Page 1 of 1

Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 10:36 am
by blueythe
In a previous post I asked for advice on Gigha and some alternatives if the weather was pants. The response and advice was great and so began our adventure!

We travelled the 370 miles from the Wirral to arrive mid afternoon at our campsite in Muasdale on the Mull of Kintyre, a great site just above the shoreline and perfect for launching our kayaks.

On arrival our party of 3 soon appreciated that it was going to be an interesting weekend. The wind was blowing a force 4 with gusts of 5 on a spring tide and the swell was building. We had been warned about northerly or southerly winds in the Sound of Gigha as the island almost points North, and sure enough it was a bang on chilling northerly, blowing down the sound resulting in a mellay of white caps as far as the eye could see

The following morning there was no change. We soon decided that our 5km crossing to Cara was out of the question. Even so we decided to load up the Kayaks with our camping gear and test the boats close inshore as I had a new Aries that I hadn’t tested fully loaded.

We set off along the shoreline just behind the surf and headed to the Ferry terminal at Tayinloan for some speciality coffees and cake. The Glasgow salad was tempting but we stuck with the coffee and cake. Colin hid inside from the chilly northerly but Matt and I sat outside and noticed the wind was dropping. Could we get across in this weather window?

Further discussion ensued and we decide to head back to the campsite and assess the conditions in the morning.

The following morning the white caps had gone, sea state was a 2/3, wind 6-8 knots and Cara looked inviting. The forecast was due to pick up in the afternoon but we thought that with an early start we could bag Cara and then head up the east coast of Gigha to find a campsite.

We set off at 9-15am during the ebb, which was due to finish at approx. 11-30. The wind was NNW and swell probably 0.5m. The crossing was uneventful and relaxing with a great sight of large numbers of Black Guillemot’s. As we entered a small bay on the north east side of Cara, Common Seals and a Great Northern Diver welcomed our arrival. Bluebells adorned the hillside, primrose and red campion lined the path up to a house. It is quite a magical place. The house seemed occupied but no one was home. Perhaps it’s a holiday let as the skulls and bones that lay on the window ledge outside might indicate a retreat for those interested in natural history.

We soon headed back to the kayaks as we wanted to make Gigha before the wind picked up. The Brownie’s chair looked daunting but we decided to head around the Mull of Cara. As soon as we approached the Brownie’s chair the wind began to pick up. Around the south end the wind picked up further and we were exposed to squalls and a strong down draft from the Brownie’s chair. The swell increased and it became increasing difficult to paddle against the wind with breaking waves to our left. Conditions were ‘tasty’ but as long as we weren’t paddling all day in this we would be ok. As we worked our way up the west coast of Cara the wind and swell began to drop as we approached the lee of the south end of Gigha and Gigalum.

We had originally planned to circumnavigate Gigha in a clockwise direction but we decided in view of the prevailing conditions to work our way up the east coast of Gigha as there was more options for shelter and camp sites.

As we approached the pier opposite Gigalum we heard our first Cuckoo. Shellduck, Eider Ducks, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Common sandpiper, Sandwich Terns and occasional Great Northern Diver made our journey a wonderful experience before we stopped for our first brew.

Next stop was Ardminish Bay. The ferry was just coming in, followed by a yacht. We waited for ferry to dock, unload and start the return journey. We held our position in the centre of the bay and got talking to a long-line fisherman. He had just turned back half way across the Sound of Jura on his way to Islay as the seas had become too big and was to spend the night in the bay. As we waited we were blasted by strong northerly squalls coming across the bay.

The ferry departed and we set our course to cross the bay and looked for a campsite. It was classic campsite hunting-‘lets just look around the corner to see if there is anything better’. Before long we were battling the wind across East Tarbert Bay to our final destination of the day. A perfect spot was found opposite a small forest near Kinerrarach and our arrival was greeted by the second Cuckoo of the day, a Common Seal, terns, Common Sandpiper and yet more Great Northern Divers. Not common, the Great Northern Divers were a great treat and we had a mix of adults in non-breeding and breeding plumage a very handsome bird that will soon be departing to its breeding grounds in Iceland. The inlet was sheltered; midge free and the sun came out as we set up camp after clearing the grass of geese deposits.

Brews and meals consumed we settled into our tents at about 10pm. Winds were forecast to be much lower on Monday and the tide was ebbing south until 12-00 noon, a perfect forecast and tide for our crossing to Rhunahoarine Point on the mainland (the shortest crossing to the mainland), more coffee and cakes at Tayinloan and back to camp before our departure on Tuesday.

The camp was pitch black with very little light pollution and in such wild places your senses become tuned to every sound of the night. The cuckoo continued for some time after dark, Common Sandpipers noisily looked for their roosting spots, geese made their presence known, probably disgruntled by us taking their favourite roosting site. Then the most strange, haunting and eerie noise of a Jack Snipe looking for a roosting site in the small marsh behind us. It is well worth listening to a recording of this bird and the Great Northern Diver as they are truly magical.

Soon the snipe was settled and the cuckoo silent. Somewhere in the distance the only sound left was that of a helicopter. During the next hour the sound got louder and closer. My initial thoughts were that it was a military exercise or a search and rescue helicopter. I popped my head out of the tent and saw that it was the coastguard. I returned to bed thinking nothing about it. However, it wasn’t moving, the noise got louder and briefly the searchlight shone on my tent. They must be looking for someone. The noise got louder, closer and the light again shone on my tent, could they be looking for us? No, we had left plans with our family and although there was no phone signal I have a Garmin inReach and had text my wife to let her know we were safe on Gigha and she had been following our progress all day.

The helicopter was really close now and I thought that maybe one of us had accidently set off one of our PLB’s. The helicopter was now only 200m away and maybe 20 m high over the reed area. Reed and debris were flying over the stonewall into my tent. I could see the number on the tail and the pitch and roll of the rotor blade as the pilot skill fully maintained his position. My next thought was, what if he hit the trees behind, and we would all be toast. It was now blatantly obvious they were looking for us. The pilot flew over the wall and the downdraft wiped out the rear of my tent, sending tent pegs flying onto the beach and sea behind. I was out of the tent by now frantically looking for pegs. I only managed to find 2 and pegged out the tent with the loan of 2 additional pegs.

The helicopter was now holding its position higher over the camp. Matt was out of his tent as 2 lights approached across the field from the road. They eventually arrived in camp and started talking to Matt. I went over to find out what was going on. To my great embarrassment they were a coast guard land based search team. They were looking for 3 kayakers reported missing, -not us surely? The first question confirmed my fears. “Are you from Muasdale?”

Apparently a concerned member of the public on the campsite had reported us overdue at 8-30pm. The campsite owner made the 999 call after our next door camper had raised concern. I can’t criticise them as they had done the right thing but we hadn’t exchanged more than a nod of the head before we set of that day. We religiously file our route plans using safetrax but with no signal at Muasdale or on north Gigha it was pointless to try. The phone reception at Muasdale was non existent so we couldn’t even phone the coastguard our plans through. We all have VHF radios but because our family knew our whereabouts it didn’t occur to us to try and radio in our plans even if we could reach Belfast coastguard –which I doubt. My wife carefully monitored my inReach plot and we thought that this would be sufficient, plus we all had PLB’s

The 999 call had set the coastguard helicopter from Prestwick, the RNLI all weather boat from Islay, land searches at Campbell town and Gigha, plus the police to the campsite. Quite an operation and fantastic to know we have this marvellous team looking after us all at sea.

The Coastguards we spoke to were fantastic and not even a hint of criticism to any of the involved parties. It was a false alarm with good intent and they were happy to leave it at that, shook our hands and left to get back home before midnight.

The helicopter left after land based crew had confirmed who we were, the silence returned briefly before the cuckoo kicked off obviously annoyed by all the commotion.

The stars were now out and we gazed upwards in awe of their splendour. It struck us how amazing it was that the helicopter crew found us in this pitch-black inlet in the North of Gigha. We later found out they had started the search in the south of Cara, as this is where they had expected us to be if an accident had happened. They then slowly worked their way up the east coast of Gigha over the next 2 hours, after a sighting of 3 kayakers in the Ardminish bay.

By coincidence this was the very weekend 2 years ago when surfer Matthew Bryce had gone missing from Machrihanish and spent 32hour at sea on his board. It had made the national news and he was only found as the coastguard had turned back home. It was something the locals reminded us of when we got back to the café at Tayinloan and the discussion of the 3 missing kayakers ensued. They had seen the helicopter searching the sound the previous night.

The discussion we had with the café owner showed us that many kayakers use the car park at the ferry and never let them know of there float plans. She had never raised the alarm but thought a lockable box where kayakers could leave float plans might be a good idea at popular spots, similar to that used in several mountain areas of Scotland.

Could we have done anything different?

1.We could of informed the campsite owner, but this wouldn’t stop any of the campers taking it upon themselves to phone 999

2. We could have made a bigger effort to contact the coastguard, maybe by using my inReach device. All other forms of communication were not options

3. Our plans had changed due to the weather so we couldn’t summit the plan on our way up.

We had a great, if eventful weekend, and would like to thank the rescue services and the unknown camper who raised the alarm. We sat in the campervan that night and toasted the Brownie with a 10year old Laphroaig as we didn’t want to upset it anymore.

We now only need to return to complete the west coast of Gigha

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 1:31 pm
by seawolf856
a few pics of the helicopters though, I stayed in my tent!






Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 5:46 pm
by MikeB
Thanks for sharing this. I wonder if the "old fashioned" VHF call to the CG would have been useful prior to launch? I saw that you'd discounted this owing to doubt about reaching them. This is in no way intended as criticism btw. Mike

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 7:15 pm
by Mal Grey
An excellent account with some lovely descriptions, which also raises a good point. Sounds like you did what seems reasonable, and sharing may make others think about how they act themselves.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 7:31 pm
by Owen
MikeB wrote:
Thu May 09, 2019 5:46 pm
Thanks for sharing this. I wonder if the "old fashioned" VHF call to the CG would have been useful prior to launch? I saw that you'd discounted this owing to doubt about reaching them. This is in no way intended as criticism btw. Mike

I doubt it, I've had similar incident even after we'd called the CG. Told them where we were and what we were doing. Lifeboat still turned up "we've had a report of someone in the water". You just can't win.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 7:48 pm
by quinding1
Many thanks for sharing that. Definitely something to think about.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Thu May 09, 2019 9:09 pm
by Douglas Wilcox
Great write up thank you. My brother had a similar experience when he set off for a wild camp from one of the Arisaig campsites where he regularly sets up base camp. He had left a float plan with the warden but that night a concerned fellow camper dialled 999 without informing the warden. The Mallaig lifeboat was launched, the CG helicopter was on a call already but was going to divert as it was not that far away. Fortunately, the local land-based coastguard called the campsite warden who was able to match the description of my brother and his boat and the search was called down. My brother still uses that and other campsites as base camps but leaves a card with his float plan on the car dashboard (he would not do this in a layby on a public road). He also tells as many fellow campers as he can what his plans are.

Gigha does have reasonable contact just about all around the coast with Belfast Coastguard using a handheld VHF as there are masts near Tarbert, Campbelltown and Ballycastle. Although I have registered my craft with SafeTRX, I don't use it to track my journeys due to the problem of lack of phone signal which you found. If I leave my car in a public place, I leave a card with my shore contact phone number, my mobile number and VHF call sign on the dash, with nothing to say how long we are away.

Talking of the Sound of Gigha, it can be a lively crossing!

Sorry I did not reply to your original post (I was not well at that time) but the others gave you great advice. I am glad you all enjoyed your trip and yes the call of snipe and divers at night can raise the hairs on the back of your neck if you have not heard them before. :o)


Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 4:38 pm
by mcgruff
If VHF & phone signals aren't reliable, maybe satellite is the answer and a new kind of PLB which can send "OK" signals as well as "SOS".

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 6:29 pm
by Owen
The SPOT and inReach trackers already do two way texting but need a contract which cost. Whether you think it worth it is up to the individual.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 9:05 pm
by blueythe
I think Owen has a point. Neither party can win. I have had some correspondence with the coastguard about the incident and even if we had left a float plan with the campsite owner, and then been reported missing, they would still follow through with a search; but the float plan may helped to help focus the search area.
Thanks Douglas for your insight we will certainly take on board your suggestions to minimise a false shout.
I have a Garmin inReach and it's a great bit of kit. It gives her in doors peace of mind and sends our position every 10 min. plus I can text from anywhere in the world. Just wish I could use it to communicate with the coastguard but not sure if anything is set up for this. Cost for the basic emergency package is £14.99 pm and this includes an SOS button to summon help in an emergency so you could ditch the PLB (although I have a PLB as well), a lot less than most mobiles! I have a cheap mobile package and this and it probably still doesn't add up to the cost of most mobile packages. You can also suspend the subscription so your not tied in. BTW I have no ties with Garmin :-)

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 9:31 pm
by jmmoxon
If you're leaving a tent or vehicle on the campsite then you should definitely inform the owner if not planning to return - they might even not charge you full price for the night!

& unlikely to have been a jack snipe, more likely a common snipe displaying over it's territory.


Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 9:50 pm
by blueythe
Thanks for your comment Mike but this as discussed would not stop false alarms, also what if we decide to extent the trip. no signal on Gigha. It was definitely a Jack Snipe. I know these are less common but they do cover this range and I have listened to both recordings of snipe and Jack snipe. The Jack Snipe is a much more haunting sound.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 10:41 pm
by jmmoxon
No, it wouldn't necessarily prevent a call out, but you have then done everything within your power on that front. In this case the individual concerned obviously didn't know your plans, so they asked the campsite owner...

& as far as I'm aware jack snipe have never been recorded breeding or displaying in the UK. They are a winter visitor from Scandinavia & Russia.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Fri May 10, 2019 11:23 pm
by blueythe
We assumed the only reason the campsite owner was involved was the concerned individuals wanted to use the landline as there is no signal. But as I said earlier we will make a better effort to inform as many people as possible, but even the catch all coastguard call is not foolproof as highlighted above. It was a false alarm with good intent and for that nobody can be criticised, but maybe we can reduce the incidence of false alarms and that was really the intention of the post. Our families knew where we were and that we were safe. Communication is an issue in the area and acknowledged by the coastguard. There is also an issue of laying responsibility for our party on the campsite owner, is that fair? should he be looking out for us? Should we be tied into a strict float plan? So many variables. Maybe he wants to watch the football or go to the pub not concern himself with our whereabouts. Our main issue was contacting the coastguard and if we could have addressed that even by summiting a float plan then maybe the search would have been shorter. who knows? We never got to speak to the individuals who raised the alarm as they had left by the time we got back but would have thanked them for their concern.

snipe? maybe you are right but 3 of us thought is sounded more like a Jack snipe.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Sat May 11, 2019 12:30 am
by jmmoxon
Indeed, if you change your plan, it may have them searching in the wrong area. The problem is we will never convince everyone of the seaworthiness of our "little boats".

I agree there's no reason to leave a route plan at the campsite, but them knowing when you're expected back & that you have an emergency contact may prevent them worrying. Likewise the coastguard or local police knowing your vehicle is going to be parked at a certain location for however long will reduce the likelihood of a call out.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Sat May 11, 2019 12:12 pm
by blueythe
The problem is we will never convince everyone of the seaworthiness of our "little boats".

absolutely and this may be part of the issue with false alarms and the general public. On our return we stopped at the Tayinloan ferry terminal and my friend got chatting to a couple-outdoor types. They were 'gob smacked" they we could actually camp from the kayaks and had no idea of their seaworthiness.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Sat Jun 15, 2019 10:21 pm
by Chris Bolton
I missed this thread when it was posted and have only spotted it now. Sometimes, when I've left details with [Stornoway] CG for a multi-day trip, they have asked for a shore contact. On the only occasion that we've been the subject of a false alarm with good intent, they phoned the shore contact. We had been on the Treshnish Isles and told CG, by VHF, that we were going to Calgary Bay for the next night, and that we expected (correctly) there would be no VHF or phone reception so they should not expect us to call in safe. This was about 2001 and no satellite devices. A yacht saw us on the crossing and felt F4 was not something kayaks could cope with, so reported us to CG as being in trouble. CG called my shore contact, my mother, who I'd chosen as she was relatively local, in Oban. She asked them where we were, and having sailed around there she told them we knew what we were about and not to worry. So no call out, just a message put out for anyone seeing us to ask us to call CG when we could, which we did the next morning. In your case, blueythe, giving CG your family's details as a contact might have worked, as they knew from your Inreach that all was well.

Your story does make me reconsider; last year we didn't tell CG about our plans as we felt we had enough numbers in the group to look after ourselves, but the possibility of false alarms does need considering. A difficulty with giving family as a shore contact is that they might be alarmed if CG call them. I have an Inreach, but we only send Inreach messages to those of our families who worry about us, and they're not the ideal ones to talk to CG.

Re: Gigha- A Cautionary Tale

Posted: Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:29 am
by blueythe
Thanks Chris for sharing your experience. It's all very useful and a shore contact may have helped in our case but you are correct about inreach messages. I only bought mine to reassure my wife, but being ex police she is pretty good at dealing with emergency calls. I was once on my way back from Anglesey and hadn't phoned in to tell her we were off the water due to lack of a signal and my phone was in the back of the van on the way home. when I got home I had several missed calls from the coastguard and got a severe ear bashing. Fortunately no search was launched, shortly after that I bought a Garmin inreach! Dealing with false alarms from the public is another thing though. This thread has given me some really good pointers on how we might minimise these but none are foolproof! thanks all.