Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A visit to Copinsay

Another fantastic day out, and another island. This time Mary, Lesley and I paddled to Copinsay for a bit of exploring.
We wandered up[ the hill to the lighthouse...

And then looked over the cliff top and found this little chappie. I think it is a fulmar chick. It didn't appreciate having its photo taken and made vallant attempts to regurgitate yukky stuff at us, like the adult birds do, but hadn't quite mastered the tecnique. We were spared the smelliness that is fulmar oil.

A little further along the cliff top I found a spot that was obviously a favorite for a bird of prey. There were numerous regurgitated pellets, many of which still had the legs of the poor unfortunate bird that had been the meal attached. I've included the radio in the picture to give an idea of size. I'm not sure what bird can eat things this big, but I'm wondering if it is a sea eagle.

Paddling away from Copinsay we found hundreds of grey seals basking on the exposed rocks. Unfortunately one had got its head stuck in a loop of old fishing netting and was slowly garotting itself to death. It was clearly not happy as it didn't jump in the sea as we approached, so Mary and I landed to see if there was anything we could do. It didn't work, we got to within 5 metres of it before it shuffled off the rock and swam away. I hate to think of it dying a slow death but it was obviously not sick enough to let us help it.

The wind had increased a little as we paddled back to Newark slip and was now opposing the tide, creating some fun little white topped waves to surf.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Orkney, East Mainland

Time for a bit of rockhopping. My usual paddling style is to stay offshore and just blast past all he interesting bits without really looking left or right, so this is a little different. I paddled with Mary, organiser of the Paddle Orkney 'do' at the weekend and she promised to complain if I missed out any of the good bits.

Launching at Holm Kirk gave us a short warm up before the fun started at Rose Ness. The caves in the cliffs were just amazing and I wished I had taken a torch. One particular cave had three connected entrances in the shape of a letter Y, and the water was calm enough to paddle through all of them.

After a brief lunch stop we continued on through the Copinsay Pass and round to the East coast of Deerness where we met a very friendly fisherman who gave me a fantastic lobster. The creature was named 'Lobbie' and deposited in my front hatch for the remainder of the journey. I'm not sure what Lobbie will have made of my rockhopping antics, but he did make a fantastic starter course later in the evening.

The highlight of the padling was a visit to a feature called the Gloup, a huge long cave with a collapsed roof, and more cave continuing beyond. The picture doesn't really do it justice.

This is Lobbie.

And here he is again.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Paddle Orkney Symposium

For two days the weather gods smiled on us, the wind dropped and it didn't rain (much). Fifty paddlers attended sessions on rockhopping, paddling in tide races, rescues in rough water, leadership and personal paddling skills. Here we are pondering the finer points of a rescue session.

Later in the afternoon we were treated to a visit by the coastguard rescue helicopter from Shetland. A bunch of brave souls ventured out into the bay at Scapa while the helicopter hovered progressively lower and lower overhead. Remarkably they all emerged upright and unscathed.

Orkney, Another Biggie.

After yesterdays big day out I wanted something a little gentler today. A 40km trip round South Ronaldsay seemed to fit the bill. Within minutes of setting out I was regretting the decision. I still felt thirsty and dehydrated after my exersions of the day before. I had only brought two small bottles of drink which were clearly not going to be enough.
I started at Churchill barrier no.4 and headed off towards Grim Ness. I didn’t feel much effect of the tide until I was nearly at Halcro Head, where cliffs and caves were abundant. I was swiftly pulled along until my intended lunch stop at Ham Geo. While sitting on the pebbles contemplating life, the universe etc. I became aware of a distant roaring sound. It was obviously time to make a move. As I crept round the corner I was faced with a pile of shifting water topped with white froth. This was like Penrhyn Mawr on steroids! The race continued for as far as I could see (and it was neaps). I have to admit to sneaking round through gaps in the rocks to avoid the main maelstrom.
The south coast was a succession of cliffs and caves, not high but obviously storm battered. Brough Ness was another tide race which sped me on my way past Burwick to The Wing.
The guidebook led me to believe that I would find favourable flow up the west coast of South Ronaldsay, but I was met by a succession of back eddies, some as much as 4 knots. At Harraborough Head there were caves connecting with caves making a hollow network of tunnels in the cliffs. Had I been less tired I might have been more inclined to explore, but sadly the beauty of the caves were lost on me as I trudged on.
Another slog to Hoxa head and the narrow entrance to Scapa Flow. Cloud had lowered so I struggled to make out the island of Flotta on the other side of the channel.
From here on there was no tide as I made my way past St Margaret’s Hope and back to the Churchill Barrier. I arrived so tired that I could barely lift my boat up the steps to the car park and my waiting van.

Orkney, A Slightly Longer Paddle

I decided to make the most of the calm weather and lack of swell and planned a big trip for myself. Setting out from Stromness I paddled all the way round Hoy and back to Stromness again, a total of 62km.

Setting out I managed to get a little tidal assistance through Clestrain Sound and Bring Deeps, passing the islands of Cava, Rysa Little, Fara, Flotta and Switha to reach the eastern most point at Cantick Head. There were numerous reminders of the importance of this area during wartime with gun emplacements positioned to keep the unwanted out of Scapa Flow.

I stopped for lunch at a small inlet where overhanging cliffs meant I could shelter from the rain. It had been raining on and off ever since I set out and by now I was getting a bit fed up of hood up, hood down, hood up, hood down etc. etc.
From South Walls I sat on a roller coaster of big round green waves, shoving me faster and faster towards Torr Ness. The next section of coastline was a committing stretch of high cliffs, hollow with caves and deep geos. A rock stack, called the needle towered above me as I paddle round its base, my neck aching from staring skywards for so long. The geo nearby was so deep that it was dark at the back, the walls green and slimy. As I paddled past, the rocks were alternately bright red and yellow, with the occasional streak of green, where freshwater trickled down from above.

As I approached Rackwick the wind funnelled through the valley caught me by surprise and it was as much as I could do to paddle across the bay. In my mind I was going through the possible contingencies including stopping for the night, but after a short while on the beach, the wind died down and I felt able to continue.
At Rora Head I was again hit by the wind, but this time it was head on, and was to continue for the rest of the trip, sometimes strong enough to prevent forward progress at all. Having been spoiled by the beauty of the cliffs further south, I was a little underwhelmed by the cliffs around the Old Man of Hoy. All that remained was a long slog against the wind until Hoy Sound, which I reached just after it had turned in my favour. The final stint into Stromness was straightforward, and I reached my start point some 9 ½ hours after setting out.

Orkney, A little Warm-Up paddle

With the plan to be on Orkney for the 'Paddle orkney' symposium I though it would be a good idea to travel a week early and explore the area. I Caught the early morning ferry from Scrabster which passed close under the Old Man of Hoy. The flat sea and imposing cliffs were inspiring me to get out on the water. The ferry reached Hoy sound just at the peak of its flow and did a neat break out into the bay at Stromness.
I set out for a short warm up paddle, round Graemsay from Stromness just after HW slack. Hoy sound was already running fast with breaking waves at its seaward end. There was a roaring noise just to remind me not to get complacent. Round the back of the island, Burra sound was running at full pelt and the seals were just waiting for dinner to be brought to them on the tide. I managed to pick my way from eddy to eddy against the flow, reaching the eastern end of the island from where a giant ferry glide got me back to Stromness. Conditions were flat calm, and Hoy sound was running at about 8 knots. A perfect introduction to Orkney kayaking.
13km paddled.