Scratching the surface in Knoydart:- one Munro, one Top and two Corbetts

Knoydart has been on my list for years – isn’t it on everyone’s ? But every time I’ve planned to go there the forecast has been dire and the couple of times I’ve driven towards the area without having heard a forecast, the heavens have opened as soon as I got close.

This time we were committed by having booked Kilchoan Estate’s Druim Bothy for three nights, along with the Inverie ferry to get us in and out. It was rainy on the way up to Mallaig, quite dismal while we were having our Friday night meal, and it started to rain heavily as we were on the way back out on Tuesday, but the three days in between were as good as one could reasonably hope for.


Descending from Sgùrr Coire Chòinneachean

It’s a five kilometre, fairly level walk in to Druim Bothy, so just a stroll, even with heavy packs (for the second weekend in a row, I’d taken far more food than I could actually eat). Once established and unpacked, three of us (myself, Mary and Linda) decided to bag a peak, whilst the other three (Chrissy, Ursula and Kath) opted for a valley walk. Starting at 2:30 in the afternoon, we were trying to push the pace a bit to avoid being back late, and perhaps the ascent was a bit too rapid, but we got ourselves up the pathless SE slopes of Sgùrr Coire Chòinneachean and onto the 796m summit in 2¼ hours, well inside our turnround time. Taking things a little more easily, we trooped on down the splendid SW ridge, with Inverie seemingly directly below our feet (700m below and 2km away in the photo above). Like many Corbetts, this was a really fine viewpoint with Skye and the Small Isles ahead of us, Ben Nevis away in the distance to our left, and many more high peaks in almost every direction. We’d slightly misunderstood the Corbetts guide description and thought a deer fence was pushing us too far to the West, so we crossed this and dropped down some rather unpleasantly steep pathless terrain to the Allt Slochd a’Mhogha, but once by the stream, it was a short and easy hack along the bank to the main track, and saved us over a kilometre compared with finding the correct path, so it worked out for the best. From here the just over 3½ km route back to the bothy was the same as our earlier walk in, so was dismissed in a short time, getting us back soon after seven, and before the valley walkers returned from Mam Meadail. Our numbers were made up by the late arrival of Pete who had sea kayaked in to join us.

There is no shortage of Munros in greater Knoydart, but even with a base in the area, most are long walks. Ladhar Bheinn was being kept for an approach by sea, so that the round of Coire Dhorrcail can be done, whilst a group in the east were too far to do from here (and the bridge over the River Carnach was out) so I have a paddle-in plan involving Loch Quoich for those. That left us the two central ones, Meall Bhuidhe and Luinne Bheinn. Whilst one pair set out to do a more leisurely version of our walk of the day before, the “A-team” set off at a cracking pace to bag the pair. Mary and I followed at a more sedate pace, being quite sure we could bag the first, but not convinced we (well, I) wanted to do the longer version.


Looking back towards the bothy from the slopes of Meal Bhuidhe

The ascent was pathless, but not too rough or wet, and soon enough, we were on the 826m outlying western point, by which stage a decent, if at times faint, path had appeared – and we could see the A-team on the final summit ridge about half an hour ahead of us.


Dropping into the Bealach an Torc-choire on the way up Meall Bhuidhe

The 60m loss of height in the bealach was not appreciated by everyone, but the path improved and three hours total saw us on the summit. This, at 946m, is barely higher than the eastern top (942m) which we visited next, and which is craggy enough to look almost as if it was the “real” Munro.


The short ridge between the two tops of Meall Bhuidhe

Beyond the last top, we parted company from the longer route – a distinct path headed northeast towards the Bealach Ile Coire, and the others were long gone along this. A much fainter path could be seen heading southeast towards Sgurr Sgeithe, and we threaded our way down this way until the crag-encumbered slopes to our south became tenable. We avoided all scrambles and odd Haggis traps to reach a traverse back to the Mam Meadail with essentially no height loss, and then headed down the good path, 5 km or so back to the bothy where we arrived first.

Having taken the easier option on the second day, I was definitely up for the big Corbett to our south, Beinn Bhuidhe. Since Linda had found a guidebook description of a shorter route than the full west-east traverse, it turned out that everyone else was up for this walk, too (except Pete who was sea kayaking out today). We took a fairly direct though possibly not optimal route up towards the ridge. Not optimal in that we crossed a deer fence easily at the valley floor, but then had to cross back out in the coire where there wasn’t such an easy way over. There are no paths at all here, and it turned out that this area was so little visited that I was able to claim a geograph (first) point which was an unexpected bonus. As a big mixed group we took our time up Coire Gorm, and eventually reached the ridge via a small snow patch, about half a kilometre west of the main summit, which was then an easy ascent.


Approaching the top of Beinn Bhuidhe from the west.

Despite a little more cloud today, the ridge provided splendid views over its entire length – which was a little more up-and-down than some had hoped for, with a very well-built cairn on one rather random point not much higher than the ridge either side.


Looking east to Sgurr na Ciche from a little lochan along the ridge.

From the final point, Meall Bhasiter, steep ground dropped to a little lochan with a choice. Mary took the left whilst the rest of us decided it looked easier to traverse right, avoiding what looked like rather rough ground. Mary won this one, but we were soon all reunited at Mam Meadail, with the same descent to the bothy as yesterday. My legs had definitely taken the hint to get fitter, and made double the pace of the previous day despite a longer walk overall. In fact it got a teensy bit competitive at the end as Mary tried to out-sprint me the last 50m. The others took a somewhat more leisurely approach and arrived in two subgroups up to half an hour behind.

We walked out to Inverie Tuesday morning, and the inevitable rain came in as we were crossing back to Mallaig. Perfect timing for our weather window !

An update on the Nordkapp project

If you have been following the blog, you’ll no doubt notice that the boat shown on the Bute trip is the Nordkapp I bought in June last year. I haven’t posted about any of the trips this boat has done since the “New project” post, so I guess an update is in order.


Starting to cut the original footrest brackets

As expected, removing the existing footrests was an awkward job, working with a saw at arm’s reach inside a small cockpit, generating fibreglass dust. Taking out the forward bulkhead was even harder ! With both of those jobs done, the boat was no longer seaworthy, so adding a new front bulkhead was the next priority. Not being able to sit in the boat and measure to my feet via the front hatch simultaneously, I was a bit conservative about the placement of the new bulkhead, and it is an inch or two forward of the ideal. However, it still adds several inches more cargo space forward. With a two-inch thick piece of foam added, the boat is a nice tight fit for me, and could be sold on to someone a bit taller. I had decided not to add adjustable footrests as this would not increase the forward cargo space by as much, and I was wanting this boat to carry more kit than my others.


The new forward bulkhead seen beyond traces of the original bulkhead

I removed the seat and added a foam one, then put some little cleats at each side of the cockpit to add a backrest from an old whitewater boat and be able to tighten this up once in the boat. This is effective, but the amount of space to get your fingers in once sat in the tight cockpit wearing full drysuit etc. makes it very fiddly. Closed cell foam knee bumps, currently Gorilla taped in place to see if I have got the position right (the left one isn’t quite right yet), do ensure that the paddler is well-connected to the boat (which is easy to roll) and will eventually be made into something more robust and permanent. Current experience getting in and out of the boat has slightly put me off the idea of a knee tube, but this partly relates to the shoulder injury skiing last year, so if getting out of the boat gets easier the idea might resurface. The next job was to reduce cockpit volume by adding a bulkhead behind the backrest (and adding a day hatch to make that space usable for kit). There is a deck fitting in the middle of the deck which made the space available for hatch rather small, and as the deck is quite curved, I needed to fabricate a laminated wooden annulus, sanded to a curve on the underside, to provide a flat surface on which to mount the hatch. This proved a little time consuming, but did produce a visually satisfying result. Unfortunately, the hatch is not big enough for some of the stuff you’d naturally think to pack in a day hatch. It also seems to leak rather a lot, which seems to be that water is getting past the O-ring because I didn’t get the mounting surface flat enough. Some trips it hardly seems to leak, others it is quite annoying. That may relate to how much the boat get cooled down (reducing pressure inside the compartment) when putting on the water. More work needed here – the central deck fitting is really not doing anything useful, so I may decide to start again, build a recess, and go for a bigger VCP hatch like most modern boats have here.


The day hatch being epoxied in place – temporary bolts are far longer than ones finally fitted

The forward hatch seems to stay almost dry, but the aft hatch also leaks a little. It is far from clear if this is a hatch cover not fitting tightly enough or if there is some leakage in the hull. As the hatch covers were supposedly almost new, a bit of testing is going to be needed here. I’ve decided that there isn’t space to fit the footpump. I’ve not converted the existing compass fitting into something for a GoPro, as I have just managed to obtain an old Sestrel Junior compass (for which the recess was designed) and will be fitting that once I figure out a way to keep it removable so it doesn’t get scratched during transport of multiple boats on the car roof.

It became clear when the seat was removed that the boat had a history of seating mods. Along with some paint removal inside, I also got rid of a lot of glass and resin which was not contributing to the structure and eventually sanded well down into the final layer of the original fibreglass. Then, when the bulkhead went in (made from three pieces of 6mm ply with 4 oz glass on the back) it was covered with a single piece of 6 oz glass that extended right over the seat area, compensating for any structural weakness that had arisen over that history.


The new aft bulkhead and day-hatch cover fitted

However, the boat is in a fully usable condition (as one would be packing stuff in drybags anyway) and has had a few trips out. First up was going to be a three day trip from Lochaline to Loch Sunart, so this first test was with the boat loaded up with a lot of kit. Conditions were windy, but there is not a lot of fetch in the Sound of Mull, so waves were small and choppy. Unfortunately, one member of the party wasn’t able to make enough progress into the headwind to get us to our intended camping spot. The wind was forecast to change the next day (which would give us a following sea and then shelter once in the Loch), but we were very uncertain of being able to complete the trip in time to meet another participant’s on-call commitment the day after. So rather than continue under time pressure, we aborted and headed back to Lochaline. The wind did indeed change, as forecast, so this was once again straight into a headwind. The boat was great, but not really very tested as the distances were short and the pace quite slow. I was now confident that the boat was stable when fully loaded, but knew that its reputation for being wobbly and difficult came mainly from people paddling them empty.

2018 saw a sea come-and-try-it day at Runswick Bay, so I took her out with no ballast at all. There wasn’t much wind, but there were waves and a little surf to play in, all of which she handled fine. I then noticed that a group of paddlers had decided to head across to Kettle Ness, and promptly gave chase. This demonstrated that the boat can be paddled quite fast, as I caught up with the group well before they reached the destination. Conditions were never really lumpy though, so not a great deal was proved here. The next trip was to be from Amble to Boulmer, via Coquet Island if conditions suited. The boat wasn’t quite empty (I took lunch and a few bits and pieces of kit) and conditions were quite windy, so were not deemed suitable for the addition of Coquet Island. However, we did get a surf landing (and launch) at lunchtime. Playing among the rocks after lunch exposed us to some surprise waves and a bit of reactive paddling in addition to the wind, and the boat continued to prove easy to manage.

With the addition of the Bute trip, I’ve now had the boat on the sea for eight days, two empty, six loaded, one solo. Despite not having an adjustable skeg, the boat is consistently close to wind-neutral, though she seems hard to turn up into the wind when loaded. The big fixed skeg at the back makes her track solidly when you want to go in a straight line (I’ve found it very easy to keep on a transit) but a lot of effort to turn when playing among rocks. She turns to a lean well when going at speed, but less so when moving slowly. Compared to say, the P&H Cetus which I paddled with a very heavy load in Alaska, she needs a lot more edge to turn, and doesn’t turn noticeably more easily on the top of a wave. So at some stage I think I am going to start paring away at that fixed skeg. Whether I then feel the need to fit a drop skeg will be an interesting experiment.

One of the ideas behind buying an old Nordkapp in the first place was to take the lines and use those as a starting point for my own boat design, to strip-build, assuming I liked the Nordkapp itself, of course. Despite the 1970’s description of the Nordkapp as retaining the rocker of the Anas whilst adding volume, I don’t think that really stacks up – the sheer line is really rather straight and the keel not as rockered as the earlier boat. Adding rocker will add stability, but also fore and aft windage, which makes wind-neutrality more trim-critical. I guess that if I derive a boat based on the Nordkapp but putting back (some of) the Anas rocker, I will end with a design which does need a drop skeg, but should be a bit more manoeuvrable among the skerries and a bit more stable for photography whilst still being able to pack gear for a long trip. Whether that also proves capable of handling the really rough conditions under which the Nordkapp is known to excel will depend on my acquiring the skills to get the most out of the Nordkapp and then tweaking the design successfully. Many hours of fun ahead !

Circumnavigating Bute – Mayday bank holiday

Anna’s trip to the Kyles of Bute was going ahead despite a forecast for a rather windy Saturday, when the proposed route would be passing round the southern tip of the island – the most exposed part. Her chosen put-in was Kilchattan Bay, then clockwise to take out at Kames Bay. This would avoid the most populated bit of the island, past Rothesay, and would work well with the tides.

I decided, partly because I didn’t really want the faff of the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay ferry, partly because I had no reason not to set off early on Friday, and partly because I saw a complete circumnavigation as somehow more satisfying, that I would do an extra day on the water, and save the the hassle of setting up a shuttle. Accordingly, I left 8 a.m. and drove via the little Colintraive ferry (only a five minute wait for a five minute crossing). A quick reccy to Kilchattan confirmed that a campsite within sight of their put-in was possible if my chosen location proved less suitable. Then back to Kames Bay and pack up, to be on the water at 15:40, just before high tide. It seemed as if I’d perhaps not got the trim right, as the boat was pulling to the right, away from the wind, but not enough to cause any real grief as I crossed the first bay. Rothesay Bay was only slightly more directly into the wind, but with bigger waves the problem went away. The issue here was that I could see that the ferry was in port and as it would take me twenty minutes to cross the Bay, I was pretty sure he would set off before I was across. As his route is close to the south side of the Bay, I was watching all the time and indeed he set off just at the time so that if I carried on at the same speed, I would be uncomfortably close. A sailing boat was also passing in front of me, so I aimed behind him, and hung around a bit… As the yachty passed and we exchanged cheery waves, I commented that all the traffic was a lot bigger than me, which got a smile. As I was setting off again, I noticed that the other ferry was now fast approaching on its way in. As he would be passing the outgoing ferry port-to-port I was now directly in his path, so put paddle to water with some alacrity.

Closer to shore and out of the traffic, I could relax a little, but not let up on the paddling, as I now turned even more directly into the wind. 8 km of this took me to Bruchag point, by which time I had been looking for a spot to camp for while – but everywhere was overlooked by various parts of the Mount Stuart estate or other farmhouses. However, I was keen not to use the spot I’d seen earlier from Kilchattan, as that would be exposed to the wind. Fortunately, as I approached the headland, small inland cliffs put the shore out of sight from the farm above, and a slightly rocky but manageable landing put me onto an area with really nice, short-cropped grass with a perfect flat spot for my tent. Perhaps not the world’s most scenic place, with a view of Hunterston nuclear power station across the Clyde, but certainly the best I could hope for on this side of the island. Plenty of dry-enough firewood ensured a pleasant evening after 2 hours 40 minutes of paddling. On most Bute trips, we cross the Clyde from Largs, so shipping is something to beware of. Here, I could watch the traffic with no worries, and soon the MSC Meraviglia hove into view. This turns out to be the biggest cruise ship ever to visit the Clyde (or any Scottish port), and the fifth biggest in the world, with room for 5328 inmates in search of exciting culture and beautiful scenery – at Greenock, “the cruise capital of Scotland” (I kid you not, see this news article). I’d somewhat over-catered for a four day trip, and thought my boat was a bit heavy, but dragging a 171,598-tonne ship up the beach would not be an option … besides, a 5.5m Nordkapp actually fits, where a 316 m long behemoth wouldn’t. I know which vessel I prefer (but then I hate not being the one driving).


Freedom Boat – Prison Ship, on the Clyde

On Saturday I was not quite as efficient as I’d hoped, but was on the water at five to nine – about the time I expected the others to arrive at Kilchattan. I shortly rounded the headland and as I got closer to the little jetty, I could see a car with sea kayaks – just before they spotted me, it turned out, as they started to unload the boats almost immediately. I’d intended to arrive after they’d had a bit of time to get packed up, so their waiting until they’d seen the whites of my eyes meant we were not off again for a while, by which time the water in the bay was completely flat, with the flags at the jetty barely lifting from their poles. Needless to say, this idyllic state did not last more than half a klick as we headed south. As the coast curved right, we got more and more headwind and correspondingly bigger waves as we fought our way to Rubh’an Eun. Headseas are hard work, but you can see them coming and stability is not an issue. We rounded the corner into beam seas, quickly concluded that it would be foolish to take a break in Glencallum Bay and got closer than was perhaps comfortable to Roinn Clùmhach. There are various other little coves with the name of “Port something” along here, suggesting that landings are possible, but none were really visible over the breaking waves inshore and we would have undoubtedly regretted heading in for a look, so we battled on another couple of kilometres to Garroch Head. Another corner to turn, and another change of conditions, as we now had a biggish quartering sea. This was new territory for me in the Nordkapp, which had so far felt very manageable in the conditions. Keeping a heading NW and not getting surfed towards the rocky shore proved no less hard work than struggling into or across the wind with the additional factor of the boat feeling a lot less stable. A couple of wobbly moments showed that the boat does have a reserve of secondary stability which keeps it up even when knocked so far over as the put hatch covers in the water – experience which will no doubt integrate itself into my reflexes and give me more confidence next time. This continued for another 2½ kilometres until we could round the corner into Dunagoil Bay where conditions were again flat calm. A lunch stop was called for ! This beach proved to be inhabited by cows (and a bull) which clearly have little to take their interest most of the time, so the appearance of four colourful people with boats provided them with the best entertainment they’d had in ages, and they made the most of it.


That looks more interesting than grass – can we have a lick ?

Back out after lunch, conditions were more benign and we made quick progress up to Ardscalpsie Point. Rounding this, the sea was again a bit lumpy, but flattened off again once past. Very shortly, we cut across to Inchmarnock, where there were some other campers in the little bay at the south end. We couldn’t see any kayaks, so we didn’t deviate to go talk to them, heading up the east coast to our usual camping place just on the northern tip of the island. Here the sun came out and despite not being a weather-facing beach, we easily found enough wood for a good fire, so had a longish evening. There are cows here, too, but they didn’t seem anywhere near as interested or as brave.


Looking back across to Bute from Inchmarnock

Sunday dawned rather murky – most of the time we could see across to Bute, but even this view came and went. However, it’s a hard target to miss and we headed diagonally NE to hit the coast about 2½km north of St. Ninian’s Point. By now the visibility had picked up and a similar distance took us to the north end of Ettrick Bay where we landed on a wide and rather flat beach. Knowing the tide was on its way up, we carried and/or dragged the boats a long way up, to be sure they wouldn’t float away whilst we visited the café for hot chocolate as our elevenses. After an hour, we dragged them nearly as far back to get to the water… 6½ km on and we stopped at the same beach as on my first sea kayak trip to Bute fifteen years ago, by the North Wood of Lenihuline. From here the flood tide helped us on our way through the narrowest part of the West Kyle, round Buttock Point and so to the designated campsite for the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail. At first sight, this seemed good, though there is a not a huge amount of flat places for tents. There is a shelter with a fire pit, and a composting toilet which must, of course, help keep the beaches clean. The shelter had a little lean-to intended for Bute Forest to “seek to maintain a supply of firewood”. There was none here, though some previous visitors had dragged some logs from the woods into the shelter itself. Mostly, this had not had time to dry out enough, so our fire was not very successful (and we added more equally damp logs we’d sought out ourselves). The deep fire pit needs quite a big fire (which we couldn’t achieve) to actually put any heat into the shelter, and is a bit too far away. As the damp wood made it smoky, it did help to quell the unexpectedly early appearance of midges (sited by a stream in woodland, this must be really midgey through the summer), though even they found the air clear enough to remain a hazard at the back of the shelter. The composting toilet had bolts both inside and outside the door, but the lack of any handle on the inside made it all but impossible to get the door closed tightly enough to use the bolt. Two holes drilled and a bit of rope from any beach would be enough to fix this problem. Although there were bags labelled as additives to make the toilet do its composting, these were empty. All-in-all, it seems like a campsite designed with the best of intentions by someone who has not themselves actually gone and tested it. It looks as though the commitment to maintain it has lapsed – the first bank holiday weekend at the start of the summer season would seem like the time to check everything was in order. Very little work would be needed to make some significant improvements. A few more nails knocked into the shelter to hang up kit, for example.


One of the rare moments when flames showed over the firepit walls

After setting up camp and having a rest and a snack, we set off to tour round the local islands in empty boats. Despite being around slack tide, there were some quite strong little tide streams flowing among the Burnt Islands, providing eddy lines and ferry glides to keep us amused. A trip across to Eilean Dubh showed that the tide hadn’t really started moving in the Kyles away from Burnt Islands.


Anna in a little tidal rapid between Eilean Buidhe and a skerry

Monday dawned bright and calm, though cool enough that the midges hadn’t woken up until we were nearly ready to put on. We had a short day today, for a chance to beat the bank holiday traffic and get home in good time. We were still aiming to be on the water for nine, for the tide, which proved to be negligible close to shore south of the islands. The ferry remained idling on the mainland side until we were safely past and the wind stayed light as we cruised down the East Kyle. A brief stop at Ardmaleish point for a snack didn’t see us getting out of the boats. Shortly after, we rounded Undraynian Point and hove within sight of my car. I shuttled Clive to get his car from Kilchattan and soon we were packed up and on our way. A good trip with a mix of relaxing and challenging conditions – thanks everyone !

  • Key to tracks: (total distance 70.7 km)
  • Red Friday, solo, 13.0 km
  • Orange Saturday, solo, 3.3 km
  • Green Saturday, group, 19.3 km
  • Blue Sunday, group, 18.5 km
  • Magenta Sunday, group – empty boats, 6.1 km
  • Black Monday, everyone, 10.5 km

and finally, here’s a synoptic chart for midday (GMT) on Saturday giving an idea of why we were battling with SSW force three:

Sorry about the absence

Whilst not of any “outdoors” interest, I do try to keep you up to date when the website goes AWOL for any length of time. In this case, we’ve had multiple failures. First, the ADSL connection got really flaky, with the speeds getting lower and the modem dropping out with irritating frequency and no regularity whatsoever. BT tested the line and reckoned there was no fault. Then BT did some work on a neighbour’s phone line, and ours went dead completely – so at least BT at this point admitted there was a fault. Turns out that our wire was getting frayed at the telegraph pole across the road, (BT blame the wind for prevailing at right-angles to the wire, although I believe its been blowing this direction fairly predictably since before phones were invented so you’d think they would have anticipated this). This was fixed in three days once they got a cherry-picker to reach it. Next, the hard disc decided to die on the firewall which was particularly annoying as we were getting ready to have a faster broadband link put in and I’d spent two days writing new configuration files ready for the change. Needless to say, as I was changing things every few minutes, I’d saved frequently to the hard disc, but not to longer-term backup. Grrr… and as it turned out, the whole box was dying as this failure seemed to have done nothing good for the CMOS memory and I couldn’t get it to boot with a new disc. Ho, hum, so back to the backup system – an old Fabiatech industrial router that is known to barf under heavy load over its gigabit interfaces (which is why it got retired). I now ordered a newer router, with little hope of it arriving before the new 4G broadband would be installed, so I could see I’d be doing all this configuration a second, and then a third time. Meanwhile, I’d also got a few new ethernet cables to install – feeding things through narrow bendy tubes, into wall cavities and up into vast caverns full of fibreglass insulation. As if to take the piss, it became apparent that the supposedly automatic renewal of my letsencrypt certificate for the server had been failing to renew without having the courtesy to send me any kind of error message, and since the email from the letsencrypt server telling me it had expired couldn’t get to me over a dead internet connection, I didn’t find out about this until it had been expired for over a week, and we were in mid rebuild-the-infrastructure crisis. Needless to say, I’ve not got much paddling or gardening done this last couple of weeks !

However, at least we now have 20 Mb/s broadband, both wired and wireless access into the west end of the house where it never reached before, and a firewall that works for the time being (although I still have to move over to the new hardware, which is steadfastly refusing to play ball with the ubuntu installer for reasons which are seriously opaque). The next step will be to take the firewall down and clone its disc, so I can boot up the new firewall with a pre-installed system and then reconfigure it from there. We’re hoping that with a lot less bandwidth on the ADSL link being used by our own internet use, you’ll see a bit of an improvement on the server. 4G broadband doesn’t come with a public IP address, so the server has to continue to live on the ADSL line, I’m afraid. Expect to see a few more (hopefully shortish) outages as the last of this upheaval plays out. On the upside, with a 4G link that was showing up to 30 Mb/s upstream, it shouldn’t take three days each time I want to upload a ten-minute video to youtube !

This isn’t a technical blog, so I won’t regale you with how to configure my firewall to provide three different levels of service over two broadband connections from the various subnets in the two houses. Suffice it to say that I know even more about netfilter, iptables, iproute2 and the whole Linux network stack than I did before. Fascinating stuff, best learnt from the internet, and therefore very frustrating when it is the failure to get to the internet which is causing one to need to learn it.

Update – end of November: BT have fixed the faults (there were several) on our specific phone line, but reckon they need to replace a whole segment of cabling to get acceptable bandwidth to the village as a whole. We are still waiting for them to organise traffic lights and dig the road up for this (and starting to believe it may never happen – if they dig the road up they might as well put fibre in…). However, with the advent of a significantly more noise-tolerant ADSL modem, we do seem to be losing less traffic and hope that you won’t wait hours for web pages to (fail to) load. Time will tell…

A new project

For some time I’ve been wanting a more expedition-orientated sea kayak capable of carrying gear for longer trips than the Mistral (no more than a week) and the Cormorant (five days is definitely the limit). I paddled a Cetus for the ten days in Alaska, and whilst conditions were never challenging, I definitely felt the boat was very pedestrian. The received wisdom is that if you don’t try a Nordkapp, you will always have nagging doubts about whether you missed out on the best possible expedition boat. Nordkapps have a reputation for being unstable and unforgiving, but this arises largely from people paddling them empty when they were designed to carry a big load – up to 90kg – and were never intended for casual day trips. The boat has also suffered from “genetic drift” over the years since the 1975 original, such that even Valley describe the early twenty first century versions as a “caricature” of the original design. For this reason, in 2015, they introduced the Nordkapp Førti, with the benefit of an original boat repurchased and measured. This is widely acknowledged to be a far better boat than the models which preceded it. Of course, two and half grand is a lot to pay out for a new boat to see if you like it, and even enough trips in a demo boat in increasingly challenging conditions is going to set one back by more than the cost of an early model boat on ebay.

Hence, I’ve been watching ebay for a while, and when a 1970’s Nordkapp HM came up fairly locally, I was definitely in there bidding. Remarkably, no-one else seemed to be keen, and the boat was mine for a song, and seems to be in remarkably good condition. As with many of these old boats, the pump behind the cockpit has either failed or been deemed useless and removed, replaced with a rather ugly metal plate. The bulkheads are in positions which leave a huge volume of cockpit to fill with water in a rescue, and the old failsafe footrest is still in place. The boat (which appears to have been originally orange like a lot of these older kayaks) has been thickly painted white above the sheer, and red below. I’m in two minds as to whether to go to the trouble of removing this paint (which would save a bit of weight) and restoring the gelcoat. Much of the other work is already decided and some of the bits and pieces already ordered.


Late 1970s Nordkapp HM bought 2017-06-22

New aft bulkhead
There’s a huge dead volume behind the cockpit. A new curved and sloped bulkhead will reduce cockpit volume by over 25 litre, and a dayhatch will rather more tidily fill the space where the old Chimp pump was removed.
Modern footrests
Removing the fibreglass plates which support the old-style footrest will be a pain, and whilst I’ve done this job before, it was in an old McNulty Seaglass double which had a lot more space in which to work. However, I very definitely do need either a bulkhead footrest (if the boat is just for me) or more modern adjustable footrests (if I decide to retain the flexibility for others to use it – or, of course, to sell it on). Since I have two sets of footrests not used on previous projects and one set removed from Mary’s Romany, there’s no excuse not to fit one pair of these. I don’t want, however, to bolt through the hull, so I’ve ordered glass-in studs from Fyne Boat Kits which should enable me to fit footrests without making holes. Always assuming I can find the space to work, of course.
New forward bulkhead
The forward bulkhead is far enough forward for a paddler of seven foot eleventeen, which I’m not. Even if I fit adjustable footrests and allow enough room for a taller paddler, I can have a bulkhead much further aft than the one fitted now. This will both reduce cockpit volume and increase cargo space. It’s a bit more committing than adding an extra aft bulkhead, as the existing bulkhead will need to be removed.
Foot pump
Many years ago I bought a Henderson foot pump and fitted it into a bulkhead-shaped piece of glassed-over marine ply, with the idea of putting it into my Mistral (whose forward bulkhead left me a couple of inches to play with). However, I never got round to deciding where to place the outlet pipe and this piece of kit languishes in the barn awaiting a home. If I’m fitting a new bulkhead in the Nordkapp, this would be an obvious opportunity to add the pump. The problem still remains, of course, of deciding where to feed the outlet pipe…
Seat and backband
The original seat has already been replaced, and I can’t say I like the one now in the boat any better, so I’ll be removing this and adding a foam seat with hip pads. I will also be seeing if it is possible to add an adjustable back band with ratchets – although the small sized Ocean cockpit may make this impractical.
Knee tube
Ocean cockpits don’t really go well with the sort of thigh braces seen in keyhole cockpits. The Nordkapp was designed with the intention of a more straight-legged paddling position, and there is evidence that a foam knee-bump was at one time fitted in this boat. A knee tube is generally a more solid support for bracing the knees as well as useful storage space, but does make getting in and out of the boat (particularly for deep water rescues) more difficult. I’ll tack in a temporary knee tube to see if this makes the boat too hard to use, and if not, this will become a permanent feature.
Skeg
The “M” in the model name reflects the Modified hull shape in response to the rather severe weathercocking of the very first boats. The HM has a deep extension to the keel aft, which reduces weather helm, but can make the boat hard to turn without radical edging. Modern practice is to fit boats with a drop skeg, and a number of people have trimmed down the HM fixed skeg and retrofitted a retractable one. I’ll paddle the boat for a while before deciding whether to take this step – it is clear that a retrofit to this boat is difficult without removing the deck. I would hope to be able to fit a skeg offset from the keel line (like the Islands Kayaks Expedition) to reduce the tendency to jamming. If this looks practical, then I’ll probably fit a conventional wire-operated skeg. If the space available only allows a skeg on the keel line, I’ll have to consider options to avoid the usual risk of a jammed skeg and a kinked cable.
Compass and video
The compass recess doesn’t accept any of the kayak compasses currently on the market, though Sestrel models for which the recess was designed are occasionally available secondhand. However, it became very obvious the first time I sat in the boat that the recess is in almost the perfect location for a GoPro mount, whilst a compass would usefully mount further forward, possibly in a newly built recess.

Back on the Soča

I’ve not finished editing the video from last year’s trip yet, and here we are, generating more footage. The weather is blisteringly hot, the Rainex is fresh and I’m getting better quality on a lot of stretches, especially the Bunker section (which we’ve run twice) where the critical bit at the entry to Canyon 3 last year was spoilt by a big drop of water on the GoPro. This year I have clear 4k footage from both runs (and good lines both times).


Dropping into Canyon 3 on the second run. 0.13m on the gauge.

The penalty for the hot weather and a low snow pack is, inevitably, low levels. The Koritnica ran at the start of the week, but is looking pretty empty now. The Bunker section is probably now out unless the thunderstorms we saw over the Austrian side last night return and drop some water a bit closer. The classic sections lower down are still fine, of course, and we’ve been having plenty of fun around Srpenica. Not sure if we have the group to do the slalom section, but there is talk of doing the Otona on Friday which is the only section (apart from Siphon Canyon which no-one sane runs anyway) I’ve not done.


James Lock in Canyon 3

More photos to come !

Lismore at Easter – never believe the weather forecast

I planned going up to Scotland at Easter to meet up with Sarah (working for a few weeks in Fort William) with a view to an overnight sea trip. I’d injured my shoulder skiing in February, and hadn’t paddled since New Year, so wasn’t sure how fit I’d be. We weren’t wanting to paddle the whole bank holiday weekend, which was just as well since the forecast was not very promising. By Thursday the weathermen seemed to think that Easter Sunday would be the worst day, so we were aiming to get off at a reasonable time on Good Friday, paddle as far as we saw fit down Lismore, and if that was far enough, round the southern tip and back on Saturday. To this end we got ourselves to the big layby opposite Shuna and fafffed about packing. Sarah hadn’t packed for an overnight trip before, so we weren’t expecting this to be quick and were not too disappointed to be on the water by eleven (or so…), though this did mean we were a bit later in the tide than ideal.


The Eilean Musdile Lismore lighthouse hoves into view as the headwind increases

At this stage we were expecting it to be windier today (supposedly from the northwest), getting better and being calmer tomorrow, so we headed on down the more sheltered eastern side of the island. We didn’t make bad progress for someone who has not paddled much on the sea and who had found her previous longest trip of 14 km (out to the Farnes) pretty tiring. We had a decent stop for lunch and continued on south into an increasing but not overwhelming headwind. We got far enough that we both ended with our determined heads on and could see that we should be able to make the end of the island. Conditions worsened, the rain set in and the headwind got stronger, but we were still making progress. As we got to the corner where we would turn right, we expected that the wind (which seemed to be much more from the south than forecast) would stop being directly in our faces, but we were wrong – there was now a really stiff breeze blowing right through the gap between Lismore and Eilean Musdile. The lighting over the Sound and Island of Mull was fantastic as we fought into the sunset pelted by rain and with a rainbow behind us, but that last half mile was a real battle and it started to feel as if the bay with the good camping spot would never materialise. Finally it opened up on our right and we could run the last 100m into the beach.


Coming in to the beach at the southern end of Lismore

We had cut it finer than ideal, but still had enough daylight to get the tent up and gear sorted (most especially head torches) before cooking a seriously blow-out meal which we both felt we merited. I found that my aft hatch had leaked and my toughest drybag, which I’d specifically chosen for my pit, was perhaps not as intact as I’d believed. Fortunately, I’d chosen to bring my five-season hollofill bag, which is still effective when damp, so a reasonable night was passed. However, we weren’t exactly crisp on Saturday morning, and by the time we’d breakfasted and packed up, the race had built up. It was also still blowing plenty. We both fought our way successfully against wind and tide through the gap, but one good look at the more exposed western side of the island convinced us that we were not going to have an enjoyable day if we did a full circumnavigation, so we backed off and dropped through the race back to the sheltered side. You’d kind of hope that with the wind still blowing the same way, it would now be helpfully behind us, but in fact it must have backed a little further and we were pretty much in shelter. The tide was not with us (thought it is pretty weak hereabouts anyway) until after lunch, when it started to pick up and push us along. We had a rather chilly lunch huddled in the group shelter cooking the pancakes we’d decided to skip at breakfast time, which certainly cheered us up. Back on the water, the tide really picked up as we passed the northern tip of the island and headed across the short sound towards the scattered islands to the north. We were now almost home, with just the short crossing to Shuna ahead. This was exposed to the west and quite windy, and the flood tide here runs on a diagonal, so was partly helping us, and partly kicking up in the wind. As the depth varied and the flow changed, it was quite interesting keeping our transit to arrive just east of the southern tip of Shuna. Now we could relax in almost flat water with just a tiny bit of tide on our side. With the Van in sight ahead, the day was rounded off by an Otter, who must have been fishing at some depth, since when he surfaced the second time he shot almost clear of the water !


Otter popping out of the water in Shuna Sound

With more tidal assistance and no headwind, we finished quite a bit earlier today, despite not getting a good start, so had time to find a nice restaurant with somewhere to sit (quite a feat on an Easter Saturday), just south of Balachulish. We’d clocked just about 21 km each day, so definitely a step up for Sarah, who despite the battle into the wind on Friday was still keen to do more trips. Typically, on Sunday, when we went for a photographic wander on foot round Arisaig, the predicted worst day turned out sunny and calm, with lots of sea kayakers out on the water. The wind and rain didn’t arrive until about five minutes into our bar meal sat outside the pub… Luckily, by this time, there were seats available inside so we hastily moved indoors to eat.


Looking across to Eigg and Rum on a much nicer paddling day

As the weather was once again fine on Monday, we found time for a jaunt up to the CIC Hut and back in the shadow of Ben Nevis.

A return to 4k peaking – Morocco

Having walked up a 3000m peak in 2015 – the first one for twenty years, we decided to go higher for 2016 and do a trek taking in a couple (or three) 4000m peaks in the High Atlas.

I started a feedback essay for the company running the trek, but this diversified into more of a blog write-up. Then, adapting it for the blog, it strangely starting morphing back into feedback. Looks like I’ll be rewriting both from scratch shortly… But meanwhile, this is a placeholder blog entry, to accumulate a set of photos which I can write the blog around. The executive summary is that it was a successful trip, but with reservations. I don’t think I’d do a commercial trekking trip again – I had rather expected more independent walking between meeting points. I’m not really suited to walking in a crocodile like we did at primary school, and I developed a bit of an “escape from the chain gang” mentality which rather clashed with the guide’s expectations… Eventually I omitted the third 4000m peak (Mary and Sarah went up it) as my patience was exhausted.


Andy on top of Jbel Adrar n’Dern, 4001m (photo: Sarah)

Outage – lightning fries the village

On Tuesday 13th September, we had a massive thunderstorm, with a lightning strike on a house almost directly opposite ours. Many houses in the village had power problems, and almost all lost phone (and internet). BT and the electricity companies were both a bit overwhelmed by similar incidents across northern England and did well to fix many of the faults by the next day. The fault with our phone line proved to be outside the house, somewhere in the network, so we didn’t get phone back until after we had set off for our Morocco trip, at which time, since the house power was still tripping out once or twice a day, we had all the computers off (although UPS-protected, this doesn’t cope with long power outages when we are away from home and can’t rush about shutting down systems cleanly). On our return on October 2nd, the phone line was back, and we brought up the systems. Unfortunately, power is still tripping from time to time, so we can’t guarantee continuous up time, but at least we are back online most of the time. Currently, the hard disc on the firewall is reporting a lot of errors, so I’ll have to take us offline to clone the system onto a spare drive this week, too. Hope this will be resolved over the next couple of weeks and I can bring you a write-up of our trip to the High Atlas, but meanwhile, apologies for the extended outage.

Update: October 18th – fault traced to one segment of upstairs ring main which we’ve had to isolate pending some rewiring, but power does now seems stable, so we should be back online pretty much full time (apart from the usual rural broadband dropouts, of course – business as usual).

Update: January 16th – we were losing internet connection more and more frequently and have just replaced the ADSL modem, to see a remarkable improvement suggestive that our old modem suffered some degradation, perhaps in the thunderstorm. Anyway the good news is that the line is no longer dropping, and our upstream connection speed (what limits the speed of this website) has gone up considerably. At the moment, however, downstream speed has dropped to less than the upstream speed, so possibly we’ll need to do yet more tweaking… Whilst we are still missing a segment of ring main, the power seems to be stable, too (barring the usual occasional ten seconds outage for the whole village – they never seem to go away).

Islands and waterfalls, round trip to Cascade Bay (Alaska episode 3)

We all landed at the Salmon stream across from East Flank Island on Sunday morning. With the tide out, many of the Salmon had been stranded or picked out and eaten, so the beach was pretty smelly, but still inhabited only by birds. Although the fish in the pool at the top were expiring through crowding and oxygen starvation, many more were fighting their way up the tiny stream, doomed to the same fate.


King Salmon fighting upstream to certain doom

After getting enough water to survive a day or so visiting only islands, we headed out into the Sound, aiming for Bald Head Chris Island, a crossing of about 2.5 km. We quickly passed this and continued SE, with a slightly longer crossing to Dutch Group. Here we landed for lunch and explored, looking for the “Abandoned Oil Tank” marked on our maps. It looks as though recent construction work has been in hand to remove all traces of such wartime installations, so there was little left to see except a rather scruffy road made of rafts of planks penetrating the rainforest. We soon headed on round the south side of these islands and noticed a lot of noise from a big skerry over to our right which had many sea lions hauled out. These guys can be a bit aggressive, so we chose not to make a closer visit, and headed for Axel Lind Island, passing another set of skerries on our left towards the end of this crossing, which was just shy of 4 km. There was now a little doubt over island identities and we paddled a little way along the north coast to be quite sure that our destination was not hiding out of sight just round the corner, but as soon as it became clear that we had correctly identified Eaglek Island, a break was made to cross to this, heading downwind. We aimed for what seemed like the biggest beach, and on landing, found that we could just about fit the three tents in gaps in the forest above the high tide mark.

Monday saw us off from the south-facing beach, rounding the east end of the island and heading west. The weather was threatening to deteriorate as we hit the next island and headed north towards Eaglek Bay. We followed the coast round, but avoided being fooled into paddling through the cut towards Ragged Point which would have taken us the wrong way. Instead we turned right again and headed north, taking another little cut between islands to visit an oyster farm (not much to see, as it happened, just buoys) by which time it had started to rain. However, by the time we were crossing Derickson Bay, it had cleared up somewhat, with visibility good enough to allow a choice between straight-lining to the next headland, or following the coast more closely and still remaining within sight of each other. We found a small beach with a little stream, and took the opportunity to fill up on water again. Another brief landing was made to scope out a possible camping spot where a small tidal lagoon drained out. I didn’t much like the look of this, as there were some very obvious trampled trails, and we would be very much open to being surprised by a bear emerging from the forest. Ahead, we could see the small wooded Cascade Island, which was on the far side of Cascade Bay, which was our immediate destination. Rounding a small headland, we could see white beyond some trees, and as we paddled into the bay, we soon got a better view of the biggest waterfall in Prince William Sound. We were able to paddle right up to this, where a sizeable river falls directly into the sea. The final drop, seen in the photo, is less than half the total fall, which is around 60m.


Andy getting a close view of the Cascade, Cascade Bay (Photo: Mary)

Back down the bay, we checked out an alluvial fan with a fine view of the waterfall, as a possible campsite. However, bits of seaweed strewn among the tall grasses suggested that there was nowhere for tents which was reliably above the high water mark, so we paddled back out into Squaw Bay and had a bit of debate. I favoured crossing the bay to where a number of beaches and grassy patches could be seen. However, a check with binoculars made these look less attractive and we decided instead to head south – a kilometre or two down Eaglek Bay, Derickson Bay opened and looked to have less steep slopes. We checked out a couple of small beaches at the entrance, but a short way into the bay a larger beach offered a definite camping opportunity, so we hauled the boats out. Examination of the ridges and seaweed lines here convinced us that as we were now at neaps, we could set tents on the highest level of the shingle and expect to stay dry.


Camping in Derickson Bay – at neaps we can afford to be on the shingle

As Tuesday’s route would, again, take us out to islands, we were keen to stock up with water as soon as any could be found. We could see a couple of small but steep valleys on the opposite side, and as we paddled out into the bay, could definitely hear a stream. But even as we got close to the far shore, no water was visible until we had almost landed, when a stream could finally be seen pouring over rocks under the trees and sinking promptly into the back of the beach. A bit of shingle moving dammed up enough of a small pool to allow us to work our filter pumps, with the added benefit of being able to work under the shade of the Alders.


We could hear this stream from across the Bay, but it was well hidden !

We now reversed our course of yesterday until we reached the narrow channel leading south west towards Ragged Point, which this time, we duly took, heading south down the west-facing coast of the island which it isolated. From the tip, we crossed back to Axel Lind Island at the point we’d briefly touched two days ago. Now we headed round the south west side, being stalked by a couple of sea lions on the way. This was an attractive coast with various small wildlife, and several beaches where camping would have been possible. However, still no large wildlife. We skipped past Jenny Islands and on to Little Axel Lind Island, paddling along its south east side. A tombolo beach might have provided a route across the island at a high spring tide, but there was no way without a carry today. Another narrow cut near the eastern end looked as though it would go, and did indeed continue beyond the large rock apparently obstructing it. However a couple of smaller rocks just beyond meant we’d need another 30 cm of tide to get through. We duly backed out and went right round the eastern tip of the island.


Rounding the NE tip of Little Axel Lind Island

The plan now was to head back to Jenny Islands, before crossing back to our camping spot of two nights earlier on Eaglek Island. A couple of skerries provided a channel to hop through, but Eaglek Island looked a little different from this angle and we couldn’t immediately identify the beach we wanted. As we got closer, however, a distinctive fallen tree at the west end of our beach became visible, so we changed course a little and landed at just the right place.


Half a moon – neaps on Eaglek Island

Heading west on Wednesday, we left Eaglek Island, passing the bigger island almost joined to Ragged Point, and hit the “mainland” again. Once again, we were in search of fresh water, and hoping to avoid the Salmon stream where we felt there was a real risk of meeting bears. A narrow bay contained another oyster farm, but didn’t seem to have a stream at the head, so we passed on, heading for Squaw Bay, where a river was marked on the map coming in on the west side at Papoose Cove. Reaching this was no problem, though we could guess from the number of Bald Eagles and Glaucous-winged gulls wheeling around that this one, too, had a salmon run. Unfortunately, arriving not far off the bottom of the tide, we found the sizeable stream cascading directly into the sea (into a pool full of salmon) and no freshwater pool. A rope offered a tantalising chance to climb up – but as it ended more than a metre above the current water level this was not going to help us today. A scrambling route did look possible, but there was nowhere close enough to land and reach this, so we reluctantly concluded that this stream was not going to supply our needs.


Getting fresh water proved impossible in Papoose Cove at low tide

Back out into the bay, nowhere else looked a likely prospect, so we headed round the headland and visited the salmon stream for the third time. By now, the smell of dead salmon was oppressive, and fish skeletons were everywhere as the Eagles and gulls rose into the air from our disturbance. We hastened to the little waterfall to fill up. Most of the fish in the pool were now dead, so Mary and I climbed up the little waterfall to get to clean water. There were obvious game trails both sides of the stream, and with the noise of falling water and lots of vegetation we felt there was a real risk that an approaching bear would have little warning that we were there, so tried to make plenty of noise as well as being as quick as possible in filling up. John and Pete filled up in a little pool at the bottom of the waterfall and we escaped without incident, back down the beach and into the boats where it was less than a kilometre to paddle across to East Flank Island and the same beach we had used four days ago. There was still plenty of firewood, so a last evening was spent relaxing and watching yet another sunset from the beach.


Yet another perfect sunset on our last night – East Flank Island

Thursday was pick-up day, but not until 2 p.m., so we had plenty of time to tidy and pack up gear before Epic Charters arrived to take us back to Whittier. The boat, “Ellen J” is well equipped for carrying sea kayaks and kit, and even had a cooler with beer for us !


Pick up at East Flank Island for return to Whittier (Photo: Mary)

With the boat cruising at 29 knots, it was just about an hour through Wells Passage south of Esther Island, across Port Wells, and up the length of Passage Canal to Whittier, to meet Levi. Boats and kit loaded into the trailer, we still had half an hour before the tunnel would open in our direction, so had a wander round the general store (some buying clean tee-shirts) before piling into the truck and waiting for the tunnel to open. Back at Hope, we all had to shower in double-quick time to make it to the restaurant in time to eat, but Halibut and chips, and absolutely no shortage of beer made a definite return to civilisation. We had a day to get sorted and packed up, and a leisurely walk into Hope for lunch. Another fine meal of Sockeye Salmon on curried lentils followed, with rather less emphasis on the beer tonight. Up and off by 08:30 on Saturday, for the drive to Anchorage, where we put all our baggage into storage and took a cab to downtown, where we visited the museum. There are a number of baidarka frames, some definitely historic and weather-beaten, but one appeared recently built and noticeably different from the classic baidarka shape such as the Lowie Museum specimen which has been used as a base by so many modern baidarka replica builders (including my own Borealis project).

All trips must end, so we cabbed back to the airport, checked our bags in, and flew back, getting some splendid views over Greenland as we flew a slightly less polar route than on our outward flight. It was strange to look down on the snowy landscape below and realise that the shadows were on the south sides of the hills, as the midnight sun shone from the north. We also got a glimpse of the east coast of Iceland, but cloud covered the Orkneys, and we flew over the North Sea on our way to Frankfurt. A much shorter layover here soon saw us on the short hop to Manchester, and the drive home.


There is a page of additional notes for this trip. covering outfitting, watertaxi, maps, charts, tides, etc.