Sunday, April 14, 2013

Notes from the Field: Scotland with Joe Coughlan

Day 1 (Thursday)
Nate, Todd, Mike and I traveled from Burlington to Newark, then Newark to Glasgow. After a long flight, we landed sometime around 7:30am on Friday morning.

Day 2 (Friday)
We checked into the Holiday Inn at the airport, slept until noon and then went into Glasgow for the rest of the day. We ate dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant named Koolba and attempted to adjust to the time change.

Todd driving on the wrong side of the road.
Day 3 (Saturday)
We traveled to the Isle of Skye, drove on a sketchy road on the shore of Loch Lomond and then through the Highlands. We stopped in Fort William for a lunch break and arrived to the Tigh Holm cottages around 3pm and made ourselves at home after a stop to the grocery store.

Day 4 (Sunday)
Hiking our boats to sea.
We went to Gordon Brown’s house to pick up some kayaks and left from his back yard. The tide was out so we had to hike our boats 1.5 miles out to sea. We set off into the wind for the Skye Bridge in hopes of finding some waves to play in. After some boat complications and a stop for lunch we made it to the bridge and found mellow seas, much to our disappointment. After a quick break for some photos, we turned around with the wind at our backs and surfed some small waves back to Gordon’s house. Along the way, a small weather front came through and dropped some snow and rain for about 15 minutes but was gone well before we were back.

After a chance to warm up and catch some dinner at a fish n’ chip shop in Broadford, we went back to Gordon’s house to meet the 5-star students. We overviewed some key aspects of the 5-star training that was going to happen over the next three days, a training that Mike and I were not technically participating in.

Under the Skye Bridge

Day 5 (Monday)
Putting in at the ferry terminal.
We arrived at Gordon’s promptly at 9am, the time that the “kettle will be ready” every morning. While drinking some tea and [instant] coffee, we spent the morning hours in Gordon’s classroom going over tides, trip planning, and navigation. That afternoon we left for the Armadale Ferry Terminal, where we put in our boats and played under the structures there for a little while. After a play we paddled to some nearby islands, where we practiced different towing techniques. Once we were finished, we paddled back to the ferry terminal where we packed the kayaks back onto the trailer and left for Gordon’s house.

Once we got back we prepared for the night navigation exercise. We soon got back into the van and left for Kyleakin. Once we got to the parking lot and prepared our kayaks, it had gotten dark. The purpose of the night navigation exercise is to be prepared for an emergency situation in which you’re unexpectedly caught out into the evening. We were lucky enough to be out on a night that the skies we crystal clear and there was no fog. Before we got into our boats we were all given a number that was going to be used as our roll-call number, and we would yell out our numbers in order to make sure we were all accounted for throughout the night. We paddled under the Skye Bridge, out to a buoy and then navigated our way through the dark to a nearby island. We then turned around and paddled back to the van. Throughout the exercise, we discussed what can be used as navigation tools in the darkness and how one can manage a group in the dark. Once we were finished, we drove back to the cottage and had a late dinner.

Gearing up for the Night Nav exercise.

Day 6 (Tuesday)
Kilt Rock
Kilmaluag Bay
After our usual 9am arrival to Gordon’s house we promptly left for Kilmaluag Bay. It was about a two hour drive to the northernmost point on the Isle of Skye that took us through some beautiful mountain passes and views of the ocean. We also took a quick stop to see Kilt Rock, a huge cliff that arises from the ocean and even includes a waterfall. Once we arrived at the bay, we put in our boats and started paddling towards the sea.

For some reason, we were told to put our helmets on…I soon found out why. Once we turned north out of the bay, we were met with 4-6 foot swells, by far the largest seas I had been in. Once we cleared the Isle of Skye to the north we started to play in the waves, hoping to catch a surf or two.

After a seemingly quick play, we began to practice rescues. We started with a roll, then went to a self-rescue, and finished with an assisted rescue from our partner. After that we stopped for lunch in a protected area which happened to have very old ruins of houses and boat slots/holders. I spent about half of my lunch break just walking around, checking these things out.

Once we were finished we went back out on the water and found the waves had gotten slightly larger. We practiced patching boats in groups of three. Once we had all gotten a turn, we started paddling back to the bay that we started in. However, we didn’t go straight back. We paddled towards some cliffs and decided to have a play. We paddled through a slot and came back out on the other side of a huge rock and did the cycle a few times. On our paddle back to our put-in site, Gordon and Todd decided to hop out of their boats and pretend to be unconscious. Once we realized what was going on, we jumped into the scenario and got them back into their boats. After some feedback from them on what we could have done better, we paddled in and packed up the boats. On the drive back Gordon pointed out a spot that the famous urban biker Danny Macaskill had ridden and we jumped out for some photos. After sleeping the majority of the ride, we arrived back at Gordon’s and unpacked our gear.

Day 7 (Wednesday)
Mike Surfing a wave on Kyle Rhea.
This was the final day of the 5-star training. We arrived to Gordon’s when the kettle was ready and did another quick turnaround to Kyle Rhea, a thin gap between the mainland and the island that is sensitive to tidal currents and winds. The current moves quite fast and with an opposing wind it can build up with huge standing waves, sometimes reaching 10-15 feet. The drive into the gap was on a thin, one lane road that hovers over drop-offs and the occasional cliff. To top it off, the road was coated with about 2 inches of snow from the night before and the van got stuck at the top of a hill and we had to push it over the hump. The drive was an adventure in itself. Once we arrived at Kyle Rhea, we found a fast current but no standing waves, and only an occasional hint of wind. We got into our boats and found some small waves on some eddy lines and surfed those for a while. We also practiced different techniques of getting in and out of current. We then practiced towing across the current and eventually made it to the other side of the straight. The group practiced instructing one-by-one back up the current via large eddies on the shore. We paddled back across the current to the van and packed it up. Before we left we took some photos in a red telephone booth, something that must be done when you’re in Scotland. The things randomly pop up everywhere. Once we got back to the house we said farewell to the 5-star students and soon went back to the cottage for dinner.
All of us inside a phone booth.

Day 8 (Thursday)
Todd doing some surfing.
Todd, Nate, Mike, Gordon and I met in the morning and went back to Kyle Rhea in hopes to find more intense conditions than the day before. Again, the weather was similar and we played in the eddy-line waves for a bit. As the morning went on, the wind picked up slightly and a small race was slowly being created to the south. We paddled down and played for quite a while in 1-2 foot waves at the bottom of Kyle Rhea and then paddled back up to the van. Gordon packed up and got back into the van while we started padding north out of Kyle Rhea. He picked us up about 1.5 hours later in Kyleakin, west of the mouth of Kyle Rhea near the Skye Bridge.
Searching for some waves in Kyle Rhea.

Day 9 (Friday)
The beginning of our paddle around the Sound of Sleat.
With our last day on the water, Todd, Nate, Mike and I decided to paddle around the Point of Sleat, the Southernmost point of the Isle of Skye. Morag, Gordon’s wife, shuttled us to a small bay on the west coast of the point. We put our boats in and started paddling south. There were fighter jets from the Royal Air Force flying over the water on presumed practice flights. At one point, one jet came up behind us going extremely fast, low enough to see the details of the bottom of the plane. The jump from the extremely loud sound of the engines almost sent me overboard, but I was able to stay upright to watch it fly away. Once we got the point, we found some sheep hanging out on some cliffs and soon pulled over for lunch. After lunch, we paddled with the wind and waves back to the ferry terminal we paddled at on Monday. Gordon was waiting for us with the van and we drove back to his house to hang up all of our gear to dry. We got back to the cottage and watched COPS, You’ve Been Framed, and the Big Bang Theory, the only things we had been watching for the past 6 nights.

Day 10 (Saturday)
We packed up all of our gear and left for Glasgow, where our flight was scheduled to leave early the next morning. Along the way, we stopped at the Eilean Donan castle for an awesome tour and later stopped in Fort William again for lunch. We arrived back in Glasgow that evening and made our way back into town for dinner. We inevitably returned to Koolba for [arguably] the best dinner in town.
Eilean Donan Castle.

Day 11 (Sunday)
We were up bright and early to catch our 7 hour 45 minute flight to Newark. At about 3pm we arrived back in Burlington. It took a few days to adjust back to the time change and get back into the routine of classes. Overall, Scotland was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to get back to explore more of the ocean, mountains, and the cities.

Thanks to WP Instructor Joe Coughlan for writing a great post about his time in Scotland with the Program! To see more photos from this trip and our other programs, go to our Facebook Page.

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