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Archive for the ‘Kayaking’ Category

So it seems I owe (both of?) my loyal followers an apology – where did this blog go?  Why so few posts of late? The simple answer is that we moved to a Smallholding, and to quote a friend, “Give your enemy a smallholding, and he will work himself to death”.  Well, not quite, but I have found that I’m busy enough these days that I can either do things OR write about them, but not both!

However, a few months ago it really felt as though the walls were closing in on me, and I knew I had to “get some wild”, as my wife would say. So, since this trip has been on my bucket list for nearly ten years, it didn’t take me long to make up my mind to go to Loch Shiel:

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“The Loch Shiel Round” is a classic canoeing route, but most people start in Glenfinnan, then paddle down the River Shiel and out to sea at Loch Moidart, before paddling back up Loch Ailort and getting the train back to Glenfinnan. However, I fancied something different, so one rainy May day saw me putting into Loch Linnhe, at Inversanda Bay.

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This wasn’t the greatest of starts, but what the hell – better a bad day on the water than a good day in the office, and all that! 🙂

Since the tide at Corran narrows is pretty severe, I aimed to get there just after the tide turned to come back in. However, it was evidently running a little late that morning, and I ended up eddy hopping up the West bank of the narrows and waiting for the ferry to leave before paddling past the slipway and into the upper loch.

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Soon after this, the wind built to a steady force 5 at my back, and I spent the next three hours or so concentrating on keeping upright, rather than taking photos. However, this meant I made quick progress, and was able to get through the narrows at the entrance to Loch Eil on the same flood tide, and eventually stopped for the night a couple of miles past The Narrows.

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The next morning, I paddled to the top of Loch Eil, and then paddled and lined my way up the river

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Before finally giving up and dragging my kayak over a field full of bemused looking cows and up to the main road.

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It’s at this point I must give a huge thankyou to Ronnie at Kayak Carrier Systems. After much research, I decided that the KCS Expedition Trolley would be the best choice for this trip, and it surpassed my expectations in every way. Not only did it cope perfectly with two long portages, but it also dis-assembled to fit in front of the foot-pegs in my Scorpio LV (low volume) kayak, with just the axle slipping easily into the stern hatch. This meant that I didn’t have to strap any gear onto the back of the boat, which made things far easier in the wind down Loch Linnhe.

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The portage along the A830 was straightforward enough, although to my alarm oncoming cars tended to slam on their brakes when they saw me, rather than just going round as they would have done if I had been wheeling a bike (which frankly would have taken up the same amount of road as the kayak). This meant that I had to listen for cars coming and then pull up onto the verge, which was not ideal. However, ninety minutes later, I reached the Rvier Callop, which was to take me down into Loch Shiel.

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Although I had paddled this section of river a few years ago without incident, I found this time that storms and floods had washed many trees across the river, making passage very slow and difficult. For this reason, and for road safety, I must regretfully say that if you are thinking of doing this trip yourself, try to arrange transport from Loch Eil to Glenfinnan. Suffice to say that after rather a difficult day, I decided that nobody could really blame me if I went for a steak and a pint at the Glenfinnan Hotel, whilst I watched the rain lashing down!

The next day gave more sunshine and showers as I paddled down Loch Sheil. One minute I would be paddling through this

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then five minutes later looking back to this

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and then forwards to this!

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until I came around the corner near Pollach, and was able to sail for a bit too 🙂

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I camped for the night at Crudh’ an Eich, looking over towards St Finan’s Isle

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and the next day paddled to Acharacle and portaged up and over to Salen on Loch Sunart

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before paddling the length of Loch Sunart and ending up back at my starting point of Strontian.

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All in all, this was a fantastic wee trip. Nothing hardcore (I was on my own after all), but wild enough to feel as though I’d had a proper adventure. I just wish I could find the time these days for more trips like this!

 

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The stats for this blog show that a fair few people are visiting after searching for “P&H Sirius”, and I’ve realised I haven’t really said anything more about my ongoing quest to tame the tippy beast that was Cyril the Sirius when I first got him.

Yes, I’ll be honest, my first outing on the sea  at Easter, scared me half to death, and I was convinced I’d made a terrible mistake in buying such a tippy boat. The whole ride was incredibly twitchy, such that I hardly even dared to take a photo, despite the relatively calm sea conditions. However,  this didn’t match with my previous experience of paddling one last year albeit briefly, so the whole thing had me scratching my head somewhat!

The previous owner told me that HIS predecessor had raised the seat so he could put lead sheets underneath to aid the stability, so I borrowed some lumps of lead from a friend to try, and actually this made a significant difference to the ride, (I’m no naval architect, but I presume this was due to the  lowered centre of gravity).

It got me thinking though, what sense did it make to raise up my own body  (80kg) and hence C of G  just so I could put lead underneath (10kg) to lower it again?!?

It was time for a closer look at that seat!

A quick internet search revealed that others had encountered similar problems before (here and here), and this was all the encouragement I needed to do something a bit drastic! 🙂

Which revealed….. well frankly I was speechless!

A plastic board had been placed on the bottom of the hull, and this had been glassed over to make a channel right underneath the seat. Now, I have no idea if the seat was actually raised to achieve this, but it was clear that there was plenty of scope for lowering it.

No more photos at this stage, as I haven’t done a permanent fix yet, but hey, what a difference – you really would swear he was a different boat entirely. Whilst he’s still a bit too lively for fishing from for example, at least I can now stop for a drink or take a photo without feeling as though I’m in mortal danger!  Anyhow, I’m at least convinced now that we’re going to be friends.

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So, after working far too hard almost every day for the whole of May, I was desperate for some time off just to retreat and recover my sanity. I needed “wild”, and quickly! A quick look at the map confirmed that there’s a fair bit of it to be found just 40 miles North of Glasgow, on Loch Long and Loch Goil. So finally with two precious days to myself, I loaded up the kayak with an excess of fishing gear, and headed out.

First stop was the newly refurbished bothy at the loch side, which was a pleasant spot for a bit of breakfast.

The MBA have done a fantastic job doing it up, but their ongoing struggle in maintaining these bothies was only too evident from reading the visitors book. “Fantastic bothy, just hope the local Neds don’t trash it” read one signed comment. “Then why scratch your name on the window frame then?” read the entry below!  I don’t think there’s much I can add to that really!!

Depressed with human nature again, I paddled on a bit, disturbing these oystercatchers from their low-tide mussel bed as I went.

It was an easy paddle round into Loch Goil, and since the fish weren’t biting (did the porpoises scare them off, or was it still too early for Mackerel?), I pitched camp instead.

And thus my grand plans for two active days of fishing and paddling quickly changed into two days lounging in the hammock, and watching the world go by.

The fishing will have to wait another month or two then, but for sheer R&R, this wee trip was just what the doctor ordered!

Reprise, 7th July:

I don’t know what we were thinking, looking for shelter from a Southerly breeze, on a loch called “Loch Long”, which runs basically South-West to North-East, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Loch Goil wasn’t much better, with the wind funnelling in between the hills, and generating the kind of waves that scare you witless at the time, but somehow reduce to mere ripples when you see the photos later (ok, I’m exaggerating, but I swear they  always feel three times bigger than they ever look in the photos!).

“What on earth is that?!?” I exclaimed, upon seeing some sort of gigantic tug boat approaching. (The trouble is that I wear my old glasses for kayaking, and the prescription is a few years out of date now!)  Still, I was pretty surprised to see the tug boat turn towards us, and morph into what looked like a giant catamaran, before finally getting a bit closer, and turning out to be none other than The Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, on its way up for a quick look at Carrick Castle.

“I hope the tourists brought their umbrellas with them”, I thought ten minutes later, as we were caught in a torrential downpour. That’s Scotland for you though, and as ever, it was great just to be outside enjoying it, whatever the weather.

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Mull Coast

Every time we go to Mull, it rains. So much in fact, that it’s become a bit of a tradition for us. Others rave about the scenery and the wildlife, but all we’ve really seen to date is rain and midges!

So it was with some disappointment that we watched the weather forecast growing increasingly dark and foreboding as the Easter weekend approached, with warnings of constant gales, sleet, and hail. Had we not booked the ferry already, we’d probably have chickened out to be honest, but decided to make a go of it anyway – after all, rain is traditional on Mull isn’t it? 🙂

We stayed at the Shielings campsite, which is centrally located right near Craignure ferry terminal. And so, on a grey morning, we sat watching Mr CalMac sailing back and forth, and wondering if we ought to get out of bed.

It was at this point, another couple of kayakers, Pete and Mark from Northern Ireland, came and embarrassed us out of bed, and insisted on taking us for a wee paddle around the coast. This was pretty small beer for them, given their far more ambitious plans for the rest of their week, but in our case it proved to be quite a challenge, with me still trying to get to grips with Cyril (now christened the tippiest canoe in the universe), and Mrs AOL still getting used to paddling the Capella.

The conditions were not exactly extreme, as you can see from the photos, but even so, I thought twice before getting the camera out of its bag to take this quick shot as we paddled past Duart Castle.  What benefit do you get in return for all this extra twitchiness? I’m still confused, as the Sirius doesn’t even seem much faster than the Capella. Perhaps it will perform better in more extreme conditions……. but if it’s scaring me witless in a force 3 with 4″ waves, I’m not sure I really want to try it to find out!! {Update – it turns out that the original seat setup had a whole lot to do with these problems. See this post for more details!}

The highlight of the trip was an otter swimming by quite close to the kayaks, which is something I’ve not seen before, being quite new to coastal paddling. I also suffered the embarrassment of inadvertently shouting “WOW! A SEAL!!”, when we spotted this wee fellow, much to the amusement of Mark and Pete (it turns out real sea kayakers don’t take photos of seals, so this was a similar faux pas to say a birdwatcher announcing “WOW! Did you see that Chaffinch!!?” at an RSPB meeting). Still, we thought he was cute!

So, we carried on around the coast a little, just as far as ‘Brian Phort’, (mixed reception for Mrs AOL’s homemade sponge!)  before heading back to base.

The wind picked up quite considerably on the way back, resulting in no further photos being taken 😉  However, we made it back to Craignure in one piece, whereupon I relaxed at last, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and promptly capsized.

Note to self: More practice required!!

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