Day 66 – Southend to Cairnryan -  25h July – 28.1 nm

It’s an early start, but it’s not to paddle; somewhere along the line we have mislaid the map for the other side, we can’t find a chart either. Much as we try we just can’t find them. Yes I could just paddle across, but that’s a bit too simplistic for me. I know these things are easily said, but when you find yourself on a rocky and rough lee coastline trying to remember just where the only get out was, you start to wish you had made a bigger effort to find that map. No map, no go in my book.

But we can’t find it anywhere, so we have to face up to a quick trip into Campbeltown. I can’t see they will have a map for somewhere a few hours drive away, but you never know. No choice really though.

A little more time is lost as we try to find the campsite owner to pay our dues, before we head off.  He seems to be quietly dissociating himself from the place. In daylight the full glory can be seen. The toilet cubicles are narrow enough for shoulders to brush against both walls, while wire grills guard each one. Do toilets get stolen that often? I figured only thin people could possibly ‘break in’ anyway, and looking at the campsite they are in fairly short supply it seems to me. It is also the first campsite we have stayed on where you are allocated an individually numbered cubicle, with its own key, on arrival. Still trying to work that one out...

We return from our flying visit with a chart, but no map. It will have to do.

It’s windy now but forecast to drop, the nearest forecast position gives 10-12 mph winds for the afternoon; add a few mph to the Met Office one to allow for their urban bias and that gives 12-15mph(ish). A handful more for open water too? Not ideal, it’s a long fetch and we just don’t know what’s at the other end. But the Stranraer forecast looks within limits as such. It looks to stay steady throughout the day too, but then to go poor for tomorrow.

We are sheltered here behind the Mull and it’s hard to judge exactly, but finally I decide it’s a go, to take a look at least. As I root around for kit I find a dry bag full of maps, Bastard. The frustration of the time wasted heading to Campbeltown is outweighed by the relief of knowing where I am going now.

Off the beach at lunchtime, a late start with all the faff, but a pleasant paddle through the gaps at Sanda Island, a strange optical illusion of a place that seems to get smaller as you close somehow. I have to dodge a few shallows on the way by and then after the first admin break we are off into the open water.

At 2 hrs and 10 nm I have a second break, it’s a rushed affair, food is scoffed quickly as the chop picks up. There is a N breeze picking up now but things are ok, 10-12 mph they say...
The third break doesn't happen, nor the fourth. The wind strengthens quickly and with it a following W-ish swell comes in. The wind is way above 20mph+ and it’s now lumpy, the waves are starting to break. I am no longer my normal optimistic, easy-going self.

Looking at the distance covered I am just short of half way, even with all the hassle I’m still making good speed, but this hints that the tide is with me. If I turn to head back I will be against wind and tide; that means shorter miles but a longer time to be exposed, and fatigue would take on a greater significance. But it’s still quite a way to go.

Options are looking limited.

Ailsa Craig stands suggestively over to the left, but I guess it’s around 8-9 nm away, with a rocky landing and a possible overnighter to boot. Not ideal.

I stab at the GPS buttons and the nearest downwind option of Ballantrae would save a mile or so, not enough advantage to take on running directly down the swell. Nope, not today.

Now’t left then; aim for Loch Ryan and crack on. Double Bastard.

It takes 3 hrs of bladder-busting, paddle-gripping, stomach-neglecting hanging in there to finish the job. That’s a long time to work hard, to concentrate and not risk a mistake. Thankfully, things ease enough outside the mouth of the Loch, as the water flows in, for me to make a hurried call to the ferry coming out. I'm not sure where he goes next, but he's cool about it and hangs a hard louie, giving me plenty of room, before heading off towards somewhere linked to Guiness I guess.

I sneak the last mile into Finnarts Bay with barely a second to spare before my dry-pants become wet-ones, from the inside.

Jeez, what was all that about? How much more can you get away with? In total it takes just over 5 hrs for the 28 nm, all said that’s not a bad speed but flatter and slower would have been more pleasant, far more pleasant. It always seems to be day on, day off. How about a few easy days, were I can strip down to my thong and clock up a load of boring, mindless, stress-less miles? Go on, just for once. How about it?

The sun is out and I trolley up to the main road to await International Rescue. Kayak seems to be the quicker way to get across to Stranraer apparently, but I think I would have opted for a tedious drive if I had known.

I watch the day tripping crowd head home for tea on the busy highway. Wondering where they have been. I sit and admire the view as I eat my way through the neglected chocolate stash, and slowly dry out in the sunshine.

Jeez...what a day.