Friday, 22 June 2012

Wet, wild and midge bitten on Loch Long.

During the OCSG meet at Resipole in April there was a discussion about the idea of having a "camping meet" where we would sail somewhere then camp from the canoes rather than using a commercial campsite as a base camp as is often the case at OCSG meets. There followed a discussion on the OCSG Facebook page about possible dates and venues and the middle weekend in June was pencilled in as a provisional date. We decided to leave the venue flexible to allow for various different weather scenarios (although I had a few ideas about trips I'd like to do). As is sometimes the case interest in the trip waned as time went by and only myself and Graham were left as definite participants. This situation was compounded by a weather forecast that looked particularly grim for the time of year.
On Friday lunchtime I met Graham in the same layby on Loch Lomondside that we'd used to rendez-vous for our Loch Sween trip earlier this year and we spent a few minutes discussing options. The forecast was for heavy rain and winds gusting up to 40mph so I suggested the relative shelter and close proximity of Loch Long as a destination.
Half an hour later we were loading our canoes at Glen Mallan on the shore of Loch Long.
The wind was blowing down the loch in fierce gusts but in between these there were periods of relative calm and we reckoned we could make it across to the far side of the loch where there's a bothy I had in mind as a camping spot.
We set off tentatively with heavily reefed sails for the downwind run to Mark Ferry Cottage. The gusts were indeed alarmingly strong and I was glad we were in a relatively sheltered loch and not the exposed locations we'd hoped to visit.
Thankfully it's not far to the bothy and we were able to pick up some more shelter once we'd crossed the loch. It didn't take us long to get to our destination opposite the oil terminal at Finnart. The tide was a long way out so we had to carry the canoes up above the high water mark once we'd unloaded them.
The bothy was crowded with fishermen (in varying states of inebriation) and whilst they were very friendly we opted to set up our camp in a small field next door.
Just below our camping field there was a nice sheltered beach for us to move the canoes round too once the weather settled down a bit. 
 Once we'd pitched our tents we gathered some firewood (to supplement what we'd brought with us) and cut some poles to rig up my tarp as a cooking and fire shelter. 
Graham decided to try fishing for a bit as the guys in the bothy reckoned the mackerel were running.
Three casts later and.....................
So that was dinner for the following night sorted then! In the meantime we got the firebox set up and had a leisurely meal of burgers followed by some amazing lamb kebabs that we cooked on green sticks on the fire.
We checked the forecast on my phone and listened to the shipping forecast from Clyde Coastguard on the vhf and both were predicting heavy rain and winds gusting to F7 for Saturday so it didn't look good for getting in a sail the next day.  We decided to turn in and I dozed off listening to the rain battering my tent flysheet (which is surprisingly pleasant when you're cosy in your sleeping bag).
I awoke to the same sounds in the morning and decided to roll over and have a lie in. Around 10 a.m. I heard Graham moving about outside so I got up as well. After breakfast we went for a stroll along the forest road to a bay a little further north.
 The water in the bay was quite sheltered but further out there were plenty of white horses.

By the time we got back to the bothy the wind had moderated slightly so we decided to move the canoes round to the beach opposite our campsite but as we carried the boats down to the water's edge we decided that it looked sailable so we went and donned out drysuits.
 We set off cautiously with well reefed sails again and although it was a bit choppy at first the wind and the sea state continued to moderate slowly.

We sailed back up to the spot that we'd left the cars and Graham picked up a few bits and pieces to take back to our camp (I would have done the same but I forgot my keys).
Although the conditions had improved a lot and the sailing conditions were quite nice it was very cold (feeling more like March than June) so we decided to sail back to our camp rather than venture further afield.

 Soon we were back at the bothy and Graham had another go at fishing while he had his drysuit on (unfortunately he was unsuccessful this time).
Graham got quite cold standing in the loch fishing so we got the fire lit to warm up and to start cooking dinner on. We had the distinct feeling we were being watched all the while.
Dinner was to be pasta with a creamy mushroom sauce with fresh mussels and mackerel. 

The rain was relentless again and after eating and having a few drinks it was back to lying in bed and listening to the weather battering the tent! 
Sunday morning was dry and almost windless and the midgies were horrendous. We packed up quickly and drank a brew on the beach in an effort to escape the little blighters. There was no point in making anything to eat in the circumstances so we just got on the water to try and escape them. 
 We sailed north in light winds, Graham trailing a fishing line in an attempt to catch some more mackerel. 
We worked our way slowly up past Glen Mallan. Sometimes there was a nice breeze and at others it lulled to almost nothing but at least there were no midgies out on the water! My original plan had been for us to move from the bothy to another really nice campsite I know of on Saturday but as the tents were soaked and because of the nasty conditions on Saturday morning we'd decided to stay put. Still I was keen to show Graham the spot I'd had in mind and was hoping we'd be able to have a late breakfast there with some respite from the midgies since it's less sheltered than the bothy. As we approached I saw a tent and as I got closer still a familiar figure on the shore, it was Stephen! It turned out he was camping there with Josh and Stu (who I'd met on Loch Long over a year ago ). We landed and Graham cooked our brunch while we caught up with the guys hardly believing the coincidence of bumping into them totally at random!

 Once we'd eaten and had a good chat we set off back to the cars, the wind had almost completely subsided by now so we had to paddle sail back. 

We arrived back at our launching spot happy to have made the most of a weekend that was far from promising in weather terms. It would have been easy to call off and stay at home in those conditions but we got out there and did something and enjoyed it instead. Hopefully we'll be back to our usual good weather fortunes on future trips though!

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