Sunday, 22 March 2015

Kayaking from the Black Isle

On Sunday 15 March I pitched up at Black Isle Berries Bunkhouse at Tore just north of Inverness from where I was planning to get in 4 days of 1 to 1 Sea Kayaking coaching from Zoe Newsam ( see web link below ). Thinking I was arriving at a run of the mill bunkhouse I was pleasantly surprised to find a state of the art self catering hotel rather than a bunkhouse.

Within a few minutes of arriving I met the 'Gentlemen Foresters' - Dai Roberts from Wales and Dave Smythe from Northern Ireland. Dai and Dave had been staying here for a few days whilst working for the Forestry Commission carrying out survey work. It was a great pleasure to meet these 2 fine gents who would be at the Bunkhouse throughout my stay. Throughout the week we would have a great craic over a few beers (though we were usually in bed by 9pm!) and Dai's cooking would be outstanding. Dai was to prove to have fantastic comic timing in telling jokes whilst Dave proved to be a DJ of some talent. All 3 of us had some great laughs over the next few nights.

Monday morning dawned still, cool and overcast and I met up with Zoe at 0900 for a chat over the aims for the week. Basically my aims were to stay dry and build confidence in the boat so that I would feel I could join a club without holding back other paddlers. So for day 1 Zoe suggested a trip to Loch Achilty - a small Loch surrounded by trees and containing a Crannog. Here we spent all day with a flat calm Loch throughout the morning that reflected the surrounding trees and sky perfectly. Zoe proved to be a patient and extremely effective coach and we covered a huge range of work - such that my brain was aching by the end of the day!

On Loch Achilty (copyright Zoe Newsam)

Day 1 Learnings:

Posture - forward ; connected Feet; Thighs; Bum

Low Brace - Box - practice

In Water - - chill ; 'feel the motion of the ocean'

Feet on Pedals and Pushing ; Straight Arms (beach ball) and Rotation and slow it down a bit to stay in control; no death grip - left loosey!

Exiting the boat - 1 thing at time

Forward sweep stroke - 12 - 9 ; low top hand ; wide lever

Edging No 1 Edge No 2 Edge sitting on secondary stability; Left leg for left turn right up for right turn

Draw Stroke - side ways; Stack Hands over the outside top hand still; Move along length of boat to turn.

At the end of the practical session , just as we were packing the Kayaks away I heard a shout form a passing 4x4 - 'Alan!' - the gentlemen foresters had been no more than a kilometre away all day! and had just been passing us on the way back to the bunkhouse. Zoe and I arrived back at the bunkhouse at around 1600 to review the learnings from the day and in addition to the practical work we also covered some tidal plannning - identifying the differences between Primary Ports - Direct Observation and Secondary Port - inferred tidal observation.

Resources reviewed today were:

Easy Tide and Windfinder. Tides are obviously important. It is better to plan to paddle with the tide rather than against it and tidal flow of 2 Kts or more against you, at least as a starter, you are unlikely to make any forward progress. Wind Direction is also important as the kayak will weathercock. Where possible a lee shore will provide shelter from wind and the sea is likely to be less choppy. In the UK a wind from the East can be cold so again look for a lee shore if possible. For a beginner it is easier to paddle into a wind than against but this will slow forward progress.

After 'work' we had a great night in with Dai cooking up a superb dinner of Potato Wedges with garlic and Bacon and fried onions. This was washed down by a few bottles of Old Speckled Hen and a couple of Drams. Conversation flowed with Dave in full flow. A great way to end a great day.


Day 2 - 17 March (St Patrick's Day - important later)

Meeting up at the Bunkhouse again in the morning Zoe went over number of things to think about when Sea Kayaking -Resources - DVDs - 'Sea Kayak Safety' Olly Sanders

Books - Sea Kayak Handling Doug Scott has videos for each stroke; Sea Kayak Navigation Franco Ferrero

North and East Coast of Scotland Doug Cooper by Pesda Press

Tides planning information is available from Charts; Tidal Stream Atlas; Pilot books plus Guidebooks

On your map use Arrow for Directions and SP rate you can plan ahead showing rates and then on the day of paddling add in the actual times based on that day's tides; Neep Rate = 1/2 SP rate; 7 day cycle so estimate in between

Rule of thirds is applied to the 6 hour tidal cycle Cycle see photo


We parked up at Fortrose Harbour and launched from next to the slipway into a glass calm sea. Today Route was Fortrose to Chanonry Point then across via Ferry Glide (aiming at Ardersier to let the tide carry us North to Fort George) to Fort George where we ate lunch under the walls of the fort. After lunch we returned aiming towards Rosemarkie. Although a slight wind would get up in the afternoon, this is was to be as calm a sea as its possible to get. It was a great pleasure at the end of the day as we were packing the kit away to find that, purely by chance, we had parked our cars next to a boat owned by Richard Jenner - my former Station Commander in the 1990s! Richard was doing some work on his 23ft Yacht 'Roundel' and I must say he looked the picture of contendedness. Is was great to have the chance to chat to him in the warm sunshine so untypical for this time of year.

Launching from Fortrose into a Glass Sea

Zoe with Fort George in the background


Me with Paddle To Low! (Copyright Zoe Newsam)

Key Lessons from the day - Chill Exercises before launch - Side to Side and Forward Lean.

Straight Arms use Torso for Stroke. (see above) Watch Power face of Blade to plant correctly.

Wind effect and Skeg use . Wind will push the rear of the boat so consider skeg but skeg will then hanper turning

Reminder turning strokes - paddle far forward; top hand low and lever.

Don't lean back

Spot tide flow using clues - sea weed under water and landmarks

Sideways Draw Stroke - Pull in and pause before moving away until more competent - Blade Awareness

As I mentioned above today was St paddys day which gave Dave the excuse to get in a few cans of Guinness and insist that I helped him to finish them. Gladly I was able to assist whilst Dai cooked up an excellent feast of Bangers and Mash, though not your normal Bangers - these were a mix of premium Cumberland and Chilli Bangers with roasted garlic - or Mash - this was Crushed Garlic Potatoes. Added to this was Beans and Onion Gravy. A fine feast indee that certainly left no room for pudding.

Day 3 Rosemarkie to Cromarty 18 March

Zoe had set me the task of doing the Tidal Planning for today's trip. It turns out that I overestimated the tidal flow (though I did get the directional timing correct) as I interpolated the flows for Cromarty and Chanonry Point from the Pilot as it had no textual information. Zoe pointed out that the lack of text actually meant that it was likely that the flow would be unremarkable and given that today we would be in a bigger expanse of sea we could expect a slower flow except for when we rounded the headland towards Cromarty where we would encounter the 1kt outgoing tidal flow.

We drove to Rosemarkie to drop off the Kayaks and then drove up to Cromarty where Zoe parked her Bongo which we would use to collect the Kayaks, and my car, at the end of the day's paddling. I then drove back to Rosemarkie where we launched from the beach. Zoe talked me through beach launches through breaking waves (small today but the theory is the same regardless of breaker size) . The trick is to watch the waves as they come in sets and once you know how the waves are set you pick the least strong to launch into. When you launch you need to keep the bow perpendicular to the waves.
18 March - Still trying to keep arms straight (Copyright Zoe Newsam)
Our route took us along the coast and Zoe pointed out how little we were being moved by the tide (contrary to my calculations) and also the effect of the landscape on the water in creating eddies. We stopped for lunch at an old Salmon Fishers Bothie near Eathie Mains. The bothie was in good condition and included a small display about Hugh Miller the famoust 18th Century geologist from Cromarty who had discovered fossils along this coast that led him to challenge then accepted 6000 yr age of the Earth (apparently still believed by some loonies)
Lunch Stop
After lunch the sea got a little rougher as we neared the headland that we need to turn to get into Cromarty. With a 1kt tide now agianst us, Zoe told me to stay close to the shore where we found very little tidal flow against us. I noticed quite a swell from the sea (though no chop) as we rounded the headland that eased as we came inshore. The beach at Cromarty was very shallow and we eventually grounded on a Mussel bed to finish a great day's paddling.
Homework for the night was to plan tomorrow's trip to Bowfiddle Rock near Cullen and to dry practice my forward paddling - keeping arms straight!
Tonight would be my last night with the Gentlemen Foresters and to mark the occasion Dave played a requests session of music including his own favourite - Elvis - whilst we shifted between Old Speckled Hen and Guinness. As Dave and I drank beer, Dai had a glass of red wine and slaved over a not so hot stove (these modern cookers have far too many controls!) to create an excellent fish pie from simple ingredients. Dai likes cooking monumental portions and had brought 2 packs of frozen fish for fish pie from Tesco which would feed 8 people - nevertheless we 3 would demolish the whole meal! Dai did have to borrow a large pie dish from Lyn but she was happy to oblige. The meal, as usual was outstanding and was followed by a joke telling session par excellance.

Fish pie/music by Dave

Day 4 - 19 March Bow Fiddle rock

I was up early this morning in order to say cheerio to my new mates Dave and Dai, having resolved to visit them each in ZV when she has a new engine. Dai had even cooked me a bacon breakfast! It had been a great pleasure to meet, chat and socialise with these 2 great fellows. I had had a great holiday kayaking but it was also made by 4 great evenings spending time with the 'Gentlemen Forresters'. I shall miss them.

Bow fiddle rock is near Cullen so Zoe and I resolved to meet in the car park of Elgin's Tesco at 1000. Here we had a coffee and Zoe showed me how to use the Tidal Stream Atlas in the back of the pilot to work out the expected tides for the day. From Elgin we drove to the start of our paddle a small car park near Findochty. Today we would paddle out and back from here to Cullen via Bow Fiddle Rock.

On launching I was somewhat unsettled at 1st by the chop (not great but the most we had all week) and tailwind and really struggled to point the kayak in the right direction. With encouragement and assistance form Zoe however I was under control after about 15 minutes and we were on our way rock hopping along the coast. Zoe reminded me on the key points of the forward sweep stroke - low top hand / 12 - 9 / turn the body - and the need to keep good posture. We made good progress and on the way into Cullen I paddled through the Bow Fiddle Rock.

Rockhopping on the way to Cullen (copyright Zoe Newsam)

Lunch was taken at Cullen beach, where Zoe also briefed me on beach landings in surf. Wait for the waves to pass, paddle back if necessary. Once fuel tanks were replenished it was back through Bow Fiddle Rock for the 2nd time and then into wind (which was an easier direction to maintain control though slower) back to Findochty, rock hopping as we went. At one point I went through a gap that proved too shallow to pass so required reversing strokes.

Going through Bow Fiddle Rock (copyright Zoe Newsam)

We finished the day and the excellent week's holiday at 1530 as we arrived back at the starting point. I had great fun and had stayed dry all week. Zoe proved an excellent teacher and I am already missing being on the water!

Links: - for Kayaking or Hill guiding I can heartily recommend Zoe as a patient, knowledgeable guide and instructor. As I write this Zoe is on a circumnavigation of Scotland (raising money for Scottish Mountain Rescue) to follow her progress on her blog or donate via her Justgiving page to Scottish Mountain Rescue her website provides the necessary links - this is Dave's website. If you want a traditional barn built then

either Dave or Dai arre worth looking up - Excellent facility - give it a go