Tag Archives: Garvie Bay

Sigma TXL: Sailing struggles and skegs

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Sailing with Rebel 2K
Sailing with MRS Nomad

As the calendar flipped into June the crap May weather – worst for decades locals say – had finally broken, and northwestern Scotland sits under a High with cool, light winds and blue skies. After weeks of the opposite, it can all look a bit miraculous. The other day we climbed Ben Hope, Britain’s most northerly 3000-footer. It’s a short, steep climb, and coming back down I was sure pleased to lean on my packstaff (right).

Ben Hope and Britain’s north shore.

Back home, paddling the southern edge of Enard Bay in an arc from Garvie Bay around to Achnahaird beach (left) was another easily realised sea packrafting outing. It’s also our favourite local half-day walk and with today’s strengthening northerly breeze, I ought to be able to sail down into Achnahaird, wade up the stream to the twin freshwater lochs, and carry on sailing nearly all the way back to Badentarbet. All up that would be about 18 kms of paddling and walking.

It’s a muddy kilometre’s walk from the road bridge down to Garvie beach which, unlike popular Achnahaird, is usually deserted. I did carry my old Grabner IK down on my head one time for a paddle to Lochinver, but a packraft in the pack is so much easier. This car-free and approach/portaging ease was part of the rationale in putting all my eggs in the TXL basket and flogging the Seawave.

Even before I reached the shore it was clearly a bit windier than the predicted 6mph, but as long as white capped waves held off (the easily spotted warning sign for inflatables) it should be OK. The chilly northerly coming off the sea was steady; less gusty (or so the forecasts suggested) so I was glad I grabbed the dry-suit last minute.
As you can see from the Google image above, the rough shoreline and reefs can kick up some breakers, but if it all got a bit much I knew plenty of take-outs to join the Mrs who was doing the walk and taking photos from above.

Garvie Bay with Suilven, Cul Mor and Stac Polly; mountains of the Assynt.

Skeg effectiveness
Anfibios mount the skeg sloping down on the hull’s short stern. Selfies I’ve taken on previous TXL paddles show the skeg halfway out of the water, unless the boat is very heavily loaded. The air floor lifts the boat higher still.
This was not an issue in my rear-weighted Rebel 2K single seater where I pushed the back end down. On the level-trimmed and more buoyant TXL, the skeg is ill positioned or too small.

Fitting the skeg backwards puts more in the water, but sticking another mounting patch at the back of floor sheet like an IK (above right) would be fully effective. People ask: would the lack of inflated skeg support be that bad without the firm backing of the air-floor or a rear paddler’s seat? I’m not sure it would, and the long, low stock Anfibio skeg would be just the right shape.

Mounting another skeg patch on the floor is a bit time consuming but may be what I end up trying so I can keep the stock skeg. For the moment, modifying the skeg shape is easier.
While I search the beach flotsam for a likely looking bit of plastic, today I’m trying a spare Gumotex skeg (right) whose slip-in mount system the Anfibio skeg copies, but which has a deeper profile putting more plastic in the water. It’s only less than half a hand’s worth, but is worth a go before fabricating an extension to make a deeper skeg.

Today I’m also trying my longer, smaller-bladed, 230-mm Camaro sea-kayaking paddle more suited to steady cruising into the wind than the over-sized, white-water Corryvreckan I’ve been using so far. Initially I can feel the paddle’s extra weight, but that’s soon forgotten which suggests the slimmer blades are just right. Progress is a bit sluggish into the northerly, but I’m getting the feeling it’s always like this with the bloaty TXL until the arms warm up.

I wonder if coming round the point and turning west into Camas a Bhothain (‘bothy bay’) may get a bit lively, but the TXL takes it all in it’s stride. It’s easy to spot where waves break over reefs and, sat low on the broad, 15-cm-thick seatbase, stability is never an issue and for a packraft, the TXL tracks well across the side wind and waves, perhaps helped by the Gumboat skeg and my masterful technique.

It’s only 4km beach to beach, and soon I’m threading through the western Rubha Beag skerries and turning south with the wind for Achnahaird.

Out here in the open the waves are bigger with the odd white cap rolling past, but incredibly the boat feels fine. In a normal solo packraft I suspect I’d be a bit freaked out. The bigger boat makes you feel less vulnerable and the high sides keep the splash out and don’t seem that affected by ~10mph side winds (something I discovered on my first sea outing in Dorset).

I paddled out into Achnahaird Bay (or so I thought) to get a straight run for the beach, then flipped out the WindPaddle. Only things don’t go so well. Just like the other day when I blamed the front skeg, the TXL is weathercocking (back coming round, below). This time I blamed a too shallow skeg lifting out on wave crests at which point the wind pushes the untethered stern around – the boat pivoting around the ‘mast’ on the bow. I’ve has this before sailing a IK on Ningaloo Reef in northwest Australia (tall-sided Ik and too short a rudder for the winds). In the TXL my central ‘kayak’ rather than rearward ‘packraft’ seating position doesn’t help. The (loaded) Rebel 2K sailed fine in similar conditions; so did my unloaded Nomad S1 one time, as well as Barry’s loaded Nomad last year in Knoydart. With its skeg on, the MRS Nomad sailed well, with or without a load. Along with its pointy ends, I put that down to its fully submerged skeg.

Meanwhile in the TXL you can see my annoying zigzagging track on the left. Hoping to slice across the bay like a blue-fin tuna, it was all a bit frustrating, but I inched in the right direction quicker than it felt and was pretty sure weight distribution and skeg depth were the culprits. And in fact I saw later the GPS was logging a steady 6kph, it just wasn’t the steady linear progress I’ve had sailing other packrafts.

Once at Achnahaird I paddled as far as I could up the burn running alongside the beach, then hopped out and waded upstream – easier than carrying the boat in the wind.

Near the road junction it’s a 2-minute carry over to freshwater Loch Raa where I hoped the lower waves would give the skeg some traction. But it was the same zigzagging progress. Waves combined with a shallow skeg were not causing the weathercocking (as they had in the Bay). So the problem had to be weight distribution. I remembered a canoeing adage: “sit up front into a headwind; sit at the back downwind“. You are the flagpole from which the boat should trail downwind. After a short portage over into Loch Vatachan, I sat right at the back and progress did seem a bit straighter, as the GPS tracklogs below show. I was no faster: 6kph downwind and 5ph on the ‘off-wind’ zags, but there was less zigzagging.

Left: sailing sat centrally. Right: sat at the back. With a bigger skeg I’m hoping for a straight line.

By the time I reached the south end of Loch Vatachan to pack up, the wind was fairly brisk (left). Packraft sailing should be better than this but moving to the back of the boat to enable reliable tracking under sail is not so practical. The answer must be a bigger or repositioned skeg.


A couple of days later we went for a short paddle in a reasonable sailing wind. The stock skeg was on back to front (right) and with the Mrs’ added ballast I hoped it might bite under sail.
Unfortunately it was the same story of the stern coming round even if the speeds were again OK. On a beach we went for a wander and found a nice bit of broken plastic fish crate. We’re gonna need a bigger skeg.

During the stop I took the TXL out for a spin sat in the back. Of course the bow was up in the air and yawing like a giraffe, but it was quite a revelation to have a spacious boat extending out in front of me like a kayak. My front seatbase made a spacious footrest and I could lean on the back like a normal sized packraft. Sat in the back, as a way of touring or bikerafting, a bike over the bow and baggage in the front would correct the trim a little. And with the 200 litres of dry storage capacity inside the TubeBags, you could probably move house with the TXL.

We paddled the last mile to Badentarbet with me in the back. Again this felt much more comfortable for me – it must be the ability to lean on the stern. Meanwhile the Mrs said she felt no more cramped than the back. Yes the trim was still off (left), but so it always was on my 2K and I got around in that with no problems.
That’s the great thing with the TXL: there are all sorts of ways of using it.

Coastal Packrafting

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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.

Loch & Sea: kayaking to Achnahaird

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My grand plans to try out my new packframe on a trek from Loch Maree back to the Summers got radically downsized to a day out from Inverpolly. Down at Boat Bay we pumped up the IKs and set off along a route I’d packrafted a couple of years ago.

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Surrounded by the singular Assynt peaks, Sionasgaig loch is an amazing place to splash about in a paddle boat, but at kayak speeds that stage was over rather too quickly. Just as well though, as I was trying the Amigo without a skeg, and two-up it wasn’t working. Into the wind was possible with one paddling, but out on Sion with a side wind, even with one in control the lighter back kept swinging off the wind.
We put a bag in the back, but at the Sluice Portage (above) we had to commandeer the skeg off Craig in the Solar who up to that point was loving his day out on the lochs. I assured him the Solar was manageable without a skeg as long as he applied appropriate levels of paddling finesse. This low level, almost sub-conscious correction to the tracking is something that’s difficult to achieve when two people are paddling one boat. It’s a shame that a skeg is such a vital accoutrement.

We’d all want them for the Enard Bay sea stage, so at the end of Loch Uidh Tarraigean, g-friend nipped back a couple of miles to the car where the forgotten skeg hopefully lay under a seat. By the time Craig and I had portaged over to little Loch na Dail, crossed it and walked up to the road, the car arrived with the errant skeg.

After lunch we rolled the boats up, coasted down to the fish hatchery on the River Polly and set off down the track towards Inverpolly Lodge and Polly Bay beyond. We’d crept up here on our bikes a few months back, to check out ‘Loch Sal’ bay north of the lodge. There’s boat ramp and fish pens there, which was good to know when I passed a while later on my Enard Bay paddle to Lochinver.
First time there and Polly Bay glittered invitingly at low water. On with in the skegs, in with the air and out we go into the flat calm. While exploring a bay round the corner, Craig managed to spot an otter gnawing over its lunch at the back of a chasm.

We worked our way around the coastline fringed with kelp exposed by the very low tide. Further along, winkle pickers were at work at Garvie Point, but then cloud rolled in on an annoying north wind; that is why you want skegs at sea. The little Solar bobbed about on the waves, but Craig seemed to be managing fine. We edged round Camas a Bhothain bay – no seals at play today – and slipped through the reef into Achnahaird Bay.

holdingpattern

It was now quite chilly and my proposal to form a holding pattern for three hours until the spring tide filled the bay was roundly vetoed. When Achnahaird Bay fills right up on spring tides, you can paddle up the Loch Raa outlet stream almost to the road junction car park, for the short portage to Raa. As it was, there was enough flow to tow the boats all the way up. We’d left a bike here so the Mrs cycled back over the hill to get the car, while Craig and I paddled across Loch Raa and then to the north side of Loch Vatachen. I did this bit without the skeg and was reassured to find that one up the Amigo tracked at least as well as the Sunny did in the same state. Perhaps it’s all down to more centred weight and the aforementioned correcting finesse. I’ll be on the River Spey in a couple of weeks where it’s good to know a skeg won’t be needed (it was).

On the north side of Loch Vatachen we aired down for the short but arduous slog up the hillside to the peat track that leads back to Polbain, a more direct route than following the road. Maybe it’s down to late summer growth, but the grassy tussocks and toe-dragging shrubbery made for an exceedingly tiresome, one-mph haul. Each step required lifting to knee height, and crossing the boggy stream course midway ingested one of Craig’s cherished flip-flops. Struggling a bit with his kayak in a shoulder bag, I was amazed it had managed to stay with him that far. My well-used Teva Omniums clung better to my feet if not the ground, and the heavily loaded packframe sat securely on my back, but I wouldn’t want to spend all day doing this.
By the time we reached the peat track where locals periodically  excavate their allocations, the sun was setting over the Assynt peaks to the northeast. From here it was a short downhill walk to the village and, after some 12 miles, attending to all the food that was fit to eat.

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Kayaking Enard Bay

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It's not heavy, honest!

The heatwave which we hear has been tormenting the southerners finally crept onto the Coigach last weekend, like an overdue dog looking for its dinner. Warm, sunny and no wind. Hallelui-yay!

I planned to diligently hug the coast east round to Polly Bay were the Polly river drained Sionasgaig Loch, a fun stage which I packrafted last year. But once I actually got out on the water Green Island looked a doable 2km across mackerel-infested water rippled by an easterly breeze, so I took the direct line with wavelets slapping at my boat.

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en-warm


This was my first long solo run in the Amigo and initially, the usual neuroses bobbed to the surface: ‘must get a paddle leash’; ‘what if fish farm toxins have caused mackerel to mutate into piranhas’… and so on. In fact, the biggest problem was the heat. I’d put in already dripping from the walk to the beach and would stay like that for most of the day. They’d forecast a pleasant 21 but I’d guess it got well over 25.

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By the time I pulled alongside Green Island I’d calmed down enough to spare time for a quick look around. Finding a place to get out elegantly without slithering across a web of slimy boulder-covered seaweed was tricky, so I jammed the Amigo up a barnacle-covered slot and stumbled ashore.

coisuili
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These tiny, uninhabited and unsheeped islands preserve a unique ecology, or at least a distinct botany that makes them look different to the mainland. I climbed over the sooty lichen rocks into the sweeping grass and wildflowers, causing an avian scramble, and a few minutes later planted a footprint on the 20-metre summit. I looked all around and as before, imagine Newfoundland was like this, a wild, windswept panorama under a pale northern sky with a surrounding coastline ground down by long-extinct ice caps. To the east was a sandy beach at Polly Bay – one for next time – with Suilven rising behind. In the other direction was Rubha Coigach which I was also eyeing up as a paddle during this calm spell. Heading back to the boat (‘what if it’s drifted off…?’) I came across a lone pink Croc flung into the grass during an especially violent winter storm.

I headed for the mainland, squeezing between an islet to what looked like a dormant fish farm above Rubha Phollaidgh (‘Dun’ on the map). We’d cycled to this point a couple of weeks ago, following the private road past Inverpolly Lodge which controls the freshwater loch fishing around here. Pushbiking seemed safely innocuous, but you’re never quite sure if some irate ghillie in a tartan strop will come after you. I’ve read of kayakers getting aggro for trying to put in at that bay.

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As I left the bay something felt wrong, had I caught some weed in the skeg, was the boat going flat or a current suddenly against me? There was no sensation of speed as I clawed at the water although I was moving. I checked the GPS – 4mph, good enough. It seems the 4mph breeze was now directly behind me and I was paddling in a bubble of perfectly still air – never noticed that before. I became uncomfortably hot and soon began pouring with sweat; the insulating pfd didn’t help. On a day like today adapting the pfd to hold a 2-litre bladder loaded with Nuun tablets was a good idea, but it reminded me how much more satisfying it always felt paddling into a wind, even if you weren’t going so fast.

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The single-track WMR comes right down to the sea at a bay known as Loch an Eisg Brachaigh. When driving or cycling by I’d long wanted an excuse to splash a paddle around here; it looked like a magical sheltered place. From the south the map showed a short cut into the bay over an isthmus linking the tidal isle of Rubha Bhrocaire. Had I arrived at high water I might just have scraped over with a few inches to spare. As it was, my timing was right off, but a wee portage (right) is always good for the legs and the bladder.

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I plopped around the bay’s islets, scaring a seal that may have been a glistening mermaid just moments earlier. I seemed to be making better time than expected, too. Closer to the shore I was in the lee of the breeze and gliding over a flat calm. But it sure was hot and my eyes were permanently stinging with sweat which I presumed a sea wash would do little to alleviate.
North of here the rocky, cove-riddled shore lead round to another deep inlet; the hamlet of Inverkirkaig on the WMR. A short, steep river ends here, running off Fionn Loch below Suilven and another great packrafting excursion, although the river itself seems usually too boney to packraft for more than a short distance.

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Less than two-and-a-half hours from Garvie, I paddled in at low water where I found it was too much of an ankle-twisting bother to get to the distant shore and a bench. All around was manky seaweed so I satisfied myself with a desalinating rinse in the estuary and headed back out for lunch on a sandy beach on the north side.
Refuelled, I decided sod this pfd, I’m as likely to drown in my own sweat and the RNLI would be stretched to the limit on a day like today. So I stripped off and cooled right down. At the rate I was going I was looking good to meet the Mrs passing through Lochinver at 3pm and turned Kirkaig Point for the final 2.5 miles into Lochinver seafront.

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On the way in I got a striking view of Quinaig mountain (on the left) which rises over 800m like the rim of a crater behind Lochinver town. (A couple of days later we walked the three summits of Quinaig – definitely one of the best of the Assynt mountains.) And south of that was the reliable dome of Suilven behind Strathan hamlet, also a great climb as is well known.
Past the harbour and marina and the baronial Victorian edifice of the Culag Hotel which had the misfortune to have an ugly fish factory built right in front of it. There are more nice old pics of Lochinver here.

Culag Hotel and Pier_ Lochinver


So there we have it. Calm conditions or perhaps a pessimistic estimate meant I got to Lochinver at 2.10, just 4.5 hours from put in. The GPS logged 3.5 paddling hours and a 3.1 mph moving average over 11 miles. Peak speed was an unnoticed 4.6 coming in with the tide into Lochinver. In fact that compares well with the only other long run I’ve done here: Ullapool run, though that was into the wind at times and clocked up 15 miles.


Conditions this time couldn’t have been easier; it’s so often windy up here compared to just 60 miles down the coast in the vicinity of Skye. I felt like I could have paddled any open crossing that day and so Enard Bay proved a bit of an anticlimax. The Amigo didn’t feel especially slow or tiring to paddle just because it’s not a K40, and so now I have a better idea of what the Grabner can manage in a day.

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