2023-05-05 Helensburgh Sugar Boat in very windy conditions

The hull of the Sugar Boat shipwreck: MV Captayannis carried sugar from east Africa to a refinery in Greenock

Friday Lunchtime: I had some time to kill before setting off for home from Dunbartonshire. With it being a public holiday weekend for King Charles Coronation, I didn't see much point setting off at lunchtime, only to hit the holiday traffic below Preston, Manchester and Stoke on the M6. Setting off much later, say after 4 pm would see me hopefully missing the holiday rush. And besides I'd brought my boat and kit up with me for the week, this was too good an opportunity not to miss.

The only problem was the wind! Wednesday night and much of Thursday the wind was really blowing. The forecast for Friday was still windy, but with the wind diminishing slightly in the afternoon. I had thought of a couple of options for a paddle. I could hit Loch Lomond, and bag some islands for the Performance Sea Kayak 2023 1000 Islands challenge, or I could, head out to the wreck of the "Sugar Boat" from Helensburgh. But the lure of the sea was pulling me towards the Sugar Boat trip. I will have plenty of time in the future for Loch Lomond island bagging.

My son Alex, got the keys to his new house in Dumbarton at the very end of April. Unfortunately for him, getting access to the house coincided with him being extremely busy at work. He works in the burgeoning space industry in Glasgow and there was a satellite to be delivered by Friday 5th May. If they missed the deadline then a) the firm would not get paid and b) there wouldn't be another launch for the satellite for another year! He was working late into the night, weekends, as well as the public holidays. Not only that, he also had a really stinker of a cold. So I ended up travelling up to Dumbarton on Sunday 30th April to help out. There were carpets to be removed from the new house and lots of decorating to be done. Then on the Bank holiday Monday, Alex was lifting his works testing gear down into the bowels of Glasgow University and hurt his back. He was definitely well and truly out of action. I spent the rest of the week working on his house and by Friday lunchtime, the jobs were done. I was rather pleased with my efforts. He now just needs the flooring company to come and he will be ready to move in, that is, in a couple of weeks time when he has some time off work. We will be going back to help with the move...

View from beneath Dumbarton Castle up the Clyde Estuary
View from beneath Dumbarton Castle up the Clyde Estuary
Kayaker Drop Off Zone
Kayaker Drop Off Zone

At Helensburgh Leisure Centre, with its Kayaker Drop Off Zone, the sun was in and out with the various passing storms and the wind didn't seem too bad. Looking out across the estuary I could see further out the see was somewhat rougher. I was very aware Helensburgh was protected from the wind, with the wind blowing offshore. My plan was to aim for the Sugar Boat and if things started to get too wild, head for the Rosneath Peninsular, then paddle up in to Gare Loch, which would hopefully provide shelter from the wind, before crossing Gare Loch to Rhu, with hopefully some shelter from the wind, and then on to Helensburgh.

Helensburgh is either the start or finish to the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail. This 150km sea kayak trail, runs between Ganavan and Helensburgh, incorporating ten access points and the Crinan Canal. There are trains to and from Helensburgh to Oban (close to Ganavan) making it easy to leave a car at either end and catch the train to the start. The train also goes through some absolutely stunning countryside.

Leaving Helensburgh behind, the sea was certainly kicking up. I was getting some good surfs on the downwind run, but I didn't want to end up in Greenock. Going against this wind and swell would be nigh on impossible to get back to Helensburgh. My shoulders and neck were certainly suffering too from taking up a tiled floor, which turned out to be a bit of a nightmare on Thursday.

As I closed in on the the wreck of the Sugar Boat, the skies became darker, with the wind and swell becoming much stronger and larger respectively. Looking over my shoulder I could see a storm bearing down on me. Ooo-er! With about 500m to go to the wreck, I took the decision to abort and head for the relative safety of Rosneath Peninsular. It was all getting just a little too big and bouncy for my comfort settings - my comfort dial was approaching about 11 out of 10 by this point!. There will always be another safer day!

Paddling up into Gare Loch, I had the wind on my side and was having to "ferry" at quite an angle to stop being pushed ashore. Thankfully the further I paddled into the loch, the swell diminished due to the loch being more sheltered, but the ever present wind was still very strong. Approaching Castle Point I decided to head straight into the wind and cross to Rhu. Having checked for battleships and the occasional nuclear submarine making their way up and down Gare Loch to the Royal Navy base at Faslane, I set a course for Rhu Marina. It was a hard slog, but was made easier with the Epic Club Carbon Small Mid Wing paddles I use, which catch the wind far less than conventional flat bladed paddles. Mid way across the loch, there was a lumpy section where the tide and wind were contriving to make things spicy! Thankfully it didn't take too long to paddle through and soon my comfort level settings were settling down back to a more normal level!

Having admired some of the moored yachts whist getting a much needed drink, I was actually using them as a windbreak, I proceeded to hug the shoreline. I passed what was the WWII Experimental seaplane RAF base at Caindhu Point and made my way back to Helensburgh Pier.

I ended up setting off for home at about 4:30 pm. In the end, despite traffic queues through Glasgow, it was a good drive with not too much traffic. I was home for 10pm

Distance: 5Nm Time: 1Hr 15min



GPS track

Wow! What an exciting paddle!

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