long beat northwards. The winds were light at first, but as we approached the mouth of Loch Arnish the conditions picked up to a perfect force three or four. The sun shone, making a prism of the spray that flew from the hulls of the boats as they hummed through the sea, and our existence became just three simple words: sun, wind & water.
We broke our progress northwards by landing on the island of Eilean Fladday, and took stock of our situation. Sunart and Maatsuyker had their hearts set on making the island of Rona before turning the boats back southwards, and their enthusiasm was set to work on convincing the rest of the party of the merits of sailing on into the evening in order to realise this plan. Perhaps a little reluctantly the others agreed, and the long beat northwards continued. As it did so the party came across a group of sea kayakers from Glenmore Lodge, one of whom was an acquaintance of Lark and Maatsuyker.
After what, to Maatsuyker at least, seemed to be a very long and tiring beat, the natural harbour of Acairseid Mhor came into view. As we sailed into the harbour we found it to both very beautiful and completely devoid of campsites. The search began for somewhere, perhaps anywhere, to pitch the tents. After some time spent searching out various rocky ledges and small terraces, each one having only enough room for a single tent, the tents were pitched and the party settled in for the night.
The thought in everyone's minds as we awoke concerned the weather. The conditions were perfect for making the seven-mile crossing to Applecross, with a light following wind and sunshine, but would the weather window hold? The inshore shipping forecast talked of force five or six winds from the north within the next twelve hours, and nobody fancied being caught out in a blow three miles from the nearest land. Radio Scotland put a time on the arrival of the bad weather: three o'clock. That gave us five hours to make a two-hour crossing, if the forecast was right.
As well as the question of the weather, there was the issue of the Inner Sound Submarine Practice Area, which lay between Applecross and us. Explorer's VHF radio informed us that the submarines were playing their deadly games elsewhere that day, so we decided to chance the weather, and the decision was made.
Just as we were about to embark on the crossing to Applecross, it was noticed that a nut holding one of the party's rudders in place had come adrift. This was a sobering reminder of the absolute reliance that canoe sailing on the sea places on the reliability of the boats, and of the need for vigilance when fitting out and maintaining these small craft. Had the missing bolt not been spotted, then a mechanical failure in the middle of the crossing would have been a frightening prospect at the very least.
In the event the journey to Applecross was completed relatively quickly and without incident. Nevertheless it was a somewhat relieved party that stretched out on the warm sand at the head of Applecross bay at lunchtime that day. The village store near the beach provided us with another opportunity to restock, and enjoy such delights as ice cream, before we continued our journey.
We sailed southwards along the coast of the Applecross peninsula, passing some pleasant coastline and the abandoned croft of Coillegillie, where OCSG member TimD has a holiday home.
Not very long after this a canoe sailor's gale blew up, not from the north as forecast, but from the south. Keeping the boats together while beating into the continuous force five winds proved to be impossible and a hasty decision to pair up was made. Thus separated and with communication between the pairs being out of the question, each pair was left to make their own decision on the best course of action to take. Lark and Petrel headed for a small sandy beach on the shore and decided to wait there in the hope that the wind would die down. Meanwhile the two separate pairs of Water Gypsy and Explorer, and Sunart and Maatsuyker continued towards the bothy at Uags. Lark and Petrel decided to make a fire and camp for the night on the beach where they had landed, so it was a smaller party than usual that sat on the beach watching a magnificent sunset at Uags.
Lark and Petrel got up early and sailed along the coast to meet the others who had stayed at the bothy, and so a full sized party once more set out from Uags towards the Kyle of Lochalsh. Again we were blessed with a following wind on this crossing and we soon found ourselves sailing under the Skye Bridge. Our progress through the passage was slowed by a tide flowing in the opposite direction to that which Maatsuyker had predicted. Much to his embarrassment the complexity of the tides in this area, which follow a subtle pattern influenced by the tide running around both sides of Skye, had defeated his best efforts at prediction.
Slow as it was through the narrows, progress was made, and we soon found ourselves back at Balmacara on the Kyle of Lochalsh.
To borrow a turn of phrase from the old timers, whose writing has influenced this account:
"Here ended our five day cruise, our boats none the worse, and their owners much the better, for having sailed and paddled some ninety miles".