Monday, 15 April 2013

Bushcrafters and Easter Bunnies.

A couple of years ago I spent a weekend with a group of guys I'd met (through the Song Of The Paddle canoe forum) on Loch Long. I went on to have a few adventures with one of them (Stephen) who shared my desire to get into canoe sailing. I've also crossed paths with Rich and Josh from that group a couple of times but haven't done any more  trips with them. A few weeks ago Stephen and Rich asked me whether I fancied joining them for a weekend canoing and wild camping on Loch Lomond. I had the weekend free so was delighted to be able to join up with Josh, Rich and Stephen.
We met up at Luss on Friday lunchtime and set off with a vague idea of possible destinations. Stephen and I were sailing while Josh and Rich were paddling their canoes (Josh had intended sailing as well but forgot the rig for his lovely little "Wee McGregor" sailing canoe, luckily she paddles nicely as well!) We set off in light winds and Josh and Rich forged ahead as Stephen and I wallowed about initially. Once we got further out on the loch the wind picked up nicely and gave us the chance to narrow the gap a little and experience some lovely sailing.
The group reconvened on Inchconnachan island which Josh and Rich had decided would be our base for the weekend (a fine choice of location). I hastily pitched my tent and set off back out for a solo sail to make the most of the good conditions while the guys sorted their kit and suspended the huge parachute that they use as a group shelter from a handy tree branch.
I enjoyed a nice sail to Ichcruin and then over to Inchmurrin before heading back in a failing breeze. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent lounging around the fire under the mighty 'chute, chatting, eating and drinking. Indeed the pattern was set for the rest of the weekend as the guys were happy to unwind in camp while I made brief forays onto the water to brave the cold conditions and unpredictable winds.

I had to be back at work on the Monday so departed on Sunday afternoon back to the van at Luss. It was great to catch up with Josh, Stephen and Rich again and was a really mellow relaxing weekend (albeit it was pretty chilly sailing).
  Easter Bunnies.
Two weeks later was Easter and once more I had the weekend free. A group of us had been pondering possible locations for a trip for Easter weekend for a while and various spots were in contention. Top of the list was to sail from Tayvallich down Loch Sween, camp at the mouth of the loch and sail back up the Sound of Jura to Carsaig Bay the next day. It's a trip we've been contemplating for a while and is high on our "to do" list but as the weekend approached and the weather showed no signs of warming up I expressed my doubts (based on my experiences sailing on Loch Lomond two weeks earlier) about the wisdom of spending an extended period stuck in the boats sailing. Instead I suggested finding somewhere that we could hole up with a comfy base camp, plenty of firewood for keeping warm and make shorter forays onto the water. I was relieved that the others agreed with this suggestion and Graham read my mind and suggested a campsite that he and I know on Loch Long which would fit the bill and not be far to drive to.
Friday lunchtime saw myself, Graham, Ramsay and Tom meeting up at our launching spot on Loch Long. The wind was gusting down the loch sporadically, leading to spells of sustained white horses on the water but interspersed with lighter more fluky spells in between. The tide was very high making launching slightly awkward as the water had covered the beach completely and submerged the lower end of the slipway. This meant loading the boats while they were afloat then wading out underneath the telephone cables which run along the beach at this point before being able to step our masts and sail. Still we all managed to achieve this successfully without dropping any of our gear in the sea or cutting the phone lines to Arrochar!
The lack of launching room meant that we had to set off one at a time and then regroup on the water and inevitably everyone was reluctant to give up hard earned progress upwind so we ended up a little spread out but we knew it wasn't far to our campsite. I was second last away followed by Ramsay who was trying out his canoe rigged with a mizzen sail (using my Expedition Rig) as well as his usual mainsail. This meant that he was potentially able to unleash around 78 sq ft of sail, far more than the rest of us so I expected to be overhauled as I set about catching up with Tom and Graham. In fact it took Ramsay a while to get used to managing the mizzen and he wasn't able to take advantage of his extra firepower on the way to the campsite. I caught Tom and Graham in bizarre fluky winds that saw me sailing close hauled, onto a reach, dead downwind then gybing onto the other tack all without changing course! The snow covered mountains of the Arrochar Alps made a spectacular backdrop to our progress.

I reached our campsite first and the tide had dropped dramatically leading to hard work first unloading then hauling our empty canoes up the beach to park them on the grass above the high water mark.
Next we pitched our tents on the idyllic flat ground overlooking the loch and set about scavenging for firewood.

  By the time we'd done this it was pretty much dark so we rigged up some tarps as windbreaks and settled in around our campfire.
After dinner Graham kindly produced a cake in honour of my birthday the previous week-thanks Graham!  By the time we went to bed the temperature was well below freezing so it was nice to get into a warm sleeping bag.
The next morning nobody was in much of a rush to do anything, Ramsay's brother Callum turned up for coffee on his way to paddle to Arrochar then portage to Tarbet and paddle back down Loch Lomond in his sea kayak.
  Graham appeared from foraging in the trees with something in his hand and shouted that he'd found a rabbit. From a distance all we saw was something vaguely furry and speckled green in his hand and my first thought was why would he pick up a decomposing rabbit carcass! As he got closer we realised that it was soft toy, much the worse for wear, stained green and streaked with sea weed. It was quite the most sinister looking toy rabbit we'd ever seen and we immediately decided to adopt it as a mascot!
 We were also lucky enough to enjoy watching a couple of porpoises swimming backwards and forwards (presumably fishing) just off our campsite. 
 After pottering about until just before lunchtime we finally mustered enough resolve to go out on the water. We knew the wind was forecast to be light and inconsistent so eventually decided to sail north on the basis that we would at least have some assistance from the ebbing tide to get back if the wind let us down. Initially the sailing was great, the sun shone raising the temperature (and morale) and we had a steady F3 to beat into.
Rambo had perfected his technique sailing with the ketch set up and began to make advantage of his extra sail area, easing ahead of us. Unfortunately as time went on the sun receded and the wind started to falter, I started to become uncomfortably cold and wondered how the others were coping. As we passed Ardgarten I briefly considered turning round and heading for camp but as the others were all in front of me I thought I'd better push on and at least let them know my thoughts. About halfway between Ardgarten and Arrochar village I caught up and asked Graham, Rambo and Tom how they were getting on. Rambo said he was fine but the other two felt the same as me. By this time I was starting to shiver involuntarily and knew that I needed to warm up so I said I was turning back, the others agreed so we headed back downwind. I hunkered down into the bottom of my canoe, pulled my hood up and had some food and soon started to warm up a little.

As we had feared it might the wind disappeared on the return journey and we had to break out the paddles on several occasions, the silver lining to this particular cloud was that paddling helped warm us up. Ironically as we approached camp the sun broke through the clouds again.

 We warmed up with a late afternoon snack and warm drinks before using the remaining daylight to improve our shelter round the fire, raise the firebox off the ground on two old car wheels we found lying about and gather more firewood in preparation for another cold night.

In the event the cloud cover made for a slightly warmer night but our improvements were welcome nonetheless.
On Sunday Tom and I had to return home leaving Rambo and Graham to spend another night but as it was a short sail back to the vehicles we weren't in any real hurry to pack up and leave. We pottered about until lunchtime before saying farewell and sailing the short distance south to the slipway where we had launched.
 Tom sailing south
and a final view back towards camp. 
It was another great weekend, we didn't do as much sailing as we'd hoped but under the circumstances that was to be expected. Hopefully warmer conditions will lead to some more ambitious trips being feasible soon.


  1. That is one mean looking bunny!
    Excellent write-up of the trip, you are so lucky to have this spectacular area so close.
    Is there an arms race in sail area developing??

  2. The bunny has scrubbed up well Graham and now looks far less malignant. I have to confess that I'm a little disappointed that a wash has softened her sinister looks but it was the only way that I was allowed to keep her as our mascot by my long suffering wife. I'm sure she'll regain her green and threatening demeanour while gracing the bow of one of our canoes in future expeditions!
    I'm not sure what Rambo intends to do about buying a mizzen for his boat, needless to say I'll be rationing his use of my Exped Rig in future to prevent him outrunning me too often!

  3. Good effort.
    I think I may have passed your friend trollying his boat between Arrochar and Tarbert en-route to Inverary.

  4. Hi JC, it would have been about lunchtime on Saturday when Callum trolleyed across to Lomond. It was a fun weekend but I can't wait to get further afield now the weather has warmed up a little. See you soon.

  5. Hello Chris,
    I'm just another canoe sailor checking out your blog. Nice stuff!
    On my own blog, I posted about my canoes, a few years ago.
    We are doing a little canoe sailing revival at my club this spring. Looks like great cruising you've got there!

  6. Hi Jimbo, I just had a look at your blog, very interesting. Yes I'm fortunate to live on the west coast of Scotland where the Victorian canoe sailing pioneers like Baden-Powell and McGregor did some of their sailing. The area is a bit of a mecca for sea kayaking and we enjoy exploring it in our sailing canoes as well.