Thursday, 5 May 2011

An entertaining crossing to Bute

Moving out toward the tip of Ardlamont Point, the island of Bute became visible beyond.  The wind was blowing directly from the island, funnelled through the lowest part of Bute across Ettrick Bay where I hoped to land.  I took a final photo, battened myself down and headed out.

The wind, waves and some wind against tide along and just beyond the point gave some of the most challenging conditions I have ever paddled in.  A short, vicious swell was being punched up as the water shoaled approaching the point itself, and was combining with an incoming swell from the south east.  The boat was pitching and slamming wildly, sheets of spray and water being hurled back across me.  The swells were head height or higher, tumbling and breaking from different directions. This demanded absolute concentration - one small mistake here would be punished instantly. 

I was barely making progress around the point, but found myself actually quite enjoying the ride.  At worst, I could hold the boat head into the the sea and be blown back around the point if I needed to.  Of course as I gradually won clear and into the Sound of Bute, this option wasn't available; being blown backwards would have seen me on the lee shore.  Not good.  Equally, although I could cope with the sea from ahead, going down-sea in this would have been much more difficult.

Fortunately once clear of the point the confusion of different swells settled into a steady direction, and though still large, steep and short period was much more predictable and manageable.  I settled down for the battle, a simple enough game of physical and mental endurance against a relentless wind.  The boat was riding well over the sea, and more than once I was glad that it was loaded with camping kit as more than half of the fore end hung up over a particularly nasty swell; being flipped backwards was not a prospect I relished!

Eventually I won into the wide arms of Ettrick Bay and gradually the swell had receded as it had less fetch to kick up, but if anything the wind strength was higher here as it barrelled across Bute.  A quick re-evaluation of transits and I decided to head slightly north to the beach at Kildavanan, which forms the northern arm of the bay.  Here I'd get more shelter and the paddle wasn't directly against the wind.

I reached Kildavanan, tired but elated after an entertaining crossing.  The 4 kilometers had taken almost three hours of unrelenting effort.  I was thickly encrusted with salt from the spray and quite hungry! 

Journey's end at Kildavanan with Arran beyond.  The wind still flattening the water in Ettrick Bay, but as ever it didn't look as imposing from the beach.....

I was picked up at Kildavanan - it helps having relatives on the island!

This is a really good trip with variety and wildlife.  In the more usual westerly airflow it would make sense to start at Colintraive and finish in upper Loch Fyne.  The weather for my trip was a complete contrast to that experienced by Douglas Wilcox and friends on their trip in the same area, this variety of conditions and light is surely one of the attractions of sea kayaking in Scotland.

The distances were 36 kilometers on day 1 and 25 on Day 2; add about 20 kilometers to complete the journey through the Kyles.

Four Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50,000 maps are required for the trip:

Sheet 56 Loch Lomond & inverary
Sheet 55 Lochgilphead & Loch Awe
Sheet 62 North Kintyre & Tarbert
Sheet 63 Firth of Clyde Area

In upper Loch Fyne HW is +0011 Greenock. 
Tidal stream at the narrows runs at 1Kt Springs, but 2Kts close to the end of An Oitir
Tidal streams in lower Loch fyne are not significant.

Tidal streams enter both the East and West Kyles of Bute on the flood, meeting some way east of the Burnt Islands.  Streams may reach up to 3kts at Springs


  1. Hi Ian, it looks like two different places! Tony had a bit of an epic round the Weee Cumbrae on the Friday of the Royal Wedding.

    I look forward to paddling with you in June!!


  2. Wow! This was going to be my trip for the May Day weekend but in the event I ended up taking my very elderley parents for a sedate long-promised weekend break on the Solway coast. Think I chose right on this occasion, for a change...!

  3. Hi Douglas & Vince,

    It was certainly windy, probably a notch above the forecast, but a really good trip as a first overnighter for a while. It's an area I'll paddle again soon as there are a number of routes and possibilities in a relatively small area.

    Looking forward to June Douglas!