Monday, 27 June 2016

St Kilda: Morning paddle around Dun and departure - 13th June 2016

This was the second paddle of the St Kilda trip with Gordon Brown on the Cuma.

The day dawned bright with fairly light winds, so the prospects were for a good day. The plan for the morning was to explore Dun, the island off the southern tip of Hirta, with the two islands only separated by a small channel.

Dun seen from Hirta
This guy wasn't expecting visitors - fast asleep!
There can't be many places where you can pack so much adventurous and dramatic paddling into such a small area. The narrow island of Dun is breached by the sea in a number of places leaving spectacular through caves. Some of these are obvious arches, others are hidden requiring prior knowledge to find them or an adventurous spirit!

We practiced the protocol for how to navigate through the caves - one person goes through to check it out, if they survive and come back in one piece, we then determine if it is safe to go through one at a time! We navigated a few caves like this. One cave involved negotiating an awkward sloping roof that didn't leave much room to paddle that then opened out into a big pool. At right angles to the route in, another exit from the pool's cavern was out to the open sea on the west side. This looked far too intimidating to take on, so we reversed our route back to the calm of the east side of the island, but not before Matthew got trashed in the pool by a couple of big waves and had to roll a couple of times.

Entrance to the slanting through cave
Me negotiating the slanting cave - photo credit Gordon Brown
We carried on up the east side of Dun till we got to the large arch. The swell was making this look interesting, and a few of us paddled through it to the turbulent west side. Gordon paddled through and a couple of us then went down the west side of the island towards the gap between Dun and Hirta, the rest of the party decided not to venture through and turned around on the east side.

I'm inspecting the large arch - photo credit Bob Grose
The gap has a number of large rocks in it, and with the breaking waves pushing water through the channels it again created "interesting" conditions. Gordon led us through to show the route and I followed. Once Bob also joined us we re-grouped with the others to determine what to do next. I had a bit of a headache (and also needed a pee - a constant problem on St Kilda with no easy landings!) so I returned to the Cuma that was moored in the bay, but the others were coached by Gordon and persuaded to go through the gap and to return again which led to some excitement.

Approaching the Dun gap - photo credit Gordon Brown
Me negotiating Dun gap - photo credit Gordon Brown

Playing in the Dun gap - photo credit Gordon Brown
Tiff going through the gap - photo credit Gordon Brown
We then had lunch on the Cuma and discussed plans. The weather window was closing, and it looked as though the weather would break the following day with strong north easterly winds. Based on this forecast we all decided that we would like to spend the afternoon exploring Hirta on foot, and then we would have to leave St Kilda that evening to motor over to the more sheltered islands of the Outer Hebrides.

A pleasant few hours were spent exploring Hirta - looking at the old village and a hike up to the highest point that is a fantastic viewpoint. We experienced the plight of the Gannets when we were subject to attacks by the Great Skuas (Bonxies).

One of the unique St Kilda storage Cleats
Boreray from Hirta - the route paddled the previous day
Bonxie attacks!
Soay in the distance
Dun in the distance
Restored village houses
We left St Kilda by a small detour around the west side of Hirta to enable us to get a view of the spectacular west coast. We motored up through the channel between Soay and Hirta and were treated to a wildlife spectacular of birds, a basking shark and a minke whale. It was sad to leave St Kilda after such a short stay, but we managed to pack a lot in and maybe I'll be back one day.

St Kilda: Hirta to Boreray - 12th June 2016

First paddle of a trip out to St Kilda, a remote archipelago 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. This was a guided trip organised through Gordon Brown and Skyak Adventures on board the Cuma.

Five of us met up on the Saturday morning to travel with Gordon and the other guide Rowland Woollven across Skye and onto the Uig to Tarbet ferry. After the early start it was nice to avail ourselves of the Calmac restaurant and tuck into a traditional Scottish breakfast.

Once on Harris, we drove the van north up to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis to meet another paddler who was arriving as a foot passenger on the Ullapool ferry. We visited the Stornoway Co-op to stock up on last minute necessities... which mainly consisted of various cheeses and alcohol.

We then drove over to the west coast of Lewis to meet the rest of the group and to board our home for the next six nights, the motor vessel Cuma. The Cuma is a converted trawler that has bunks and catering facilities for 12 plus crew. The boat is skippered by Murdo MacDonald who has many years experience fishing the waters off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides, and on this trip his crew consisted of Michaela and Amy who organised the catering.

Up until this time, the weather in north west Scotland had been fantastic for the last three weeks, however it was now starting to break down and it looked as though reasonable weather was only going to hold on for a few more days and then strong winds from the north and east were due to set in. Based on this forecast, the plan was to load up as soon as possible and motor out to St Kilda that evening.

So around 5pm we set off from Miavaig and motored out of Loch Roag, past Gallan Head and set course for St Kilda. There was a moderate wind and some swell, so the boat was rolling a fair bit on the crossing. I started off admiring the scenery and the wonderful birdlife but gradually I was feeling more queezy, so retired to the comfort of lying down on a bench. Around 10:30 I was rudely awakened by my excited companions as the stacks and cliffs of St Kilda suddenly appeared, their tops truncated by low cloud and an eerie atmosphere in the dusky light. I took a quick glance, groaned and rolled over back to lie down. Not exactly the most exciting first view of these islands!

We carried on round at anchored in Village Bay and around 11:30 dinner was served. Apparently I was looking rather green, so wisely I declined dinner and went straight to bed.

I awoke the following morning feeling fine, and everyone was up early and enjoying the view as the day dawned much brighter and we got our first proper view of the main island of Hirta. The only decent anchorage in the whole island chain is in Village Bay that is relatively sheltered facing south east. In the bay the abandoned village has been taken over by volunteers that monitor the wildlife and the military personnel that operate the small base.

With the relatively settled weather, the plan for the day was to paddle out of Village Bay and then make the 7km crossing over to Boreray and its impressive sea stacks. We launched the kayaks from the Cuma - a process that takes a bit of time lowering them into the water alongside the Cuma's inflatable tender that is moored alongside. The paddler gets into the tender, then into their boat. This took about 45 minutes the first time we did it, but this improved as the week went on and we got used to the routine.

Once we left Village Bay and around the south eastern tip of Hirta, we caught our first sight of Boreray in the distance. The crossing wasn't too difficult - mild swell, with a small chop, but as you approach Boreray you forget the paddling and are just awestruck with dramatic scenery and the increasing density of Gannets heading to and from the colony on Stac Lee. This is the largest Gannet colony in Europe that also attracts a rather nasty bully in the form of the Great Skua.

You can't but feel sorry for the Gannets that get picked on by gangs of Skuas - the Gannets have been roaming for many miles fishing and keeping the food in their stomachs to regurgitate for their chicks. Just as they near their nest a gang of maybe four or five Skuas attack a Gannet and force it to regurgitate its food for their consumption. The poor Gannet then sits on the sea looking forlorn.

We circumnavigated Boreray anticlockwise, passing under enormous cliffs that disappeared into a cloud cap that had formed on the island. We paddled around Stac an Armin and then in the lee of the cliffs on the west side of Boreray we made a rendezvous with the Cuma for lunch - how civilised! With no anchorage, the Cuma was put in a slow circle as we re-boarded and left the kayaks tied up on the tender.

After lunch we explored some of the caves on the west side of Boreray and played in some of the rock features. The swell made some passages interesting, requiring correct timing to negotiate small gaps or to cover ledges. Gordon gave plenty of opportunity for people to get into trouble after he made it look so easy himself. Luckily I didn't get into any awkward situations (unlike some).

We paddled around Stac Lee with the constant company of thousands of Gannets circling overhead. Other birds also nest on Boreray, so there were also many Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and to a lesser extent Puffins.

We then plotted a course back to Hirta and the return crossing was a bit calmer. We headed for Mina Stac and then paddled west, exploring more caves. A strange wailing noise came from some of the caves and it was accompanied by a pungent odour. These caves were the ones with small beaches or ledges in the back of them and were the home of the island's small seal population, and it was the pups calling out that we could hear.

Carrying on we had another rendezvous with the Cuma in Glen Bay. A few decided to catch a lift back with the Cuma to Village Bay, but for those of us who still hadn't had enough paddled back round the east side back into Village Bay.

We landed by the pier with the plan to leave the kayaks up on the pier to save the hassle of loading and unloading them from the boat. It was strange to walk on solid ground again. Murdo came and picked us up in the tender to take us back to the Cuma and another hearty dinner.

Approximately 30km distance.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Ravenglass Seaquest - 5th June 2016

Fine weather greeted the competitors that gathered on Ravenglass beach for the annual seaquest orienteering event. This event is a 3 hour "score" event where you try and collect as many controls as possible, each control being 10, 20 or 30 points, and then you get time penalties as deducted points for any time taken over the three hours.

I decided to head off up the Esk collecting the controls on the right bank. I managed to find the controls without any difficulty and I was feeling pretty good as I made the turn at the top of the river just through the road bridge. On the return I was now paddling against the incoming tide so I had to eddy hop my way back towards Ravenglass, this time collecting the controls on the other bank. My tactic seemed to pay off as I made up a couple of places on the return and surprisingly John Willacy wasn't out of sight!

I normally budget 90 minutes for the Esk, 30 minutes for the Mite and then 60 minutes for the Irt, and I was pretty much on schedule as I turned into the Mite estuary. Again I collected controls on my right on the way up, which actually meany I only left one control in the middle of the estuary for the return.

Still on schedule, I then started making my way up the Irt. By this time the tide was starting to go out, and I just made the shortcut across into the Irt to reach a control on a fence. This required me to get out of my boat and to jog over to the control to clip it. I then returned my boat that I had hauled up out of the water and place it back in the water in what I thought was deep enough water for me to get going again. Unfortunately once I was back in I was still beached, and I used by paddle to try and pull myself into deeper water. Crack!... I'd exerted too much pressure on my paddle and snapped the shaft.

So another early finish. Luckily I wasn't far from the event start/finish so I could J-stroke with a single paddle back to Ravenglass beach.

About 20km paddled.

St Bees Head - 4th June 2016

Arrived early afternoon planning to stay overnight for the Ravenglass Seaquest on the sunday.

Launched from St. Bees beach by the lifeboat station. The tide was starting to go out and we headed north for an hour before turning around under the lighthouse.

Fantastic bird life with the cliffs covered in guillemots and razorbills.

Returned to the beach at low tide, so the trolleys came in handy for the long carry back up the beach.

Training sessions - May 2016

A few training sessions on the canal in May,,,

Clubhouse to Bridge 18 - 10th May 2016
Clarke Lane to Higher Poynton Marina - 15th May 2016
Adlington Marina to Marple - 20th May 2016
Clarke Lane to Fools Nook Swingbridge - 25th May 2016 - The canal was closed in Bollington due to a leak, so went south for a change.

Had a couple of sessions at Brereton greenland rolling. My left sided roll seems to have returned, still can't perform a proper reverse sweep.