Changed summer plans...Western Isles Tour

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Mark R
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Changed summer plans...Western Isles Tour

Post by Mark R » Tue Aug 08, 2006 4:04 pm

I was planning to spend the next few weeks heading along the coast as part of my on-going round-Britain trip. At the same time, my wife was supposed to be sea kayaking in Alaska. However, due to a sudden illness in Heather's family, she couldn't go (gutted) and has to stay available in the UK for the summer.

So...we are today heading off together instead, plans unclear. We might just go to the Western Isles and see where we end up.

Will let you know how it goes...
Last edited by Mark R on Sat Sep 02, 2006 1:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Dave Thomas
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Post by Dave Thomas » Tue Aug 08, 2006 4:54 pm

Sorry to hear that news, Mark. Know the feeling - my wife is similarly 'on standby' re her mother. Hope matters work out as well as may be, and that you manage some good paddling whatever.

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Goldspoon
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Post by Goldspoon » Tue Aug 08, 2006 8:38 pm

Hope things improve re the illness.

Do you have a job Mark? :-) Or are you a full time paddler?

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Mark R
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Post by Mark R » Wed Aug 09, 2006 10:31 am

Goldspoon wrote:Do you have a job Mark? :-) Or are you a full time paddler?
I have a part-time teaching job...for three quarters of the year I teach, the remaining quarter is spent paddling. Having just enjoyed two weeks in Quebec...

http://www.ukriversguidebook.co.uk/foru ... hp?t=15981

...I now have nearly a month spare to go sea kayaking.

Let's hear three cheers for those dedicated hardworking taxpayers who fund my lifestyle. Cheers, all!
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runswick2000
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Post by runswick2000 » Wed Aug 09, 2006 11:51 am

MarkR wrote:Let's hear three cheers for those dedicated hardworking taxpayers who fund my lifestyle. Cheers, all!
Can I second that?!

Sorry to hear of your change of plans, enjoy your trip up North.....
Perhaps the greatest flaw in democracy is the idea that, if a majority of the population believes arrant nonsense, it somehow makes the nonsense true.

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Post by Bertie.. » Wed Aug 09, 2006 1:25 pm

MarkR wrote:
Let's hear three cheers for those dedicated hardworking taxpayers who fund my lifestyle. Cheers, all!
That's okay Mark, don't mention it... grrr ;-)

And to think, I looked at going into teaching but decided it would be too much like hard work.. lol!

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Post by steddyjames » Wed Aug 09, 2006 2:38 pm

MarkR wrote: Let's hear three cheers for those dedicated hardworking taxpayers who fund my lifestyle. Cheers, all!
And thanks to all those people requiring vascular surgery who fund my lifestyle.....hmmmm, not quite the same ring to it!!

I was soooo nearly a teacher as well, only applied for a PGCE because I wanted the holidays, why oh why didn't I take it!!!

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Post by Adrian Cooper » Wed Aug 09, 2006 4:39 pm

When I look at my tax bill at the end of each month, I think I must be financing several lifestyles. :-(

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Mark R
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Post by Mark R » Mon Aug 28, 2006 10:26 am

We're back on Skye after a fantastic trip in the Western Isles. We set off from Tarbert on Harris, made our way slowly (exploring every nook and cranny) down to Eriskay, then came back up the west coast to North Uist. Marvellous.

Weather has been unsettled throughout, and is now downright crappy, so we've finished now. We got a hitch back to the ferry (and onto the ferry) in a refrigerated lorry full of lobsters, superb luck.

Be home by the end of the week...
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Post by Mark R » Sat Sep 02, 2006 12:21 pm

Our route...

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General comments...

The trip was totally unplanned, Heather's trip to Alaska had been aborted last minute due to family illness and she needed to get away after days sent at hospital etc. We had to stay somewhere in the UK and we needed to be able to stay in mobile phone contact every day. Back at Whitsun (whilst on Barra) we'd daydreamed about eventually finding time to paddle around all of the isles...so suddenly we had the chance to make a start on this.

I think we paddled on about 13 days and loafed around ashore (hid from the wind) on 3 or 4. We did about 160 miles total, with daily distances ranging from 2 miles (aborted mission!) to 20.

Weather was unsettled throughout. It rained every day to a greater or lesser degree, but rarely heavily. Winds almost never went below Force 3, but only got above 5 on a few days. The forecast was Force 4-5 for the vast majority of days. Midges...were not a problem!

The paddling was often relatively challenging, in as far as we were usually surfing in one direction or another. The sea was almost never calm.

This was an interesting trip for me, because I wasn't calling the shots, Mrs R was instead...she decided if, where, when, how far we'd go and navigated. As it happens it worked out quite well. I saw much more of the area Heather's way....I am often guilty of sprinting from headland to headland and it was nice to slow down and explore.

We set off from Tarbert on Harris. We headed south simply because that's the way the wind was blowing (and blew for the whole week). Harris was a bit grim as we saw no sun and the landscape at the southern end is dominated by bleak rock.

The Sound of Harris was a delight, endless tiny isles and rampant wildlife. Berneray scored lots of points with us. We'd heard scare stories about powerful tides and difficult navigation, but it was a doddle. Nothing much was happening on the tidal front...indeed we barely encountered any strong tides on the whole trip.

The east coast of the Uists was great, really varied...from cliffed sections to the quiet inshore lagoons and channels. A few days of sun helped, too.

Down at the bottom of the Uists, Eriskay was lovely, and we even inherited a dog which insisted on sleeping in our tent.

The wind conveniently switched from the north to the south and west as we headed back up the other side. The long machair beaches of South Uist were great (and much drier to camp on than the east side). However, the wind and sea kept building, and it took us four days (one ashore) to get the 20 miles up the west coast of South Uist. One day involved an intimidating paddle around a headland through some big ocean swell, and then retreating right back to the beach! Oops.

We had hoped to paddle the west coast right back up to Tarbert but the swell kept kicking off and the wind switched back to the north and was growing in strength, so it was becoming a grind and we weren't making progress. Time to finish the trip. We crossed between South Uist and Benbecula and battled the wind up to the little fishing community of Kallin. Here, we conveniently managed to get ourselves and the boats back to Lochmaddy and onto the ferry in a lorry full of lobsters en route to Spain!

Highlights for me were plenty, but watching a baby seal being taught by mum how to climb out of the water onto rocks scored pretty highly, as did watching Heather battle through a three metre swell without losing her nerve. Nothing however can compare to the extremely close encounter I had with a basking shark, which - as it cruised directly alongside me - turned out to be rather longer than my boat and about a metre thick. I think my heart stopped...


We will be back in due course to complete the rest of the trip around the Western Isles.
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Mark R
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Post by Mark R » Sun Sep 03, 2006 11:06 am

For some reason we forgot to take the waterproof camera, so don't have many pictures. We didn't take many on land, either. No idea why.

Anyway, some random images to give the flavour of our holiday...

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Last edited by Mark R on Sun Sep 03, 2006 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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YvonneB
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Eriskay Dogs

Post by YvonneB » Sun Sep 03, 2006 12:45 pm

Hi Mark

On reading ( enviously) your description of your recent trip, I was astonished to see you had been adopted by a dog on Eriskay.

A very similar thing happened to me on Eriskay back in 1998. I was on a sailing trip and a friend and I took a walk along the beach. A reddish collie was chasing seabirds and became quite friendly to us. AT the end of the beach we were contemplating what was the best way to get back to the road, and this dog tried to lead us. His name ought to have been Skippie - I would not have believed it had I not been there. He took a path throught the sand dunes and kept waiting for us to catch up. I suggested to my friend that we followed him and sure enough he took us back to the road, and accompanied us back to the harbour.

I know that 8 years on it's unlikely to be the same dog, though not impossible. Perhaps Eriskay dogs are amed for it?

Yvonne

PS fabulous pictures, have made me determined to get into seakayaking.

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Post by Heather Rainsley » Sun Sep 03, 2006 12:57 pm

This was a black and white collie. He stood guard over our tent whilst we went to the pub and then slept in the porch right through to the early hours.

He just seemed to like company.

Perhaps island dogs can enjoy a little bit more freedom than mainland ones.
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Post by Mark R » Sun Sep 03, 2006 2:12 pm

I don't recall the dog's name, but it was actually the Gaelic for 'Trouble'!
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Post by Mark R » Sat Sep 09, 2006 6:29 pm

I thought this little tale might be of interest. I alluded above to one rather short day of paddling during our trip...

We were on the west coast of South Uist and had just spent a day ashore as the wind was too strong, from the SW. There was still a foot of surf breaking on the beach and the wind had eased to F3-4. Heather made the call that she wanted to launch.

Our first job was to get around a small headland (map) which extended about a mile out. As we paddled out away from the beach towards it, the swell size gradually started building up. Approaching the headland, I could see that there were waves breaking there, which were clearly larger than the 1 foot at the beach. The swell kept growing, the further away from the beach we paddled.

I noted that we'd reached the last point where we'd be able to comfortably retreat back to the beach before going around the headland, and pointed out to H that we could abort if we wanted. She said no, she wanted to carry on around.

As we closed on the headland, it was clear that the waves breaking on the headland were actually pretty big, and they were breaking for a notable distance out from the headland. We were going to have to give it a very wide berth! We altered course to head further offshore.

It now occurred to me that something weird was happening. The further offshore we went, the bigger the swell became. To avoid the breakers, we had to keep on heading out, until the swell was 8-9 feet high, with the boats taking a few seconds to climb up wave faces...we were intermitently losing sight of each other. This was easily the most biggest seas Heather has paddled in, but she said she was okay...as long as we canned the trip and headed for the shore as soon as we'd cleared the headland!

We finally cleared the headland and it's associated reefs, and paddled back towards the beach. The waves shrank again and when we landed, the surf was only 1 foot again. Heather was elated to have paddled in control and calm through those conditions and high as a kite for hours afterwards. I was just bemused that we'd found ourselves in them.

This was a new one on me...how can the swell increase as you head offshore like that? There was no hint of it at all on the beach.



A few 'safety' notes: We were perfectly competent to paddle in these conditions, but I did make some mistakes which would have cost us dearly if anything had gone wrong. Firstly, I tried to inform the CG of our trip plans whilst launching, but got no response. I wasn't fussed and planned to try them again once we were clear of the headland, but by then, we turned out to be somewhat preoccupied! Secondly, for some reason I had taken to storing my towline directly under my front hatch. I realised whilst out there, that accessing it would have been a nightmare, should Heather have required a tow.
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Jim
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Post by Jim » Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:21 pm

Wind direction:
Waves build up over the fetch (distance from land), if the wind was offshore the waves would be biggerthe further out you got. They wouldn't really appear as surf at the beach though. However more mature swells coming onshore would be reaching the beach as surf, and as you get further out these are affected by the offshore wind.

Swell direction:
With a cross shore swell direction the main wave fronts will be parallel to the beach and all that comes in will be the parts of the waves that refract from the headland 'up-sea' from the beach. Possibly waves reflecting from the headland 'down-sea' could be part of the answer since looking at the map the headland you were going round was the most significant one in the area.

Sea bed contours:
Wave behaviour in shallow water is different than in deep water. You mention reefs yourself, what can very easily happen is that big swells encounter shallow water away from the beach and break. As they break they lose energy and the wave that carries on is much smaller. If the reefs, or a subsea shelf extend for considerable distance it could be that there was so much rebreak that actually pretty huge seas were arriving on the beach as small surf.

Currents:
Could the waves further out have been enanced by interference from wind against tide conditions, or simply strong currents (gulf stream?) exiting the existing waves. The currents would run parallel to the beach.

So basically wave interactions are so complex that this sort of thing is not particularly unusual, although it seems to be completely against all rules of thumb. Presumably you kept the land to right so nothing could possibly go wrong?

Jim

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Fond memories

Post by tomthehaggis » Mon Sep 11, 2006 10:27 pm

I am very fond of the east coast of the Uists for camping. Since working for Chris at CWP in Barra, I have spent many camping trips travelling up and down the islands. Earlier this year we camped on Killegray in the Sound of Harris (which I think is privately owned, but no one objected at the time), which was fantastic! I see from you're photos that you got to the Berneray hostel too, a nice wee place.

Call me curious, but I was just wondering what you're kayaking background was? I'm playing a bit of a catchup game, reading a few posts here and there on the forum, trying to get up to date with my sea kayaking knowledge and lingo! There is such a wealth of information.

My planned trip for next summer is to paddle the length of the Western Isles, from Mingulay to Lewis, including the Shiant Isles. It looks like there is lots of good camping territory on the SE coast of Harris and Lewis. Did you camp on this coast at all?

Tom

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Re: Fond memories

Post by Mark R » Mon Sep 11, 2006 10:37 pm

tomthehaggis wrote:I see from you're photos that you got to the Berneray hostel too, a nice wee place.
Yes, we camped nearby and used their kitchen. Nice place, even though the people who stay in Hostels are always Germans and random social misfits.
tomthehaggis wrote:Call me curious, but I was just wondering what you're kayaking background was?
I have always been primarily into WW paddling, but have been into sea paddling for over ten years, since I moved to the south coast. I've been doing a bit more in the past two years, partly because the UK river paddling has been fairly poor (no rain), partly because this site has re-kindled my interest a bit.
tomthehaggis wrote:It looks like there is lots of good camping territory on the SE coast of Harris and Lewis. Did you camp on this coast at all?
We camped in two spots between Tarbert and the Sound of Harris. Neither were sandy landings, both requiring crappy carries across rocks at low water. But the land we camped on was fine (although the peat can be boggy), almost anywhere will do. We found this bit of coast a bit oppressive (although obviously not unpleasant) as there is more rock than earth, and because the weather wasn't great...grey skies, grey seas, grey shores...
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Post by Douglas Wilcox » Mon Sep 11, 2006 10:56 pm

Hello Mark, rocky outcrops on the sandy west coast of the Uists and surrounding islands extend out into deeper water. This means the swell suddenly hits shalllower water and jacks up. On the big sandy beaches, it is shallow a long way out. The chart shows that it is 9.5 m deep just off that point you mention but off the sandy beaches the chart shows that the 2m contour is about 1.5km further out than the low water mark! That distance of shallow water will absorb a lot of the swell's energy before it hits the beach.

Here are some other examples:

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Jennifer in the foreground is 5'10". The swell out on the open ocean does not look very significant but that reef break was frightening. We exercised our judgement and did not paddle round that point.

What a magnificent place to paddle...the Outer Hebrides.

Douglas

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Post by lg18 » Fri Sep 15, 2006 12:26 pm

From your description of the headland it could have been Rubha Ardvule? I spent a summer living in Bornish, just by that point, and used to check crab pots off the point. I seem to remember shallow reefs extending way beyond (and round to the N) of the point, which could explain the big breakers far out.

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