Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Daring (maybe not so) Young Men in their Flying Canoes

Canoe men, all images courtesy Jeff Broome
One blustery day at the end of May I was amazed to see a fleet of little sailing machines travelling down our loch at great speed before a Westerly breeze. Soon after they were hauling out in front of the house and we were able to offer them a little shelter in our humble abode.

Their visit gave Anne and me an insight into the crusing sailing canoe, pioneered by some great Victorians and now taken to a fine modern art by these latter-day McGregors. They've now written up their exploits in Argyll in their Canoe Gossip and have allowed me to publish them as a guest posting.

"Waiting for the Tide (and Wind) - Jeff Broome
A select band of five congregated in Oban on the last Saturday in May for a cruise, initially intended to be a circumnavigation of Mull. These were myself, the two Daves, Gavin and Keith. There were no spouses in attendance as other activities, such as growing vegetables, seem to have been more attractive, although the underlying concern was that us lads want to sail too far and for too long. As things turned out this would not have been a problem. The forecast was dire for Sunday and so we weren't in any great hurry to get away. Besides, the prospect of camping for at least one night on Kerrera could not compete with the comforts of the campsite and bright lights of Oban.
Sunday turned out to be as grim as predicted, so we walked into Oban for lunch. I can recommend the freshly cooked mussels from the stall behind the ferry terminal and also the cafe found by the others. In the pub, ambitions were reined in and the plan was now for a cruise down the Firth of Lorn and to play it by ear as the weather was clearly going to be unpredictable; this option would give us both sheltered water and convenient opportunities for escape, if necessary.

Monday morning was still windy, but manageable, and the weather forecast was for it to improve, although a serious low was predicted to hit us later in the week. By the time we had packed up the tents and loaded up the boats, things were looking a lot better and we set off down the Sound of Kerrera into lumpy seas. The five boats varied in size from Dave P's ocean going trimaran down to Dave S's Fulmar. We called in at Barrnacarry Bay on the south shore at the entrance to Loch Feochan for a leisurely lunch.
The west coast of Seil promised to be rather uncomfortable and so the plan was to sail through Clachan Sound and we were in no hurry. Even so we set off knowing that the tide would still be against us in the sound, but this gave us the opportunity to explore the Puilladobhrain anchorage before going through. This is a deservedly very popular stop for yotties, it is very sheltered and has beautiful views across the Firth of Lorn to the mountains of Mull.
Clachan Sound is remarkable. It is a narrow and very straight channel between the island of Seil and the mainland which is spanned by the 'Bridge over the Atlantic', a single arch stone bridge completed in 1793. Next to it is Tigh an Truish Inn (the house of trousers!), allegedly where islanders stopped to change out of their banned tartan and kilts on their way to the mainland. Fortunately the Sound was sheltered from the wind because I found that sailing into the wind and with the tide can produce some very disconcerting effects. We had a very enjoyabl sail down Seil Sound as the wind had veered to the west a little and we made good time down to Degnish Point. The beach suggested by Keith was rejected as an unsuitable place to camp as it is rather exposed to the south and so we set off to Bagh Lachlainn on the east coast of Luing. which turned out to be a lovely sheltered location to weather a storm.

In the morning we set off for an exploration of Loch Melfort where none of us had sailed before. This took us down the Sound of Shuna and back north again where we encountered a Wayfarer being sailed by two OCSG members, Charlie and Bernie. We parted company and then had exhilarating sail up to Kilmelford in search of a café. We gathered on the road above the beach where we had landed to be greeted by Ewan Kennedy who had watched us sail in and come out to meet us. He gave us a choice: walk a mile or so to a cafe in Kilmelford Village; or accept his hospitality. Naturally we accepted his offer and spent a very enjoyable time drinking tea and coffee and eating a magnificent fruitcake that his wife produced from a cupboard. It would seem she keeps one in reserve for occasions like this when her husband invites in bands of hungry strangers. We had a fascinating conversation that ranged over the recent gales and the number of stranded yachts (four in Loch Melfort and we saw another two near Oban) and the fact that the tide didn't go out that day, Islander class boats, such as his own, mutual acquaintance with Richard Pierce, who it turns out was in the Lake District and not at home on Luing, his blog and more besides. We also could not leave without inspecting his dinghy and the restoration project in his garage.
We finally tore ourselves away and set off beating back up the loch. The weather had started to deteriorate by the time we got back to our campsite where Charlie and Bernie joined us and we had a very convivial evening around their campfire. Wednesday was as miserable as predicted and we all decided to go for a walk to Cullipool to check out the attractions of the post office, which boasts a machine dispensing Nescafe and stocks bird seed and wallpaper paste in addition to the usual very basic selection of groceries. I posted a postcard to my mum that took a mere 22 days to reach London! Charlie, Bernie and I walked around the north end of the island past the slate quarries and along the Cuan Sound to watch the tide racing through the Sound and the confused seas where the stream hits the open water.
We had a leisurely start the following morning because we had decided to head out through the Cuan Sound with a vague ambition to visit the Garvellachs. Reaching them was unlikely because we would have to wait for the tide to change in the Cuan Sound and this would not really leave enough time to get there without meeting foul tides. In the event we snuck through the sound against the last of the ebb and decided to head for the island of Belnahua. We set a cut off time of midday due to the light winds and the need to get to somewhere we could camp that night. In the event we made it within our time limit and landed with some difficulty, there still being a lazy swell and a rather steep beach. In fact Dave S nearly came a cropper as the backwash pulled his boat from his grasp. We had a very brief stay, as we were nervous about the safety of the boats on the beach. Belnahua is a bleak place, one of the 'slate islands' that supported a population of more than a hundred quarry men at the peak of activity. The quarry workings in the centre of the island are now flooded leaving a narrow strip of land around the edge with ruined buildings and rusting machinery scattered around. Our chosen destination for the night was Port Donain on Mull, about ten miles to the north. We had the tide with us and light winds and so it was a relaxing sail. Keith decided part way that his back, which had started to ache that morning, would prefer sleeping in his van to another night camping, so he headed straight back to Oban. The sun came out as we approached Port Donain and we spent a very pleasant time setting up camp and drying out.
Friday morning was sunny and warm too and we eventually set sail towards Loch Spelve. I say sail, but drifting and paddling were more the order of the day. As we approached a light breeze sprang up, just sufficient for us to be able to make progress against the ebbing tide and we made it about a mile up the entrance of the loch and stopped for lunch. We couldn't stay long because the tide was due to turn and having made a note to return and explore the loch further, we departed. The wind picked up a bit as we got back out into the Firth of Lorn and made for our starting point at the Puffin Dive Centre at Gallanach. Keith was there to greet us as we approached and to warn us of the divers in the water just off the slipway.
All in all a very enjoyable trip with some excellent sailing, some fairly unpleasant weather, good company and a new friend in Ewan Kennedy."
You can find out more about the canoe men (and women) on their website Open Canoe Sailing Group

It is most timely that the canoe men have supplied this account, in view of the threat to one of the stretches of water they sailed over from a fish farm. To read about our campaign to stop this click here:- http://www.saveseilsound.org.uk

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water