Proper Day

Day 60 – Applecross to Portnaluchaig – 19th July  - 35.2 nm

Today the forecast can’t be beaten, it’s a calm start with little more than a breeze for later. It is a sheltered route too, taking in the Inner Sound, followed by Loch Alsh and then the Sound of Sleat. Happily swell shouldn't be a problem today. I’m looking forward to this one, paddling under the iconic Skye Bridge feels like we are returning south again and the highlight of the day will be passing through the fast waters of Kyle Rhea. I feel lucky to have such weather for the day, it’s not a time to hang around, so 07:05 OTW.

I leave Applecross in an oily calm, a stress free few hours lie ahead. Not for Team Manger though, she has to negotiate the steep pass out of Applecross in the van. 

The TM Diary: “I pack up and attack the high pass out of Applecross. It is a proper Alpine Pass style steep ascent, and a scary, steep descent. I am going so slowly. Maybe cycling isn't that attractive after all, it looks like a long push to me.”

Realistic if nothing else, that’s the TM.

As I head down the sound I am a little disappointed, the conditions are perfect but the last few days are catching up a little, I feel rather rough. Things ache in places where I didn't think I had places. But just as I clear the Crowlin Islands, 4 porpoises appear alongside. Not an uncommon sight, but usually they keep their distance. These gregarious fellas however accompany me for the next hour as we head peacefully towards the bridge. They take their leave as I reach the buoy before the high concrete arch. I notice that the buoy has a website address painted on it, do people look at the websites of buoys...?

The plan was to get an early start in order to catch the tide here at the bridge. I check the base of the buoy and can see that timings look good, the tide is starting to run favourably. I slide beneath the bridge with a quick photo and then work across towards the entrance to Kyle Rhea. It’s further than I thought but finally I turn into the narrow channel between the hills. A yacht sneaks up on the outside but an inside line keeps me level. We touch 9 kts as we pass through the geological gap. It’s still and calm, the sun is out and we are doing 9 kts, what else could you ask for?

But of course it can’t last, finally the channel widens out and the flow speed drops, I'm disappointed as the speed steadily dips to 5.0 kts. I’ve been spoilt for the last half hour.

In 2012 I spent an idyllic night camped on the Sandaig Islands, so I drift across to take a quick look while the boat slides further down the sound. Last time I got hit quite hard here by a wind out of Loch na Dal to the right, the same happens again, but not just as strong. But this time Loch Hourn to the left is emptying on the ebb and the wind blowing against the flow chops things up quickly and quite sharply. It takes about 45 mins to get clear, and I'm glad, I don’t want anything further to challenge the idyll.

Close to the headland at Doune I find myself flogging against the tide, enough to need to move in close - didn't expect this. But then as I clear the headland I suddenly gain a knot and all is happy again. It’s the flow out of the loch playing around I guess.

TM has taken the ferry across from Armadale to Mallaig and as I approach Mallaig the ferry crosses ahead, accompanied by an I-can-see-you phone call. Clouds slide over the top and a breeze chops things up a little as I approach the town. It gets tense for a time as I have to double back briefly to avoid a Calmac Threesome, the ferries throw a few radical manoeuvres at the mouth of the harbour and then the calm returns.

7 hrs on the go now and I'm starting to flag, but just as I look for an excuse to slack the sun comes out  and I feel duty bound to get going again. It would be rude not to.

Geography dictates that the day will end somewhere around Arisaig. My arms are part of this equation too. So I report in to TM to break the news, but the onset of summer hols means that campsite spaces here are a rare commodity. After much fruitless searching TM finds a spot and gives me directions. But all those reefs and sandy beaches look the same to me, and even with the help of Mr Garmin I screw it up. I have to paddle out and try again, asking sheepishly for a little VHF assistance along the way. I think that is the first lost landing in 1300 nm or so, I suppose I can live with that.

Anyway I get it right this time and land on a pretty but rather smelly beach, to meet a slightly stressed Team Manager.

The campsite is a straggly and scruffy affair, we seem to be parked on a flattened patch of rubble, surrounded by more rubble and various assorted debris, but beggars can't be choosers, and the sunshine view is fantastic. We look out over Egg, Rum and Muck, backed by the Hebrides in the distance.

Once again I forget to turn the Moron Magnet off and our neighbours lay claim to the small space behind our van, laying out their sofa and elephant-sized dog cushion. As I unpack I step around them to return paddling kit to the van - unusual. Team Manager leaves me to it and heads out on a de-stressing bike ride.

The day ends with a beer and reflections on a pleasant paddle and those useful miles. We are positioned nicely for Ardnamurchan now. An unhelpful forecast takes the edge off things, but I'm passed caring nowadays.

We sit on the tailgate to watch the pretty sunset, trying not to kick the dog in the process.