Cumbrae Trip Day 3 – Great Cumbrae Kayak Race Report

Day 3 of our trip to Great Cumbrae started with sunny spells and a stiff breeze. Not ideal conditions for the Great Cumbrae Kayak Race as far as I was concerned, but not too rough that I wouldn’t be able to give it a go either. I was up early so went out for a little walk and found a few geocaches on my way.

Morning on Great Cumbrae

Morning on Great Cumbrae

I wandered around to the ferry terminal and watched the first ferry of the day come and go. No one got off and no one got on so back it went. No doubt it would be much busier later.

First ferry of the day

First ferry of the day

Back at the van I woke Anna and Morgan and we packed things up ready for a day revolving around the Great Cumbrae Kayak Race

The Great Cumbrae Kayak Race

The Great Cumbrae Kayak Race was hosted by the National Watersports Centre on Cumbrae. The centre offers tuition in a wide range of watersports, hosts events and runs residential courses. I had signed up to the race which would circumnavigate the island but knew very little about it. The bumpf on the website said:

Following the HUGE success of both the 2015 and 2016 races, the Centre is preparing for another ‘Great Cumbrae Kayak Race’, due to take place on Saturday 12th August 2017.

Again, there will be a race ‘around the island’, as well as a shortened course for Junior competitors. The race is open to any canoe kayak including sea kayak, sit on top, racing ski,
stand up paddle board.

This is an open event and should be a fun yet challenging afternoon on the water, with great prizes on offer and a complimentary post-race BBQ!

That sounded good to me and the post race BBQ clinched it!. The race itself is part of a series of races held in Scotland and therefore contributes points towards the overall series. I would only be doing this one though just to get a taste of it. So far, my Surf Ski racing had been a bit of a mixed bag. I struggled and came last in the Colwyn Bay Blast using old and very heavy equipment. I did a little better in the Mawddach Marathon, but the number of entries for this was really low. The Great Cumbrae Kayak Race looked a little more serious and had a larger field of entrants. I was feeling a little apprehensive before the race as well. The conditions along the north of the island looked quite rough for me so I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to get all the way around. It was worth a try though and the worst that would happen was that I would have to give up and concede defeat by the elements. I was perfectly happy in my abilities to get myself back to shore safely so there wasn’t too much to worry about.

We headed to the Watersport Centre after breakfast and chilled while everyone else arrived and set up. There were quite a few familiar faces both from the Colwyn Bay Blast and the Mawddach Marathon races so we were soon chatting and getting into the swing of things. I was still quite unsure of my ability to get around through the choppy waters though. It was very calm on this side of the island but the flags and palm trees were moving and I was sure it would be quite a bit rougher around the north of the island. I was however hoping that we would have a nice tail wind along the west of the island if I managed to get that far.

View from the Sailing Club

View from the Sailing Club

The Start

It was soon time to get ready and head to the briefing. The briefing was as expected but I was encouraged to hear that there would be a couple of paddlers from the centre joining us to act as guides for those who were a little unsure of things. Next we headed to the beach and got onto the water while a bagpipe was played on the jetty.

It was very calm on this side of the island but I still felt a little wobbly as we waited for the start gun. The countdown was on and before long there was a loud gunshot and we were off.

I’m not going to be competitive by any stretch of the imagination in such events yet so I don’t bother rushing off at the start. I simply start paddling at a steady rate and plod around the course. This meant that those at the pointy end streamed off ahead of me while I settled into a nice easy rhythm. Before long those at the front were disappearing out of sight and I could see two people a little way ahead of me. I had no idea what was happening behind me of course. We had no problem crossing the paths of the ferries and made our way north up the eastward side of the island as we were circumnavigating it in an anticlockwise direction today.

Into Choppier Waters

As we rounded the north of the island past the monument the chop increased as expected. I was now paddling into the wind and having to pay more attention to the wind, the waves and the chop. I settled into it though and was still making progress despite having to put in some bracing strokes here and there. As we rounded the top of the island though things got worse and it took more concentration and more bracing strokes to stay upright. There were a couple of near misses as chop or waves tried to capsize me but somehow I managed to stay upright. Past White Bay, past Wine Bay and past Stinking Bay I went, somehow still making progress and staying upright.

I had hoped that the conditions would ease as we headed out onto the west coast of the island. I thought the wind might be behind us but that wasn’t the case. There was much more westerly in it than had been forecast so the sea became even more challenging. It may not have felt too rough for the others, and it certainly wouldn’t have been rough had I been windsurfing but in my wobbly surf ski with very little experience of such conditions I was challenging myself just to stay the right way up. I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to self-rescue if I did fall off in the chop. I’m sure I would have managed it but I think it may have taken a while and expended quite a bit oif energy so I was doing everything I could to stay upright. I was now in conditions rougher than I had paddled in before and it seemed as though every other stroke was a bracing stroke to keep me upright.

This stretch of coast goes on for quite a while too but I was gradually making progress along the west coast. The guys that were just ahead of me were still in sight. the fluorescent orange of Mal’s buoyancy aid an ever present carrot to chase. I wasn’t really able to take in much of my surroundings as all of my mental energy was being used to stay upright. It’s been a while since I concentrated quite so hard for quite so long. Eventually I passed Fintry Bay with a little row of cars parked alongside the beach. On I went following Mal’s buoyancy aid. The cliffs of Little Cumbrae soon came into view. I was glad we didn’t have to go around that as well. I’d made it this far and I was now willing myself to make the next few hundred years, then the next hundred until I could round the corner and start heading across Millport Bay to the more sheltered eastern side of the island.

Calmer Seas

Eventually I rounded the bend and finally had the wind at my back. There were even a few tiny little runners to catch here, although it did seem as though they were stationary waves rather than proper waves as they didn’t seem to give me much of a boost for long. I cut straight across Millport Bay and now seemed to be getting closer to Mal. I had yet to see anyone else, no safety boats, none of the people behind me had overtaken me and I hadn’t seen any of the guided from the centre either. On I plodded all on my own, keeping the island to my left.

As we turned onto Great Cumbraes eastern shores the water was now super calm. It was like a millpond in places. I was feeling good, I wasn’t tired at all but the concentration needed to stay upright along the western side had pretty much done it for me. I did pick up the pace a little but couldn’t really be bothered to put in too much effort. I now couldn’t catch the people in front of me and I had no idea of what was happening behind.

I hugged the coastline, past fishermen on the rocks and people riding bikes along the coastal road. It seemed like a long way. The huge wind turbines and massive jetties on the mainland to my right hung over me but my mind was on the much more serene island to my left. As I entered Ballachmartin Bay the wind seemed to pick up and there was actually a fair bit of chop created by the offshore wind. I took a longer but hopefully calmer and less windy route by hugging the shoreline whilst the others in front just cut straight across the bay. I had caught them a little coming into this bay but they once again pulled away as I took a less direct route.

Eventually after 10 miles of paddling I approached the finish line. It crept ever nearer and I finally crossed it. I took a look at my watch and I had done it in under 2 hours. A hooter sounded as I crossed the line. A few seconds later another hooter sounded. I thought it was just the officials messing around on the jetty, but no, it turned out that there was someone just behind me! Had I know then I may have put a little more effort in towards the end and would maybe have risked the more direct route across the bay. As it happened I held him off anyway so it would have made no difference.

I headed back to shore, packed up, had a shower (as did Anna and Morgan) and then we hung around chatting, waiting for the prize ceremony and more importantly the BBQ. We paid for Anna and Morgan to eat at the BBQ too and we were soon tucking into burgers and hot dogs and chatting in the sunshine. More people streamed in. I wasn’t last! However, saying that they were all in sea kayaks, not surf ski’s so I was probably last of the surf skiers. I had managed to stay upright all the way around so that was a victory in my books. We stayed for the prizes and then headed off. Apparently the guy who won it had paddled over from Bute in the morning and was now about to paddle home again.

Another Circumnavigation

Great Cumbrae is a strange little place. During the day the ferries that arrive every 10 minutes from Largs are literally packed full of foot passengers. It seems that they all get off at the ferry terminal, pile into buses with standing room only that takes them into the only town on the island, Millport. There they hire bikes and they all cycle around the island. The route is flat, easy going and only 10 miles long. It’s also almost traffic free. This means that there is a constant stream of people pedalling around the island all day long. I’ve never seen so many non-cyclists riding bikes! Many were on tandems there was even a strange pedal powered contraption that sat about 6 people all facing each other that people hired to take around the island. It was a non stop procession of people riding bikes despite the fact that most of the clearly don’t ride bikes very often.

It did seem to inspire Morgan though as he quite fancied circumnavigating the island too. So, off we set, once again in an anti-clockwise direction, but this time rather than being on the sea in a surf ski I was on my bike and riding along with Morgan. The lure of an ice-cream stop in Millport helped encourage him too. Anna meanwhile chilled in the van and did some homework. It was a nice easy ride in the cool evening air. The mountains of Arran were looking quite majestic in the distance and the island of Bute was now clearly visible. We joined the stream of other cyclists and were soon entering Millport. There we stopped for ice-cream. We both had two scoops of mixed flavours in chocolate waffle cones. My cone split as they jammed the ice-cream into it though so I was given another to help support it. We stood on the prom over-looking the beach and the harbour and ate our ice-creams. As we did Martin (who had raced around the island in his surf ski earlier and whom I’ve met in North Wales for some paddling) arrived along with his son on their bikes. They were staying at the watersports centre so had cycled into Millport from the other direction and they too were now getting ice-creams. We stayed and chatted for an hour or so. Morgan only managed one scoop of ice cream so I ended up not only eating mine and the two cones I’d been given but also Morgan’s second scoop and his cone too!

As the sun started to dip lower in the sky we headed off. Morgan showing off riding no handed much of the way. It wasn’t long before his bum was hurting and he was flagging on the ride back though –  he doesn’t ride his bike enough!

We made it back to the van after an just over and hour of cycling. We played boules on the beach parked up at Wine Bay and chilled while the sunset before finishing the day with hot chocolates, biscuits and bed.

1 Response

  1. Mum says:

    Sounds like a good day for all of you. Well done for staying dry too. Xx

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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