Friday, May 22, 2015

Breaking out of Cruib Lodge before dawn.

 Tony and I rose before dawn on the shores of \West Loch Tarbert on Jura.

We had spent a comfortable night in the middle room of Cruib Lodge a recently restored bothy.

It was locely and dry and the whitewashed plastered walls gave it a sense of luxury lacking in many bothies. After breakfast we tidied everything and left the place spick and span for the next visitor.

 Then it was time to load the boats and...

 ...we were on the water by 0830am. There was only one way to go....

...and that was back upstream to the Cumnann Beag narrows that connect the inner loch to the outer loch. The ebb started at 0600 and we arrived at 0900 when the ebb was in full flow on one of the biggest spring tides of the year. The previous evening we had drifted through at 5 knots but it was now running at 8 knots!

On the SE of the channel the tide was running at 8 knots so we snuck up the north side of the channel managing just 0.5 knots over the ground before...

 ...ferrying across and...

 ...breaking out into a small eddy on the other side where we worked our way up before...

 ...breaking in to the main flow again and...

 ...ferrying back to the other side once more. Repeat until exhausted.

A little more hard work eddy hopping got us into another tidal channel to the south of Eilan Dubh. Here the tide carried us more gently...

...back into outer West Loch Tarbert on the opposite side from Cruib Lodge. What a great start to a day!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Repositioning the forward fin uphaul on the paddle sailing version of the P&H Aries 155.

I have several times left my friends standing while paddle sailing the Aries 155 with the forward fin deployed. In this photo Mike is being left further and further behind. Although he has a sail, our course is too much to windward for him to successfully deploy it.

This is my secret weapon! The forward fin rotates on an axle and is pulled down by shock cord and raised by pulling...

 ...on the thin central control line, which is then cleated in the cleat  positioned just forward of the forward day mini hatch. I find it a bit of a reach and as I often have a camera bag attached to the deck elastics I can't even see it.

I solved this by removing the cleat and fitting a longer line to the forward fin. I run this through a plastic tube back to the existing cleat by the cockpit which I use for the sail sheet.

The forward fin uphaul is thinner than the sail sheet and the tapered cleat holds them each firmly. This arrangement saved fitting a third cleat and brought the forward fin uphaul into easy reach.

Lightly peated first night on Jura.

After we left the boathouse at the head of West Loch Tarbert on Jura we...

 ...entered one of the remotest and least inhabited areas of Europe. As darkness fell we negotiated a series of dog legs that connect the inner loch to the outer loch.

Our speed picked up to 10km an hour as dark cliffs and the twilight gathered round us we entered...

 ...the final narrows before we...

...were ejected into the outer loch in a series of swirls and boils that reflected gold from the sky.

In the gathering darkness we scanned the shoreline for Cruib Lodge, part of which is maintained as an open bothy by the Mountain Bothy Association with the permission of Ruantallain Estate. Eventually we spotted the little cottage. There was no light visible but there was a curl of smoke coming from a chimney so someone else was there. Tony knocked on the door but there were just a couple of grunts from two occupants who had decided on an early night. Fortunately this bothy has two rooms accessed by separate doors... we made ourselves at home next door. There is no supply of wood at this bothy but you can cut peat from the hillside above and leave it to dry in front of the bothy for the next person. The peat was pretty damp but I had brought a bag of barbecue charcoal and that got it going. Soon the bothy was filled with the distinctive aromatic reek of burning peat. Indeed we enjoyed lightly peated baked potatoes followed by some lightly peated Jura Superstition malt whisky. We certainly had arrived on Jura.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Jura portage, a miracle, an udder and the 177th Law of the Universe.

The key to our weekend trip to Jura and Islay lay in the timing of the strong tides in the Sounds of Jura and Islay and the fact that Jura is nearly bisected by...

...West Loch Tarbert in the west and Tarbert Bay in the east. The connecting isthmus is only 1.9km wide and 26m high. I had last portaged across here in 2007 but since then increasing knee dislocations a nasty accident to my knee, major operations to both knees and shoulder surgery and a few other health problems had prevented a return. However it was now payback time for the countless hours of physiotherapy. I was very much looking forward to returning to old haunts on Jura and Islay. One of the best places to read about Islay (and Jura) is Armin Grewe's

It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have taken advantage of the ebb tide to travel down the Sound of Jura to Tarbert, you are not going to arrive at hight tide! Indeed it was strangely reassuring to observe that the tide was distinctly low on our arrival thus confirming the 177th Law of the Universe did indeed still apply.

 The first part of the beach was hard firm sand and proved easy enough then you come to a deep layer of rotten sea weed at the high tide mark which is hard going. Fortunately it was not as extensive as on previous visits. From the top of the beach to the track to the wooden cabins is the worst bit. If you were on your own you might need to unload to get across this bit.

The two of us managed fine and after a short time we were on what passes as the main road on Jura. We saw no vehicles and no people but...

..this standing stone showed that we were not the first people to  come here. Deer were everywhere though. Some people think Jura got its name from an Old Norse word for deer or another Old Norse word for...

...udder, though I can't imagine why. However, neither Old Norse origin really stands up to close scrutiny. Ecclesiastical writing in AD678 recorded what we now know as Jura as "Doraid Eilinn". This was over a hundred years before the Vikings arrived in these parts and sacked Iona Abbey in AD802.

 It might be just 26m to the summit of the watershed between the West Loch Tarbert and Tarbert Bay but I was well and truly knackered (but also elated) to reach the summit. Tony punched the air in delight when he saw that the tide on the west side was not too far out.

The descent was not much easier. This was a smooth bit. much of the track has been repaired with a particularly coarse grade of hard core with lumps the size of bricks to snag wheels. On my last crossing I was using the KCS original trolley. This had to be used to return and rescue two other kayaks which had broken trolleys. The KCS was the best of the bunch at that time but it was not perfect. It was narrow and had a tendency to topple over on sideways slopes. It also sometimes twisted under the kayak and the kayak would crash down onto the wheels. On this occasion, I was testing the new KCS Expedition trolley. You can also read Ian's thoughts on the trolley here. The KCS Expedition trolley survived the challenge of the Tarbert portage unscathed as did my knees. A tribute both to KCS and my surgeon.

It was with some relief that I reached the head of West Loch Tarbert. In truth the portage is no big deal for anyone of reasonable fitness. However we were trying to beat the setting sun and I felt a great sense of achievement in being able to do what seemed quite impossible as recently as November 2013 (when I had my second knee operation). Miracles do happen.

The sun had already set. We still had our dry suits to put back on and paddle for a further 3km through the tidal narrows until we arrived at our accommodation for the night....

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Full bore in the Sound of Jura.

Mike kindly ran me from Oban to Carsaig Bay where we met Tony at 1630. We were bound for a circumnavigation of the south half of Jura.  This would involve a portage from Tarbert Bay on the east coast to West Loch Tarbert (Jura) on the west coast. We bid farewell to Mike and were on the water by 1730. We had 15km to go but this was the Sound of Jura and the tide was ebbing to the SW which would give us a considerable push.

As we paddled out of Carsaig Bay we caught sight of the distant Paps of Jura. Our route would take us on a wide circumnavigation of these peaks.

We even had a little breeze to assist our passage  and we soon travelling at the heady speed of 10 to 12km/hr.

 Away to the north Scarba loomed above the north end of Jura and the great Gulf of Corryvreckan.

We were heading for the lowest point on the Jura skyline but had to divert at right angles to the course of the very rapidly approaching...

...S73 Hermelin a German Navy Schnellboot, which was making her way up the Sound of Jura at high speed. Her 4 diesel engines give her a top speed of 40 knots so we had to paddle quite hard until we saw her port side and could relax.

 S73 Hermelin was wearing her NATO pennant number P6123 as part of the Joint Warrior exercise.

Thankfully she was going so fast that the racket of her engines soon disappeared leaving peace in the Sound of Jura once more.

 An hour and fifty minutes after leaving Carsaig Bay we arrived at Tarbert on Jura.

 We were welcomed by a large dog otter.

 Tarbert is not a big place and we saw more otters than people as..

...we paddled into the head of the bay at the end of the day.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The shortest sea kayak camping trip ever? Just 7km!

Mike and I  found ourselves with a spare evening in the Oban area, I was due to meet Tony the next day for a trip over to Jura. So we went to Ellenabeich on Seil and set off to arrive at a great wee camp site before sunset.

 All was quiet when we set off from the harbour which is sheltered by Easdale island.

The calm did not last long. As we went round the outside of Easdale harbour it was three hours after slack water. We had some fun as the full force of a spring ebb was running against the wind and swell. There are no photos on the next short leg as my attention was taken by the sea conditions. As I headed for our intended landing spot the skerries were a mass of breaking water. I could sense Mike hanging back as I went into a dog leg between two skerries. I shouted it would be calm inside...

 ...and so it proved to be. We slid into an almost mirror calm harbour of a former slate quarry.

You can see why these are called The Slate Islands. We landed on a slate beach. The crystals are iron pyrites or fool's gold. When you break a slate open they are bright gold but soon turn to rust.

As soon as I got my tent up and got changed, I went off looking for something...

...and I found it! In October 2004, when I last camped here, I hid a stash of logs I had bought in a garage in a little cave. Nearly eleven years later they were well seasoned and bone dry! We would have a fire later!

We now only had seconds to go before the sunset. Mike was able to run up the hill and catch it but I was a bit slower as my knees were a bit sore after the long drive and the rushing about.

Although I very nearly missed the sunset I was pretty pleased to just catch the sun as it slipped behind Mull.

From the ridge above our camp we had a great view of the Garvellachs and Mull .

We could just make out Colonsay on the horizon to the left of the Garvellachs.

The coast of Luing stretched away past Fladda lighthouse, Scarba and Jura to Islay some 50km away. The inlet to the left is the Cuan Sound and the tide rored through it all night!

 We stayed on the ridge as the sky above Mull turned to gold.
 As night fell we got the fire going and baked potatoes in the embers of my rediscovered logs as Venus shone brightly in the cold sky above.

The following morning dawned clear and bright, the tide was ebbing fast. As the old slate harbour empties completely, we wasted no time and were...

 ...soon packed and on the water for our...

...short return to Ellenabeich. Mike and I both agreed that though this may well hold the record as the shortest ever sea kayak camping trip, it had also been one of the best!