On the first weekend in March, ten of us met up at Skyak's Lower Breakish home in the Isle of Skye. This get-together was a reunion of the team which made a memorable trip to St Kilda to film part of the "Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown Volume 2" DVD in the summer of 2011.
After a late evening chatting, we had a fairly leisurely start and got on the water at Isleornsay just before lunchtime on the Saturday. Our plan was to paddle through the narrow tidal channel of Kylerhea to Kyleakin. We would have the tide behind us and a push from the fresh southerly wind, which was forecast to markedly increase towards dusk.
As we got on the water, the breeze was already quite strong, the saltire flag on the hotel giving a good indication of direction.
Heading out to the lighthouse on Isleornsay gave us a first view of the open water beyond. It looked very lively. Hats were pulled down and we prepared for the downwind run. Little did we know what a downwind run we were in for!
This picture looking our from the shelter of Isleornsay acorss the Sound of Sleat to the Munro of Beinn Sgritheall (scree mountain) was the last photograph I took for some time. We had a quartering sea and wind on our way towards the mouth of Kylerhea and conditions rapidly started to get interesting.
It was clear that the wind behind was going to be strong, but there was also a wind coming from the mouth of Loch Hourn across the Sound of Sleat. As we moved out into the open water the wave height increased dramatically and conditions went from choppy to rough and the engagement level rapidly accelerated from "interesting" through "exciting" to "exhilarating with a fair degree of buttock clenching"!
Wave crests were racing past beneath the boats, alternately dropping us into troughs and then lifting us up into the wind on the crests. Every few minutes a much larger set of swells rolled past, hurling us forwards. Surfing these wasn't an option for me; I just braced and let them go. Paddlers just a wave away were disappearing from view completely in these bigger sets - it was a wild ride for which the only possible soundtrack would have been "Ride of the Valkyries"!
The conditions demanded absolute concentration; the 12 kilometre run took a little over an hour and a half with the tide and the now rising wind behind us. At the first boulder beach which offered a little shelter, we pulled in to regroup and eat. I was relieved to hear that others had found the conditions challenging - everyone had looked a lot more relaxed and in control than I'd felt!
In the short time we were on the beach, huddled in the shelter of some boulders, the first of a series of large squalls of rain and hail began to sweep past. The wind increased to the point that the boats were starting to lift - it was time to go. The ferocity of these squalls is hinted at in this image: the waves approaching the beach are being blown into the air as they break. We estimated that we now had near-gale conditions. Our plan now consisted of getting to the slip at Kylerhea and running the shuttle back to Isleornsay from there.
We were simply blasted along to Kylerhea. We were sheltered from the swell but the wind had us flying along; the only strokes required were stern rudders and the odd corrective sweep.
All safely on the slipway, we rang Gordon to change the pick up venue and prepared the boats for the shuttle. It had been a wild, wild paddle and although the conditions had taken me past my comfort zone and into the "elastic zone" I wouldn't have missed it for anything.