Familiarity breeds content

Paddling against the windWhile the rest of the northern hemisphere basks in summer sunshine, we have been soaking up all the rain, wind and cool temperatures that only Scotland can provide in July. Theoretically this might sound like a miserable prospect, but as the wise and ancient adage goes – when life hands you lemons, add some salt and tequila! And the same applies for the weather. We could choose to spend the rainy, windy days indoors playing dominoes, or we could go out and paddle anyway. And so we have been squirting those lemons right back in life’s eye. Who wants sunshine and balmy conditions anyway?

I know what you’re thinking: who is this and what have you done with Pam? The fact is that lately I have, through a process of gradual coercion immersion (the type that hasn’t involved too much capsizing, fortunately), become increasingly familiar with conditions that lie in the F4/5 slot on the Beaufort Scale.

After our exciting day out off Cumbrae, we went along to practice night at the RWSABC when the wind was making a direct hit on the bay and veritable breakers were rolling ashore. A few deep breaths and out I went into the fray. It wasn’t long before (what felt like) a rather large wave caught my stern and powered me forwards with such speed that I thought that it might see me hurtled into the club bar to get in an early round of ginger beers. A little shaken, I landed and collected my nerves before heading back out, by which time the waves had subsided a tiny bit.

A lovely summer's day out on the PS Waverley

A lovely summer's day out on the PS Waverley (I'd rather be paddling!)

Last Saturday was yet another grey and windy day, so we decided that it wasn’t worth venturing too far away. Launching at Lazaretto Point, it had all the feel of one of our winter’s day paddles, and we headed east out of the Holy Loch. It took us about 10 minutes to reach Kilcreggan – well, I exaggerate, but with the F4-5 westerly wind behind us, we scooted along as if engine-powered, scarcely requiring a paddle stroke. As much as this was all very pleasurable, our enjoyment was tempered by the realisation that this could only mean one thing for the return journey.

Scooting along

Scooting along

We fortified ourselves at the cafe on the waterfront of Kilcreggan, another establishment that is kind to sodden paddlers and doesn’t mind saltwater puddles forming on the floor. Soon, we were back on the water experiencing the full-frontal force of the wind. There’s no denying it, this was quite a slog. I made a concerted effort not to gauge my progress against any landmarks as I knew this would only result in depression. On the bright side, it proved an excellent opportunity to work on maximum forward stroke efficiency, focusing on rotation and paddle grip in particular. I explored the fine line between lessening my grip on the paddle so as to prevent raging tendinitis, and having the paddle whipped from my hands. The gusts were sufficient to bring us to a halt on occasion and we contemplated a shore stop at Cove before deciding to plough ahead regardless. There were some moments of respite, but the gusts experienced upon reaching the Holy Loch were some of the most fearsome of the day.

Rescue "practice"

Rescue "practice"

A few feet from the shore, my wind-ravaged senses became aware of some wobbling going on to my left. Almost in slow motion, I observed Alan inelegantly capsizing in what looked like a most unintended way. As Alan floundered about in the water, my finely honed rescue skills immediately kicked in, but I discarded them in favour of a fit of the giggles. The official story regarding this embarrassing debacle (avidly watched/photographed by our fellow paddlers and various pedestrians on the shore-side) was that Alan was paddling Julia’s Pintail and, due to a lack of practice at emerging from that particular kayak, he managed to tip himself over whilst doing some sort of yoga pose in the cockpit. Actually, he tells me that he was in fact trying to disengage his foot from the kayak in preparation for landing. What resulted was a fiasco hybrid between a self-rescue and an assisted rescue. I will share some key learnings:

  • The rescuer should not giggle at the rescuee. It is considered bad form.
  • The rescuee should not shout at the rescuer.
  • The rescuee should follow the rescuer’s instructions, even if the rescuer is his wife.
  • The rescuer should refrain from saying “I told you so” afterwards, no matter how tempting.

One thing for sure is that paddling into F4/5 wind provides an excellent workout, although I confess to moving a bit like a turtle the next day, until I’d done some yoga at least.

Happy place, despite the weather

Happy place, despite the weather

Aside from the practical benefits to be gained from increased familiarity with rougher conditions, there are some considerable psychological ones too. With more windy weather under my belt, I am no longer hitting “Refresh” on the Met Office website weekend forecast on a Wednesday. Gone is the nervous anxiety created by predicted gusts that only a few weeks ago would have seen me bailing out of a trip. And all told, it serves to increase the number of available paddling opportunities, which can’t ever be a bad thing. Living in Scotland, it’s not as if we can hold off and wait for summer to arrive.

Fake plastic seas

Julia and Pam off InnellanAs much as I’d like to post about numerous exciting paddling trips since I last blogged, I’m afraid such trips have been a little thin on the, er, water due to my succumbing to a cold bug which I have now generously passed on to Alan. I did manage to go out on a pioneering all-girl paddle with Julia last weekend, which consisted of a pleasant (albeit chilly) outing  in local waters. The promising conditions of the previous week had been replaced by something much more akin to November weather, where icy winds and rain prevailed. Nonetheless, we bravely soldiered through the elements (and the volcanic ash), Julia with her gammy knee and me with my sniffles. Alan was still off the water due to his injuries, but helped us with the kayaks at either end. Together, we are a team!

Julia off KirnJust when I’d thought that the little lightweight cold that I’d had nearly 2 weeks ago was history, it took some anabolic steroids and came back with a purpose. And so I have spent this week hacking and snuffling. Not only that, with the warnings of my MS nurse ringing faintly in my ears, I realised that my eye had gone a bit “wonky” again. Consulting with Dr Google, I have confirmed that the common cold can aggravate MS symptoms. I have certainly learned something. Hopefully, it will all go away soon.

Not being out on the water has left me with too much time on my hands to surf the Internet and come across the following stories. If you are in any way attached to the concept of saving the planet for future generations, then I warn you – they make difficult viewing:

I’m not going to lie to you – this depresses the bejesus out of me.

Why is  humanity the only species that is so intent on trashing its own nest? Not only that, we’re taking everyone else – all our fellow earthlings – down with us.

It’s all so overwhelming at times, it feels like our pathetic little gestures to help the environment are pointless. But are they? As I view the videos above, I’m tempted to conclude that picking up the odd plastic bag out of the sea is meaningless. If, however, by doing so I saved one animal’s life, it is definitely worth it. If it simply stopped garbage from washing up on a pristine Hebridean beach, it’s worth it. So, I will keep on plucking the plastic bags and bottles out of the sea when I come across them, I’ll refuse plastic bags at source (the supermarket), as well as the ubiquitous, all-pervading plastic bottles.  And, who knows – going out on a limb here – maybe if enough of us keep doing this, we could turn the plastic tide.

I’ve blogged before about the rubbish in our seas, and the situation will only get worse. Unless of course our ability to produce these insanely vast quantities of plastic junk is somehow limited. In the recent past, both the US Department of Energy (see p.8) and the US Joint Forces Command (and Richard Branson!) have warned that we are about to enter into an era of ever-diminishing availability of cheap oil. With plane-free skies courtesy of the (unpronounceable) Icelandic volcano, we were perhaps given a slight foretaste of the future in recent days. As much as our lack of planning for this inevitability will make it in many ways painful for humanity, Mother Earth may well breathe a small sigh of relief.

“And it wears me out, it wears me out.”
Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, Radiohead

Never too much of a good thing

There is a Zen saying that, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I have come to realise a slightly adapted version of this, which is: “When the kayaker is ready, the paddling opportunities will come.” This has certainly been the way of things lately. When Alan and I started out, we didn’t know any other kayakers.  We then made friends down at Garnock and, now, we find similarly minded folks right on our very doorstep, providing no shortage of opportunity to get out on the water. It’s a truly wonderful thing.

Misty Holy Loch

Last weekend saw several of those folks stranded on the “wrong” side of the water. Those of us on the Cowal side had intended to meet our friends at Kilcreggan, however, a thick, pea-souper of a fog had descended upon Greenock. Not possessing any suicidal tendencies, our friends quite sensibly abandoned any plans to cross the Clyde shipping channel. Sadly, therefore, they missed out on the beautiful sunny window that had opened over the Cowal Peninsula. We gazed over at the fog-enshrouded gloom in disappointment, which was only assuaged by blue skies, sunshine and beautiful scenery as we made our way from the Holy Loch to Dunoon and a hot cuppa at the Yachtsman’s Cafe.

Heading for the Kyles

Paddling in the Kyles

This weekend saw everyone gathered on the “right” side of the water where more blue skies and sunshine, if not exactly balmy temperatures, beckoned us out for a paddle from Toward to the East Kyles of Bute. After a great deal of deliberation, Alan decided that this would be the day of his “official” return to the world of sea kayaking after a nearly 4 months’ absence due to injury (give or take a couple of short practice outings). It was really excellent to have him back. Also a little strange. I confess to having become a bit “precious” about organising my kit, and I did try not to show my irritation upon discovering bits of his kit appearing in “my” Ikea bag. On the other hand, it’s awfully nice to have someone help you tug your mukluks off (paddlers will understand) at the end of a day’s exertions.

Taxi for Alan

Taxi for Alan

The wind was coming from the NNW  at about 20 kph as we headed straight into it on the way up the Kyles. Fortunately, the sun was out sufficient to keep us from freezing, despite the 3°C temperature and, indeed, my hands became quite sweaty in my pogies. I watched Alan with some concern, hoping that he wasn’t at risk of undoing all the hard physio work he’d undertaken in order to heal, but he assured me that he was feeling fine.  It seemed like the wind was picking up a bit as we pulled into shore for a spot of lunch. Most conveniently, our lunch site sported a rope swing, the temptation of which was too great to resist. Several of us let loose with our inner child and were soon flying through the air in a state of reckless abandon.

Loch Striven meets the Kyles

Loch Striven meets the Kyles

Returning was a quite different experience, with the wind now behind us. We soon established that, at the rate we were being pushed along, we were acquiring 2-3 knots of wind and tidal assistance. It took me all my time not to pull out a newspaper and make a cup of tea as we coasted along. As the waters exiting the Kyles met up with their relations exiting Loch Striven, however, things became a little livelier and required a return of all hands on paddles as we negotiated a bit of F4 chop. The optimists within our party had anticipated that it might be possible to not have to skirt around the fish farm at the southern end of Loch Striven, however, such hopes were obliterated upon meeting up with the rather chunky cables and pipes inconsiderately placed between the shore and the fish cages.  And so we laboured through the chop all the way around the fish farm. Suddenly Alan was making excellent progress as, momentarily distracted from his injury, he had hit the “turbocharger” button on his kayak (a well-known bonus feature of the Nordkapp). I continued to enjoy and appreciate my Rockpool Isel, which took the turbulence in its stride.

A January roll

A January roll

Soon we were back in the calmer waters of Toward. As we approached our destination slipway, not happy with a successful day’s paddling, Alan decided to test out his roll. I am pleased to report that it was present and correct, thus motivating the rest of us to duly pat him on the back and declare him mad (but in a good way).

And, speaking of resurfacing, the Cowal Kayak Club is now providing yet more opportunities to paddle. The Friday night pool sessions have re-started and future trips are in the works. If I’m not careful, this paddling thing could become a bit of an obsession …

New Year’s intentions

What better way to start the year than on the water, even if it is a little chilly out there? Recent weather would suggest that the much rumoured “switching off” of the Gulf Stream (which is supposed to keep our climate from going the way of Canada’s) has now occurred. We’ve had snow and ice on the ground for so long now, I can barely recall the colour of grass. OK, I exaggerate – but it has been a couple of weeks at least since our “big freeze” began and it’s going to take a bit of practice to re-learn how to walk without shuffling or clinging on to walls and such by the time the thaw does come.

No such worries on the water and New Year’s Day found a group of us shaking off 2009 with a refreshing paddle from the Holy Loch to Loch Long and back. Some eejit suggested that, in the tradition of the New Year’s Day “dook” (trans: swim), a New Year’s Day roll might be in order. Fortunately no-one heard me.

Palm River Tec Paddle Mitts

Palm River Tec Paddle Mitts

Santa was very good to well-behaved paddlers this year, and I donned my new Arctic gale-proof Palm River Tec pogies, eager to test them out. Northern Kayaker has already reviewed them here – and I concur with her opinion. They are a little tricky to get on, I’d say impossible without the use of teeth. I’m thinking about asking Palm what they recommend – surely it’s not the inelegant tugging and biting performance that I put on (people with dentures can forget it). Once in position, however, the pogies sure are toasty.

 

Alan - back on the water (for a little bit)

Alan - back on the water (and testing my pogies)

Suitably bolstered by this auspicious start to the paddling year, I was back out on the water a couple of days later, but this time a special treat was in store – the return of Alan! After hand surgery which was immediately preceded by a sternum injury, the latter being particularly debilitating, he has been out of commission since October. We didn’t go too far, not wishing to cause re-injury, but it was lovely to float about on the Clyde and do a bit of seal-spotting on a bright winter’s day. And it was especially lovely to see Alan back in a kayak. I have missed him.
Bustin' a moveI do like to set a few intentions at this time of year (or in the yoga nidra tradition, some sankalpas). I won’t bore you with the minutiae of my more minor resolutions (mostly addressing sugar intake and time spent on LOLcats). It would be easy to say my primary intention is to go paddling (well … it is!). But I will also mention my other “big ticket” item, which does tie in: I intend to live in the present tense. It is, after all, the only thing that exists – the past and the future reside only in our minds, and all we have is this very moment. Kayaking has a way of plonking you straight into the moment and making you literally sit up and pay attention. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why we get so much out of it, because it relieves us of all the other “junk” in our heads for a short while. And what a relief it is.

On that note, as we raise a glass to the New Year, indeed, the new decade, let’s also raise a glass to this very moment.

Makes much more sense to live in the present tense.
Present Tense
, No Code, Pearl Jam

Four star paddling

For those of you who may have stumbled across this post and are now anticipating a discourse on the various components of the BCU 4 Star Sea Kayaking syllabus, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. The assessment to which I refer does not relate to paddling capability. It does, however, relate to that other essential requirement when out on the water – style!

Would someone turn the lights on?

Would someone turn the lights on please?

Yes, you’ve either got or you haven’t got it, and I’m pleased to mention that it so happens that my paddling pals are not lacking when it comes to a bit of upmarket class. Of course, they are perfectly capable of getting “down and dirty” in rough weather, wilderness camping, surviving on berries type situations, but they are also capable of accommodating a more civilised, leisurely and altogether tasteful approach to sea kayaking when the opportunity presents.

And such opportunities tend to present themselves on winter days, when one feels the need to reward oneself for simply getting out of bed on the water, such are the temperatures and general dreichness. Conditions last Saturday were calm, although the lighting resembled that of a nuclear winter (a not altogether inappropriate analogy as I shall later explain). It was so dim, my camera seemed convinced I’d left the lens cover on and refused to focus, although I did manage one or 2 gloomy shots. Not even Barrie’s orange glow could brighten things up.

Just as we were about to launch, a group of road cyclists breezed past us, one of whom shouted, “And we thought we were mad!”. As Maggi helpfully reminded them, at least sea kayakers don’t break anything when they fall over.

A spot of kayak yoga on Loch Long

A spot of kayak yoga on Loch Long

We departed from the Holy Loch and, in what might be called setting a trend (for a couple of us at least), we once again headed in the direction of Knockderry. An initial spot of choppiness gave way to some flat water conditions quite in keeping with the leisurely, stylish day that we had planned (although one of our number was heard to complain pitifully about a lack of waves, like it was a bad thing). Soon Knockderry House Hotel came into view and we landed elegantly on the beach. The hotelier and staff greeted us at the door by informing us that the “men in white boats” would be arriving shortly. How thrilling, I thought – more kayakers! Until someone informed me that I’d misheard and that the word used had, in fact, been “coats”. You might therefore think that this would suggest that our soggy presence was not desired in such a fine, 4 star establishment as the Knockderry House Hotel, however, that was not the case at all as we were heartily welcomed into the (now legendary) warmth of the bar lounge.

Our table awaits ... Knockderry House Hotel

Our table awaits ... Knockderry House Hotel

Menus were handed out and soon we were selecting our choices for lunch. I didn’t even hear the chef cursing from the kitchen after being presented with the various quirks and limitations presented by the 2 “special” diners amongst us who were trying to avoid death by allergic anaphylaxis and/or any food with a face. Our waitress insisted that we should eat lunch in the restaurant despite our embarrassment at not having dressed for the occasion, although Barrie subsequently pointed out that he did have a suit on (albeit a wetsuit). Our embarrassment was only mildly alleviated by the fact that we were, in fact, the only diners. Suffice to say, Knockderry House Hotel gets an enthusiastic thumbs up for its amiability and hospitality towards sea kayakers. If you’re in the vicinity, do call by and experience it for yourself (just leave your spraydeck and BA outside).

After lunch, a quick demonstration was given by Julia of yoga-for-kayaking which involved a good deal of rolling about on the bar floor. I know what this must have looked like (and have deliberately withheld the potentially incriminating photos), but you have to take my word that it was serious sea kayaking business. We then exited back into the gloom and cold.

Vanguard submarine

Vanguard submarine

And so back to matters nuclear. Our return journey found us sharing the water with a large Vanguard class submarine, a common sight on the Clyde, making its way to the Faslane base. I am reliably informed that this vessel can carry a payload of 16 American Trident missiles. As a bit of a sobering exercise, I did a little calculation on this and I estimate that one such submarine can pack 7600 times the explosive punch of the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima (do correct me if I’m wrong here). Having tuned into my VHF radio, it was unsurprising to find that they were not broadcasting their maneouvres on Channel 16 and a quick scan failed to reveal the no doubt top secret, encrypted military channel that they were using to communicate (in Navajo, I imagine) with their small flotilla of RIBs and MOD Police escorts. We resisted the urge to go join the procession for fear of being shot shooed away.

Heading home

Heading home

This had proven an interesting, although slightly surreal, distraction, but we were soon back at the Holy Loch just as a rain shower moved in. After some fumbling around, our numb hands managed to tie the odd knot sufficient to keep the kayaks at least partially secured to the roofracks until we reached Julia’s for the obligatory end-of-journey, recap-and-reflect-on-a-lovely-day-out cup of tea.

As you can tell, I am quite a fan of this most proper form of sea paddling. If I am to aspire to any kind of star system, this is the one that perhaps holds the most promise for me personally and that contains any hope at all of attaining 5 stars!

Maiden voyage in Rockpool Isel

Those of you who have been keeping track of my blog (which is more than I’ve been doing …) will be aware that, up until now, I’ve been a bit of a Valley Girl (I know, readers from California are now confused). To explain, I have always loved my Nordkapp LV, which is made by Valley Sea Kayaks. A year on from having the good fortune to take ownership of the Nordkapp, here is what I continue to love about it:

  • It’s super speedy
  • It edges beautifully
  • It’s lively and playful
  • It’s nice and roomy for camping trips (at 326 litres volume)
  • It has quality and heritage
  • It looks beautiful – to my mind the most aesthetically pleasing kayak out there. I know looks are not everything, but a thing of beauty is indeed a joy to behold.
Shameless posing with Rockpool Isel

Shameless posing with Rockpool Isel (Photo courtesy Julia Darby)

Having said all that, during my time up in Skye, I came to appreciate some other kayak qualities in relation to rough water, comfort, rolling and the like, and a seed was planted in my mind that perhaps a kayak that would not so much compete with, as complement, my Nordkapp would be in order. The idea is to gain experience and hone skills in a kayak in which I feel confident and which enhances my skills, and use that foundation to “grow into” my more challenging kayak. That’s the plan at least.

Enter the Rockpool Isel. Again, avid blog followers will recall that I test drove one last month and was extremely impressed. The situation evolved and somehow I found myself hooked up with a beautiful Isel of my very own.

I was, of course, delighted to have the opportunity to embark upon an inaugural trip on the Clyde in the company of Julia (herself an Isel owner) and friends. I had reluctantly turned down the opportunity to go out the previous weekend having discovered that, no matter how many times I hit “Refresh”, the 40 mph gusts showing on the Met Office Website refused to disappear. Apparently, surf was definitely up. The 20 mph gusts forecast for this weekend seemed a positive relief in comparison. Indeed, it was a little windy, but this was all the better for giving me a feel for comfort levels (of both the physical and mental kind) in my Isel.

A swan escort for my Isel

A swan escort for my Isel

My fellow paddlers spent some time kindly complimenting my choice of kayak as we set off (apart from that one comment … the response to which is, it’s glitter, not dirty marks! Oh, and the design is seaweed, not squiggles). Soon we were emerging from the Holy Loch out into less sheltered seas.

As the journey progressed, I was not disappointed in the Isel. Here are some reasons why:

  • The Isel is built for the smaller paddler. It therefore fits someone of “lesser” dimensions snugly and has less windage.
  • I’m finding that, the plain fact is that I do better with harder chined/flatter hulled kayaks in choppier water at this stage in my kayaking “career”. I hope that I will eventually do as well in rounder hulled kayaks, but it’s nice to have a choice.
  • I have had issues with foot pegs. After a few hours of paddling, my feet ache and I have numb toes. This is actually quite a big deal, as it really can detract from the pleasure of an outing. In retrospect, it might have been better if I’d ordered my Nordkapp with a customised bulkhead, but obviously this makes the kayak very specific to the owner (thus reducing potential resale value and preventing others from using it). The nice thing about Rockpool kayaks is the incredibly comfortable footplate that comes as standard. There is no pressure on the ball of the foot, no numbness, no pain. I love it!
  • When it comes to rolling, I find I benefit from “aggressive” thigh grips that translate all of one’s effort into the maneouvre/roll. The Isel has me clamped nicely into my kayak – it almost won’t let me not roll. (I’m sure I’ve just cursed something now).
  • Rockpool Isel seat

    Rockpool Isel seat

    Another comfort issue relates to back pain. I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve had some significant problems with this too and I think it relates to sacral/lumbar support. Whatever it is – whether it’s the positioning of the lower glass seat (versus the Valley kayaks’ standard foam seats), the shape of the seat, knee positioning, or the back rest – the ergonomics in the Isel are just right and it equates to zero back pain (for me so far at least). Again, a very big deal.

  • The quality and build is flawless.
Moody Loch Long

Moody Loch Long

The swell pushed us up Loch Long nicely and attempts were made at having a bit of a surf. I enjoyed scooting along as the waves caught my stern. We stopped for lunch at Ardentinny and then, as is often the case, the return journey was against the wind. The Isel remained comfortably under control (always nice) and I remained remarkably dry despite the oncoming waves. A good workout was had by all.

Our launch site beside the Marina at high tide turned out to be a less than ideal return site at low tide. Scenes entirely appropriate to Halloween ensued as we found ourselves being sucked into the gloopy, stinky mud-swamp that awaited us. There were moments when we thought we’d never see our friends footwear again. Fortunately, we did manage to make it intact all the way back to the cars.

As I reflect on how wonderful it is to have so many quality kayaks to choose from on the market, I find that, with the Isel in particular, I feel a real sense of appreciation that the designers have taken the time to consider the needs of the smaller paddler. In the paddling world of big, burly, beardie blokes, it’s quite touching to think that we svelte types have not been forgotten and that we too can share in the joy of a snugly fitting, comfortable, maneouvreable craft.

Winter Kayaking

As we awoke to a temperature of -2°C, crystal blue skies and the glistening waters of the Clyde within view, it was hard to resist the call of our kayaks. Having said that, it was also hard to resist remaining tucked up under the duvet. There’s something about a combination of freezing temperatures and the close proximity of water that causes an instinctive physical recoil. Yet, we are fortunate enough to have the cold-weather kit that’s required to enable us to get out on the water despite the chilly conditions, so – as often is the case – it really was all (or mostly) in the mind.

Insufficient daylight hours ruled out a very long paddling trip, so we kept things local. Of course, these local journeys happily coincide with being a more environmentally conducive approach than travelling by car for many miles to gain access to the sea. With the smörgåsbord of idyllic paddling locales that is presented by Scotland, however, it is hard to strictly adhere to this principal.

We were drawn northwards by incredibly beautiful scenery, consisting of snow-dusted hilltops on all sides. A fantastic day for photography, we thought! Alan struggled a little with moisture on the camera lens and – as I discovered upon applying it to my sunglasses – a spongey, fake chamois serves only one purpose and that is to fog and smear the lens further. Alas, we had forgotten to take a proper lens cloth with us. This was cruelly confirmed upon our return to discover that barely a handful of photographs (seen here) were worth salvaging out of the many besmeared and blurrily vague renderings revealed on the laptop. No amount of hours spent with Photoshop will save the majority. There lies lesson number one of winter kayaking photography.

As much as we were toasty in our triple-layered fleeces and encompassing drysuit (plus BA and kayak, of course), our hands – being exposed to water drips – became quite cold despite wearing neoprene gloves. This was especially felt upon reaching the Holy Loch where a northerly breeze was blowing, albeit gently. We decided to have a snack at that point and, being that I didn’t necessarily want to feed the eider ducks with my salted peanuts, I decided to take my gloves off momentarily. I instantly regretted this as the cold then felt by my hands brought tears to my eyes and I clumsily fumbled my gloves back on accompanied by a great deal of whining stoic fortitude.

As we paddled on the Holy Loch, I found myself contemplating what it was like there when the loch was host to a US Naval base and the odd nuclear submarine that that entailed. The very notion felt quite incongruous – that such a beautiful area could be so militarised, but one need only paddle up the Gareloch to see a modern-day example of the same. I have recently read On Celtic Tides by Chris Duff and, proving the concept of “six degrees of separation” (or even fewer), I was interested to note that the author was formerly stationed at the Holy Loch as a US Navy diver. Indeed, that very posting played a part in inspiring him to undertake his circumnavigation of Ireland at a later date, the subject of the book.

As we headed over to the east side of the loch, we were assailed by shouts of our names and soon spotted our neighbour bounding down to the shoreline to greet us, once again proving that it’s a small world (well, it definitely is in Cowal). It was tempting to request a lift home in his van (where there would surely be plenty of room for 2 kayaks), but we refrained. Instead, we headed back out of the loch and turned south into the blinding sunshine. Applying our recently improved navigational skills, Alan informed me of what heading he was on, however, this was a bit superfluous considering I couldn’t even see my compass. A quick game of chicken with Western Ferries and we were soon past Hunter’s Quay and approaching Dunoon – at least I think it was Dunoon, having only the smell of kebabs to go by.

With immaculate timing, we stepped out of our kayaks just as the sun disappeared behind the hills, resulting in an instant plummet in the temperature from almost bearable, to get-me-home-to-a-hot-shower-right-now levels. Taking the metal j-bars off of our car roofrack upon our return was like fondling the contents of the freezer, and practically tore the skin off of our fingers. A speedy cold-water hose-down (of our kit, not us) was followed by a wonderfully hot shower and a cosy night by the fire that not even the disappointment of some botched photographs could spoil.