Monday, 3 June 2013

Gigha and Cara, an ambition fulfilled.

In October 2012 Ramsay and I attempted to sail around the Isle of Gigha off the west coast of Kintyre ( ). Unfortunately we were beaten by the weather and had to restrict our sailing to the sheltered east coast of Gigha. It was still a fantastic trip but we vowed to go back in better weather to complete our quest to circumnavigate the island (and hopefully it's southern neighbour Cara).
I had been watching the weather forecast last week hoping to manage a trip with Rambo but it was looking a bit windy out west (similar windstrengths were forecast to our last attempt). I initially suggested sailing from Helensburgh out towards Bute but Rambo was keen to try Gigha again and I was easily persuaded. Late on Friday morning we left Helensburgh to drive round to Kintyre. The journey seemed to take ages (not helped by being stopped at a Police/VOSA/HMRC checkpoint at the far side of the Rest and be Thankful) but was broken a little by receiving a phone call from Tom who had passed us going in the opposite direction having just spent time working on Gigha! I felt bad that Tom wasn't a part of our plan but it had all been arranged at the very last minute between Ramsay and I so we hadn't had chance to invite others.
We eventually arrived at Tayinloan ferry terminal where we were hoping to launch (last time we had launched from Point Sands campsite but it was a bit of a hassle so we decided to try another option). A quick recce showed that we could get the boats through a gate down onto the beach but we decided to try to use the ferry slipway while the ferry itself was away crossing the Sound of Gigha. We readied ourselves and the boats in the car park.
By the time we were ready to go the ferry was over near Gigha so we hurried down the pier and slipway. I got away first but not without some problems as the wind blew me onto the pier before I could gain enough speed to steer effectively. I had to resort to fending off the piles of the pier before frantically paddling the canoe through the wind and onto the opposite tack which allowed me to sail clear. I shouted to Rambo warning him about my problems then sailed about waiting for him to join me. Unfortunately Ramsay had similar problems and took a few minutes to get clear of the pier as well.
Eventually we got clear and set off across the Sound of Gigha as the ferry returned. 
The sail across was largely uneventful, the wind was a nice strength and the water state a little bouncy but nothing to worry about. The only thing concerning me slightly was the fact that there is a rocky reef part way across and I wanted to stay well clear of this (easily achieved by staying north of the ferry's course across which was itself north of the reef). Soon I was sailing into Ardminish bay our destination for the evening.
I sailed in past the moored yachts to avoid the rocky skerray which protrudes from the middle of the bay then turned downwind towards the Boathouse where we intended camping for the night.
I landed on the lovely silver sand beach amidst the kid's sand castles and pulled Aylen up on her trolley then rushed out onto the rocks to snap some pictures of Rambo as he sailed in to join me. 
 This is my GPS track superimposed on a Google Earth image (distance sailed 6.36 miles).
After a quick chat with the folks at the Boathouse to okay our camping there we set up our tents as the sun broke through.
 Although we had plenty of food with us we decided to eat in the Boathouse and enjoyed a pre dinner beer in the sunshine outside while our table was readied.
The food was superb and Phyl and Darrell (the new owners of the Boathouse) were excellent hosts. 

Saturday morning was a little cloudy and murky. The forecast was for it to clear in the afternoon but the wind was due to be blowing F4 or F5 initially from the south but veering northwest later and the sea state to be moderate or rough. The wind strength was a cause for concern for me (since it had been similar strengths on our previous failed attempt) but the direction could well work for us.
We readied ourselves and were on the water just before eleven. 

We sailed out of Ardmininsh Bay and turned north with the wind behind us. It was easy sailing but the weather was a little gloomy and I felt a bit tense in anticipation of rounding the northern end of Gigha and exposing ourselves to the full force of the weather.
We stayed close to the coastline as we rounded the corner and had a much better view of the shore than we'd had on our last visit. There were a number of potential landing beaches on the northern coast that we'd not spotted last time (when we'd sailed further offshore for safety).
We passed the twin beaches where we'd camped on the previous trip, the sea started to pick up at this stage as we left the shelter of the island but it was manageable.
Rambo sailing past the rugged western side of Eilean Garbh
and the view into the other side and the southern "twin".
We were now breaking new ground, this was further than we'd got the last time. I knew from reading others' accounts that the west coast offered very few landing beaches (and even those few are often rendered impossible to land on due to surf) and once we'd passed the point north of Eilean na h-Airde the coastline consisted of rocks and low cliffs. We were committed!
As we'd turned southwards we also turned into the wind so we had to tack and at times reef our sails down during spells of stronger wind, this combined with slamming into the oncoming swells made our progress quite slow. I hoped that the wind would swing to the northwest as forecast as that would help us along nicely but for now we had to grit our teeth and work our way into the wind.
I didn't take many photos on this section as my concentration was focused on sailing and the few I did take don't give the impression of the size of the waves (which were about four or five feet at times with quite steep faces). The bow of the boat frequently buried itself into the the next wave and led to water flooding along the front deck, thankfully the small coaming just in front of the mast did a great job in deflecting most of it away from the cockpit and I only had to bail a couple of times to keep the water levels inside under control.

We passed a trawler sailing backwards and forwards with it's nets out (just visible in the far distance in the picture above) but other than that it was a lonely place and made me feel small and insignificant but it was satisfying seeing the landmarks of the west coast slip by us one by one.
As I tacked south towards Cnoc Loisgte I noticed that I was able to point higher and higher, could this be the wind veering to the northwest as we'd hoped? I shouted across to Rambo who'd noticed the same thing and we made the best of sailing the long tack parallel with the shoreline (instead of having to zig zag into a headwind). You can clearly see this transition on the GPS track posted later on.
Gradually we were able to sail on a close reach instead of beating into the wind and our speed went up as we rounded Rubh'a' Phuirt Allaidh and Carraig Mhor Ridhe Eilein.   The sea state here became quite confused with the wind acting against the tide and I took a series of pictures of Rambo splashing through the chop.

It was really fun sailing and with the tide pushing us along as well we started to make great progress. We briefly discussed stopping for lunch at one of the beaches behind Craro Island but decided that we should make the most of the favourable wind and tide to carry on past Gigha and down the west coast of Cara.
At this point we started to experience the big ocean swell rolling in from the south west, it was fun watching Rambo's canoe disappear entirely from view when he was in one trough and I was in another but the swell was much less threatening than the wind generated chop had been earlier as the waves were long and rolling not short and steep.
The same swells were crashing into the rocks on the west and south sides of Cara as we turned east towards the Mull of Cara.
The sky started to brighten and the view out west started to open up revealing the characteristic skyline of the Paps of Jura in the distance.
The Mull of Cara is dominated by the rocky headland known as the Brownie's Chair. The Brownie/Broonie (or Uruisg to give him his Gaelic title) is the familiar spirit of the Macdonald of Largie family who still own Cara and who are direct descendants of the Lords of the Isles and is said to haunt the island.
The flanks of the Brownies Chair were clothed in blue coloured spring flowers and looked stunning as the sun burst through.

The east side of Cara was nicely sheltered and had always been our planned destination for camp two so we sailed along the full east shoreline looking for the best spot.
Having checked all the way along to the point on the northern end where we'd landed briefly in October we turned back and sailed towards a lovely white sand bay we'd spotted.
We had to negotiate some rocky, shallow sections to get ashore but we were rewarded with a stunning landing spot.
My GPS track for day two is below, I sailed 17.59 miles. 
We pulled up the boats and enjoyed a late lunch in the glorious sunshine, scarcely able to believe our good fortune at finding such a beautiful spot for the night.

I was feeling lazy and was curious to try pitching my tent on the beach (one of the reasons I bought it was that it's free standing so able to pitched almost anywhere) and Rambo was also seduced by the idea of not having to lug his gear too far so we found a couple of likely spots and set to work.
Once we'd pitched the tents we decided to go and explore the island and hopefully get some nice views to the west. Much of the island was covered in wild flowers which enhanced the fantastic scenery even more.
The view back towards our camp as we set off up the hill. 
Once we gained a little height we spotted some of the island's many feral goats grazing above the rocky western shore. 
The wild flowers were much in evidence as well.
The view north towards Gigha,
 west towards Islay and Jura
and south towards the Brownies Chair with Machrihanish and Kintyre behind. 
As long as we were here we figured that we should scale the Chair itself.
The views from the top. North,
and west.
Then it was time to head back to the tents for dinner.
During the evening we checked the forecast for Sunday and were pleased to hear that the wind was due to swing south again which would give us a really easy sail back to Tayinloan.
Sunday morning and the weather was good again, this was the view from my tent door when I woke just after eight.
As we ate breakfast it clouded over a little but there was a nice breeze and it was indeed blowing from the south as we prepared to launch.
We paddled the canoes carefully out past the barely submerged rocks that ringed our little beach before unfurling the sails once we reached clear water.
Then it was an easy reach across towards the mainland.
We sailed north with the wind behind us following the line of the shoreline for a change of scenery. We passed a colony of basking seals just south of Tayinloan.
Our arrival back at the ferry slipway was timed to perfection, I arrived first just after the ferry departed and hauled my boat back up the slip and along the pier to the car park then hurried back down to give Rambo a hand.
This is my GPS track for the final day (mileage 6.28 miles)
It was an absolutely fantastic weekend. The weather really made the trip and it was ultra satisfying to complete the circumnavigation this time and lay the ghosts of our October trip to rest. Gigha (and Cara) are a stunning destination for a trip and I suspect it won't be the last time I'll visit this area.