Monday, 1 June 2009

Cape Wrath

now that I have a signal:

We were up just after 6am to be greeted by another sunny day with F3 SE winds. The surf in the bay though was still running at4-5'. There was no rush to be off though as we'd concluded that a 10.30am start was what was required to get us around the Cape.

Instead we used the time for a spot of Shetland portaging. Having spent a bit of time watching the break we'd concluded that the chances of getting past it in fully laden boats without a soaking were slim. There was however a small bay just next door that wasn't catching any swell which we had decided against using the previous evening due to its rocky nature; however on closer inspection an area of it had been cleared at some point, no doubt for a fishing boat. Half an hours hard labour saw the boats successfully relocated and by 10.30am we were afloat.

Having checked in with Stornoway Coastguard for the last time we headed N up the coast.

The first bit of excitement came as we squeezed round the back of Eilean an Roin Mor where the N going tide was already moving a pace into a heavy swell.

From there up to Am Buachaille was pretty bouncy with a 2-3m ground swell creating a lot of clapotis. However by now the wind had dropped to a F2, but at the same time the sun disappeared.

Once past The Shepherd we moved further out to reduce the effects of the swell. Having passed the two main tidal pinch points in the early stages of the N going stream we had time to kill before arriving at Cape Wrath so as to be there in the final stages of the E going steam.

Looking into Sandwood Bay it was clear that a landing there should be reserved for emergencies only thanks to the size of the break. Instead we rafted up and allowed ourselves to drift N with the tide admiring the dramatic cliffs of this last section of the West coast and discussing final tactics for the Cape. In the end we concluded, given the size of the swell, that we would be better off keeping out and skirting around the outside of the area of overfalls.

And so to the Cape.

It can only be coincidence that the Norse word for 'turning point' carries such forboding in English. However it is well named in both languages. It is certainly a very serious and commiting section of coast with its combination of tidal streams, exposure to Atlantic swells and lack of landing options, and it is very definitely a turning point.

Our plan worked out and we found ourselves looking along the massive cliffs of the N coast. There was one moment of anxiety when we realised that the tide was pushing us straight towards Eilean Duslik which given the swell was one big turquoise and white cauldron. Definitely not a place we wanted to be so some 'brisk' paddling was put in to ensure that we were swept clear of it.

As we swung East the swell picked up even more, with the big sets running at perhaps 4-5m we reckoned, although it is pretty hard to tell for sure, but at least it was all going in the same direction unlike the leg up to the Cape and the sun was now back with us again.

We had considered stopping at the pier or Kearvaig for a break but given the sea state decided not to try. Instead we pressed on through the MoD firing range and past some of the biggest cliffs either of us had ever seen.

The number of sea birds increased dramatically along this section. Clearly the regular pounding of An Garbh Eliean and surrounding countryside by the MoD has done little to deter them. At one point an entire squadron of Fulmars decided to buzz us, an interesting departure from the usual solo 'bombing' runs with birds coming towards is from all directions..

We made the next tidal 'squeeze' point at Stack Clo Kearvaig with the tidal still working for us, but the final one in the narrows between An Garbh Eilean and the mainland had started to turn by the time we got there and required a bit of extra effort on our part.

Once past An Garbh Eilean the sea state eased a little and eventually we swung round the corner into Balnakeil Bay and clambered ashore, 6 hours and 36km after putting on at Oldshore Mor. The longest either of us had ever spent in a boat in one sitting and not something we'll be rushing to repeat.

Safely off the water for the night we checked in with Aberdeen Coastguard for the first time.

All in all it had been a petty tough day and certainly the most serious, commiting and at times intimidating section of coast that either of us had ever paddled.
Distance travelled today: 36km
Total distance travelled: 273km
Midgee ferrocity: 1/5

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