Raptor UK canoe sailing

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August 2009

I had been looking forward to the OCSG 'Scottish Summer' Meet on Loch Lomond, the largest fresh water lake by surface area in Great Britain (although not in the UK). The Group used to meet there regularly but had not done so since I joined in 2007. Loch Lomond is less than 2 hours' drive from my home, making this the shortest journey I've had to make to an OCSG meet. The Group planned to meet there over an English Bank Holiday weekend, with many members also taking Friday off work. Since Loch Lomond is such a large lake, I decided to book into the campsite for 7 nights, in the hope that this would give me time to explore most of it. In the event, I barely scratched the surface. The loch is 39 kilometres (24 miles) long and the campsite we were to use is about 11.5 kms north of the southern end, on the eastern shore.

The owners call their site "Cashel" but my OS map spells nearby features with a double "L" (Cashell Farm, Cashell Burn and Strathcashell), so I will use the OS spelling throughout. So Ca-shell rather than Cash-el. I thought it might be possible to sail to the northern end of the loch and back to the campsite the same day, a distance of about 55 kms (34 miles), but failed to achieve this. This was just one of a catalogue of failures that I experienced over the week, some goal-related and some equipment-related.

My reservation at the campsite was from Wednesday, 26 August to Wednesday, 2 September but there was nationwide heavy rain forecast for the 26th as the remnants of Hurricane Bill were due to hit the UK, so I decided to travel a day early, as I dislike having to pitch my tent in the pouring rain.

Tuesday evening (25 August) was fine and clear so it looked like a smart move and I managed to find a reasonable spot to pitch my tent. The Cashell Burn runs through the centre of the site and has burst its banks on numerous occasions in the recent past, flooding large areas. Most of the camping area at the site lies close to the burn or in a nearby low-lying area, which is also prone to flooding during periods of heavy rain, since it is poorly drained. The staff told me that they had only had four days without rain during the preceding 4 weeks, so much of the site was water-logged when I arrived and they were having to turn away any visitors who hadn't made reservations.

The forecast was accurate for once and Wednesday, 26 was wet and windy. I assembled my Raptor by my tent in the morning and portaged it down to the beach at the northern end of the site. There is also a slipway south of the burn in the centre of the site, but I thought the beach would be easier to launch from and it was closer to where I was camped. The conditions seemed ideal to attempt a sail to the northern end of the loch. Changing into my Kokatat drysuit bought the first failure of the holiday: my neck-seal tore. It had lasted three years, which seems reasonable. Luckily it has a sewn-on hood, which kept rain and spray from entering. The wind was blowing hard from the west-north-west, making the launching beach a lee shore, but I managed to set off without assistance in the afternoon and had an exhilarating close-hauled sail north. I had the loch to myself and didn't spot any other craft on the water until I passed Inverbeg, by which time the wind had started to ease and a jet-skier kept me company for a while. I decided to turn back shortly after 5 p.m. by which time I was only just passing Rubha Mor and unfortunately the wind died as I approached Ptarmigan Lodge, so rather than a quick half-hour sail south I was left with a two-hour paddle back to Cashell. However, this allowed me to explore the eastern shore, which is private land (no vehicular access) down to the pier at Rowardennan.

Conditions on Thursday, 27 August were much more moderate and there were plenty of water- and jet-skiers out on the loch. I decided to start my exploration of the nearby islands and set off around the nearest, Inchlonaig. I stopped for lunch at a pleasant beach on the south of the island before continuing with my circumnavigation. I was looking for a jetty, which is marked on my OS map, in the next bay and almost missed it as it was two feet under water. This would have complicated commuting to the mainland for any inhabitants but the nearby house looked deserted. Having completed 1 circuits of Inchlonaig, I sailed across to Fraoch Eilean, a small island near Luss and thence to two even smaller islands to the east, Eilean na h-Aon Chraoibhe and Eilean Daraich. The latter was totally submerged, with only trees breaking the surface of the loch. Next I headed into the bay to the south of Camstraddan House and from there sailed down the narrow gap between the west side of Inchtavannach and the mainland. Someone had left their tent pitched on a small headland on Inchtavannach, adjacent to Stot Isle, that was now about a foot under water. Owners of boats that were moored in a nearby bay seemed quite unconcerned.

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