Tag Archives: Isle martin

Seawaving, not drowning

Seawave main page

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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

Kayaking Summer Isles to Ullapool (Incept K40)

Incept K40 Index Page
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 to 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.