I had been paddling Bumble for about a month, thoroughly enjoying getting to know my boat. Though I was conscious that in order to progress I really need to up my game and get some coaching. So with Lisa and Duncan Greene advertising some coaching I headed for a Tighnabruaich weekend. I had no idea where, or how to pronounce it, but it seemed like something I needed. My other problem at this point is I will be paddling, and no doubt getting wet, and it was now late September. I had no Drysuit.
A New Drysuit
I had managed the past couple of years just wearing wetsuits and dry cags. But if I wanted to progress, learn my rescue skills and do more sea paddling, I needed to buy one. This was going to be a big expense for me. So something I had saved up for and I really didn’t know what I wanted, or needed. Mark was also making the commitment to buy a drysuit. So it was off to our favourite toyshop at Roho to have a look and get some advice.
I hadn’t thought of all the different elements to consider. Though Kelvin made a good point: always buy the best you can afford. That made sense. I was certainly going to be getting a lot of use of it and if I was going to be spending a lot on something that was to last me a few years, I better make a sound choice.
We both tried on quite a few, but I still couldn’t decide. I’ve got to say I wasn’t quite prepared for the experience of putting one on for the first time. That feeling of trying to squeeze a watermelon through a bike innertube whilst hearing your hair rip out was novel to say the least! Anyway, the difference in quality between the suits is greater than you think. I also knew that I wanted a women’s specific cut. Why spend all that money and get one made for men with a zip at the front! Women specific kit always seems more expensive, which in my opinion is wrong. It uses the same material, just a different cut, so why the difference. I do wish manufacturers would run with a level playing field in relation to kit.
Anyway, after a second trip the following week I settled on a NRS Ladies Pivot, with the comfort zip where I needed it. With double seals, small pocket zips for keys and a much more comfortable fabric I was happy.
The last weekend of September I made the drive up to the planned Tighnabrauich weekend. It was a good drive, with Bumble safely secured on the roof and all my kit loaded. The weather was looking favourable too.
As I headed for the ferry terminal Mark called with the last sailing times, together with an update on my route. It was different to the satnav, so I ignored him (this doesn’t happen often!) Luckily for me I had made the right call. He was sending me to the wrong ferry, and it was the last one that night. So I would have been stuck on Bute until the following morning!
Once on the ferry, I was still a bit vague with my directions. I didn’t trust my satnav at all, still don’t. It came with the Merc when I bought it, and it has got so many trips wrong. I get anxiety every time I travel somewhere new on my own. So luckily I spotted a van with one of Lisa’s kayaks on top. Must be going to the same place surely. I popped out of the car when the ferry was crossing and asked the driver if I could follow him. Yes sure, not problem.
Once I got to the campsite at Carry Farm I got out, said thanks to the guide who had led me there and went to let Lisa and Duncan know I’d arrived. I then found an empty room in the bunkhouse and started unpacking. I was just about to strip for a shower when there was a knock at the door. I’d picked the wrong room! So repacked, moved, unpacked again and crashed onto the bed feeling a bit too emotional. Well, see what tomorrow brings. Not an overly confident start to my Tighnabrauich weekend.
Friday morning and everyone met up in the kitchen for a brief on our plans for the long weekend. I was introduced to my cell mates, the lovely Graham and Amanda, and to the rest of the group, including the driver who had allowed me to follow him the night before, Andrew. He was a friend of Lisa and Duncan’s and would be helping with our training.
Carry Farm is an idyllic location, tucked away just outside the village of Tighnabrauich. With a small harbour and a couple of pubs within driving distance. The local sailing club operate from Carry Farm, and with a large bunkhouse and camping field right next to the water it was ideal.
We are split into two groups, one group doing Sea Leader training with Duncan and my group doing the 3* Sea Kayak award with Lisa and Andrew.
Friday’s weather was fair and gave us good visibility across to Bute. We paddled up the east coast into Loch Fyne, with plenty of inlets and rock formations to allow for some contact tow training, perfecting paddling techniques and boat control. I absolutely loved it. After a lunch stop we paddled up towards Inchmarnock before the weather closed in. Low cloud and mist put a stop to our play time and we headed back in after a decent 17 km.
The Etterick Bay Cake Shop
Saturday morning dawns with another fair weather window, the low front having moved further east overnight had left us with some clear air, though wind and rain was forecast to move in later that afternoon. With warmer air temperatures (for now) and that chilled feeling you often get on a Saturday, we paddle across the Isle of Bute and up towards Straad. It was a bit early for lunch, but after a morning of rescue skills and boat handling we were ready for a break. We paddled to Etterick Bay and it’s famous cake shop.
For anyone who’s been, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The cake slices are huge! I have never seen anything like it for portion sizes. So with our kayaks parked on the beach, we sat on the wall and while I sipped my tea everyone tucked into their cakes. Now, ever the genius at planning sessions, Lisa got us all to get our towlines out. As we laid them out on the small shingled beach it was surprising the difference in lengths. My nrs towline is perfect for sea kayaking, whereas Amanda and Graham come from a predominantly white water background and therefore had much shorter tows. I wasn’t fully appreciating at this point the difference this was going to play over the next hour or so.
Time to Tow
As the weather started to turn quite quickly, I hopped back into Bumble and launched off the beach. Lisa and Andrew, both now full on massive helpings of Banoffee Pie, had said we would do some towing practise. I always carry my nrs towline round my waist with the opening at the front and resting on the spraydeck. This allows me to release it quickly and easily when needed, and if I think it may be needed I will release the buckle enough to allow me to clip the towline to my BA so I have it immediately to hand.
So, heading into F5 wind and rain I was asked to put on a tow to Lisa and Andrew as they created a raft. . Towing one person is not noticeable, though I did notice a difference after a while towing a raft situation, and the wind didn’t help. Behind me, Amanda and then Graham clipped in and out of the tow, with me towing a raft plus one midway on the line.
With head down I battled on into the relentless wind and rain, my arms were starting to feel it and to be honest it was hard work so a good eye opener if this was to happen in a real life situation. I started to slow a little, heading down the east coast of Bute. Over my right shoulder I became aware of Graham coming alongside me. ‘Lynne, Lynne Stop!’ Thank goodness. Turns out they’d been shouting me for ages to stop towing but I hadn’t heard them because of the wind. Lesson learnt there, keep looking over your shoulder!
We practised some more turning and edging down at the bay in Tighnabrauich for the rest of the afternoon. followed by a chilled Saturday evening sat on the beach with everybody. Barbecue followed by cakes baked by Ann on her guide course. It was lovely to chat with everyone, but I took an early night with my Fresubin drinks and a quick call home.
Sunday was our final day so we were going to stay within the locality of the bay near Carry Farm. First, a look at kit, and what we all carry in our sea kayaks. I thought I was pretty well prepared with the kit I had but it turns out you need a hell of a lot more than you think. Lisa laid all hers out. All neatly organised into the correct hatches to spread the weight and all marked in drybags. The camp kit was useful, and gave me lots of interesting ideas, all easy enough to get hold off. Special of the day for me was the fire kit. I’d always wondered why people carried tampons and what looked like dry grass in a small plastic tubs. They make great firelighters. Genius! Another useful area was the discussion over pyrotechnics or electric flares. I’ve since opted for both.
Then it was onto the water to practise leaning into a turn, carving in between the buoys and moored yachts. Well, I say leaning, I wasn’t doing very well to be honest. I hadn’t found my edge on Bumble as quickly as I’d hoped, still I kept trying. More rescue training, taking it in turns to practise heel hooks and paddle float re-entries. Emptying boats and helping each other back in. When it was my turn I didn’t nail it first time, my body position in the water was all wrong.
Float to your Boat
‘Lynne lean your head back’…’I’m trying but..’ ‘Lynne, Lynne, listen to me, lean your head back on the water. Your body will lift you to the right position’. With Andrews patience to get me to stop waffling on and looking for excuses, I did as I was asked and tada! there it was. My body floated better with my head back on the water giving me better elevation to get back into Bumble.
As Andrew left us to join the leaders group, pulling his divers hood on and no doubt heading for a demo dunking from Duncan, we had some fun and games with balancing. Round the world, cowboy re-entry and standing up to paddle, the latter of which I can now do though it was really tricky at first. And so my fantastic weekend at Tighnabrauich came to an end.
My nrs drysuit had certainly looked after me well, definitely the best purchase I’d made (second to Bumble of course). I had stayed super dry and comfortable all weekend, and that in itself had helped me relax and focus on the skills I needed to learn.
What a great bunch of people and oh such a lovely area. I will be back at Carry Farm for sure and hopefully then ready to circumnavigate Bute. So I headed off for the long drive home and to put three tampons and some dry grass in a plastic tub.