Early May often brings some great weather for outdoor activities - and May 2017 didn't disappoint. Douglas and I had been carefully watching as a ridge of high pressure built over Scotland. The question was....how far would it extend and where would give the best conditions for a multi-day trip?
As usual we had several trips in mind, it was just a case of which would be best. As the forecasts increased in confidence, we started to plan in some detail for a trip around the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna) - the best conditions were forecast for the north of Scotland's west coast. We were delighted that Maurice, David and Sam were able to make the trip too. We planned to set out from Mallaig on Sunday 7th May, returning on Thursday 11th May.
So what on earth were we doing loading kayaks at Carsaig Bay in Argyll on Sunday morning- some 120 km south of Mallaig ?!
Well, 24 hours prior to setting out, the forecast position of the ridge of high pressure had altered subtly. The revised forecasts indicated strengthening winds around the top of the "high" in the northwest, with much lighter winds and sunshine now forecast further south. After a re-evaluation we changed our plan for a trip to the islands of Jura and Colonsay.
This area is well known for remote coasts and very fast tidal streams - I was very grateful that Douglas was able to undertake the revised tidal planning as I was in the middle of a journey home from the south of England when we agreed the new plan. Jura had made a lasting impression on me during a previous trip and I was very keen to visit Colonsay - so despite a busy evening of packing and another long drive to Carsaig on Sunday morning, I simply couldn't wait to get going!
We packed our boats for a five day trip in very warm sunshine under brilliant blue skies - there was hardly a breath of wind. Our flexibility in changing seemed to have worked out- and this was later confirmed when we heard from one friend who experienced very windy conditions in the Small Isles and another who was on a club meet in the far northwest in cold NE'ly winds of F5 which effectively restricted their outings to the sea lochs rather than the open coast.
You'll be able to follow our journey to Jura, Oronsay and Colonsay in "Sea Kayak Stereovision" by reading Douglas' blog, starting here.... :o)
Our trip would involve four significant crossings - the first of which was right at the outset, heading over from Carsaig to the east coast of Jura. Our boats were well laden with supplies and kit, and each of us carried a trolley on the back deck.
A tiny breeze soon died away and we paddled out into the Sound of Jura on a mirror sea reflecting the intense blue of a Spring sky - sea kayaking heaven!
Tidal streams in this part of the Sound reach up to 3.5 knots (7km/h) so any crossing needs to take account of this. As it happened, our crossing would neatly span the turn of the tidal stream, so we were able to aim straight for our destination and allow the tide to move us first one way then the other, pretty much cancelling out the drift.
We reached Tarbert Bay on Jura's east coast at mid afternoon, just after high water. The last time Douglas and I had been in this bay it had collected a deep barrier of rotting weed which had decayed to a stinking slime. We approached with trepidation, but to our relief the beach was clean sand. The place name "Tarbert" is quite common on the west coast of Scotland and indicates a narrow neck of land between tow bodies of water. It derives from Old Norse and means "draw boat" - literally a place where longboats could be pulled overland.
In the hot afternoon sun, our portage promised to be hard work. We helped each other lift the kayaks onto their trolleys and set out.....
...on the track which leads across the island of Jura. Our boats were at the heaviest they'd be for the whole trip - packed with food and water (plus sports recovery drinks) so the climb up to the summit of the portage was taken at a steady pace; our ages ranged from late twenties to mid-seventies, and we were in no particular rush. At the top - 40 metres above sea level - there was a glimpse ahead to West Loch Tarbert.
The descent was a little easier, but the track is everywhere rough and stony - it's a notorious test for sea kayak trolleys. Happily all survived - most of us were using the KCS Expedition trolley which has been proved across this portage before. A shoulder strap definitely helps on these longer portages, whether a bespoke item or improvised with a strap and sling/Karabiner. Having now done this portage both ways - it seems to me that the east-west direction is slightly less strenuous as the ascent isn't as steep. It may only be 1.6Km with 40 metres of ascent - but it's a fair pull!
We got back onto the water at 1715 with three hours until sunset. The ebb tide was now pouring out of the inner part of West Loch Tarbert and a breeze had started up, both of which would assist us. If our plan to circumnavigate Colonsay was to be realised, we needed to put ourselves in the best possible position to cross from Jura the following morning....we still had some distance to go before camp.