Number 221 / July 2010

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Published by the Open Canoe Sailing Group

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Enduring The Joys Of Jura (SteveR)

As mentioned in the last issue, some of our members went off on a camping expedition on the Scottish west coast back in May with the hope of exploring the Isle of Jura. SteveR wrote up a "blog" (short for web log - an online diary account) prior to and during the trip, which was published on Solway Dory's site. As we have no other detailed account as yet they have agreed that a couple of entries can be published here to whet your appetite! Go to their website if you want to see the rest.


May 17th - Islay
Will this blog become boring if I constantly eulogise about the fantastic beaches on Scotland's west coast? Today we sailed through the Sound of Islay, and we have now set up camp on a fantastic beach on the northern end of Islay (NR411789). The tidal sailing in the Sound of Islay was great, close hauled at 9 knots, with the sun bouncing off the water. Tonight's beach features white sand, rock arches, otters, soft grass for camping and driftwood for a fire.

The interesting thing for me about a blog, as opposed to a more traditional expedition account, is that I'm writing this not knowing what the outcome of the trip will be. The forecast looks good for a complete circumnavigation of Jura though, so that's still plan A.

May 19th - West Loch Tarbet
This morning, as force 5 winds rattled the tents, we began to be concerned that the forecast lighter winds were not going to arrive in time for our trip through the Corryvreckan. Getting stormbound at the top of Jura could have given us a problem getting back to work on time, so we switched to our plan B and set sail for Loch Tarbert and the dreaded portage.


Any regrets that I had about cutting our trip short were soon banished by the fantastic sailing in Loch Tarbert. Reaching along the narrow strip of water, surrounded by the rugged grandeur of Jura's moorland gave us the best sailing of the trip so far. Further up the loch I was reminded of our trip to the Stockholm archipelago as I sailed at full tilt towards a seemingly impenetrable rock wall, trusting the map and GPS that an opening would appear at the last minute.

The wind died as we reached the impressive rock gorges at the head of the loch, and we were overtaken by a group of sea kayakers from Mallaig (they were kind enough to tell us that they had tried to catch up with us earlier in the week but had been unable to). We shared a lunch stop with the sea kayakers and when we told them that we were going to portage the boats over the Land Rover track to Tarbert I got the impression that they thought us a little mad, but were too polite to say; I have to say that at the time I was wondering if they might be right.


May 20th - Fog
We awoke this morning to thick fog. Although fog has been an unusual occurrence on our previous west coast trips, the situation was not entirely unexpected, as the two ladies living in the lighthouse on Islay had mentioned that fog was forecast when Jeff and Gavin visited them earlier in the week. The fog led to some hasty GPS programming, as we all plugged in the coordinates for our destination of Danna.

The functionality of GPS never ceases to amaze me, and it was great to see our exact destination appear from the fog after an hour and a half of sailing. GPS can get a bad press sometimes, with the detractors of GPS citing the increased efficiency offered by dead reckoning when making long crossings across fluctuating tidal streams. Despite the received wisdom being that dead reckoning is superior, I think that this view should be balanced against our experience that the variable and unpredictable speed of small sailing boats can make dead reckoning itself a far from efficient system.

One definite disadvantage of GPS that we have experienced is the possibility of user error or equipment failure, but we find that having a separate GPS unit in each canoe can largely solve these issues.

With the benefit of hindsight I think it is fair to say that we have wondered whether this morning's crossing of the Sound of Jura was really such a good idea. Although we took precautions, carrying collision flares, staying in a tightly packed group and carrying VHF radios, I think it could be argued that a more sensible response to the risks posed by collision with a large ship might have been to stay on the beach.

I have a vague memory that Margaret Dye's book on dinghy cruising specifies a minimum height at

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