Week 10 update – GB Sea Kayak Circumnavigation

Since the first main expedition update 5 weeks ago, steady progress has been made up the west coast and along the north coast of Scotland, and the expedition is now heading south down the east coast toward the border with England. There has been a major change in that since mid-june I have been paddling solo again, and will continue to do so for the duration of the expedition.

Week 6

For a few days at the end of May the winds restricted progress around the Mull of Galloway and the Mull of Kintyre. These headlands are notoriously exposed to the winds and strong currents, meaning it was all the more important to approach them when conditions were not too rough. Once up into the Sound of Jura, progress quickened with the shelter from the Inner and Outer Hebrides, coupled with a long period of high pressure; we were also joined by veteran trans-Atlantic rower Nat Spring who paddled with us for a few days before heading off to lead an expedition in South America. Needless to say the passage through the sounds, with the amazing west-coast wildlife and scenery, was breath-taking.

Weeks 7 and 8

After the first week of June, the scheduled support driver was forced to withdraw, meaning that the expedition continued without the support van for two weeks. Joe’s departure from the expedition at roughly the same time meant I was then paddling solo and without any dedicated land support, which increased the importance of making sure the coastguard always knew of my location and ETA. Strong winds struck whilst on the Isle of Skye. In total I was wind-bound for 5 days, though the support from the local community was tremendous – especially from those people who were themselves sea kayakers. The reason for going around the west coast of Skye rather than straight up the east coast, despite the extra miles and the weather being typically rougher, was in order to complete a full circumnavigation – not just of the British mainland, but of all places to which it is posisble to drive. Having previously cycled the length and breadth of Britain, from John O-Groats to Land’s End, and from east coast to west coast, my intention had always been to include Skye in the sea kayak circumnavigation of Britain, becuase of the road bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh.

After crossing back to the mainland from the northern tip of Skye, progress up the northwest coast was steady, if a little slow. Mileage per day was still reasonable, though paddling solo and without the support van I took a much more cautious approach in order to avoid paddling late into the evenings, especially given the rather erratic weather conditions at the time.
Weeks 9 and 10

The support van returned whilst I was wind-bound in Kinlochbervie, which is the last town before Cape Wrath. Once the winds eased off, there was only one day remaining before neap tides, and I’d wanted to pass through the Pentland Firth on neaps. I then decided to paddle almost continuously for two days, with just 3 hours sleep at Armadale, and covered 92 miles from Kinlochbervie to John O’Groats, with the last few miles through Pentland Firth in thick fog. After rounding Duncansby Head the following day, the long journey south began.

After a single day off in Wick to recover from the long hours over the previous 3 days, I headed south to Helmsdale before crossing the Moray Firth in a single hit. General advice a few months ago whilst planning the trip had been to consider crossing the Moray Firth in two stages via Tarbat Ness, but conditions on the day were reasonable and having been stuck for a few days in bad weather in north-west Scotland I was behind schedule. True, I was round Duncansby Head and heading down the east coast, but there were still 1500 miles to go, and the end of June was fast approaching, so I opted for the 8 hour crossing direct to Lossiemouth from Helmsdale. Steady progress eastwards followed, around Rattray Head and then south past Peterhead and Aberdeen, before bad weather again hit at Montrose.

Words and Images Jame Bonell