Crinan to Portree

Part Two

On the following day neither the forecast nor the tides being helpful we killed some time in Oban including a chat with the Coastguards who were keen to establish contact with "sea-canoeists." We chose not to get into a discussion on the definitions of canoes and kayaks; we certainly didn't fit into their normal perception of "sea-canoes" but we agreed to let them know of our progress whenever possible and especially during the more exposed legs of the trip mostly by use of the hand-held VHF radio I had taken along for the purpose. The wind forecast was still decidedly marginal alternating between spells of acceptable Force 2-3 and squalls of Force 4-5 for half an hour or more.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

The next leg was another exposed five or so miles before coming into the lee of Lismore Island. Only a couple of hours of light to moderate winds was needed and now the tide was going our way again we wanted to get on. A short sail back over to Kerrara's north end to take a closer look at conditions outside the sheltered channel proved to be most useful as we were able to chat with Mark Carter at his B&B/campsite enterprise aimed at sea-paddlers and divers. He was also able to get a Metfax for us which suggested worse conditions for the next day.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

It didn't seem too bad when we went out for a tentative look and so we went for it.The first half-hour or so was great, manageable with good progress but the wind picked up to a good Force 4, gusting 5, causing choppier conditions, an exceptionally fast, wet ride and the intense desire in all of us to land and dissipate the adrenalin thus caused. A landing was made on Lismore Lismore.jpg (40181 bytes) and during the break agreement reached to continue further on the favourable tide probably to Shuna for a campsite. The wind had largely subsided but with the tide pushing us along, the ground was covered quickly and we continued on even further to land for the night on Eileen Balnagowan where we tried to disturb the seabirds as little as possible. We had covered 19 miles in spite of not leaving until late in the afternoon for the major section of the day.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

Tides squirt through small gaps at quite a rate and Corran Narrows was only a few miles away where we predicted the tide would need to be with us to stand any chance of passing through. This "tidal gate" was due to be open in the morning only until 10.30 so an early start was called for provided the wind and weather were appropriate. At 4.30 am conditions were decidedly foul so I snuggled back into my sleeping bag without waking the others, as arranged. By 8.30 however the weather front had passed so we packed up swiftly and set off hoping we might make sufficiently fast progress to sneak through the narrows on the last of the flood. Frustratingly the wind died to almost nothing just when we needed it most but we doggedly continued enjoying distant views of Glencoe with it's inevitable mist and cloud. A better wind did return before too long though and we ploughed on hoping at least to get near the narrows before a probable wait for the tide to turn again in our favour. As we approached the channel and its navigation buoys it became obvious that the tide had indeed turned but the wind was choosing that particular time to be at its most helpful. We enjoyed a riveting broad reach against the 1 or 2 knots of tide to clear the narrows and continue a few hundred yards more before pulling in to a handy little beach for an early lunch. We felt elated at having "stolen" a tide and the weather was also very kind during the afternoon's sail up to Fort William where we treated ourselves to a shower and some supplies.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

The tide through the Annat Narrows near Corpach was due to be favourable around tea-time onwards so we set out from Fort Bill hoping for an easy ride. It was not to be quite that easy though as we were now heading west, beating into the wind rather than running or reaching. Nevertheless it was intriguing sailing, with the current but against the wind, past Corpach's industrial sites before being spat out into Loch Eil where the wind-against-tide chop was most noticeable. Ground is obviously hardest-won when beating into the wind and it is also colder and more demanding than reaching or running so we gained just a few more miles before landing amongst extremely thick seaweed to pitch camp having travelled 20 miles that day.

It rained heavily during the evening and night but by morning only an odd shower remained together with a complete change in the wind direction. Instead of the expected fight upwind to the head of Loch Eil we were treated to a leisurely drift on the following Force 1 which died to nothing as we neared the end of the loch. A light rain had started as we landed and converted our canoes to land vehicles for the several miles of the portage but it certainly did nothing to deter the clouds of midges from trying to bite lumps out of us.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

Anyone who says they enjoy the process of portaging must be a bit weird to my mind. But as a part of our journey it was integral and allowed us to avoid the serious challenge of Ardnamuchan Point as well as providing a delightful two-day experience of the extensive Loch Shiel. But it has to be said that portaging one's canoe and kit is hard work even with the aid of a set of wheels and a good road surface. After the necessary several miles of trundling we were ready for some lunch but the midges were also ready for us. You become used to them after a while some people say; I haven't managed to do so yet but you have to eat, which we did in spite of them, before heading on. I made for the small river which flows down into the loch as soon as I could but this turned out to be an adventure in itself: in jungle canoeing and wading for a mile until the river became easier and the others joined me. They had wisely decided to continue further along the road before relaunching. The mirror-flat conditions paddling down the rest of the river into Loch Shiel was a pointed contrast to the sea conditions experienced earlier in the trip.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

In spite of having travelled only a few miles we felt we had earned a celebratory and therapeutic drink so we sought out the bar of the hotel at Glen Finnan and relaxed for a while with beer and peanuts. On returning to the boats there was good news and bad: it was good that there was some wind and that it was not too strong to prevent progress but it was bad in that it was from the most unhelpful direction and so light as to be hardly worth sailing at all. But you must take the smooth with the rough so we rigged our largest sail area available and set off down the loch amongst the finest mountain scenery one could wish for, beating south-west into the lightest of breezes. After an hour or two of this gentle ghosting the wind actually did give up entirely leaving the loch as smooth as the proverbial mirror. With lowered sails and following a quick brew-up ashore we paddled on, cleaving three faint V-shaped and short-lived wakes across the otherwise perfectly mirrored mountain scenery. The light breeze returned twenty minutes later and another couple of hours gentle beating saw us to our campsite for the night at Glenaladale, a little chilled but happy with our progress of 12 miles.

Crinan to Portree - Part Two

Crinan to Portree - Part 3

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