Going with the flow

At the Ballachulish NarrowsIt hardly seemed like a week had passed since we had journeyed towards a rendezvous at the Falls of Lora on Sunday morning. Here we were retracing our steps northwards, the somewhat variable weather forecast requiring an “on the spot” decision as to our ultimate destination. At the Falls, the group agreed that plans for the Cuan Sound should be momentarily shelved  in view of the somewhat formidable westerly winds predicted along with the spring tides. The Ballachulish area seemed like the most viable option as it would present tidal activity and a bit of weather, but hopefully not too much.

We put in at Ballachulish Bridge, just in time for some play in the narrows which, while we were there, saw the tide ebbing at the spring rate of 5 knots. This was just about right for practising manoeuvres and becoming accustomed to the movement of the water.  In the realms of quite speedy tidal flow, tricks are played on the brain and it’s not until one directs one’s gaze shorewards that one realises – helpmaboab, I’m fairly chugging along here!  Fortunately, the manageable rate on this occasion allowed me to cast aside my imagined worst case scenario (being trapped in a flow headed direct to Canada) and try out some ferry gliding, breaking in and out and general scooting about.

In the tide race

In the tide race

Another group meeting was then called to decide where we would head next. There was a lot of enthusiastic pointing at some gnarly waves in the distance and, after a brief lecture from Lewis about what to do in the event of any of us falling in and requiring help (proceed calmly to the nearest Lewis, basically), we duly allowed the flow to push us westwards.

As we approached said waves, their presentation appeared quite surreal. We could see the sea state instantly transform from flat to roiling, to the extent that it felt like we were sitting on the shore. I decided that I wasn’t 100% ready to meet the lumpy stuff and, when I did so, it would be on my own terms, in a civilised fashion and with polite introductions. It would also be immediately after I’d identified an escape route. So, departing from reality for a few seconds, I started paddling backwards in order to buy some time. Of course, this was a quite useless endeavour as, akin to being on a conveyor belt, I was soon pitched into the thick of it.

Up and down

Up and down

It must be said that, when the words “tidal flow” are mentioned, my brain unplumbs itself from its reservoir of Known Knowns and floats into the vacuum of Unknown Unknowns. Tides are mysterious and mythical phenomena, affected by the wind, the land and the seabed, controlled by the moon, the sun, gravity, river gods and pixies. It’s all fodder for the active imagination. As it turned out, however, the conditions were no worse than previous rough water encounters and, once bobbing about in the fray, things seemed a lot more “normal”.

Lunch stop

Lunch stop

We played in the waves for a bit, before continuing westwards into the wind, pulling in for lunch just before rounding the corner at Rubha Cuil-cheanna. We then continued north to another set of narrows – the Corran Narrows. The waves became bigger and a bit more “swelly” at this point. As we stopped to listen to Lewis’s explanations of the sea state (summary: the outgoing ebb was meeting shallows and incoming wind), I admit that lunch wasn’t sitting terribly well. We were, however, soon moving on downwind, disappearing into the big troughs before being elevated and pushed forward up the crests (the bit I’m still getting used to). One of my paddling companions asked if I was enjoying myself, to which I replied in the affirmative. I expressed some frustration at my lack of bravery in that I didn’t feel up to attempting to surf the bigger waves, to which he replied, “But you have a roll, right?”.  I confirmed that, well yes, technically I did. Fortunately he did not hear me then mutter, “What’s that got to do with anything?”!

Corran Lighthouse

Corran Lighthouse

As we neared the narrows, the sea calmed down and, to be honest, it was a tad disappointing after the preceding thrills. We had to make do with the picturesque scene of the lighthouse and the ferry. Oh, and did I mention the magnificent Glencoe mountains?

We about-turned and battled south-west against the wind before turning east back towards Ballachulish. Just when I’d thought that the day’s excitement was over, there was more vigorous pointing at more frothy waves and – like moths to a flame – we were soon bouncing around in the turbulence again. It was a great way to end the day.

Decent conditions

Decent conditions

Just as we exited the water, the heavens opened and we were rained on fairly torrentially for a large part of the way home. It is said that the rain is God’s way of washing the coos, and I think that that must include the kayaks who, after a great day on the water, were surely as happy as the occupants of the car transporting them homewards.

A big thank you to Lewis who, once again, allowed us to go out and play in the lumpy stuff.

2 Comments

  1. Mackayak says:

    Sounds great – I had a tidal experience myself this weekend. You have summed up the sensations so well! The conveyor belt, watching birds on the water surface whizz by just ahead, then realising they haven’t stopped… you are with them… amazing!

  2. Ignacio Wenley Palacios Iglesias says:

    What a vivid, splendid description! The Unknown Unknowns. I really wish I’d be there.

    By the way, you’re very modest, Pam.

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