Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Last men standing.

September is nearly done already, summer has passed in a flash and the dark nights of autumn and winter are just around the corner and it struck me recently that I haven't done a single trip in my Shearwater this year. Yes I've day sailed at OCSG meets and with Val but multi day trips have been conspicuous by their absence. With this in mind I was keen to do something over a long weekend that I had free towards the end of September. The idea was mooted amongst the usual suspects but for various reasons the others dropped out or couldn't make it. Luckily Dave was keen to drive up to Scotland to join me and suggested we launch at the Puffin Diving Centre near Oban and sail out to Mull with a stop over on Kerrera on the way. As I'd not sailed in this area before I was delighted to go along with his plan.
We met up at about three in the afternoon on Friday, later than we'd hoped but I'd been on night shift on Thursday night so time was short. Dave was waiting ready to go so once we'd assembled my boat and loaded up we wasted no further time in getting on the water.
We set off beating south down the Sound of Kerrera in light southerly winds, it was slow progress but lovely to be out on the water.
As we sailed slowly south the wind became even lighter and then disappeared completely so it was out with the paddles. We were briefly entertained by a pod of porpoises hunting but as we drew closer they disappeared not to return. It soon became obvious that our intended destination on the northwestern end of Kerrera wouldn't be a realistic option due to limited day light and the prospect of paddling against the tide up the western side of island. Instead we began to search for an acceptable landing spot on the southern end of the island which was a little problematic as the beaches are predominantly rocky. We paddled in to the bay below Gylen Castle for a look and spotted a beach that looked possible.

 As I paddled in I could see sand on the bottom but the beach appeared to be rocks and boulders which would make trolleying the canoes above the high water mark difficult. We landed for a look anyway and decided that if we joined forces to manhandle the canoes once empty of camping gear we should be able to manage.
This is our GPS track for Friday superimposed on a Google Earth image.

After emptying the boats and following a little judicious rock gardening we got the canoes up the beach and could relax and begin to enjoy our surroundings. We were right below the castle in a spectacular setting.
We quickly settled in, Dave pitching his tent while I faffed around rigging my tarp (with the settled weather forecast I'd decided to bivi instead of taking a tent). After dinner we sat up chatting until quite late feeding Dave's woodgas stove with bits of driftwood in lieu of having a proper fire and enjoying our surroundings.
Overnight the wind strengthened markedly from the north. Despite the flapping of my tarp I slept reasonably well being exhausted after having effectively missed a nights sleep following my night shifts. Dave wasn't so fortunate being disturbed by his tent flapping in the wind and having to get up and add extra pegs and guylines during the night. When I woke I put on a brew and made some porridge which I was able to eat in bed (the joys of bivying!) Once Dave had risen and had something to eat our thoughts turned to plans for the day, we had intended to sail across to Mull but it was an open and exposed crossing of around five miles and we could see there were plenty of white horses out in channel between Kerrera and Mull as a result of the strong wind. We decided to explore the castle instead before having some lunch then sail across in the afternoon if the wind had moderated enough.
Gylen Castle was built in 1582 by the Clan MacDougall. Gylen was only occupied for a relatively short period of time. The castle was besieged then burned by the Covenanters under General Leslie in 1647 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. In May 2006 a restoration of the castle was completed with a £300,000 grant by Historic Scotland and £200,000 raised by worldwide members of Clan MacDougall.

The castle offered a fine view of our campsite and canoes waiting below.
We wandered back down to camp and had a leisurely lunch then loaded up the canoes ready to see what the crossing had in store for us. We managed to convince ourselves that the wind had dropped a little but had a contingency plan to sail up the west coast of Kerrera if the sea state appeared too severe to cross to Mull. We manhandled the canoes back down to the water ready to set off.
 The first section was sheltered and we enjoyed excellent fast sailing along the southern coast of Kerrera.

We soon reached the point where a decision was necessary regarding our route, Dave gave me a thumbs up sign which I returned and we set off towards Mull after reefing our sails down to account for the stronger winds we expected to encounter.
Very quickly the wind freshened and the waves got bigger with gusts of F5 and wind against tide conditions. It made for exciting sailing and I was very aware that it was a long way to the safety of Mull.

As ever my photos were taken during more gentle spells when I could afford to take a hand off the controls to use the camera, still they give some idea of the conditions. It was fun sailing though once we relaxed into the conditions (although anymore wind would have made the crossing too dangerous). It took around two hours to get across and we paused briefly to discuss having a look in Loch Spelve but dismissed the idea as getting back out through the narrow entrance may have proved difficult once the tide had turned (the tide flows too quickly to sail against when in full flow). Instead we headed north for a campsite on a sandy beach that Dave has used many times before at Port Donain. We landed easily this time on a white sandy beach, greeted by a reception committee of highland cows.

This is Saturday's GPS track on Google Earth.
 Once more we went through the camp making ritual, me with my minimalist approach.......
........and Dave with his more luxurious accommodation.
Dave was exhausted after the wild night before and decided to have a nap, I went for a stroll to explore our little bay and make use of the phone signal to ring Val and let her know I was okay.

 As I wandered back I noticed a huge bird of prey flying nearby and when I got back to camp Dave (who'd arisen) confirmed that it was a Sea Eagle (he also spotted a Peregrine Falcon but I'd missed it).
After dinner we collected all the driftwood that we could find on the beach, we had a fair pile and it was all very dry meaning we had a fantastic campfire to keep us warm.
Just as well as the sky assumed a wintry look as the sun began to set.
After a chilly night I woke to a beautiful sunrise, one of the benefits of not being enclosed in a tent.
We left Port Donain in reasonable time to cross back towards the northern end of Kerrera and from there on to Oban. The wind was much lighter and the sun was shining making for pleasant, warm, relaxing sailing.

We had another encounter with porpoises not long after leaving but as before by the time we'd got out our cameras they'd gone. The trip back was uneventful and took quite a while.

As we reached Kerrera the wind disappeared and we had to paddle for a while but then a light breeze returned allowing us to sail triumphantly into Oban Bay!

Past Oban and Kerrera Marina back down the Sound of Kerrera towards our starting point.

By the time we arrived back at the Puffin Diving Centre it was three in the afternoon, the light winds having delayed us by a couple of hours. We packed up and Dave left for his long drive south a little before me.
Day three GPS and also the whole route on Google Earth.
 What a fantastic weekend, varied sailing conditions, wildlife sightings and stunning late summer weather combined with covering modest distances and lots of relaxing in camp in great company made for a combination that will be hard to beat.