Monday, 6 May 2013

Resipole 2013. The Scottish Spring OCSG meet, Moidart and wild Loch Teacuis .

A year to the day since I last rolled up to Resipole campsite I once again found myself driving along the winding single track road that runs west from Strontian, along Loch Sunart. Last year I organised a local meet for the OCSG at Resipole, this year it was to be a national meet (although in practice this meant little more effort to prepare than last years meet had).
I'd left home early to ensure that I would arrive at the site in good time and by late morning I'd set up my van and awning and had the canoe off the roof. Some people had arrived the night before but most were due to arrive on Friday. Amongst those were many familiar faces and Mark a new member of the club who I'd not met before. Following discussions we decided to head out for a sail after lunch, the plan being to sail off the campsite initially so that everyone could get a feel for the conditions after which we would sail to Salen if conditions were deemed suitable. It was quite blowy and exciting as the fleet formed up off Resipole.
It was a nice sunny day though and the view west along Loch Sunart was beautiful.
It was great to see Wayne back out sailing again after a while away from the OCSG.
Mark seemed to be revelling in his newly converted sailing canoe.
After a little while we decided to go for the trip to Salen, the wind was quite strong and gusty from the north but it was manageable. 
From experiencing similar sailing conditions last year I had a good idea that the wind would be blowing straight out of Salen harbour so decided to hug the northern shore of Loch Sunart. I hoped that this would allow me to sneak round the corner into the harbour upwind of the fleet. This proved to be a good plan and I was chased up the harbour only by Mark. The sailing was great fun with fierce gusts causing my outriggers to submerge often with the full sail area up. The tide was still rising as we landed at Salen to wait for the others and my initial plan to anchor was swiftly dismissed as it would have probably meant swimming to recover my canoe later. Soon the others joined us and we pulled all the boats up above the high water mark before retiring to the Salen Hotel for a well earned pint. 
We didn't linger at the pub being a little concerned about the canoes floating away on the rising tide. Happily this wasn't the case but they were at the water's edge where previously they had been high and dry. Mark and Tom were first away and didn't reef down (later reporting a bit of a white knuckle ride down the harbour). The rest of us chose to reef and made much slower progress back to Resipole. As we rounded the corner back onto Loch Sunart Mark and Tom's sails were tiny specks almost back at the campsite!
Andy and Nora on the way back to Resipole in the early evening light.
This is my GPS track for Friday transposed onto a Google Earth image showing where I sailed. My total distance sailed was 12.63 miles and my maximum speed was 9.2 mph. 
We spent the evening crammed into my awning (with the fan heater running in an attempt to fend off the cold), chatting, eating and drinking and discussing options for Saturday's sailing.
Saturday's forecast was good but for Sunday was much less so. This meant that we had to take the reluctant decision to cancel the planned wild camp near Oronsay island at the western end of Loch Sunart. It was a shame but for the safety of the group it was the correct decision. This left us with the opportunity to do a day sail round Carna (as we'd done last year but with better winds forecast this time). Saturday morning was sunny with a decent breeze blowing from the northwest. We held the safety meeting earlier than usual in an attempt to get on the water more quickly and it didn't take long anyway as we'd covered many of the topics the night before. The camp became a hive of activity as everyone readied for the trip. Wayne and Julie had originally intended to come along but instead opted to go sightseeing while Hilary decided to stay at the campsite and dog sit Nora for Andy but other than that everyone was up for the trip. 
We all formed up off the campsite prior to setting off and tried to group together for some photos. This met with mixed success as Andy and I collided while both heaved too, fortunately the only dents were to our pride!
After that initial debacle we set off west along the loch in lovely sailing conditions. 
Dave sailing the new prototype GRP Shearwater Evolution. 
Mark warming his hands while sailing his self build Prospector.
Ramsay in Ailsa Beag.
Dave and Tom.
Graham and Andy.
The plan was to sail west, past the entrance to Salen and regroup and reassess our progress near Port nan Gall (where we'd paused on last years trip). Our progress this year was much quicker in the stronger winds we were having.
As we approached the headland at Port nan Gall we started to look for a spot to land so that everyone could stretch their legs but despite remembering such a place from last years trip we were unable to find a suitable landing beach. In the end we had to make do with regrouping afloat before heading on once more towards Carna.

We sailed on around the western end of Carna and almost immediately became split up again with Dave, Mark and Andy forging ahead towards the narrow channel that provides an entrance to Loch Teacuis, myself in the middle and Tom, Graham and Ramsay bringing up the rear.
Dave, Mark and Andy approaching the channel.

Graham, Tom and Ramsay following me up the western side of Carna (in the right of the picture).
I knew that due to the state of tide we may have to contend with water ebbing through the narrow channel but was still unprepared for the strength of the flow against us. It was similar to sailing against a fast flowing river and it was a strange sensation to see the water racing past the canoe while progress over the ground was painfully slow. I chickened out and broke out my paddle for a few well placed paddle strokes to ensure I continued to move in the right direction but I could see Andy just in front making progress powered by the wind alone. It seemed as though the wind was toying with us, providing a gust just at the point that the canoe stopped moving forwards. It was fun and something I've not experienced before (indeed Dave and Mark ran back down through the channel to have another go at sailing back up!)

Andy and I emerge from the channel (the fast flowing water can still be seen and continued up past the islands ahead).

The fleet emerge from the channel behind me headed by Dave and Mark on their second run.
Myself and Andy made for a beach we could see ahead to land for lunch, it was a long way from the waters' edge to dry land due to the low tide but there was plenty of room for all the canoes to land.

Ramsay, Tom and Graham emerging from the channel into Loch Teachuis.

Landing for lunch.

L to R, Ramsay, Graham, Dave, Mark, Tom and Andy.

After lunch we headed for the eastern channel out of Loch Teacuis. This is also very tidal but not as narrow as the way in had been so it was easy enough to negotiate.

Looking back through the exit channel into Loch Teacuis.

The view in the other direction with Carna on the left.

Sailing canoes line astern!

Graham broad reaching back into Loch Sunart.

It was easy, fast sailing back along Loch Sunart towards the campsite (underneath Ben Resipol, the prominent mountain in the distance).

As we progressed eastwards Mark and I eased ahead of the fleet a little.

We were making great time and Mark asked me if I fancied landing at Salen on the way back for a pint. I called up the others on the VHF and myself, Mark, Andy and Ramsay decided to seek refreshments while Dave, Tom and Graham decided to head straight back to the campsite. The sailing up Salen harbour was very flukey and unpredictable but good fun and when we reached the beach we hauled the canoes as far up as we could. Andy and I also anchored our boats as well as leaving them on the trolleys while Mark and Ramsay made do with getting theirs as high as they could. We reasoned that we wouldn't be long just having one pint and that the canoes should be okay despite the fast rising tide. We wandered up to the hotel for an enjoyable beer and were joined by Wayne and Julie who had spotted the canoes while passing on the return from their days sightseeing and sought us out. As usual we ended up chatting longer than intended and joked about the canoes floating away but when we walked back to the harbour we saw that all four boats were afloat (mine and Andys' at anchor and Marks' and Ramsays' bumping gently against each other at the waters' edge). Thankfully the wind had swung through 180 degrees and was pushing the loose boats against the beach. Andy and I almost had to swim out to ours which were floating in chest deep water! Another good lesson learnt!
 GPS track for Saturday. Miles sailed 22.34 miles, maximum speed 9.2 mph.
We sailed easily back to camp and were still back in plenty of time before once more returning to the Salen Hotel (by car this time) for dinner.

Followed by cake (made by my wife) back at camp for those who were still awake!

Sundays' forecast wasn't so promising so it was a chance for a lie in. Andy and Graham decided to walk to the singing sands, Dave had done his sailing for the trip and Wayne and Julie decided to head south and break the journey on the way home. That left me, Ramsay, Tom and Mark keen to try for a sail if conditions allowed. We decided to sail close to the campsite as the wind was very strong and gusty. Mark and Tom were on the water first.

They sailed out just beyond the mooring buoys near the campsite slipway just in time for a mighty squall to come through. They both heaved to in order to let the squall pass and I could hear them shouting to one another (I couldn't make out the words but the meaning was clear from the tone of their voices, it was pretty scary out there!) Ramsay and I sailed out once the squall had passed to confirmation from them that it had been wild.

Ramsay emptying his wellies!
We sailed about with reefed sails and gradually grew accustomed to the wild squalls that blew through periodically, they were strong but manageable as despite the increase in wind speeds it wasn't as gusty as we'd feared.

Ramsay amazed me by announcing that he was going to remove the outriggers from his canoe and true to his word that's what he did! Eventually Tom and Mark said that they were going to pack up having had an exciting couple of hours sailing. They both intended heading home on Sunday afternoon so Ramsay and I landed as well for a late lunch and to say cheerio when they departed. After that we went back out again to discover that the wind had swung NW and become more gusty. Ramsay managed to capsize a couple of times but soon righted and climbed back in his boat, impressive in the conditions. We carried on messing about until about 7 p.m. before finally calling it a day. We hadn't sailed far from home but had covered a lot of water and had a lot of fun.

 GPS track for Sunday. Distance sailed 18.81 miles, max speed 9.8 mph.
Once safely ashore Andy announced that he was going to cook pizzas for us all on his Cob Barbeque (a portable oven device), they were fantastic and there was plenty to go round.

Mondays forecast was even worse so we lounged about camp while Ramsay packed up to leave. After that Andy, Graham and I went to check the options for launching on Loch Shiel for a possible overnight trip on Tuesday and Wednesday. We drove to Acharacle and checked the old ferry slipway then went down to Loch Moidart for a walk out to Castle Tioram (which can be reached on foot at low tide).

Nora enjoyed running about fetching her toy as well!

We then drove back stopping off for scones and afternoon teas at a cafe in Acharacle. Over the course of the evening we discussed our options and decided to try to reach Oronsay instead of sailing on Loch Shiel. We knew that the forecast was marginal for achieving this but preferred the idea of having a tailwind back to the campsite rather than having to beat against the wind to get back down Loch Shiel. We all threw together the kit required for an overnight wild camp before going to bed.
Tuesday morning saw the loch looking like a millpond and lovely bright sunshine but we knew that the wind was forecast to pick up strongly later. We said cheerio to Dave and Hilary who set off home then got our boats on the water. Almost as soon as we launched the wind picked up. Graham and Andy got away in front of me and almost immediately I started to have really negative feeling about our trip. I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong, I just felt really uneasy (maybe due to the fact that there were only three of us left).

The sailing was really lively, just the sort of conditions I'd usually enjoy but I just couldn't relax and get into it. Graham and I ended up some way behind Andy and just as I was contemplating landing to discuss options with Graham Andy called me on the radio saying that he'd found a nice sheltered bay for a lunch stop. I headed for where he was and Graham followed me. We landed and ate some lunch and discussed options.

Andy was upbeat about the prospects of reaching Oronsay but I had niggling doubts about the wisdom of attempting to get round the exposed western end of the island in such strong winds and Graham was worried about the amount of water he was shipping into his canoe. We agreed to push on and regroup off the sheltered side of Oronsay before committing to anything. As we sailed on past Risga island we passed a large yacht running the other way under just her Genoa which added to my suspicions that it would probably be quite rough further out. Although I still felt uneasy I really got into the sailing groove and got well ahead of Andy and Graham. The water was choppy and the wind gusting strongly as I headed for the shelter of Oronsay where I knew I could wait for the others in safety.

Andy beating up between Risga (left) and Carna (right) to join me in the lee of Oronsay.

Andy and Graham just west of Risga.
Andy reached me first and straight away said that he thought that getting around Oronsay would be doable, words that I had been dreading hearing. Graham arrived some time after and said that he was shattered from the effort of chasing Andy and I in our faster boats all day and that he just wanted to head to the spot that we'd had lunch on Saturday and set up camp. Andy was outvoted and seemed (understandably) disappointed about our unwillingness to attempt Oronsay, he sailed off towards Loch Teacuis in silence while Graham and I followed feeling relieved but guilty about depriving Andy of the chance to try getting round Oronsay.

Andy sailing through the channel into Loch Teacuis (this time being helped by the tide)
Once into Loch Teacuis we headed for the familiar beach, the tide was even lower meaning we had a long way to trolley the boats up (a task made harder by the fact that we were carrying camping gear this time).

The sullen silence of the sail over was soon replaced by chatter again as we were compelled to combine forces to get all the boats and gear up the beach and above the high water mark. After a little exploration we decided on a campsite and set up the tents.

Next it was dinner sheltered by a tarp.

There was loads of dry wood lying about so we made a fire to warm our evening.

I felt really tired and was happy to get to bed. During the night strong gusts and heavy showers hammered the tents but we all slept well.
 Tuesday's GPS track. Distance sailed 21.21 miles, max speed 7.8 mph.
In the morning we decided to explore up Loch Teacuis which I was pleased about never having been any further before. We launched into squally conditions and started to run down the loch. I made a mental note to stay closer to Graham in the hope that he wouldn't become disillusioned again from chasing us. It was inevitable that our faster boats would ease ahead but frequent stops would prevent big gaps from opening up as they had the day before. It's not long ago that the roles were reversed when I used to sail my plastic canoe and Graham could outpace me easily but he was always very considerate and used to wait for me and I felt bad that he'd felt pressurised to keep up the day before.

The view back up a stormy looking Loch Teacuis the way we'd come

and the view south to the narrows ahead.

The showers were interspersed with sunshine.

Through the narrows.

The water was a lovely blue colour when the sun shone and we saw seals playing, breaking the surface and breaching like whales. All my apprehension of the day before was gone and I was loving sailing into new territory in the sunshine.

Eventually we reached the end of the loch and turned round to beat back up towards Sunart. It was really windy and despite reefing well down my outriggers were often buried beneath the water, it was fantastic sailing in beautiful scenery. We regrouped in the shelter of Carna before running through the east channel back into Loch Sunart. We weren't sure what the conditions would be like and were wary of running downwind with too much sail so reefed down to a tiny sail area.

Initially the water was flat but as we got further out into the main loch the swell kicked up making us glad we'd played safe. We made for the headland at Port nan Gall which would offer us a sheltered run down the northern edge of Loch Sunart.

Gradually we felt safe enough to shake out some of the reefs as we cruised east back towards Resipole.

We made good time and were back by early afternoon giving plenty of time to sort and dry our kit.
Wednesdays GPS track. Distance sailed 14.84 miles, max speed 7.3 mph.
 In the evening we walked along the road to the wildlife hide at Garbh Eilean  to watch the seals and birds and the sunset.

We spent the rest of the evening chatting and drinking in Andys' tent before turning in. On Thursday morning I set off home to be followed shortly after by Andy while Graham was heading further north to meet a friend for the weekend.
What an enjoyable long weekend it had been sailing with everyone during the meet and the trip up Loch Teacuis with Graham and Andy was fantastic, it's a very remote and beautiful place and well worth a visit.