‘Til The Fat Lady Sings

Day 54 – Brough to Clasheddy – 13th July – 33.5 nm

There is a palpable sense of relief in the jumbly fun bus this morning.

The early finish yesterday was a bit of a double edged sword, the disappointingly short day actually gave a few hours of spare time, which in turn gave an opportunity to think things over a little. It’s been pretty full-on for a while now;  poor weather brings days that go by in distracted waiting around, followed by a last minute rush to squeeze everything in. On the good days it is a case of taking as many miles as possible of course. Either way there are plenty of late finishes, there is no time to ‘process’ the day mentally, to review and put things to bed.

There is no sense of achievement; my mind is a disconcerting almost-blank of what has been. As TM said yesterday, there’s no time to dwell, there’s always the next challenge ahead to concentrate on.

It’s difficult, emotions lie flat and grey - to paraphrase Alan Bennett's Rudge, ‘it’s just one ******* thing after another.’ But as today starts there has been time to think, life is a bit more cheery and there is a slightly smug appreciation that we got around the corner well. One more to go. TFFT.

As we prep in the peaceful calm that is Brough Bay a string of people wander down to see what is going on. There’s no pre-paddle atmosphere today, pleasant greetings abound, not a glare in sight. There’s a little confusion when a lady mildy objects that our dog should be under better control. News to me - wondered what that scratting about was in the back hatch...

Out before slack water, to take the eddyline conveyer belt to the headland. Once again I am followed out, but this time by a true See-Hund - a black Labrador makes a good effort of reaching the headland with me. But he was just frankly outclassed.

 There’s a bit of swell greasily sliding up and down the high cliffs. A white-capped tiderace is deflected offshore by the topography, but it leaves plenty of easy going room for the lone sea paddler. I look up to view the hordes of birds, but it’s strangely quiet, I guess they’re sleeping off yesterday’s high wind shenanigans.

By the time I clear the headland the tide is just starting to pick up, even so Thurso takes a stubbornly long time to slide by. Then it’s a straight, 3 mile off-shore, line to the stony finger of Strathy Point.

There’s a distinct but easy going swell from head-on, with a gentle breeze to match, but it’s better than the forecast, so life is full of mental smiles. The forecast does warn that the wind and swell will increase as the Taran heads westward and the day progresses.

It’s a pleasant 5.5 kts cruise towards Strathy Point, hourly breaks and the odd Skua investigation are the only highlights to the routine. A little tedium is welcome. I tick along in a mildly blissful state.

A few km short of the point, the speed drops distinctly. This gets my attention, the tide still has a couple of hours to run. Oh well...

And then as I reach the end of the point I see the water drop away ahead of the bow, it’s obvious now, the speed change was as I crossed the cushion, built against the point. A pretty big one at that.  Clear of the rocky obstruction now, the water drops and accelerates. A lumpy tiderace sits on the other side of the headland.

It also becomes sharply obvious that the easy going swell to the east of Strathy Point was the remnants left after the point had taken the energy out of most of the rest. The swell to the west is larger and steeper, stacked up further by the fast water sliding down from the sub-surface ledges. And just to add to the mix there is a stiff wind to the west too.

I run through the tiderace for a short time but then realise it’s too big for me. It’s breaking and throwing the boat around, Boat and me have been on the go for 4 hours or so now. If I go in, it’s not going to end happily.

I hang a louie and cross the eddy line, I want to be out of the fastest flow so the swell will settle a little. It does, but it all becomes unpleasantly confused too, waves are coming from everywhere. Standing clapotis joins the party, with small, sneaky explosions here and there. It dawns that I've wandered into a trap, I slowly recall the same problem here in 2012. The angled 90 degree gap between Strathy and Ardmore focuses the swell and rebound very efficiently, paddling across it assaults from all sides. It’s unpleasant.

I look quickly back across to the main flow, I know the eddy line will shelter some of this but the chain of white-capped rollers is enough. Life is shitty here, but that’s just downright intimidating. Time to earn your money now Fatboy.

Heading closer in also means a paddle against the eddy, throw in the wind too and it means that life will be slower and I’ll be exposed to this for longer. A brief glimpse across to the main flow again, hmm... no this will have to do, like it or not.

I don’t really know where I am heading, it’s too bouncy to take a look at the map, I’m just pointing into the distant corner, trying to find shelter from the swell. It’s a 2 hour battle to Farr Point where it finally eases enough to take a look at the map, Skerray Bay looks like a good option. A little further and it’s calm enough to whip off the deck and have a long over-due bladder emptying event – aaaah...

The scenery at Neave Island is very pleasant and I enjoy a short eddy-hopping paddle through the sound. Team Manager meets me on the edge of the peaceful little harbour. It’s a very pleasant spot indeed; we investigate the unusual roofless stone building art installation, admire the scenery and have a general nosey around, in a pleasant not-much-to-see sort of way. 

There’s still an option for a few more miles across to Strathan but life here is just so pleasant. I think dues have been paid today, and decide to spoil myself with a decadent ignoring of those available miles. Team Manager is not unhappy about this either and we expand outwards as we settle in, kit everywhere.

There is a constant stream of cars down the narrow road, they stop on the edge for a couple of minutes and then turn around and disappear. It seems as if there is some sort of roster to check that the bay hasn't disappeared or something.

Later we sit and watch the local lobster man servicing his pots, while the sun sets slowly behind the hills.

We discuss the day. I was complacent after the easy start. Strathy Point was a bit of a shock, but with hindsight it shouldn't have been such a great surprise. I am still second-guessing the decision to head in and leave the flow though. That one will run for a while.

There’s always the sting in the tail it seems, just when it is all going well. That said, it usually all works out in the end. Usually.

Somebody switches the sun off and we go to bed.