I set off from Achnahaird thinking I’ve left it a bit late. I must get to Rubha Coigach – the northern prow of the Coigach peninsula – by 11.40 BST or my kayak will turn into a sea pumpkin and my paddle into a wicker broomstick.
I was reversing Route #25 rom the Scottish Sea Kayaking guidebook, a ‘Grade B’, (C being the hardest). And although spring tides were kicking off next day, the forecast was for very light winds and a warm sunny day; a good day to try and ‘turn the point’.
Knowing that capes and headlands can be hairy places, I’d given this local ‘Cape Wrath’ a wide berth, but current conditions could not have been more benign. So for once I RTFM closely and decoded the perplexing tidal calculations of when not to be seen dead in a bloat at Rubha Coigach, the headland of Rubha Mor. The red period started at 11.40 which didn’t quite make sense in respect to slack water, but tidemaster and experienced NW Scottish sea kayaker Gael confirmed my calcs. I wasn’t going to argue.
It’s about 3.5 miles from Achnahaird northwest to the tip, and as I paddled along I tried to visualise possible scenarios. What unpredicted Corrywrecken-like horrors awaited me up there if I strayed into the red zone and got caught in a frothing maelstrom of lashing foam and bruised fish? A north-easterly breeze pressed in from the right and a gentle swell lifted the boat pleasantly. Up ahead white foam was periodically slapped off low rocky shelves, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle, and it was easy enough to turn back. I neared the jumbled cliffs which we’d walked to a few weeks earlier (some pics from then), knowing that whatever it’s like now, it’ll be different once I got round the corner. And I was right.
On turning Rubha Coigach the chop dropped right away and I entered a windless Caribbean calm, divided by hazy line far to the west, separating sea from sky. Lined up along a ledge to my left, a welcoming committee of seabirds nodded approvingly, but waved me on with oily wings, pointing insistently at their watches. You don’t want to be here at 16.36 tomorrow, sunshine.
I could afford to take my foot off the pedal now, but cut across Faochag Bay anyway; up ahead what I thought was a cluster of bobbing gannets miraged into a party of a dozen sea kayaks (left), presumably being guided round to Achnahaird by one of the local outfitters. That there was more kayakers than I’d seen here in six weeks or more. The amazing weekend weather had brought them all out.
Like yesterday across Enard Bay, the land kept what breeze there was off the sea making a surface as smooth as polished bronze. Beneath that, at least half a dozen varieties of jellyfish morphed and drifted weightlessly like organic spaceships. I’d never seen so many here; do jellyfish spawn?
I was intending to keep going after Reiff where Route #25 started, so before I got there I turned in at Camas Eilean Ghilais bay and an unknown sandy beach. Unfortunately a lone sunbathing couple sent out bad vibes, so knowing that feeling I moved on following a quick look around. There were plenty more secluded spots I could reach that most couldn’t.
Just south of here are some crags popular with rock climbers and a few were out today. I also knew this was a great place to watch Atlantic storms beating against the same cliffs (right), although today was as calm as an atoll.
The low reefs at Reiff which the SSK guidebook warned about were easy to miss and the sandy seabed off Reiff beach itself (below) maintained the tropical theme.
I was hoping to get up the tidal channel that led under the bridge into the Loch of Reiff. The loch holds water once the tide drops and I’ve been on the bridge at a spring tide with the water rushing in to top up the loch, making a fun-looking horizontal version of a Medway chute. But today I needed at least two more metres of water to get into the loch; a portage looked like too much work.
Just as I was thinking I must come back to shoot the chute in the packraft, one of the R-clips holding the Amigo’s backrest bar in place gave way and fell in the drink. So after lunch I wandered up to a sheep fence and broke off a bit of stray wire to replace the missing pin. That Grabner seat bar is reaching the end of its probation. I suppose the problem is I inadvertently treat it like a fabric IK seat, leaning back to pull out the thigh straps or adjust the seat base. Doing so bends the bar slightly and alloy can only be bent back so many times. Rigid objects attached to an IK (including a skeg) don’t work so well. I’ve a strap-based alternative in the works which will doubtless appear on the Grabner Mods page.
I trickled on down the unknown shoreline from Reiff to Althandu, nosing into geos crammed with yet more jellyfish, and then headed across to Old Dornie harbour. Other IK-ers and canoes where fanning out from the campsite, enjoying the sunny weekend, but by the time I got into the harbour with 10 miles behind me I was beginning to feel it. Over a forgotten Snickers bar I pondered about heading out to the Summers for a look around.
The breeze had now turned to the southwest, running with the incoming tide although it was still flat enough to roam. I headed out towards Eilean Beg, but about halfway across admitted that the anticipated sugar rush wasn’t happening. I’d had a great day out, ticked off the feared headland and found some nice places to revisit, so headed for Badentarbet. As I did so I noticed the occasional 10mph gust was pushing the back round; not quite enough to require double ‘correcting’ stroke, but noticeable. Add some swell, waves and more wind and the stern would get pushed off line for sure, but then that’s IKs for you. Not a suitable craft for very windy conditions at sea, although a deeper skeg (old-style Gumotex) and a full payload might minimise this weathercocking.
To make up for my sloth and with a Cadbury’s power surge coming on, I had nothing to lose by hammering away at the last half mile, hoping to crack the 5 mph barrier. But that wasn’t happening either; 4.9 was the best I could wrench from the strangled paddles. Today’s tally: 13.1 miles in about 5 hours and a moving average of 3.2 mph. On the beach I hauled the Grabner over to the freshwater pool for a rinse and called in the taxi.