Day 18 – Plod

I didn’t start all that early, but i had considered a day off because as I get nearer the Minch, the suitable weather seems to get further away which is just not what I need. Regardless of what I need or how I feel though, the day ahead of me was not that easy.

How does F3-4, gusting more, in your face, from late morning till early evening sound? Yeah I thought as much, pretty poor is a polite way to say it. And all out of the North-West, the land of the arctic dwarf, my favorite.

Route wise there was no drama, I put on at Kyleakin and paddled west under the Skye bridge and on towards Broadford. That alone took me in excess of 2 hours I think. Plod plod, paddle paddle, ‘hoooo wooooo’ said the wind. And repeat.

I stopped opposite Broadford Bay behind a wee jumble of rocks that offered some shelter from the wind. Knocked up a sandwich, ate biscuits, drank some hot stuff and sat in the sunshine feeling my finger tips go numb. And this was in the relative shelter. So I got back into my boat and plodded North, at least with pogies on my fingertips came back.

I headed up behind Scalpay, plod plod, paddle paddle, ‘hooo woooo’.

And then the wind dropped, which was nice, till it picked up again.

Don’t get me wrong the scenery was stunning. The place awesome. But I’m going to disappoint ‘Visit Scotlands’ tourism aspirations here, the weather can be really soul destroying at times. It was blustery, so for every aesthetically pleasing spell, there was one of complete drivel.

Plod plod, paddle paddle, ‘hoooo woooo’. Oh and a nice hail-squall, even better. (I’ll post the video of that when I get time to upload).

Maybe its just that I am a big jessie that can’t hack paddling into the wind when I know the future forecasts don’t exactly look great for my project either. Man up.

I turned toward Sconsor and set up camp at the edge of the golf course, seemed alright, it was flat.

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Day 17 – I’m a Rocketman

That’s my Aunty Pat, who says, ‘don’t call me Aunty Pat, you’re too old for that!’ She was a brilliant hostess, not only did she put me up for the night, but she insisted on washing my stinky thermals and generally running me about so that I could say hello to other paddling pals that lived locally, before i hit the water again in the morning.

And hit it I did, running. I ran with the wind and the tide, from about 1115. To be honest I was running so well that I nearly didn’t stop for lunch. Every few waves gave an elongated surf and I was having a ball. Until of course nature intervened.

So I headed into Armadale on the south of Skye’s Sleat peninsula. I turned into the bay just past the pier knowing full well that Caledonian MacBrayne allow soggy seafaring types to use their facilities. Before I got the chance to answer the call though I spotted some other kayaks beached on the shore. Not one to miss a trick I called out to the gents on the shore ‘have you seen a small dog?’.

I couldn’t believe it when one of them actually asked me ‘what sort of dog?’ Then I spotted that I knew some of the faces lining the shore, a-ha, something’s afoot here. It was only a couple of moments before Monsieurs Willis and Brown stepped into view. Simon was filming Gordon’s new production, like Hot Shots – Part Deux, but in kayaks.

I tried not to munch my Ginger Bread loaf too noisily for fear of upsetting the take of Gordon explaining how to look good in a storm cag, not that I am sure you can do such a thing.

Last laughs as always fall with Mr Brown who knows my mindset all too well. As a top level, long in the tooth, kayak coach he knows that I have a competitive streak wider than a Glasgow Neds attitude.

Yes of course YOU CAN paddle from Armadale to Breakish if you want a curry, but you have to make sure and get through Kyle Rhea’s make or break tidal nonsense first. I got through just as the tide turned right under me, but alas I couldn’t make Breakish, only Kyleakin. So at somewhere around 1830 hours i conceded defeat, but snatched victory from its jaws, I was close enough to have earned some curry, a Prosecco toast and some fine company.

Simon did, during proceedings, take the time to film me and ask me some questions. All i can say is I am amazed at how he can edit and produce this so quickly when I seem to fall days behind on my blogging by merely pitching tents and falling asleep.

As for pictures from Day seventeen of the west coast kayak challenge….you’re having a laugh, I had to paddle harder than the Waverley to get my curry!

Maybe I’ll get video uploaded when I get an Andrex internet connection; Better, longer, stronger.



West Coast Kayak Challenge – update from Simon Willis on Vimeo.

Big thanks to Janice Seller for kindly ferrying me to my lamb dopiaza. x

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Day 16 – Lazy bones gets lucky.

Today was full of surprises. The first one was that I hadn’t set my alarm and I woke up very very late. It was so late by the time I got on the water that (as I found out much later on) some people thought I was having a day off.

The reason I slept so well was that I have a very good wee tent, I’ve packed a combo of 2 and 3 season down sleeping bags and I was pitched on the best camp site ever. It was flatter than the medieval perception of the world we live in.

It also had no camping signs nearby that I hadn’t at first noticed, though that may be because they are placed with landlubbers and not seafarers in mind.

When I did get on the water the wind was exactly as it had been when I got off the water 21.5 hours earlier, which did not tickle me pink. Then i got my first real surprise of the day. Ahead of me, maybe a 100 or so metres, I spied a few fins arching out of the water. I never thought I’d catch up with the dolphins what with them being highly evolved creatures of the sea and me being primate in a lump of carbon and glass. My next surprise was that I caught them, but I think they let me.

The dolphins allowed me the pleasure of their company for the next half hour coming ever closer, almost within touching distance. I was spellbound by these graceful creatures. I can only wonder what they thought of me, probably something along the lines of, ‘check out the crazy guy in the yellow stuff, doesn’t he look odd?’.

After my new friends departed I was surprised by the out and out striking beauty of the cliffs that I was passing alongside. There were caverns that ‘boomed’ out as the swelling sea filled and withdrew from their lengthy reaches. Eroded gullies with piles of scree between the cliffs and intricate rough jetties of rock that speared the surface of the sea came and went next to me. After a couple of hours of this I reached the headland at Rubha Aird Druiminich. The coastline and the dolphins had been so bewitching that I had failed to notice the Easterly fading from my face. It was time to head North.

I took a bearing on the western tip of Arisaig and paddled out across the water leaving Ardnamurchan’s magical coast behind me. The sea was now calm, aside from the odd breaking top where shallow skerries were only just covered by the gentle swell from west. After another couple of hours or so I arrived at the Arisaig skerries which were a mix of turqouise and darker inky sea with colonies of common seals lounging out in the now warm sunshine. This was my next treat in a day full of them. Maybe spring is trying to extend it’s grasp North.

I wound my way through this maze of rock water and seaweed and headed out further North toward the beach at Camas An Daraich where I beached and got my final surprise for the day. After more camping than you can shake a big sodden tent peg at there were now three beds on offer within a 5 km stretch of coastline. No competition for the winner though, my Aunt Pat was here to pick me up and take me a couple of clicks up the road to where my Uncle Jimmy and a plate of baked salmon, tatties and peas were waiting to be wolfed down. A good end to the day.

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Day 15 – Bye Bye Clyde Coastguard?

Monday the 14th March 2011 may become the last day in my life I ever used the Clyde Coastguard for my safety. And I won’t dwell on this, but if the totally ill thought proposals of HM Government in Westminster get their way I for one will find it totally bizarre calling Aberdeen Coastguard when I’m kayaking on the West of Scotland. Truly and totally bonkers. Well done Dave, ‘we’re all in it together’. Are we? No we’re not actually because when I sit my lonely little tush in a wee boat a fraction wider than me and send myself off round the most westerly point of mainland Britain I certainly don’t feel ‘in it’ with anyone, maybe its comforting knowing that you know someone on your coastline is listening out for you, but not you Dave, you are not in my boat with me, and frankly mate, you never will be. Its a single seater anyway, it just wouldn’t be practical.

Anyway, swiftly moving on, as I was out of Tobermory Bay. After my wee call to the CG in Greenock I headed off North with a fresh Easterly on my beam and a spring in my catch. It was only about 10 or 20 minutes in when I saw it, the second such time I had seen this on this shores of the sound of Mull in the last few days. It was massive, it had wings with splayed ‘fingers’ except this time I saw the tell tale white tail. A big blooming Sea Eagle flying above Bloody Bay. What a creature, simply big and magnificent. Alas I was incapable of reacting quick enough to get a decent snap but I was happy enough under the circumstances.

I aimed for Kilchoan until I was almost clear of Bloody Bay, then once past Ardmore Point I started using the Easterly and every now and then ran with the waves, the closer I got to Ardnamurchan, the more I ran with it. The last wee bit I really felt like I was travelling, this was more like it. As is always the case, when its in your face it takes forever and when its fun its over quicker than you say, ‘Hey mister can I have my ball back please?’

The shelter round the protected shore of the Ardnamurchan headland was really quite odd. The last time I was round here it was howling from the SW and my pal was going green at the back of a yacht. What a difference. It was so calm that I hovered next to the gentle swell, timed my approach and got to touch my hand on the most westerly barnacles on mainland Britain at Corrachadh Mor. I was feeling soulful.

The shelter lasted until immediately after the light house at the Point of Ardnamurchan, from here on it was going to be a fight into the face of the Easterly, so I got as far as Sanna Bay and chucked the towel into the ring, thats enough thank you.

I tried to call Clyde CG again, but they couldn’t hear me. I tried Stornoway CG, but they couldn’t hear me. On no! Come back Dave, all is forgiven, there’s room on my boat for two! Actually no, I’d rather walk back over to Kilchoan to use the phone.

In fact I didn’t walk, Graeme and Sheila Clark kindly gave me a lift there (and a bottle of Double Drop Ale) and by a stroke of luck Judy, Stuart and Sam the labrador gave me a lift back – thanks to all those guys for their kindness.

I phoned the CG and thanked them for being there, then walked up the hill with a camera a beer and a very very beautiful sunset.

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Day 14 – Strawberries

There’s not much to report today. I met a creeler this morning who admitted to having underestimated the weather, then met the mechanic from the Tobermory Lifeboat, Jock. He was walking with his family right by my tent while I was cleaning up after lunch. He asked if I was the guy who was paddling the west coast and I replied ‘Yes I am’ before I even wondered how he knew. It’s amazing how matter of fact you can become about something that is not matter of fact. Are you that serial killer? ‘Yes I take great pleasure in killing!’

It turns out the RNLI had sent an email round their stations saying what I was up to. So Jock kindly offered me the use of his station’s shower, which I nearly at first turned down. Why would I want to stay in my camp and smell like a tramp?

I walked into town, along the harbour and then called Jock to say I was there. ’20 mins? That’s perfect, I’ll go to the Mishnish for a cup of tea.’ Now anyone that knows either me or the Mishnish will know that statement was at best an underestimate and and worst an outright lie. So one pint later I went for a shower in the lifeboat station.

Jock checked the weather on the computer for me and I knew that early the next day I’d be heading round Ardnamurchan, which was good. So I went back to the Mishnish. Now a funny thing about the Mishnish on a Sunday. It would appear that some of the locals and the staff have a thing for cheese and biscuits. Which was really quite good, watch the Calcutta Cup on the gogglebox, eat some cheese and biscuits, have a halftime chat with the lifeboat’s coxswain (Phil) and then spend the second half wondering what the smell of strawberries was. There were no strawberries anywhere to be seen.

It wasn’t till I was getting my supplies for paddling round Ardnamurchan, in the shop after the rugby had finished, that I worked it out. It was me that smelled of strawberries, I forgot I had a decanted bottle of my daughter’s shampoo.

But didn’t I smell nice!

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Day 13 – For a few dollars more

If yesterday was venturing into the Wild West like Sergio Leone did in his spaghetti western ‘A fistful of dollars’. Then today was the sequel, ‘For a few dollars more’.

I was going to call it ‘The Arctic Dwarf’ because it was short and cold but I thought the political correct brigade might cry if I used that one.

I didn’t rush out of bed this morning, I knew the weather was against me and the tide was against me, but my sleeping bag was definitely for me. So i stayed in it and chopped some tatties (scots vernacular – potato). I wished I had a grater but I chopped them as fine as I could, soaked ’em, biled ’em (thats boiled for the hard of scots) then fried the life out them with some finely chopped cheese chunks and some deftly hand ripped ham. Fried it some more then cracked two medium free range eggs into the side of the pan and hey presto swiss style Rosti and eggs served in a sleet storm on the Isle of Mull. Breakfast of champions.

I was fuelled and ready to go. So I packed up and went. I paddled out into the Sound of Mull and low and behold I couldn’t see the land opposite. Now for those that don’t know the area, this is stunning kayaking country. Or at least it is when you can see the wonderful vistas in all their sweeping beauty. Instead I got a different kind of grey today. It was grey with tracer bullets of white dashed across it, a-ha poor visibility and snow, aren’t I lucky?

Chuck into the mix a strong wind out the NE and you’ve got perfect winter conditions, for topping up the ski slopes! Who picked March to paddle to Stornoway?

Anyway I paddled for as long as I could, which was two hours or so, but it wasn’t the arms that packed in. It was the known and possible universe that ceased to be. No I didn’t venture beyond the event horizon of a black hole or even contemplate the incompatible possibilities of the Quantum and Newtonian definitions of our world. I just reached the end of Mull. Next up lies Ardnamurchan, and that is not a place to be in these conditions. So I sit here in Tobermory, listening to pipe and folk music in a quiet pub on a Saturday night and update you all via the wonder that is 3G……and I thought nothing could escape the event horizon, not even light?

Oh well, I’m here for at least another day, I’d better have another pint of the local ale, yum yum.

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Day 12 – The Wild West

At 0640 this morning I stood on the shore at Oban sailing club, slid the Bahookie into the water, got in and paddled. At 0700 I started a 3 hour fight with a headwind and some big seas on the Firth of Lorn.

I’d like to say that I wasn’t fazed but I’d be lying. I’ve never paddled a crossing like that, it was simply fierce. I took a battering from 3 different squalls filled with hail that lashed at my face. I had to brace in anger as I lent over my paddle and shouldered a wave that crashed onto my head. Never mind just trying to stay upright during the general pounding from the wind. I have never felt so alone in a boat.

When I got into the shelter of Mull under Duart Castle I felt more than a little relieved. I was exhilarated, yes, but I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry.

I got into the Sound of Mull but the tide was against me and there was still plenty wind whipping the now shallow waves in my face. It took another 6 hours to get up to Salen Bay where I am now camping.

I guess I’m back in the saddle now.

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Day 10 – False Dawn

I really thought I’d be good to go again today, but instead I’ve decided to wind my neck in. When I am ready to go I’ll feel ready to go.

The closer I got to going the more conscious I became of the general lack of energy and remaining sense of unease I feel about my fitness. It’s only 2 days since I came down with this bug and the weather, though not unpaddleable, is certainly at the end of the spectrum that requires concentration, fitness and a good sense of self.

When my faculties return to strength I will return to the water because although I made a promise do this journey, I also made a promise to my girls to do it safely.

Time is still on my side.

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Day 9 – One step forward two steps back.

I’m still in Oban and can’t thank Roger and Lyndsay enough for their hospitality. In a way I’m glad I took the rest day in Oban, even though its turned into 4 days. Otherwise I’d have been sick in a tent on Mull and probably in a very bad way. I’m eating again, which is great but my kidneys feel like they’ve been pummelled by Mike Tyson.

The weather is quite blowy and wet, in fact I’d go as far as to say between that and the timing of the use-able tides I’m going to have to be very careful about Ardnamurchan. I hope to head of up the Sound of Mull tomorrow, providing the weather eases enough to cross the Firth of Lorn.

Positives are, I am still ahead of my original schedule, so while I recuperate here is a selection of photos from week one of the West Coast Kayak Challenge.

Final preparations in the mother of all sheds.

Offloading from the van for launch.

Passing Lochranza’s snow capped hinterland

The camp on Days 2 and 3 at Dunaverty, Southend, Kintyre.

A beautiful sunset over the Mull of Kintyre at the end of Day 2.

Day 3, Calum wasn’t excited by St Columba’s footprint at all.

Splashing around on Cara near the end of Day 4.

A wee rest on Cara before heading to Gigha to camp.

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Day 8 – De-Bugging the system.

I have a bad tummy bug. It feels like one of these winter vomiting types. I’m not going into details but I can’t eat. And won’t be going anywhere for at least 24 hours.

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