Around Inchmarnock

Heading to InchmarnockThe word was out that we would be going for a paddle around the island of Inchmarnock, which greatly pleased Alan and me as we’ve had had a notion of just such a trip for a while. Inchmarnock lies to the west of Bute and is south-east of Ardlamont Point on Cowal. In other words, it’s right in our back yard. The island has an interesting history and we studied up the night before by consulting with the trusty The Scottish Islands by Hamish Haswell Smith, and of course the Sea Kayak Photo Blog.

Our launch point was the appropriately named Carry Point in Kames, as we duly carried our kayaks to the water over the rocky beach exposed by the low tide. A couple of our number borrowed Julia’s robust C-Tug trolley to trundle their heavier vessels over the rocks, a feat that impressed me greatly (note to self: this trolley could be handy!). Overnight the Met Office had been busy removing the previously forecast gusts from their predictions and it was now set to be a calm day. This came as a disappointment to Dave who was testing out a Rockpool GT. Never mind, we stoically endured the tranquil conditions as we headed south to our destination.

Arran Mountains

Arran Mountains

The crossing to the island was set against the beautiful backdrop of the Arran mountains to the south-west, which always makes for good photos. After about an hour’s paddling, punctuated by some much-needed kayak adjustments for Dave, Inchmarnock finally increased in size and we became aware that the island is, in fact, inhabited, a fact that I’d failed to appreciate despite (or because of) my recent hasty studies.

The natives were nervous

The natives were nervous

The inhabitants appeared to be quite nervous and, as we landed on the pebbly beach and started digging out our respective lunches, we became conscious of being avidly watched. My approach to take photos was met with stumbling retreat and it became evident that our hosts were not accustomed to visitors, especially ones clad in bright yellow. Our audience was in fact a motley crew of Highland cattle and I have since established that they are residents of an organic farm on the island, themselves deemed to be “organic”. At least I hadn’t started giving them names …

Geese overhead

Geese overhead

After lunch, we proceeded down the east coast of the island and the wildife count began to increase at a great rate of knots. Seals were aplenty and my progress was slowed by my attempts to photograph them all. I have now established with some scientific certainty that the sound of a camera lens focusing, no matter how quiet, is audible to seals and is a signal to immediately dive.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea stop

Inchmarnock is popular with the greylag geese set and we saw many of them flying (and heard them honking) overhead, as well as on the water and on the island itself. There were lots of little goslings following their parents around and we were reminded that, despite the chilly temperature, it was well into breeding season. We also saw: oystercatchers, curlews, plovers and more, and lots and lots of herring gulls. I marvelled at the clarity of the water, with news of the horrific and ongoing massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico playing on my mind. My heart aches for the people and wildlife who will suffer as a result and it is to be hoped that it is somehow stopped soon and that it does not enter the Gulf Stream to make its way northwards. We can never take for granted the beauty that nature has gifted us.

A spot of hail

A spot of hail

Having rounded the island and paddled up the western side, we stopped for afternoon tea at an idyllic beachlet on the north-western edge before setting out on the crossing back to Cowal. During the journey back we saw our second porpoise of the day, a sight that is always a thrill. We went through a few different seasons during that crossing – from spring sunshine to winter hail and even some chilly gusts after all. And then we were back at Carry Point, the tide having come in and thus making it not so far to carry this time.

A spot of sunshine

A spot of sunshine

The thing that strikes me so often on such excellent local trips is that they are precisely that – local. When growing up in Scotland, my main ambition was to go travel and see the world. Certainly I’ve done a little of that and it’s been all very nice. But maybe it’s ironic that I now want nothing more than to explore my own country. And all I really need is a kayak … and maybe a trolley.

All the rusted signs we ignore throughout our lives
Choosing the shiny ones instead
I turned my back, now there’s no turning back
No matter how cold the winter, there’s a springtime ahead

Thumbing My Way, Pearl Jam, Riot Act

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

Bunking off to Cumbrae and Gigha (Part 1)

A momentous event occurred this week: it stopped raining and blowing a gale for the first time in living memory, or at least in several weeks. A high pressure system finally managed to muster up enough oomph to nudge the all-too-prevailing low pressure out of the way for a bit. This left us with no choice, but we simply had to bunk off work take an official, well-deserved 2-day holiday. It did feel a wee bit like skidging school as we sneaked out the house, surreptitiously securing our kayaks to the car roof and wending our way seawards. We’d originally thought about camping out overnight, but a lack of forward planning/organisational skills narrowed our options and we decided to explore two quite different locales each day instead.

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

Arran mountains from Cumbrae

On Monday, we paddled around Great Cumbrae. Somewhat amazingly, especially considering that we are members of an Ayrshire kayaking club, we had never done this before and therefore felt that it was high time. Yet again, we found ourselves in flat calm conditions. If Nordkapps have feelings, I’m sure that ours would be experiencing anxiety, or even depression over having such soft marks as owners and being deprived of the conditions upon which they thrive. It’s not that we’re avoiding a more challenging environment, it’s more that we’re saving it for company (preferably of 5 star ilk with good rescue skills). Certainly though, a little more chop wouldn’t go amiss, however, the winds have tended to veer from gale force to non-existent of late, with not much in between. And so it was as we paddled our way around Cumbrae to Millport, a place I haven’t been since Sunday school picnics of yore.

We continued south and experienced some highly momentary excitement as the wake of a motor vessel caught up with us. But we soon returned to boring old idyllic, almost tropical, conditions as we made our way around to the western side of the island. This is where matters took a bit of a disappointing turn as we encountered endless amounts of rubbish in the water on the approach to Fintray Bay. It looked like someone had emptied a huge bin full of sweetie papers and crisp packets directly into the river. I have read recently that an excess of jellyfish signifies a degraded ecosystem, and – albeit coincidentally – there were certainly plenty of Lion’s Mane jellyfish in the vicinity of the rubbish tip that we paddled through. This all fed a building sense of despair which was compounded by the discovery of a dead guillemot floating in the water (a seabird whose future is in jeopardy – see recent news item). Like an icebreaker travelling through the Arctic, we managed to cut a path through the jellyfish up to Bell Bay where we stopped to enjoy the view and have a bite to eat.

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

Isn't she lovely? Nordkapps at Bell Bay, Cumbrae

I do find myself continually pausing to admire and photograph my Nordkapp LV whenever we land on a beach. It reminds me of an occasion in the past when, upon visiting the Grand Canyon, we were amused to see an enormous articulated RV (recreational vehicle) pull up to a scenic viewpoint. The driver jumped out of the cab and, while everyone else was turned to face the amazing scenery presented by the Canyon, he turned in the opposite direction to gaze with awe at his big rig and then take some photos of it. It is just a tiny bit troubling to note that I can now relate, however slightly.

Heading back to Largs

Heading back to Largs

We completed our trip by paddling around the north end of the island, affording us good views of the large pipe-laying vessel, the Solitaire, which has been anchored off of Cumbrae for some days now. Soon we were back over at Largs which was still happily bathed in sunshine.

And today Cumbrae is in the news. Continuing on a cheery environmental note, the scientists at the University Marine Biological Research Station located there are issuing warnings concerning the threat of invasive Japanese wireweed which has spread rapidly up the west coast of Scotland. Users of the sea are being asked to report any findings. I’m not entirely sure to whom, but I imagine that Scottish Natural Heritage would be a good start. Whilst I do take serious issue with certain environmental matters relating to Japan, I’m not convinced that the combined threat of Japanese wireweed and Japanese knotweed is part of a plot to entwine the world in weed. I do, however, wish they would confine their exports to the more traditional cameras and tellies … or at least send us an antidote.

With continuing good weather, albeit in more autumnal temperatures, we set off early on Tuesday for Tayinloan and a visit to the island of Gigha. More to follow …

Plastic crap – now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans

I’m trying to save the trees
I saw it on TV
They cut the forest down
To build a piece of crap

I went back to the store
They gave me four more
The guy told me at the door
It’s a piece of crap

Piece of Crap, Neil Young, Sleeps with Angels

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conversation during our Arctic trip often turned to the environment. During one such interesting discussion, our skipper, Mark, voiced his concern that the attention focused on global warming was overshadowing the equally grave issue of global pollution. Those whose lives are closely aligned with the sea perhaps have a greater awareness of the extent to which humanity has fouled its abode.

I am reading the thought-provoking book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. In the chapter entitled “Polymers are Forever”, referring to a study of beach samples by the University of Plymouth, it states,

“About one third turn out to be natural fibers such as seaweed, another third are plastic, and another third are unknown – meaning that they haven’t found a match in their polymer database, or that the particle has been in the water so long its color has degraded, or that it’s too small for their machine which analyzes fragments only to 20 microns – slightly thinner than a human hair.”

“This means we’re underestimating the amount of plastic that we’re finding. The true answer is we just don’t know how much is out there.”

“When they get as small as powder, even zooplankton will swallow them.””

It is with incredulity that we then learn that many cosmetic/toiletry products contain “exfoliants” which are actually plastic beads.

“”They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.””

(more…)