Raptor UK canoe sailing

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April 2012



I had my first Raptor outing in almost 10 months on April 28. I wanted to test my passenger seat and anchor systems so decided to head to Blackness on the Forth estuary (less than 20 miles from my house). I'd been there the previous week to check for potential launch points and had seen that there was easy access to the beach, good car parking and public toilets (a highly prized facility). The general forecast for Hopetown House (the nearest Met Office location) was for sunshine and 11-13 mph north-easterly winds, with predicted gusts in the afternoon of 26-27 mph (F6). The Inshore Waters Forecast for the area (Rattray Head to Berwick upon Tweed) was for north-easterly F4 or 5 winds. Unlike all of England, most of Scotland was not suffering from strong coastal winds over the weekend.

The first high tide on Saturday was due at 8:21 a.m., low tide at 12:43 p.m. and the second high tide at 8:42 p.m. (times for the nearby town of Grangemouth). The Forth estuary seems to have unusually fast ebb tides (4 hours) and slow floods (8 hours). I knew there was little chance of setting off before the tide had ebbed at least half way, given my dislike of early morning starts and the time I take to assemble my boat. Unfortunately I wasn't aware of how gently shelving the beach at Blackness was, since the tide had been high when I visited the previous week.

We arrived at Blackness at about 9:30 a.m. to find the village deserted and the car park empty. I duly rigged up my boat and we ate a late breakfast in the car before setting off. A member of the nearby Blackness Sailing Club wandered by to check out my boat as I was completing its assembly. He commented that we'd have a long wait to launch since the sea had by this time fallen most of its 3.3m (~11') tidal range and had receded about 300m from where I was assembling my boat at the high water mark. All of the club members' boats had been left high and dry by the receding tide, resting on their twin keels, so no one from the club would have been able to sail until later in the afternoon. I said that my carts should allow me to wheel my boat down to the sea and he replied that this might be a little messy. Little did I realize how much of an understatement this was.



We started to wheel the boat down the beach at 12:20 p.m. with only about 20 minutes remaining until low water. I had spotted someone collecting cockles and it turned out that he was also a club member. Luckily he was returning towards the clubhouse as we were starting down the beach since he told me that he'd been unable to reach his boat to check its mooring due to the deep mud. This was my first inkling that we might have a problem launching. I left the boat behind and soon hit the first patch of deep, sticky mud, which promptly sucked off one of my slip-on sailing shoes. It was obvious that the direct route to the sea, in front of Blackness pier, was a non-starter, so we spent the next two hours looking for an alternative launch site.

First we walked to the nearby Blackness Castle, east of the village. The sea appeared to have receded less far offshore there and launching would have been possible from the end of the jetty, which was constructed in the late 19th century when the castle was being used as Scotland's main ammunition depot. However, wheeling the boat to that spot would have been almost impossible due to the distance and an outcrop of rock on which the castle was constructed, which cuts off the beach. So we next walked half a kilometre around the bay to the west of the village and were able to get to within 10m of the sea before the ground again became too muddy, about 200m from the HW mark. This seemed to be the best option, even if we had to wait a little for the tide to begin flooding, so we returned to where we'd left the boat and started wheeling it westwards along the upper beach. This wasn't too backbreaking with one of us pulling and the other pushing and I decided to use the fresh easterly breeze to help us by unfurling some sail and turning my Raptor into a land yacht.

We waited for a while at the spot I had scouted earlier but finally impatience set in and I decided to try and reach the nearby sea. I removed the carts and was able, with some effort, to slide my Raptor over the mud to the water's edge. With each step my feet sank a foot or so into the mud but I found that by moving slowly and applying a steady upward pull I was able to unstick them without losing my shoes. The problem arose when my SO tried to follow my steps. I'd thought that her lighter weight would mean she'd sink less far into the mud but it didn't work out that way, maybe because her smaller shoe size offset her weight advantage. Either way, after a couple of paces she was glued fast and I had to quickly retrace my steps to help her before panic set in. I was able to pull her feet free and we then made slow progress towards the nearby boat, with both of us at times teetering on the point of collapsing together onto the mud, something I wanted to avoid at all costs. Luckily her side-zip boots remained firmly attached to her feet so we didn't risk puncturing her drysuit's latex socks.

Curiously I had recently watched again the film 'Lawrence of Arabia' and the scene about quicksand

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