Day 57 – Scourie to Gairloch – 16th July – 46.4 nm

Overnight the forecast has changed, the E winds have turned to a SW breeze, a gentle headwind all the way today it seems, with winds arriving later tonight - but then there is no swell forecast, so that’s all I need to hear.

Turning the corner has dropped the timings back a bit so it’s a relaxed start today. Getting around Cape Wrath means the tension has fallen away, life is pretty positive.

We take a few minutes to reflect on yesterday. Conditions look much better today, perhaps I was impatient and perhaps should have waited for today. But then it worked out and we didn't lose the day. I am still pretty chuffed with how I paddled, that couldn't be faulted. However, I also know that I got away with it - I am under no illusion about that either. The outcome could have been very different.

But we are where we are, the sun is out, let’s crack on.

In 2012 the trip theme seemed to be ‘Chasing Headlands’, in 2015 it’s more like ‘Scratching the Miles’. But today I feel more at home as we are back to hunting headlands. It’s an exposed day, with few options to land and those that there are are far off the route. But conditions look good, I’m happy to head out.

The forecast, though not perfect, could be much worse for this stretch. I want long miles from today, and all in all it looks pretty good. The tide here isn't dramatic, to grab the miles I take a 3 hr hit on the flow and set out early, it’s going to be a long day.

The elephant in the room is Rubha Reidh though. I made mistakes with this headland in 2012, it was the probably the worst day of the trip, it left me scared, possibly scarred, and broke my confidence for pretty much the rest of the trip. Today I've got something to prove.

I like Scourie, if I had to be stuck anywhere, here would do. But it’s yet another fleeting visit, and I head out at 09:30, smiling for a change.

There’s not much tide to push against as I head across towards Point of Stoer, 9 nm hence. The forecast SW breeze actually turns out to be a N-NW breeze.  The forecast is 180 degrees out or so, but I'm not complaining, in fact my smile grows a little wider.

The scenery can’t be faulted, and neither can this gentle following breeze. There’s nothing more to say...

At the Point of Stoer I stop for a pleasant lunch break. I drift very slowly southward, so it looks like the tide has finally joined the party too. My stalker re-appears on the high ground before the lighthouse.  From this distance I can’t really be sure it is her, but I see everyone else giving the mad waver a wide berth and I guess it’s the TM, closely dodging a care in the community future.

A mile to the south of the headland I come across a Tern in distress, it makes a disturbingly human sound as it tries to evade the worrying of a Skua. Initially I guess the Skua is bullying the Tern into dropping its catch but then it dawns that it is after a more sinister outcome. The one-sided aerial combat continues, the Tern is more agile but the Skua is tenacious, and larger. There is a certain inevitability about the uneven matching. The Tern’s shrill cries pierce the quiet, I'm rooting for the plucky little fella, but steadily the Skua drives the Tern lower and lower. Eventually it hits the water. It doesn't get up.

I expect the Skua to close in to administer the coup de grace, but it doesn't. It moves a distance away downwind and sits on the surface; I guess it’s waiting for the Tern to drown, avoiding any risk of harm. Tho’ nature, red, in tooth and claw (and beak).

Just to keep the side up, a Guillemot chivvies me along for a few minutes. I don’t know what I do to upset the little darlings but they do seem to take dislike now and then.

The clock shows 4 hrs or so as the headland of Rubha Na Coigich slides by over to the left. The distant Summer Isles follow. The wind is picking up now and I’m catching a few surfs, the waves are a good match speed wise and progress is good. The boat is pointing towards Greenstone Point, it would be nice to tick off Rubha Reidh, but a 34 nm day would only get me to Slaggan Bay, still 10 nm short of the next landing at Melvaig. We’ll think about that as we get nearer.
I’ll run out of tide before RR anyway.

But then I take a minute out to listen to the sexy sounding coastguard lady, as she reads out the forecast: Rough-Very Rough - Severe Gale 9 - Soon. Sod that, I’m not getting stuck on the wrong side of that sodding headland again. Oh no. A heading change, right hand down a bit, pointing towards RR. It is going to be a Monster Day.

I’m concerned about missing the tide at RR so the pace is lifted a little, the new heading also points me slightly across sea, stretching the wavelength once again, giving me a few lengthy rides. Closing on the headland the wind drops away, as the tide changes. The flow heads directly N from the headland. The smooth, dark line gives the game away as it pushes against the slight N breeze, I sneak a little further in to easily avoid it.

Now I round Rubha Reidh in a smooth calm, with a quiet TFFT of relief on my lips. I get a good look at the lighthouse this time. Porpoises stand out as they feed along the eddy line and to the south all is smooth, without a breath of wind. Nearby there are some intriguing rock formations, while the view of the distant mountain tops on Skye brings a smile. Life is tired, but rather pleasant. 

I scratch gently along the coastline, but to be truthful there isn't much flow close in. The van is easily spotted at Melvaig,it has a large red and white kayak on top, Team Manager adds a few words of encouragement, before the Taran points south again for the last few miles to Little Sand.

As I round the last corner and turn into Loch Gairloch a stiff SE wind comes flying out. The calm before the storm was rather brief it seems, the wind is on its way.

I sneak up the stream as far as I can and then it’s a long trolley to the far corner of the expansive campsite. The place is heaving, but TM has chosen wisely and we stake our claim in the least desirable corner. That’ll do nicely.

TM tells me of her day, apparently Kylesku gets the vote as the most beautiful setting on the trip so far (I point out that Rhyl is still to come). She also vividly tells of the stressful day of driving, along narrow, van-overhanging roads. The paddling day was just the opposite today, stress free with plenty of space. What a difference a day makes.

As the wind starts to rattle the van, we reflect that it was all timed perfectly, absolutely ******* perfectly.

10 hrs 30 for the 46 nm

Monster Day.