Friday, 26 November 2010

Ord of Sleat: 17th November 2010

Sleat (pronounced like the English would say "slate") is the South-Western-most of the Skye peninsulas. Each peninsula on Skye has it's own character and each is equally beautiful in it's own right. The North side of Sleat looked like it would provide shelter from the Force 6-8 Sou-Westerlies that were being produced by a complex low pressure area moving around Northern Ireland. Given the tides, the plan was a trip towards the Western tip of Sleat, then back towards the start point at Ord, then as far as was interesting towards the neck of Loch Eishort, before returning to Ord.
I had few expectations for this trip. My blisters had healed to the point where they were manageable. Time was running out before I had to return to Cheshire and if I did another day off the water, I'd go stir-crazy. I just needed a place to paddle.
Small cliffs saved me from the F6 - 8 winds blowing offshore, but I had to be careful - if I ended up out of my boat, it was either a self-rescue, a call for help, or a very long, cold, blustery drift to the Strathaird peninsula! I'm always dressed for immersion but only the first rescue option was pallatable and even then I didn't want to get to that point!
So it was a comfortable "off" from Ord at low tide thanks to the slipway. On the outwards journey, the light was no good for photography. Otters peered cautiously from distant skerries but dull grey skies and strong offshore blasts kept my concentration on paddling rather than photography.
By the time I reached Tarskavaig Point it was obviously no place for a paddler without the support of friends. Having said that, the light started to improve.



Tarskavasig Point looked rough but passable. However, I wasn't sure about the sea state if the tide changed and I had to padle back in a wind-against tide situation across this headland. The best plan was to head back towards Ord. VHF communications were breaking and there were some seriously (for me) strong downdraughts from the small cliffs. It was a good experience seeing gusts approaching  and having to manage them by bracing or turning to face them.
On the return, the sun came out and lit the castle...



 It also lit the nearby Eilean Ruairidh, leaving Strathaird in shadow...


The area is renowned for otters...


...and the locals know that mink in the area a threat...


Although the otters were shy, this mink dipped and twisted in and out of rocks, staring beligerantly at me as I videoed it.
Travelling past Ord on the flowing tide, I wasn't sure whether I'd see anything worth travelling to. Amazingly, I came across the coral beach of Eilean Dubh, with beautiful sunlight streaking across the Cuillin...




This was a great end to the day. During the paddle back to Ord, I reflected on an afternoon of wildlife, wind, and untimately, great light.

Loch Duich - Storms: 16th November 2010

No paddling today. Stornoway Coastguard said that it was Force 11 in the Minch. This is what it looked like in Loch Duich. Every half hour or so, a sweeping gust would turn into a circular column of water whipped out of the sea. I was on the shore taking these photos. It was difficult to open the car door and I'd deliberately parked facing upwind to avoid a sideways blast on the sea kayak on my car roof. Knowing the indicators on the Beaufort scale, I looked around me to judge the phenominal wind forces around me. Fully mature beech tree trunks were actually swaying and twisting in the wind. Two people could probably span their arms around these tree trunks, but the wind strength was such that they were flexing right down to ground level. What would it be like to paddle in these conditions? Would it be possible to stay upright? If caught out in the middle of a Loch alone in something like this, what should I do? A roll? A sculling brace?




Plockton and Skye Bridge - 15th November 2010

Today's solo paddle was just before the gale / storm force winds crossed the Minch and hit the inner isles and mainland. Keeping an ear to Stornoway Coastguard weather bulletins, I headed out from Plockton and made my way upwind and against an incoming neep tide towards Lochalsh. The light that's so essential for photography wasn't there, but I was just grateful for the sheltered location. Nonetheless, I was looking for light - the thing that makes an ordinary photo a great photo - anyone into photography will always say "It's all about the light".
Eventually I reached Skye Bridge and the smaller section was a good place to check the strength of the current.... easy ...
...although this photo took a few times paddling "upstream" and being swept back through the pillars in order to get the right shot. Then it was time to check for larger vessels before crossing the Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. Once in the slower moving water on the Kyleakin side, there was plenty of time to view the bridge...


...and to check for traffic. The tide was flowing towards the bridge, so I timed it to paddle across back to the Kyle of Lochalsh side, then drift underneath and past the lighthouse. En route is Gavin Maxwells house. He wasn't known as a shark conservationist, but the sun shone on his house...


 The slow tide gave plenty of time to photograph the lighthouse....


 ...and the light was great!

Paddling back towards Plockton, the tide was still on the flow, and the wind was now behind me so I knew it was going to be relatively fast progress through the small islets to the mouth of Loch Carron. Just as well, because I then noticed I had burst blisters on the palm and a finger on my right hand. It was a long way back to Plockton. It was starting to hurt. I had maybe two hours of daylight left. With some days of paddling left I knew my hands needed looking after, so in order to prevent further damage to the blisters, I adopted a paddling style using just two fingers on my right hand to power the Werner Corryvrecken blades. This isn't the sort of thing they're designed for, as they're for high strength styles. Nonetheless, they worked well for me.
Entering Loch Carron, I saw a yellow dot in the far distance. I knew it must be a buoy and didn't think much of it. Although I hadn't noticed it on the way out from Plockton, I paid more attention to fishing boats as they purposefully went from pot to pot, checking for a catch. Every now and then, I'd stop to rest my right hand so as not to pick up an injury. Meanwhile the bright yellow dot didn't move and I was still well over a mile away from it, if not two. Whatever it was, it was mechanical rather than natural, because big animals obviously don't come in that colour. As the minutes ticked by and I approached, I became more conscious of it. At first, I wasn't sure, but occasional glances became longer stares, and... yes... it was moving. In fact, it was heading away from me - taking action to avoid me by heading to shore - bobbing along as it did. In spite of the twighlight I couldn't believe what I was seeing! My camera came out and I zoomed in to take photos of it in case it escaped. I could clearly see that it was made of metal and although it was fairly upright, the effort it was putting into moving made it rock in an ungainly way, as if it's feet were running faster than the rest of it's body, which was almost being left behind.
As the sun had set and twighlight approached, the chase was on! I know a bit about sea navigation and although I was still a long way away, took a transit between the yellow object and the shore. It was actually heading into a bay with a sheltered beach. This was completely illogical! Right in front of me was this metal device "doing a runner", behaving like wildlife keeping it's distance. What was powering it? I was catching it up and I continued to take transits as it got closer to the shore. I'd forgotten my blisters as this was reaching the levels of being a paddling career highlight - if not more.
Then stroke by stroke, the thousands of yards became hundreds, which became less. The yellow buoy with a small bow wave, bobbing in the tidal current with a wake behind it, was clearly anchored and hadn't moved an inch!
It was so strange to paddle up to the bright yellow buoy, rest by it and confirm that it was inanimate. To sit next to it in my kayak and look at the unusual construction of metal plates and solar panels. More significantly, it was odd to think about how logically I knew this could not be happening, yet my eyes saw that it was happening. The paradox was something I'll never forget. I also wonder, and worry, that a similar scenario may arise not in a benign situation, but in a more life threatening place - and I trust my eyes rather than my logic.
I still think of the buoy as having a special character. If you ever catch it up, please say hello...


In the photo above, the moon has risen and the sun was well down. I snatched a few more photos before paddling on to reach the unusual lighthouse marking the way into Plockton...


The sweeping cirrus clouds warned of worse to come.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Arisaig and Morar - 14th November 2010

Weather forecasts for the week didn't sound good. Before driving up to Skye, I thought I'd take advantage of some clear weather to see views of the Small Isles. Setting off from Lon Liath beach near Back of Keppoch, the plan was to head towards Mallaig harbour, then double back to the starting point, before heading East to the skerries at Arisaig, then back to the starting point again. It's like doing a "there and back trip", but you're never too far from the starting point, but it only works if the tidal currents are negligible.
Anyway, it's always great to stop at the beach by Rubh 'an Achaidh Mhoir, one of the Local Hero locations. It's a great view to Rum and Eigg....


If it's a high tide at Morar, it is possible to travel up Morar Bay to what must be one of the shortest rivers in the country. It runs from Loch Morar to the sea in about 100 metres as a whitewater river. As it is approached, the boiling eddyline turns kayaks in all directions, making photography a bit tricky....


I'd love to try the river section in my Burn!


I didn't reach Mallaig because I was put off by the austere modern grey buildings on the outskirts. In hindsight, turning back was a mistake as it would have been interesting to paddle around the harbour.
On the return trip, the winter sun was starting to drop...


...but there was still time to look at Eigg from the Arisaig skerries...



...before returning via Back of Keppoch, where an open canoe was paddling in the sunset...







Monday, 22 November 2010

Loch Linnhe - 13th November 2010

I set off from Port Appin with a rough plan to look at the Eastern section of Lismore Island then around Shuna if the weather allowed. Throughout the trip it was a mixture of heavy rain and sunshine - sometimes both together. A neep tide and gentle breeze made the trip quite relaxed.
First stop was the small lighthouse outside Port Appin...


...then a quick paddle back Westwards to the Port Appin Buoy, where the sea was a bit confused. I sheltered in the eddy...


...before heading back East towards Shuna. This photo was looking back at the Northern tip of Lismore...


The rain showers came and went as I circumnavigated Shuna...


Evening came quickly when passing Castle Stalker...


Then a final look down Loch Linnhe before returning to Port Appin...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

PyranhaFest 2010

I aimed for quality rather than quantity this year because I spent more time on the water. Here's a selection ...

The Graveyard...







Dropping down towards Miss Davies Bridge - Sunday morning....





The Graveyard, Sunday morning....






Playing above the Graveyard....








Bashing the composite prototype Loki ...oldskool fun!


and Joshua Kelly paddling a Venture Canoe just above the Cafe.. 


Roll on next year!



Saturday, 2 October 2010

Penrhyn Mawr and The Stacks

Penrhyn Mawr and The Stacks, Anglesey: A fast spring tide that got lumpy, plus the cliffs and caves were impressive.

Holyhead lifeboat from Parliament House Cave...




Easy water North of South Stack...




Penrhyn Mawr on the horizon...



Me outside a cave ...