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.
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.
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.
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.