Monday, 14 November 2011

The autumn wallaby cruise.

Graham mentioned to me a while ago that he'd like to see the wallabies that live on an island on Loch Lomond and at the recent OCSG meet at Coniston a few others expressed an interest in a November trip as well. Over the last few weeks we've been chatting online and arranging the trip and although a few potential wallaby spotters had to drop out due to other commitments, the trip was scheduled for last weekend.
On Thursday night I was working night shift so needed a few hours sleep on Friday morning prior to setting out. Andy drove up to Scotland on Thursday evening and slept in his car at Luss overnight so I planned to meet him around lunchtime on Friday.  I managed to get a parking space at Aldochlay when I arrived there at eleven thirty on Friday morning and set about assembling my canoe for sailing then loading it up. As I'd coordinated the trip I felt duty bound to provide a few home comforts for the wallaby safari participants so my canoe was groaning under the strain of all the gear that I struggled to fit into it. The glimpses I'd had of the water out in the exposed sections of the loch had looked fairly windswept and rough as I'd driven to Aldochlay so I was a little concerned about sailing such a laden boat. A sea kayaker I spoke to at the put in said that he'd been to Luss earlier and decided not to launch there as large waves were breaking on the beach which added to my trepidation. I hoped that Andy had managed to make it safely out to the sheltered bay we'd chosen to camp in earlier that morning. One advantage I had on my side was local knowledge though so I set off north to gain some shelter from the strong south easterly wind. The wind was light and flukey and sailing was tricky but the water was fairly calm in the lee of Inchtavannach. As I turned south through the narrows and resorted to paddle sailing a text came in from Andy saying that he'd been out sailing in five foot swells in the morning after launching at Luss but hadn't taken his kit out to the island yet. I phoned him back and it turned out that due to us having crossed wires he'd been waiting for me to join him at Luss. He didn't think he'd be able to get off the beach in the big waves in a fully loaded canoe so we arranged for him to drive back to Aldochlay while I went and dumped my kit at the campsite before heading back to meet up with him. Forty minutes later as I sailed back towards Aldochlay I saw Andy's sail emerging from the bay and we soon met up and headed back towards Inchconnachan. We decided to try sailing around the eastern side of the island to save having to paddle through the narrows (despite the fact we could see big waves and white horses on the unsheltered eastern aspect). As we started to become exposed to the strong wind the waves grew and the gusts became more ferocious making for thrilling sailing but the canoes coped with the roller coaster ride well despite shipping lots of water. We both arrived at the campsite grinning from ear to ear, it'd had only been a short sail but what it lacked in duration it made up for in excitement. I'd originally hoped we would be able to sail on Friday afternoon but as it was dull and overcast the light was starting to fade by half past two so we elected to set up base camp in the remaining daylight. I put up my hammock while Andy pitched his tent then we joined forces to set up the huge tarp I'd bought to use as a communal shelter. By five o'clock it was completely dark so we sat about chatting for a while before lighting the firebox to cook dinner. Graham phoned to say that himself and Christine expected to arrive around ten the next morning so we arranged for him to text once they'd got parked up. Andy and I sat around the fire until about ten thirty hoping to be visited by a wallaby but despite Andy having a sighting when he disturbed one on the beach none graced our camp with their presence so we turned in.
I awoke around seven thirty and lazed in my hammock enjoying the beautiful morning and view out into the bay until I heard Andy get up at eight. We had breakfast and decided that a trip to Balmaha on the east shore of the loch was on the cards. Graham phoned at half nine to say that he was parked at Aldochlay so myself and Andy got sorted out and headed out to meet up with Graham and Christine.
 The sailing was nice and steady down towards the narrows.
Once we'd sailed through and emerged on the other side we were completely sheltered and the water barely had a ripple on it, we started to paddle the canoes as Graham and Christine appeared in the distance paddling towards us.
 Once we'd met up and said hello we all headed back through the narrows where the wind picked up once more to give a nice sail back to camp.
As we all pitched in to help it didn't take long to get Graham and Christine's tents put up.
 Once that was done and their kit was all put away we set off to sail across to Balmaha. It was nice to be the person with the local knowledge for a change and be able to act as a sort of guide.

The weather was beautiful and once we'd navigated through the narrow straits known as "the Geggles" we picked up a good breeze and enough chop to make sailing really enjoyable.
We turned downwind between Inchfad and Inchcailloch and had fun surfing the swell for a while as we headed for Balmaha in the shadow of Conic Hill.
As we rounded the corner of Inchcailloch and turned into the straits of Balmaha we were sheltered from the wind again so had to paddle into the harbour past the anglers and tourists on the shore. We pulled up the canoes and walked the 100metres or so to the Oak Tree Inn. It was so warm and pleasant in the afternoon sunshine that we elected to sit outside for lunch. I've heard a lot of good things about the Oaktree Inn and the food we had was very enjoyable. I had a prawn and smoked salmon sandwich while Graham had locally caught haggis(?) with neeps and tatties served with a whisky sauce, Andy had a cheeseburger and chips and Christine a chick pea curry which all looked delicious.

It was tempting to linger in the sun and have a few (more) pints but although it still had plenty of warmth the sun was getting low in the sky and the wind had dropped completely so we decided to set off in anticipation of a long paddle home.
As we approached the Geggles once more the wind started to fill in so I veered off around the southern side of Inchmoan hoping that we would be able to sail the rest of the way back rather than having to paddle on the lee side of the island. I hoped that Graham and Andy would realise what I was doing as they were heading back the other way. I was relieved to see them turning back upwind and heading towards me. The wind played ball until I rounded the corner back into the lagoon between Inchmoan, Inchtavannach and Inchconachan when it dropped again so my plan proved to be a partial success.
As we all beached our canoes back at camp and furled our sails the sky to the west started to change colour and create a stunning reflection in the mirror like water.
We'd been discussing the meal for Saturday evening prior to the trip, I was given a dutch oven as a present earlier this year and still hadn't used it so I proposed making a big communal stew. In the event Graham brought a rabbit, some steak and the ingredients to make dumplings and I brought some beef olives plus we both had assorted vegetables. After some debate we settled on Graham making rabbit stew with potatoes, carrots and parsnips in port wine on the Trangia while I made a Guiness, steak and beef olive casserole with carrots and mushrooms in the dutch oven on the fire (to which Graham would add his dumplings later). One thing was certain we weren't going to go hungry! The good thing about meals like this is that all the ingredients could be added and left to simmer away leaving us to chat and enjoy pre-dinner drinks around the fire while being tantalised by the occasional aroma of the cooking food.  

Once it was ready we all helped ourselves to both stews which were delicious. Afterwards Andy provided bananas with cream and After Eight Mints for desert.
One of the ideas behind the trip was to enable Andy, Graham and Christine to see the wallabies. Andy had caught fleeting glimpses of them on Friday night and Saturday morning but I was hoping one or two would come right into our camp in the evening (which has often happened before when I've used this campsite). Sure enough, later on a tell tale rustle in the bushes heralded the arrival of this little fella.

   He seemed to enjoy eating the leftover dumpling and banana which we threw out for him and stayed nearby for a couple of hours (coming within touching distance of Andy and I after Graham and Christine had retired to their tents later on).
With a selection of drinks flowing freely and plenty of wood to keep the fire blazing we had a memorable evening sitting around and chatting.
 It was a lovely night, despite being clear it wasn't too cold and the full moon came up lighting us in it's silvery glow.
Needless to say it ended up being a late night with myself and Andy finally going to bed around two in the morning.
I didn't wake until eight thirty on Sunday morning but I rushed to get up as I wanted to say cheerio to Andy who had to leave early. I think there were a few fuzzy heads in evidence so plenty of brews to rehydrate were the order of the day!
Andy set off on time (an impressive feat as he'd single-handedly polished off a fair bit of a bottle of whisky the night before!) It was sad to see him go but he had a prearranged concert to attend so had to depart.
We ate breakfast and packed up our kit in the dry (which is always a bonus). Once more I was amazed how heavily laden my canoe was (I think it's the most gear I've carried)!
 The plan was to go back to the put in and drop our camping gear then go for a sail in unladen boats.
Once we got back to the cars we offloaded all the gear, had a hasty lunch then set off again. We headed south in very light winds but once we rounded the southwest corner of Inchtavannach we picked up a really nice steady F3 south easterly.
 We sailed past the tiny island of Inchgalbraith with it's ruined castle and landed briefly on Inchmoan before having a fast sail back downwind and eventually back to Aldochlay.

The light was starting to fail as we dismantled the canoes and loaded them onto our roof bars so we'd timed our return perfectly. I said goodbye to Graham and Christine before making the brief journey home.
It can be a bit of a worry when you organise a trip like this that it may fail to live up to expectations, however the whole weekend was fantastic with varied sailing conditions, amazingly benevolent weather (for November), great company and the all important appearance of a wallaby!


  1. I love sailing in the autumn the nature colors are beautiful the sky is clear blue, the red yellow trees awesome!

  2. Hi, yes the colours are really pretty at the moment. We were lucky that the sun shone as well as it's often rainy here in Scotland during autumn.

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