We awoke to Skye being renamed Eilean a’ Cheo and dense fog. At I couldn’t even see the Hebridian seashore just below our bluff. Confident it would clear we went about our morning routine of coffee (something to wake Jen up), oatmeal (Jakes morning specialty) and preparing to get on the water. While we ate the fog lifted a bit turning into low cloud cover for the balance of the paddle with cooler conditions than we have had all week (but still not cold by Scottish standards). There was a mild wind from the northwest chopping up the waters surface and causing fetch that built in size as we proceeded through the day and became more exposed to the open sea.
Today’s paddle required a shuttle. Fortunately we had the time to check out our launch harbor at
We started by swinging east of
Upon exiting the inter-island channel we turned west towards the coast and began exploring caves and arches. Our first cave had four access points joining at the center in a ‘T’. But having been inured to only the best caves over the past few days we moved on quickly. Soon we discovered there were far too many to explore so we only entered those that were promising and indeed there were many. Inside caves the swell mellowed, the sound of the wind and the sea turned to a whisper and the cave would occasionally growl. Some opened to the sky as you passed inside, some narrowed requiring one to creep along with your hands, some required a flashlight. We proceeded along the coast stopping for lunch at
The low clouds covered the sun, the wind was cool and still blowing from the north. We were anxious to round Rubha na h-Aiseig to see what awaited us and so were back on the water more quickly than usual (no nap for Jen). After paddling not more than 5 minutes we rounded the edge of the bay into large sea swells. At least I thought they were large swells until I looked further than the front of my kayak and realized we had dropped directly into the Rubha na h-Aiseig tidal race! I immediately swung into an eddy to get settled, Jen and Jake were already playing. The race is squeezed into a channel between the headlands and an island, making it big. The waves at the top of the race were surfable and we all were soon at it. For me the unique attribute of this race was that it kept pushing me out the top. I kept dropping down along the side, would ferry in, and moments later my position was back at the beginning of the race. It was a if I wasn’t being drawn along with the flow of the water at all! My usual experience of a race involves efforting to catch a wave and also prevent oneself from being swept down through the race. After playing for a bit Jen suggested we turn into the race and run down through bow first.
Now this race was ~1 mile long, big, and exposed to incoming westerly swells. Playtime for Jen and Jake but stretching my limits! Nonetheless, this was an opportunity to see if I had learned anything from my wet exit day earlier in the week when I was paddling forward through the Duncansby Head race (trying to assist with Ian’s rescue). I reasoned I hadn’t been hurt, I had survived, and who better to rescue me today if needed than Jen and Jake? From my first experience I had observed that I needed to keep powering forward through the race, keep my paddle deep in the water with each stroke (in these steep high frequency waves a shallow stroke may find nothing but air throwing one off balance), and be ready to low brace instantly when hit by side swell. The ride through the race was an adrenalin pumping riot moving us along at a combined speed of ~10 miles/hour, smashing through waves and slamming down their backs, bracing into peaks arising from any side at any moment. After what at the same time seemed endless and yet only momentary we pulled into calmer water at Lub a Sgiathain bay and explored yet more caves while we rested from the chaos of the race.
Soon we were approaching the race at Rubha Hunish. As we approached it initially didn’t appear to me to be as big or as powerful as the previous race at Rubha na h-Aiseig. It was different too inasmuch as the waves were not surfable and more chaotic than I had seen before. Indeed, by this time we had the wind to our backs, a 3-4 foot swell coming in of the Hebridean sea from the NW, we had a 6-8 mile an hour current and the race is set up as the ebb tide runs directly along the Rubha Hunish cliffs (~200 feet to our left) causing reflection waves from the crossing swell. Wow! Jen again suggested we drop down through the center and off we went. It was like dropping into a monstrous washing machine. Waves and reflection waves slammed together at your bow while the race is forcing you straight up the wave peak, then off down the other side as a side swell slams over your deck. This race didn’t’ give up but curved right around Rubha Hunnish and pointed us south towards our destination finally letting us loose in Loch Hunish
It was only another mile to our destination and I for one was happy to ride a gentle current combined with mild back swells to our landing beach where we slipped, slid and pulled our kayaks up a boulder beach (the tide was nearly at full ebb by now), then up a grass slope to our camp below Duntulm. Jen and I shuttled back to get the van while Jake scampered off to get a closer look at the dilapidated Duntulm castle overlooking the bay.
As we packed up the van I reflected on the last week. My personal successes, lessons learned, bonds saturated with challenges and intimate common experiences (but not that intimate!). Friends supporting each other in big and little ways, the laughter, the tears, the triumph over fears. All contributed to a unique and unforgettable experience and fostered personal growth. Jen and Jake were off to
I extend a big thank you to Jen for inviting me to participate in preparing for and taking her BCU 5 Star Instructor exams. Her focus and devotion to reaching that lofty goal lifted the quality of my paddling far beyond my usual confidence and extended my paddling experiences to places I previously had only dreamed of. I remain committed to her success. Jake, is a paddler I have come to trust implicitly, always cheerful, always helpful, both on and off the water. I can’t recall laughing so hard for so long! They shared their space with me seamlessly; paddling, sightseeing, cooking, cleaning, driving, sleeping, just sitting and contemplating.
As I am sure Jen suspects I’m now back to my old ways, lodged for the night halfway to Perth at the Invergarry Hotel (Jake – it’s a fishing and hunting lodge as it turns out – www.invergarryhotel.co.uk), shaved and cleaned up, kayak gear rinsed, dried and packed away, sated by a bacon wrapped scallop dinner, a gemmologist once again. I look forward to seeing all of you back on the water in
p.s. It turns out there has been such an uproar with the name of Skye being changed to Eilean a’ Cheo that the politicians have backed down and Skye is now Eilean a’ Cheo only on election day (which was today). So don’t panic… you can still get over here and paddle Skye (just not on election day!).