Tag Archives: Loch Raa

Loch & Sea: kayaking to Achnahaird

mix01mixteosmapMy 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 (left) we pumped up the IKs and set off along a route I’d packrafted a couple of years ago.
mix10Surrounded 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 Gumo 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 – or is it?
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.
mix13After 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.
mix15First 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. Not noticed one of those out here before.
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.
mix26holdingpatternIt 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.
Sinking in the mushOn 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 (left). 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.

mix37By 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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Packrafting in a Force 6 Gale

I do like a good storm. On the right was today’s coastal forecast for the Minch. You might call it the first big storm of the autumn. Some 250 miles to the north, out on the Faeroes and towards Norway it’s blowing at Force 10 with 40-foot waves, like something out of the Perfect Storm movie before it gets really scary.
What can it be like to paddle a packraft against a wind gusting up to 50mph, I wonder? Is it even possible? Many times I’ve surprised myself how fast an IK can move – 2-3mph – into a headwind of around 25mph. You can’t sustain that effort all day, but last year I managed to plough along like that for an hour or two when I gave up on the Ningaloo Reef and turned back into the wind. Seeing as gale force is the only paddling available for the next few days, I rolled up the Alpacka and went to find out.
Sorry to disappoint you but heading out to sea alone, even on the beach with the onshore wind felt too risky. I figured there was a good chance of a gust flipping the back-heavy Yak in a kind of ‘frontal bandersnatch’ as it crested a wave. Better to stick to my small ‘play-loch’ round the back, site of many paddling experiments and where there’s just wind and not much wave to deal with.
In the given conditions inflating the Alpacka in the back of the car was effortless; it took just six bagfuls fit to burst to fill up the boat, instead of the usual ten. Getting my yellow windsock onto the water was less easy, so once I slapped it down I jumped in quick, clipped the raft to myself via the paddle and tried to leave the shore at the downwind end of Loch Raa.
There was no fetch to speak of and using my large-bladed but light Werner Corrywrecken paddle, I jabbed at the water head down, trying to make headway. The waves rushing by gave the impression I was flying but a sideways glance to the shore showed the raft was barely creeping along. And when a gust hit, it didn’t actually move at all despite my huffing and puffing.
Even though I’d probably missed the peak of the day’s winds, not surprisingly I’ve never experienced a paddling effort like it. It felt like some sort of horizontal pull-up machine in a gym set on ’10’ and my hands gripped way out on the ends of the shaft to increase the leverage. Soon any ideas about paddling to the far shore, only 700 metres away, were surrendered. From the unedited video’s timeline it seems it took me 8 minutes of flat-out effort to cover 250 metres to a rock – just over 1mph with brief rests every couple of minutes.
I felt safe in the Yak; the gust-borne waves weren’t even a foot high and it was actually a good little work out. Once I’d had enough, I swung round and shot back to shore at what turned out to be 4mph, but felt like siting still while the wind blew past from behind. Interestingly the raft was easy to handle; no weathercocking. Can’t say the K40 would have managed so well if my previous experience on the Ningaloo was anything to go by. Walking the empty Yak to shore, it took off like a kite. Had I not been strung onto that thing it would have been on it’s way to Inverness quicker than the RAF Tornadoes which tear across the skies hereabouts on a fine day.

Pacific Action V-sail revisited

Windy but warm and dry thanks for asking – a good afternoon to take the IK out sailing. I’ve not done that since Ningaloo last September (top right) when I was blown away so to speak, but not in a good way.
Even before then I can’t say I’d got the hang of the Pacific Action V-sail which should add up to either hurtling from crest to crest with all hands on deck – or kicking back and getting a free ride while looking around at 3mph. Both are good fun but neither scenario seems to last more than a minute for me.
Remounting the V-sail to the K40 was easy. I clipped the front ‘sail-hoisting’ bungie about 8 inches further forward, right out on the boat’s nose using a loop of string and tape (right) as opposed to using the boat’s lift handle-ring. Fixed here it ought to help keep the sail up when pulled down low to one side by increasing the angle and distance from the sail’s feet. It’s an idea we came up with in Australia in an effort to make the K40 controllable in the strong winds.
Winds today (left, from 3pm) weren’t quite as strong as WA but were getting there. And anyway, I was out on small lochs with no rudder-lifting ocean swell to deal with – another reason we thought the K40 got squirrely in strong winds out in WA. The K40s large draught but low weight acted like a sail of it’s own, weathercocking the boat.
To reacquaint myself, I first took a spin on the smaller Loch Raa. I’m never really sure what I’m doing so just try various angles and approaches until the kayak catches the wind. I’m told that sailing directly downwind with the sail fully upright is less efficient (or is that with regular, fixed-mast sails?). With the PA you can get a good speed for a while, but soon the sail starts rocking violently from side to side as it sheds the excess blast – my strong recollection from Ningaloo. I assume that’s just a sign of the sail exceeding it’s speed limit, though I think Jeff’s hardshell did it less.
Off the wind about 45° and up to 90- or even 100° (ie; slightly upwind) seems more stable but slower, with the sail cranked down low to one side. But even then a consistent speed or direction seems hard to maintain for long. Is it my poor technique, the design of the sail when applied to my IK, or just an aspect of gusting and shifting wind? As it was I felt the unloaded boat was rather light, though in Ozzie last September 20+ kilos of ballast didn’t help much either.
Big sail boats and wind surfers seem to manage OK, but it seems hard to get a smooth, steady run while sat back with the cleated-off sail doing the work. Usually I’m yanking hard on the rudder to get in line, or have handfuls of lines trying to trim the sail for best effect. The tiny ‘finger-and-thumb’ cleats are just too fiddly to use in a hurry or mild panic, and often require two hands to release the jam. I wonder if hand-sized cleats exist for the thin cord, or some better device all round? Something like a sliding tube you could grab, but with a release button, a bit like a mountaineering jumar or the lighter Clog rope ascenders.

I came across this image of a Micronesian waharek boat newly built on an ancient design. Looks like a big V-sail to me but crucially, it has an outrigger.

Even then, on seeing the speed readings (above), it surprised me how fast I could hack into the wind at 2.5–3mph, admittedly with some effort (needed to keep the kayak pointed ahead). Coming back with the big sail I only got over 5mph a couple of times, and often moved barely more than upwind, although using much less energy of course.
After criss crossing Loch Raa a few times (above right), I went round the corner onto Loch Osgaig. Out in the open and with the wind bouncing off nearby Stac mountain, there should be room enough to get some speed up, providing I could hold on.
Down by the boat house put-in, the fetch was slapping a one-foot chop onto the shore, even if the loch’s only two miles long. It’s worth mentioning too that being zipped into a drysuit definitely eased the anxiety of being tipped over – in other words I could relax more even if it felt like Kew Gardens in there, though I did wonder if being tied to the boat as well as using a paddle leash would have been better still. Audrey Sutherland usually tied herself to her IK which on a windy day would otherwise be gone and out of reach before you even came up for air.
I set off and sliced the waves as best I could and stuck at it until I got opposite the small plantation. Here I stowed the paddle securely, got blown round and unfurled the v-sail, ready to snatch it back down should it all be more than I could handle. In fact there were only a couple of hairy moments As you can see from the speed graph (right), my paddle out was pretty steady and straight, but under sail, speeds and direction were all over the place. A couple of times either a gust or the optimal line saw the boat fly at along at over 5mph (left), but it never lasted.
It does make me wonder what the PA sail is good for on my K40. In winds of over 15mph it seems hard work to maintain. Is it an inherent flaw of a lose, articulated mast – and one whose feet are not pressing directly onto a solid hardshell hull (I use a plastic dinner plate to saijeffspread the load/reduce wear). The fact is, Jeff managed fine on Ningaloo (right), ripping along in a boat that was four times heavier than the Incept. And in Shark Bay a few years earlier in the same tandem tanker, he was towing me in my Gumboat.

A 10-15 mph breeze does often correspond to a nice steady sail, but that does seem a rather narrow margin of operation – something I recall someone else saying to me about V sails. I think it’s a combination of more practise required, hampered by the fact I’m in a light, buoyant, flaccid-chined IK. It makes me wonder if the WindPaddle is worth another look (it was and I did), though I’m fairly sure the PA V-sail is more versatile; I doubt you could ride at 90°+ to the wind with the deeply dished WindPaddle. Another good thing about the PA is that it’s out of the way when down but dead easy and fast to deploy or stash. Just throw it up and see if it takes to the wind. Out this time I also felt that the thigh straps were particularly useful when edging the boat against the gusts.