Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Wind, waves and general wetness!

I've been trying to get an overnight paddling trip with my friend Sean for ages now but due to the fact that our days off never coincide (we work opposite shift patterns) it's been difficult to arrange. Sean was off work over the festive period and we'd identified 3rd and 4th January as possible days for finally getting away. As the dates grew closer the forecast started to look less promising and added to that I picked up a heavy cold. I knew Sean was keen to go, (he'd bought a new tent for doing these trips last summer which was still unused) and I was itching to blow away the Christmas cobwebs, I figured we could use the Loch Lomond islands to get at least some shelter from the wind on the way out and hoped the wind would drop as had been forecast for our return journey.
 We loaded my canoe and Sean's kayak onto my van then headed into Helensburgh to pickup some food before driving over to Aldochlay to put in.

I elected to head round the southern end of Inchtavannach based on what I could see of the water state from Aldochlay and on our drive over, it fairly quickly became obvious that this was a mistake. I had to land and deploy my double bladed kayak paddle to make any headway and Sean was struggling with his boat weathercocking. Eventually we turned onto a more northeasterly course and had the wind and swell running more behind us, this was good fun in the Pal which seems to like surfing! We decided to land on the western end of Inchmoan to check out a potential campsite I had in mind which would have the advantage of a ruined building and lots of big trees to provide our tents with shelter. The only slight fly in the ointment was that the final 10 metres of water before the beach were frozen solid with 3cm thick ice. It was quite good fun breaking through this to make a channel.
By this time the rain had started but we managed to get our sprawling base camp set up without any major problems (even figuring out how to put Sean's new tent up). Dinner followed then we set up Sean's kids beach tent as a shelter for us and the firebox. I was so impressed with how well this worked that I bought one myself off ebay for £12 when I got home (mine will be green though). The shelter looked curiously like a Chinese lantern when lit by the fire and viewed from behind!
Sean revived his childhood love of chopping logs!
 We spent an enjoyable evening chatting, drinking tea and eating chocolate mini rolls. We'd burnt all my supply of logs by midnight so hit the sack. I love being cosy in a tent and hearing the rain hammering on the flysheet and that's exactly what we got!

  I woke around 9am to hear the wind roaring through the trees and waves smashing into the beach opposite our camp and started to worry that I might struggle to get back if conditions were much worse than the previous day. I knew Sean's kayak would be okay in a big swell but I also knew that once the waves become high enough to start coming over the top of an open canoe you're in serious trouble (particularly if solo as you can't paddle and bail at the same time). There was nothing for it but to stick my head out and have a look so I got up and fired up the Kelly for a brew. The wind was blowing but a lot of the noise was caused by all the broken up shards of ice smashing against each other and the shore in the waves. We had a leisurely breakfast watching the squalls blowing through and chatted about our options. We decided that any thoughts we'd had about having a decent paddle around the islands would have to be abandoned in favour of getting into a decent position to make a dash back to Aldochlay during any lulls in the wind.  
Eventually we were all packed up and ready to go. I had no real experience of the limitations of my boat in these conditions so decided to stick my nose out from our sheltered beach and try to head for the lea shore of Inchtavannach by way of a tiny island that'd offer me a chance to shelter and rest part way across.
If you panned left from this photo you'd see the small island and also the white horses surging down the channel between Inchmoan and Inchtavannach. I set off tentatively from the sheltered water near the beach into the swell which was on the beam of my canoe, I pushed on but a couple of times the waves broke right over the top of the gunwale into the canoe, it didn't feel too scary so I kept going. Fairly soon I reached the islet and was confident I could get right across to the shelter of Inchtavannach where I waited for Sean to join me. He reported having a couple of scary moments where he'd had to brace against the waves in his kayak. In the trees on Inchtavannach were five Fallow Deer including a white stag and a normal coloured one.
From here we had an easy paddle downwind towards the narrows. As we got closer though we could see the distinctive line in the water that signified that it was frozen solid. I could see what I thought was the shortest route to clear water down the shore of Inchconnachan while Sean decided he'd try to bash his way through the middle of the ice. I pushed and lined my canoe for about  a hundred metres along the shore breaking a channel as I went then went back with the painter off my boat to tow Sean through (he'd realised the folly of trying to break through centre of the ice sheet). As I set off in clear water again the tail wind was so strong that all I had to do was rudder with my paddle as I whizzed along through the narrows. All too soon we turned back west to head for our jump off point to cross back to Aldochlay. We stopped opposite the straits between  Inchtavannach and Aldochlay and I hiked across to have a look at the water state. If it was too bad this would be our last point to stop and wait for a safe opportunity to cross. The water didn't look too rough but I could see that the wind was gusting strongly, I thought we could make it safely but it was going to be hard work. I went back to Sean and told him my thoughts. I reckoned it'd be almost impossible for me to make any headway against the wind but I thought I'd be able to ferry glide diagonally across the strait to reach the shelter of the shore of the loch then I hoped we'd have enough shelter to sneak up the far bank back to the van. Sean agreed and said he'd stick with me in case either of us got into difficulties. Nothing for it then but to kneel in the middle of my canoe for maximum stability and get the double bladed kayak paddle out again for maximum propulsion. It was a bit tense to start off and the odd wave broke over the bow of the canoe (but not enough to warrant bailing) but after a few minutes hard slog I realised we'd be okay. We plugged away and eventually reached the safety of the far bank, that only left a sheltered paddle along the shore and back to the van.
  It was great to finally get a trip with Sean and he thoroughly enjoyed it. The conditions were harsh but we coped okay. We were comfy in camp and it was good experience to paddle in more challenging conditions. I think I'll try to organise better weather for Sean next time though!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic, sounds like a great adventure!!!! :-)!!!