Tag Archives: Rubha Coigach

Windpaddling to Achnahaird

The packboat sailing page

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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.
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 half way 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 (above left), 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.
It was nice to look around in the quiet but I also missed that thrill of thrust when a sail catches oystereggsand 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 oysterchaAllt Loch Ra creek. Squawking oyster catchers 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.

Around Rubha Coigach (Summer Isles)

Summer Isles Kayaking Guide

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I set off from Achnahaird thinking I’ve left it a bit late. I must get to Rubha Coigach – the northern prow of the Coigach peninsula – by 11.40 BST or my kayak will turn into a sea pumpkin and my paddle into a wicker broomstick.

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I was reversing Route #25 from the Scottish Sea Kayaking guidebook, a ‘Grade B’, (C being the hardest). And although spring tides were kicking off next day, the forecast was for very light winds and a warm sunny day; a good day to try and ‘turn the point’.
Knowing that capes and headlands can be hairy places, I’d given this local ‘Cape Wrath’ a wide berth, but current conditions could not have been more benign. So for once I RTFM closely and decoded the perplexing tidal calculations of when not to be seen dead in a bloat at Rubha Coigach, the headland of Rubha Mor. The red period started at 11.40 which didn’t quite make sense in respect to slack water, but tidemaster and experienced NW Scottish sea kayaker Gael confirmed my calcs. I wasn’t going to argue.

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It’s about 3.5 miles from Achnahaird northwest to the tip, and as I paddled along I tried to visualise possible scenarios. What unpredicted Corrywrecken-like horrors awaited me up there if I strayed into the red zone and got caught in a frothing maelstrom of lashing foam and bruised fish? A north-easterly breeze pressed in from the right and a gentle swell lifted the boat pleasantly. Up ahead white foam was periodically slapped off low rocky shelves, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle, and it was easy enough to turn back. I neared the jumbled cliffs which we’d walked to a few weeks earlier (some pics here from then), knowing that whatever it’s like now, it’ll be different once I got round the corner. And I was right.

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On turning Rubha Coigach the chop dropped right away and I entered a windless Caribbean calm, divided by a hazy line far to the west blurring sea from sky. Lined up along a ledge to my left, a welcoming committee of seabirds nodded approvingly then waved me on with oily wings, pointing insistently at their watches. You don’t want to be here at 16.36 tomorrow, sunshine.

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I could afford to take my foot off the pedal now, but cut across Faochag Bay anyway; up ahead what I thought was a cluster of bobbing gannets miraged into a party of a dozen sea kayaks (left), presumably being guided round to Achnahaird by one of the local outfitters. That was more kayakers than I’d seen here in six weeks or more. The amazing weekend weather had brought them all out likes midges.

Like yesterday across Enard Bay, the land kept what breeze there was off the sea making a surface as smooth as polished bronze. Beneath that, at least half a dozen varieties of jellyfish morphed and drifted weightlessly like organic spaceships. I’d never seen so many here; do jellyfish spawn?
I was intending to keep going after Reiff where Route #25 started, so before I got there I turned in at Camas Eilean Ghilais bay and an unknown sandy beach. Unfortunately, a lone sunbathing couple sent out bad vibes, so knowing that feeling, I moved on following a quick look around. There were plenty more secluded spots I could reach that most couldn’t.

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Just south of here are some crags popular with rock climbers and a few were out today. I also knew this was a great place to watch Atlantic storms beating against the same cliffs (left), although today was as calm as an atoll.
The low reefs at Reiff which the SSK guidebook warned about were easy to miss and the sandy seabed off Reiff beach itself (below) maintained the tropical theme.

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I was hoping to get up the tidal channel that led under the bridge into the Loch of Reiff. The loch holds water once the tide drops and I’ve been on the bridge at a spring tide with the water rushing in to top up the loch, making a fun-looking horizontal version of  a Medway chute. But today I needed at least two more metres of water to get into the loch; a portage looked like too much work.

Just as I was thinking I must come back to shoot the chute in the packraft, one of the R-clips holding the Amigo’s backrest bar in place gave way and fell in the drink. So after lunch I wandered up to a sheep fence and broke off a bit of stray wire to replace the missing pin. That Grabner seat bar is reaching the end of its probation. I suppose the problem is I inadvertently treat it like a fabric IK seat, leaning back to pull out the thigh straps or adjust the seat base. Doing so bends the bar slightly and alloy can only be bent back so many times. Rigid objects attached to an IK (including a skeg) don’t work so well. I’ve a strap-based alternative in the works which will doubtless appear on the Grabner Mods page.

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I trickled on down the unknown shoreline from Reiff to Althandu, nosing into geos crammed with yet more jellyfish, and then headed across to Old Dornie harbour. Other IK-ers and canoes were fanning out from the campsite, enjoying the sunny weekend, but by the time I got into the harbour with 10 miles behind me I was beginning to feel it. Over a forgotten Snickers bar I pondered over heading out to the Summers for a look around.

The breeze had now turned to the southwest, running with the incoming tide although it was still flat enough to roam. I  headed out towards Tanera Beg, but about halfway across admitted that the anticipated sugar rush wasn’t happening. I’d had a great day out, ticked off the feared headland and found some nice places to revisit, so headed for Badentarbet. As I did so I noticed the occasional 10mph gust was pushing the back round; not quite enough to require double ‘correcting’ stroke, but noticeable. Add some swell, waves and more wind and the stern would get pushed offline for sure, but then that’s IKs for you. Not a suitable craft for very windy conditions at sea, although a deeper skeg (old-style Gumotex) and a full payload might minimise this weathercocking.
To make up for my sloth and with a Cadbury’s power surge coming on, I had nothing to lose by hammering away at the last half mile, hoping to crack the 5 mph barrier. But that wasn’t happening either; 4.9 was the best I could wrench from my strangled paddles. Today’s tally: 13.1 miles in about 5 hours and a moving average of 3.2 mph. On the beach I hauled the Grabner over to the freshwater pool for a rinse and called in the taxi.