Monday, 10 October 2011

Point Sands Sessions.

The windsurfing forum that I frequent has recently had a thread about Point Sands campsite near Tayinloan in Kintyre. I've long been a fan of Point Sands having spent quite a few camping trips there with various friends and family members. The campsite is situated right on the edge of a nice beach and whilst the facilities are a little dated it's heaven for watersports such as kayaking and windsurfing. As my surgery was canceled last week I decided to see if anyone fancied a roadtrip over the weekend to stay at Point Sands and try to get in some windsurfing. The uptake wasn't huge (not surprising at such short notice) but Iain was up for it and a new forum member Garyth expressed an interest too. David and Arran were also possibles.
Friday morning saw me heading to Kintyre with the van loaded with windsurfing and camping kit. It's a lovely drive and Kintyre is one of my favourite places, on this occasion I was blessed with sunshine too. I was at the campsite first and got my self set up after booking in with the pleasant couple who work as wardens on the site. Pretty soon Iain arrived too and we hastily rigged up despite the fact that the wind was a bit light. We sailed about for a while and Iain was struggling to get on the plane as he only had smaller kit with him. I had my big board and 7.2m sail with me so had a bit more success but it was lovely to be out in the clean water in such beautiful surroundings and sunshine. As time wore on we saw a caravan arrive towed by a Disco with boards on the roof. Taking a long shot we guessed it might be Garyth so we had a breather and wandered over to say hello. It was indeed Garyth and his dog Bruce so after a chat we headed back into the water while he got his caravan set up. The wind had picked up and pretty soon I had to change down to my 100 litre board and 6.2m sail while Iain started to enjoy himself more and more. The sailing was great as we headed out into the Sound of Gigha towards Cara island nicely powered up and with some nice chop to get air off. As I haven't been sailing much recently I started to feel a bit tired (especially swimming and waterstarting on the outwards tack) so I went and grabbed the video camera and took some footage of Iain sailing as the sun went down behind Gigha and Jura. Eventually we reluctantly had to call it a day due to the failing light but Iain said it had been his most enjoyable sail of the year so far. We got changed and I cooked us dinner under the gazebo then Garyth came over and we chatted while sinking a few drinks with the lovely mellow post session buzz that you get after a great sail. Bed came pretty early as we were  shattered and Iain wanted to be up early to grab a quick sail before he had to head home due to family commitments the next morning.
I awoke to grey skies, drizzle and light winds, not ideal. Iain went out to attempt a sail but quickly lost interest in wallowing about underpowered and came in. David  from the forum arrived and had a chat and a look at conditions while I was making and eating my breakfast. He decided to head down to Westport to see if he could get some wave sailing later in the day. Iain too left to drive home so Garyth and I headed out for a sail. The wind was frustratingly just too light for me to get planing consistently on my big board and sail (although I managed the odd run blasting in the footstraps) but it suited Garyth as he had never sailed on the sea before and is a  relative newcomer to the sport. We stayed in the water for a few hours before calling it a day. I decided to treat myself to a hot shower then we both ordered fish and chips from a take away caravan on the site. While we waited I joined Garyth and Bruce in the caravan as it started to pour down. After a while the lady from the take away delivered our dinner to the caravan door for us which was very kind of her! We ate our fish and chips, had a few beers and chatted as the rain hammered off the caravan then at about ten thirty I made a run for my van. The wind was really strong during the night rocking the van about as the rain battered on the roof, I felt very cosy in my warm sleeping bag and was looking forwards to an exciting sail on my smallest board in the morning.
I woke to hear the wind still howling and the rain still pouring but as soon as I got up it started to moderate and after breakfast the wind had died completely. I couldn't believe it as the forecast was for strong winds all day. I slowly started packing my camping stuff up hoping that the wind would pick up again as predicted but I was out of luck. There was nothing for it but to say cheerio to Garyth and Bruce (who were staying on for a few days) and hit the road home.
 It was a disappointing end to the trip but it was great to meet Garyth and the memories of Friday's fantastic sail were still fresh in my mind as I splashed my way home through the floods and puddles from the torrential overnight rain.

Chris, Iain and Fraser versus Hurricane Katia!

Back in September the tail of (what had been) Hurricane Katia hit the west coast of Scotland. I haven't been windsurfing much recently but Iain and Fraser were keen to try sailing in the strong winds. The bay we sailed in was quite sheltered from the waves but the wind was really strong and gusty (ripping the sails out of our hands at times) making windsurfing very difficult. Still it was fun trying. After we packed up I took a drive through town to see how big the waves were on the less sheltered sections of the Clyde.

Duck Bay to Inchcailloch.mp4

Graham stayed up in Scotland for a week after the OCSG meet at Tighnabruaich. On his way home he met me at Duck Bay on Loch Lomond and we squeezed in a sail across to Inchcailloch for lunch and then back again. The wind was light and variable but I was pleased to get a sail and Graham was pleased to extend his holiday by a few hours. It was also a chance for me to try out my tiny new video camera that shoots HD footage. It works well other than on maximum zoom.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

OCSG Tighnabruaich.

I've enjoyed the OCSG meets that I've attended a lot more than I'd expected over the last six months. I'm not really a "clubby" person but the OCSG crowd have proved to be friendly, sociable, helpful, knowledgeable but most of all great fun. The closest meet geographically was the Scottish Summer meet at Tighnabruaich but sod's law meant that I was scheduled to be working the weekend it was to be held. Despite my best efforts to swop shifts it wasn't possible so it looked like I'd miss Tighnabruaich. A glimmer of hope appeared when a substantial number of members decided to stay for longer than just the weekend (most were traveling up from England for the meet so it made sense for them to extend their stay longer to make the long drive worthwhile). This meant that I could manage a flying visit and pick up the outriggers I'd ordered from Solway Dory (who were attending) and hopefully get some sailing in a new area.
Sunday night I was on night shift at work so I loaded the van ready to go straight from work in the morning. I knew I'd be really tired but it was the only way I could make the meet.
The drive round to Tighnabruaich is very picturesque so it really wasn't a chore. I had the cold, lethargic feeling that I always have after a night shift but I knew this would pass if I ate breakfast and stayed active. I arrived at the campsite at Carry Farm Sailing School at about 7:30 in the morning, a few early birds were stirring around camp including Graham and Stephen so I chatted with them while eating some breakfast. People slowly emerged from their tents and Dave Stubbs gave me my new outriggers (which I was keen to fit and try out). The sailing conditions looked very light though so to save time I decided not to bother faffing about fitting new bits and just get out and make the most of the limited time available. The consensus was that a trip to the Burnt Isles in the Kyles of Bute would be good so that was the plan.
As everyone made their preparations for the trip the wind started to freshen with some lively gusts blowing through. Dave sought me out and said he'd fit my outriggers while I got ready as he felt the conditions now warranted their use. By the time I made it down to the beach it was clear that the weather had changed significantly. A few boats had already launched and were sailing about in the bay assessing the conditions and waiting for us all to form up. As I waited for my turn to launch at the top of the slipway a monster gust came through blowing Dave's boat off it's trolley and onto it's side despite the canoe still having it's sail furled! It was clear to me that we might need to reassess our options. I helped Stephen launch his boat then we put mine in. There was a bit of a shorebreak forming and sailing off the beach necessitated wading out to waist depth beyond the breaking waves before jumping aboard and sailing away. Any delay meant your canoe would be beaten back onto the beach by the waves. Stephen seemed to be having problems managing this so I offered to hold his boat while he got in and got ready to go, he declined saying that he was going to hold off and see what the weather did. I had new outriggers to test so I reefed my sail down (being unsure how well the outriggers would work) and set off. The canoe reared up as I sailed out through the waves but I made it out into the bay and started sailing backwards and forwards. I could see Greg in his Flashfire (a narrow high performance solo canoe) and Dave Stubbs (with Greg's daughter Hilaire onboard) in his Fulmar decked canoe landing on the shore further upwind. Graham, myself and Dave Poskitt were all still in the bay. Keith and Ann  Peter and Penny and Jeff and Ellen (who'd all buddied up) were heading north towards the Kyles in their canoes.
I quickly realised that the outriggers worked brilliantly and wished I'd not reefed but I didn't want to brave the shorebreak again to go in and re-rig (besides I was having too much fun!) Dave S and Greg sailed back having decided discretion was the better part of valour while Dave P and Graham were hurtling about in truly spectacular fashion.
                                   Graham blasting across the bay.
                                              Dave P in action.
              Myself and Dave P in a standoff! (notice the difference in sail sizes!)
              Stephen hitches a ride with Dave S. (Above pics all courtesy of Greg).

After sailing about for a while we all ended up landing for lunch and Greg took the opportunity to see if he was able to paddle his canoe into the wind.
 He managed to paddle right out into the bay without too much trouble which was an impressive display of paddling prowess and not something I could have achieved.
We had lunch in the sunshine sheltered from the wind by my van in the company of two cheeky kittens from the farm (who were intent on trying to eat anything left unattended and explore anywhere or anyone!)
Once lunch was out of the way thoughts turned once more to sailing. The wind had moderated as forecast and one suggestion was an afternoon sail across to Ettrick Bay on Bute. This destination was downwind which is not normally the best idea. It's usually preferable to get the hard work sailing upwind out the way first leaving an easy sail downwind for the return journey. This also means if the conditions turn nasty you can turn tail and quickly get back to safety with the wind behind you however it didn't seem too far to go and the conditions seemed to be becoming less threatening by the minute (in fact I was worried that we'd have to paddle back if the wind dropped completely).                                                                                
Six canoes set out (myself, Graham, Dave S, Dave P, Jan and finally Wayne and Thomas two up in their canoe) I'm sure I heard a certain person say "half an hour out, half an hour back"! The sail across from the mainland to the Isle of Bute was a serene affair with a light following wind.                                                                 
Wayne and Thomas with Dave S behind. 
 Heading for Bute. 
 Dave S. 
It's around three miles across from the mainland to Bute and we had time to savour the views south towards Arran. As we approached the entrance to Ettrick Bay the wind started to freshen again with some fairly substantial gusts. The sail into the bay itself was an exciting fast reach with the beautiful background of the beach ahead and the crystal clear water with light coloured sand below. It was very difficult to judge how deep the water was as it was so clear and you could see the bottom from a long way out. Dave S stopped head to the wind at the entrance to the bay and we all sailed past him to land on the beach assuming he was just making sure we were all together. Once we'd passed he followed on behind and we were soon all on the beach.                                                                                               
Graham and I were relishing the prospect of an ice cream from the cafe at the top of the beach but after a hurried discussion the Daves impressed upon us that we should set out straight back due to the wind having picked right up again. We were well sheltered in the bay but further out the water was a mass of white horses which had gone largely unnoticed by the rest of us. It transpired that this was the reason Dave S had stopped at the entrance to the bay, he'd wanted to turn around then but we'd all sailed merrily past him! We set off back in a group but we rapidly seperated into two smaller groups of three canoes. Dave and Dave were with Jan who (whilst being a very experienced sailor) is uncomfortable in challenging conditions. This left myself, Graham and Wayne and Thomas as another group of three. The plan was to sail out the bay then beat north staying close in to the shore of Bute until we were level with the campsite then make one long tack back across where the loch was a little narrower. This would make the exposed crossing shorter. As we approached the entrance to Ettrick Bay the waves started to build up and were frequently coming over into my canoe. I was the only one sailing a completely open boat and I'm happy to admit I was a bit worried. As on our Loch Etive trip Graham stayed close to me and frequently shouted across asking if I was okay. Communication was only possible as we passed close by one another as one of us tacked, at other times the wind and waves drowned out the sound of our voices. Wayne's boat is one of the quickest in the OCSG and as he was two up he didn't reef his sail. This meant that he was a lot faster than me (and Graham who was waiting for me). It didn't take long for him to leave us behind. After a while Graham shouted across to me that we should forget the plan and cross over to the mainland early. Although this would make for a longer exposed crossing it would mean that we'd be sailing in the shelter of the mainland once across and the waves would consequently be smaller. I could see the logic in this but was reluctant to deviate from the arrangement we'd made with the others so we battled on. I tried to bail the water out of my canoe on a few occasions when the wind lulled a little but it was difficult and I didn't make much impression on the amount slopping about in the bottom. Most of the time I was far too busy to take my hands off the tiller or mainsheet to bail. As we continued I realised that Graham was right and that if I was to stand a chance of maintaining a manageable amount of water in my canoe we'd have to cross over. We set off across and as we got further out I felt very small and insignificant. It was a little scary but everything seemed to be going okay. I looked around and was relieved to see that the two Daves and Jan were coming across as well and I guessed that they had come to the same conclusion as we had. I couldn't see Wayne but I was sure that he must be well upwind of us now and sticking to the original plan. There was nothing we could do but carry on but I hoped Wayne would see us crossing and realise what we were doing. After what seemed like an eternity I reached the mainland. I initially thought that I'd land and empty my canoe but as I now felt secure I decided to see if I could sail back with all the water in. Pretty soon we were passing the campsite and all that remained was to round Carry Point and sail into the bay.                                                     
 Greg took this picture of Graham and I as we arrived back. 
Once we landed Graham asked if I'd seen Wayne, I replied that I was sure that Wayne and Thomas must already be back as they'd been so far ahead of us. Graham didn't think they were back though and pointed to a tiny sail way in the distance downwind. I was sure it couldn't be them though.  
              Next back were Dave and Jan P. They confirmed that the sail we'd seen in the distance was Wayne, he must have had a problem and Dave S had left them to go and help.                                                                                             
     Greg took this picture of Dave S, Wayne and Thomas with Arran behind them. They made their way back slowly under the watchful eyes of Keith who was ready to organise more assistance if he thought it necessary.                                 
Thankfully they made it back safely and it turned out that one of their outrigger floats had become partially detached meaning they couldn't sail on one tack. 
We sorted out the canoes and then quickly got changed to head out for dinner and drinks at a hotel in Tighnabruaich. So much for half an hour out, half and hour back!                                                                                                                      We had a few drinks and some excellent food in the Hotel and the usual post sailing banter.
                                 The next morning I had to pack up and hit the road home. Although it had been a flying visit it had certainly been a memorable one and a valuable experience for me. The OCSG once again proved to be great company. The next meet I hope to attend will be the final meet of the year at the end of October at Coniston, I can't wait.                                                                       

Monday, 3 October 2011

The less desirable option.

My regular companion on a lot of my earlier camping trips  was Chris (Shuzzy) but unfortunately in the last few months he's not managed to make any trips. This was down to a combination of factors, work, getting married and also he's been busy getting back into swimming again.
 I first met Chris through cycling when we were both members of a local cycling club but prior to that Chris was a promising junior swimmer. When he started cycling seriously he drifted away from swimming (and went on to become a member of the Scottish Junior Cycling team). Recently he's started training again with a particular emphasis on open water swimming and a couple of weeks ago he won the Loch Ness Monster Swim (a one mile open water swim on Loch Ness) from a field of almost two hundred.
Shuzzy was keen to go on a trip last weekend and particularly wanted to go somewhere new but as I watched the weather forecasts evolving over the preceding week it was pretty clear to me that it was going to be pretty windy. Chris's mode of transport for the trip would be his Stand Up Paddle board (SUP) and they don't cope too well with strong winds or choppy water. I knew we could get sheltered water on Loch Lomond but understood Chris's reluctance to go there over a summer weekend. We've had a few trips that have been marred by less than desirable neighbours on Loch Lomond when it's been busy but since those trips I've found a few more remote, sneaky camping spots.
 By Thursday evening it was clear to me that the Loch Lomond was the sensible option on this occasion so Friday afternoon saw us launching from the usual spot.  We sailed and paddled out to the eastern shore of Inchconnachan island to find my secret campsite, the wind was strong in the straits between the mainland and Inchtavanach with a bit of a swell running but as I'd hoped we were soon sheltered by the islands. Unfortunately it was raining constantly and was a bit miserable. To add insult to injury the midgies made an unwelcome appearance too (although thankfully it was a  short lived intrusion). We slung our hammocks and tarps and by the time we started to think of dinner the rain had abated so I lit the firebox and started cooking while Shuzz set about the firewood I'd brought with axe and saw.
Saturday morning dawned fair and after a lie in we had breakfast and pondered what to do with the rest of the day.
 Chris was keen to go for a swim so we settled on a circumnavigation of Inchconnachan. One of the hazards of open water swimming is that of the swimmer being run over by a boat so the plan was for me to stay as close to Chris as possible through the narrows between Inchconnachan and Inchtavanach which can be quite busy with boat traffic. The wind strength and water state varied wildly between the different aspects of the islands but we made it round intact and Chris enjoyed completing a new swim.
We had some lunch  back at camp and Chris phoned Jenny (his wife) to ask if she could pick up the curry paste (that I'd forgotten to bring and that we needed to make our dinner) and drop it off at our put in point. She was kind enough to agree to do the drop off for us so after lunch we had a mission to complete.
I'd had one attempt at sailing two up with the canoe in very light winds so was interested to try it in the stronger wind that I was sure we'd encounter on the sail back to meet Jen. I use an "Anywhere Chair" to seat the passenger and whilst it's a bit  awkward for a passenger to get in the canoe, once in situ it's fairly comfortable. I got the canoe set up ready to go while Shuzz sorted himself out.
As we set off downwind the sail filled pushing the canoe forwards and I think Chris was quite surprised by the speed we were traveling at. Once round the corner we had to tack upwind, the windstrength was perfect giving an exciting ride and allowing me to get the leeward gunwale underwater a few times to give Chris a fright! He soon got into the swing of leaning to windward to help me balance the canoe and despite having a few waves break over the top of him was enjoying the sail. We timed our arrival at our rendez-vous with Jenny well and made the pick up of the missing curry paste (thanks Jen). The return trip was downwind and the reach round the corner of Inchtavanach was really good fun with some good sized swells to surf and was possibly the fastest I've yet managed to sail the canoe.
We decided to sail over to Bucinch island as I wanted to show Chris another potential camp spot (for future reference).
We landed briefly on Bucinch to check out the campsite then sailed upwind into increasing swell to have a look at another spot on Inchcruin. There were some water lilies just  showing.
At this point we decided to head back to camp, time was getting on and we were starting to feel ready for some dinner. The sail back was an easy reach and the views were great in the evening light.                                                                                                    
Soon we were back at camp                                                                                     
Chris set about chopping firewood for heating our dinner and keeping us warm later in the evening while I started cooking in the fading light.                           
Chickpea curry washed down with a cheeky Arran Blonde!                                    
Later we were treated to a full moon rising. We didn't stay up late, the draw of a comfy hammock was too much to resist.                                                               
                             The next morning we knew that we had to pack up and head for home but before we left it seemed like a good opportunity for Chris to get some more wild swimming in. He decided to swim across to Bucinch island and back. There were a few boats about and it's a very open stretch of water, normally Chris would have been wary of swimming water like this but I was able to provide decent safety cover in my canoe.                                                                              
Bucinch is the small wooded island in the distance.    
Shuzzy arrives on Bucinch. A quick breather then we set off back again. Once we arrived back we only had to pack a few things and load the canoe and SUP before we headed for home.                                                                                              
It was great to get back out with Chris and hopefully it won't be too long before we're able to get that trip to a more remote destination that Chris was yearning for.