Laid Up in Loch Striven

Some vigorous rolling practice back at Garnock pool on Friday night produced good results for Alan and me, under the guidance of the very helpful Lewis. Duly inspired, we decided to go for a quick paddle up Loch Striven on Saturday morning.

Container ships on Loch Striven

Container ships on Loch Striven

There’s been a bit of a change of scenery since we were last there and anyone familiar with the area will know that the loch is being used to pen some rather large container vessels in “cold lay-up” to sit out the recession. These are the same ships that made their considerable presence known for several weeks at the anchorages on the lower Firth of Clyde before being taken to their new home in the loch. Basically, with the downturn in demand for consumer goods, there is presently a global excess of container vessels to requirements. As a result, many ships are being “parked” in various locations throughout the world until the economy picks up.

As soon as we turned in towards the Kyles of Bute, we saw the ships up ahead. They are, of course, a reminder that looks are deceiving and that, despite its serene and unspoiled appearance, Loch Striven has been used for many a military-industrial purpose from the past to the present day. Aside from accommodating previous ship lay-ups (with 2 ships remaining there for 20 years), it houses a NATO refuelling depot at the mouth of the loch, where a naval vessel was in fact present as we paddled past, as well as comprising a submarine exercise area (as revealed by nautical charts of the loch). Indeed, longer-term residents of Cowal will tell the tale of how the loch was used for tests of a smaller version of the “bouncing bomb” used to destroy the Ruhr dams in 1943.

As we were pushed handily northwards by the wind and the tide, we were overtaken by 4 porpoises who duly broke the personal-proximity-to-kayak record, for me anyway. That initself made our trip worthwhile, however, the investigative reporter in me wanted to press on to get a bit nearer to the mammoth container ships. Part of my curiosity lay in the fact that they are the biggest and fastest ships of their kind (reportedly reaching speeds of over 30 knots), with some of the biggest engines in the world. Here is an excerpt from the ClydeSights Website:

“MAERSK BEAUMONT is the seventh, and last, ship of the VWS 4000 class built at the German Volkswerft Stralsund shipyard and delivered to Maersk UK in December 2007. She is 294.1 metres in length – similar to some of the larger bulk carriers that have visited the river and making her one of the largest vessels that can be accommodated within the locks of the Panama Canal – and has a deadweight of 52,400 tonnes. She can carry up to 4,170 TEU containers, and appears to have last been employed on a service to South America. MAERSK BEAUMONT and her sisters all fly the Red Ensign.”

BIG SHIPS ... and tiny kayak

GREAT BIG SHIPS ... and toty wee kayak

All I can say is that I’d much rather encounter them safely tied up than out on the high seas. They made our kayaks seem very, very tiny indeed and its hard to believe that 2 such disparate vessels can possibly share the same waters. It remains uncertain as to whether or not the 4 ships presently laid up will be joined by any others. There had been rumours of anything up to 18 more ships on their way. Perhaps a sign at the mouth of the loch will be needed to indicate “Spaces” or “Full”.

Having satisfied our curiosity, we about-turned and headed back the way we’d come. Of course, we knew the wind and tide would now be against us and it was a bit of a slog. By the time we reached Toward, however, it was straying beyond a slog into the territory of panic skills-testing. Alan is a lot more cool in these situations and was positively enjoying bouncing along on the frothing waves (apart from the occasional whining noise coming from somewhere behind him). I, on the other hand, have read one too many “how-it-all-went-wrong” reports and remained acutely aware of the marked absence of an essential bit of safety kit, namely a Level 5 coach with excellent rescue capabilities. Never mind, all of that will be put to right next week when we travel up to Skye to test out those very capabilities as exemplified by Skyak Adventures. Can’t wait!

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