Day 14. Friday 1st May 2015. 62km.
Thurso to Staxigoe via the Pentland Firth and Duncansby Head.
Long awaited, the Pentland Firth and the Men of Mey. Our biggest day so far, but even so we had a 4 hour siesta in the sun. It was a day that didn't go to plan. We started early 05:45 to round Dunnet Head at 08.00. All good, we had the flow with us and we were ahead of plan. Dunnet Head was golden in the sunshine. Happy days!
We paddled to the beach at Little Clett and had a short break on the pretty beach. From here on though despite the main tide flowing to the east we were in continual back eddies against us and the planned timings began to unravel.
Heading for the Merry Men of Mey tiderace it was clear we were going to be late. We worked hard against flow. Beasting #1! 20 minutes late at the tiderace and 40 minutes before slack and there was no tiderace to be seen, just rocks. Disappointing!
From here we could see that the main Firth was already flowing against us so we worked along the shore hoping we could sneak around Duncansby Head against the flow. Arriving 50 minutes after the tide turned it was clear we had no chance: the flow was moving like an express train right next to the headland. We retreated for that enforced siesta in the sun at the bay of Sannick.
We went for a stroll up to the lighthouse and saw our first glimpses of the east coast. It looked stunning!
We decided to head up to Duncansby Head an hour an a quarter before the tide turned to flow with us fully expecting to sit in the eddy waiting. Surprisingly flow had moved offshore and while the main tiderace was still pumping we paddled around the headland easily.
Duncansby Head is the most AMAZING gateway to the east coast. Stunning stacks, magical channels, caves to die for and arches. Simply mind blowing!! Can't recommend this section of coast highly enough!!!
But for us onwards, first to Skirza Head and then at 18:00 a suggestion, shall we just paddle towards the headland Noss Head in the distance? It has over falls and is a tidal gateway and would be open. It looked a long way off. We decided to go for it and reassess after 90 minutes. But to be honest there was no plan B as a major surf beach stretched along the shore... We had to make it!
And so we started the 2nd beasting of the day! Luckily I had a good stock of snacks for our hourly breaks including one that turned out to be rocket fuel, a dark chocolate and marzipan bar! Mmm!
Just over an hour and a half later and we were there, and then onwards around the headland into Staxigoe just before dark. A lovely campsite with flat grass, picnic benches and sand. Despite the 14 hour day we were to stay here for less than 10 hours before setting off again. The weather isn't being kind to us, but we're really using what we have. We were all really pleased with the 62km mileage. A record for most of us. Again the day ended with big smiles and a few aching muscles!
Day 15 Saturday 2nd May 2015
"We are up early again to beat the wind to getting to Helmsdale or as far as we can get. Ice in our mugs shows that temperatures were well below 0 in the night. The sun is welcome on the horizon as we pack boats and head south. The wind is light to start with, pushing us gently - but forecasts report 5 Bft. and swell from East for the afternoon. The colours are amazing today, sunshine, and various blues in sky and water. The cliffs reflect the waves creating clapotis and haystacks that explode in the air. We plough through in our loaded kayaks. The cliffs in many shades of brown, lots of greens with yellow flashes of gorse bushes on the hills. Waterfalls come down, adding to the perfect scene. We stop at Lybster harbour - lunch at the coffee shop in the sun!! Once a busy fishing harbour it's a quiet place today. We also fill up our water supplies before we head on.
At Dunbeath we decide to push on. Its 2pm and the wind is picking up a bit, but we want to try and reach Helmsdale. The 20km that follow are exciting paddling! The stacks and cliffs awesome, thousands of seabirds soaring around us, the waves and swell keep us alert, ready to brace or accelerate at the right moment.
Anita spots 2 dolphins close to her boat! The last 5 km are in a tail wind of F5 - with breakers crashing onto the reefs to our right. All of a sudden Sarah sees Tavi's boat upside down - she got knocked over by a big breaker. On the 3rd attempt she rolls up -after 50km, with a loaded boat, having a big waterbag in the cockpit and the helmet on the backdeck! - well done Tavi!!
We reach Helmsdale just as the wind picks up more. We land and find a campsite spot out of the wind behind a bridge pillar. What a day! 57 km in these conditions - sea kayaking at its best!
And what's more, we are now half way around the Roof. Celebratory fish and chips with a beer for all!"
Sarah, Anita and Tavi.