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Friday, 16 June 2017

Watering down plans - the weather decides!


The planned epic kayak expedition from Barra to Harris gradually got whittled away by strong wind forecasts. No matter which weather app we used they all spelled out the same message. Blustery winds from the south and south west were forecast for at least a week or two.


Plans evolved and ambitions got curtailed. It looked like Lochmaddy afforded plenty of shelter for day trips and we found, on the internet,  a cheap and cheerful outdoor centre there which meant we could base ourselves in a midge free, dry and comfortable bunkhouse to avoid the worst of the unsettled weather.

Our first night was with Pete and Irene Smith in Uig who tolerated our invasion without raising an eyebrow. Their luxury motor home proved the perfect start to our less epic adventure but the rattle of rain on the roof light in the morning confirmed the accuracy of the forecast. 

The Minch was at peace despite the forecast and within an hour of docking in Lochmaddy we had our kayaks in the water and were paddling north against the last of the ebb to our base camp - the Lochmaddy Outdoor Centre.

We launched the next morning with the wind hard behind us. The tide was flooding against us and we inched our way north under the foot bridge. 


Beyond the entrance to our channel there was an angry tidal chop whipped up by the wind that now had some easterly in it. Gingerly we hooked around the corner and instantly started to worry what conditions would be like when the tide changed to oppose the wind. Anyway it was all too much for Sally and me who were missing the all terrain capabilities of our trusty K2 Feathercraft! Instead we drifted around the very sheltered passages before retiring to Lochmaddy for coffee and internet.

The wind forecast remained resolute but with a narrow, more settled, weather window opening up on Thursday. Our outdoor centre sadly is in it's death throws and it was the surveyor that woke us up at 7am as the place is soon to go on the market. His early visit meant that the boats were in the water by 8am and this time the wind was several knots lighter and the easterly component had gone back to west of south. The sea was less agitated and we shot off hugging the coast to stay out of the worst of the wind and the chop.


I am assured  that we whizzed past 20 seals and an otter before the rain came but neither Sally nor me caught any sight of them. The tide  and the wind were behind us as we nosed through narrow, seaweed choked passes guarded by herons and oyster catchers. 

A strengthening tide met a strong opposing breeze at a narrow pass and once again Sally and I bottled it and, instead of pushing through, we hauled out on a narrow isthmus to admire the view. Lunch was spiced with sunshine and a vista of glittering sea strewn with green islands and distant mountains lurking under threatening clouds.

The wind shoved us north and the chop increased but after a few minutes we ducked behind the lea of yet more islands. Using them we dodged our way to windward resting occasionally in the dense gardens of seaweed that offered secure  'parking' at regular intervals.

At last we abandoned the islands and paddled directly into the wind which, thankfully, had now lightened a little. It looked a long way but it wasn't and we were soon close into the shore below the village of Lochmaddy threading the last island pass before hooking right to haul out and stash the boats in the tiny marina next to the ferry terminal.

As soon as we had tied down the boats for the night the rain arrived and we slipped effortlessly into cafe life all be it a little tousled by salty spray and lashings of Hebridean rain.