Raised beaches or Ray's beaches ?

A Peddelpraat club trip guided by Ray Goodwin, circumnavigating Islay from 14 to 20 July 2002.
Participants: Rob, Albert-Jan, Grietje, Elko, Ida, Dirk, Thea, Lau, Johann, Maarten, Axel, Alex and Rick

Saturday 13th July 2002 (Lochgilphead)
Malin: S-3/4 increasing 5/6 in NW, veering W later; visibility: good becoming moderate
Inshore: SW by W-3/4 backing S increasing 5/6 in Outer Hebrides
CG 24 hr: S/SW-2/3 increasing S/SE-3/4 in the afternoon, increasing S/SE-4/5 at midnight, 4 later in the night; sea state: slight/moderate
CG 48 hr: W-4 gradually backing SW-3/4; moderate becoming fair/moderate
CG 3 days: light or moderate winds

Everyone has arrived already by Friday evening. The latest camping craze is "tarps". Everyone has one with them; home-made or from the outdoor shop. This will undoubtedly create problems with limited camping space during our trip. Rick commented on my Peddelpraat T-shirt during the Anglesey sea symposium earlier this year. I could secure one with Onno and today Rick receives his own Peddelpraat T-shirt (designed by Johann). In the afternoon we go for a walk. But first we have to drive there by car. The hike is a bit dissapointing as there is no footpath and not everyone has the proper footwear. We do have a nice view accross the Sound to Jura. A few push on and they have a close encounter with a viper. On our way back we stop by at the Crinnan canal were a jacht is passing through the locks. The locks have to be operated by hand but we all help the boatman's boy. The long wooden poles are best operated by pushing with one's back. Ray arrives at 20:30. Immediately he lays out the charts on the bonnet of his car. To my surprise he indeed intends to go around Islay. When I signed up for this years trip it was still a Jura thing. I had paddled around Islay only last year. I dit not expect that Ray would take the risk. Any adverse conditions and we have to abandon the trip and return by ferry. We do need an amount of luck. The weather forecast for the next three days is very good. Some brought whisky for on the trip, but have to find out that the group takes care of that very well indeed. The remaining whisky is swiftly saved for the trip.

Sunday 14th July (Ronachan Bay - Claggain Bay; 14,6 nm)
Malin: W/SW backing South for a time 3/4 occasionally 5
Inshore: S-4/5 soon veering W-3/4 then backing S-4/5
CG 24 hr: S-3/4 soon veering W/NW-3/4 then easing SW-2/3 before S/SW-4/5 overnight; sea state; slight/moderate
CG 48 hr: S/SW-4/5 soon veering W-3 becoming variable 2/3 later; sea state: slight/moderate becoming generally slight

Around 09:00 we drive to the "Grey House" near Ronachan Bay on the Kintyre penninsula. Packing the sea kayaks is swift. Everyone has routine or has practiced at home. At 12:50 we head out to cross the Sound of Gigha. Nice warm weather, but no blue sky. Just before landing on the north tip of Gigha (14:20) there is "mutiny". Dirk, Rob en Lau are sprinting to that part of the beach above which the best camping spots are to be found. They have been here just last week on their circumnavigation of Gigha. Dirk immediately puts up his tent. Ida hints about not minding to continue to cross the Sound of Jura today. When Ray, independently of this, also does not mind to continue, a short meeting is all that is needed to decide to cross today. De conditions are perfect; a weak wind and a flat sea. But then Dirk has to break down his tent. We can rest until 16:55. After a lot of tide calculations a course of 265 is agreed upon. The crossing is 9.7 nautical miles and will take us at least three hours. I secretly check our course against my GPS. At first we are still set to the north. But from the halfway point we are on a perfect course for Claggain Bay. I do not tell Ray about my GPS checks, because I know all too well that as soon as one makes unnessessary course adjustments, one cannot tell afterwards if the calculated course was correct in the first place. At 20:20 we land at Claggain Bay. It is a steep shingle beach in a bay with a sandy bottom. We must have missed this nice spot on our last year's trip or we have paddled past it in our search for a more sheltered spot. There is a road nearby, but only one car drives by. The midges are out, but still in acceptable numbers.

Monday 15th July (Claggain Bay - Port na Luinge; 13,5 nm)
Malin: W-4/5 decreasing 3 becoming variable later
Inshore: S-2/3 locally 4 becoming W/NW-2/3, SW-3 in north; occasional rain drizzle and fog patches; visibility moderate, poor in fog

Ray briefs us on the plan to go around the Mull of Oa. If we want to get past Mull of Oa today we are still on the water by 21:00. This will mean that if problems arise there they will occur at dusk after a long day on the water. Some in the group express concerns about Mull of Oa as they have no experience in tide-races and overfalls. The tension, noticable by the types of questions asked, is rising. But knowing Ray's reputation he will seek out the perfect conditions and I do not foresee any problems. We leave at 09:40. Along the coast we sea a lot of seals, some of them with pups. We have a break from 11:00 to 12:00 at Aird Imersay. Elko and Ida have a seat on a fish crate; from Urk in the Netherlands! The southwesterly wind is much stronger than the forecast; another reason to cut it short. At 13:15 we arrive at the Laphroaig distillery. The sun starts to shine. We have an interesting tour of the distillery. Unfortunately at this time of year all Islay distilleries are closed for maintenance. Production is resumed within a fortnight. Our guide speaks in, for us, a nearly illegible tongue; an accent as strong as the taste of Laphroaig whisky. It takes a while before I am used to her pronunciation and can understand what she has to tell. We taste dried smoked barley. It tastes as a wood fire. The barley is still smoked with peat. Only the first two layers of peat are used. Up to the distilling, the process is identical to the brewing of beer. The remaining mash is food for cattle. The liquid residues are polluting the bay. De guide talks about "happy cows" and "happy fish". Only ten percent of the production is used for single malt whisky. The rest is for blended whisky. What follows is a complex explanation of the parts of the distilled liquids that are (re-) used for whisky. The casks used have had Kentucky bourbon in them before. We are taken to one of the storage buildings. Specially for visititors they left a few casks of the last production run. We are allowed to taste from one of the casks. Despite the fact that this cask has matured only a fortnight, in my opinion the liquid already tastes as a Laphroaig. With only one difference: this is cask strength. During storage of a malt whisky part of the alcohol evaporates through the casks; "angel share" for the "happy angels" according to the guide. Back at the reception we are served a glass of Laphroaig (10 years). A group of "happy sea kayakers" leaves the bay at 15:45. We paddle past Port Ellen and the lighthouse. In the shelter of the Oa penninsula we paddle in the direction of Rubha nan Leacan. Beyond this headland there is an area of tide-races until the Mull of Oa. We would like to find a camping spot just before the headland. But we do not pass a beach once we are beyond Rubha na Mèise Bàine. We backtrack until Port na Luinge. Here we find the perfect spot. A nice beach, high grass, no sheep, water, waterfall, lots of driftwood and a stunning view across the bay. Only the landing is not without it's problems. It is a little bit of a steep beach and even the small surf prevents some of us to exit their sea kayaks quickly. Unfortunately we are totally sheltered from the wind and the midges are out. After dinner a fire is build under the technical supervision of Ray. Heavy tree trunks are carried with "Dutch straps" by up to six people. It is a big fire accompanied by a Laphroaig from Ray. The setting sun illuminates Rathlin island in the south.

Tuesday 16th July (Port na Luinge - Lossit Bay; 15,7 nm)
Malin: W-3/4; mainly fair; visibility; good
Inshore: Variable NW/SW-1/3 locally S-1/4 in north Minch
CG 24 hr: Variable mainly W/NW-2/3; mainly fair; visibility: good; sea state: smooth/slight, moderate west off Islay and Tiree
CG 48 hr: NW-2/3; fair; visibility: good; sea state: smooth/slight, moderate west off Islay and Tiree
3 days: light to moderate winds variable in direction becoming fresh to strong from NW on Saturday

We depart at 08:30 in order to get around the the Mull of Oa one hour before the tide turns. But the flood current is already very weak and by the time we get near the Mull of Oa we are fighting the current; by paddling hard I just make three knots. When I paddle close inshore I easily manage four knots; that's an eddy. The tide turned at least an hour earlier than Pilot and tidal stream atlas predict. Ray lets the group paddle close inshore. We slowly round the headland. After that we paddle through a bumpy eddy to the beautiful beach I camped at last year. Because the tide has already turned we pause from 11:00 to 15:00 on the beach opposite of Eileanan Móra. Two small fishing boats meet up in the bay. They cruise a curving route to an anchorage. They probably know there way around here. Ray would have liked to talk to the captain about their local knowledge of the currents around the Mull of Oa. In hindsight I think that the amphidrome near Kintrye has something to do with it. This amphidrome changes it's location between springs and neaps. De times of high water at Port Ellen are difficult to predict; a difference in constants of five hours between springs and neaps. It is peculiar that neiter tidal streams atlas nor pilot take this into account or even mention it as far as tidal stream is concerned. This year I do not forget to look at the beautiful waterfall. I start a hike to the monument. When the sun starts to shine I burn out of my neoprene and I abandon my hike. I listen to the VHF weather forecast by the coast guard. The next three days the forecast is for light winds. Interestingly, the sea state off west of Islay is moderate; a swell up to 2.5 meters. After Friday strong northwesterly winds are expected. At 15:00 we leave for the crossing to the Rhinns of Islay. Until the halfway point we should have had the current against us, but soon we have a relaxed pace of four knots. At Rhinns Point we can already see a tide-race off Orsay. Between Orsay and Portnahaven the current is at least two knots. An interesting area for tidal navigation as there is a north flowing current for ten hours of the tide. Along an eddyline there is some agitated water. After that a plan is devised for Frenchman's Rocks and Lossit Bay. Ray anticipates for some rough water. But today it is rather calm. I do not see any surf ending on the beach of Lossit Bay, so there must be considerable surf. Ray goes through first with Alex. It is a nice surf. Thea, Maarten and I wait to go last. There are some waves starting to break at the waiting area. We backpaddle in curling waves. Thea makes a dash after a higher wave, followed by Maarten. Finally I go, but I do not encounter any serious surf. On landing I look into a number of camera's and make a low brace bongo-slide for the crowd. Unfortunately the landing area (17:00) is not near the camping spot. Therefore we have to be at the south end of the bay. Only Ray and I take to the water again to paddle the distance. The others tediously tow their sea kayak through the soup. After relocating we still have to lift the sea kayaks to higher ground. A very nice spot. Another nice evening with a fire.

Wednesday 17th July (Lossit Bay - Tràigh Bhàn; 10,3 nm)
Malin: V-3/4; showers, visibility: good
Inshore: V mainly NW-1/3; scattered showers, fair periods; visibility: moderate/good, fair in showers

We leave at 09:00 through a small surf. In Lossit Bay there is a big eddy. At Lossit Point there is somewhat higher swell and rougher water; another headland. We make a wide crossing of Machir Bay. We progress slowly. We take almost two hours to cross the nine kilometers. Against a current? I would not know as I have my GPS stored in a hatch because of our departure through surf. I therefore cannot check against my cruising speed. We have lunch from 11:30 until 13:00 closeby Coul Point, in a bay on a shingle beach east of An Dòirlinn. Just past Coul Point the swell is increasing again. Lau has to be encouraged to stay away from the rocks. Every now and then waves break on the coast. We are experiencing a current against us. We see breaking waves near An Clachan. But because I have my nautical chart behind my OS map, I cannot determine the exact location. It appears the waves are breaking over a reef. And on the left of the reef there is a tide-race running. We are therefore "between a rock and a hard place". Ray chooses to go well clear of the rocks and we enter the race. Waves of maximum 1.5 meters in height with smoothly breaking tops. I decide to paddle at the back. When I look at the coastline and notice almost no progress at all I tell Lau I will paddle to Ray in front. I am only a few strokes gone when Ray turns around. We call it a day as we must have at least 2.5 knots of tide against us. Not everyone was surfing the race so there is no use in continuing. But everyone is having fun. Johann and Maarten now know what a tide-race is. Alex gets challenging conditions on his first trip abroad. Ray looks for the first opportunity to land. This is the narrow channel at Carraig nam Fear. As swell can enter we paddle through the channel one at the time. The channel ends on a particular dirty beach with rotting seawead. Ray is rolling on the ground for laughs. This dirty beach is connected to the beautiful wide beach of Tràigh Bhàn. It turns out that Ray's chart is cut at exactly this spot and the nice beach is on another segment. I could have seen it on my map, but I did not pay attention to it. Everybody is on the water again for the short paddle around the headland to the clean beach. When I am there I go for wet exercises and a swim to clean my sea kayak and myself from the smelly remains of seawead. The beach is littered with driftwood. Our drinking water drops down from a small waterfall on the beach. The waterfall is also used as a shower. Ray creates a washing line from four planks, part of a fence fallen from the cliff. A pallet is turned into a handbarrow. With four persons a load of wood is transported. The size of the fire is from now on measured in the distance one should keep from the fire. Tonight it is a five meter fire.

Thursday 18th July (Tràigh Bhàn - Bunnahabhain; 17,8 nm)
Malin: V-3/4; occasional rain; visibility: moderate/good
Inshore: V-2/3 occasional N/NW-3/4; early local mist in the morning
CG 24 hr: V-3 or less
CG 48 hr: N-4 perhaps 5 later; sea state: slight, locally moderate

We clear the beach at 08:50. The sea is almost flat. An area of high pressure is above Malin Head. We make a wide crossing and go between Nave Island and Islay. The sky is gradually changing from blue to pale white. We paddle in a swift pace with the tide. If Ray asks me what speed we are paddling I answer: "6.1 knots". That is when sprinting and surfing. Without that it is more like 4.5 knots. After Ardnave Point we cross to Gortantaoid Point. Here we have a short coffee/lunch break until 11:45. After that it is time to explore the spectacular northwest coast. Many rocky headlands, beaches, arches and caves. Along the way we sight deer and goats. Lau and Dirk explore every channel. Ray looks for the perfect beach. We find that at Rubha Bolsa. We paddle under an arch to land on a shingle beach. Above the beach are two caves. Unfortunately Ray does not intend to camp here because of the forecasted northerly winds tomorrow. After the break we continue our trip. We paddle past "Laybourne's cave" and Rick tells the epic story of three sea kayakers escaping from the cave in a storm. We can see Jura, Colonsay and the Ross of Mull. We round the lighthouse. Johann has a unique photo opportunity when painters write in big lettering the word "Hi" on a wall of the lighthouse. At Rubha Bhachlaig Rick directs us to a suitable camping spot. According to Ray this is "midge-hell". I put my tent behind a small arch. The weather forecast is for rain tomorrow and showers on Saturday. Ray wants to get to Gigha tomorrow. Some of us want to go to the gardens at Jura House. Albert-Jan's brother lives there and manages the gardens. Visiting the gardens and crossing to Gigha might be a problem. Originally we would wait at Port Askaig for the tide to turn. A break at Jura House would mean paddling the whole Sound of Islay against the tide. Instead of shooting through the sound we would have to work hard and still do the three hour crossing of the Sound of Jura to Gigha. The decision is not final yet as Ray answers diplomatic: "ask me tomorrow!".

Friday 19th July (Bunnahabhain - Gigha; 17,3 nm)
Malin: Variable becoming N-3/4 occasional 5 later
Inshore: N/NW-2/3 increasing 4/5; rain at times; visibility: moderate to good

The midges are terrible; indeed a "midge hell". We leave at 09:00. Along the way we pass the wreck of the Majestic. Since my last visit the bow has dissapeared. Today, Ray has everything going for him or there is some luck involved; "Dutch luck". Close to the shore there are eddies and we paddle at four knots to Port Askaig. In the middle of the sound I have to paddle very hard to maintain two knots on the GPS. In Port Askaig Ray calls the Coast Guard. Albert-Jan informs his brother of our arrival. At Port Askaig we cross the Sound to the Jura side. On this side there are also eddies and we paddle at 4.5 knots. At 13:30 we arrive at Jura House. We have enough time to visit the beautifull gardens. It was a good decision not to let this opportunity pass by. At 15:15 we start our crossing of the Sound of Jura. Ray calculated a course of 110. A porpoise cruises by. Elko and I check our course with the GPS. Ray is influenced by our observations and adjusts the course to 120 for a short time. At 18:35 we land on Gigha. Just a few minutes before the group got split in two. The front was heading past the north tip of Gigha. And in this group are Dirk, Lau and Rob. If Elko had not shouted, they would have passed the camping spot they know so well. Everyone is happy that our circumnavigation of Islay has succeeded. Not in the least Ray himself. The last few miles to the mainland are just a "formalitity". Rick is more cautious: "Don't count your chicken until all the eggs are hatched!". Ray secretly hopes that there is a strong wind tomorrow justifying our crossing today. Ray builds a washing line from four paddles. This solution is much better than that two individuals create a washing line over their sea kayaks with spare paddles. When we ask about the trip tomorrow Ray answers with a big smile: "I don't care!". We are barely able to get a departure time from him. I get a little nervous of the water level in relation to the location of the sea kayaks on the beach. Ray answers with a smile: "I don't care, and it is an onshore wind!". High water Oban is at 03:13. At 21:00 the water is already as high as the last high water at 14:49. According to the rule of twelfth the water has still to rise considerably. At Gigha high water is earlier, but not that much? One view at the scribblings on my chart make it clear. At springs local high water is two hours earlier than in Oban. But at neaps the difference is a massive five hours. This has everything to do with the shifting amphidrome off the Mull of Kintyre. Local high water tonight is at 22:00, I am at ease.

Saturday 20th July (Gigha - Ronachan Bay; 4,3 nm)
Inshore: N/NE-4/5 occasionally 6
For the first time this trip I slept through most of the shipping forecast. I only hear the inshore waters forecast. The wind has strengthened to a northerly 4/5. Ray did it again. We leave at 10:30. The surf is not that high but we do get wet. We have a rather rough crossing with quartering winds. Halfway we can take a short rest in the shelter of Gamhna Gigha rocks. Ray has to work much harder than all of the rest that have skegs. This is taking it's toll; Ray is lagging behind. Just prior to our arrival at 12:30 Ray capsizes, or was that intentionally?, and rolls up. I try an alternative exit but I have to conclude that getting out of the sea kayak sideways is alternative allright, but not what I intended to do. In the evening we have dinner in town. Unfortunately the bar does not serve all the different Islay single malt whisky's. Otherwise it would have been a round Islay by (on) Rick. "A plan so cunning they call it the fox!" combined with "Dutch luck" made our Islay circumnavigation in six days possible. And not forgetting the good will and efforts by all participants. Paddling early, late, long and combinations of that because of the tide made this trip more of an expedition than a vacation. For me this was a totally different Islay trip than last year. A beautiful west and northwest coast, this time not obscured by fog. Instead of Jura with it's raised beaches it has been Islay again, now with Ray's beaches.

Appendix 1 : Tides Oban/Ullapool July 2002

Oban, July 2002Ullapool, July 2002

Appendix 2 : Tidal Range Oban July 2002

Appendix 2

© A.M. Schoevers

An article by Alex van der Werf has appeared in Peddelpraat.