Thursday, 15 November 2012

The second annual autumn wallaby safari.

 Last year a group of us held a last meet of our season wild camping on Loch Lomond (with a secondary aim of seeing the wallabies for those who hadn't done so before). The emphasis was to be on comfortable camping and socialising (given how late in the season it was) rather than lots of sailing and covering huge distances.  We were blessed with fantastic weather and had a great weekend of sailing, socialising and wallaby spotting. There was support for doing a similar trip this year as well so I've been laying the ground work over the last few weeks.
Last Friday lunchtime I met up with Dave in the big car park in Luss and we set about getting ready for the trip. Last year I loaded my Pal up with more gear than it had ever carried before and this year it was the turn of the Shearwater to see how much camping kit it was able to hold (I wanted the weekend to be comfortable for us all even if the weather tried it's hardest to make the opposite the case!) I was very much aware that Dave had driven all the way from England for the weekend and so rushed to pack my boat in an effort to maximise our time on the water (last year Andy and I only managed to sail out to the campsite and set up camp on the Friday). The result of my rushing was that I failed to maximise the space available in my boat and ended up carrying a lot of gear in the cockpit with me (and Dave even had to carry a bag containing spare camping gear I was taking for another member of the party).
Soon enough we were on the water though and decided to sail round the eastern shore of Inchconnachan in the hope of benefiting from steadier wind.
The sailing was a little up and down (as it often is in and around the islands) but we made decent progress out past the rocky islets off Luss and into the lagoon on the east side of Inchconnachan.
Dave beat me to the campsite and sailed back saying that there was already a group camped there, no problem as it turned out as it's a large area and the other group comprised of only two others (camping from an open canoe). We landed a little further along the beach and set up our tents as quickly as we could, keen to get back out for a further sail (unencumbered by all the camping gear) before darkness fell.
We set off towards the gap between Inchnmoan and Inchtavannach in a strong, gusty wind and squally showers. The wind steadied a little once we were through the gap but the showers continued.
Despite the rain we were treated to some spectacular views and some really pleasant sailing as we turned east down the southern shores of Inchmoan and Inchcruin before heading north past Bucinch and back towards camp. I haven't done much sailing on Loch Lomond recently after having my opinion of it soured a little back in May due to the prevalence of speed boats and jetskis and having a threatening note left on the windscreen of my van while it was parked overnight at Aldochlay (supposedly from Luss Community Council). Sailing around the islands with Dave reminded me of the good points of sailing out of season, beautiful scenery, peace and quiet and not another boat (never mind a jetski or powerboat) to be seen.
We arrived back as the light started to fail and set about rigging up my giant polytarp as a group shelter and living area. After that it was time for some food.

Following dinner Dave and I sat around a roaring fire chatting and drinking wine. The tarp did it's job well keeping us completely sheltered from the rain showers but the wind flapping the fabric noisily ensured that we weren't visited by any wallabies.
Our neighbours from along the beach popped over briefly for a chat and a drink and before we knew it was eleven o'clock and time for bed.  
Saturday morning saw me out of bed just after eight. There was no real rush as we would be waiting for Graham and Ramsay to join us so we had a leisurely breakfast. Graham arrived around nine thirty and put his tent up while Ramsay was delayed a little and arrived later (just dropping his gear off under the tarp to sort out later). Encouragingly both reported decent sailing conditions outwith our sheltered location. We'd already made a plan to replicate last years trip and sail across to Balmaha for lunch at the Oaktree Inn and so just after eleven we were on our way. 
We passed through the narrow, shallow gap between Inchmoan and Inchcruin which is known as the Geggles.
Next it was out into the larger body of water beyond the islands where the wind was blowing a little more. 
We decided to sail out past Inchcailloch and round the far side of it to access Balmaha and unfortunately as we approached Inchcailloch the wind started to fail. I ended up at the front on this section and had to resort to paddling through the gap between Inchcailloch and Torrinch where we were completely in a wind shadow. After that we turned downwind and were able to sail again (albeit slowly) towards Balmaha. We pulled the boats up out of the water in the little harbour at Balmaha and walked the short distance along the road to the Oaktree Inn where we found a nice warm spot in the heated conservatory area for lunch. 

After lunch we wandered back to the canoes in the knowledge that we'd most likely have to paddle back to Inchconnachan. We left the harbour in dribs and drabs and Dave set off back the way we'd come (to the south of Incailloch) however Graham and I spotted what looked like a little bit of wind on the water to the north and after failing to attract Dave's attention set off in the opposite direction to him (closely followed by Ramsay). In some circumstances I wouldn't have done this but as the loch was as calm as a millpond it seemed safe enough (and I knew Dave would appear back into view at the other end of Inchcailloch). Still it was another good example of why it would be beneficial to carry a vhf for group management.
Graham tacking just north of the straits of Balmaha with Rambo in the distance and Dave out of shot to the right.
As I cleared the straits of Balamaha the wind did indeed freshen and I was able to sail nicely for a while but as we headed west between Inchcailloch and Inchfad the wind faltered and died again. Still it was a nice afternoon for a paddle and very reminiscent of one year ago (when we'd also had to paddle back from Balmaha).
As I'd hoped Dave came into view in the far distance so I decided to wait and keep him company while Graham and Ramsay paddled on. When he arrived Dave said that he'd become a little disorientated by the way that all the trees and islands blended together in the flat late afternoon light, I made a mental note to suggest those who had them took their radios the next time I organise a meet like this (it seems like overkill in some respects but I now feel it'd be worthwhile just for group communication). We worked our way back slowly to our campsite and by the time I arrived back as tail end charlie it was almost dark.
Rambo pitched his tent amid a little good natured ribbing about it's colour (it's not pink apparently!) while Graham and Dave lit the fire. Graham entertained himself by constructing a scale model of Stonehenge out of logs and we had afternoon tea and cakes by the fire.
A mutual friend of Ramsay and I (Iain) was due to be joining us for the night, he was unable to get away earlier due to family commitments but was hoping to paddle out on his Stand Up Paddle board after dark. As time passed by and with no sign of him we started to doubt whether he'd be coming after all then my phone rang, it was Iain saying that he was lost in the dark! He'd set off in the dark and seen lights on Inchmoan so landed there. This turned out to be the two guys who had been our neighbours the previous night (and who had moved on to camp on Inchmoan). I'd mentioned to them while chatting to them that morning that a friend would hopefully be joining us on an SUP so they'd pointed Iain in our direction. Unfortunately with us all being huddled around the fire and with the fire being well shielded from view by the tarp he'd paddled right past us and on round the corner of Inchconnachan. I advised Iain to set off back in the direction he'd come in (deducing that he'd overshot our camp) and Rambo and I started to walk along the beach to meet him with our torches on. It wasn't long before he came into view and we were able to guide him back to our campsite. Once we'd got back and introductions were made it was time to start dinner. Last year we'd made a big feast for Saturday evening and as it had proved to be fun we'd decided to do it again. I'd taken my dutch oven with me to cook a Moroccan dish while Graham had made homemade kebabs to barbeque and Rambo was making venison stir fry. 
As we were cooking a wallaby made an appearance as well (I was relieved as I would have felt I hadn't fulfilled my promise for the trip if we hadn't had a wallaby encounter). He/she was happy to linger nearby scavenging for leftovers much to the delight of Dave, Rambo and Iain who hadn't had a wallaby encounter before. 
As was the case last year we made far too much food but it was nice to all sample each others cooking and try different things (needless to say it was all delicious). After dinner we sat around chatting and drinking comfortably warmed by the fire.
Once again it was after eleven by the time we decided to call it quits and go to bed. Overnight it was quite chilly, I got up in the early hours to answer the call of nature to find the inside of the flysheet on my tent to be coated with ice and the stars were out overhead, I was glad I had a nice warm sleeping bag. The sky was still clear when I woke and it was a beautiful morning as we all emerged from our tents and started thinking about breakfast. 
After breakfast Iain had to leave to rejoin his family, it looked like a great day for paddling (but not so good for sailing) as we gathered on the beach to say cheerio.
The rest of us slowly packed up (it took a while due to the sheer volume of kit we'd brought!) and by mid morning we were ready to go.
We sailed back the way Dave and I had come on Friday, initially the wind was light and variable but it picked up markedly once we cleared the northern end of Inchconnachan giving some fantastic splashy sailing. 
All too soon we were approaching the beach at Luss.
Although it was only just after lunchtime Graham and Dave were facing a long drive back down south and Rambo and I had to shuttle both our boats with one vehicle so we packed up there and then to give ourselves plenty of time.
It's always a worry when you do something for a second time that it won't live up to expectations but this years trip was sufficiently different (with some new faces) for that not to be the case. We managed to incorporate the good points from last year with some new elements to make for another excellent autumn wallaby safari. Roll on 2013!

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