Dry Suits, Cags, PDFs and Decks

I’ve already written about the boats and blades we’re using. I’ve yet to write a review of our Tennr Nova Superlite Quasar tent. But here I thought I’d write a little about the clothing we have with us.

We’re carrying two on-the-water sets of clothing, almost all of which is by Palm, some of which we bought, some of which we were given. I’ll make that clear at the start so you know exactly the provenance of my comments.

Dry Suits: We each have bought a Palm dry suit that we use when it’s cold, tipping down with rain, or we’re facing rough conditions. When they’re in top condition they work superbly. Liz’s is a women’s Element suit, a replacement for a previous suit that leaked. Mine is a Sidewinder, which I have on loan from Palm, as they couldn’t fix my Stikine suit in time of the trip, after it developed a leak. I cannot fault their customer service, but in our experience their suits can develop a leak after about a year, It’s something I know they’re aware of and addressing.

Cags: For all other conditions we just use a light Palm cag from their Vapour series. They have no fancy seals, indeed, my Freestyle doesn’t even have a zip at the neck, just a long piece of Velcro. For this reason, Liz’s Venture is slightly superior. We use these on the water, around camp in an evening, and when we’re shuttling to get the car. Palm gave us these cags and they’ve completely lived up to our expectations.

PFDs: These were also given to us by Palm. I’d hoped for one of their fancy new designs, but have been completely satisfied with the Hydro Adventure. The big rear pocket holds our PLB in a dry bag on a sling, along with a small flare and other emergency odds and ends. The front two pockets take lots of bars, compass, knife – the usual stuff. They don’t look flash but they do the job well and are not at all restrictive. However, I think we should have bought a smaller size. They fit OK stood up, but ride on-top of the tow-rope belt and gape at the back.

Spraydecks: These Palm Roanoke which we bought and are not particularly impressed. They’re designed to fit waist size 24” to 54” and if you’re on the smaller size (or even if you’re not) there’s a heck of a lot of material to gather in and Velcro tight. All of that material sits around your stomach and gets in the way. Also, part of one of the Velcro tabs has separate from its cover and flaps, so that will be going back to the retailer.

All in all we’re happy with our clothing combination of dry-suit, alternating as needed with light cag and salopettes, these being the only waterproofs we use, on and off the water.

Wellingtons: Oh and we’ve been living in wellies from B&Q.

Time Out

We tried to get around Greenstone Point. The sea and common sense prevented us. So we're lucky to be able to take a time out, nip home to write up all notes, and return in about a week.

But we just heard sad news of death a week ago of Mike of Scottish Paddler Supplies. Both our Nordkapps came from Mike, he was helpful and great fun, and his writing for OP was good. He'll be missed.

Two Lochs Radio

Just done the first interview about a book that's a year away from publication. This is the UKs smallest commercial radio station, serving two and a half thousand people. Community radio at its best. And we've known the presenter Liz Forest, for years having stayed at her B&B in Kinlochewe for a Hogmany many moons ago.

We're in a fabulous part on the country with two more weeks to comoplete this trail. We shouldn't worry too much about the weather.

We drove ahead to Rubha Reidh today. Seriously scary in these conditions. It's 20km by kayak to get there and more before we could land.

We also drove ahead to check out Mellon Udrigle, Aultbea & Laide, places we've been before but didn't study with 'kayak eyes'.

Then we went online and checked the weather. There's agreement the wind will drop tomorrow but disagreement about when it'll build again, and how strong it will become. That's too uncertain for us to wish to attempt Rubha Reidh. I'd ideally want a spell of settled high pressure, not a brief gap between lows.

So the current plan (which might change!) is to skip ahead to Aultbea and try to go to Ullapool in two days. We'll still have to get around Greenstone Point, which might be too much, and crossing to the Summer Isles seems out for now.

All this is actually superb research for me. Creating a trail which has options for bad weather and ensures the reader doesn't feel a 'failure' for not rounding a headland or reaching the Summer Isles, is hugely important. If we'd cruised through here, we might have taken this for granted and the resulting text been blase, to the point of being dangerous. Hopefully, no chance of that now.

Will things go to plan? I'll let you know.

Another Day, Another F8 in Gairloch

We're getting to know this place too well. F8 again but might drop briefly tomorrow. We're checking out how to skip ahead.

And Now a Train

I did not expect researching this book would lead to such extensive practical use of public transport. It's all useful info.

A F8 gale blew up last night. Noisy in the Quasar tent but snug. Unlike our neighbours who were soaked. It's JUNE for pity's sake!

This wind might stay so we're shuttling car from Kyle and can get some photography done up the trail in advance.


Ok, so the photo is fabulous Redpoint beach. Could have stayed there hours.

Marion & Colin now run the campsite at Strath and helped carry our kit from the slipway. The F5-7 seems to be arriving. If it stays, so will we. We have a big headland next and need good weather.

North End of Applecross Peninsular

From Kyle to here is a highlight of this trail. Especially with lunch at Applecross Inn. Big headlands lie ahead, but first we must get to Redpoint and Gairloch.

Gallery - Scottish Kayak Trail, Section 3



Last night's forecast was for even higher winds, up to F8 for two days. In June for goodness!

So we're shuttling again, heading to Mallaig to get the car. Only this time we're not on a bus.

Kyle Akin

Astonishingly (for us) we were on the water and paddling at 5am. The wind died to nothing and, on the north going tide, we made fast progress. Crossing Loch Hourn was easier than Loch Nevis. Hell better than Heaven on this occasion.

We had to wait for the tide in Kyle Rhea. A two hour hike to the brocks in Glenelg was good but doing it in wellies left me with blisters on both heels. Lunch was again to be our main meal of the day.

3.15pm and the tide carried us through Kyle Rhea and to Kyleakin. Tomorrow's forecast is not good and the next 24hours even worse. We're trying to decide what to do.


That damn wind. It seems to have been F4-5 occasionally 6 for ages. The F4-5 we can cope with, the F6 in a beam sea is a little too exciting.

Todays forecast was to drop a little. We spent the morning taking photos in Mallaig and talking to people, the best way to learn about a place.

Discovered the Fisherman's Misson is the best value food in Lochaber. It's a charity, so can't advertise, but everyone from the Small Isles,, heading home, waits for the ferry in the mission cafe.

Sadly we didn't meet the keen kayaker who is one of the local police officers but his colleague advised us on parking.

So we left the harbour and, after dodging Bruce Watt's ferry to Inverie, tried to cut across Loch Nevis. No chance. Breaking beam waves with deep troughs.

So we headed deeper into the Loch and cut across just before the narrows, then made our way up the Knoydart coast. Liz didn't like the look of the white stuff outside the headland and we pulled into a lovely bay for a tea break and to hear the weaether.

It's meant to drop to F3-4. If it does we might move on. In the meantime I put up the tent (which is brilliant! This Super Quasar goes up in seconds) and Liz is doing a beach clean-up while we wait.

We might stay the night. No rush. Except a Mallaig fisherman advised us to be off the water on Sunday. "Bad weather coming" he warned.


That's the problem with taking time off a trail. The longer you're off the trail, the more things crop up to keep you off the trail.

It was the same on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2002. Then we called it the 'town vortex'. Now it's the 'home trap'.

You get into replying to e-mails and all of a sudden you're in the midst of a load of things to do. Sending photos to a council. Dealing with work about a training course for when I return. Answering questions from relatives. None of which are truly urgent, but which we do because we can. And before you know it, a day has evapourated.

Or in this case, 45 minutes logged into an internet cafe in Fort William. I've been banished to here while Liz does a food resupply for the next section. Section three of the Scottish Kayak Trail is the shortest and I recommend it's eithe tagged onto Section 2 or, as we hope to do, Section 4. (Route maps).

So... will we escape the vortex tomorrow?

Day out

On 10th bus in 2wks. Coming back from Glasgow where I was sorting our house loan and taking my great video camera in for repair. It broke yesterday, as did my phone. This is a new one. If weather good will get back on water tomorrow or wed.

Section 2 - done (with a gap)

So we skipped Ardnamurchan, launched in Loch Moidart and just arrived in Mallaig.

Boats and Blades

With a couple of weeks paddling we're forming fairly clear thoughts, good and bad, about the kit we've slected for this trip. I'll write about the tent and clothing later. First the kayaks and paddles.

P&H Cetus. We've borrowed both of these boats from P&H, who were happy with the coverage they received in the Canoe Boys programmes last year. Perhaps it speaks volumes that Liz would now like to buy hers, rather than return it in October, and I feel much the same.

They carry all our kit effortlessly, and that's the main thing about this 'expedition' boat. It's fatter hipped and flatter bottomed than what we're used to, and now we have the hang of them, they proved very stable. After surving the F6 beam sea breaking over her as we came into Duart Bay on wednesday, Liz said, "If I'd been in my usual boat I'd have been over".

In calm conditions it's easy to get a hugely impressive edge. I'm not so confident in bigger seas, but now I have the weight-trim right, I can alter course easily with the usual knee-and-buttock lift. Except, that is, in a rear quartering sea. It's probably the added weight of my tripod, which has to sit on the back deck as it won't fit through the hatch, but in a rear-side sea the boat is tricky. I struggle to stop its nose turning towards the wave. In a confused rear sea, with waves coming from both directions, it's like riding a corkscrew. Liz's boat does not behave like this to anywhere near the same extent, so I'm willing to believe it's the way I've loaded it.

I now like the 'elasticated' skeg, which has no wire so even I can't kink it. But after Cailean and I broke last year's demo Cetus skeg, I'll reserve judgement on that. Overall, I'm hugely impressed.

Werner Foam Core Paddles. We took a deep breath, asked for some discount, and bought two sets of Werner foam cores each - total value about the same as a new kayak.

Boy are they worth it. The weight makes it easy to paddle, and paddle, and paddle. With our old paddles there's no way we could maganage 40km days near the start of something like this - we're not athletes! We didn't train for this for heaven's sake, it's a holiday! The foam core pops the paddle out of the water at the end of the stroke, and I'm sure a google search would produce a much better explanation than I can manage of why that's a good thing.

We expected to use the bigger Ikelos blades most of the trip, switching to the smaller Cyprus at day end as we tire. However, the Cypus have become our first choice, putting less strain on arms and shoulders and eating up the miles. The Ikelos are good in big seas as there's so much blade to brace against. Despite batling high winds this week I never once felt these were going to blow out of my hand.

There is an issue with the placing of the button to release the paddle joint, which if it bashes against your BA in surf could realease, leaving you with half a paddle in each hand. I hear Werner have been told about this and I hope they're shifting the button.

So that's it. More about Palm kit and Terra Nova tent later.

Ardnamurchan Alternative

After three days battering against a F5 up the Sound of Mull we mortals had sore shoulders, blisters and a big question - how to get around Ardnamurchan Point?

It struck me that people following this guidebook might not have time to sit out windy weather, watching their precious vaccation tick away. I needed to come up with a strategy to get them around the point and back on the trail. I think I've found two. One is a self-help type shuttle which involves me heading back to Oban today to collect the car, then pick up LIz and the boats and move further up the trail.

Wind F4-5 Occasionally 6

That's the forecast we've heard for a while now. it's still the same for the next 48hrs.

I lookd out of the tent door at 7am. The sea was white, the sky was grey and I thought "we're going nowhere today". By 9am it had dropped a little and we were on the water.

When we could, we hugged the coast, dodging the wind but the rest of the time we just battered into it. we ate a lot! Eggs & trout for breakfast at MacGreggors Roadsouse, Craignure. Fish & chips at Fishnish ferry terminal. Full, we wobbled across to the Morvern shore in shelter then battered north.

Took ages and a lot of landing and investigating to find a camp spot. Ironically, after battering wind all day we're camped with not even a whif of breeze, so the midges are out.

Where's rhe F4-5 gusting F6 when you need it?

Now That Was Tough

See that expression? That is what I look like when I'm knackered. Crossing from Oban to Duart Castle was probably the toughest kayaking we've done.

Not that the sea was particularly rough. It was the F4-6 wind hurling itself down the Sound of Mull and right into our faces that made it such slogging hard work.

We found shelter on the Mull coast and Liz wanted to camp. I persuaded her to keep going around the corner. Once level with Duart Castle the wind hit us again, full force. Progress was just 2 kph. As we curved into the bay, this became a beam sea and the shallow sand caused the waves to rear up. We had waves breaking over us from the side - great fun but not with knackered arms.

We landed and ate lots of nice thingsin Castle Duart's eclennet tea shop.

How I'm Blogging

Michael left a comment asking about how I was blogging from the Scottish Kayak Trail using my Palm pilot, so I thought I’d explain how I send each entry.

It's a fairly small package of kit, but would be a lot smaller if I had an iPhone! Anyway, the entries without a photo are simply written on and sent from the e-mail message editor on my fairly old, standard mobile phone.

Those with photos happen like this.

My Palm Tungsten E2 uses the same data card as my Pentax Optio W20 camera. I put the Palm card into the camera, change the camera settings to the minimum file size (for faster uploading), and take a few shots. I delete all the ones I don’t like, so the only jpg on the card is the one I’ll send.

I take the data card out of the camera (changing the settings back to maximum quality) and replace it in the Palm. Using the standard Versamail program, I write the blog entry on my folding keyboard.

I attach the single jpg photo from the data card. My Palm connects to my mobile phone by Bluetooth (something it set up with a Wizard which came with the Palm) and it connects to the internet via GPRS. I then e-mail my blog entry, sometimes direct to blogger, sometimes via Flickr.

So it only works when I have a cell-phone signal and that will not be guaranteed on the next section. Which we start this morning in Oban.

The Shuttle

West Cost Motors employs Scotland's grumpiest bus driver with the longest pony-tail I've seen. Perhaps these two are linked?

"yer not gittin on ma bus wi thos packs, yer'll rip th fookiin seets" he greeted the backpackers in the queue. "Chuk em in the boot".

Scotland's service industry charm school graduate, like the cafe at Crinan. Sadly these make the lasting impresssion.

Much nicer chap in Lochgilphead Tourist Info helping backpackers get to where they want to go.

Wait for 1 hr then onto Campbeltown bus from Glasgow. Then a 15min walk from Tayinloan to the CalMac terminal for Gigha and a 2hr drive back to Oban.

Left campsite 8.30am. Arrived back 3pm.

Section One - Done

Section One - Done, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

That's us in Oban. Well, Oban Campsite just outside the town.

sent from my Palm handeld

Doris Moore?

Doris Moore?, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

This is the view from our tent. Or at least it was before the thunder and heavy rain began.

We're just north of the 'Great Door', or Dorus Mor. Overhearing someone say this name, but pronoucing it with a Liverpudlian accent, gave me the title of this entry.

So a fairly long day for us, 38.8km, which could have been longer had we not visited the cafe in Crinan. All in the name of research, you understand.

Call that Force Four?

Call that Force Four?, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

Pictures don't do justince to sea states, but this was enough to send yachts running for cover and kept us out on Eilean Mor MacCormick.

The anemometer clocked 21 knots, top end of Force Five. The kayak heros you read about in Ocean Paddler Magazine might consier this a breeze, but we mortals are more cautious.

On MacCormick Islands

A 7.20 start put us in a good position to cross to these lovely islands at slack, just before the flood. Even so, the F4-5 gusting 6 gave a lively race off the middle oisland. We're now waiting to leave.

With a southery wind and flood tide we'd normally just jump on, but there's a lot of white stuff out there that's not seagulls.

We'll leave at the end of the fifth hour of flood, cross to the mainland and camp.

Near Point of Knap

Near Point of Knap, originally uploaded by seakayakroutes.

We find somewhere beautiful, set up camp, and it looks like a kayaker's laundry! Look carefully, and behind my tripod Liz is doing her yoga.

35km today and immediately we're off the route of the trail. We saw a better option and took it, exactly as I hope folks who use this book will do.

First we circumnavigated Gigha, a stunning island with an almost tangible tranquility. Then, back at the north point, we shot straight across to Kilberry Head.

The campsite here is nice, even has a bowling green and putting course, but it's ten quid for two and we wanted a wild camp.

I won't say exactly where we are because the Scottish Kayak Trail book will not recommend campsites or even lunch stops, but we have a good view of Jura and Point of Knap.

On Gigha

That's a long drive south! It took us three hours to get from Corran to the start point opposite Gigha. Liz found some wellies in Oban and that broke the journey slightly.

However, it took almost an hour to sort the kit on the beach and especially to pack it. So much for a lunchtaim start - it was nearly four pm when we launched.

Gigha has that quiet calm I remember, a really peaceful place. Decided against wild camping, as there's plenty of that ahead, and opted for the small site next to the Boathouse Cafe, which sadly is only open Fri-Sun. "It's too early in the season", the owner told me.

Waiting for tea to boil, then off to Gigha Hotel for some foaming brown liquid.

Heading To Start

We're in Oban buying midge coils. Not a type of contraceptive, but the only way to stay sane camping in a highland summer.

Erling from Norway stayed with us 3 nights and paddled with us twice, braving the midge fangs, before escaping on bus to Glasgow yesterday and his conference today.

After days of superb weather, rain and wind are due soon. Ok for us but not good for photos or video.

Hopefully a photo from Gigha tonight.

We Start Tomorrow

While sorting our food and kit I found myself reading sections of the book I wrote last winter. Now, the day before we head out to Gigha, I must
heed my own advice.

People crossed the Sound of Gigha, the very waters you are about to kayak, five thousand years ago.

They had no GPS, VHF radios, flares or modern protective clothing. Tide tables and tidal stream atlases were unheard of. Instead they lived their lives according to the rise and fall of the sea and the movement of the sun and the moon.

This is the rhythm you need to find. It has probably taken months of planning for you to reach the start of the trail, so savour this moment. Relax into the knowledge you’re no longer completely in charge. You must work with your natural partners, the sea and the weather, because even if you throw a hissy-fit, you’ll not persuade either of them to change their minds. They may allow you to complete the trail or they may not, and this you must accept.

More likely, they’ll throw up a few obstacles, and when you successfully negotiate these your satisfaction will be all the greater.