Friday, May 4, 2007

A Five Star Paddling Experience


Tides and current were not dominant with our planned paddle of Great Bearnaraigh today so we relaxed a bit in the morning sun (can you believe that!) and once underway visited the remains of a large Broch (essentially a very old, round, cone shaped structure having double walls with stairs in-between. Then we stopped at the Calanais Standing Stones similar to Stone Henge but with more stones and in the form of a cross) and finally on to paddle.

We chose today’s paddle by happenstance, no books, no referrals, no current info… just looked good on our map. Great Bearnaraigh faces the Atlantic and we launched at a small harbor near Balasaigh. The fishermen there were most kind, confirming our suspicions that current wasn’t a big issue but suggesting that crossing the channel to the island of Pabaigh Mor would be more interesting than our original planned path.

Wow! There’s nothing like local knowledge.

At the end of the Great Bearnaraigh, rather than explore further we set up the crossing to Pabaigh Mor (~1-1/2 miles) and we found the suggested narrow entrance to a horseshoe shaped cove with entrances on either side of the point but protected from direct exposure to the Atlantic. The cove had broad sweeping sandy beaches, turquoise water and a large tidal pool with drainage cascading down a seaweed lined slide. This could have been the Caribbean except for the very cold water. We entered at low tide and luxuriated with the sun, out of the wind, ate our lunch and… well napped. As we rested the tide started rising rapidly and eliminating the beaches around us. That gave us the opportunity to slip up the tidal pool slide in our kayaks (Jen was creative and started pulling herself up with the seaweed), explore and then slide back down (the seaweed protecting the kayaks from the rocks).

As we returned to the open sea we rounded the exposed point of the island to find a huge heart shaped arch (which required higher tide level to paddle through) and others that allowed safe passage. Continuing down the west side of Pabaigh Mor along a channel we encountered cave after cave after… Not just any cave but caves going back several hundred feet; some wide, some too narrow to use your paddle, some requiring a flashlight. Coves, arches, and caves any one of which would make for a 5 star paddling day all on one island that it appears only the local fishermen know about. We also happened upon a large sea otter.

Done exploring we island hopped down the west side of Bacsaigh and ferried (lots of that here in the Hebredis) across An Caolas channel with side swell (occasional deck wash) and force 4+ winds. Once again Jake did a masterful job of navigating and I followed.

After landing we headed south to Harris island (though it’s connected to Lewis it still seems to be considered separate) about 1+ hours drive. Hoping to continue camping we stopped at the Tourist Bureau and were advised that we have the right to camp pretty much wherever we want (it’s polite to ask if a house is near) and further that ~20 minutes south of town was a fantastic beach. Before leaving town we loading up on food at the local grocer (closed at 6PM but open again from 8 to 9PM – go figure).

We were very excited to see a sign that the grocer had free wireless internet… but alas even with the help of the proprietor (a retired Cisco geek) we could not get online. Internet connection has been a real problem since we left Thurso and our secret O’Neil ‘surfer’ connection at the Royal Hotel bar. The one time we did find a connected computer in Ullapool Jen consumed the time (prior to catching the ferry) researching St. Kilda possibilities and we never got to post anything before jumping on the ferry.

To finish up the day we found the beach and set up camp on a grassy bluff overlooking a huge sandy bay opening into the Atlantic. As we watched the full moon rise the tide began to empty the entire bay setting up tidal/surf race at least 1 mile out. Essentially the beach front moves 1+ miles with each tide shift!

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