Tag Archives: Incept Tasman K40

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail Part 3 ~ Skye to Ullapool

Part 1 2010
Part 2 2011

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In 2011 I met Gael after he ran out of time and weather to complete the second stage of the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail he started in 2010 in his Grabner H2. According to the guy who wrote the guidebook, the SSKT is a 500-km run through the Inner Hebrides from the Isle of Gigha off the Kintyre peninsula to the Summer Isles, but with no shoreside infrastructure as such, most just follow their nose with the book’s help.
In 2012 Gael returned to Skye for another go, now in the ex-demo Incept K40 be picked up from Sea Kayak Oban. In March that year Scotland experienced some very fine weather while England got the converse – a result of a misplaced jet stream (right). And so it was for Gael who managed a comparatively trouble-free run all the way to Ullapool where he rolled up his boat and bussed back to his car on Skye.

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J1 - Kyleakin to Uags

Day 1 – Kyleakin to Uags
The trip began rather badly. I arrived around midnight in Kyleakin after an interminable drive from Paris with an exhausting final crossing through the Highlands mostly in the rain. I set up my tent quickly on the grass by the hostel’s backyard. Once in my sleeping bag, I fell asleep right away, lulled by the pounding of rain on the canvas and the rustle of leaves in the wind gusts.
Early next morning I woke up with my feet feeling cold and wet; during my deep slumber I’d pushed them under the edge of the tent. Fortunately, my sleeping bag fill is synthetic and the nylon shell water repellent enough and with relief I found it was still dry inside. The ground all around was drenched and I could now test the effectiveness of my new Seal Skinz socks.
It was still raining, so I donned my foul weather gear right away before proceeding with the usual pre-launch routine (inflate kayak, rig the accessories, sort food and equipment before closing the bags). Like last year I went to Kyle of Lochalsh Police Station to report my departure, then to the Co-op to stock up on McEwans in case I got shipwrecked.

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Early in the afternoon, after a quick snack, I launched in Otter Pond by the Skye bridge. A fresh easterly was blowing out of the Loch against the flowing tide, raising the inevitable chop. I crossed the channel towards Kyle, then let myself be blown under the Skye bridge, leaving Eilean Ban to port. I paddled to Erbusaig Bay through the relatively sheltered Black Islands but decided not to proceed directly to Uags under the current crosswinds. Instead, I hugged the coast upwind towards An Dubh Aird from which the crossing would be much shorter.
After vain attempts to take a picture of the two little otters which turned around me, I left the lee of An Dubh Aird and rushed towards the south coast of the Applecross peninsula. Two-thirds of the distance into the crossing I bore away and took a direct course to Uags, pushed at speed down the wind blowing along the axis of Loch Carron. Sadly I couldn’t surf the best waves though because the stern was too heavy with the beer. I landed around 6pm in Uags, and moved into the empty bothy.

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Once installed, I hung my tent and sleeping bag to dry, then I rewarded myself this interesting first step with a hot tea and a thick slice of chocolate cake. Outside rain was still pounding.

J2-1 - Uags to Rubha na Fearna

Day 2 – Uags to Red Point
I woke up at dawn feeling numb as my old foam sleeping pad had been of little comfort on the floorboards. The temperature was 5°C; so much for this jet stream. I went out to stretch my body and surprised a little doe grazing in the meadow below the ruined Uags hamlet. It scampered away before I could fetch my camera (this is a double entrendre called ‘lacking reflex’). But – it had stopped raining, the air was clear and visibility was excellent. The snow-capped peaks of the Cuillins stood out beautifully against the sky (below left) but the chill air from the northeast soon sent me back inside.

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Once on the way from Uags an unexpected SE tailwind pushed me gently toward Sgeir Shalash but the breeze then turned NE, as expected. In the protected lee of the shore I paddled on north without difficulty, up to Camusteel, but when I reached the mouth of Applecross Bay, I had to fight against the wind. It funneled unhindered along the valley, whipping up the waters and raising an uncomfortable chop, until I reached some shelter in the lee of Rubha na Guailne.
From there the long way north to Loch Torridon seemed a never-ending trudge. The wind had picked up to the point of pushing me hard offshore whenever I got 50 meters from the shore. I kept hugging the coast, despite the uncomfortable chop and the occasional breakers, because the wind was shifting SE, thus pushing me northward. When I eventually passed Rubha na Fearna I found myself facing the wind blowing right out of the Loch.

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Loch Torridon greeted me with one of its customary gusts of which I’d had the humiliating experience the year before. I took shelter as soon as I could in a tiny cove hidden behind a natural breakwater. I badly needed a feed.
After a snack and some rest, I pushed off to cross the Loch. I paddled a mile inland to gain an upwind margin of safety then I headed north. Wedged into the seat, with my legs holding tight on the thigh straps and squeezing the footrest, I blithely crossed the choppy zone, kept an eye on the most threatening peaking waves and checked off some landmarks in transit which I used to control my leeward drift with the other eye while admiring the spectacular scenery of the mountains towering over Loch Torridon (yes, all at once).

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I returned to quiet water in the lee of the north shore, laid the paddle across the boat and started bailing. My open decked Incept kayak had ridden well on the waves but had shipped a fair share of water which was now swashing in the bilge. I pulled ashore in the early evening on a beautiful beach near Red Point.

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The ebbing tide had just retreated beyond the tombolo that connects Eilean Tioram islet to the mainland, thus forming a placid lagoon. Some cows and sheep were grazing in the dunes undulating behind the beach. I pitched my tent in a hollow, barely sheltered from the chill NE breeze and crashed out.

J3-1 - Red Point to Seana Chamas

Day 3 – Red Point to Slaggan Bay
The night had been cold but the clear morning sky made me hope for a warmer day. When I shoved off I didn’t know that I was about to enjoy one of the most beautiful days of my paddling life.
Passing Red Point I noticed with satisfaction there was almost no swell. For once I wouldn’t be shaken by the rebounding waves and could explore the nooks and crannies of this craggy coast.

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The sky became overcast and the NE wind picked up as I approached Loch Gairloch. The temperature dropped rapidly and I paddled more vigorously towards Carn Deag in an attempt to stay warm. I made a brief stop on the beach at Big Sand (left) but the chill breeze urged me on. I passed downwind along Longa Island with the hope of discovering a sheltered cove for lunch but found none.
I then went on across Caol Beag, passed Rubha Ban and kept paddling north with my stomach gurgling. The beauty of the coast was worth the inconvenience of being cold, numb and hungry;  huge sections of sandstone cliffs that had fallen in the sea provided an extraordinary maze of narrow passages that I enjoyed threading through. Erosion had also cut multiple geos and caves also worth exploring (I didn’t know what a geo was before reading the SSKT guidebook). I eventually reached Seana Chamas beach, largely uncovered by the outgoing tide and where I landed and dragged my kayak a few yards on a carpet of seaweed.

The sea was empty except for birds and a view that stretched westward to the Outer Hebrides. The Shiant Islands were clearly visible, standing out like a motionless line of battleships. I finished my lunch just as the tide returned up to my boat. The sky began clearing as I left and when I got past Melvaig all around me glistened under the sun.

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J3-2 - Seana Chamas to Slaggan Bay

After half a mile of boulders the coast turned to sandstone crumbling cliffs again and I could resume prowling in and out of caves and geos under the bright light of this sunny afternoon. Quite suddenly behind another headland appeared – the dreaded Rubha Reidh and its striking white lighthouse.
I felt the mid-tide current pick up as it dragged me over to the other side of the promontory. The whitecaps of a faster tide rip were visible out to sea but right under the lighthouse the sea was rippling gently against the reddish rocks. One of the most exposed stages on this route passed without event.

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The NE wind that had been blowing since I left Kyleakin had dropped too, but there was still some swell from the north, preventing me from sneaking through the rocky labyrinth that stretched between Rubha Reidh and the beautiful beach of Camas Mor.
Beyond Rubha Reid to the east the extraordinary snow-capped skyline of the Wester Ross mountain range rose from the horizon (left). Put in a trance by this sight, I carried on on an eastward course and arrived at Caolas an Fhuraidh. I took stock at the mouth of Loch Ewe before an exposed 4km crossing over to Slaggan Bay.
To the SE lay Rubha nan Sasan still with it’s WWII bunkers and gun emplacements. At that time Loch Ewe had been the starting point for many Russia-bound convoys and a haven for Allied shipping. There’s still a NATO base there today. As I paddled to Ploc an t-Slagain I hoped I’d not be rammed by a nuclear submarine entering or leaving Loch Ewe; I’d read reports elsewhere in the Hebrides of these subs rising so fast the resulting wash tipped sea kayaks bow over stern. I reached Slaggan Bay at 7pm finding another perfect landing place, a crescent of fine sand surrounded by empty dunes.

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J4-1 - Slaggan Bay to Priest Island

Day 4 – Slaggan Bay to Isle Ristol
Under ideal paddling conditions I hugged the coast towards Greenstone Point, the last critical passage of the SSKT. The Point was flat and bare and proved even less dramatic than Rubha Reidh, although its rocky shoreline was wild and beautiful.
From Greenstone I paddled on to Rubha Beag. In the distance the conspicuous peak of Ben Mor Coigach was towering over the horizon and to the NW lay a scattering of islets; the long-expected Summer Isles.

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I headed towards the closest, Priest Island some 5km away. Halfway through the passage, the wind died off and the sea glassed over. The uncanny cries of the guillemots emphasized the eerie atmosphere; I felt like I was entering an unearthly space. From the SE tip of the Priest Island, I carried on around the west side. It was another paddling paradise with endless features to explore in the good company of seabirds and seals.

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J4-2 - Priest Island to Ristol

Once I completed this circumnavigation I paddled back to a cove called Acairseid Eilean a Chleirich (it’s quite a challenge to try to explain to other people the places I visited) where I pulled ashore onto a tiny uninviting boulder beach (left).
As the afternoon progressed I uneventfully hopped through the convenient chain of islets lying between Priest Island and Tanera Mor, the biggest of the Summer Isles. I had intended to land near Althandu as I needed some of the facilities of the Port a Bhaigh campground, mostly their electrical hookups to charge the batteries, freshwater and even a shower, why not? There was also a pub close by.

But as I paddled through Old Dornie harbour I came within sight of the campground and within earshot too. The place looked packed and was definitely too noisy. After four days of solitude with no other sounds than the sea and the birds, I couldn’t stand it. So much for the camera, shower and a beer. I swung my boat south towards the lovely nearby beach of Traigh an t-Sean Bhaile on Ristol. I pitched my tent on thick grass which promised a comfortable night and the chilly cold kept any irksome midges from hatching.

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Day 5 – Exploring the Summer Isles
I devoted this day to exploring the archipelago as all these islands offer the type of craggy shore most sea paddlers are looking for. The sea conditions were again at their best for squeezing through narrow channels between rocks, under arches or into caves with almost no swell and light winds. I proceeded anti-clockwise around Ristol, paddling along its west coast then circumnavigated Eilean Glas Mullagrach and Glas Leach Mor.

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Shags had built their nests in the crevices of the cliffs overlooking the sea. They were not easy to spot as their colour merged with the cliff but their unmistakable angry squawks betrayed their presence above me whenever I got too close. From Glas Leach Mor (the ‘large green stone’ a good description actually) I crossed to Tanera Beag. Here I gave a wide berth to a skerry occupied by a large group of singing seals that I didn’t want to disturb. The haunting sound suited the scenery perfectly.

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Tanera Beag is considered the most beautiful of the Summer Isles by the experts. Close to its SW corner is a cave deep enough for a tourist boat to get in and with a very high ceiling after which it’s called Cathedral Cave. Its SE corner is adorned with an elegant arch, which is another place of pilgrimage by all paddlers visiting the isles.

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After completing the circumnavigation of Tanera Beag I pulled ashore for an overdue snack and a nap in a pretty little cove where the outgoing tide had left a broad sandy beach. Between Tanera Beag and Mor Eilean Fada I entered a kind of shallow lagoon of clear water. The tide was low and I saw my kayak’s shadow skip along the sandy bottom.

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Later I landed in the Anchorage on Tanera Mor, a sheltered bay that opens to the east and filled with salmon pens. There is a floating dock for the tourist boat but the tea shop/post office where I’d intended to indulge in a brew and some piece of cake was closed. Tanera Mor (currently for sale) enjoys an offshore status which allows this tiny post office to issue its own stamps but no brew, no cake and no stamps for me today.

I hopped back in the boat and crossed the Anchorage diagonally and skirted Rubha Dubh, the east corner of the island. Here I entered a narrow cove choked with seaweed and backed with a pebble and boulder beach. High spring tides and gales had filled the depression beyond the beach thus forming a lovely pond, An Lochanach.
I pulled ashore soon after two other kayakers. The guy didn’t look very happy to see me and curtly turned down my offer to help them to carry their heavily loaded sea kayaks. So I minded my own business, as I had just been advised to do. His wife came and offered remorsefully to give a hand, but I declined politely.

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It had been a hot afternoon and I’d paddled without cag and without a cap for the first time in five days. But cold came back after 7pm and the Franco-Welsh relationships in the cove did not improve. Although our respective pitches were located 300 meters apart, each on one side of the beach, no invitation to share dinner was exchanged. It nice to be alone of course, but I like chatting with other paddlers too. Another time perhaps.

J6-1 - Tanera Mor - Camas Mor

Day 6 – Tanera Mor to Ullapool
On a beautiful sunny morning I headed SE towards Loch Broom and Ullapool. Sunny but cold, chilly indeed, so chilly that I had my breakfast in my sleeping bag.

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In the meantime, the wind had shifted SE so I slogged against it all the way to Horse Island. I paddled through the tidal gap which divides this island from its northern tip, Meall nan Gabhar. Once through I pulled ashore and found a very convenient pitching spot.
I regretted not having carried on to this place yesterday, instead of staying next to unsympathetic paddlers. So seemed to say the half-dozen seals romping about behind me. The sky was promising some fair weather that had been a long time coming. As the breeze didn’t abate I took shelter in the lee of Acheninver. But as soon as I got past Rubha Dubh Ard I fought the headwind again until I reached the base of Ben Mor Coigach.

J6-2 - Camas Mor - Ullapool

Then I paddled below the sheer slope of the mountain until I got to what looked like the white sands of Camas Mor beach. Actually, it’s a pebble beach facing Isle Martin and the guidebook said amethysts can be found here, but I didn’t find any. By 2 o’clock clouds covered the sky and some chill air forced me back into my cold-weather gear.

I shoved off shortly after lunch and enjoyed passing the last natural monuments of the Trail. I rounded Rubha Cadail, addressed the last salute to Ben Mor Coigach and entered Loch Broom. The wind unexpectedly veered NW and pushed me gently towards Ullapool.

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Once ashore I pitched my tent under the stares of some motorcyclists wondering where the hell I’d come from. A leather-clad fellow told me the owner was already gone and would return early next morning to collect the fee. Meanwhile, I washed the Incept to remove the grit scattered in the bilge, wiped it dry, deflated it, rolled it, and pushed it into my huge 160-l Ortlieb Kanurucksack. The K40 doesn’t fold as compactly as my good old hypalon H2 but I was relieved it crammed into the bag.
I enjoyed dinner at the water’s edge overlooking at the now placid waters of Loch Broom, glowing in the satisfaction of my achievement. It has taken three years and two different boats, but I’d completed the SSKT in an inflatable sea kayak along with one of Europe’s most striking shorelines. Celebrations continued at the Ferry Boat Inn where I e-mailed friends and family, sipping some good beer, the sound of music replacing the soothing sound of the sea lapping the shore.

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Ullapool to Kyleakin 
The weather was set to improve in the following days and I wondered whether to paddle north and round the Point of Stoer, take the ferry to Stornoway for a glimpse of the Outer Hebrides, or complete the exploration of Raasay and Rona that I’d started the year before. The first two options required maps that I was not sure to find in Ullapool. and I was also missing sailing directions.

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So I packed all my gear in my three-bag travelling arrangement: boat and paddling gear in the 160l Kanurucksack, camping gear and clothes in the 59l XPlorer bag, food, cooking gear, books, maps, tools and all the rest in the 49l Rackpack.
The result was portable but heavy and I had a half mile walk to the bus station by the ferry terminal. Luckily the owner came by for the fee and gave me a lift. Soon we were en route to Inverness by bus; an alternative would have been leaving the bus at Garve railway station, halfway to Inverness and hopping on a train to Kyle of Lochalsh.

J9-2 - Around Rona

Eventually, I decided to park up in Kyleakin on Skye and undertook a very enjoyable three-day tour around Raasay and Rona. The year before I’d experienced the charms of these islands despite the unsettled weather – this time conditions were ideal.
Back at the pier three days later, I was giving the Incept a wash on the slipway when a Land Rover towing a trailer full of sea kayaks turned in. A party of men got out of the truck, unloaded the kayaks and started putting paddling gear on. As they carried the boat to water they came over to say hello and asked about my boat and my trip. They were attending a kayak class beginning this very day. Their first-day program was a shakedown paddle in sheltered waters before a guided multi-day run to Sandaig. The guide joined the conversation and yet again I endured the usual hardsheller’s drivel about IKs. Ten minutes later I watched the student awkwardly clambering in their kayaks; for some of the clumsier it took quite a while. I told them they were lucky modern kayaks had such larger cockpit coamings – but not as big as mine!
By the time I got to my car the temperature inside was like an oven, despite the screen I’d fixed over the windshield. My chocolate bars had melted. In northwest Scotland? Whatever next.

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Kayaking Summer Isles to Ullapool (Incept K40)

Weather data from Ardmair Point Campground

Right now the skies are slate grey while white horses gallop across the sound and the washing hangs horizontally. Ardmair just recorded 49mph. But as often happens up here, Sunday was forecasted as sunny with winds of just 4-5mph; a perfect day to paddle the 15-odd miles to Ullapool.
Come the morning the predictions had inched up to 6-7mph, still manageable. Even the three-metre tide was with us, turning as we set off from the awkwardly rocky shore below my place (below right) for a run that we figured would span the six hours until high water at Ullapool.

Six of seven mph winds don’t sound much, but coming right at us from the SSE it was enough to raise a chop of up to a foot over which my K40 slapped like a RIB. Jon’s Scorchio LV cut stealthily through the wavelets like a blacked-out  commando with a knife in his teeth. You got to hand it to these proper sea kayaks, they look as good as they go, until you need to hop in or out of one or carry it on your head. As it was in the conditions we had we were pretty evenly matched.

An hour later we were abreast of Horse Island and heading out into mare incognita. But not before I’d lost half my paddle. I was just thinking I really must get a leash for this thing for windier days, even if it means yet more entangleable cordage lying across the cockpit. As I made this vow I decided to wipe the sweaty right grip in the crook of my elbow, and in doing do, popped the button and flung half the paddle over the side. Mayday-mayday! Jon took a while to manoeuvre his 17-foot cheese-cutter into position, although I probably could have retrieved it using the single paddle. Must remember not to do that again.
As we entered Horse Sound the wind rose into double figures and white caps formed so we bowed our heads towards the point at Rubha Dubh Ard opposite the guillemot-clad skerry of Iolla Beag (see map). We then passed the last of the dwellings around Culnacraig and edged towards the 2400-foot mass of Ben Mor Coigach which tops out just a mile from the shore. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the steepest summit-to-sea gradient in the UK. Slip up there and you’d roll uninterrupted straight down into the sea with a huge splash.

Two hours hard work on deck and it was high time for a refuel, so we set our sights on a beach formed by the creek which runs off the back of Ben Mor. But with more slip, slap and slop over the waves, it took twice as long as it looked to get actually there (left). It’s since occurred to me why. In this pic the ordinary-looking mountain seems quite near, but its actually an unusually big 2400-foot (730m) mountain far away. Or we were just slow.


After the spell of fairly intense paddling, walking on the stony shore took some adjustment, but it was good to unbend. Up above a lone walker was pacing the thin path which runs along this steep, exposed coast east towards Ardmair. During a snack I kicked about among the usual enigmatic flotsam: a giant tennis ball, a baby elephant’s welly and a Filipino flip flop. I picked up a bit of old rope to sell on ebay later while Jon pinched some nice stones for his giant aquarium back home.
During our break the wind had abated a little and as we set off again through a seal patrol, Isle Martin helpfully blocked the wind-borne fetch from the southeast. The creased, folded and weathered sandstone of guano-covered red cliffs drifted by, suggesting a second visit on a calmer day, but it was after 2 o’clock so we decided to save our energy and clipped the edge of the Isle. We didn’t want to leave it too late and end up paddling tired up the narrow part of Loch Broom on a turning tide and a headwind.


As it was I was hoping to snatch a quick sail (left) as we turned briefly southwest towards Rubha Cadail lighthouse, but while I did creep forward perceptibly, it was hardly worth it; bad angle and too much lee off the point. Still, the good thing with the Pacific Action sail is that it’s light, lies out of the way and is no effort to flick up on the off chance of a breeze.
Rounding the stumpy lighthouse near Rhue, (below right), we could look back across outer Loch Broom to Polbain and the Summer Isles – maybe we should have planned the day in the opposite direction. Whatever, now it was time for the final 3.5-mile stomp into the wind to Ullapool jetty, hoping that the afternoon ferry from Stornoway wouldn’t sneak up from behind and wash us into the middle of next week.


I observed that Jon typically cruised at four strokes for my five and put it down to the superior glide of his hip-wide LV. In fact he was deploying a textbook exemplification of PPT or ‘proper paddling technique’, instilled by his personal paddling trainer (also PPT). I’d read about this technique in books: put blade in by your feet while turning torso and pull back by re-pivoting the torso, not just pulling on the arms like an ape climbing a vine. It worked; I was a bit faster but it all felt a bit stilted and robotic, not the way I naturally paddle, for better or for worse.

However you do it – ape-vine or PPT – it’s fun to paddle a little kayak into a port used big boats coming and going from who knows where. Ullapool sea front milled lightly with late-summer tourists and it’s possible to interpret one’s arrival as faintly heroic in their eyes, at least compared to a gannet floating beak-down in an oil slick.
Sunburned, crusted with wind-dried salt and not a little stiff, we pulled our boats ashore just over six hours after leaving Polbain. With probably five hours of actual paddling to cover what was indeed only 15 miles but felt more, that’s a fairly ordinary 3mph moving average. Not something to get Ullapool’s summertime bunting in a flutter. Had the headwind been stronger it would have turned into a right old slog, but always with the option of a take-out and ice cream at Ardmair then an a hour’s walk to the car.

We did wonder what it must be like doing this day after day out here as say, Gael has done lately. We celebrated with a creamy cappucho and a slab of buttered fruitcake at the Ceilidh Place (as good as it gets in Ullapool). Recharged and with the anatomical creaks re-oiled, we reckoned we could have pushed on for another three hours if we really had to. But we didn’t so we popped into Tescos for more saccharine tucker and drove home.

As I Paddled out one Midsummer’s Evening (Incept K40)

I took the K40 out across the bay for the first time since Ningaloo last September. As mentioned earlier, Australian UV being what it is, it did look pretty good after being rolled up for months. I put that down to lashings of 303. But it still went a bit flat in the few days between pumping up and paddling. Maybe I pumped it up on a hot day.

I topped it up in the water at Old Dornie, had a quick look for bubbles, took the pump with just in case, and set out back to Badentarbet beach. It had been calm for days and an ankle-high swell wafted along with a spring tide about to top out at about 3.5 metres. I passed the old ‘Wasp Factory‘ (left) still intact, and dithered a bit about crossing to the island, over-conscious about how the boat was moving on the currents that would barely push a wet paper bag. In the end, Tanera Mor got close enough, and after a couple of minutes paddling I trailed the rocky shore of red Torridon sandstone for a while before heading back across the bay.
I found out later that the day before a boat tour had spotted a pod of half a dozen orcas (ropey video – start at 1:40 for the best action) right here. Someone suggested that because it’s been so dry, the salmon can’t get upstream to do their thing so have backed up along the shore where the killer whales come in for a feed. Video still below, more pictures here and see footnote.

With no dorsal fins towering over my head, I crossed the last mile over the bay with the rudder up to remind myself it was do-able. The K40 took a bit more finesse and occasional hard yanking to keep in line, same as with the old Sunny when without a skeg. A smooth, steady style works best but what it really means is that you can’t go as fast; pull hard to escape from a killer whale’s jaws and you really need your feet and a rudder to get you back in line.

As my taxi came down off the hill I passed a cheerful buoy bobbing around. Stowing the paddle and using the buoy as a marker, I noticed how quickly I was drifting back on the unseen tide, but as always, with the water and wind moving against you, you get much more of an impression of speed which is satisfying. Battling the not so agreeable tail winds off Ningaloo last September, I lost my faith in the K40 a bit, but here on a calm Highland evening, the Tasman slipped along, just as it always did.


We climbed up onto Ben Mor (right) the other evening, from where I was reminded just how close Ullapool seems from a couple of thousand feet above sea level. Looking out over Loch Broom, with one arm you can pat the Summer Isles, and with the other dab the lighthouse at Rubha Cadail (Rhue), south of Isle Martin and Ardmair (left). It’s some 13 miles or more, but with a get-out at Ardmair if need be, it would surely be doable within in the span of a tide, then to catch the afternoon bus back.

A few days later I decided my boat did have a leak in the floor somewhere. I hoped it might be a bit of easily expelled grit in the PRV and not the hull delaminating in some hard-to-get-to corner.  I filled it up like a paddling pool and sure enough, it was fizzing from around the edges of the PRV (right).
It took a bit of tracking down with Google (the menuless Incept NZ website is not the best), but it seems the cap needs prising off and the valves cranking down once in a while with a Halkey Roberts valve tool. Seeing as it’s not been done since new, that makes sense, so one’s on order and will hopefully do the trick. I never had to do that on the Gumotex Sunny in all its years, but the Incept does run a higher pressure and is a faster boat because of it.
A day after I wrote this, over breakfast we spotted a huge pod of [probably harbour] porpoises coursing across the bay. They’re not so unusual and half an hour what looked like up to 20 of them trawled a line to an fro off the shore of Tanera Mor, presumably hunting or feeding. This is the best the zoom could manage on a murky midsummer’s morning.

Kayaking Ningaloo – Part 2 (Incept K40)

Part 1 is here.
Gallery at the bottom of the page.

After a spell of snorkeling in Coral Bay and reading in Exmouth, I drove round to the ocean side of the Cape and met up with Jeff and Sharon near Yardie Creek in the Cape Range National Park. Later they told me they’d had their camp swamped early one morning by the tide, but had an exhilarating run around Point Cloates dodging humpback whales and covered up to 55km a day, all under sail.

But all was not well with our ill-defined status in the national park. Most visitors arrive by car or tour bus and book their camp sites well in advance if staying a few days. Wild camping is not on, but as I’d discovered to my surprise in Exmouth, all of Cape Range’s few campsites were booked for days in advance and occupied for weeks, with newcomers queuing from 8am at the park entry gate near Tantabiddi for any vacancies. Rocking up off the sea in kayaks was highly irregular and Jeff and Sharon had been given a bollocking by the head ranger who reluctantly negotiated a fixed itinerary for us to follow through the park, ranging from 4- to 20kms a day, until we exited the park at Tantabiddi.

While waiting for the other two to arrive, I took a quick scoot in my underused boat up Yardie Creek gorge (above), a 2km cleft in the otherwise flat coastline. Official boat cruises run up here to spot bat-eared rock wombats, a trip that I must have done in my time when updating the guidebook. But even running Yardie in my own boat, I thought by WA standards this was a long drive to a very ordinary gorge. Send them off to Karajini or the Gibb River Road and leave Yardie to the speckle-chinned wallabies.

I gave my problematic V-sail another spin to remind myself it had not become a complete flop. With a more secure fixture of the mast foot straps and the elastic cord positioned right on the boat’s black nose, it worked well enough in the light breeze, but could still do with some sort of bowsprit (sticky-out front pole) to get the elastic clip still further forward – a solution that’s easier than making alternative mounts for the sails masts.

I set off to Pilgramunna Camp where a note from Jeff explained that an extramural pitch had been allocated for us boat people. Months earlier I’d spent ages on the DEC website looking for kayak touring regulations in Cape Range but had found nothing and so concluded it was the same ‘come through but leave no trace’ deal as at Cape Peron down at Shark Bay.
Turns out there are no formal regs for kayak tourers visiting the park as it seems only a few kayak parties pass through each year. But as the park is about 60km long along the shore, you’re going to need at least two nights in the half dozen official campsites which mostly probably need to be booked in advance in the more tolerable seasons. That’s something that is difficult to plan for if coming up from Coral Bay, nearly 100km away.

With our pitch allocated, I set off in my kayak to meet up with Jeff and Sharon coming up from the south. We were soon reunited on the water (above) and shared the stories of our separation. They were low on food so back at the camp were pleased to tuck into a cake Sharon had baked for the trip and which I’d managed to resist eating during my days hanging out.

Early next morning we were all set to complete the less demanding two-day run along the reef up to Tantabiddi, but now northeasterlies turned on us as the back end of a high pressure system moved east over the continent. At least these were conditions I knew the K40 and I could handle, right up to the point when our pace progress dropped to zero.

The winds scuppered any reef viewing opportunities off the boats and a momentary pause in paddling effort saw the boats stall and drift backwards at least as fast as we could move forwards. But here at least were the fabulous azure lagoons and shell-white sands of Ningaloo.

Just before Turquoise Bay we stopped for a snack at which time Jeff took a quick scoot in my empty Incept . He proclaimed my boat was light and fast but my PA sail tension was still too slack or the mast-to-elastic clip distance too short. That was something I’d thought of and re-rigged the front tensioner further forward on the nose of the boat, though I may try the bowsprit idea mentioned above.

That was academic in the current headwinds so Jeff led the boats off on a lead while Sharon and I took advantage of a current the ran along the point leading into Turquoise Bay created by the lagoon filling with overspilled surf which ran out as a riptide through a gap in  the reef. Compared to Coral Bay, there were many more soft corals here along with all the usual fishes. Coral Bay coral gardens got trashed by a cyclone a few years back.

That done we hacked on northwards across Turquoise Bay, busy with weekend day trippers, and occasionally took to walking out boats in the shallows as we’d done in Shark Bay. As we did so we passed a couple of stocky reef sharks as well as several turtles and rays.

By the late afternoon it was clear that after nearly a week at sea, Jeff and Sharon didn’t have the puff to make it to our pre-ordained camp in the portly tandem, so we pulled in on a beach for a much more satisfying wild camp and a great feed laid on by Sharon from a food cache we’d retrieved earlier in the day. To avert any alarm or searches we left a phone message with the head ranger. As the fire died down we dozed off at 8pm and the wind dropped off, promising a good night’s sleep. Its howling was replaced by the distant roar of surf breaking over the reef.

Early next morning we got the break we were hoping for: near still conditions. After forensically tidying up the camp, we headed out towards the surf line and finally had a chance to enjoy a little of what we’d come here for: gliding serenely over the reef just a few feet below, past fishes, sharks, turtles and rays. No need for a mask or glass-bottomed boat today, it was all laid out below us for an hour and a half until the north winds returned us to business as usual.

Mesa Camp came and went, with a report passed to the head ranger that we were breaking with his proscribed itinerary and making our way out of the park that day. Turtles dashed all about as we nosed into Mangrove Bay, a welcome change from the unending string of scrubby low dunes that lined the shore all the way up from Coral Bay, if not Perth itself.

Another spell of wading brought us finally to Tantabiddi boat ramp by which time I’d divined a new paddling technique probably known to all: pushing off the mushy inflatable’s footrests actually enabled a rigid torso rotation which notably increased speed for little extra effort. With energy to spare after only a day or two’s paddling, at times I was even inching past the tandem until we nudged ashore at the ramp. Jeff and Sharon performed a ‘paddle high five’ after completing their challenging 150-km run up from Coral Bay, most of it alone.

The boats and gear got hosed down at the fish station while I hitched back down to Pilgramunna to retrieve the van. It was nearly dark by the time I arrived and I must have spotted and dodged up to 100 ‘roos on the 40-km drive back. I’ve never seen so many kangaroos. The park was infested with bounding marsupials: ‘Ningaroo’ they should call it.

So, I ran out of easy conditions for a good sea paddle through Ningaloo; something I suspected might happen even before I left the UK. But I wasn’t too bothered. I got a couple of days in plus that lovely calm morning and knew that a meaty packrafting adventure lay another 1000 clicks up the road in the Kimberley (see map below). I got the impression from Jeff and Sharon that, apart from the humpbacks and not least the satisfaction of having kayaked the entire way from Coral Bay to Tantabiddi, I hadn’t missed that much. Unlike Shark Bay, here it was the reef that was special, best appreciated in calm conditions or on the end of a snorkel. Otherwise, you might as well be battling the winds anywhere along the WA coast.


I can’t be sure I’d reached the limit of the K40 (as described in part 1), but until I get more experience I’d certainly reached my limits trying to handle the kayak in very windy conditions I’d not normally tackle back in the UK. That still leaves a lot of easy sea kayaking and fun rivers to do yet.

 

Kayaking Ningaloo – Part 1 (Incept K40)

After a great paddle in Shark Bay with Jeff and Sharon a few years ago, we’d vowed to try the more exposed transit of the Ningaloo Reef, from the small resort of Coral Bay, north along the west side of the Northwest Cape through Cape Range NP as far as Tantabiddi boat ramp. All up about 150 kilometres or a week’s paddling.
The entire coast of WA is bare, windy and exposed to swells raised by storms in the restless Southern Ocean, with few settlements and little shelter or natural sources of freshwater to speak of. Only the extensive lagoon of Shark Bay and the reef-protected shoreline of the Northwest Cape provide potentially interesting sea kayaking, sheltered from the daily sea breeze, even if access to fresh water is still a problem.

What makes Ningaloo special is that the continental shelf is relatively close to the shore compared to the northwest coast up towards the Timor Sea. This fact, as much as the presence of the reef, explains the unusual diversity of marine life which led to the marine park’s UNESCO status. Small fish, turtles, rays, small sharks and dolphins live or visit the lagoons between the main reef’ and the shore, while bigger creatures right up to humpback whales, tiger sharks and not least the whale sharks for which Ningaloo has become famous, usually feed along the outside edge.

After a 1200-km overnight drive from Perth, we arrived at the Coral Bay (CB) where Jeff’s first comment on easing himself out of the driving seat was ‘Jee-zus, look at the swell out there!’. The reef lies just below the surface a kilometre offshore here, and the Indian Ocean breaks on it unceasingly, forming a glaring band if ice-white surf, at times thrown 2-3 metres into the air. That wasn’t an undue worry for us as we were planning on staying well inside the near-continuous Reef, but the winds were another matter.

Following weather reports over the preceding weeks I was beginning to wonder if September (early spring) such a good time after all. Asking around, many said a month earlier (as we’d been at Shark Bay) would have been fine – or May, or in high summer between cyclones. Everyone had their own suggestions, but the fact was right now the forecast for the next week (left) was 20 to 30-knot winds from the east or southeast, with gusts half as much again. As a result all fishing and tourist boat charters were cancelled out of Coral Bay.

Sounds grim unless you’re into tough conditions, but the good thing about following the Ningaloo is that it’s easy to bail out and cross the low coastal dunes to a rough 4×4 track that runs just inshore. A few cars ought to pass along it each day, so I figured even though I’d never go out in an F5 or 6 in the UK (where the seas are bigger, the skies greyer and the water much colder), here with reliably sunny 30°C days I’d give it a go as we’d never be far from the shore. We’d considered starting halfway up the coast at Ningaloo Homestead and just doing the less exposed northern stage, but the other two were keen to do the full run from Coral Bay (left). And anyway, getting Jeff’s van in and out along the Homestead’s corrugated access track with his 55-kg Perception kayak on the roof was not ideal.

Sunday Jeff and Sharon drove out to leave caches of food and water at the Homestead and another point up in the Cape Range park, while I investigated logging our route plan and details with anyone who was interested. Turns out that was a short list as most marine activity in Coral Bay was concerned with nipping out through the reef in motor boats for the day of fishing. Kayaking beyond the Bay itself was unknown and I was told within a day we’d be out of range from the local volunteer rescue services anyway. But we had my sat phone, Jeff had a VHF, plus a chart and we had a GPS each. The weather wouldn’t suddenly get much worse; it would be challenging from the start, so we knew what we were taking on.

Monday 6am and Jeff was raring to go; no time for breakfast – straight to the beach from where our mission that day was to cover 40 clicks, even although we had 9 days to cover the other 110 kms to Tantabiddi during which time we planned to linger and enjoy some reef exploring.

We loaded the boats on the shore, set off and flicked up our Pacific Action V-sails. Behind us, a curious crowd of early morning dog walkers had gathered while I struggled to follow a straight line across windy Batemans Bay (‘Coral Bay’). The sea was flat enough but the Incept seemed hard to control as the sail flapped or swayed violently from side to side. I tried to imitate the sail position Jeff was running on his big tandem, but soon even he reckoned it was already too windy to use the sails, so we pulled them in and paddled around Point Maud into the big scoop of coastline that leads north some 60km to Point Cloates below the Ningaloo sheep station.
n-sailageThe wind still blew offshore at this time which helped flatten the seas just as Jeff predicted, but soon a mile-long gap in the reef let the ocean swell through from the left. It rolled beneath us harmlessly and crashed with occasional fury on the sandy beach far to our right. As the morning progressed we tried sailing again. With years of experience and a well set-up boat, Jeff was much more proficient at this, but during the stronger gusts I was again struggling to get to grips with the K40. Where was the 10kph+ rush the PA sail had promised? Testing it in Scotland had hinted at this potential, but now the winds were an order of magnitude greater. One problem was the force of the wind had loosened and pushed my mast feet forward, so lessening the all-important elastic tension which keeps the sail pulled upright, especially at lower angles. At one point Jeff leaned over and tightened the straps (and later I revised the straps to link directly to a couple of lugs) but as the hours passed I could feel myself losing confidence in my boat, too busy trying to control it or keeping up to even grab a drink, take photos or just look around.

At the sandy Bruboodjoo Point we pulled in for a snack after five hours paddling. Unknown to us, there was a camp here called Nine Mile, occupied by self-sufficient recreational fishermen. Having already covered 20kms, I wasn’t feeling reassured about what lay ahead, when a woman bathing nearby confirmed that the winds were set to get stronger through the week.

We set off again into what was now a strong southwesterly – the daily ‘sea breeze’ which rolls in in late morning along the entire west Australian coast and is known as the soothing ‘Fremantle Doctor’ down in Perth. In this stronger wind I was even less able to sail as steadily as the tandem. We had tried long and short line towing (rather than rafting up alongside) but under sail or not, the bobbing Incept was all over the place, fouling the Perception’s rudder and at times pulling me over or burying the bow. After a bit of that I decided to revert to paddling, but by now even doing that in a straight line was a struggle.

At the time I couldn’t pin down the source of the difficulty, but I’d probably never been out in such winds. Jeff thought my rudder was ineffective or not articulating fully, but it was doing as well as normal for a mushy foot linkage system with a bit of rudder cord drag due to the packed payload. Could the rudder be too small or short to operate with the sail? Unlikely. Later I wondered if I may have reached the operational limits of the wind-prone K40 – at least when combined with my rudimentary skills. My boat was about as high above the water as Jeff’s, but with much less weight below, and at 17kg, was less than a third of the tandem’s weight. And even with a rudder, it still lacked the sharply defined stern and bow ‘keel-edges’ of a hardshell to enable it to cut and hold a line in the water against back- or sidewinds. As it was, it was a bit like trying to ice skate in slippers; you can work up some speed sure, but directional control is minimal.

This blobby shape is an inevitable consequence of inflatable kayak design that’s difficult to get around until full dropstich came on the scene. The result – with sail or just paddling – was that the light kayak’s hull itself was as prone to back/side winds as the sail, and so weathercocked (back end coming round) as I zig-zagged inefficiently to try and counteract it. Weathercocking is not unique to IKs of course. and I don’t think the boat’s trim (load level – about 30kg) was off – there was 10kg of water right at the stern. It’s just that in the current conditions the K40’s light weight, buoyancy, rounded hull and high sides conspired to push it about on the water, even if those high sides and the boat’s innate rigidity greatly helped limit swamping compared to the bendy Gumotex Sunny in Shark Bay a few years ago. The sail needed more tension to stay up when pulled down low, but that was easy to remedy and I noticed also occurred on the Perception where Sharon had to hold up the upper mast at times.

deeptr

I can’t be certain those observations about the boat’s handling are correct, and perseverance may have overcome them, but even when the K40 had sailed steadily in less strong winds earlier that day, it was still much slower than Jeff’s 20-foot-long tandem whalesharkboat with its bigger 2.2m PA sail. I assumed weights and hull profiles of the two boats would have matched up, but as well as being a hardshell, length has a lot to do with it, so instead of keeping pace with J&S in my new, faster, sail-equipped boat, even when I sailed well I was left just as far behind as I’d been a few years ago paddling the Sunny in Shark Bay. It was all going Pete Tong and I foresaw this was how those stories in Sea Kayaker ~ Deep Trouble begin: “Jeff, Sharon and Chris left Coral Bay in clear conditions but with strong offshore winds forecast. They were equipped with blah blah but had no blah…
As the tandem surged on I sponged out the swill taken on by the towing and a bloke in an alloy dinghy or ‘tinny’ came over to ask if I was OK. It was an encounter that was to pay off soon. I set off again, paddling with the odd small wave breaking from behind. The tandem was fast becoming a speck up ahead. It was decision time because at that moment, without a chance to talk over options with the other two, getting widely separated like this didn’t seem like a good idea. After the unexpected Nine Mile Camp, there was nothing till the Homestead from where it would be more awkward to bail out if I’d had my fill by then. I looked back at the Camp, now a couple of clicks behind. Up ahead the tandem’s sail was nearly as far off with no sign of them slowing down. I decided I’d pull in. Hopefully, the other two would notice that, stop so I could catch up and get the van keys and rejoin them on the less exposed waters north of Yardie Creek in a few days time.

‘Thank God that’s over’ I remarked with relief as I landed and lifted the boat over the exposed coral slabs marking the tide line along the beach. It was about 2pm. I grabbed a bottle of water and set off north along the coast to meet up with the J&S who I was sure would do likewise soon. An hour later I reached a very conspicuous zone boundary post just before a small headland – an obvious place to wait, I thought. I climbed onto the structure and scanned the beach about a kilometre ahead. Was that a boat or just a rock? There was no sign of the distinctive PA sail and after 15 minutes nothing had moved so I decided that they had shot on ahead. Short of something holing my boat, there was no reason for them to think I couldn’t paddle ashore and they knew I had water, food and comms and so could work it all out.

I returned to the boat, finding a handy half-full water bottle on the way, and paddled slowly south into the wind for an hour and a half back to the scattered collection of caravans at Nine Mile. Over the dune I walked to the nearest van where an Australian flag curled and slapped in the wind.

Hello, is this immigration?” I said with a grin to the old guy, mimicking one of the Asian boat people who frequently beach themselves on WA’s shore.
What?”
I saw the flag and thought this was immigration

Clearly my joke was going down like a lead lure.
Oh that, I just use it to see where the wind’s blowin’ from.”
I see.
Pardon me.

Jim was one of the many retired Australians who now far outnumber backpackers up north, as they seek to escape WA’s southern winter. Coral Bay’s caravan parks were full of them and, as I was to find out soon, every site in Cape Range NP up ahead was full of ‘grey nomads’ too. Hardier and better-equipped types based themselves for longer periods at zero-facility sheep station sites like Nine Mile, where rents were cheaper and stays unlimited. Even then, Jim (the guy in the tinny who’d asked if I was OK, earlier) told me that normally Nine Mile would have had 60 vans parked up. The unseasonably strong winds over the past couple of weeks had driven off most of them, leaving just a dozen diehards. With summer on the way and fishing in such conditions difficult in a tinny, Jim was about to head south himself.

I explained my situation and asked whether he had a radio to call Ningaloo Homestead. Many vehicles have these in the north. Jeff had made an arrangement to check in with the Homestead on his untried VHF that evening, so could get my message and leave the van keys there. Jim only had a CB, but he did have Ningaloo’s phone number. He expressed repeated surprise that the other two hadn’t waited once I was so far behind, but I figured they’d recognised I’d had my fill and bailed.

I tramped back to the boat as the sun sank and on the satphone explained the situation to Jane at the Homestead who thankfully got it all in one take. They’d experienced worse kayak dramas before. She’d pass on my request for keys when Jeff turned up there next day to retrieve a cache of food and water he’d left with them just before we’d set off.

Long story short
Jeff and Sharon had stopped just a few kilometres ahead of the point I’d walked to and waited for me till next morning to turn up. When I hadn’t, Jeff walked back to Nine Mile, found out what happened, walked back and continued on towards the Homestead, arriving the next day.
Separated by 10-15kms that night, we both had rough nights of tent-flattening winds after which the site host at Nine Mile offered to drive me back to Coral Bay where he was heading anyway with his laundry. At the caravan park the host and I set to the van doors with coathangers and zip ties until they yielded. Though we couldn’t get past the immobiliser to hotwire it, the van became a handy base while I worked on a new plan.

By now on the notice boards in town there were Strong Wind Warnings for entire northwest coast of WA. I updated our status with the DEC (parks authority) and, not a little anxious myself now after more calls to the Homestead, a day later finally spoke with Jeff. He apologised for not stopping earlier – I suspect the sailing was just too good and I too had been looking forward to the rush of being batted up the coast with my feet up. His VHF didn’t get through and his walk to Nine Mile explained the day’s delay in getting to the Homestead.

With that sorted out, all that remained for me was to wander around the Coral Bay campground eyeing up likely candidates until I succeeded in persuading a young Brit backpacker that for fuel and 50 bucks, it would be an awesome adventure to drive me 120kms to the Homestead and back in his clapped-out Suzuki banger.

If Jeff’s $1500 van was rough, Rory’s 20-year-old Suzuki Swift truly had three wheels in the scrapheap. Even he admitted it would probably not make it to Darwin as he and his mates had planned. The CV joints clattered like a football rattle and I’m sure the 60 clicks of corrugations along the homestead access track brought the Suzuki’s imminent Big Bang forward a few weeks.

At the Homestead Jane confided that the southern bay up to Point Cloates was indeed the more exposed ‘open water’ stage of the Ningaloo passage and the wind had certainly come up on Monday afternoon. When it blew like that for ten days at a time, she admitted it drove her nuts. But all this as least boded well for the more sheltered northern section of the paddle in a few days time. The car got us back to Coral Bay where I started the van up and headed north to Exmouth, planning to meet J&S at Yardie Creek in three days time.

Part II and a short video

Kayak and packraft sails

You may have read in the Shark Bay story what a relief it was to turn into the wind at Cape Peron, get Jeff to flick up his Pacific Action sail (below left) and shoot down across the Reach, with me clinging to Jeff’s hefty sea kayak. There’s a bit more Pacific Action sailing action attached to an Incept K40 in this video.
To me, sailing a kayak or packraft is a smart idea in the right conditions and with kayaks, some people think so too. The now moribund US-dominated packraft forum didn’t get so excited when a bloke demo’d his WindPaddle (see below); perhaps in the US most packrafters do rivers, not lakes or certainly not sea. In Scotland where the lochs can be long wind-channels and the boggy ground alongside horrible to walk over with a full pack, sailing a packraft down a 20-km valley full of water in half the time it would take to paddle makes sense.

V-sails and Umbrella sailing
I never got round to fitting a Pacific Action sail [video and left] onto the Sunny IK. In the UK they cost around £250 but it’s more or less two sticks and a sheet and some string. Here is a great thread on SotP about making your own V-sail, although now I notice the original model of the PA sails going for as little as £160 in the UK to make way for the new, mostly clear models.
I read about a guy who mentioned he umbrella-sailed his packraft back across an Arizona lake on an afternoon breeze. So with an old brolly I’ve barely used in 20 years, I gave it a go.

First time was in the Sunny kayak on a very windy day – too windy in fact. I found an out-of-the-way loch on the north side of Stac Polly mountain, hacked into the 20 mph headwind, turned round and opened up the umbrella expecting to catch the wind and rip back to the shore like an ekranoplan. No such luck. In a way the good thing with a brolly is that it inverts long before it drags you out of the boat and across the lake like a character from a cartoon. But because of that in-built safety overload, I couldn’t get going. Oddly, all that happened was instead of the bow coming round downwind, the boat kept getting side-on until the brolly inverting on a gust. Why side on? Was it the fact that the sail’s pivot point was effectively my shoulder in the middle of the boat, and not a point fixed on the front end? Could be.


A few days later I tried with my much lighter Llama packraft, but this rare day there was not enough wind to prove anything. As you can see left, I tried to use the paddle as a rudder, but on that day it would have been better used in its traditional role.

Flip-out disc sails
Since thenflip-out’ disc sails came to my attention: lighter, simpler and more compact than a PA. They work like those clever flip-out tents (see below): release a sling and it springs into shape on an unfurling hoop or batten. I made myself one from a spare tent.

Here is a great IK page by a French gonflard, Andypink picturing all sorts of kayak sails and having assessed all out there, he designed a 1.2m2 ‘spoon sail‘ which is now being sold by Bic (right) for about £50 – just under half the price of a smaller US-made WindPaddle (good canoer’s review here). As you’d expect, the places selling the Bic in the UK merely parrot the blurb from Bic  with no detailed analysis or photos of it in use. To do that you have to dig into Andy P’s blog; there are photos of an actual Bic-in-action here and here and especially here (also left, his picture cropped for clarity). You can see there are no less than three attachment points on each side of the sail.
Having used my similar but ultra-basic home-made version, I’d say the properly designed Bic differs in the following ways:

  • It has a window – always nice to see what’s ahead.
  • I assumed the inverted teardrop shape would make it unstable, but I suspect the close base-mount points make it easier to pull the sail hard down to one side for angling off the wind at up to 45°. And like a PA, it’s bigger up top where there’s significantly more wind.
  • The ‘control string’ attaches to the side of the sail at three points and then is attached to the hull (not one point and held in the hand like my MYO disc). I presume they are all chosen in position and length to maintain a certain optimal form. 
  • It appears the dishing as featured on a WindPaddle and its knock-offs is not necessary.

Here’s a good intro to kayak sailing on Douglas Wilcox’s inspiring Scottish sea kayaking blog. DW paddles hardshells mostly, has actual sailboat experience and these days uses a fixed Flat Earth sail (a jib?) which I don’t think would work on an IK.
Douglas told me that on the faster boats they all use (proper sea kayaks with bows sharp enough to cut week-old brie) the WindPaddle proved to have a fairly narrow range of operational effectiveness (same with the Bic I imagine). In a strong wind the flexible hoop distorts and loses effectiveness; and in a light wind they find it’s barely worth the bother. But don’t forget this is in a slick kayak that can easily be paddled at 5mph while slicing through the swell. A packraft manages about half that and fast IK like a Seawave or Incept maybe 70-80% of that speed. So at the lower wind speeds I can paddle, a sail may be worthwhile – and in sail-distorting high winds; well, it didn’t happen with mine in 20mph winds (F4-5). I didn’t go that fast, but I can’t see me voluntarily being out at sea at wind speeds of 30mph, which is F6. It’s F7 out the window right now, pelting down and the sea looks utterly grim.


A ‘0.9m2’ WindPaddle is the same size as my disc sail, left (ie: 1m diametre which = a radius of 0.5m x 0.5m x π actually = 0.785 m2, but perhaps the dishing makes a bigger area?). As this guy suggests, this may not represent great value for money for a nylon sheet in a hoop plus some string. My own disc sail seems to work OK, but I may end up trying a Pacific Action – see below. My only reservations might be that it’s yet more stuff and a Bic or PA may be a little more complicated to rig and operate than a plain old disc sail.

More kayak and packraft sailing thoughts
I forget of course that my disc sail was primarily made as a portable sail for my packraft; I never really expected it to work on what was my Incept IK, but having done so anyway, I think at 0.78m2 it’s too small and too low. I block much of the backwind and I’ve been told the higher a sail the better it works; it’s just that too much height can affect stability in a gust. We don’t want that.

We were out yesterday on Loch Broom with Steve and Micheal in the Feathercrafts and me in the K40. By the time we finally put in at the back of the loch near the river, it had gotten windy and the fetch up the valley was pushing up a short chop which mid-loch, made forward progress slow. But now I have a nifty way of carrying my disc sail securely and out of the way on the Incept (right), I went right ahead and deployed it for the return. As before, I found that a stiff headwind paddled into at 2-3mph (see graph, left), didn’t correspond into a scintillating downwind glide under sail. Top speed was just over 4mph at which point things begin to get interesting and you want more. But most of the time Steve was able to keep up and even take pictures between paddling his Kahuna, so all I was gaining was some rest rather than extra speed.

Nothing wrong with resting on the move, but compact and handy though it is, I think my home-made disc sail is too small to get the K40 moving with my weight in it, let alone adding a camping payload. Researching more about V-sails, including the SotP thread mentioned above, I see that here and there PA sails are getting discounted to nearly the same price as a WindPaddle.

sai-sailor

Having thought it over and actually seen one in use, a PA is more like the real thing compared to any disc sail, whose USP is that they’re compact and deploy in a flash. What a WindPaddle, Bic or my home-made disc sail can’t do so easily on the water in anything longer than a packraft is fold up easily. On an Alpacka you just reach forward and twist the disc sail down out of the way and clamp it, but alone on a choppy sea in a long kayak, it’s far out of reach on the bow of my Incept, unless I just pull it back and lash it down over my knees. A headwind would hold it in place like that, but one may have other things on one’s mind in heavy conditions and a side- or backwind gust could catch it where it might dig into the water and act as an unwanted sea anchor, upsetting the boat. We don’t want that either.


Update – a cheap Windpaddle knock-off
So, having experimented with the concept of kayak sailing for little outlay, I can now see the value in actually buying something like a PA that’s made for the job, partly because we’re intending to paddle the Ningaloo this September where a sail will be useful, and sail-savvy Jeff (left) will be there to give me some tuition in the art. Short version: it didn’t go so well for me.
Where’s a windy day when you want one? Not today, but the next time I must take the Alpacka Yak out with the disc sail and see if the new shape and a bit more experience makes any difference. As you can see here, it wasn’t so conclusive with the old shape Llama on a reservoir in Surrey, but the pointier Yak, a bit of paddle rudder finesse and a stiff Hebridean breeze may make a difference.

Pic below: not given up on WindPaddle sailing yet.

coi - 8

Inflatable kayaks. Part 1: Fabrics and Fabrication

Page updated and moved here

Scottish Sea Kayak Trail Part 2 ~ Raasay to Loch Torridon

Grabner H2 report • Part 1 (previous) • Part 3 (next)

Scotland 2011
Raasay – Rona – Loch Torridon

On Saturday May 14, I left Paris very early and drove to Scotland. I arrived in Kyleakin on Skye very late the same day. The last leg between Fort William and Kyle of Lochalsh had been tricky because some large animals were standing in the dark by the roadside. I pitched my tent in the grassy backyard of the Backpackers hostel and eventually enjoyed some well-deserved rest.
Morning after, I checked the weather forecast to find out that it was expected to be rough during the next 36 hours, before improving on Monday afternoon.
My plan was to complete in about 10 days the last section of the SSKT, the Northland section, from Kyle to Ullapool. Last summer I had paddled North up to Applecross, visiting the Crowlin Islands en route, as well as Loch Carron up to Plockton and the Black Islands. Instead of following the same route, I intended to visit Raasay and Rona before crossing the Inner Sound to Loch Torridon. This detour would also keep me sheltered from the Westerly winds in the lee of Skye.

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Before putting off, I went to the police station in Kyle of Lochalsh to inform them about my intended trip. The officer in charge was very helpful and helped me to turn a « going to the hills » form into a float plan. He took note of my leaving my car at Kyleakin: I did not want to be reported missing in case somebody would draw wrong conclusions after noticing a foreign car left unattended for several days.


I launched in Otter Pond after lunch and started paddling westward, hugging the shore which offered some shelter from the SW breeze. I thought I could reach the SE corner of Scalpay by the end of the afternoon and set camp there, but the wind decided otherwise and grew stronger as I was passing Palbay on my starboard beam. Rounding the low features of Rubha Ardnish I felt the full force of the SW gusts freewheeling across Broadford bay. It would take way too much energy to reach the other side, so I decided it was wiser to call it a day and returned to the lee of Rubha Ardnish. 

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It was high water time. The sea had just risen up its highest, flooding large expanses of grass and patches of sea pinks (armeria maritima). I landed on a bed of flowers and installed my camp at the foot of a rocky bluff offering a natural protection against the wind. Soon the rain forced me to hide in my tent. Cooking outside was impossible so I carefully light my tiny can stove inside and prepared some hot soup.

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I took to sea at high tide the following day. Very early then. I had to because the shoals around Rubha Ardnish dry out not long after high water, meaning a long and tedious portage should I miss the time. Crossing Broadford bay against the still fresh SW breeze proved to be a effective warming up exercise.  
I stopped on the gravel beach in the small drying harbour, protected by an old and crumbling stone pier where some fishing boats were moored. Through the windows of the hotel nearby, I was watched by guests having breakfast in shorts and t-shirt.

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Surprisingly as I left Broadford behind me the wind eased off and I paddled through Caolas Scalpay on mirror like flat water. This bliss did not last and I crossed the mouth of Loch Ainort buffeted by the usual SW gusts. I probed into Caol Mor to assess the conditions for this 2 km passage. I found it challenging enough to make my arms feel weak. I postponed the crossing to later in the afternoon, let the wind blow me back around and retraced my last paddle strokes until I could land on a seaweed choked boulder beach for an early luncheon. One hour later the receding tide had left my boat high and dry but I could easily drag it back to water on the thick and slippery layer of kelp covering the boulders. The 2 km crossing to Raasay went fairly well. To my great satisfaction I was whisked by the wind around Eyre Point then to Rubha Na’ Leac. I landed in the small bay behind this headland, hoping to find a camping spot. There was none so I had to paddle on along steep hillsides and stately cliffs all the way to Brochel.

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I landed on a pebble beach below the conspicuous ruins of Brochel Castle. Above the beach was a grassy ledge where I pitched my tent. The evening was calm and dry, so I could enjoy my dinner in the open, watching the Applecross hills across the Inner Sound. I paid a visit to the Castle (which is unfortunately falling apart), but it was too late to have a walk to Ardnish along the famous Calum’s Road. 

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Forecast for the next day, provided to me by Chris, was light breeze no rain until 7 pm. There were even patches of blue in the overcast sky. I paddled to the north tip of Raasay, entered Caol Rona and turned into the narrow passage between Raasay and Eilan Tigh. A SW light breeze pushed me across Caol Rona and later helped me against the current ebbing out of Acairseid Mhor between Rona and Eilean Gharb. Acairseid Mhor is a natural harbour, and a former smugglers haunt.

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Rounding the North tip of Rona amongst a maze of skerries, I involuntarily scared a score of seals which scrambled into the water from the rocks where they were sprawled. The visibility was good and I could see Rubha na Fearna 9 km away to the East. I looked up to the lighthouse and noticed the flag flying in the wind next to it. The flag was showing that the wind had backed South. That was bad news: I would have to paddle for about two hours in side wind pushing me towards open sea. But the wind was not expected to pick up before the end of the afternoon and I should be safe in Loch Torridon by then. So much for the easy downwind crossing I had hoped for. Two hours later I rounded Rubha na Fearna with a heavy sigh of relief. The wind had alarmingly picked up while I was still in the middle of Inner Sound. The current was running against the wind, inducing some uncomfortable yet manageable chop. I stopped on the sand of a tiny inlet and had lunch.

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When I set off again, the wind had backed to the SE. While probably still blowing from South outside, it was funneled along the direction of Loch Torridon. So I trudged along the shore, feeling the wind blowing stronger as time passed, and reached Aird, a headland separating Loch Torridon from Loch Shieldaig. I rounded the north tip of this headland then set a course to Shieldaig island some 4 km away. The wind suddenly accelerated and stopped me in the passage. The water around me became white. I tried hard to move forward, to no avail. I gave up and let the wind push me back out of Loch Shieldaig into Loch Torridon.

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Hugging the shore of Aird I paddled into Loch Beag under the pouring rain. I landed on a narrow slipway at the very head of the inlet, next to heaps of creels. Exhausted, cold and miserable I staggered up to a shed were some people were sorting shellfish. The building had an upstairs platform above the working floor accommodating an office, a cloakroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. I was granted permission by the foreman to spend night in the kitchen. This room was also a closet cluttered with various things. The cloakroom stank because of the fishermen oilskins and wellies hanging there, but it was heated and I put my stuff there to dry.

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The foreman came back at 7 next morning. I was ready to go and had washed the floor before leaving. Through his binoculars I could see the white crests of rough water outside. However as the wind had veered to SW, it should not prevent me to enter Loch Shieldaig this time.
Again I rounded Aird. As expected, I was sheltered from the SW wind. Nevertheless I kept hugging the shore to avoid any risk of being pushed away. I landed on a tiny pebble beach near a shabby cabin. I walked up a soaking wet footpath to explore the woods. There I found an ideal campsite, flat, dry and sheltered by the trees.

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I was short of drinkable fresh water. There was plenty of water dripping all over the place but I was not in the mood for going through the process of purifying it, not for setting up a rig to collect rain water, even though I had nothing else to do actually.
Instead I decided to paddle another 2 km to Shieldaig, get some water there and return to my secret campsite. I was halfway across to Shieldaig Island when a powerful SW gust hit and I had to paddle like mad to keep on my course to Shieldaig jetties. I filled my 10 litre waterbag and bottles at the tap conveniently located on the creel-choked platform, after a local confirmed it dispensed drinkable water. I paddled the shortest distance to the sheltered opposite shore and returned to campsite.

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The forecast that Chris texted me for the following days was still depressing. There was too much distance of west facing exposed coast on my way up north that I could handle in high winds. So I decided to leave the SSKT here, and accepted Chris proposal to pick me up in Shieldaig the next day. I hoped the weather would improve after the week-end and allow us to explore the Summer Isles. It did not happen.