Monday, 24 July 2017

Jura Circumnavigation Day 2 Cont... - Tarbert Bay to Craighouse

Having left Tarbert Bay feeling refreshed we continued our journey south west with the ebbing tide along Juras east coast.  Sticking with plan A  our aim is to make it to Craighouse, Juras main settlement and home of the Jura Distillery.
The east coast of Jura is mainly low lying forestry and grassland.  Dominating the view for..well the entire trip, are the Paps of Jura.
The Paps of Jura consist of three conical quartzite mountains rising to 2575 feet.  The word 'pap' originates from the Old Norse word meaning 'breast'.
Photo by Simon Ford - Myself and Chris - The Paps (tits) Of Jura 
The hope is to get up onto the Paps tomorrow evening when we plan to camp at Loch Tarbert.
We take a brief refuge with the birds after being caught by unexpected localised downdrafts coming down off the mountains.
Moving on however with barely a clouds in the sky the winds dissipate.
Myself and Jules leave the remainder of the group briefly to bag another shipping Buoy - Nine Foot Rock, but also out here there may be more chance of spotting some sea life.
To the south eastern horizon stand the mountains of the Isle of Arran, another one for the bucket list, maybe next year.
Approaching the Small Isles just off Craighouse we are once again mobbed by Arctic Turns as well as a few common seals. 

Drifting into Craighouse Bay there's actually a lot more going on here than I imagined.  The shoreline is dominated by the white buildings of the Jura Distillery and neighbouring Jura Hotel.
Feeling quite shattered having been up since 4:30am, we stretch out on the grass, get the kettle on and make ourselves some lunch.  Our plan A would see us camp here and spend a few hours looking around the small settlement, maybe even pop in the distillery for a tour.  However...
Simon got talking to a local fisherman as we landed who's words were.."have you seen the forecast for Wednesday?"..."and Thursday...and Friday?".   We check a number of forecast sites while we have a little signal.  There be a storm coming and it's here to stay a while.  Time for plan B...

Jura Circumnavigation Day 2 - Crossing the Sound of Jura

Lying in my sleeping bag, it's the end of July but it's cold this far north as the rising sun lights up the clear sky rousing me early from my slumber.  I manage to catch a few more minutes before Simons alarm sounds a few feet away, it's 0430am.  Four hours ago we were solving the worlds problems with a few beers on the beach...I should have gone to bed early.

Breaking out of the fly sheet the cold air awakens my senses.  The waters velvet smooth apart from a bit of movement on a bed of seaweed close to shore.  A seagull stands patiently next to it..wait is that an otter.  My eyes haven't yet adjusted to the morning twilight.  I scramble for my camera, where is it??? my boats all packed up.  Stumbling down to the beach we notice there's another, maybe 20ft away, possible a youngster.  It's happily chewing on a jellyfish and not at all bothered by our presence.  Well this doesn't happen very often so I see how close I can get...  
Already I'm regretting not packing my SLR camera.  It sits there a while searching between the rocks before scurrying off into the undergrowth.  What a great start to the day. 
Time to get a shift on.  I shovel down the first of my rations, pre-packed porridge a handful of raisins and a coffee to wash it down and begin packing away the tent.  Seal the hatches, don my wet gear and I'm ready to go.  Just past 6am, spot on timing.  Lowing the boat onto the water, I'm not even sure if this things going to float with the weight on it.
Final picture, Jura here we come.
The flow on the sound of Jura flows at about 3.5 knots at springs (it was springs) and according to our calculations the ebb flow should have kicked off about an hour ago.
Out on the sound the water was glassy smooth, it doesn't get any better than this.
In all honestly we didn't really know exactly where we would end up or what our exact heading was.  Our aim was to simply make it across to Jura on a rough WSW heading, hopefully somewhere near Tarbert Bay, a small inlet on the far side. Martin was in control of our GPS, I believe we averaging about 10km per hr with very, very little effort.  We were enjoying the conditions, hoping for some disturbance in the silky water signaling a pod of cetaceans of some sort or another.

As we approached the shore there was a stiff breeze blowing over the Isle.  We had arrived at Tarbert Bay in about 2 hours and were looking for somewhere out of the wind to take our first break on the Isle of Jura.
We lazed in the sun for a while, there was no rush.  This was important for me.  I have done my 24 circumnavigations and long open crossings.  This was about exploring the island in its every detail, relaxing and enjoying the company I was with.  We were well aware the forecast for Wednesday (today was Monday) was likely going to mean a day spent ashore.  At the last check Thursday and Friday were also looking like a no-go but that was changing all the time.  For now we would stick with the plan and continue on to Craighouse, home of the Jura Distillery...

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Jura Circumnavigation Day 1 - Testing The Tides of the Sound of Jura

I have been spending the last few months preparing for a circumnavigation of the Isle of Jura and the day had finally arrived.  Joining me were Simon, Chris, Jules and Martin.  The trip came about simply by posting an open invitation on social media.  We allowed ourselves a week to complete the trip and the pre-trip weather forecast looked very promising however likely to change.  
The heavens opened as we crossed the border into Scotland however soon brightened up...

We stopped off on the way at Inveraray.  Here the Vital Spark, the fictional Clyde puffer.
A man down (Chris was traveling up the following day) we quickly pitched the tents at Tayvallich campsite and settled in the Tayvallich Inn on the shores of Loch Sween for an evening meal and a few pints.  

At kicking out time we stumbled up the mile long lane to Carsaig Bay, eager to get our first glimpses of Jura set against a starry sky.  We settled into our tents only to be woken by some inconsiderate campers who loudly chatted and played guitar until 3:30am.  We all agreed to a wild camp at Carsaig Bay the following night.   
We pondered over a few options for todays paddle and decided on a short paddle out from Carsaig Bay to test the power of the tides of the Sound of Jura.  We could then use the afternoon to prepare the boats and kit for the mornings expedition.
Setting out from the confines of Carsaig bay the entirety of Jura came into view with the Paps of Jura at its southern extremity.
Weaving between the small islands hugging the coast there was plenty of wildlife to see...

Approaching lunch we looked for a place to land.  Surprised by the amount of plastic and netting that littered the beach I combed the beach looking for anything that might catch my eye.  I found a large lower jaw protruding from the sand and seaweed assuming it to be a cow as is usually the case.  Levering the skull with a discarded broom handled I was quite shocked when 3ft of deer antler sprung from the sand.
Red deer outnumber people 30 to 1 on the Isle of Jura so I was hoping I might find an odd antler washed up on a beach, but to hit the jackpot on the first outing there was no way I was leaving it behind.
Heading back between the flow and the eddies a flock of Artic Turns were clearly unimpressed by our presence on the water.  Fascinating birds swarming in around our boats nattering and screeching as they went by within a few feet at times.
Back at Carsaig bay the deer skull attracted a lot of attention from passers by.
We settled for another night at the inn on the basis that it might be our last good meal for a week, Chris managed to join us after his long drive up.
We lit a small fire with what wood we could scavenge from the beach and watched the sun set over the silhouette of Jura.  It wasn't until gone 12 o'clock did we retreat to our tents, excited by the prospect of what tomorrow might bring.  Alarms set for 04:30 it was going to be an early start...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

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Sunday, 2 April 2017

Ramsey Island

I haven't paddled since the end of January for a number of reasons and with light winds forecast for the weekend I was eager to get on the water again.  Pembrokeshire was the obvious choice and it was decided to paddle around Ramsey Island.

The almost spring tides were flowing north for most of the day until around 2pm so we launched from Porth Clais hoping the weather window would allow us a full circumnavigation.  There were eight of us in total, Kay, Paul, Sean, Chris, Patrick, Peter and Eurion.
The winds have been strong in previous days so it was no surprise the conditions were choppier than what you would expect for a force 1-2 forecast.  There was a sizable swell rolling in from the south west.
Crossing Ramsey sound myself and Sean took a more direct route and waited for the others in the lee of Ynys Bery at the Midland Gap.
With the tide running at about full flow and the swell the conditions through the Midland Gap didn't look favourable so it was agreed to continue up the east side of the island through Ramsey Sound.  We can alway come down the west side when the tide turns later in the day.
No further were we on our way we were called back for a faff meeting.
Anyway faff over and I'm happy to be on our way.  Photo by Evans.
Back underway we head for the Bitches.  Not up to much, a lot of flow and a bit messy.

We play a little while in the flow, watch as Eurion decides to paddling in backwards/sideways, then head for the landing beach.
The tide was to high to land on Ramsey so we decided we can land near Whitesands at a small bay called Porthselau.
The tidal flow near horse rock allowed for some glassy wave fun.

We pulled up on the golden sands some more gracefully than others...
Peter and Chris rides in on some bigger sets were entertaining.

Sean cooked up a few bacon sarnies.
Sean and North Bishop
Back on the water we skimmed out past the rocky outcrop of Gwahan and down onto the west side of the island with the Bishops and Clerks out on our far right.
The conditions were a little choppy, especially around major headlands.
Guillemots lining the cliffs were disturbed by one of the tourist boats and took to the air in their hundreds circling overhead.

The conditions on the west side rarely allow time to linger and explore so it wasn't long before we were shooting back through Midland Gap and back into the shelter of Ramsey Sound.

We then retraced our earlier steps back up to the Bitches which were now flowing in the opposite direction.

In a eddy behind one of the Bitches a curious young seal came to check us out, probably hasn't seen many kayaks before.

We eddy hopped our way back across the sound and back to Porth Clais which always seems to take forever.

It was back to our usual retreat, The Bishops, for a pint and a bowl of chips.  Another great day on the water making the most of some fantastic warm spring weather.