Tag Archives: Scorpio LV

A wet weekend that turned windy (Incept K40)

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 Gale warning 23 May 09:53 UTC
Violent storm force 11 veering northwesterly imminent, decreasing gale force 8

That storm hit some 200 miles west of here in Rockall, but you get the picture; it’s kite-shredding weather round here right now. Friday afternoon Ardmair near Ullapool recorded nearly 100 kph (62 mph), while we sat at the window and watched the sound run with streaks of foam. The way it’s blowing now I’d not be surprised if it gets over a 100 this week. As it turns out, along with us, the weather station up the loch went down in a 4-hour power cut at the height of the storm, but by then I read it reached 100 mph (160 kph) on the other side of Scotland.

A week ago intrepid French IK sea kayaker Gael A. set off from Skye to complete the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail (SSKT) which he started last August and wrote up for this blog. At that time he managed a fair chunk of the route before the weather turned. This time he was far less lucky; after a record hot April in the UK, May is turning into a bonanza harvest for wind farmers. By last Tuesday Gael had crossed over from Rona island to the mouth of Loch Torridon (above left, midway on the 9km crossing) and got up as far as he could before the fierce wind forced him back to camp.

Next day he reached Sheildaig, at one point noting the spring tide flooding a patch of wildflowers. The forecast summaries I was texting him were not promising: days of F5-7 ahead. He was in a fix because from Torridon he had an exposed 45-km section past Gairloch to get around Rubha Reidh headland before turning east towards Loch Ewe, the Summer Isles and Ullapool, the finish line of the SSKT. Providing we could handle the conditions, Jon and I had hoped to meet him ‘after the scary bit’ somewhere around Loch Ewe and paddle for a couple of days together.

Gael is pretty experienced – 40 years sea yaking man and boy – so by Wednesday night he knew the game was up in the time he had left. Next day I drove down to pick him up and take him back to his car on Skye, if for no other reason than it’s a fabulous drive across Wester Ross that I’d not done before. There are scores of dramatic valleys like that up here and Loch Torridon itself is a fabulous spot I’d like to return to with my packboats. The whole of the northwest above Skye really is something else as the many touring bikers and pushbikers were no doubt finding out for themselves. The tiny hamlet of Sheildaig is a time-lost, lobster-pot fantasy tucked up an inlet. It didn’t take long to find Gael so we went over to his camp by the jetty, loaded the car and headed to Skye.

The Sound of Sleat off Kyleakin (left) was calm enough, but out beyond the bridge the sea had a bit of a head on it. We had a 1970s-era lunch, Gael checked out with the police in Lochalsh and decided to hang out up here on the off chance the weather improved and he or we could make a little tour of the Summer Isles. He was also keen to try out my Incept as his Grabner was showing the years. In fact is was he who last year pointed out that Incept K40 had evolved since I last checked it out. For me it was also a good chance to interrogate an experienced sea kayaker about the Ways of the Sea. Among the many skills I feel I lack is the judgement to know when it’s safe to got out and when I ought to turn back: interpreting clouds and wind changes, forecasts and sea states. It’s a lot of stuff to understand so we spent Friday chatting while refreshing various forecast websites: Saturday looked like a bit of a lull so Jon came up to for a paddling threesome.

We did the best we could on Saturday and set out from the campsite beach (left) to plant our flags on the calm side of Isle Ristol (which you can walk to at very low tide). Old Dornie was standing room only that day as a local skiff racing regatta was on, postponed from last weekend when Jon and I spent our time daring ourselves to do something and go somewhere.

Sat in the back of his aged H2 Grabner like a canoeist, Gael was far more confident than us – pushing out over some surf raised by a reef while we scurried away, appalled. We beached on Ristol for lunch then turned around into the wind blowing through Old Dornie harbour, dodging the skiffing crews (right) hauling out to a buoy and back to the cheers of the crowds until – to quote Gael – it got at least as ‘lively’ (below)  as the previous weekend when we’d taken a while to get the hang of it all. Hauling against the wind the two clicks to the main Summer Isles looked a bit of a reach.

We turned back to the campsite launch as it filled with tooled-up sea kayakers who I fear were not going to have the great weekend’s paddling they’d come for. We headed over to Achnahaird Beach on the north side which ought to be either sheltered or with an offshore wind, depending on how you looked at it. Once in, I pointed to a Point and said let’s go there! but the Wise Old Man of the Sea advised we keep along the leeside cliffs in case the wind picked up as was predicted. The sea was flat enough between gusts but had a big, rolling swell which was an odd sensation I’ve not experienced before. I wasn’t sure if I should be anxious or just enjoy the ride.

Once in a while a series of bigger swells rolled by and churned around the outcrops, or crashed against the red sandstone cliffs, but without any real danger to a boater as there was no surf. We’ve all seen impressive sea kayaking long lens shots like that; relaxed yaker in profile with a backdrop of white-foam carnage. Even under skies which looked like they were about to collapse under their own weight (choose any pic nearby), it was a nice end to the day, running past the moss-clad cliffs and spooky caves from which pealed unrecognisable squawks. A lone seal popped up from a distance to check us out and to the east rose the naked spurs of Suilven, Cul Mor and Stac, carved out of the Assynt’s bedrock during the last Ice Age.

Jon glided along in his LV like he was on rails; you got to hand it to these hardshell SinKs, they may be a pain to carry on the Tube but they sure look good on the water – viewed from the stable-as-a-cow-pat perch of an IK, of course! Heck, it all felt like proper sea kayaking. Further up, around Rubha na Coigach headland I dare say it all gets pretty hairy, but it sure would be nice to cruise further along this coast with the Mrs some warm, calm and sunny evening.

And before the weekend was done, Gael got onto Sea Kayak Oban and bought their K40 test boat which I tried out last March. He got a great deal all things considered; I’d have bought it myself had I not already ordered my yellow boat. So that’s at least two K40s in action on the high seas; mine, his and maybe yours too soon.

Incept K40: a windy weekend

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Normally on a decent weekend up here (as pictured left) there’ll be half a dozen vans with their distinctive kayak racks parked down at the beach. This weekend they’d all clearly read the forecast, but keen to get some hours in for an upcoming plan, kayaking chum Jon took a chance on the long drive up.
The good thing with the lie of the land hereabouts is there’s usually somewhere sheltered to go wherever the wind’s coming from. Except perhaps during a northwesterly as predicted for Saturday and which bowls straight up the skirts of the prevailing lochs and valleys.

With it all laid out on my doorstep, Saturday afternoon we put in at sheltered Old Dornie harbour (left) and tried to head out round the adjacent isles, but I lost my nerve at the sight of the oncoming swell and increasing wind. Eager though we were, we reverted to Plan A, turned round as if on a tight rope and settled for a couple of hours solo re-entry practice, something I’d yet to try in my Incept K40.

Being a hardsheller, Jon works on his roll from time to time, but hasn’t quite got it nailed yet. He’s got a good alternative though, re-entry and roll, they call it – getting himself into the semi-submerged kayak on its side and then once in and braced, doing the hip flick and paddle float lift to get himself upright, at which point he pumps out the hatch compartment.

Me, I tried lunging onto the deck from the water, as I would on my former Sunny or my packraft. But the K40 bobs quite high when empty, so I was surprised I managed it, perhaps aided by the added buoyancy of my dry suit.

The problem is, once slumped belly down over the hatch (above), what next? You fall back in, that’s what next, because trying to turn onto your back tips you off long before you get your legs securely down the hatch. Perhaps with a bit more practice and finesse it could be done, but this was pretty calm water so realistically, just as on a hardshell sea kayak, it’s usually too tricky to pull off unaided. I then tried with my new paddle float as an outrigger. Would you believe it, re-entry was much easier and also pulls less water in as the boat remains more upright. Hook a leg over the floating paddle shaft and scuttle aboard. From this position I found it was fairly easy to flip round and drop bum first into the hatch and then stuff the legs in. 

On that day I was carrying my two Watershed dry bags full of camping gear to see how it handled, so they helped reduce the boat’s possible swamped water volume, but even then any deckless IK conveniently self-drains when flipped back over – no awkward, X-rescue hauling over another kayak’s glossy fibreglass deck to drain. Once in the K40, there were only a few inches of water to bilge out, certainly not enough to cause sloshing instability (the true reason why you need to drain a kayak fast following a deepwater re-entry – not because you’ll get your pants wet).
One thing I noticed was a rope knife attached to my pfd got caught on the hatch coaming, and also all this grovelling around over my wet kayak’s deck pulled the bite valve off my new CamelBak/pfd set up which then drained away. That will be £4.99 please. Now I know to reposition one and tuck in the other to avoid any snags.
Spraydeck newsflash! The massively oversize cheapo spray deck I bought and modified (left) still required a lot of scrunching. But having actually used it, my feeling is the K40 sits so high it’s not going to be needed unless it gets cold or I’m heading for river rapids. At other times it’s just more clobber to carry around, wash and dry. Maybe I’ll get to see the value of it as my experience in the Incept extends. On a much lower sea kayak like Jon’s P&H, a deck is pretty essential.

The other way to get back into an Incept from deep water would be to simply unzip the decks and haul yourself on. No paddle float needed, although it occurred to me yet another use of the Watershed bags, particularly the smaller yellow Chattooga, could be as a paddle float (left). Any dry bag will do, but you know the Watershed’s won’t so much as seep a drop like a roll-top will after a few minutes, and the Chattooga even has some clips which can be used to secure a paddle blade.

If not using any type of outrigger float, a bit more water will swill into the K40 as you pull over the side to get back in. Ideally you then want to crawl up through the unzipped hatch hole as you got aboard, ease around and take your seat. But now you have the fairly tricky manoeuvre of trying to zip up the decks, all while hanging onto your paddle and not tipping back in. As I found first time out, without the support of another boat or a float, reaching the fully opened zip pulls on the Tasman is quite an unstable stretch from the seat, even with the grab loops I’ve tied to them. Longer loops might get in the way so some sort of a hook stick is needed if no one is around to do it for you. Regarding the K40’s zippy deck, as long as I wear a dry suit I can see even less need for it at sea in the conditions I’m every likely to go out in. Only on a WW 2 or 3 river would it be handy (with the spray deck) to save the boat swamping and the need to find a bank to drain it.
If you’re paddling undecked, getting in from deep water all so much simpler, just like an SoT, and if not there’s a good section on the informative Kayarchy website illustrating all sorts of deep-water rescues.

Next day we set off to try and actually paddle somewhere, but off the beach it still looked horrible (left and right); 15-20mph winds but now from the SW. We paddled towards the Isles anyway, but after 15 minutes I didn’t like what I’d guess you’d call a boat-stalling ‘short chop’ which would only get worse further out. While hacking away warily, it occurred to me that focussed as you are in such conditions, it takes some effort to think of others or even keep track of them, and should they flip while you’re barely coping yourself, it can all go horribly Pete Tong. After all, no one usually capsizes is calm, wind-free conditions. That’s why we wanted to get some practice time together out here. The plan had been to go as far as camp the previous night, but the miserable weather and a fully fitted house just a mile away nixed that idea.

It wasn’t actually that gnarly, just not much fun and possibly about to get less so. As we did a U-ey I was encouraged to observe my Incept that morning felt less intimidating to turn than Jon’s slinky P&H. Again, no great surprise; his boat is floating stick insect with the turning circle of a stretched limo. The K40 is wide, has a rudder and – now that I’ve seen pics of me in it – the ends sit out of the water even with my weight and a 10-15 kilo load aboard. Is that a lot of ‘rocker’  or a little, I forget, but it turns easily with rudder + paddle strokes, and with the rudder up can spin on its axis with a lot fewer paddle strokes than Jon’s Scorpio. And with fewer edgy moments too. I was getting the feel for the Incept in rougher water.

So we sailed ourselves back to the beach, fighting to steer with the tailwind. Once there we settled for messing about closer to the shore, practising more turns out on the swell or paddling parallel to waves to gauge tippiness, secure in the fact that we were constantly getting blown inshore.

I was open deck that day, but noticed where the Sunny would have flexed and swamped over the rounded sides where I sat, the more rigid and higher-sided K40 stayed mostly dry. I was also conscious that even though they are also more clobber and something to catch your foot on, the thigh straps I’m waiting to glue in would surely help control in rough water. Either that or I see them as the only possible explanation for my lame kayaking skills! With the deck off we also tried paddling the Incept two-up – me sitting in the back facing backwards. That’s a total weight of at least 180kg in our gear, 20kg over what the Tasman is rated for. Jon reported the boat was tippier like this and had it been a serious requirement, I could have laid down to improve stability.
One thing I noticed open deck is that there’s less back support from the low seat – a common problem with IKs using inflatable seats, and one reason I went for a Aire Cheetah seat on my Sunny. Clearly with the deck on the flexible coaming helps as a back rest and by the end of that day I felt the tops of my legs straining a bit in a bid to maintain upright. The problem is there is nothing solid to brace the feet against either, but I imagine this is another benefit of fitting thigh straps.

Having mastered many new skills, we had a quick scoot in the packraft (above); fun and very stable in the conditions, but also so slow you’d run out of puff before getting anywhere. The initial instinct in the chop was to try and jump it like a BMX bike; it sure would be fun to try surfing it on bigger waves one time.

Suddenly a glassy calm befell the bay, just as a private weather station near Ullapool recorded accurately in the graph on the right. Great we thought, let’s make a dash to the Tanera Mor about a mile and a half away, so we can say we got off the mainland – an ‘open water’ crossing! In this way many foolhardy newbs sail off to their doom, I suspect, because little did we know it was just the wind clearing its throat and refilling its lungs before coming back from new direction and harder than ever. But not before we’d managed to cross over and nudge the island’s sandstone cliffs (left) with our bows.

The previous day and that morning I’d been put off in similar- or even easier conditions but now, after a few hours playing around we were more tuned into our boats and even headed back diagonally across the stiff back wind and swell to make it a bit more difficult. Me of course with the aid of my rudder; without it I’d be correcting all over the place and need to stern-rudder, as Jon occasionally did. With backwind ruddering, I noticed it’s not a simple matter of holding the rudder at a certain angle because the tracking continually goes off, presumably as a quartering wave rises and drops behind you. A constant pedalling of the rudder controls was required to keep on the track. Don’t know if that’s normal, but I’d hate to wear out my rudder lines prematurely.
So not a totally wasted weekend. Now we know we can get back into our boats alone one way or another, and can actually handle F4 conditions within sight of the shore, even if next time we go out, initially we may not feel that way.