Tag Archives: Achnahaird Beach

Coastal Packrafting

Rebel 2K main page

Around here the inshore sea paddling is exceptional, even if packrafting the inland lochs is also pretty good. Having done most of the latter routes, I thought I might try some coastal packrafting.
Garvie Bay arcing west to Achnahaird Bay looked like a good one and happens to parallel probably the best walk on the peninsula which we’ve done many times. That route could be a 20-km combination of cycling, walking and paddling, but as it was the last calm evening for a while, we thought we’d go out together in the kayak and I’d try the packraft on the way back. That way everyone got to play.

A light NW breeze blew onshore as we cut across Achnahaird Bay like a blue fin tuna. The approach of HW meant we slipped through the submerged skerries of Rubha Beag and into the crab’s claw inlet of Camas a Bhothain (Bothy Bay). This seemed a good spot to deploy the packraft with the aid of my exciting new gadget, a mini electric pump. I unrolled the boat over the water and let the pump buzz away for a couple of minutes, topped off with the hand pump, then clambered aboard.

Paddling away, I realised this was the first time I’ve paddled my Rebel 2K unloaded and I was a bit shocked by the bow yawing. Now fully back-heavy, one good swipe of the paddle and it could flip a 180°, just like my old 2010 Alpacka Llama.

Ah, but in my haste to launch the lifeboat I’d forgotten to fit the also-untried skeg which comes standard on the 2K. I waddled over towards Rubha a Choin beach and slipped it on easily, while the Mrs transferred to the Seawave’s front seat.

I’ve been ambivalent about the value of a skeg on a packraft, but now back on the water the yawing was notably reduced. If you think about it, a packraft actually pivots from a point around the middle of your swinging paddle, not from the stern, as it feels from the seat. The centre of mass behind the pivot point does make an unladen bow yaw more, but the stern will yaw too; just less and unnoticed.

On the Wye my 2K was fully loaded with the centre of mass moved forward and which minimised any yawing, even without a skeg. (With a heavy load over the bow a reduction in yawing is well known with packrafts). Now unloaded and with the bow riding high, swish-swosh yawing was exacerbated, but is actually happening at both ends of the boat. So any type of fin or extension of the stern (like the post-2011 Alpackas – right – and all subsequent copies) will constrain this, while not affecting steering. So, bottom line: skegs work on a packraft and are easy to retro-fit.

All the remains is a packraft’s agonisingly slow speed. These are not boats made to enjoy the sensation of flatwater paddling; they are boats to enjoy getting to out-of-the-way places easily. Any type of disturbance to progress, be it wind or current, may slow you to a stop, or worse. Something like the longer Nomad S1 I had would be better for this while still being packable. Still, in these ideal conditions it’s nice to float along observing the coastal features.

Paddling back down the east side of Achnahaird Bay, a back-breeze made progress feel achingly slow. Lately, I’ve come to value metres per second (m/s) as a metric of wind or paddling speeds. Something moving past you (or vice versa) at three metres per second is easy to visualise, though I suppose we can all visualise a 3mph walking pace, too. It’s what YR uses and is easily converted to ‘double + 10%’ for miles per hour (so 5 m/s = 11.18 mph). Or just double it and you nearly have knots (5 m/s = 9.8 kn), for what that’s worth. Crawling past the rocky coast it looked like I was doing 1 m/s at times. We had a race: diminutive Mrs in a big, long kayak; me in the packraft. Within ten seconds the Seawave streamed away while Bunter frothed up the water like a cappuccino machine.

Oh well, you’re as fast as you are. Like cycling in Tajikistan rather than Kazakhstan, for the best experience match your routes with your mobility and conditions. Next calm day I’ll do the full Garvie loop.

Seawaving, not drowning

Seawave main page
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I’ve had a chance to do a few day trips in the Seawave, including trying it out as a tandem boat.
The main view west from our place is  over to Glas-leac Mor, one of the peripheral Summer Isles, with a corresponding Glas-leac Beag nearly three miles further out and less than a mile from Priest Island.

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The day came round to loop the loop on Glas-leac Mor and maybe even carry on around the peninsula to Achnahaird. That idea was rained upon when the promised sunny skies turned out to be heavily overcast. Soon out of Old Dornie harbour The Call of the Bladder insisted I interrupt some basking seals on the unnamed skerry (left) close to Glas’s southern tip. Halfway down the east side I noticed a big stony beach, the only way of getting onto the island. There’s a lochan on Glas too, so it could be a good hideout.

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On the Minch side of these islands I always feel exposed on the swell that feels bigger than anything I can do with a paddle. It got a bit clapotty-choppy near the top of the island as I made a beeline north for Mullagrach. I was looking for a new cave I recently heard about and sure enough, north of the well-known arch an unnoticed inlet led under the island (right). (This was at the low end of the tide.)

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The GPS shows a rather unlikely subterranean track; I think it’s more of a southerly fault that’s part of the main arch and its adjacent cave. It was pitch black before I got to the end of the geo, but with a flash photo and from the sound of the slap-slopping swell, it felt like another 10-20 feet. But it was getting less than paddle wide and I didn’t fancy getting jammed on some old storm-mangled shopping trolley or stolen moped, in a bid to find out.

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According to the GPS, I had been cruising at around 3.5mph but I wasn’t feeling that fast as I’ve not done much paddling exercise. So round the headland to Achnahaird felt a bit much. Instead, I settled on a short hop further north to ‘Reiff Cove’, as I call it, a nice sandy bay a mile or so above Reiff Bay where the houses are. As I got near, the swell was slapping back off the cliffs. This is a great place to watch crashing waves when there’s a good westerly on (right).

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On the beach, I found a superb giant salami of polystyrene – former use unknown but for me a very handy boat perch and lunchtime bottom warmer.
Up on the cliffs I checked out the locked bothy which looked like it’d had a new roof, all the while wishing I’d dragged my boat a bit further up the beach. I do this every time.

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Up there I also clocked what I later realised was the back end of Loch of Reiff which fills and drains on the highest tides, making a fun ‘mini-rapid’ along the build-up canal under the bridge where a small quay used to be. If the timing had been right I could have done the short portage into the top of the loch (left) and got flushed out the south end into Reiff Bay. One for next time when the timing’s right, maybe even in a packraft. From Reiff Bay it was a couple of miles of coast hopping back down to Old Dornie, with just enough bars on the phone to call in the taxi.

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I’ve hooked up some lightweight packraft thigh braces from the Packraft Store. Simple 50mm straps with a ‘delta strap’ to additionally attach to the side to add instant tension when you brace or roll a packraft.
I used a couple of hull top D-rings to clip them on. but they don’t sit as well as the heavy SoT straps I used on the previous Grabner Amigo. Mostly it’s because I had to glue four D-rings on the floor of the otherwise bare Amigo, whereas on the Seawave the mounts are higher so the straps don’t hook over the knees so well. I suppose I ought to get round to gluing floor D-rings but it’s a big job to do well. For the moment the ‘delta straps’ can be clip together like a sternum strap on a backpack (above), and hold the straps in place. ‘Warning – Entanglement hazard!’ I hear you cry, and quite right too. If it gets that gnarly I’ll unclip, pronto. And probably inflate my pfd, too.

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Another fine day, another fine paddle. As usual I plan big but then snap out of it and think: why end up hauling ass all day when we can just have a sticky beak in some new corner of the locality.
Ardmair harbour, home of the famous Ardmair weather station, often looks like such a place, a striking bay just over the hill from Ullapool. One often sees tourists stopping here to admire it’s perfection. With a beach made of distinctive flat stones, I bet I am not the first person to say this would be a great location for a stone skimming championship.

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Two-up, we set off to round Isle Martin clockwise. The winds were forecast to be in single figures, but coming round the west end of the island I could see the line of the north-easterly F4 blowing hard out of the Strath Canaird valley onto us.

But with barely a mile of fetch to gather up, the chop was only a foot high, so we tucked in and hammered along until we were close enough under the 1000-foot cone of Beannan Beaga to get a bit less chop along the northern shore. We bounced along that as tight in as we could, setting the seals off until we reached the stony sweep of Camas Mor beach.

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Up in the warm grass for a midge free snack, I went for a wander and soon realised we were right below the jumbled rubble remains of Dun Canna Iron Age fort from about 0BC. You can see it would have made an excellent defensive position with good resources all around and over in the smaller Camas Beag (every Mor – ‘big’ – has its adjacent Beag – ‘small’ – hereabouts) bay to the north, what looked like a tidal fish trap (left). Sorry to say the fort’s rubble was not quite compelling enough to be honoured with a photo.

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A couple walked by, looking for driftwood with which to make ornamental clocks. And I was later told that gems and who knows – maybe even the Lost Hoard of Brisingamen – lay among the stones of Camas Mor.

From the headland looking west towards the Summers, the ruffled sea and scrubbed, autumnal sky were as blue as John Lee Hooker with a hangover and a tax bill.

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Time to ship the heck out. My plan was to edge south enjoying the lee, then poke the boat right up the Strath Canaird estuary until the winds, current and outgoing tide suffocated our spirit of exploration. Reading our GPS track that now seems a lot less further than it felt, but was enough to uncover a new habitat of seaweed dangling over mussel beds and dazzling highland villas once belonging to cider magnates, according to the knowledgeable driftwood couple. It’s odd how everyone around here knows which well-to-do-family owned but then sold what bit of land or island to whom.

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Of course I’d long ago clocked Strath Canaird as a potential river paddle excursion, probably in a packraft from Strathcanaird hamlet on the A835. Now I’ve seen its lower end that 4-mile paddle looks a bit more intriguing.
Once we’d had enough battling the elements, we let them flip the Seawave round and scooted back to Ardmair Bay for a final nose around the moored up boats by the campsite and then out round the point and back to Ardmair Beach.


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Two up or solo, the Seawave’s speed seems to be about 3.5–4mph, with the odd freak burst up to 5mph. That doesn’t seem to be much different to the Grabner I replaced it with, but it’s still an easier boat to use: PRVs all-round means it needs a quick ten jabs with the K-Pump Mini after a few days off in the outdoors, but never needs a manometer check. Masses of D-rings compared to the Grabner’s zero. The optional deck, the OE skeg and two feet of extra space.
And though the Amigo is long discontinued, the Seawave costs less. The nearest Grabner now would be the ruddered Grabner H2 but its over half a metre shorter; the H3 is half a metre longer but we’re still talking between €1800-2100 for well-made but rather bare boats. My Seawave with extra bits came in at €1000 from Czecho so to paraphrase the bloke from Jaws: ‘We’re ain’t gonna need a better boat’.
Well, not for a while.

Summer Isles Gallery with kayaks

A sixty-six-photo summary of our summer in the Summer Isles with a little bit of Orkney.
See also: Summer Isles Kayaking Guide

Slackraft Sea Trials

Slackrafts main page

Chopping down my Sevy pooltoy into a slackraft lost too much buoyancy to take my gross weight, but it works fine for the Mrs who’s about half my weight. So on a very calm, sunny morning – realistically, it’s inshore limits – we took the Sevy out to the Bay for a swim. I’d glued on an extra outer covering of ballistic nylon to save the vulnerable floor, as we had planned to take it down the Escalante river in Utah a couple months back, but it was way too hot for that when we got there and since then, as you may know, much of the US has been suffering a terrible drought.


As often, the first paddle in a short boat like this sees the operator yawing from left to right like a crowd watching a ping pong final. After a while, though the paddling technique adapts to reduce this effect, but even then the boat is still much slower than an Alpacka. This Slackie is only 28″ wide by 56″ long – 2:1 – (my Yak is 88″ x 36″; 2.44:1) and the Mrs found the best trim was sitting in the middle, even if this meant nothing to lean back on and was not sustainable. Next time out we’ll take a fishing buoy or something to lean against, although I do wonder if some sort of trailing skeg – a board sticking out the back rather than an under hull skeg like on an IK– might help subdue the yawing and so direct the effort in a straight line rather than zigzags.

My Alpacka skims along just like it always does; what a great boat it is. Annoyingly the backrest is leaking again from the twist valve base, even though it’s been glued up once. I find you do need that backrest to sit correctly in the boat, so another repair is due.
We dipped about, followed the river channel and out to sea and on to the rocks. As the tide turned we headed back up the river, against the flow the slackboat soon slowed to a near stop and it was faster led on its string through the shallows until a tailwind helped blow us back to our shoes, by now stranded some 200m from the water’s edge in just an hour.


A post-sea trail inspection showed that my carefully glued floor was coming away from the Sevy’s PVC hull like damp wallpaper; that may have explained why the boat got so slow coming back. The Evo Stik didn’t take to the hull at all, or if it did, seawater soon dissolved it. At the time I was trying to save on my nice Bostik 1782 which I used elsewhere on the slack boat with no problems. Anyway, it’s not worth wasting any more glue on this boat. And who knows, perhaps the ribbed floor which has been exposed again may help restore some tracking. We’ll see next time. We’ve half a mind to repeat last year’s fabulous Suilven triathlon, but this time in a boat each.

Packraft surfing – Intex vs Alpacka

Sunday morning Jon and I went to try out his new boat, another Intex Sea Hawk, but the one-man version this time which goes on amazon for under 20 quid. For that money a pump is extra, but we managed to fill it up, though maybe not as firm as it could have been. Once inflated it dawned on me rather belatedly that the Sea Kork is indeed a row boat; and it’s not just the rollocks and the rocket launchers – sorry, rod holders – that give it away. It’s the fact that the rounded bow has, like a new Alpacka, a lot more volume – and so buoyancy than its flat stern. This is a boat that you’re supposed to row facing backwards – like a rowing boat. If you sit at the less buoyant back end facing the bow the trim goes to pot, much like it could be on an old-shape Alpacka with heavy person in it. Jon is only 80kg so could get away with it, but with me – in all my gear right on the Kork’s 100kg limit – I felt better kayak-paddling it backwards. Better trim (levelness) means less yawing.

We decided to go over to Achnahaird Beach (left, on a sunny day) were, as luck would have it, the surf was kicking off the scale with some rollers up to knee height and kept up by a light offshore breeze. I am joking of course, but a few weeks ago the Achnahaird surf was looking pretty damn good (right) at up to a yard high, so even if today was a nothing special, it can be fun here.

I can’t help laughing whenever I see an Intex in action, but it’s as much in amazement that you get so much boat for 20 quid. Out on the water, the first order of the day was to attack the Sea Hawk with the pointy bow of my yellow Phoenician warship (left). Poor Jon had only been 60 seconds in his brand new boat before I was trying to tip him over, like a log-rolling contest. 

Kayak paddling from a standing start the Yak left the Sea Kork far behind – no great surprise there. Jon then took his TNP apart and tried rowing which ought to be more efficient and so faster. But all he did was a backward zig-zag; maybe that takes some practice – or a rowing boat.

By now we were nearing the surf zone where we spent the next hour having a laugh. Neither of us had ever tried this so the semi-surf was just right; we couldn’t tip our boats over whatever we tried, but if we caught a good one on time we could keep up and get a good ride – and then head back out to try and ‘wheelie’ off the next one coming at us (left and below and top of the page).

We swapped boats and confirmed the obvious; the $1000 Alpacka blows a hole in your wallet, but it also blows the Intex inflatable squid off the water. They weigh about the same, but it’s down to the Yak’s shape, lesser width and a snug fit to give you control – as well as no rollocks or fish launchers to bash your hands on as you paddle along. By the time I got in the Sea Squak the inflatable floor was soggy so I was sitting about six inches lower than my feet – not an ideal paddling stance in a boat that’s a metre-wide. On the way back I tried kneeling, but that soon got uncomfortable. Even then, sunk down and paddling ‘backwards’, stern to front, the Sea Stork still tipped along at 2.5mph without much yawing. So as a packraft the Intex does the job and has got to be one of the best value neo-packrafts around.

I’m told one of the shots on this page was published in the 2012 Alpacka Calendar

A wet weekend that turned windy (Incept K40)

 Gale warning 23 May 09:53 UTC
Violent storm force 11 veering northwesterly imminent, decreasing gale force 8

That storm hit some 200 miles west of here in Rockall, but you get the picture; it’s kite-shredding weather round here right now. Friday afternoon Ardmair near Ullapool recorded nearly 100 kph (62 mph), while we sat at the window and watched the sound run with streaks of foam. The way it’s blowing now I’d not be surprised if it gets over a 100 this week. As it turns out, along with us, the weather station up the loch went down in a 4-hour power cut at the height of the storm, but by then I read it reached 100 mph (160 kph) on the other side of Scotland.

A week ago intrepid French IK sea kayaker Gael A. set off from Skye to complete the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail (SSKT) which he started last August and wrote up for this blog. At that time he managed a fair chunk of the route before the weather turned. This time he was far less lucky; after a record hot April in the UK, May is turning into a bonanza harvest for wind farmers. By last Tuesday Gael had crossed over from Rona island to the mouth of Loch Torridon (above left, midway on the 9km crossing) and got up as far as he could before the fierce wind forced him back to camp.

Next day he reached Sheildaig, at one point noting the spring tide flooding a patch of wildflowers. The forecast summaries I was texting him were not promising: days of F5-7 ahead. He was in a fix because from Torridon he had an exposed 45-km section past Gairloch to get around Rubha Reidh headland before turning east towards Loch Ewe, the Summer Isles and Ullapool, the finish line of the SSKT. Providing we could handle the conditions, Jon and I had hoped to meet him ‘after the scary bit’ somewhere around Loch Ewe and paddle for a couple of days together.

Gael is pretty experienced – 40 years sea yaking man and boy – so by Wednesday night he knew the game was up in the time he had left. Next day I drove down to pick him up and take him back to his car on Skye, if for no other reason than it’s a fabulous drive across Wester Ross that I’d not done before. There are scores of dramatic valleys like that up here and Loch Torridon itself is a fabulous spot I’d like to return to with my packboats. The whole of the northwest above Skye really is something else as the many touring bikers and pushbikers were no doubt finding out for themselves. The tiny hamlet of Sheildaig is a time-lost, lobster-pot fantasy tucked up an inlet. It didn’t take long to find Gael so we went over to his camp by the jetty, loaded the car and headed to Skye.

The Sound of Sleat off Kyleakin (left) was calm enough, but out beyond the bridge the sea had a bit of a head on it. We had a 1970s-era lunch, Gael checked out with the police in Lochalsh and decided to hang out up here on the off chance the weather improved and he or we could make a little tour of the Summer Isles. He was also keen to try out my Incept as his Grabner was showing the years. In fact is was he who last year pointed out that Incept K40 had evolved since I last checked it out. For me it was also a good chance to interrogate an experienced sea kayaker about the Ways of the Sea. Among the many skills I feel I lack is the judgement to know when it’s safe to got out and when I ought to turn back: interpreting clouds and wind changes, forecasts and sea states. It’s a lot of stuff to understand so we spent Friday chatting while refreshing various forecast websites: Saturday looked like a bit of a lull so Jon came up to for a paddling threesome.

We did the best we could on Saturday and set out from the campsite beach (left) to plant our flags on the calm side of Isle Ristol (which you can walk to at very low tide). Old Dornie was standing room only that day as a local skiff racing regatta was on, postponed from last weekend when Jon and I spent our time daring ourselves to do something and go somewhere.

Sat in the back of his aged H2 Grabner like a canoeist, Gael was far more confident than us – pushing out over some surf raised by a reef while we scurried away, appalled. We beached on Ristol for lunch then turned around into the wind blowing through Old Dornie harbour, dodging the skiffing crews (right) hauling out to a buoy and back to the cheers of the crowds until – to quote Gael – it got at least as ‘lively’ (below)  as the previous weekend when we’d taken a while to get the hang of it all. Hauling against the wind the two clicks to the main Summer Isles looked a bit of a reach.

We turned back to the campsite launch as it filled with tooled-up sea kayakers who I fear were not going to have the great weekend’s paddling they’d come for. We headed over to Achnahaird Beach on the north side which ought to be either sheltered or with an offshore wind, depending on how you looked at it. Once in, I pointed to a Point and said let’s go there! but the Wise Old Man of the Sea advised we keep along the leeside cliffs in case the wind picked up as was predicted. The sea was flat enough between gusts but had a big, rolling swell which was an odd sensation I’ve not experienced before. I wasn’t sure if I should be anxious or just enjoy the ride.

Once in a while a series of bigger swells rolled by and churned around the outcrops, or crashed against the red sandstone cliffs, but without any real danger to a boater as there was no surf. We’ve all seen impressive sea kayaking long lens shots like that; relaxed yaker in profile with a backdrop of white-foam carnage. Even under skies which looked like they were about to collapse under their own weight (choose any pic nearby), it was a nice end to the day, running past the moss-clad cliffs and spooky caves from which pealed unrecognisable squawks. A lone seal popped up from a distance to check us out and to the east rose the naked spurs of Suilven, Cul Mor and Stac, carved out of the Assynt’s bedrock during the last Ice Age.

Jon glided along in his LV like he was on rails; you got to hand it to these hardshell SinKs, they may be a pain to carry on the Tube but they sure look good on the water – viewed from the stable-as-a-cow-pat perch of an IK, of course! Heck, it all felt like proper sea kayaking. Further up, around Rubha na Coigach headland I dare say it all gets pretty hairy, but it sure would be nice to cruise further along this coast with the Mrs some warm, calm and sunny evening.

And before the weekend was done, Gael got onto Sea Kayak Oban and bought their K40 test boat which I tried out last March. He got a great deal all things considered; I’d have bought it myself had I not already ordered my yellow boat. So that’s at least two K40s in action on the high seas; mine, his and maybe yours too soon.