Tie up, before you lose time (or boat)

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-

When you step into the unknown, for example, like the journey in the first year, it is so pleasing to collect knowledge. Knowledge has the power to break the feelings of anxiety and unease. It seems so powerful, that the trip becomes less daunting and it creates hope for success. This hope creates a desire, an intrinsic motivation to feed on the mastery of the experienced people around you and crack the books on navigation and the sea. But knowledge by itself is inert, it does not keep you out of harm’s way or shield you from danger. You have to apply the knowledge at the right time. Acceptance of the mistakes that inevitably will be made is part of the learning process. These lessons will produce useful rules. Break them and you will feel regret, keep to them and feel at ease. This story consists of three accounts, all from the second of August but in different years. It illustrates how a lesson is learned but later we needed a refresher course that was well applied in the following year.

Thursday, 2 August 2001

Yesterday, there was a wet start to the day and we did not want to pack a soaked tent in our kayak. Later the weather turned for the better but we felt like we missed the tide between the Raasay Narrows and took a day of well-earned rest. We hung around on Eyre Point at the south tip of the Isle of Raasay. Today we are confronted with “Scottish dry” weather, our euphemism for this typical Scottish light rain. However, our level supply demands a more active approach today. So we pack a wet tent and make the 7 km to Portree. A trip that takes a little over an hour to kayak and we arrive at lunchtime. During the lunch, I am counting the layers of blocks in the quay below the colourful houses. Twelve layers between low and high water so easy for the Rule of twelfths I think. Our beach, where the boats are going to stay only ends at the eight-layer. So we calculate the time to return. We arrived at low water at 12:15 so; in the first hour it will rise one layer, the second two layers, the third hour 3 layers and the fourth hour another 3. That makes the eight layers we have and so we have to return before 16:00h. We enjoy Portree, walk around and visit the shops. The supermarket, however, is not found. No problem a friendly chap points us to the road leaving town a small 10-minute walk. We return and halfway from the shop I check my watch, #*!$, it is ten past four. I get very nervous, leave Charlotte with all the shopping and run back to the harbour. Two pairs of paddles are floating where we left them but the boats are drifting halve way the bay, However, at the end of the pier a RIB is already starting its engines and picking up the kayaks. By the time I embarrassedly arrive at the end of the pier the boats are already safely tied to the quay. With a red face, I thank the man quite a few times. I this would have happened in a remote location two kayaks and a lot of gear would have been lost.

This is a hard lesson and from this time forward the bow lines from our kayaks are tied to a large rock or pegged down in the sand.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Fast forward 14 years, we make the trip from Taransay to Ensay through the Sound of Harris. We always enjoy this sound with its turquoise water and small islands. The current is helping a lot and for the first time, the water was calm enough to explore the cave at Toe Head Point. When we arrive at Ensay the house, Taigh Easaigh seems to be occupied. We drop the boats away from the house on top of the beach and change in some dry clothing. Just as we in the nude a torrential downpour puts us in haste. We make our way to some shelter but meet someone and are invited into the house. A large group of people in their twenties have a work party but in this, whether they’re spread throughout the house and playing games, making music or reading. From time to time a new person joins us for a talk. I knew I put my boat close to the high water line and high water is at seven. But the four hours are flying in the house and the weather was not tempting to go out and check. Again we lost time and by the time it is dry and I check my watch, the four hours to high water had passed. Again I have to run. Charlotte’s boat is fine but my cockpit is filled to the brim with water and the waves are pushing the heavy boat sideways onto the gravel. Luckily there are only some shallow scratches on the surface of the gel coat and the wind was pushing the boats onto the beach. It is a refresher course that will be remembered and otherwise, the scratches will remind me.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

We arrive in Castlebay on Barra and the weather is about to turn bad. We also need shopping so the nice beach on Vatersay is not an option. We make it into the sheltered loch on the west side of Castlebay. The only problem is that the bank at the shore is quite high and we drop the boats in the grass as high as possible. We tie them up with two lines and large tent pegs. The rest of the day we spent in the Community shop drinking tea, eating cake and using the WiFi to read while the rain is rumbling on the tin roof. After the shop closes we move to the hotel for a nice dinner and a good talk with an artist we had seen passing on the Boy James en route to Mingulay. It is late and high water as we return to the boats. They are floating quietly in the little inlet above the grass. With the spring tide, I knew this would happen but there were no worries because the boats were on a line securely tied to the shore.

So in most cases, it seems completely unnecessary to tie a kayak down. But, it can save you from embarrassment and damage or give you a relaxed dinner. In our cases where it went wrong, it is about losing time. In other situations, we can imagine mishaps by a fast navy vessel or ferry that sometimes create freak waves on a beach from a dead calm sea, or some extra rise in the tide by a passing depression. So do not get yourself in a nasty surprise.

Alexander Gannet

Like a virgin -touched for the very first time

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I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn’t know how lost I was
Until I found……

-Madonna-

It’s intriguing how some text sometimes sounds so appropriate with the experience you have. After the very first day at sea, on our own, it felt like the first bit of the lyrics of this Madonna song. I was touched, to the point of being emotional by the awe and beauty of the scenery. I also felt relieved, although I was quite well prepared for the navigation, I still didn’t know what to expect. But at the end of the day, it all came together, like I found my passion.

Although fanatically*, we kayaked for just under two years now. The sea trips we made were visits across the Wadden, to the islands north of the Netherlands. Most of them, however, were guided by others. In the spring I had carefully introduced our club instructors to the idea that we were going to paddle in Scotland and they were not surprised or worried.

Starting this holiday in the Great Glen looked like the safe option, only to discover that Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy provide very little shelter from wind and waves. Also, the Caledonian Canal was quite hard to paddle. You are not allowed into the locks with your kayak, so there’s a lot of portage with heavy boats. Fed up with the locks we were eager to start on our sea trip and did quit the Caledonian Canal at the Gairlochy Top Lock.

So after a top-up of supplies in Fort William, we pack the boats near Strontian at the “Ceann Loch” (meaning head of the Loch) of Loch Sunart. This is our very “own” first trip on tidal water and we are excited. I have studied the Yachtsman’s Pilot to the Isle of Mull (Imray, Martin Lawrence) to the last letter.

The trip along the shores of Loch Sunart is pleasant. The narrow channel at Eilean Mor creates some interesting currents on the ebb tide. We also encounter our first seals, who are popping the curious noses out of the water when we pass. After the lunch and pushed along by the flood, we dodge the submerged rocks at Coal Charna on the east side of Carna. The eddies and whirlpools draw the rocks out on the water’s surface. In most cases, we could also pass over them in our kayaks but we are careful, courtesy of the current we have 2 knots of extra speed.

We enter Loch Teacuis for a good exploration. The flood drives us to the head of the loch. Returning to the direction of Carna is more of a challenge. Halfway, at a narrow section, there is a threshold of water, with the water level on the outside of the loch clearly higher. We need to push hard to get out of southern part of Loch Teacuis. At Eilean Chulaig we are out again and there is time to relax. The scenery all around us is breathtaking; the sun shines on the rugged wilderness, cute little seal pups with lovable faces surround us on the water, on the island fluffy Herring gull chicks waddle through the purple heather. Touched by the awe of the moment and relieved by the belief that we will be capable to successfully complete the trip, I am overwhelmed by emotion and it’s hard to hold back a tear that rolls over my cheek. All the training, all the preparation and all the reading about overfalls and submerged rocks, had built up into an apprehension and excitement. But now I could let it go, here in this moment of beauty and wonder. We found something that we really loved doing.

We leave Eilean nan Gabhar and start our approach to Carna, the island where we will sleep. The pilot states for this area; “The passages either side of Carna are among the trickiest bits of rock-dodging anywhere on the west coast, and there is still some doubt about the position of some of the rocks. In both passages, the tidal stream runs at 2 1/2 knots spring”. Still, we meet a man standing on the bow of his quarter million motor yacht. He shouts at us in despair “Do you have any idea what the safe passage is here?”. I can only tell him, that this is not the best place to be with a boat like his and that he should take a kayak or read his pilot.

While I bag my first Scottish Island, I think to myself; do not be afraid to go, the rewards are great. But practice your kayak skills and for the navigation bit; study like a nerd, from a book if that is all you have. You always can cut down on the information bit by bit, when you observe the system and get to know it more and more.

 

*By fanatically, I mean, kayaking twice a week and with a lot of courses and larger trips. Our training area is the Rhine river where large barges and the current make unpredictable waves and eddies. We had about 4000 km under the belt before we left for Scotland. As someone who is instructing people in the art of kayaking myself now, I can see that it’s difficult to reach a level where it’s comfortable to do your own trips out at sea, within two years. Besides the ‘on the water’ experience, I also studied a lot about navigation and the sea. I would suggest that you always consult an instructor or experienced kayaker before you set out and conquer the sea.