Tag Archives: Ardmair weather station

Slackrafting to Clashnessie

asyguinioAs we left one car near Stoer, out to sea a stampede of white horses were galloping in towards the Bay of Clachtoll. It looked like a late 90s Guinness commercial out there. We didn’t want to be kayaking in that, no sirree.
So instead Jon and I swapped craft and set out to follow a string of lochs which filled a fault line marked on the maps as ‘Gleannan Salach‘ (in colour, below). It ran west from Loch Assynt to the sea, across a lochan-speckled headland tipped by the Point of Stoer. To the south Enard Bay (which I kayaked along a few weeks ago) to the north Eddrachillis Bay; all ringed by the cute Drumbeg road. I’d clocked this as a viable packrafting ‘line’ some time ago and today was the day.

stoerpenmap It was only about seven miles, road to road. But from the look of the map and knowing the terrain around here, I expected the walking stages to be sodden, gruelling bogs or chest high fernfests. We’d found as much on Horse Island the previous day.
sala26Jon was debuting his skinned dinghy (more on that idea here), last seen in the Summers during a bitterly fought offshore jousting tournament we’d held off Achnahaird Bay a year or two ago. I’d cut my own slackraft down a while back but found with my weight, the freeboard was a limited and the slightest wave would swamp it. Luckily that was all the excuse I needed to be allowed to use my proper packraft.
It was going to be a day of blustery winds and heavy showers so appropriately dressed, we parked up at the Leitir Easaidh end near Loch Assynt and put in at a shelter by a boat ramp. On inflation Jon’s slackie looked ridiculously small, an impression that worsened once he actually got on it. And on the water the situation deteriorated still further; that thing pulled half the speed of the ‘packa, yawing left and right like some demented dashboard ornament in need of a good slap.

sala05A relative novice to slackage, it’s possible Jon was paddling as if he was in his 17-foot sea kayak which has a length/width ratio of over 8:1. On his slackie it was less than 2:1. Long, powerful strokes merely flip the bow left to right, as I found when I first tried my original Alpacka. It takes a bit of a knack to stop yawing, although the later ‘fastback’ tailed Alpackas like my yellow Yak above, greatly minimised that. Previous slacking expeditions in France and the Kimberley has been with unskinned, full-width slackboats which attained some two thirds of an Alpacka’s peak velocity, once you’ve divided the surface tension by Ω x π. It brought up the troubling possibility: was removing the outer hull to gain slimness at a slight loss of buoyancy not as efficacious as previously thought?
By the time we got to the far end of Loch Leitir Easaidh we’d already been rained on and blown about twice. Faced with a steep climb through knotted woodland and thick bracken, we rolled ’em up and go stuck in. Soon we were at the pass which overlooked the next lochan and by the time we were back at the pumps that one mile had taken an hour.

We estimated the rest of the crossing would probably be at the same slug-like pace, so to get home before Christmas, I towed the slackraft. Jon paddled too of course, the tow line constraining his rampant yawing as we clung to the leeward south shore. Alone on windless flat water, my packraft can sit on 3 mph. Out of the wind our packboat convoy managed about two which was good enough. At the far end a short portage dropped us a few feet down to Loch Three, and at the end of that one a deer fence stretched across the small weir before Lochan a Ghleannein Shalaich, loch #4.
At this point the map showed the flow funnelled into a narrow gorge which could mean an awkward climb to get round. We’d decided if it took ages to get to the gorge we’d turn back, but lined up we were averaging a little over our target 1 mph so the mission rolled on. Better still, an easily walkable route ran alongside the stream through the gorge, then opened out to an agreeably grassy basin that didn’t involve thrashing through chest-high bracken or sinking into unset peat. Unusually, walking here proved to be faster than paddling.
That stage gained us some time, but back on the water we took a few steps back. The southwesterly gale sweeping across Loch na Loinne must have been accelerating round Cnoc an Dubharlainn, at 223-metres, the highest hill in the ‘Salach’. A couple of islands provided inadequate respite from 35-mph sidewinds which hammered down on the rafts. We both dug hard on the right and barely the left across the exposed bays, managing between 1.5- and 2 mph, though it sure didn’t feel like it. The shortest rest saw us skitting across the choppy waters to the northeast bank.
Out of the wind it’s another world. By a wooded cliff we glided past the twisted and banded Lewisian gneiss that makes up the bedrock of this waterlogged region. Said to be three billion years old, the Salach badlands has had its capping of oxblood coloured Torridon sandstone scrapped away, right down to the raw bones of the primeval gneiss.At the far end they’d built up a rubble and mat barrage which diverted the outflow through a pipe. Purpose unclear but after the effort of getting here, I suggested we unline for the next little loch before one more portage brought us to Loch Poll, the last and  biggest loch.

Untethered, the Alpacka Yak skimmed across the lochan like a spun stone. Jon was not so far behind and we both squeezed under a fence and along a channel before we ground out on mossy boulders and took to the banks. The whole traverse seems to follow an ancient wall and a newer fence, and as the winds strengthened we popped through a lonely gate and over a pass clinging to our inflated boats. Down on the far side, again we managed to paddle a meandering, reedy stream until a small waterfall barred access to Poll. Raining, blowing and cold, it was a good time to cram in the last of our squashed snacks for the final haul.

Slackerman, where you gonna run to?
And a haul it was. The winds and rain intensified to the point where we decided, that even at out glacial pace, better to take a longer route around Poll’s southern edge. Flat against the wind at times, from the look of the passing shore, our lined-up flotilla crept along at barely a mile an hour. In fact a ’10’ marked on the OS map has obscured a couple of handy islands that would have made crossing Loch Poll’s 300-metre wide ‘neck’ not so exposed, though that route may have put us against the biggest fetch and rebounding winds.
We curved round the loch southern shore to gain a brief spell of backwind and then with more hacking, we arrived at the take-out bay at 7pm, six hours out of Leitir Easaidh. It was a ten-minute walk to the road and the car, somewhere within a mile. Half an hour later, where was the car? Not in Strathcoy, not in Imirfada. Had we turned the right way off the Salach? At Clashnessie Bay I was forced into that ultimate humiliation: looking at the map. Oh dear. I got Clachtoll near Stoer mixed up with Clashnessie, also near Stoer; I had assumed the Gàidhlig Buidheann-stiùiridh doi Teanga (Gaelic Language Directorate) had changed the name. Another three miles march it was then, into a headwind so strong we couldn’t hear each other talking. Ardmair near Ullapool recorded 48 mph around that time.

sala25

So, has the cut-down slack rafting myth been finally punctured with a blunt wooden spoon? I knew they were slow but Jon’s boat seemed worse. Still, my Amigo IK is the same ginalongside Jon’s Scorpio sea kayak – not as fast – so you’re as fast as you are. I still think for a hill trekker carrying a slackraft that’s no slower than a Supai, lighter than my Alpacka and a fraction of the price, still enables water-inclusive routes across the well-suited northwestern highlands. Longer crossings may take a while but you paddle. That’s what you do. Splish follows splosh follows splish follows splosh. Good things come to those who wait.

More kayak disc sailing

The IK & packraft sail Index Page

Windbag update 2016: the 3mm-thick 305cm-long glass fibre rod snapped. Not surprising with the bending it gets to fold down, but I doubt it’s worth repairing. I bought another length via ebay for a tenner. I went for a 3m section which is 5cm short (next length being 5m) but the sail can accommodate dektentthe slack. It felt more flexible but within a couple of days that broke in two places too. If I run 3mm rod doubled up I presume the bending forces will be the same, but if I run thicker rod I presume it won’t fold down three times to the compact 30cm diametre disc.
windppLooking again at the original Windpaddle, it does seem much of the cost is explained by the ‘proprietary’ composite rod they use, and there seem few easily found online reports of breakages. Prices seem to have dropped quite a lot too (as they have for the ebay knock offs by 50%). Could it be you get what you pay for after all?


 

sai01The other evening I hooked my old home-made disc sail onto the Grabner’s bow (left and below) and took it out on a loch to remind myself that it wasn’t really that good. As before, I found it difficult to get a good run before it flapped out or otherwise lost its drive.
sai-discMy Pacific Action V-sail will work better, but fitting that to the Amigo may require more D-ringing. I like the compactness and simplicity of a disc sail, but it was suggested that dishing like a bowl was the key to holding the wind and maintaining steady progress, even if it may be less effective tacking across the wind.
ParachutaiSounds plausible and WindPaddles are clearly made like that for a reason. Since then it occurred to me that’s why classic ‘descending’ parachutes (‘reverse’ sails) are bowls and not flatter discs which would shoot across the sky. Before I set about recutting my disc into a bowl shape I checked WP prices on ebay and spotted what looked like a knock-off: ‘Canoe sail kayak sail wind sail‘, now just £17 delivered. Cheaper than sewing and at 115cm deployed, it was midway in size between WP’s Adventure which at the time was selling for no less than £155 in the UK (now £110 with smaller Scout for £90). Someone assure me that a WindPaddle costs even a fiver to make in China, but see top of the page.
sai10sai-attachAnd better still, the no-name windbag folds down into three hoops of just over a foot in diameter (right – smaller than my red disc sail). Plus there’s an elastic hoop to keep it like that and a carry bag for the long walk back to the van. Out of that bag, the only changes I made were to replace the too-short control strings with my tape off the red sail which I find easier to handle. I reassigned a sling to hook the sail’s base to a floor D-ring back from the bow (above left). That was already fitted and was the only adaption I needed to mount the sail to the Grabner.
sai03The day before, with the visiting Nimbus family we’d paddled round the Ristol isles. Over lunch on Ristol beach I took my new sail for a burn up. First time out, not bad at all. I got a steady run and up to 3.9 mph on a breeze of no more than 15 mph and with very little faffing. The prospects were good. More wind was needed.
Incidentally, on the beach I noticed how very, very much unlike a sea kayak the Amigo really is. Alongside my old Incept, let alone the lethal Scorchio HV (right), the red boat looked sai12like one of those horrible inflatable kayaks you read about, except it happened to be clad in bomb-proof hypalon and pumped up like a basketball. And by the way, I finally fixed the seat in the Grabner with a rather obvious solution. Details on the Mods page if you’re interested.

sai-mullaEarlier on, coming round the southwest corner of Eilean Mullagrach, (right), the swell bouncing off the cliffs and crashing over outer reefs looked intimidating. Though we all managed fine, it was everyone for themselves. With heads bent to the task, the comparative speeds of our four boats was clear to see. Way out ahead and longer than your average four-door car: the cheddar-coloured P&H cheese cutter. No far behind, 12-year-old Boy Nimbus darted along in his 12-foot Carolina (later I GPS’d him at 6mph, same as the HV). sai-2botsFurther back Mama Nimbus and little sister Nima in the K40, all hands on deck. And out back Grabner’s hypalon clog – splish-splosh, splish-splosh Slap. Checking the GPS data (above left), the speeds weren’t so bad, it’s just that in the rough the hardshells cut through some 30% quicker.
A few days later the Solar was stacked on the Amigo (right) and I realised it was only a foot or so longer than the Gumotex. In that case the Grabner does pretty well for a 12-foot four-, 31-inch kayak that hauls two paddlers.
sai-windsBack to the sailing. Next day winds were forecast at over 25 mph (right) but as it was warm and only a 5-minute drive to a Loch Vatachan round the back, it was worth a crack.
sai-splasherA short pre-paddle suggested my cheapo windsail would probably get ripped off and blown to Lochinver, or else see me roll off the back of the kayak as it shot away from under me liked a snatched tablecloth. Upwind I couldn’t exceed 2 mph (left), but skimmed downwind at up to 5.5 mph providing I kept the stern right on the wind. And while I was out here, side-on to the one-foot fetch the Amigo felt secure, so not a completely wasted outing. I’d never set out to paddle in such conditions normally (actually I did once), let alone try sailing (actually I had once) so I called it off. Later, Ardmair weather station confirmed the wind had been howling at a steady 35 and gusting to nearly 50 mph.
sai-boatsWith the Nimbii, we ‘yaked over to Tanera Mor one afternoon; three IKs and two SinKs (left). I can see it from the window now, but realised I’d never actually walked up to the 124-m (400-foot) summit of Tanera Mor for a look around.
sai-tansouthUp on top a string of islets lead to the twin humps of Priest Island, 4.5 miles in a straight line (right). It was a ten-mile round trip I’ve mentioned earlier but may be beyond reach this time round.
Paddling back from the island, Mama Nim found my old Incept had picked up another pin-prick hole in the side. Wtf is happening to the K40? It’s a lot better than the armchair -wide Sevy they were borrowing before, but three holes in four outings? And it gets worse. On leaving the island the wind dropped to nothing so sailing was off. Instead, we were plagued by sea midges which rise from their lairs as soon as the wind turns its back.
Another day and a healthy northerly forecast at 10mph on the BBC which might mean 15 in real terms. I set off with Nimbus in his Scorpio ‘PK’ (plastic coffin) for a look at Tanera Beg’s arch he’d missed on previous visits. It’s a nice arch; we passed it a couple of weeks back, two-up in the Amigo.
sai-keensOnce clear of Old Dornie I threw the sail out and trotted along at 3.5 mph which won’t be giving me any nosebleeds but I suppose must be classified as progress. At least I found a good way of stashing the sail. Seeing as it’s right out on the bow, refolding it down to three hoops isn’t practical on the water without help or taking risks. But I could just pull it back and tuck the squidged sail under my feet and between my legs (left). Down here there’s little risk of it self-deploying and jumping overboard to become a most unwelcome sea anchor, but it can be thrown up in a jiffy to catch a breeze, just as with the PA.
sai-paddOnce we got to the two Taneras’ In-Between islands the wind remained but the waves were blocked so I threw out the air bag and trickled along again at about 3.5mph again. Then it occurred to me I could hold the sail leash in my teeth and paddle. I swear, Da Vinci must have felt like this on his good days. That worked well too: getting on for 5 mph but without the paddling effort to make that speed unaided. Plus it felt better than having the sail hooked to my pfd and stopped me talking unnecessarily.
sai-archersOnce past the In Betweens we crossed over to the arch (left), but found we were a metre short of water. Still, high or low water it’s a great mini-destination some three miles out of Old Dornie (see maps below).
sai-calmacerNow the easy ride was over; it was going to be a solid old hack back into the wind for Old Dornie. As we turned we were a little perturbed by what looked like the  Stornoway ferry heading right at us. I’m sure it never came this far north, was the captain asleep at the wheel or taking a deeper channel on the spring tide?
sai-breakerferryAt the last minute the CalMac turned away and a calamity was averted. A few minutes later its wake rolled in, breaking a couple of feet high just as we  passed a reef. It looked like a good picture so I sent Nimbus back for a shot (left) but by then the best of the surf had passed. If that was the swell kicked up by the ferry from a mile away and before it hit full speed in the Minch then I’m glad we keep our distance.
ferryspdTime to put the camera away and knuckle down for an hour’s bow slapping to Old Dornie. As I’ve observed before in such conditions, Nimbus in his blofieSinK paddled like he was stroking a cat, gliding through the waves in a seemingly relaxed procession. Me? I was loading 16 tons and what did I get? Slipping back further and deeper in bilge. Still, not alone for a change was less unnerving and I quite like a good work out on familiar terrain. You dial in the effort you know you can sustain for the duration and progress at whatever speed that delivers. From the graph above that added up to about 2.5 with occasional surges to 3 mph when my technique briefly hit BCU targets. The P&H PK seemed to hold a steady 3mph without trying.
sai-splarshThe wind had failed to live up to the forecast promise of dropping around 6pm and out in the mid-channel a few white tops developed; for me in the IK usually a warning sign it’s approaching the limits. I will speculate that I shipped less water than I would have in the Sunny which is a similar type of IK. Partly because of the upswept Amigo’s bow that front or rear doesn’t seem to be as much of a wind catcher as it looks. And perhaps too because the boat doesn’t bend with the swell.
In fact it was fun slapping the fat bow against the oncoming waves as I slowly hauled my way closer to Dornie. Old Man Nimbus can read wind speeds like a Tubu hunter reads the sands. He estimated it was blowing at 8m/sec which in English translates to 20mph. I’d angleferryhave guessed a bit less, as with the spring tide at full flow against it, it didn’t seem too much in an IK (as long as land appeared close by). As we neared the harbour a couple of other SinKs slinked by, tucked right under the shore, out of the wind. Get out here you cowards!

No Name wind sail
So – my conclusion of the no-name wind sail? Well, it’s a WindPaddle at the right price. Easy to fit to my boat and doubtless many others, easy to temporarily stash on the move and probably easy to repair. And easy to steer too; pull left to go left, usually. With the window pane it’s much better than my home-made flat disc of course, plus it’s less bulky and complex than a V-sail, even if a V will give you nearly 90° reach either side of the wind.
Surprisingly I haven’t found the lack of a rudder an impediment with the Grabner. Though there’s a bit less directional control, at the typical sub-4 mph speeds you can drag a hand or a paddle blade to bring the nose around. And interestingly, providing you’re close to the wind and holding a steady course, the sail worked pretty well when paddling with the leash in my teeth like the 3.30 line up at Cheltenham. I can’t say I ever managed paddling with the Pacific Action on the Incept for long before it flapped out. Plus there’s plenty of scope for hooking up some self-jamming cleats (left – more here) like I ran on the Incept.
Above all, the no-name air scoop is great value for money for the performance it delivers. For thirty quid it wouldn’t be worth making your own. Next job – see how the little Alpacka handles when yanked along by the wind sail.