Sunday, 27 May 2012

Motorboats and nasty notes.

As my preference has swung away from paddling my canoe towards trying to sail as often as possible I've been wondering if there was a way to combine both paddling and sailing on longer trips without compromising sailing performance or paddling performance. There are some potential expeditions that I'd like to do that would be better suited to my existing canoe than the new one that Solway Dory are building for me. These are trips that are often done purely as paddling trips in open canoes or kayaks but I love the experience of sailing and wondered if it'd be possible to take my canoe prepared to get maximum sailing performance whilst still having the option to paddle the canoe pretty much uncompromised by the sailing components if there was no wind. There was really only one way to find out and that was to have a dry run close to home.
Last week I was on holiday and the original plan I had to get away with Val was compromised by circumstances so a canoe trip was my consolation prize to myself. Being midweek I knew I'd be alone and whilst it's just as easy to drown in familiar water, going on Loch Lomond somehow feels safer (I know that I'm only ever a phone call away from a motorised pick up if I can reach the west shore).
Tuesday afternoon saw me at my usual launching spot with enough food for four days, no idea if I could fit all the bits into my canoe and only the vaguest of plans as to where I was going to go. The loch was like a millpond so it was a good chance to test my theory about paddling the canoe with all the sailing paraphernalia carried with me. I knew from the forecast that I'd be highly unlikely to need the outriggers but for future reference I wanted to know if I could carry them with me. The answer is in this picture.
Whilst the canoe was well laden it was pretty easy to pack everything and still leave myself with a paddling position that wasn't compromised. By the time I set off it was quite late but it was still very warm and the water was like a mirror. I'd decided to head north for a change to explore an area of the loch that I've not seen from the water before. Paddling felt like a hard slog in the stifling heat.
The view ahead as I paddled towards Luss.
Looking south towards my put in and the islands
 and the view north up the loch. As I toiled onwards it became clear to me that I was no longer used to paddling for any length of time and on top of that the site of my recent surgery started to get a little sore. There are bye laws in force on a substantial portion of the east shore prohibiting wild camping so I knew that I couldn't contemplate stopping for the night until I was well north of Rowardennan and as I'd set off so late time was getting on.
As I approached the headland in the picture above there was the faintest evidence of a breeze so I chose to land briefly and rig my sail in an attempt to get some help. It was an awkward spot to go ashore with only a very narrow rocky beach but I managed to rig the sail and set off again with a little assistance from the very light tail wind. I didn't bother with the leeboard and rudder, instead opting to steer with my paddle when there was enough wind to sail properly and paddle sail the rest of the time.
 Approaching Rowardennan (just past the wooded headland).
The wind came and went with no apparent pattern so I just made the best of it when I had the chance. As I went past Rowardennan there were folks enjoying the evening sunshine diving off the pier and wakeboarders a plenty ruining the peace and quiet (and causing me to have to veer off course to present my bow to their wake).
Passing the youth hostel. I'd marked the limit of the no camping zone on my map and once past Ptarmigan Lodge I sailed closer to the shore on the lookout for a decent campsite. Before I spotted anywhere to stop overnight though, I spotted a pair of feral goats grazing on the lochside.
A little further on I spotted a headland with what appeared to be a nice sandy beach and some trees to sling my hammock from so I paddled on towards it. Sure enough when I got closer it looked like a decent spot so I landed and set about rigging my tarp and hammock. It was after eight o'clock when I landed so as soon as I'd set up my shelter I got my dinner started. The midgies were out so while my dinner was cooking I slung my midgie tarp to give myself a safe haven to eat in peace. After dinner I went for a stroll along the beach to take in the views north and south.
I sat around for a while checking the weather forecast on my phone, drinking tea and having a quick chat on Facebook before I climbed into my hammock.
It had been much harder work paddling than I had envisioned and the forecast for the next day was for light easterlies while for Thursday there was no wind forecast at all. I decided that I should make the best of any sailing winds in the morning to get back down the loch rather than heading further north (as I'd sort of planned to) and leave myself with a mammoth paddle back on Thursday. I dozed off to the sound of the endless traffic on the busy A82 road on the far side of the loch.
When I woke I knew straight away that there was a breeze of some form as I could hear small waves lapping against the beach. This gave me a boost as I got up and made my breakfast. I'd been a little crestfallen the night before at the effort required to get to where I had (although I'd achieved my target of paddling north close to Tarbet). The prospect of even a gentle sail buoyed my spirits no end. I decided to just wear my normal clothes in the canoe, it was set to be another scorching day and whilst I knew the water temperature was still dangerously cold I didn't relish the prospect of cooking in my dry trousers and top. I knew that in the light winds a capsize was unlikely and reasoned that if the wind freshened I could land and change or fit my outriggers.
I set the canoe up for sailing this time but still with the outriggers stowed aboard.
The view back just after I departed, my beach campsite visible in the foreground.
Progress varied between nice gentle sailing with the water chuckling past my leeboard to virtual calm when I had to paddle or paddle sail but the spells of sailing were nicely interspersed between the calm spells. 
Pretty soon I was tacking beneath the slopes of the Ptarmigan (a satellite of Ben Lomond). It was an absolute pleasure to be out on the water on such a beautiful day and thankfully all the jetskiers and wakeboarders were still at work so it was nice and peaceful.
 As I passed Rowardennan again the wind dropped right off and as it was so hot I couldn't be bothered paddling so I just sat in the bottom of the canoe and sailed ever so slowly almost dozing off on occasions. I couldn't believe I was still sailing as the water was glassy calm but the tiny wake from the bows of the canoe and the leeboard let me know that I was making some progress. 
Once south of Rowardennan I started to think about landing for some lunch but right on cue the wind came back and I was loathed to waste it so carried on.
Eventually I found a quiet bay on the east shore to stop for a late lunch.
Whilst stopped for lunch I spoke to my friend Sean on the phone. He decided to make the most of the glorious weather and come out and join me that evening. This meant I had a destination to aim for so I set off from my lunch spot to sail across to Inchlonaig island (visible in the distance in the photo above). The wind picked up nicely on this stretch and I started to regret not getting changed at lunchtime but I couldn't be bothered stopping again. From Inchlonaig it was a beat across to the entrance of the narrows between Inctavannach and Inchconnachan. I've sailed through here before but never successfully against the wind so I decided to give it a whirl. The wind was funnelling through the narrows and it was great fun tacking up the narrow channel. Soon I was through and after checking a few spots settled on setting up camp in the familiar spot of wallaby bay. After a bite to eat I set off to meet Sean, it was going dark now and the wind was blowing up to a good F4 so I stuck the outriggers on to ensure I didn't have an unscheduled dip in the dark. 
 I met Sean in his kayak and we paddled back to the campsite. When I'd left the bay had been deserted but I was disappointed to see a cabin cruiser anchored there on our return. As we got close there was a strong smell of diesel and I could see the telltale iridescent sheen on the water, presumably the cruiser had a fuel leak and was polluting the water off our campsite.
Sean set up his tent and I rigged the midge tarp as the wind had dropped, we were serenaded by loud music from the cruiser which was bad enough but the choice of eighties AOR rock only added insult to injury. Still we made the best of things chatting and drinking a few beers and enjoying the lovely aroma of spilled diesel. Later on a couple of wallabies turned up so we fed them with leftovers and some apples I had with me (which they seemed to enjoy).
Thursday morning was glorious again and as forecast there wasn't a breath of wind so Sean and I enjoyed a gentle paddle around the islands. 
We stopped off at a nice sandy cove on Inchmoan and I couldn't resist going in for a swim to cool off, the water was a lot warmer here where it was shallow and it was really pleasant. Try as I might I couldn't persuade Sean to try though so we pushed on. 
It had started to get busy again with speed boats and jetskis so we headed back to the cars. 
I had enough food to stay out another day but the southern end of the loch is unpleasantly crowded in summer so I decided that I'd achieved what I wanted to in testing my canoe in paddling and sailing mode. It was also the first chance I'd had to try the Expedition Bermudan rig as it was intended (it works superbly well). I think my sailing and paddling exploits will be restricted to day trips on Loch Lomond until the autumn drives the crowds away, the continuous jetskis, wakeboats and cruisers combined with the clown leaking diesel into wallaby bay all night left a bit of a bad impression (although I really enjoyed my trip). I also found a nasty threatening printed note from Luss and Arden Community Council on my windscreen when I got back to Aldochlay saying that I shouldn't have left a vehicle there overnight or camped on the loch (both of which are nonsense at this point in time) but more about that in another blog.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

She's alive!!

The first picture I have access to. More details as I get them.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Adventure sailing; my next steps.

A few years ago I toyed with the idea of buying a Wayfarer sailing dinghy. I'd started to dabble in kayaking and liked the idea of being able to camp from a small boat. Whilst a sea kayak allows that it's restricted to carrying one person and obviously requires paddle power to propel it. A Wayfarer would have allowed me to take along a companion (or possibly two) and having done a fair bit of windsurfing I fancied a sailing boat. The downsides were that a Wayfarer is a fairly large dinghy and would require storage and launching facilities. I briefly entertained buying one as a joint venture with a friend at the time (who had the facility to store a dinghy at her house). That plan disintegrated as the other potential partner started to turn more towards the idea of us buying a small yacht which didn't align with my vision. At the time I was disappointed however with hindsight this was a blessing in disguise. Around the same time I made a new friend who actually owned a Wayfarer (albeit his was a wooden boat and I only considered buying a GRP version). I'd hoped to get out crewing for Tom regularly however as things transpired only managed one brief sail but this was enough for me to get a feel for what would be involved with rigging, launching, sailing and recovering a Wayfarer.It was pretty obvious to me that it wasn't a one man task and so the whole idea was put on the backburner.
If you've read my blogs you'll know that canoe sailing has really filled the role that I envisioned for the Wayfarer. I've been amazed that a converted canoe will cope with conditions up to a sustained Force 5 whilst being easy to sail single handed and able to be carried to and from the water by myself, launched virtually anywhere and stored in the garden!
Last year I sold my motorbike and so am in the fortunate position of being able to add to my canoe sailing fleet. I mentioned last year that I'd asked Solway Dory to build me one of their new evolution Shearwater decked canoes and I'm pleased to be able to say that they recently started construction (the hull and gunwales are done and they've started work on the beams that support the deck). It'll still be a good while before the canoe's ready as they're building my boat and one for fellow OCSG member Andy at the same time but Dave (from Solway Dory), myself and Andy had a chat at the Resipole meet two weeks ago about what spec the boats would have. We decided to go with plastic proprietry watertight hatches to access the storage space in the side tanks and bow tank (access to the rear tank is via a large hatch made by SD and will be the main storage space) and to have a self bailer fitted to allow the canoe to sail itself dry after a capsize and to get rid of any spray that gets past the decks and coaming. I must admit that I had some doubts about the wisdom of fitting a self bailer having experienced a very leaky one in the Topper my Dad owned when I was younger but I was reassured by Dave and Andy (and by the experiences of other club members) that a modern self bailer should be watertight when it's closed. 
Another matter that's been on my mind has been coming up with a fitting name for my new boat (I haven't bothered naming my existing canoe as it's a mass produced boat but it seems fitting to name a boat that is being built specifically for me). Initially I thought I'd call her Northern Light (an idea which was strengthened after reading Rolf Bjelke and Deborah Shapiro's account of overwintering in the Antarctic in their yacht which is coincidentally named Northern Light) but I wanted something a little more unusual and "ethnic" than that. I tried finding a gaelic name for the Northern Lights but it's a little too complex for a boat name (it's Na Fir Chlis) so I continued looking. One gaelic translation that jumped out at me was Rhoswen which can be translated as "White Rose". This seemed appropriate as it combined a gaelic name in honour of my long term residence in Scotland with the white rose which symbolised my Yorkshire origins (the white rose is the symbol of Yorkshire) however further research revealed the name's origins as being from Welsh gaelic and so having no connections with Wales I've scrapped that idea as well. My third and possibly final choice is a Native American name (my wife Val is a Native American, albeit the name is not in her tribes language). It's also a name that has a celtic ring to it and has a nice fitting meaning. The name is "Aylen" which is a female Mapuche Indian name meaning happiness. I like it!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Loch Sunart.

I've really enjoyed attending various different OCSG meets over the last year or so and wanted to try to do something in return so I decided to organise a local meet based at Resipole campsite on the shore of Loch Sunart. Loch Sunart is a nineteen mile long sea loch situated just south of Ardnamurchan, it runs roughly west to east and ranges from being well sheltered at it's eastern (inland) end to being more wild and exposed at the western end which emerges next to the Sound of Mull. It also has another loch (Loch Teacuis) branching off to the south and many islands both small and large.
I decided on the last weekend in April for the date of the meet as it was before the midge season starts but hopefully late enough to have some chance of decent weather. It was also a weekend that didn't clash with any other OCSG events.
I contacted the campsite who were very helpful and were well used to hosting meets by diving and kayak clubs and who agreed to give us our own section of the site as close to their slipway as possible. This would make for a nice sociable setting and easy access for launching and landing our canoes.
For various reasons I left home at around 9pm on the Thursday evening before the meet and drove up as far as Glencoe before finding a peaceful layby at the end of the Glen Etive road to bed down in the back of the van. It was a really nice quiet spot and I was asleep before midnight. Friday morning saw me up early and revealed the spectacular setting I'd chosen for my overnight stop (not entirely by accident I have to say). Buachaille Etive Mor isn't the most photographed mountain in Scotland for no reason!
 Not a bad place for an overnighter I'm sure you'll agree!
 I didn't bother with any breakfast preferring instead to get on the road to Resipole. I knew that Adam (who'd driven all the way up from London for the weekend) would already be there and that the others wouldn't be far behind me either. Driving down Glencoe is always a treat and the prospect of a great weekend ahead only enriched the experience further. Before long I was waiting for the ferry at Corran.
Once I'd crossed on the ferry it was around fifteen miles to the head of Loch Sunart and then a further few miles on single track road to Resipole. I arrived at the campsite by about 9:30am and after booking in went and said hello to Adam who was busy working on his canoe. After chatting for a little while I set up the awning for my van and got my canoe off the roof then made myself a brew. Soon after Graham, Andy (and Nora the dog), Dave and Tom arrived as well and pitched their respective tents then we set about tinkering with our canoes and some of us fitted the various Solway Dory goodies that Dave had kindly brought with him. For me this was a braced mast thwart to try and reduce the amount my canoe flexes in stronger winds and Adam and Tom both had new outriggers to add.

By late morning we were approaching some kind of readiness to get out for a sail so we held a quick meeting to formulate some plans for the weekends activities and settled on going for a local sail after lunch (possibly heading to Salen) and then trying to reach Loch Teacuis on Saturday when we'd have all day available. The wind was reasonably strong and promised decent sailing conditions at least for Friday.
After a bite to eat we headed out onto the water and got a feel for the conditions.

Adam forgot to put his buoyancy aid on and couldn't manage to get it over the zip on his new drysuit on the water so had to land briefly to sort it out. Once we'd all had a sail about we set off west down the loch as a group, the wind was probably blowing up to a F4 and despite the fact that it was coming from the north the water was a little choppy and bailing was necessary on occasion.
We were all sailing with a reef in (apart from Tom who didn't have the option but seemed to be enjoying himself regardless).
 After Dave and I had a close encounter with a rock (both bashing our leeboards off the same one) we rounded the point at Rubha Aird Earnaich and had a quick discussion and decided to push on across the loch to Salen.
The wind was blowing down Salen Bay and across the loch and was stronger at times as we sailed almost directly upwind.
 Adam and his new outriggers.
Andy and Nora work their way upwind into Salen Bay.
Graham, Andy and Dave nearing the head of the bay. Once we'd all beached and arranged some form of anchor to secure the canoes against the rising tide we strolled the few hundred yards up the road to the Salen Hotel.

It was tempting to linger at the hotel for a second round of beers but time was getting on so after booking ourselves a table for dinner for the following night we strolled down the road in the evening sunshine back to the canoes (which were just starting to float on the incoming tide).
We all became a little split up as we left Salen Bay for the short sail back to Resipole. There was a short rain shower just as Andy and I sailed out into the main loch and Andy and Nora were framed by a rainbow.

Myself and Andy had just acquired marine VHF radios (Adam and Dave already owned a set each) and we'd agreed to try these out on the return journey so radio test calls were made successfully as we sailed back.
Graham with Ben Resipole and the campsite behind. The sail back was uneventful other than Nora deciding to see if she could walk on water and needing to be rescued by Andy!
 By the time we all arrived back the sun had dipped below the hills and the temperature was starting to plummet so everyone disappeared into their individual tents to make some dinner. After having some food the whole party gathered in my awning for an evening of drinks, chatting and laughter (and shivering in Dave's case!) I'd taken an electric fan heater with me and used this to make the awning a little more cosy (which it did, making a cold evening bearable). We eventually called it a night around midnight and hit the sack.
 Saturday dawned without a cloud in the sky (although there was a heavy ground frost). Tom's cousin David arrived early on, he owns a Solway Dory Osprey trimaran which he'd brought with him. Unfortunately one of the outrigger beams had bounced out the canoe during the journey to Resipole rendering the whole set up unusable. Graham saved the day by offering David the use of his new sea kayak for the day and it turned out that David was an experienced paddler into the bargain. The scene was set for our quest to reach Loch Teacuis but first it was breakfast!
We formed up on the water at about 10am ready to head west. The wind was lighter than it had been on Friday but there was enough to ensure we didn't have to paddle. The sail westwards along the loch was downwind so we made good progress in the glorious morning sunshine.
 It was an impressive fleet that made it's way along the loch past Salen Bay.
Dave and Adam disagreeing on which tack they should be on.
Once again we ended up scattered over a fairly large expanse of water but in such benign conditions it didn't matter. Graham was fishing as he sailed and he and I ended up at the back as we approached Port Nan Gall.
Just beyond this point David had a recurrence of some problems with his legs cramping and felt that he wanted to turn back for the campsite, others took advantage of the quick stop and landed for a comfort break.
After the break we set off again sailing towards the island of Carna which lies at the entrance of Loch Teacuis.
We had hoped to sail as far as Oronsay island to visit an area that Dave and Andy had been to before but it became clear that due to the light winds we'd not be able to get that far so an alternative plan was hatched to sail around the western side of Carna and enter Loch Teacuis to find a landing site for lunch.
Andy and Nora cruising up the western side of Carna.
On this stretch we sailed past a sizable seal colony, unfortunately I didn't get any pictures. The wind on this side of Carna was really light and flukey necessitating bouts of paddle sailing at times as we worked our way through the narrow western entrance channel.
The fleet about to enter Loch Teacuis.
..............and we're in!
We struggled just around the corner on the left of the picture and made for a shingle beach on the eastern shore for a lunch stop. Adam couldn't wait to catch up on his stocks and shares (okay I admit I set the photo up a bit)!
Lunchtime was an opportunity for us to lounge in the sun and for Nora to burn off some energy fetching her Kong after being patient in Andy's canoe all morning.
After lunch it was time to start beating back upwind. We exited Loch Teacuis by the eastern channel which by that time had the tide running out through it quite fast causing some little tidal ripples and waves.
The buildings on the left in this picture are on Carna.
Once back into Loch Sunart it was a matter of working our way back towards Resipole. This proved to be slow going for periods of time when the wind disappeared completely forcing us to paddle, at other times it would blow again allowing us to sail.
Andy and Nora sailing in relax mode with Ben Resipole in the distance.
 Eventually we all made it back safely to be reunited with David at the campsite. There was just time for a quick shower before we drove to the Salen Hotel for dinner and a few drinks. After an enjoyable meal we arrived back at the campsite and everyone decided an early night was in order after the exertions of the day. I was in bed by 10:30pm and asleep shortly afterwards.
I was woken by my alarm at 7:30am and emerged from the van to another beautiful morning.

My plan for the day was to pack the awning away in the dry then have a quick sail later if the wind picked up. Dave decided not to sail as he had a sore neck from paddling on Saturday, Andy opted to climb Ben Resipole to give Nora a good walk and Graham, Adam, Tom and David decided to explore eastwards up the loch.
While everyone set off on their trips I set about packing up and on completion Dave and I sat in the sun chatting for quite a while before he decided to head for home. After eating a quick lunch I set off onto the water, I called up Adam on the radio to see where the others had got too. They'd reached the narrows towards the eastern end of the loch but were now on their way back so I set off to meet up with them.
Adam soon appeared with Graham in the far distance, Tom was on the southern side of the loch.
We sailed back to Resipole in inconsistent winds where the guys landed. I went back out for a final play and the wind picked up a lot giving fantastic sailing conditions. After about half an hour I packed up as well and headed back to the campsite.
Those of us who were going home packed up our boats and said our farewells. It had been a fantastic weekend blessed with great weather (while most of England was lashed by heavy rain and gales).
I can't thank the guys enough for supporting my meet and being such great company, I don't think it'll be long before I start organising another meet (maybe camping from the boats next time).