St Kilda revisited

It has been several weeks since we came back from our eight weeks trip to the outer islands. Most of the time we don’t even remember being there or the paddling. Fortunately we made this clip to remind ourselves.

The first song is sung by Rosie Sullivan, who won the Young Song writer of the Year competition with it. We met Rosie when she came with her dad, who drove to pick us up in Port Ness and took us down to Stornoway in order for us to be able to get to our gateway to St Kilda on time. We listened to her songs and were impressed.

Watching the video not only reminds us about the wonderful places we visited, but also brings smiles to our faces. Especially the scene with our attempt to cross  to Flannans. It was the first calm day in three or four weeks. Obviously it wasn’t calm enough.

Fortunately the next calm day, two weeks later, we managed the second planned crossing despite starting to paddle for four hours against solid headwind.

Here we go.

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Women’s Scottish Seakayaking Festival

Last weekend of our stay in Scotland we joined the Women’s Scottish Seakayak Festival. Both of us, despite the fact that Michal is not a woman. However lately he often becomes one, since our surnames (Madera for male members of the family, Maderova for female members) seem to be a bit of a riddle for english speaking community. Fortunately Michal is of mellow nature and slowly is coming to terms with the fact that he would be better changing it, although it may cause some gender issues in our native country.

The festival was based in Ettrick bay with food provided by the cafe there, delicious food and unique service, it was.20130906-072336.jpgPaddling was happening at various places of isle of Bute, and many different workshops were offered. I joined the festival as a coach and had a great experience. I met other women coaches and had a good inside in what it means having kayaking as a life style. The participants came from all over the country and some from overseas. They created an atmosphere of enjoyment, laughter and support. It remained me a lot of French style of organising festival: We are all here because we like kayaking, but there are other important things that come with it like food, entertainment, and many more.

What I appreciated a lot was that it was ok to turn up with a husband in toe, fortunately I wasn’t the only one. I have to admit, I really enjoyed that. For once my kayaking was more important then his/theirs. And seeing them getting up in the morning, cooking breakfast, coffee, preparing lunch! for us kayakers, helping to put stuff in the car or boat on the roof, but holding back on the planing, organisation, advice giving, and leadership was wonderful. And what more, from what I observed, we we’re not the only couple where this was happening. Nevertheless, the partners were welcome, they had their own crèche, and hopefully no one minded for them to be around. I would not be able to drive all the way by myself anyway.

 

Three days in Sound of Bute

We arrived to Bute on Sunday evening and did not really know what to expect, since none of us have been to this part of Scotland before. Yet, it did not take long before all was revealed.

It started that night which was thoroughly disrupted by a cow which did not sound happy at all. Never mind, the next day in the morning we left from Ettrick Bay towards Arran. The calmness of the water and the shining sun made us to paddle slowly and enjoy just being, but also to try to fish again. It took all but five minutes and Michal was calling that he may have caught a fish. Indeed he had! And as always, if he had, then I must, too.

I put cast my line and by the time Michal sorted his catch, I had two on mine. By the time he came to help me, there were two more. After this we put the lines away, five fish was enough for our dinner and we continued to enjoy the stillness of the bay.

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Until we spotted the fin in the distance and spent the next half hour watching it moving. Later, closer to Arran, there were the camera shy porpoises, too.

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The next day we decided not to paddle as the camp spot in Sannox was perfect with public toilets, forest for wood, beautiful view over the whole Firth of Clyde, amazing mountains of Arran, and caffe in nearby village. After morning stroll through one of the glens, we decided to visit Lochranza by hitch hiking.

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Unfortunately we arrived too late and it looked that while the wooly team was still on the pitch, the browns were moving into the town for celebrations. We had only a distillery and castle left to admire.

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The sun the next day persuaded us to leave and we moved onto the mainland close to Skipness. However not before we were shown the great under water display of sea urchins, star fishes and a group of farting fish. No basking shark this time only another group of camera shy porpoises.

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Skipness had village shop serving coffee, great ruined castle and a camp spot dominated by friendly and nosy cows.

On Thursday afternoon we arrived back to Ettrick bay and ended the trip by having a shower in Victorian’s toilets which are worth the visit even if you don’t need to use them.

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So, why have you bought the boat then?

A question I was asked on the eve of the Oban Race around Kerrera. I’m getting to know the answer to the question, and may talk about it later. What I think should have been asked was: “So, why did you enter the race then?”

I am not a racer. Never was, although there was a history of competitive skiing. I didn’t mind the training but racing, boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like challenges, but ones where I compete with myself rather than others. Still, we were in the area and the race sounded interesting. I signed Michal in and if he was doing it, I wanted it, too.

However a little tiny glitch appeared rather soon. Because of the shape and measurements of my boat, it qualified into the racing category together with the surf skis, the performance boats and three other boats similar to mine.

Touring sea kayaks were starting 20 minutes ahead of us, so it was clear it would be a very solitary paddle round Kerrera. Sure, first five minutes and everybody just sped off. And the gap was getting bigger and bigger. At the first fish farm (6km in the race) the support boat had to wait more that five minutes for me to reach them after the second last one. “Serves you right, I thought, for putting me into the racing category. However I managed to settle into pace which I was never able to keep before (10 strokes max in the past) and at the first corner spotted the Tarran, again. One of the boats, I could compete with, since the paddler, despite being a man, had euro blades like me.
By the second corner he was behind me and once I rounded it, I saw new target, another Tarran. Another boat I could compete with, despite the paddler having wings, she was a woman. Finally, after 15 kilometres since the start I overtook this one, and few touring boats in the process, too.
Fantastic, I though, finally I won’t be the last one and I can have snack, since there was a worry on running out empty.
However one tiny surf ski appeared on the horizon. I did put up a fight at the end, but he reached the finish four seconds ahead of me.

So I won the racing category for women, being there only two of us. However overall I was fourth since all three women winners in touring category were faster than me. There is a little consolation that they actually do race and like it.

Why did I enter the race, then? I liked the challenge of paddling as me only, and needing to push myself. Kerrera proved to be a beautiful island. I don’t have a racer’s mind. I discovered a stately home on the mainland I missed last time, had a good look at the castle at Kerrera, explored and mind camped at few places along the way, greeted a seal and sung few songs. Only later I found out, that you are meant to be looking at the stern ahead of you and paddle fast. Well, I may be excused, there wasn’t a stern ahead of me for sure between the 5 and 45 minutes into the race.

Conclusion? I am thinking of coming next year again and of working on my starting, to keep up with the peloton. Let’s just hope, more women will have similar boats for better distribution of categories. But as we know, it’s not always the boat what makes the difference.

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ONE DOENS’T NEED TO PADDLE TOWARDS EVERYTHING ONE SEES

The unfriendly wind saw us taking a ferry towards Colonsay. An island that we would probably not visit otherwise, but one to which the Oban ferry went in a convenient time at a convenient price. While we were waiting to board, we met some other kayakers who decided to share with us their opinion about the weather forecast. According to them the general situation wasn’t good, lows and highs were moving across Britain (my attention withdrew after a while), it was meant to be windy, actually too windy for anything. Well, we like to keep things simple, from the forecast we remembered some F5 or F6 with periods of better weather in between. So a not too big island with sheltered and exposed side not too far from car seemed great.

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On Monday we set to paddle around with vague idea what we can and want to see. We could see Jura and Islay all the time, however the headwind put stop to any ideas of going there, just yet. We decided to stop our paddle by a lovely cottage, called Seal cottage. It was early in the afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to explore the island of Oronsay, where we were now and the priory. That evening was even more exciting, we played a game and on top of that had dinner of a fish.

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Yes, a fish, one that was caught by Michal. So on Monday a fish was caught! Apparently there were two, but one got loose before we landed on the beach. It was as well, or we would have to kill two. Because really, once the excitement of having fish wore off, a worry came that we would have to kill it, gut it, and eat it – that didn’t seem to be such horror.
Also Michal claimed that he caught one earlier, but a seal took it. Haha. True is, there was a seal which followed us for a while. And he (Michal) felt little tag on his line followed by bigger tag, and had tiny bit of fish remains left.

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Never-mind, next day, we continued to paddle. First through Oronsay skerries, where we could see and hear lots of seals. The other side of the island was indeed exposed, and we were carried by huge elevator. The swell lifted us up, high high, and lowered us down. At many places the waves were breaking over ledges creating spectacular surf. The almost tailwind provided us with following sea and few times I felt like standing on top of a skiing slope looking down the drop. Fantastic.

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We truly enjoyed the west side of the island, ok it is nothing wow or stunning, but there is rugged coast line, small islands, cliffs, small and bigger sandy beaches and many birds and seals. Everything just right amount.

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We landed in a bay on north west side of the island, shared few words with local fishermen and admired lobsters they caught.
We did not fish that day since it was too rough and we did not feel like killing any fish that day. Really, if you decide to fish, you have to be responsible and committed. No supper was eaten that evening as we were too lazy to lite the cooker and went to sleep before getting hungry. Sorted.
Third day on Colonsay was crucial. We enjoyed the ride with the wind towards the northern tip and were not feeling excited about the slog against wind towards the harbour. At the same time we had a brief view of the Garvellachs Islands. So I came up with a plan. We will paddle there, with the wind. And then continue towards Oban. It took us twenty minutes to decide. We checked the tides, good, we couldn’t get a forecast, wind seemed to work with us and it was raining. After many yes-no-yes-no-yes, we decided to cross.
Unfortunately twenty minutes into it my arm started to hurt and we quickly changed to safer option. Ok, the arm then hurt another two hours against the wind towards the harbour, but means that it can rest before Saturday.
It wasn’t easy decision not to go, and still, even when having food at Colonsay hotel I was thinking about the satisfaction of reaching yet another island, but well, one doesn’t have to go everywhere one sees. However the proverbial sack has been hung (In Czech Republic climbers “hung sack” if they have to quit an attempt for any reasons).

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A DAY OF ISLAND HOPPING

It took us a while to discover what do we actually like most or what we would like to do most on this holiday. Well, yesterday we found out. As I said earlier the paddle along the coast of Ross of Mull, however beautiful and stunning it was, was ok. But it was just that, ok. Today was great.

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We woke up early as we know that we aren’t the fastest ones to get ready and left Iona by 9am. It was just that we got ready early since strong rain started midway through our packing, and if we weren’t up, we might not got up in the end. The Abbey appeared and then disappeared in a fog and we followed a bearing towards Staffa.

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Staffa and Fingal’s cave, visited for centuries by tourists and recently kayakers. The former thanks to Railway Company, the later thanks to its fame and position. We had the pleasure to experience Fingal’s cave while many yellow puffins were watching. Ahhhhh:-)

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The rain stopped and the fog lifted just there, and we were granted the view of Treshnish islands, our next destination. Treshnish islands are wonderful, one looks like a sombrero, later we found its name to be Dutch man’s cap, one is flat, one, Lunga, has few big hills, and so they go. We landed at Lunga to have lunch and to listen to forecast. “Strong wind warning, Gale 8 soon” and so on. Again I did not got to go to explore the island, neither we climbed the hill, anyway, we are not walkers, we are climbers turned kayakers. We left, direction Coll.

We were in a bit of hurry, to make it before the “soon” in the forecast. And here, during this crossing it is that we discovered what we like. Island hopping, the excitement of leaving one behind, arriving at another one, that’s what it is. Besides if you can see it, you can paddle there; something we remember from last year, is still on our minds.
The Lunga – Coll crossing was entertaining. We saw Treshnish Isles and Gometra, Isle of Mull, a bit of Iona and Coll and far end of Tiree. Later we could see Muck and Eigg, Rum and light house at Ardnamurchan point. Of course, lots of memories came back. And on top of that, we saw a fin. As in black fin sticking out of water and it was Basking shark. Sadly he choose not to come too close, but at least he was there.

This trip was actually full of wildlife. To this date we have seen many gannets, yet, they were always far on rocks or flying high. This time one was flying so low that I finally saw its yellow head, hurray, actually we almost saw eye to eye.
Then before Staffa and before Coll we saw porpoises. There were few other animals around, including jelly fish, but those named really made our day. However, no fish was caught and yet again own imported food was cooked.

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Kayak Fishing in North Argyll

Day 1: At the beginning the plans were very varied. They covered an area from Shetlands ( dismissed for the price of ferry) to Orkneys (dismissed for lack of time) across to Barra and Western Isles (the unsettled weather put stop to this one) until we ended up in Oban with 10 days to spare. We decided to try something new and bought some fishing lines in fish tackle shop.

We left Oban with the idea of making it past the south west Ross of Mull the next day. Sure, we like to navigate with maps that cover large areas, but probably forgot to check the scale. We made it past Kerrerra and started to cross towards Mull, but suddenly it seemed to be too far, so we ended up on Insh Island , which wasn’t that bad in the end. The evening sun made the view down towards Sound of Luing and Fladda spectacular. Unfortunately thanks to the midges, there was no photographer willing to get out of the tent and hence no photo.

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And yes, that evening we did not have fish for dinner.

Day 2: We left Insh this time to make it across to Mull, and further along its coast. However strong headwind made it harder and we ended not as far as we wanted to be. The day was insignificant by weather or sights. We landed somewhere, but not on our map and went to bed without dinner, fish or other.

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Day 3: It was time to come to terms with the fact that Ross of Mull is very long and probably the only sight that we will see on this trip. However, the cliffs were magnificent, we even saw a bird of pray, some arches, many waterfalls, there was sun and what’s more, the predicted head wind changed to local tail wind. We cruised past the coast and in evening fog and rain landed on Iona. Tomorrow will be sightseeing day. But again, no fish to be eaten for supper.

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Day4: The rain stopped in the morning and we decided to explore the mystic island of Iona. Morning fog saw us visiting the Abbey and local amenities.

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Since there was no fishing today, we decide to give in and try local fish pie.