I had been cycling on Barra earlier, arriving back on Eriskay, at about 16:30. The weather remained fine, and the wind/tides were about right so a linear paddle in the packraft was the plan.
I locked the bike up at the Calmac pier on Eriskay complete with panniers and cycling kit and set off around the coast to Orasaigh in the van. This took eons as I ended up following an extra slow Dutch van whose driver did not appear to understand the concept of ‘use passing places to allow overtaking’ – I am sure they made themselves very popular during the remainder of their visit!
Once I eventually ditched the van, I wondered along the beach a short way to find some rocks from which to launch the boat (save filling it with sand!). The beach here is spectacular, and endless – what a place to paddle!
If I have learnt one thing of late, it’s that the sea is always much much bigger than it looks from the shore; today was no exception! I paddled out through the breaking waves, and started a bit of a zig-zag along the coast to avoid putting the boat sideways on to the growing swell.
The packraft is a month-old purchase and its been a long time since I regularly paddled, i’ll need a few more outings to gain confidence in the boat, but it was amazingly stable even when caught sideways on – it was the rollers with white tops that I was keeping my eye on!
At the left hander (map below), there were rocks quite a way out. Which meant rounding them some distance from the shore. Once the left hander was made, I was a good KM from the shore, but going in the direction of the wind, and swell.
By now, the swell was hitting 4-5ft. Had I just been plonked straight in this I might have shat myself, but it had been gradually building, and allowed me to gain confidence in the boat while I paddled. Now, I know that 4-5ft ain’t huge, but it seems big when you are in a 2M long blow-up boat a KM from the shore!
Wind on my back, waves, tide with me, whats a guy to do? Time for the sail! Just after I bought the boat I picked up a WindPaddle Adventure Sail off eBay for the bargain price of £60. This is their mid-size sail, coming in at 400g, and folding compactly (when you get the hang of it) into three loops on the bow of the boat, just like a pop-up tent! To deploy you simply undo the securing loop, and it pops up. It can be adjusted to be used when the wind is not directly behind, but unless its proper howling, you’ll only get 35 degrees either way before progress becomes painfully slow and sees you reaching for the paddle instead!
There is a certain technique to using a sail on a packraft, your paddle becomes a rudder/skeg, and without it, progress just wont happen – you’ll get spun out of the wind. I alternate sides with the paddle to avoid stiff arms. To steer you can either use it as a rudder with big movements, or, for more minor adjustments, simply twist it which sends water off either side of the paddle. The latter works well especially if the wind is directly behind. When using a paddle as a rudder for sailing, its a good idea to tether it! Loosing your paddle not a good idea! Previously when trying to sail in a strong side-wind I found that a permanent hard right or hard left rudder was the only way to keep a trajectory – fitting a skeg might help here.
The wind was howling and I made good progress for maybe 5 KM. It took me an hour or so longer than planned (I blame the Dutch Guy!) and the tide had turned. The wind dropped a bit and it became obvious that I was now simply treading water. I was aiming for the end of the causeway as seen on the map, this has a bridge in the middle under which the tide was streaming in my direction.
I stowed the sail, and deployed the paddle. An hours PLF got me across that last KM to the shore of Eriskay beyond the causeway, where I hit the beach for a wee rest! I was never in any danger as I could have opted to cut a diagonal back to the north shore – but that would have meant walking either to the bike or the van – which was not the plan!
After my wee rest, I got what few photos I did take – I did not get any beforehand as holding a camera, paddle and sail is none too easy! I then paddled south along the coast to the Calmac slipway and my waiting bike. I packed the raft into the panniers and set-off on the bike – all much to the amusement of the waiting motorhomers on the pier.
Eriskay 360 – Look down to see the boat!
Now thankful that the wind had dropped, it took me about 45 mins to cycle back to the van in the dusk, and enjoy the sunset and a well earnt pie/chips!