our arrival. It had appeared since our last visit in the spring.

"Private Island. 
Landing Fee Applies £5 per person 
Island Manager : 07900886689 
No Littering No Fires Permitted". 

A man (who I had not seen on previous visits) made his way down to the shore to meet us with a pack of five barking dogs (the dogs are very friendly). He was standing underneath the sign and two of us approached him and attempted to engage in conversation by admiring the new pup, which had been born since our last visit. He remained uncommunicative and we did not offer to pay.

We retired to our usual picnic spot on the shore below the castle and the man watched us for about 10 minutes before making his way back to the houses on Little Cumbrae. As we have never made a habit of paying landing fees, I wrote to the North Ayrshire Access Officer enquiring about the legality of the sign and demand for money. I will update when I get a reply.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The lee of Little Cumbrae.

 Once we had rounded the south end of the Little Cumbrae we found ourselves... its wind shadow. The view behind us stretched from the skerries of the Little Cumbrae over...

 ...the Sound of Bute to the mountains of Arran beyond.

Ahead lay the ancient stones of Little Cumbrae castle. It looked like the ideal place for a peaceful stop and second luncheon...

Monday, November 19, 2012

The two towers of Little Cumbrae.

Situated on a raised beach on the west coast of Little Cumbrae...

...the beautiful 1793 lighthouse stands in a magnificent position though sadly, its lantern house been empty since 1997...

...when it was replaced by the small concrete box which stands below it.

Whatever, it was a magnificent situation and I let the...

 ...others get ahead of me to savour the remoteness of the place alone for a while...

...before hoisting my sail to catch up.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A tan in weak winter sunshine.

A fair wind meant those with sails enjoyed some excellent paddle sailing down the west coast of Great Cumbrae.

Gradually the south end of Bute opened up and revealed an...

...unobstructed view to Arran... we approached the south end...

 ...of Great Cumbrae.

In the weak winter sunshine, our little group set off across the waters of the Tan, the channel which divides the Great and the Little Cumbrae Islands.

As we approached the bold outline of the Little Cumbrae, its dark shaded cliffs contrasted with the lighter hues of Holy Island and Arran beyond.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Two shades of grey.

We rounded the north end of Big Cumbrae to be met by an incredible panorama of mountain and sea. Simon and...
 ...Alison have only recently taking up sea kayaking but they were both amazed by the incredible view over the south end of Bute to the distant mountains of Arran beyond.

One by one we set off in a southerly direction...

 ...along the west coast of the Big Cumbrae.

Colin's new Etain looked great with its subtle grey deck.

Unfortunately clouds of a less subtle grey gathered and obscured the sunshine just as we landed on a beach of pink sand for first luncheon.