I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn’t know how lost I was
Until I found……
It’s intriguing how some text sometimes sounds so appropriate with the experience you have. After the very first day at sea, on our own, it felt like the first bit of the lyrics of this Madonna song. I was touched, to the point of being emotional by the awe and beauty of the scenery. I also felt relieved, although I was quite well prepared for the navigation, I still didn’t know what to expect. But at the end of the day, it all came together, like I found my passion.
Although fanatically*, we kayaked for just under two years now. The sea trips we made were visits across the Wadden, to the islands north of the Netherlands. Most of them, however, were guided by others. In the spring I had carefully introduced our club instructors to the idea that we were going to paddle in Scotland and they were not surprised or worried.
Starting this holiday in the Great Glen looked like the safe option, only to discover that Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy provide very little shelter from wind and waves. Also, the Caledonian Canal was quite hard to paddle. You are not allowed into the locks with your kayak, so there’s a lot of portage with heavy boats. Fed up with the locks we were eager to start on our sea trip and did quit the Caledonian Canal at the Gairlochy Top Lock.
So after a top-up of supplies in Fort William, we pack the boats near Strontian at the “Ceann Loch” (meaning head of the Loch) of Loch Sunart. This is our very “own” first trip on tidal water and we are excited. I have studied the Yachtsman’s Pilot to the Isle of Mull (Imray, Martin Lawrence) to the last letter.
The trip along the shores of Loch Sunart is pleasant. The narrow channel at Eilean Mor creates some interesting currents on the ebb tide. We also encounter our first seals, who are popping the curious noses out of the water when we pass. After the lunch and pushed along by the flood, we dodge the submerged rocks at Coal Charna on the east side of Carna. The eddies and whirlpools draw the rocks out on the water’s surface. In most cases, we could also pass over them in our kayaks but we are careful, courtesy of the current we have 2 knots of extra speed.
We enter Loch Teacuis for a good exploration. The flood drives us to the head of the loch. Returning to the direction of Carna is more of a challenge. Halfway, at a narrow section, there is a threshold of water, with the water level on the outside of the loch clearly higher. We need to push hard to get out of southern part of Loch Teacuis. At Eilean Chulaig we are out again and there is time to relax. The scenery all around us is breathtaking; the sun shines on the rugged wilderness, cute little seal pups with lovable faces surround us on the water, on the island fluffy Herring gull chicks waddle through the purple heather. Touched by the awe of the moment and relieved by the belief that we will be capable to successfully complete the trip, I am overwhelmed by emotion and it’s hard to hold back a tear that rolls over my cheek. All the training, all the preparation and all the reading about overfalls and submerged rocks, had built up into an apprehension and excitement. But now I could let it go, here in this moment of beauty and wonder. We found something that we really loved doing.
We leave Eilean nan Gabhar and start our approach to Carna, the island where we will sleep. The pilot states for this area; “The passages either side of Carna are among the trickiest bits of rock-dodging anywhere on the west coast, and there is still some doubt about the position of some of the rocks. In both passages, the tidal stream runs at 2 1/2 knots spring”. Still, we meet a man standing on the bow of his quarter million motor yacht. He shouts at us in despair “Do you have any idea what the safe passage is here?”. I can only tell him, that this is not the best place to be with a boat like his and that he should take a kayak or read his pilot.
While I bag my first Scottish Island, I think to myself; do not be afraid to go, the rewards are great. But practice your kayak skills and for the navigation bit; study like a nerd, from a book if that is all you have. You always can cut down on the information bit by bit, when you observe the system and get to know it more and more.
*By fanatically, I mean, kayaking twice a week and with a lot of courses and larger trips. Our training area is the Rhine river where large barges and the current make unpredictable waves and eddies. We had about 4000 km under the belt before we left for Scotland. As someone who is instructing people in the art of kayaking myself now, I can see that it’s difficult to reach a level where it’s comfortable to do your own trips out at sea, within two years. Besides the ‘on the water’ experience, I also studied a lot about navigation and the sea. I would suggest that you always consult an instructor or experienced kayaker before you set out and conquer the sea.