My roommate and I are taking a spring break trip to Scotland to paddle the Caledonian Canal (Inverness to Ft. William or the other direction) in March. We are really excited about this trip, but were thinking about extending the route to Oban. The problem is that the extension would take us into a long Ocean bay that is long but not more than 5 miles wide at most with plenty of islands. There is also a narrow section at a town called Corran that I am somewhat concerned about.
Since my canoing experience is almost exclusively in the Boundary Waters, I don’t really know what to expect when paddling in a large bay like this, or in the narrows. I don’t suspect that there will be large swells in the bay with all those islands (and the Hebrides outside the bay), but I don’t know for sure. Can anyone give me some ideas what I should expect?
One of my cardinal rules…
TALK TO THE LOCALS
Especially if you are paddling in areas affected by tides.
You can get yourself in deep do-dos in tidal areas, especially in areas that have narrows, or jutting out points where several currents are meeting.
I don’t mean to put a scare into you, but you can paddle by a area at a certain tide when it is like a mill pond, and then at your return, there can possibly be a rip that can flip you right over.
Many of the coastal charts here in the US show some of the bad rips, but I don’t know if charts for foreign countrys do.
Jack is so right, TALK TO LOCALS! As for the charts the good NOAA charts in the U.S. often have tidal flow information on them. The British Admiralty Charts are often equally informative. I haven’t used them in over 30 years when I was on the navigation team in the Navy. But they were valuable. Besides the locals, consult the World Tide Tables as they will also give you time and force of the tides. To fully understand what you are up against I would suggest reading the chapter 31, Tides and Tidal Currents,in Bowditch.
As the other writers have stated there is no substitute for knowledge and this is a case where ignorance can be fatal.
Keep on paddling,
Thank you so much. I will look into that book. As for locals, I’ve left messages on the Scottish Paddling Association website but haven’t gotten much feedback. I may look to other resources there. Thanks again.
HERE’RE SOME TIDE REFS TO CHECK OUT
Seeking local advice is the best way to learn the details -but you can learn the generalities by checking these sites which I just picked up after a quick search on Google:
Scots tide info sites:
And here’s a couple of good sites for domestic and Western Hemisphere locales:
Paddling in areas such as you describe can indeed be tricky. Passes, points, river mouths, and frequently changes in depth -especially abrupt ones -can all produce steadily erratic or worse, erratically erratic, conditions. You can learn a whole lot about these in books; you can BEST learn about these in their LOCAL situations by speaking with local paddlers and mariners. And the best advice, perhaps? You can best TEST yourself in these situations by going out with other experienced paddlers in similar situations here as trial runs before doing it for real for the first time in strange waters.
And by the way… While you’re over there, paddling around Oban, there’s a fine, fine, FINE single malt produced in Oban. Partake of same for one of THE finest whiskies on earth. Hoist a toast to me and Black Walter when you do… And bring me back a bottle or two too! Have a bracing sip before you go -but of course, just a tad to savor. Don’t want to drink & drive, and you don’t want to over-imbibe -especially in potentially tricky waters such as those -before you
-Frank in Miami
Thank you for those links. I will take some time to look through them. One of the reasons I wanted to go all the way to Oban was for the Scotch there. I’ve heard it’s good but haven’t tried it as I am new to Scotch whiskey.
Get several local opinions
I drove along several portions of the route you are going to be taking this summer and was in Corran. I would not be counted on for good advice, but this spot did not look especially dangerous. If I remember correctly it looked fairly tame, but I will tell you that it was extremely foggy and pissing down rain in buckets when we were there. I'm not sure how much of a tide flow there is there but I do know there are businesses in Ft. William and in nearby Onich that rent canoes. There is also an adventure tourism company in Onich that rents inflatable Kayaks for going down a nearby waterfall, they should be easy to find with google and would probably be the best source for local information.
If that does not work try looking up some of the UK paddling web pages and there on contacts on the Scottish Canoe Association page. Look for the local paddling clubs in Oban or Ft. George and email them for advice. Be sure to get lots of opinions. My experience is that there are a lot of individuals into paddling in the UK that will greatly exagerate the risk and conditions and skills required. Make sure you get a balanced opinion before you give up on anything.
If you get a chance do some hiking in the local mountains, the tallest peak in Scotland is nearby and just hiking in Glencoe area was really beautiful. Hope you have a good trip and good luck. (Post a trip report when you get done.)
Don’t count on charts
Charts are made for bigger ships and boats. Small boats go places they don’t. The areas you will be going will not show major dangers nor will they show easy and safe routes. Local folks who are members of clubs that take a skill approach rather than the macho approach will give the best balanced information I found when in the area.
Might want to take a gander at www.scot-canoe.org/index2.htm and see if they have the info you’re seeking.
Enjoy the Scotch.
that would be a good idea if…
heh heh, been there. I’ve posted a few things on their message board to which I’ve not really gotten much help. I had high hopes too.
Do your homework
Im guessing the tides are extreme like far north U.S., changes of 10-20 feet each direction in/out. Thats a lot of water moving each direction, squeeze that between an island or mud flat or land and you’ll never go against it and could get washed away. Sounds like dry suit conditions also.
Local info rules
That’s good advice. For instance, there’re places on the Bay of Fundy where the locals will tell you: “Don’t go more than 60 yards from shore, the whirlpools’ll pull you to the bottom!”
While they might be engaging in a little hyperbole, the message is clear; watch yerself.