The forecast this weekend was very good, with no wind at all. It was the best weather in months. We decided to go for a paddle involving some time for a bit of 4* practice. We chose to go from Craigiefield which is on the north-eastern edge of Kirkwall, to Tingwall in West Mainland. It was a spring tide so, although the sea was flat and the wind almost non-existent, there were several noticeable tidal streams to negotiate on route.
It was slightly foggy when we left Kirkwall but still easy enough to see where we were. We soon arrived on the west side of Thieves Holm ready to negotiate the String. This runs at 4kns at Springs but had only started ebbing about an hour before so was probably only doing about 2kns. We got a couple of the guys who are going to do 4* training soon to take a bearing over to Stromberry Point on Shapinsay and to tell us how we were going to cross the tide so that we would end up where we wanted to be.
Over on Shapinsay, the fog was thicker and a cold wind was coming off the land. I had to root around in my day hatch for my lucky hat. I love that hat (it was a present from my closest friend, the keeper of voles, and it got me my 4*), thus negating the whole point of it being supposedly an expendable paddling hat….. I’d be really upset if I lost it!
Anyway, around the Holms to the west of Shapinsay, we knew the tide would be running at around 5kns maximum and had started at around 12.30pm, so we wanted to go and have look at it and have a bit of a play around. Unfortunately, however, we couldn’t see the holms…… Nor could we see the approaching creel boats until they were about 200m away. After a brief stop for footrest adjustment and for some lunch, the surfer demonstrated his laser vision by spotting Vasa Skerry through the fog.
After lunch, we paddled back up the eddy and across the flow to Vasa Skerry. It was funny to see how it ran at different speeds in close proximity. The Surfer and Hairyaker were whizzing along on the flow, while I, only a few metres away was in a much slower part. We arrived at Vasa Skerry and couldn’t see much…..
Having finally got myself organised for 4*, I had loads of useful things about my person and so Hairyaker and I were well equipped for a bit of compass work. We decided we wanted to head westwards, hoping that the flow would carry us northwards towards the holms. Off we set on a bearing of 300 degrees. We couldn’t see anything but each other in any direction. It was eerie. Eventually, a huge island loomed out of the fog. It was at least 100m high. ‘Look, look, it’s Gairsay’. We paddled towards it. We crossed another strong tidal flow and tucked into an eddy. Up close it was small. it was not Gairsay, it was Grass Holm…. Map work successful!
We decided to go anti clockwise around Grass Holm then head west. We were more concerned about not being taken too far north on the tide than visiting the next holm (which we couldn’t see) so we set a course well south of it so that at the very worst, we’d bump into Gairsay. As it happened, after a few hundred yards, Taing Skerry became visible so I adjusted course and headed for it so we could pause again and set another course.
Again we really didn’t want to get taken northwards on the tide so we set a bearing that would take us into Gairsay Sound, even if the tide pushed us north, as we knew it would. Again we were paddling blind but once again, land slowly resolved from the fog. Pausing again on Holm of Boray, we knew we were were pretty much where we wanted to be. I set off due west and then became very disorientated with the fog. I knew I had to follow my compass, but my internal compass was sure we were going the wrong way. It was a very unnerving feeling. After a few minutes we could hear the throb of an engine and my hand was clutching my radio when an inter-isles ferry passed behind us on the other side of Holm of Boray. It was shrouded in fog and seemed very odd indeed.
Paddling onwards, land appeared on my right and I knew it was Gairsay. It seemed better to paddle where we could see something so we made for Maes Taing and then followed the coast of Gairsay to The Taing where we could make the shortest crossing over to the mainland.
The tide through Gairsay Sound again pushed us northwest and we made landfall at Wass Wick. After a few minutes more paddling, Tingwall pier appeared from the fog and we landed before the arrival of the evening ferry. A good day out and fun to test those navigational skills!
Mackayak had been disappointed to miss out on this trip as she wanted to get some more experience in tides and I am sure she would have enjoyed navigating her way across Wide Firth. She suggested that we go to the Falls of Firth on Sunday morning instead. The Falls of Firth are nothing like the Falls of Lora but we can pretend….I said (as a test) “what is the tide doing tomorrow then?” and was promptly given an answer, thus proving she can work these things out perfectly well, whatever she claims…. We arranged to meet at 9.15am to make sure we got the maximum flow. We trussed ourselves up in our full kit and set forth….
We did some breaking in and some breaking out, some ferrygliding and some rolling in the flow. Which was good because it was really hot! At about 11am the flow reached its maximum. I don’t know how fast it goes but I couldn’t paddle against it at 10am so it must have been running at 5 or 6 knots at its maximum. On the north side of the flow the eddy line was really well defined and I had lots of fun breaking out by edging and letting the flow flick the back of my boat round.
Next was a pool session with sea boats. Mackayak wanted to try some more things in her ‘euro’ kit in the warm water. I was just pratting about. I did some rolls and some re-entry and rolls and some self rescues. I couldn’t butterfly handroll my Avocet and my butterfly rolls in general were a bit ropey. I didn’t really care though. I’ve done all my hardcore practising, now I am just going to have some fun for a while.
Firstly I dislocated my shoulder. I called for help from the Keeper of Voles. He was amusingly unsympathetic ‘I know it hurts but I have to get you in the boat’ etc. It was like something I would say. Just when he thought it was safe to paddle off, I suddenly became unconscious and capsized again. Although I had to keep speaking ‘I can’t help you, I’m unconscious’ etc etc. Lots of scoop practice all round! We then did some rescues with another participant and helped him practise a self rescue method. It’s funny to realise that people see you practising things and want to try too and it’s always really good when you can help them.
After this, Hairyaker proposed another paddle. I was keen, but then the continuing saga of my disastrous private life intervened. I slumped in Mackayak’s car and realised I was completely emotionally and physically drained. I went home and fell asleep in a deckchair. Maybe I had done enough for one day….