Way back in the early nineties there was a really healthy mountainbiking scene in Helensburgh (where I live). In those days mountain bikes weren't as universally popular as they are today but there was a group of us who used to race and ride together regularly. The group comprised of older guys (in their twenties) like me and my friends and a young crew of kids who were in their last year or so at school. We travelled all over Scotland attending races and competing in the Scottish mountainbike race series and in between races and out of the race season we trained and rode together just for pleasure.
Fast forward twenty(ish) years and I'm starting to develop a passion for paddling canoes and kayaks. I've always been one to read up a lot on topics that I'm interested in so I searched for info online on canoe and kayak forums. Whilst trawling through the interesting (and not so) threads I noticed a name that was familiar. Graeme was one of the mountainbiking kids back in the day and when I saw the name on a kayak forum I wondered if it could be the same person? All it took was one post from me to discover that it was indeed the same Graeme from all those years ago, what a small world we live in!
It turned out that we were both planning to buy canoes in the near future and we've been corresponding about canoe choices since. I bought my canoe first and whilst a Nova Craft Pal hadn't been on Graeme's original shortlist, he became curious about the boat so I'd offered him the chance to have a test paddle in mine sometime.
After a false start last week we arranged to meet up on Saturday for a paddle on Loch Lomond (he hadn't paddled the loch properly before). Graeme also hired a Wenonah Aurora canoe to paddle and compare with the Pal as this was another boat on his shortlist.
On Friday I'd planned to go snowboarding to Glencoe (which had great snow cover) but I couldn't find anyone to accompany me. I know from experience that I don't really enjoy snowboarding on my own, it just doesn't work for me as a solo activity so I started to think about heading out onto the loch a day early and bivying out (I really enjoy solo paddling and camping). Fueling the fire was the fact that after twenty years of faithful service I'd just replaced my old down sleeping bag with a new one that I was keen to put to the test. I texted Shuzzy (Chris) on the off chance that he'd want to come too (I didn't expect him to manage it). I was surprised and chuffed to hear from him that he was well up for it but wouldn't be able to leave until after he got home from work. We decided to go two up in the Pal (a first) as I was pretty sure that there'd be ice on the loch which wouldn't suit Chris's SUP. I went out and bought food and logs for the fire and loaded everything into and on the van ready to go as soon as Chris got home and sorted his kit out.
After letting Graeme know my plans, I picked Chris up at around 6pm at his house. It'd already been dark for two hours, the temperature was well below freezing and snow was forecast so it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that we loaded the Pal up at the usual put in.
Next morning the sky had cleared and the temperature had dropped dramatically, it promised to be a beautiful dawn.
It was strange to paddle the Wenonah, first impressions were that it had a lot more freeboard than the Pal, the seats were set much lower (preventing kneeling in the way I like to paddle the Pal) and Chris and I both agreed it felt a bit sluggish after my boat. We headed on towards the Geggles the narrow channel between Inchcruin and Inchmoan which I thought would probably be frozen. As we approached we spotted a channel through the ice and were able to sneak through.