Choosing Tony Hammock of Seafreedom Kayak was a great move. Although originally English, he’s lived with a view to the Falls of Lora for the past nine years, and does literally know this area like the back of his hand. He’s also a 5 star BCU kayak coach with a great love and knowledge of his wide backyard.
He got our measure during our first day paddling with him on the Falls, coaching us in the art of breaking in and out of moving waters, checking that we were comfortable with rescues while we settled into the Northshore Atlantic (Harry) and Atlantic LV (me) kayaks.
The town of Oban appealed to us both, a scenic spot with Cal Mac ferries, fishing boats and sail boats coming and going In the busy harbour. The local Tesco supermarket was handy for our trip food shopping.
Day One started with a smooth crossing from Crinan to the island of Jura, all leisurely and relaxed, until the famed Gulf of Corryvreckan lived up to its name as a wild and challenging place. For some unknown reason the flow was faster than would be usual for the tidal range for the day. What should have been a quick sprint round a headland against the tidal stream became an Epic. Our first two attempts to break free of the 6-7 knot current ended with us resting in the eddy behind a little island for the second time, a curious seal wondering what the hell we were doing. Perhaps Tony and Harry would have made it, but not me; so the plan was changed and we turned to head back to our lunch spot, a quiet bay protected from the currents. I made a novice’s error and quickly paid the price – swimming the Gulf of Corryvreckan.
Tony and Harry were with me in a flash, I hooked back into the flooded cockpit (so glad I’d practiced this move over and over with Peter), and tightly rafted we rode the wild waters. Once I got my breath back, I pumped out the cockpit and sticking right on Tony’s tail, copying his every turn and edge, we eddy-hopped and ferry-glided our way back to calm and reassuring waters.
I can laugh at it all now, but right then, it was dramatic and I was totally engaged in every moment and paddle stroke.
From there we progressed; a night on Jura, a meander along the stunning northern section of the west Jura coast, a lunchtime stop on a beach, with a raised beach, and a choice to have an adventure. With a good forecast, we left the shoreline and paddled the twenty kilometres out to the island of Colonsay.
Tony’s way of running our trip was excellent. We’d started with an outline of a trip, and as we went, and as we got the weather forecasts, Tony would throw some suggestions our way. He included us in all the decision-making, offering ideas of what would work given the weather, tides and potential campsites.
With two long days under our belts, Day Four was a leisurely meander among the picturesque Garvellachs. We’d camped on Eileen an Naoimh with its ancient dwellings, a holy place since the times of St Brendan and St Columba. From this island group we moved to the Black Isles for lunch on yet another hidden away and stunning beach. Our next move was a real eye-opener for Harry and I. If you could imagine the capital letter D, we wanted to start at the base of the straight line and end up at the top. But rather than kayaking along that straight line, we followed the curve of the D, moving through and across the tidal flow, again under Tony’s careful coaching, turning at exactly the correct spots while finally landing right on the narrow beach at the top of that D. Too far left or right and we’d have been swept past the island. The use of transits was so important here, the need to judge how the water was moving our kayaks relative to the land.
And Tony’s navigation wasn’t the only magic part of this short section. Two dolphins came to accompany us, swimming under and between our kayaks, moving above the water solo and as a coordinated pair.
So our Never-Ever trip: the weather had never-ever been this good in twenty years, the currents had never-ever run this fast at this tidal range, the low tide had never-ever been this low (for this tidal range), Tony had never-ever taken clients to Colonsay and the Garvellachs like he did us, had to end. Day Five we left our windy, and midge-free, campsite on the island of Luing going to Puffers Cafe on the island of Easdale for morning tea (actually some great coffee), wending our way up the eastern side of the Firth of Lorne, and completing our journey on the slipway at Oban.
[Photos to follow]