Expedition Scotland (part five). Final Fling
Cush and I had six days to play with before my adventure was due to end back at Oban. We started with a cruise up Loch Sunart on Sea Canter. This was my second trip up the Loch, and it was raining and misty just like the first time. However Sunart is an extremely scenic loch and the low cloud and mizzle doesn’t seem to detract too much from its splendour.
We moored at the pontoon at Salen. Superb spot. I was keen to do another hefty day-paddle and had rather regretted missing out on Loch Teacuis when I passed this way seven weeks ago.
So I was up at five and paddled across Loch Sunart to its deserted southern shore in the hope of another wildlife encounter. There is no doubt that otters and their friends are more active early in the morning.
Paddling more or less silently about ten yards off the shore I saw a pine marten working its way across the rocks of the shore towards me. It had no idea I was there. I had the perfect view of it hunting, then halting and pouncing on some unseen and unlucky small creature in the long grass. The clicking of my camera made it look hard in my direction but it soon lost interest and went on its way.
The south side of Loch Sunart is indeed wild as there is no road access. However there are a couple of fish farms which make a bit of noise. One reeling clicking noise is particularly weird as you can ‘hear’ it in the back of your head from quite a long range but it is completely undirectional and impossible to work out where it is coming from. Birders amongst you will know what I mean when I say it sounds like the song of a Grasshopper warbler.
After about an hour and-a-half steady paddling I arrived at the mouth of Loch Teacuis. It was everything I hoped it would be. Scenic, remote, interesting. Islands, tall trees, steep hills, loads of wildlife. An otter slunk off, a red deer hind stared at me from behind a bush and a couple of small and fluffy fox cubs went tearing off when I surprised them coming round a mini-headland.
And there was that reeling noise again. But no fish farm this time, it was a singing grasshopper warbler!
Quite a tidal flow in the narrow neck half way down the loch, and then it opens out to a lagoon in which I was surprised to see a couple of boats moored. And a few houses on the shore.
I stopped for a tea break on Teacuis right at its head. Then back along the western shore, trying not to disturb the large number of harbour seals plus small pups hauled out on the islands adjacent to Carna.
I stopped to watch a pair of otters fishing in the strong tidal current at the neck of the loch, and a school of porpoises, and then retraced my route along the south shore back to Salen. I didn’t fancy the north shore as it is followed by a main road. Good move as I saw three more otters.
25 mile paddle, surely one of the best in Scotland in terms of variety, remoteness, and wildlife.
Back on Sea Canter we stopped overnight at Loch Drumbuie then sailed to Dunstaffnage near Oban the next day.
I paddled round the island of Kerrera before our very final two days exploring the Ross of Mull.
The kayaking near the south-western tip of Mull is exceptional. If it was in south-western England it would be rated as the number one kayaking destination and be crawling with idiots in sit-on-tops, like me.
It’s got everything, and was certainly looking at its best as it was calm and sunny. So the white sand beaches were perfect. A very complex coastline with twists and turns and islets and a handful of beaches at the neck of craggy inlets. Lots of seals too. Golden Eagles soaring over the tops of the hills.
Then it was back to Oban, and that was it.
785 miles paddled.Plus a further 500 or so miles sailed/motored on Sea Canter.55 otters, 4 pine martens, 2 mink (all from kayak), 6 minke whales(all from yacht…still havn’t seen a whale from kayak…), 30 lots of porpoises, 10 sea eagles, 6 golden eagles, 2 basking sharks. One St.Kilda wren. And a trout and a pollack. And one Stealth Bomber.
A few key bits of kit have ensured a successful, and enjoyable trip:
1. A decent tent. I took a Vango Tempest 300. A fairly rugged D of E type tent and big enough to move around in. Easy pitching. No broken poles.
2. A good cooker/water heater. My Jetboil was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. Ultra quick in any wind condition. Economic on gas. I took far too much gas,in fact had enough for another two months camping.
3. A good boat. Controversial one this, I suspect. Everyone thinks they have the best kayak. But I would consider my Cobra Expedition sit-on-top (SOT) hard to beat. Long.Narrow.Fast.Huge hatches (yeah, OK, they leak a bit).And the ease of use of a sit-on-top. Just hop on and go.
Plenty of opportunity to move around if you get a sore butt.
And of course hugely safe. If you have a spill you just climb back on. Or do you? In the same way as I would suspect that a average paddler in a conventional sea kayak could not roll up if they get tipped over in a big sea (and if they did,they would be subject to exactly the same conditions that just tipped them over,so they would probably go over again), I would worry that I may not be able to get back on my SOT. It’s fine if it’s flat, but conditions bad enough to result in a capsize (surf excluded)would be pretty nasty anyway.
However at least I would have the chance of a simple re-entry and not be struggling with a swamped kayak, pumping it out etc.
The sit-on-top/sit-in kayak (SINK) debate is potentially very long. I just like to keep things ultra simple. Simplicity means more time on the water and less time faffing about. Float it out onto the water.Sit on and go. No struggling with a spray deck on the beach and then scrunching across the stones it into the sea.
Yes OK you need a decent drysuit for all season SOT paddling, but apart from that, clutter is a minimum.
Considering my expedition round the west of Scotland as a whole, there were three or four occasions when I was concerned about my safety because of the sea state. Probably unnecessarily so, as I never came close to capsize. But paddling round the ‘dark side’ of St. Kilda I would have been in a state of severe anxiety if I was in a SINK. The unsinkable, unswampable feature of SOTs with their drainage holes provide a feeling of security.
I suppose it boils down to enjoyment. My expedition was probably 80% enjoyment, 20% worry. If I was in a SINK that would have been 50%/50%.
I could go on,and on, and be a bit of a bore about the SOT advantages. Maybe it’s because they are so sneered at by most SINK sea kayakers.
Just one more thing. How many times have I ventured out onto the water on a foul day on a SOT when if I only had a SINK it would have stayed in the garage. A lot.
Most disastrous bit of kit was my ghastly trainers I bought from our local factory shop for a fiver. Unbelievably cheap, unbelievably plasticky, and unbelievably smelly. like the worst teenagers socks. The combination of permanently damp feet and overwhelming stench was a recipe for nausea, but I think it helped keep the midges away.
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