A very good thing has come to an end

last flight of the Navy Sea Kings

There are a lot of good things about the UK. Not everyone appreciates them, but mostly I do. One of my very favourite institutions has been the RAF/Navy Search and Rescue. I’ve never had the occasion to use them, but I’ve had a fair bit of contact with them through my time with the Teesdale Search and Rescue team and several kayak rescue training exercises. The flight crews were of a certain type – Calm, unflappable, professional, skilful, and darkly funny. If you ever actually had to pull the pin on the EPIRB you knew that they would, if it was superhumanly possible, come and get you. And they wouldn’t ask for your credit card.

Now it’s over. After 70 years of heroic work, we will never again see anything with roundels on that could come and get you. Is there anyone….anyone at all (apart from accountants and Bristow shareholders), who think this is a good idea? Hey ho….

I know that many of the RAF/Navy pilots will transfer to the private contractor who will take over the SAR roll and I respect their proffesionalism and skill. I know that the new choppers have twice the range and endurance etc. But it’s very hard to believe that their rules of engagement will not be subtly different. You can’t help feeling that the priority will be adjusted from “do your utmost to get them” to “make sure that you bring that helicopter back”. I may be wrong. Of course, if it’s too wild for a new S92 or AW198, then as a kayaker I know that I really shouldn’t be out there at all. So I expect never to experience the difference. But still….

Last Thursday, I paddled my sea kayak out from Connel into the teeth of a force 4 wind with snow flurries, in the hope of seeing their final flypast and with the intention of saluting them – a minuscule gesture of thanks for all those years of skill and courage. I was very lucky. They flew right over me twice on the way into and out of refuelling at Connel Airport.

Maybe I’m falling into the nostalgia trap. Maybe I’ve just become an old git. But honestly, as that last stately old Sea King flew away across a hole in the clouds, for reasons I can’t explain, I found myself in tears

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Tony

Time nor tide waits for no-one….

It is now past mid September, with today marking the Autumn Solstice.  The days are getting shorter, and although we are still busy on the water I find myself asking again the same question as this time last year.  ‘Just where did the Summer go to?’.  It seems again that it has flown by even faster than a blink of an eye.  And it hardly seems like two months ago since our last blog entry and my promise of filling you in on some stories from our amazing sea kayak adventures.  Having just finished our last lodge based trip of the season to the stunning Isle of Mull it seems fitting to reflect on our first trip there, back at the end of May.  Six of us set out on this trip, and although the weather threw its challenges at us in the form of strong winds, heavy rain, sunshine, cold air, hailstones, and more sunshine it was great to witness the unfaltering determination amongst the group to go sea kayaking regardless.  It may undoubtedly help in the fact that we had the most wonderful lodge to return to at the end of every day, complete with an Aga stove, hot showers ‘great home cooked food’ and ‘a big glass of red by the fire to warm and satisfy the soul!’.

DSC_0003We might be slightly biased given that Mull is part of our home waters but it is a hard task not to brag about its sea kayaking worthiness.  Taking time to explore this Island by sea kayak will not leave you disappointed.  Though perhaps it sounds that we were unlucky with some of the weather we were given, we really were very fortunate.  On the days where the winds blew we were able to make the most of getting to all corners and sides of the Island, sharing pristine sandy beaches with no-one but ourselves, and observe undisturbed views of wildlife, including sea eagles, otters and seals.  DSC_0121

Afternoon basking in the sun (taken by zoom lens)

Afternoon basking in the sun (taken by zoom lens)

But most of all it give us the chance to discover just what it is about Scotland’s west coast that gives it its raw edge of wildness and beauty – both fantastic elements of its sea kayaking appeal.  And as for the rain?  Well… when you’re all snug in your sea kayak you really really don’t notice it!   DSC_0015 DSC_0074 DSC_0078

 

Seven days later six of us retuned to the mainland feeling content and thoroughly satisfied with our adventures.

Despite the fact that the nights may now be starting to close in. this trip was a great one to kick the season off with and one that will rate highly on our list of favorites.

If you are interested in joining us for one of our sea kayaking lodge based trips or sea kayak expeditions to the Isle of Mull our 2016 dates will appear on our website soon. Alternatively if there are specific dates that you would like to enquire about for you and a group of friends please do get in touch.

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When the wind blows!

Its been a busy season so far with lots of sea kayaking adventures that we haven’t had the chance to write in detail about (but we will), including a skip across the sound of Mull for a week with a great bunch of people and in some challenging weather.  We have also been gallivanting around Argyll lots too – to some of our usual places, and places less visited. With all of these trips it is the people that join us that make it!  With a summer that has been full of the windy stuff and not so much of the sunny stuff we have been completely and literally blown away by folks’ determination and enthusiasm to still come out with us and make the best of the weather.  This summer is the first in quite a few years now where the weather has not spoiled us too much on the west coast of Scotland.  Somehow when you paddle a sea kayak most days for 8 or 9 months a year you become quite blasé about the weather, and so it is easy as a guide and coach to forget what it must feel like, especially for beginners, to voluntarily accept what the weather gods decide to throw your way.  But it has struck us once more just how amazing, resilient and truly inspiring it is that everyone still wears big grins at the end of the day when we step foot on-shore to once again become landlubbers –  windswept and slightly tousled, perhaps a little damp but thoroughly satisfied!  A huge thank-you to you all.

One winters day in the middle of sumer!

Assynt and the Summer Isles – One winters day in the middle of summer!

Argyll - exploring the lovley island of Lismore on a one night sea kayak and photography expedition

Argyll – exploring the lovely island of Lismore on a one night sea kayak and photography expedition

A well earned supper on a one night expedition around Kerrera in Argyll

A well earned supper on a one night expedition around Kerrera in Argyll

A sky full of drama

The Isle of Seil, Argyll – A sky full of drama

A swell time paddling on Orkney

A swell time paddling on Orkney

The sun shines in Orkney

The sun shines in beautiful Orkney

Sea stack on Orkney

Orkney Sea stack

Fun in the sun, or is it wind?

The Isle of Mull – Fun in the sun, or is it wind?

 

A quick blast round the Small Isles – or – “Shouldn’t it be summer now?”

IMGP2511We only had five days to paddle round Rum Eigg and Canna. Started on the Monday and crossed the 6+ nautical miles to Eigg against a force 4-5 NW. Tough but fun. Paddled hard round the rest and then returned from Eigg to Arisaig (after some surf adventures) against a force 3 SE on a compass bearing with not much visibility. Long days, Puffins, Shearwaters and fortress like cliffs made it all very memorable.

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But flippin’ eck it was wet and cold! It was one of those trips that are especially good when you are back home in bed, wrapped round a good meal. One of the highlights was our excellent meal in the Canna cafe.

 

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Anyway, thanks to Joan for paddling so long, so far and so fast. And for being excellent and intrepid company.

Route 22 to 26 06 2015

Jura by sea kayak – and trolley!

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Robert and his group wanted to do a sea kayak tour of Jura but didn’t have time to go right round. So we took three trolleys and crossed the isthmus at Tarbert. We were rewarded with four stunning days of other worldly scenery (one of the group likened the raised beaches to a Dr Who set) and some great wildlife. Not all of the trolleys made it back!

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We launched from Crinan with a forecast for NW force 3-4 and that’s exactly what we got. Taking a direct line to the tiny Ruadh Sgeir, despite the swirling currents, we ate lunch and moved off quickly to minimise any disturbance to the seals. The tide was ebbing now and even though it was close to neaps we had the bizarre experience of paddling straight at Jura and watching the shore slide past rather faster than we were moving forward! All to the good though as we needed to go that way.

Our wild campsite was just short of Tarbert and the following morning we paddled about 1200 meters and then landed and loaded the boats onto the trolleys for the  portage to the West Loch. Passing a standing stone, negotiating cattle grids and a distinctly rough track we managed to transfer six loaded kayaks over the 1.9km route (height gain 22 meters)  in two journeys, taking just over two and a half hours. Might have been less but the tubular frame of one of the trolleys broke.IMGP2313 Just as Norman and I realised that we would have to do a double shuttle, Robert magically appeared with one of the other trolleys having guessed that something had happened to ours. To be fair, Eckla never intended their trolleys to be used for serious off road work with a full kayak.IMGP2308

Over the next three days we had a blissful and unhurried cruise along the stunning west coast of Jura. White beaches, gnarly cliffs, dramatic volcanic rock formations and eery raised beaches. It’s a wild and unique place. IMGP2320IMGP2425The weather, for the first time this year, was gentle, enabling open air eating and evening walks, yet the breeze was just enough to keep the midges to a minimum. Some of the group even went for evening swims! Pretty much idyllic apart from the ticks that resulted in frequent resort to the tweezers. But other wildlife was more welcome. Three Otters (one no more than paddle length away) a Sea Eagle, wild goats and groups distant curious but furtive Red Deer.IMGP2438

The approach to our final campsite in Baigh Glean nam Muc was entertaining, situated as it is within the western entrance of the gulf of Corryvreckan. We got into “battle formation”, that is: paired up and with a “sweeper” at the the back. Everyone followed my line as I picked a route through the  swirls and eddy lines. Quite a tricky manoeuvre this. If anyone swam it would have been very difficult in the 5 knot current to keep the group together and  avoid being swept past the entrance of the bay. When you are leading a sea kayak group in something like this you have to remember that you are effectively driving a long vehicle. The people following tend to cut the corners so you have to take changes of direction wider than normal or you end up with some of your group tangled up in the eddies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the evening we were able to walk to the headland and look out over Corryvreckan to the  Scarba shore. The Hag (the whirlpool) was working well considering that it was neap tide. In the evening light everything was silhouettes and golden glow. We watched in delight as an otter swam and dived in the eddies below us.

On our last day the tide was flooding all morning so we had time to explore some more before forming our ballet one for the run through Corryvreckan on the start of the ebb tide. After some turbulence in the exit from the bay it was straight forward enough and the following breeze and tide shot us across to the Dorus Mor and the island of Reisa Garbh for a break. The wildlife show produced a thrilling finale  here when a male Perigrine returned to the nest with a rodent of some sort. We got an excellent view as it landed, changed it’s grip on the rodent and then disappeared into a crevice in the cliff face. We could clearly hear the exciteIMGP2460d chicks.

And so to Crinan and the cars.

Thank you O Weather Gods!

What would you do if….

 

IMGP1956So you are out paddling and your friend/husband/partner falls in. And when you go to rescue them, they say “Um…I think I’ve dislocated my shoulder! Now the reality is that in sea kayaking, a shoulder, hand or arm injury is rare – I’ve only seen two in 45 years. But it can happen and there are other reasons why your paddling partner might not be able to manage a normal rescue re-entry. For example (let’s hope not) they pass out. Again – very rare, I’ve never seen one. But I’ve heard of people who have had this happen. The good news is, that as well as being rare, these incidents can be handled effectively if you know what you are doing. The image shows Victoria and Zoe practising a scoop rescue, which is a nifty way of getting an incapacitated paddler back into their kayak. And they are obviously finding it entertaining too! These two are very competent paddler who are going for their 4 Star and 5 Star awards respectively. But how many recreational paddlers know how to do this? It’s not difficult once you have learned the tricks, it’s good fun to learn and gives you that bit more confidence that you can cope when…and if…

 

Challenging your skill level

Most sea paddlers like to be out in the environment, soaking in the experience and enjoying the scenery. This is the main attraction for most people. So naturally, they tend to go out when it’s nice and paddle from A to B (and maybe back) in fairly straight lines or meandering along an interesting coastline. Nothing wrong with, and a lot right with, all of that. But one day – the conditions will change. Something will happen. And then we find the limits of our skill. And our skill might not be enough.

Better to push the limits on purpose, in a safe environment with someone to make sure that it all turns out OK and to help you develop your skill to a higher level. That’s what we are for. And what we find is, that it turns out to be fun! And very satisfying to find that you can cope with, even enjoy, much more severe conditions than you thought.

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Andy and Janet came to do all the above. The weather co-operated. Big smiles afterwards (Me too!). Tony

The Magic of Mull

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The Magic of Mull

I first explored the Isle of Mull by sea kayak in 2007 when, with a couple of friends, we set out to paddle around the island.  It was a great trip and there are many moments and memories that float to the surface and make me smile.  Ever since,  no matter how many times i take my sea kayak there, it never fails to surprise or amaze me by its beauty and diversity.  Being one of Scotland’s largest Hebridean Islands it is a place of stunning beauty and well worth exploring by sea kayak.

DSC_8823It’s mountains, white sandy beaches, thousand foot high sea cliffs, fascinating geology, and bird and marine life make this island a complete treasure for sea kayaking.  But the real beauty is not just in what serves as a visual feast, but the fact that when you step onto Mull’s shores, and particularly her western shores, you cant help but feel the history of an island whose story began over 8000 yrs ago.  There are many myths and legends that permeate Mull’s cultural past, including that of Fingal’s cave on Staffa, St Columba, the Spanish Armada’s Florencia and her sunken gold treasure, illegal whisky stills, stone circles, caves and rock carvings, David Livingstone, Sir Walter Scott, the great potato famine, the highland clearances, fairies, water horses, bean-nighe and headless horsemen and perhaps more recently the inspiration for Balamory!DSC_8647 (2)

Mull is an Island full of surprises.  It never fails to impress.  A rugged wild mountain landscape that mysteriously floats above crystal clear seas.  It cannot be recommend it enough.

Our next trip to Mull starts on 30th May to 5th June 2015 and is located in beautiful accommodation right in the heart of the islands west coast.  See here for more details.