Friday, January 31, 2014

Gusty headwinds under the cliffs of Mull's Laggan Peninsula.

 We awoke on the shores of  Loch Buie on Mull to find that a light SE wind was sufficient to keep....

 ... the morning midges at bay. The weather forecast was for light and variable winds increasing to F4 to F5 S-SE winds by midday. Given that it was midsummer and sunny there was also the possibility of afternoon thermal winds increasing the wind even more. So we decided to make an early start and were on the water by 07:30.

We were in the lee of the Laggan peninsula and at first there was very little wind but a fair amount of swell was wrapping round Rubha na Faoilinn at the entrance to Loch Buie.

On rounding the point we were hit by a very gusty head wind from the SE which...

...was shrieking and swirling along the steep cliffs below...

...the steep cliffs of An Garradh. The gusts were so strong that they were lifting waterspouts off the surface of the sea and threatened to snatch the paddles out of our hands. As we put our heads down, our forward progress was slowed to less than 1km/hr.

The early morning sun was reflecting on the sea in front of us, which made it difficult to see the approaching gusts. The gusts were so unpredictable and ferocious that I did not risk using my Canon DSLR and so these photos were all taken with a little 2mp waterproof camera.

After an exhausting 4km paddle straight into the teeth of the wind, it was a relief to shelter in the lee of Frank Lockwood's Island. We were rewarded by a magnificent view of the cliffs on Mull's remote Laggan peninsula, which stretched away to the NE. Lying in the shelter of the little island we discussed our options. We wondered if the forecast F4-F5 winds had arrived early. If so they would make our 12 km open crossing of the Firth of Lorn rather unpleasant as they would be blowing over and against a big spring ebb tide. We battened down the hatches.... .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Caught between the tide, a rock and a hard place in Loch Buie.

The midges round Loch Buie on Mull can be ferocious so Jennifer and I set up our cooking on rocks well down the beach to get away from them. Unfortunately it was a really high spring tide and our rocks gradually disappeared...

...leaving just a few stones above water ( above left of the bonfire). So we joined Phil and many millions of midges at the top of the beach where we lit a driftwood fire.

We had hoped for a magnificent sunset behind Beinn na Croise 503m but an approaching cold front brought too much low cloud.

Every cloud has a silver lining and this one brought wind. This quickly got rid of the midges but it was impossible to sit in one place and avoid the acrid woodsmoke as...

 ...the wind swirled round the shores of Loch Buie.

At last we were free of midges and the wind settled. We reminisced about past expeditions and planned new trips long into the light midsummer night. The sky to the north, behind Ben Buie 717m, stayed light till well after midnight.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Threading through the 2011 Oban Sailing Club Round Mull Race.

Gradually we left the Isles of the Sea a long way behind but as we approached the coast of Mull we came across the third day of the 2011 Oban Yacht Club Round Mull Race....nearly two score of them! They made a wonderful sight, broad reaching up the Firth of Lorn in close, line astern formation as they came round Malcolm's Point on the Ross of Mull. However, they posed an almost impenetrable barrier to our progress, as we were travelling at right angles to the fleet.

We were completely knackered by our long, hot day, so we paused for some sustenance (with the distant Paps of Jura behind) before summoning the energy to sprint in tight formation...

...through one of the more sizeable gaps before the finishing line off Frank Lockwood's island.. We felt a bit like Drake sailing into the Armada but fortunately we squeezed through without anyone having to alter course or fire a broadside. I drew breath to admire the fine set of the spinnaker on this lovely yacht. Vaila is a Borresen BB10  which, as her type suggests, is 10m (32 feet) long. We have passed her several times in various places on the west coast, from Loch Fyne to Loch Linnhe, over the last 10 years or so. We have seen her most often in Loch Leven, which I think is her home water.

I used to be a sailor before I took up sea kayaking. What you don't see is what is fluttering away in a yacht's wake. Modern yachts are made up of a composite of resins and special hydrocarbon laminates. Out with yachting circles, these laminates are better known as £50 notes and unfortunately for yachties, the composite resin is partially water soluble. This explains why yachts have somewhat expensive wakes.

 Anyway I digress, we now had open water between us and the entrance to...

 ...lovely Loch Buie where we...

...landed and set up camp in the late evening.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A blessed relief to leave the Isle of the Saints.

After the exertion and sweating of manhandling loaded boats to the low tide mark in the heat of the day, it was a blessed relief to be on the cool water again as we rounded the SW corner of Eileach an Naoimh.

Our destination was Loch Buie in Mull, some 16km away across the Firth of Lorn. The first time I did this crossing was in the dark in the middle of February, so it made a very pleasant change to repeat it at the height of a midsummer day!

 As we paddled under the small lighthouse...

 ...the NW coast of Eileach an Naoimh slowly revealed itself followed by...

 ...Garbh Eileach and soon...

...the Isles of the Sea were little more than memories in our wakes.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The sainted rocks were as slippery as an eel.

It was a big spring tide and as it was now low water on Eileach an Naoimh (Isle of the Saints) our heavily laden boats were left high and dry. The very rocks where once the saints had trod were now a treacherous, slippery trap for itinerant sea kayakers. Not having the patience of  saints, we did not wish to wait until the tide came back in and so we carried the boats to the water. It was the hottest day in the year and we were completely exhausted by the time we had the boats afloat.

My "good" left knee suffered a very painful dislocation here and it was at this point that I knew that I would inevitably need an operation on it as well. (It was finally operated on, two and a half years later, in November 2013. I am still recovering and off the water.)

Despite my sore knee, I took pity on this little eel. It was lying in a partly desiccated state, half out of a little crack in the rocks in which it had tried to escape from the sun. Unfortunately it was too big to get fully  in. I put it into the sea and it seemed to recover a little...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Possibly the base for a standing cross.

We made our way down from the summit ridge of Eileach an Naoimh to the site of what is reputed to be the site of  the grave of Eithne who was the mother of St Columba.

St Columba had followed St Brendan from Ireland, bringing Christianity to the west coast of Scotland. He founded a monastery and church on Iona. However, it thought that he and the monks came to Eileach an Naoimh on religious retreats. They knew the island as Hinba.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

West coast Paddlers Flat Water Symposium

I would like to draw attention to the forthcoming West Coast Paddlers Flat Water Symposium which will be held at Castle Semple Loch  and the various locations on the Firth of Clyde on 29th and 30th March 2014.

The organisers are particularly keen to attract those paddlers of all grades who are not affiliated to any club. All the Saturday sessions will be held on inland Castle Semple Loch where one of the biggest demo kayak fleets ever assembled in Scotland will be available to test. Unlike exposed coastal venues, coaching sessions of all levels will run and the demo fleet will be available to all, despite the weather.

The Sunday sessions will suit all grades of paddler. Weather dependent, there will be trips that involve open water crossings of 15 km in the Outer Firth of Clyde to more sheltered locations in the inner Firth of Clyde.The more exposed of these trips may be anything but flat!

Saturday sessions include:

Forward paddling for sea kayakers

Turning strokes for sea kayakers

Balance games leading to self rescues

Greenland paddle stuff

Buying a Sea kayak, help with demoing

Kayak Sailing,
In these sessions (Sat AM and PM)  I will be showing how to both rig and paddle sail your sea kayak. For those who don't have their own kayak sailing rig there will be loan kayaks to try. I also hope that a fleet of the new P&H Aries kayaks with forward skegs and the new P&H sailing rigs by Flat Earth sails will be there. I will be bringing my own P&H Aries/Flat Earth sail, which is one of the best sea kayaks for sailing.

Stroke blending, ie rock hopping skills

Canoe skills for sea kayakers

Guided trip around Castle Semple

Sunday destinations may include:

An open crossing and circumnavigation of Ailsa Craig.

A circumnavigation of Little Cumbrae.

A visit to Great Cumbrae.

I am looking forward to it already!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The summit ridge of Eileach an Naoimh.

 The rough stone platform where we had stopped for lunch on Eileach an Naoimh was...

 ...encrusted by beautiful alpine plants and lichens.

 The meadow above was composed of lush grass and a perfusion of wild flowers.

 We started to climb high above the meadow to...

 ...the spine of the island from which we had a marvellous view NE up the chain of the Garvellachs to the Firth of Lorn with the Slate Islands beyond. Ben Cruachan on the mainland can just be seen mid horizon.

 In the heat it was a real relief to reach the summit trig point (77m) and look...

 ...SW to Jura, Islay and Colonsay. The Paps of Jura can be seen just to the left of the trig point.

We walked down the ridge until we came to a point where we could see the lighthouse with Islay on the horizon.

By the time we climbed back to the summit of Eilach na Naoimh it had started to cloud over from the NW. The air became less hazy and we had a great view of Ben More and the entrance to beautiful Loch Buie on Mull. Loch Buie would be our next destination.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A harp and beehives on the Isle of the Saints.

We now slipped through the narrow channel between the SW end of Garbh Eileach and A' Chuli leaving the wild NW coast of the Garvellachs in our wakes.

A'Chuli is smaller and lower than its neighbouring isles. There are no beaches and the seals and cormorants just about have it to themselves.

SW of A'Chuli we came to the next island, Eileach an Naoimh (Isle of the Saints). This fine rock arch is known as An Carclach (The Harp)

By now we were needing a break and we stopped in the little inlet...

... which once served...

...the monastery that was founded here by St Brendan in AD542. The beehive cells on the island may be the oldest ecclesiastical buildings in Britain. As we ate our lunch we enjoyed a fantastic view over the Firth of Lorn to Scarba and Jura.