After a fortnight of chilly north winds and a diminishing woodpile, today was one of those rare days in the Summer Isles (far northwest Scotland) where you could paddle pretty much where you liked in an IK. It was also a chance for me to try out my new skeg-wheel trolley which Jon, who was staying down the road, had made for me. With no boat of his own this time, we set off in mine to see what we might see.
With the heather turning purple, mushrooms all over the lawn and a chill in the air, I thought it was all over for this season. But this week we’ve had a reprieve. Sat between isobars so far apart they’re in different time zones, today the Summer Isles are getting one final spell of calm, summery conditions. It could be my one and only chance to tick off the last of the Summer Isles.
Yesterday we nipped out from Old Dornie to Glas-Leac Mor (map left), another as-yet unvisited isle less than two miles out. Paddling 2-up took a bit of ‘readjustment’ and isn’t half as comfortable for me as my fuly-braced DIY solo set-up. But following a short cruise alongside Glas Mor, we were fully synched for the long way back between Ristol and Eilean Mullagrach.
Local internet chatter talked of helicopters dropping equipment to build a dwelling on Eilean Mullagrach, which we could see on the south side. Apparently professional castaway and Lego brand ambassador, Ben Fogle, tried to buy Mullagrach ten years ago, but bid too low, perhaps to the owner who’s developing to now. (Had he bought it, he could have named the 46-metre-high summit ‘Ben Fogle’). With no easy sea access that I’ve seen, you do wonder how they’re going to get to that house. As we paddled through the sound, a little dolphin popped up, huffing and puffing, and some colourful kayaks were taking a guided tour around the isles. The following day’s forecast was for similarly light winds, so I dropped the kayak off at Badentarbat jetty and next morning walked down with my gear.
You don’t need a flat calm to visit the inner Summer Isles: the Taneras, ‘Ristols’ and Horse Island. But alone in an IK the outer Summers can feel like a bit of a reach. Priest Island is the most distant and adds up to an 18-mile tour via all the other outer isles, even though you need never be more than a mile or so from an island or inaccessible skerry of some sort. I settled on Bottle Island at the end of a cluster of isles and a 14-mile round trip from Badentarbat jetty. That’s about the same as our run to Ullapool a couple of years ago, but more open water than coastal hop.
The winds would be barely a factor until the afternoon, but a spring tide was at its 5.5-metre peak. I asked tidemaster Gael whether there was anything to consider on my route: he advised the books and charts didn’t list any dodgy currents. I was expecting a bit of flow through channels or around points at peak ebb around 11am, but could always find another way round.
The pier at Badentarbet is condemned and blocked off with a barrier, but locals clamber round for a spot of fishing. I dropped the boat over the barrier, carried it down the steps to the water (right) and was on my way at 9.30, an hour after very high tide. Forty minutes later, I turned the east corner of Tanera Mor (still for sale, btw. Currently under £2m), rubbed the sweat from my eyes and clocked Eilean Dubh, nearly 2.5 miles ahead. Coming round Tanera put me back in a cooling breeze and the boat slid silently across the water as if on rails. To the southeast was Horse Island and Carn nan Sgeir, a remote skerry I visited last year and now floating on the glassy surface like a jellyfish with gout.
An hour before peak flow, at one point I was convinced I was being pulled west on the outgoing tide. I stopped to try and read any drift on the GPS, but couldn’t determine a direction. Turned out later I was drifting at 1mph east or inland with the breeze. So much for the impression of deadly currents. It was a lesson for the day: what you feel is happening (drift, current, ‘wind-in-the-face’ velocity) doesn’t always match the unassailable facts of the GPS. But alone on an all-day run it’s important to know what’s going on: is it ‘me’ or is it due to the conditions – so you can judge how much you have left in the tank.
As I neared Eilean Dubh I saw what looked like a chalet in a tiny north-facing bay. A couple of years ago I’d heard about a house in an outer Summer somewhere but couldn’t find it on Google. This must be it (left). With no boat moored at the jetty, I diverting for a closer look. It was certainly the protected setting to build a dwelling: small stony beach for access; sheltered northeast aspect and a burn trickling down for water. Once ashore, the chalet reeked of lovely warm creosote and there was even a palm tree among the firs and other trees. Up the hill in the heather was little shed /painting studio. It didn’t look like anyone had been here for months.
Back on the water and coming round onto the east side of Eilean Dubh, I expected to be paddling against the ebb spilling southwestwards round either end of the island. And that’s how it felt, though again the GPS showed I was doing a normal speed or even faster, briefly hitting 4mph. It’s all in the mind. But when I came through a gap into the channel between Sgeirean Glasa and Carn Deas, I was definitely fighting against something, so moved away for the shores. Just as I did so a Tornado ripped past low overhead, close enough to see the undercarriage.
Up ahead, Bottle Island was now only a kilometre away. So far so good: I got there in two hours from the pier after deducting 25 mins nosing around on Eilean Dubh: 3.5mph cruising average. Here I nosed about some more, this time deep into a slotted geo on the south side of the island, where plinky-plonk drips and splashes echoed in the cleft. On the back of the cave the minerals in the Torridon sandstone looked like a gaudy, modern art mural (right) – or maybe petrified viscera.
There was just enough room to turn around in there when an incoming swell revealed another way out. In a corner was a chasm under another arch with an even narrower tunnel leading back out to sea (right). I inched in to see if it was wide enough and safe, then stowed the paddle and pushed through off the walls back out into the open. A double arch sea cave – who would have known!
Two clicks to the west Priest Island looked far enough away to stay that way for now. It’s nice to leave something for next time (aka: ‘hold back to give an impression of calculated caution’).
So I turned back north and on the way tried and cut east between Bottle and Carn Iar to get to Carn’s beach for lunch. I didn’t want to eat in the boat if I could help it. But the flow between the islands felt too strong and I didn’t want to burn up energy I might need later. Instead, I got to the north side of that stony isthmus beach that links Carn Iar to Carn Deas, very similar to the ones on Carn nan Sgeir or Horse Island. To get onto it I just about scraped over a rock and seaweed bar into a sandy pool (left), knowing I wouldn’t get back out without a portage. But I wanted to get out of the boat, walk around a bit then have a sit-down.
Up on the grass and heather I ate and drank just about everything I had while down below a gang of seals quietly observed. As I’ve noticed before, these sheep-free islands have verdant and varied vegetation all of their own. I took a doze on a lovely machair sofa, then packed up and waded across the pool to tackle the ankle-breaking portage back out to the sea which has dropped half a metre in the meantime.
Now for the long haul back: 3 miles out in the open to Tanera Sound. I should have dozed in that machair sofa a bit longer: the big feed has taken out my energy and I found myself counting the strokes towards Sgeir Ribhinn skerry, pushing into a light northwest breeze that rippled the surface. After the glassy morning conditions, even waves a few inches high give a noticeable resistance, and for a moment I wondered if the east side of Tanera Mor might be easier. But the speeds later showed I was doing as well as ever at around 3.5 mph – it’s more likely I was unfit for all-day paddling, not having done any since we got here. Again, it makes me think that a speedo (or legible GPS readout) is a good idea as you can verify you’re going better than you feel, despite the impressions of currents and wind. It’s not like moving on land.
Alone out here, too far to swim to even the nearest skerry, you can’t help thinking ‘what if’. What if I somehow caught a stinging jellyfish with the paddle and it landed slap in my face? But the most likely ‘what if’ isn’t that or a sustained swordfish attack, but getting separated from your boat. That’s easily done when thrown out of an IK in an F5, but on a day like today it’s hard to come up with a plausible disaster scenario that would raise the slightest bit of interest in Hollywood. That’s why I ventured right out to Bottle Island.
By Low Water I was right in the middle of Tanera Sound. You see new things when the tide is very low: some pendulous orange sponges tucked under an exposed overhang. And on a tidal skerry visible from our window, a prickly urchin of some kind. Don’t want to ram that with my IK.
I can see our isolated house on the headland and with only a mile to go, I lie back and drift with the incoming tide drift for a bit. Then it’s back to the pier where the sea is at least 3 metres lower than it was this morning, exposing lower beams encrusted with mussels.
Fourteen miles and 5.5 hours; moving average (not always cruising): 3mph. On a long trip like this I have to say I miss the old Incept’s effortless glide (compare this Incept speed graph with the one below – or read this comparison post). I miss the speed not because the Incept was a bit faster, but because you definitely feel the effort required to push the wider and half-metre shorter Amigo along. The Amigo is even shorter (though much more rigid) than my old Sunny: the shortest IK on my IK comparison table.
All things being equal, that extra bit of speed can enable you to go further or get back quicker. But let’s face it, it’s always a compromise: there are days for fast boats and days for fun boats. I’m here and still breathing. My Amigo is an easy boat to live with – and a lot better than pushing a bathtub around on a trolley.
Unbranded windsail update 2016: the 3mm-thick glass fibre rod snapped. I bought another length for a tenner. 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 thecompact 30cm diametre disc. Looking 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). Could it be you get what you pay for after all? It’s a lesson so often learned here at IK&P!
The other evening I hooked my old home-made disc sail onto the Grabner’s bow (left and above) 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. My Pacific Action V-sail will work better, but fitting that to the Amigo may require more D-rings. 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.
Sounds 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 £15 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 about half that). Someone assure me that a WindPaddle costs even a fiver to make in China, but see top of the page.
And better still, the no-name windbag folds down into three hoops of just over a foot in diameter (above left). 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.
The 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 like one of those inflatable kayaks you read about, except it happened to be made from bomb-proof hypalon and pumped up like a basketball.
Earlier on, coming round the southwest corner of Eilean Mullagrach, (left), 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 P&H). Further back Mama Nimbus and little Nima in the K40, all hands on deck. And out back the Grabner hypalon clog – splish-splosh, splish-splosh Slap. Checking the GPS data 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. Back 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, it was worth a crack.
A short pre-paddle suggested my cheapo windsail would probably get ripped off and blown away, 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.
We all ‘yaked over to Tanera Mor one afternoon; three IKs and two SinKs. I realised I’d never actually walked up to the 124-m summit of Tanera Mor for a look around. Up 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.
Once 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 (above). 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.
Once 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. 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.
Once past the In Betweens we crossed over to the arch 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. The easy part 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?
At 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 (above) 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.
Time 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 SinK paddled like he was stroking his favourite 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 below that added up to about 2.5 with occasional surges to 3 mph when my technique briefly hit form. The P&H PK seemed to hold a steady 3+mph without trying.
The 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 a warning sign it’s approaching IK 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 Amigo’s upsweptbow 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 have 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 My conclusion of the no-name wind sail? 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, 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 (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.
The first stop of the day, for a snack and a bailing session … was on the beautiful little Isle Ristol, where the curve of a petite beach reached out to embrace the approaching kayak in a shingly grin. Here were the rudiments of rest and refreshment in a spirit of abundance without ceremony, from the free-spirited dreams to the always-islands which soften the horizon and bring comfort to the eye. It would have made a wonderful camp, but I had come only ten miles and was good for a few more yet, heading north, away from the sheltered jigsaw pattern of the Summer Isles.
‘Blazing Paddles’ (1988), Brian Wilson
Today was a bad day for sailing. But for everything else, including paddling, it was about as good as it gets up here. The skies were clear, the sea was still and the breeze barely rose above walking pace.
A day earlier I’d paddled off the beach 4km west over to Isle Ristol opposite Old Dornie anchorage. On that occasion, for the first time I actually sensed what must have been a helpful push from the outgoing 2-knot tide which was at its height at the time. Once at the island a lull presaged a change of wind direction and a light headwind rose up. So I popped into a small fissure for a look then sailed slowly back. With no rhythmic splish-spolsh, splish-spolsh, I realised how pleasant it was to be free of paddle noise and amused myself by shooting underwater vid with the rediscovered Go Pro. This ‘hands-free’ PA sail is still a novelty!
Today was going to require lots of splish and spolsh, but the tranquil conditions encouraged me to try something a little more daring: around Isle Ristol – all 4 or 5kms of it. It may not be Iceland or Tierra del Fuego, but there’s still a sense of accomplishment paddling out to- or right round an island.
And it’s always fun to paddle out of Old Dornie (left, and bottom of page) as by Scottish standards it’s quite picturesque. A few fishing and rec boats bob around and on a very low tide you can just about wade over to Ristol through the kelp. I set off at midday; an hour of so before low tide which (by pure coincidence) should have meant negligible currents swirling around between the isles. As it was a warm day and the K40 had been strapped on the car since yesterday, I took the trouble to re-temper the air pressure once on the cool water. The firm kayak responded by gliding swiftly away from the jetty and when I just paddled normally, I was doing just over 4mph.
Low tide also meant more land to paddle around and I was forced out around the spur off the north of Ristol by the beach, and out into the unknown. Over the horizon a band of pink clouds lay over the Outer Hebrides as I passed a lone gull (all white seabirds are ‘gulls’ to me) perched on a rock, guarding the way to the open sea. I had a print-out of Ristol on my lap to read each passing inlet if, for some reason I lost my nerve. But beyond the sentinel gull, conditions remained tame.
Encouraged, I headed in towards a tumbled cliff and the dark cleft of a sea cave, as wide as my boat is long. New to such probing and aware of the risks, last week while exploring the cliffs along the east side of Achnahaird Bay, I’d dared myself to paddle into a similar cave, catious but intrigued. As here, the over-amplified swell spooked me as it reverberated out from the dank base of the cave, and I was pleased to get out of there quick before some rogue wave came in and pinned me against the ceiling. It didn’t happen so, as with this whole game, you do something scary once and survive unscathed, you get used to it.
Back in the open and heading further out, I watched for the intimidating swells which never normally reach the lee of the Summer Isles where I usually paddle, but none came. Could it be so easy? I entered the 500-metre passage separating the back of Ristol with Eilean Mullagrach and decided the probability of making it across to that outer isle and back without ending up on the wrong end of an RNLI press release was really quite high. A few weeks ago we’d met some campervaners on Ben Mor Coigach mountain (above left), a great ridge walk that looks down on Loch Broom, Coigach and over to the Assynt. They were also packboaters and mentioned paddling their Advanced Elements double out to Eilean Mullagrach. Crikey, they’re braver than us I thought, as the weather was not so stable back then, but they explained they had a full complement of VHF, flares and all the rest. They’d mentioned an arch and a stack on Eilean Mullagrach which had intrigued me. I aimed across the passage towards a likely looking inlet of fallen rock, but as I neared it I pulled up, listening and watching the seabirds bobbing about like me, or taking a running paddle back into the air. It was nice to just kick back and relax at will instead of endlessly going somewhere before something bad happens; a common reaction to perceived exposure and anxiety, and not just when a mile offshore!
Fact is I’m morbidly fascinated and scared by the sea, which is partly why I was drawn to those two trans-Atlantic books. I’ve been reading a lot of other sea kayaking literature lately; back issues of OP magazine recounting unprecedented white-knuckle circumnavigations at record-breaking speeds, and just finished, Brian Wilson’s Blazing Paddles (quoted above). These yarns often sound like war memoirs; compelling and character-building experiences for sure, but not something I aspire to. Viewed from the outside, the UK scene seems to be one of testing yourself. Perhaps the prevalent conditions up here on the northwest coast demand it, because if you can handle it the reward is access to what must be one of the best sea kayaking locales in the world. But though I’m motivated by my own mini-challenges, such as reaching an island you could almost swim to, I’ve had my white-knuckle epics over the years doing other stuff.
At my age the appeal of sea kayaking is sedate touring which is what made Shark Bay such a memorable trip. Coast-hopping on calm, sunny days in warm water; what I’d class as ‘Mediterranean’ rather than Hebridean paddling. Like all the other means of transport I’ve used for more adventurous travels, a kayak is just the latest way of reaching and exploring wild places, rather than pitting myself against wild seas. Today, the edge of the Minch was more Aegean than Atlantic, and the calm conditions encouraged me to slow down and smell the sea breeze, nose around aimlessly or even just drift. For once no pressure to keep alert and moving in case an ill wind or foul tide called for the usual over-reaction.
As I turned into the inlet on Eilean Mullagrach, I saw the arch the campers had mentioned unfold before me (left), spanning 40 feet above the shore. At the top of the tide with the sea level 4 metres higher, it would be easy and fun to paddle under it in a low swell.
Pleased with my discovery I decided, heck let’s go crazy and carry on around Mullagrach too – or at least push out as far as I dare. I had no map for this island but knew it was about a quarter of the size of Big Ristol – 2 or 3 kms round – a lot less than an hour’s paddling, surely. As I rounded the southeast corner, there too was the stack I’d been told of, with the very same guardian gull on top, watching me like a beaky coastguard.
Again, at high water you could probably pass behind this stack; something to try for next time. I moved out west, into the dreaded Minch. With all land behind me, the light was suddenly much brighter, the pale blue sea stretching out to infinity. A light swell was breaking over some flooded skerries where a couple of cormorants looked out to the west as if waiting for something. Small jellyfish drifted past and I remebered how amazed I’d been to first encounter these exotic, dinner-plate sized blobs camping on the beaches of Arran in the mid-70s. Jellyfish? In Scotland? Whatever next – dolphins, harbour porpoises? We saw a pod playing out in the Bay one evening last week. Nice though it was to commune with nature, I was actually rather conscious of my exposure here and so paddled along briskly, keen to catch sight Reiff hamlet at the end of the Coigach peninsula, and the back of Isle Ristol soon after. At one point the swell got a little alarming and the boat squirrelled about, but I steadied my nerves – just keep paddling forward while avoiding the surf and rocks.
Coming round the north spur of Mullagrach where the low tide had annoyingly prolonged my excursion around another spur, what looked like a navy patrol boat came down from the north. What were they doing up here I wondered, and why were there people dressed as civilians on board? Perhaps it was something to do with the tall ships due into Loch Broom on the weekend, although the probable answer is right here.
By some geo-tectonic miracle, Isle Ristol turned up just where I’d left it less than an hour ago; with some relief my paddle past the edge of my known world was over. All that remained now was to dawdle back to Old Dornie, dipping in at an inlet or two along the way to see what I could find. At the back of one narrow chasm (left) among all the usual plastic detritus I picked out an odd buoy that looked like it was made of pewter (above left). Most probably it wasn’t a relic from the Mary Rose but merely corroded aluminium, but it struck me looking at it later it could be a circus bomb with a dangling fuse.
With it all at my doorstep and work that can wait, I’ve done some great paddling around the Coigach these past few months, but just as the weather’s settling it’s time to head back south. So, rounding the Isle I decided to head string things out and across to the ‘Wasp Factory’ bay where I’d had a memorable evening paddle when we first got here back in May. Today’s figure-of-eight tour of the Ristols had been a perfect climax to a short summer’s paddling in the Summer Isles. If you wait long enough, these days will come, even in northwest Scotland.