Rocks by sea kayak

A week in Mull, ostensibly for sea kayaking, but Sarah (and, I suppose, to a certain extent I) had an alternative agenda to look at the geology. This was a useful sideline, as conditions got progressively sunnier and calmer during the week until there wasn’t even a trace of swell to go rockhopping by the end. We found Mull easiest to reach with the dragging shed by using both the Corran ferry and the Lochaline-Fishnish ferry, as it’s cheaper (even counting extra mileage) and doesn’t need advanced booking. The Oban-Craignure ferry on a bank holiday week is a bit of a nightmare. Three of us went up, but Mary came back with some of the other paddlers on Tuesday, while Sarah and I stayed on even after all the others ran away on Thursday.

Poking into geos in the Ross of Mull granite – with Moine xenoliths!

Mediterranean scenery – on the Ross of Mull

Rockhopping the Cormorant at Erraid

Several paddles on Mull to document here – twice round Erraid and various skerries, once just skerries, and to Carsaig arches both from Uisken (24km) and from Carsaig (rather shorter). Quite a lot of photos to extract from a lot of video footage (some shot at 2704x1524p30 which seems to give very good quality stills). There were some geological walks, too, but I think they get a separate post.

Second trip to Carsaig arches, from the east, and in sunshine

Sea “safety” day

Well, it was programmed as a sea safety day, so the basic idea of these is to practice rescues and towing in the shelter of Runswick Bay. With 14 people on the water, Clive decided we should warm up with a quick trip to Staithes and back. Once out of the bay, there was quite a swell, and we got to practice rescues for real with one capsize each on the way in and the way out at Staithes. More realistic conditions… I was close enough to help on the first one, but quite a group had got there first on the second, so I faced out to sea and held position to await developments and keep an eye open for where everybody (else) was. Off to my right there was a shallow reef with breaking waves, which I’d been aiming to cut through the edge of … However, being busy watching where everyone else was, I failed to spot that my “holding pattern” was being drifted that way by the still-flooding tide, and soon the waves got bigger and steeper as a big set started to roll in. Realising that perhaps I ought to be further out to sea, I started to paddle, still reasonably confident. One wave broke before it hit me, which gave me a face full of salty water but no problem. The next was steep but hadn’t broken and got a “wheee!” as the bow popped over. The next couple were smaller, but then came one that steepened and started spilling just to my right.

1.3 seconds to get some speed up…

Ten metres further left it would have been hardly noticeable. Ten metres further right and I would probably have got backlooped. Just where I was, I saw that serious forward speed was going to be my saviour, so I hit the wave – just as it broke, going fast enough not to get surfed back, and a quick brace saw me upright and paddling out through smaller seas. A bit of a moment, and a reminder not to get complacent just because conditions seem comfortable. Just because you’re not paddling anywhere doesn’t mean you aren’t going anywhere !

Oooh err… this feels a tad steep !

And now for some proper tides…

Mary and I went down for the weekend at the start of the Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium. Whilst Mary had a skills day on Saturday in the Swellies, I joined the middle level (“intermediate plus”) of three tide race groups, and headed for Penrhyn Mawr. Whilst I’d run down through this race before (and found that scary enough), this was the first time I’d had any opportunity at all to actually go and play in a tide race. As I’d hardly done any sea paddling since 2010 (just a couple of Farnes trips in benign conditions and some lake work) this was going to push my comfort zone somewhat… The forecast promised force 3-4 from the SW (to which we were fully exposed) and there was enough swell to make rock-hopping interesting soon after paddling out from Porth Dafarch. I was pleased to note that I was coping as well as anyone else with the conditions and felt quite at home in the Mistral (with a BDH drum of rocks added as ballast, since I had no other cargo apart from a packed lunch). It’s a short journey to Penrhyn Mawr, which we reached soon after the peak of the flood flow, though as we were now a day nearer neaps than springs, this was not as big as it can get. Dropping down the Inner Race, eddying out was fairly straightforward, but ferrying back and forth across the channels was interesting, as there were lots of changes of speed and a few boils, though no big waves. I managed to have a couple of upsets here – one on an eddy line (up at second attempt) and one after getting lodged on a rock (up first time). After a while of this, we moved out to the Middle Race. This has a single wide channel, without the eddy lines and confused water of the Inner Race, but much bigger waves.

The waves get so high you can see the curvature of the earth…

After a few goes across here, we had a fairly brief play in the Outer Race, which was by now starting to slacken off (the “advanced” group had gone straight out for this whilst it was still going full bore). Again, this wasn’t bad in terms of confused water, but did have big waves and was generally similar to the middle race, but with the scale turned up. In all the races, the incoming swell moved the waves about, so it wasn’t quite like playing in a river rapid where the standing waves stand still…

The Outer Race is just bigger and more of it – with less fixed landmarks as you are beyond the last rocks

As the flood slackened off, we dropped into a little cove for lunch, then eddy-hopped back above the race and dropped down through the outer race to head for South Stack, with some rock hopping on the way.

Nipping behind a series of stacks in Abraham’s Bosom

At South Stack, the ebb was not established enough to stop us paddling against it under the bridge, but was going quite well on the outside of the stack, and opposed by the freshening wind, so there were some quite big and steep waves, though no really confused water. As we aimed left to return to Penrhyn Mawr, the sea calmed down to just a gentle swell – there’s no race here on the ebb. A bit more swell and wind as we rounded the last rocks into Porth Dafarch, but no surf to land in. An excellent day out which will give me a lot more confidence in my ability to handle rough conditions in the future as I was nowhere feeling out of my element, and rolled up both times that I cocked up in the race.

Sunday saw a more relaxed trip out from Bull Bay on the north of the island (mostly sheltered from the SSW force 4-5 that was forecast) doing a bit of rock-hopping. It turned out that this trip was mostly attracting paddlers from places like Belgium, Holland and Denmark who didn’t have many rocks at home, and few of the participants had done much hopping before. Thus I chose the top “Do or Die” group. With only about a foot or two of swell, there were plenty of technical problems to play on, but nothing actually very scary. As we were waiting and watching each other, the distance to be covered today was also a lot less, though we did have a stiff paddle across Porth Wen where the wind was funnelling down the bay trying to send us out to sea, but everyone held the line and rock hopped along further west for a while before returning to lunch at the old brickworks.

Probably the smallest gap I negotiated without touching the rock – just enough swell for a gentle lift

The wind had dropped on our return, and we headed round the head of the bay trying to find a few new rocks. Back on the more exposed part of the coast, a few folk were getting quite bold and scratches were certainly being applied to hulls, but everyone stayed upright and no-one acquired any holes. There were a few good caves to play in and a generally fun and relaxing time was had before returning to Bull Bay.