Tag Archives: Loch Vatachan

Sigma TXL: Sailing struggles and skegs

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Sailing with Rebel 2K
Sailing with MRS Nomad

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

Ben Hope and Britain’s north shore.

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

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

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

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

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

Fitting the skeg backwards puts more in the water, but sticking another mounting patch at the back of floor sheet like an IK (above right) is fully effective. People ask: would the lack of inflated skeg support be that bad without the firm backing of the air-floor or a rear paddler’s seat? No; and the long, low stock Anfibio skeg is just the right shape.

Mounting another skeg patch on the floor is a bit time consuming is what I ended up trying so I can keep the stock skeg. Today I’m trying a spare Gumotex skeg (right) whose slip-in mount system the Anfibio skeg copies, but which has a deeper profile putting more plastic in the water. It’s only less than half a hand’s worth, but is worth a go before fabricating a skeg extension or repositioning it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Windpaddling to Achnahaird

Packboat sailing
Summer Isles kayaking Guide

We decided to lap the tip (left) of the Coigach peninsula. Doing it clockwise put us in the lee of the afternoon’s southwesterly once in Enard Bay and better still, we’d catch high tide at Achnahaird, enabling us to paddle up the creek to complete a near full loop back to the car via the freshwater lochs of Ra and Vatachan.

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I remember being quite nervous the first time I did this way back in 2013 in my Amigo – in the other direction from Achnahaird. Looks like I’m not the only one – I blame the Pesda guidebook.
It felt like a long old slog west then north between the Ristol islands – the tidal Ristol channel was dry. But by the time we’d passed the reefs of Reiff and reached the sparkling beach at Camas Ghlais (below) we were already more than halfway round.

Sitting on the beach, on warm days like this and always looking to refine my set-up to a razorbill’s edge, I sometimes think a sturdy football-sized net bag to take a beach stone would be handy to anchor the boat out in the shallows. This way it won’t beach itself, get hot and purge air which can make the kayak soggy once back in the cool water. It’s one slight drawback of running PRVs on all 3 air chambers. I could probably find some washed up net up among the flotsam and make one. Or I could Buy [a ball bag] Now on ebay for a £1.62.  Leaving the sandy bay, I give the Seawave a quick top-up with the K-Pump anyway.

On the north side on the bay we nosed towards a slot cave, but white streaks running down from the ledges suggested nesting birds had hung out ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. Either I’ve never noticed them before or there are lots more nesting birds around this year. It’s the end of May but there are still tiny snow patches on An Teallach and Beinn Dearg – maybe the season is late.

North of Camas the unrestrained swell was bouncing back off the low cliffs and small dazzling waves were breaking over semi-submerged rocks, making for a rough ride. But it’s all relative and showed what a sheltered life I lead, paddling mostly in and out of the protected Summer Isles.

We passed on sandless Faochag Bay and on turning the point of Rubha Coigach all was calm as the grand panorama of the Assynt peaks came into view (above). From the right: Quinaig; Canisp behind Suilven, Cul Mor, Stac Polly in front of Cul Beag, and the group around Ben Mor Coigach. It’s one good reason to do the paddle in this direction. There’s a bigger version of the Assynt panorama here taken on the road above Achnahaird. I really must work out how to do that panorama photo-stitch thing.

Coming down the Enard Bay side, we tried to explore some other caves with green moss streaked with guano, but got dive-bombed by angry shags.

Back out in the bay an unpredicted northwesterly picked up – time to launch that WindPaddle which has been sitting in my kit bag unused for a year or more. Initially, the breeze barely reaches 6mph – we could have paddled faster – but it sure was fun to kick back, look around and let the boat waft quietly along, free from the splish-splosh, splish-splosh rhythm. I wonder if self-driving cars will be the same.

It’s been a while since I’ve done this but the WindPaddle definitely felt better than my homemade efforts from years ago, as well as the knock-off WP I bought a year or two back. I tried a V-sail too but have never really got the hang of kayak sailing. It seems the sweet spot is hard to find: either the wind comes and goes and the sail flops, or it blowing so hard the sail can’t handle it and you’re clinging on. Still, I look forward to giving the WP a spin in slightly windier conditions. For the compact size and light weight I get the feeling it may be worth keeping.

The breeze picked up and we chugged along at a brisk stroll. But even then the WindPaddle feels satisfying to use. I think the key is the sprung tension of the composite batten (rim); it retains the circular shape of the bowl which means it’ll stay up as the wind drops and keep shape as it rises, then can be confidently scrunched down to a packable size without breaking. Doing that during a bit of a blow may be tricky, but it can easily be pulled back and tucked down unfurled over the legs (right). It’s only a downwindish sail but as with previous disc sails, I like the way you can steer intuitively by pulling one line back; a skeg must help but there’s no need for paddle-rudder assistance.

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It was nice to look around in the quiet but I also missed that thrill of thrust when a sail catches and holds a good passing gust. Eventually we could stand the relaxed pace no more and the geef paddle-assisted us towards a stony beach at the mouth of the Allt Loch Ra creek. Squawking oystercatchers were guarding their nests. Left, by the bothy at Badentarbet last year; don’t stand on the eggs.

Refuelled, we paddled upstream for a bit then I tow-waded the boat, reminding me of the shallows of Shark Bay in 2006 – a good way to rest after what felt like days of headwinds. The short wade brought us to within a couple of minutes’ portage of Loch Ra just over the road. Now on fresh water, we dragged through the reeds before another short portage over into the adjacent Loch Vatachan. Picking a passing place close to the shore, the geef walked off to get the car while I rinsed off the seawater – another good reason to paddle this loop clockwise. It’s 15 miles and about 5 easy hours to loop the Coigach loop.

Loch & Sea: kayaking to Achnahaird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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