Paddles with an Anas acuta...... unashamedly biased toward the sea kayak of that name (actually the voyages of two boats, one 'traffic over gold', one 'quill')

Saturday, 28 July 2012

African Wildlife on The Medway

 Nearer home, a weekend in Kent with its African wildlife,
 killer put-ins at low water,
and big ships. The Hestia Leader, 63,000 tonnes and 200m long came in ahead of us with two tugs, swung around and was pushed in sideways leaving a diminishing gap; a temptation which we didn't take!
The Westgard, 2,868 tonnes and 89m long, played tag all the way up the Swale. Pulling ahead at just above our paddling speed, then dropping back to 2kt as it waited for the bridge to lift, allowing us to overtake ahead and astern on the bends. Finally putting in a 6kt sprint to beat us under the bridge and managing to stay ahead all the way to its quay. Our efforts to keep up providing amusement for the friendly crew, who were busily sorting out the hawsers for making fast.
 The Lord Hinton, 14,200t and 155 m long, which shuttles across the North Sea with coal.
 A collection of lightships,
and the Scotline Emsland, 2,200t and 80m long with its cargo of 3,200 cu m of timber. This ship followed us all the way up into Chatham with the flood tide, not being local we were not sure where it was heading and the river was narrow. We listened on the port frequency expecting some comments about the kayakers, but radio silence, maybe we were not in the way. Eventually the flurry of activity on the timber quay indicated where it was heading for and we hurried on so it could dock. Coming back down the river with the ebb, they were busy unloading from the bow first. Shortly after, as we were taking a break at Darnet Fort, it passed us empty and bound for the sea again. A slick operation to avoid the Medway mud; alas, it was LW again by the time we landed.

Monday, 16 July 2012

A return to Loch Hourn

Once my friends had set off back across the Channel, I paddled on my own into Knoydart, up Loch Hourn and Loch Nevis. Maybe in search of my youth as well as the sea.. There were a lot of porpoises around, it is difficult to tell if they come up beside you by chance or design. 
The weather was threatening at times,
 but still mostly sunny.
The glaciers collected stones from all over Scotland for this raised  beach on the Sound of Sleat, a beautiful if windswept spot, heaven for any rock collector . The top beaches have nicely sorted frost polygons, a seasonally frozen sea was lapping at the permafrost in those days.
Still bleak enough in bad weather.
A walk up Ladhar Beinn, it all looked very familiar,
even the islets where Loch Hourn narrows.
Back home, I rummaged through the dusty boxes; here it was, a faded slide taken from my loch-side campsite in Spring 1977. Ladhar Beinn is the highest point on the skyline.
 Together with my younger self; standing stiffly for the clockwork and unreliable, especially in the frost, self timer; already a solitary wanderer. Wool from head to toe in those days. I never imagined that 35 years later I would still be wild camping along the loch shores, or pacing the hills.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A cautionary tale.. Lorgill Bay

Lorgill Bay, note the stony nature of the beach. Last time I was here, heavy swell had closed out the bay. We couldn't see beyond the breakers and seriously debated a blind surf onto what we imagined might be a sandy beach. The long tiring paddle on to Loch Bracadale in rough conditions wasn't appealing at all. This time with a flat sea we could land and camp. Oh, how pleased I was that we hadn't gone for that suicidal surf landing. Moral of the tale, look before you leap, and if you can't, don't leap!

Around Skye with some friends from across the Channel

The weather held, much warmer and sunnier than northern France.
However, we seemed to be spending a lot of time in the shade along the SW coast from Neist to Bracadale
Deep into caves,
and deeper still. The lack of swell allowing safe exploration into the darkest recesses; well, we did pick up a few scrapes on unseen obstacles.
Even a narrow crack can penetrate far into the darkness,
on the other hand, an impressive entrance may soon peter out.

Making use of the viking shipyard. It takes a coast hugging mariner to appreciate this place. Despite the complete absence of trees a pine marten had made this its home. Super inquisitive, any change, maybe only opening a hatch that had been closed and it was straight away on the case. I'd never had the chance before to appreciate the lithe body and strangely oversize legs and paws.
The Spar cave is very different.
Further down towards Sleat, an idyllic camp site with; sandy beach,
aerated ledges against the midge attack,
magnificent sunset,
and a friendly Minke, this one swam in from a mile out to come and see us, circling the group and passing underneath at shallow depth.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Interlude in Oban

 A break from my solitary travels, luckily the weather held for our Club meet in Oban over the royal-whatever week. The others hadn't brought the South Coast rain with them, sunshine all the way.
 The team took in Dorus Mor, Grey Dogs etc.
 and had some fun in the Falls of Lora which were running nicely on a Spring tide.
Can you see her smile? Liz that is; not Lora, who always has to have the last laugh.

Liz approaches a rocky shore. A great week.
(Most pictures courtesy of John Norris and Richard Stepien)

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The driest summer since records began...

The driest summer since records began, at least in the far NW of Scotland, 9 weeks without rain under a blue sky with a constant N to NE wind. Not warm, often only 10C, but glorious weather this summer non-the-less. Alas, I could only afford 6 weeks, but 6 weeks of good weather, the hills so dry you could walk dry shod through the deepest bog, the sea mostly calm and always friendly.

 Paddling on your own poses few problems on the water, the problems arise when trying to find a landing place for the night. With a convenient tide, say around 0600 HW the only worry is the visible area of beach or rocks. However, if landing at HW and leaving with the tide down there is always the thought of what might be beneath the waves. Clambering over rocks carrying even an empty boat over rough ground on your own is asking for trouble. With the rising land, many beaches are fossils, hanging above the modern rocky coast.  LW landings are easier in the sense that boat recovery problems are obvious. Here the gulley was filled with small stones to LW but I had to wedge the boat clear of the rising tide on drift wood.
An easy camp site in a sheltered inlet, this one has a bathroom with running water and radox salts, not ensuite, but just across the water.
 Often a very handy ancient slipway cleared of large stones can be found near old villages or sheilings, I always like using these, valuing the hard work of the pre 1742 inhabitants. At this spot a disturbance attracted my attention, a heron at the foot of the slipway had caught a large eel in knee deep water and a seal was trying to steal it. The heron swinging the fish high out of reach each time the seal made a lunge at the dangling head and tail. Eventually the heron hopped back onto dryland to swallow its catch, the seal could only watch and salivate.
This surf landing was fine near LW, but with its well ordered rounded rocks, would be a handful nearer HW, ideal for the LW landing and launch.
Elsewhere the only landing to be had was amongst the fish farm rubbish. At this spot everything went into the sea, not just the industrial waste, I could tell you the favoured flavour of the workers' lunch time crisps from the rubbish. Yet it need not be like this, the farm on Tanera Mor has remarkably clean beaches all around. Loch Laxford maybe the worst example, with mussel farm debris  covering every beach and nook and cranny in the rocks. A clear-up would cost millions.
Every cloud has a silver lining, click on the image, look closely beside the boat, and you will see a convenient length of large diameter plastic piping, ideal for use as a roller to recover and launch from a stony beach. If you look carefully enough before landing, there is almost always something to hand to make life easy for yourself.
On your own, wildlife is much more confiding, I had a very close encounter with a minke, surfacing alongside to check me out and these birds don't seem very worried.

 You can take your time to explore where and how you like,
 try every crack, I expect many people will recognise this one, quite a long way to steer straight with a swell surfing you through.

Time to look at every point of interest, Stoer was flat calm, not so Coigach a few days later when  a swell from the N plus an easterly F4-5 with an 8 mile fetch led to totally confused clapotis. Not a place to be getting the camera out when you are on your own; lovely as it was.