Thursday, March 29, 2018

Duncan Winning OBE

Today,  I received a phone call from Gordon Brown to tell me that Duncan Winning OBE died yesterday. He had been ill for some time.  I send my sincere condolences to Duncan's family. 

Duncan was a father figure in Scottish sea kayaking and because he gave of his time generously, he started many people off on a lifetime of sea kayaking adeventures. So  many people have stories about Duncan but I have never heard a bad word about him, he was a true gentleman.
I was fortunate to paddle with Duncan on many occasions over the years and how we talked! We were both interested in the history of recreational kayaking (or KAY-a-king as Duncan called it). Of course I was the student and he was the master. Indeed Duncan not only had an encyclopaedic knowledge of kayaking history, he was actually a very important part of its history himself. Duncan was very proud of the fact that all the boats he had owned and paddled since the age of 14 years had been designed by himself. This photo shows Duncan in one of his designs, the GRP Explorer by Island Kayaks of Skye.

We would get so engrossed in our discussions that we would fall far behind the others and finish after dark. I was lucky to paddle with Duncan many times on our home waters of the Firth of Clyde but we also paddled together in the Inner and Outer Hebrides and at the alternating sea kayak symposiums at Skye and Jersey, where he was one of the organisers. 

Duncan had visited the Outer Hebrides over a period of over 40 years. On one of his first visits he and his friend Joe Reid had been caught in a great storm. They were lucky enough to have found a tiny sheltered cove.

He was very keen to find that particular shell sand cove again which was hidden away in the fastnesses of Loch Roag, a huge sea loch on the west coast of Lewis. Unfortunately he could not remember exactly where it was because the storm had blown their map away. During the course of a day's paddle, we stopped at many beautiful white sand Hebridean coves but none was the right one. At last, just as the day was fading, we found Duncan's cove. It was a wonderful moment to share with Duncan.

Duncan's day job also involved the sea. He was an engine room draughtsman in Kincaid's shipyard at Greenock but his true love was designing and building kayaks. 1960 Duncan paddled a kayak that Ken Taylor brought back from Illorsuit (Igdlorssuit) in Greenland. Duncan was so impressed by the handling of this kayak that all his subsequent designs were influenced by it. The above photo taken in 1960 shows Ken in the Igdlorssuit kayak, which had been made for him by local kayak builder Emanuele Korniliussen in 1959.  It is now in the Kelvingrove museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Ken and Duncan were fellow members of Scottish Hostellers Canoe Club.  When Ken left to live in the USA he left the kayak in the care of Duncan and Joe Reid who had taught Duncan to paddle. In 1964 Duncan carefully measured the kayak and made the detailed drawing below.

Duncan freely shared this drawing throughout the small sea kayaking community of the time. Geoff Blackford was one of the people who built a ply-wood version from Duncan's drawing and called it the Anas Acuta. 

In 1972 Valley started to commercially build a GRP version of the Anas Acuta, which is still in production and to this day has infused the British style of sea kayaks with Igdlorssuit roots. This photo shows Andy Spink paddling an Anas Acuta in the waters of Scarp in the Outer Hebrides.

Due to a series of surgical operations I was off the water for some time but Duncan and I kept up our long conversations by phone and, until I could visit him, Duncan came to visit me. I have no doubt that his time spent with me aided and sped my recovery. The last time Duncan and I paddled together was in November 2014. We paddled till long after sunset. It seems just like yesterday. The last time I saw Duncan was about a year ago at Portencross on his beloved Firth of Clyde. His health problem prevented him paddling that day but we enjoyed another of our long conversations.

What a loss his passing is. He was a thoroughly decent and modest family man. His influence in his chosen recreation of sea kayaking is immeasurable due to his gift of time to others, willingness to share knowledge and quiet leadership. Farewell Duncan and thank you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A fourth luncheon on the machair at Silver Sands

We stopped on the southern side of the Silver Sands of Smirisary and...

...made our way up the shore to the...

...closely cropped machair which backs the beach. Here, below a rapidly sinking sun, we partook of our 4th luncheon which we washed down with a not ungenerous snifter of 12year old Caol Isla.

After our comestibles had been suitably dwindled, it was time for a... prandial perambulation over the machair to the headland where we took in the view to the Small Isles to the west and... Rubh Arisaig and Skye to the north.

 We left Silver Sands and paddled north until we could...

 ...turn to the east and enter the Sound of Arisaig.

The sun was setting as we paddled on towards Glenuig Bay where we drew the boats up in the gathering darkness. Sadly there would be no further luncheons on this day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The hidden isles and recesses of Loch Moidart

 We left Castle Tiorum and continued...

 ...our exploration of the South Channel of Loch Moidart. The wooded sides of Riska island fall steeply into the blue waters of the loch.

Our tour of the inner Loch Moidart continued past Eilean an Fheidh (deer isle) and...

...tiny Eilean na Craoibhe (tree isle). Normally we are in a desperate hurry here as we have  usually been rushing before the ebb tide dries the \North Channel. This time we were... no hurry as we were waiting for the flood tide... fill the the North Channel. It was most pleasing to round the east end of Shona Beag and see clear water stretching away down the channel towards the Sgurr of Eigg on the distant horizon..

We passed the long abandoned hamlet of Egnaig on the north shore. Its inhabitants had abandoned their homes long before the first road came to this part of Moidart in 1966. The road arrived well before grid electricity which did not arrive in Moidart until 1988!

The Sgurr of Eigg is a magnificent sight all the way down the north channel. It was formed when an ancient river valley was flooded with lava from the Rum volcano. The lava cooled quickly forming very hard pitchstone. The glaciers in the Ice Age then scoured away the softer rocks that had contained the river valley, leaving the Sgurr as it is today.

The north channel has a narrow entrance hemmed in by precipitous cliffs then...

....opens out into an area of reefs with coral sand beaches that are exposed at low tide.

As we left Loch Moidar,t a pair of sea eagles watched us from high on these cliffs.

Our bows turned north again. It was getting late in the afternoon and fourth luncheon was calling. Not far ahead we spotted the ideal place...

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Fair birlin' doon the loch to Castle Tioram.

We left Shoe Bay and set off up the South channel of Loch Moidart with both a fair wind and a flood  tide behind us. We were soon birlin' doon the loch at a most respectable rate of knots.

As we paddled deep inland, the loch narrowed and the wind dropped. To the south the land was relatively low lying and is where the outflow of River Sheil carries the fresh water from Loch Sheil into the salt water of Loch Moidart.

 To the north we were hemmed in by the rough slopes of Eilean Shona which fell steeply into the sea.

 Ahead and to the east, lay our next objective...

...Castle Tiorum (pron. Cheerum) whose ancient grey walls rise from the grey rocks of...

 ...the tidal island upon which it stands. On its NW side there is a sheltered cove, which at one time would have had...

 ...wooden birlinns, like this modern reconstruction, drawn up on its sands. Many think the Celtic birlinns were developed from Viking longships but it was actually the other way round. The Celts were using birlinns some 800 years before the time of the longships. Indeed, in his third book of the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar describes them in detail and how they were superior to the Roman galleys.

 Today it was kayaks and an F-RIB rather than birlinns that drew up on the sands  below...

 ...the castle walls. Long gone castle defenders might have viewed our approach with some suspicion but we were intent on nothing more than...

 ...stopping for our fourth luncheon....

Friday, March 09, 2018

Setting off hell for leather to Shoe Bay.

Donald quickly disappeared over the horizon towards the mouth of the South Channel of Loch Moidart.  We had arranged to meet at Shoe Bay for our third luncheon. We fully expected he would be there long before us.

Unfortunately for Donald, the various entrances to this delightful spot are not at all easy to spot from the sea and when...

...we arrived at the inner recesses of Shoe Bay there was no sign of him. A quick call on the VHF ascertained that he had explored most of the southern coast of Eilean Shona without success and was nearly at Castle Tioram. A quick turn around and...

..the hare sheepishly rowed the final few meters into the delightful turquoise waters of Shoe Bay.

Shoe  Bay makes an excellent spot for third luncheon, if you can find it, but watch out for the soft sand or you might find out why it is called Shoe Bay!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Paradise lost and found and a miserable rock at Cul na Croise (Eden).

 We  had just set off from Camas an Leige on the north Ardnamurchan coast when Donald appeared from the west. He had very nearly made it round Ardnamurchan Point but wisely turned back due to increasing swell.

We could not resist landing again and this time Cul na Croise was peaceful as the helicopter had departed. After catching up and after Donald stretched his legs he...

...set off towards our next rendezvous on Eilean Shona.

 We set off more leisurely, enjoying the last moments on Cul na Croise.

Either the swell had got up or Donald's little 6HP motor produced more wake than we were expecting.

As we paddled along the strand, just beyond the surf line, we came across two sculptures which had been...

 ...left behind by the participants in the Eden reality TV show. I know the participants did not find the paradise that they had been hoping to find here but what they had lost, we had found.

We turned our bows to the north and paddled inside the lonely islet of Sgeir an Eididh (loosely translated: miserable rock), we did not stop.

We made landfall at Rubha na Caillich north of Ardtoe. Our next destination was another...

...piece of paradise: turquoise waters leading to a dazzling shell sand beach on the north side of the South Channel of Loch Moidart.