Today is all about the tide.
We had gathered the previous evening in order to finalise a plan that, if adhered to, would ensure that we gained the maximum tidal boost as we passed through the narrow Kyle Rhea channel which separates the Sound of Sleat from Loch Alsh.
On every cycle of the tide the current flows both northward and southward through the channel at up to 8 knots. It was our intention to hitch a lift with the tide and to experience ‘rowing down an escalator’ as Topher describes it. Perhaps not the fearful and exhilarating challenge of a ‘Nantucket sleigh ride’ of whaling days but it promised to be unique trip for most of us.
‘The Pirate’ shuttled our crews over to Glenelg from the campsite. The natural beauty of this memorable setting is the backdrop for an abandoned barracks and a powerful and evocative war memorial.
It is hard to imagine that, in times past, cattle would be swum over the narrows from Skye to the mainland using our same route. Now that would take some careful planning!
The coming day would even provide a novel experience for those of us who row on the second highest tidal range in the world – the Bristol Channel – where the stream is so strong that we can only row at two hours either side of high water – if we are out either side of this window we are in deep tide-related trouble! (Time to call the Swansea Coastguard – 60 miles downstream!)
The outline of the plan was to have both Roxanne and Soy Loon lined up abreast at the centre of the channel where the current would be strongest and where we would have the least risk of encountering any troublesome shallows. We had our precious cargo on board, the baton Community, and were feeling happy that we had done it justice so far and excited at the prospect of handing it over to Loch Carron Coastal Rowing Association.
Also, as ever, on board was our GPS tracker – today we would see what speed we could achieve, an element of authentic, undiluted competition had stepped in here – whose boat was fastest? If the tide could take us at 8 knots could we make 13 knots as an accumulated combination of nature and human power? Whilst waiting on the beach at Glenleg for our specified launch time to come around, a sweepstake was speedily organised – down to decimal points … Roxanne or Soy Loon? Which would it be? Inter-club rivalries sparked back into life having been put on pause these past few days.
We launched and headed out into the sound, aligning ourselves side by side as we rowed – with some concerted determination now – towards the mouth of the channel. We could feel the purchase of the oars on the water soften and our gentle guardian breeze, which had accompanied us from the south west all week, freshened a little. High mountains either side rising abruptly from the sea, clouds scudding overhead, the sound of the water moving past immovable rock, the sound and movement of the boat on the water – a full-on sensory experience! The cox has to work at ensuring we have enough way in the water to allow us to steer effectively, checking the speed on the GPS, urging the crew to work just a little bit harder – please! We don’t know how long all this lasted, the moment became everything. And then – everything began to soften, we were through the narrows, our speed dropped and we looked over at our companion crew – broad grins all round!
Did we make the 13 knots? Well no, but nearly. It’s very difficult on moving water to maintain the same level of purchase with oars as is possible on still water, so a true accumulation of boat speed plus current is near impossible to achieve.
We were now near our journey’s end, new friendships, wonderful, hitherto unimagined adventures. All we had to do now was to make our way to Kyleakin on the Skye side of the Loch, there we would moor the boats until our shore support arrived.
Portsoy would be heading home in the morning, Bristol would be spending a couple of days exploring the Skye coastline. They would have liked to have continued further north but the logistics of supporting a journey up the Applecross coast would be simply too complex and burdensome.
Will we be back in 2021 for Take Two?