Expedition SUP in Scotland? Why not I thought…
Words: Dave Adams
Photos: Gordon B aka Crow
It was on a trip to Mull a few years back that I first got a taste of exploring the wilder parts of the coast on a stand up paddle board.
As I swept along the Sound Of Mull on my Starboard Big Easy, I started to think how nice it would be to do a proper multi day expedition – sort of sea kayak style but standing. The perfect way to explore the wonderful wilds of the Scottish coast?
A few weeks later I was back in the area with my friend Gordon (Crow) from songofthepaddle.co.uk. I had a more suitable SUP, a Starboard Point to Point 14.8ft, on loan from TheSUPStore.co.uk and all the lightweight kit I needed. Thirteen kilos in all, including food.
We paddled 80 miles, over four nights, taking in Lismore, Mull and Oronsay. Crossing the Firth of Lorne and the Sound of Mull and onwards into Loch Sunart. It was an amazing adventure cruising around the Hebridean Islands for days on a SUP.
A few years later our next big adventure was a circumnavigation of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Gaelic – Àird nam Murchan – meaning Headland of the Great Seas.
The Point is the furthest westerly part of mainland UK. Even further west than Land’s End, it is exposed to some seriously big seas and winds. There is also a huge volcanic crater on Ardnamurchan – clearly visible from the air.
To paddle a SUP around Ardnamurchan would require some hefty planning and a certain amount of luck! Ours would come in the form of high pressure bringing light and favourable winds (mostly) for the journey. Planning really involves getting the tides right, so we needed them in our favour. To just head out there and attempt a trip around Ardnamurchan without knowing what weather and tide are doing would virtually be suicidal. Food and water supply is also a consideration. You need to have just the right amount. Too much and it adds unnecessary extra weight, too little and you may run out – which would be disastrous.
It’s not ideal carrying all the water you need either. That would mean taking about 20 kilos of liquid on board, which is not an option. I use a water filter in the form of a Lifesaver Bottle – an amazing bit of kit that can turn stagnant fresh water into the drinking type in a few seconds.
Safety gear is essential. First aid kit, VHF radio, signal mirror, personal locator beacon (PLB), hi-vis vest or hat and buoyancy aid (PFD). Spending days on end in a wetsuit is not comfortable or practical and it means carrying dry clothes on board for evening wear. I use a drysuit which means more warmth, comfort and no need to bring spares.
A back up SUP paddle and kayak paddle comes with me on every expedition. There is always the possibility that waves and wind could become too much to handle standing. If they do, I can fall back on essentially kayaking my SUP. Sitting is only done as a last resort because it’s just not comfortable or as much fun.
The type of SUP you use is a massive consideration. You really need something that is seaworthy and can handle a mix of conditions. The standard all round stand up paddle board design is not ideal because of the flat bottom. Ocean going boards are more arched through the hull and usually bigger in volume and length – the bigger, the better in my opinion.
For this trip I got my hands on a one-off custom Richmond Carbon 16ft – specially designed to handle big chop/swell with gear on board. The Richmond was also supplied by Nick Watt of TheSUPStore.co.uk. (Thanks for thinking of me!)
And we’re off…
Our trip started on the fresh water of Loch Shiel at Acharacle. Acharacle is at the southern end of Loch Shiel and the start of possibly one of the shortest rivers in the UK. The river runs for about three miles, then drops down a huge rapid into the sea – Loch Moidart.
Three of us – Gordon, Richard and myself – met on Monday morning, when we planned to meet the high tide at Loch Moidart. High water would mean the rapid is deeper so much less fierce. It’s the whole of Loch and River Shiel funnelling through a small gap about five metres wide.
We got on the water later than planned so when we got to the rapid, the tide was already dropping and making it huge!
Gordon paddles a hybrid sit on top kayak designed for coastal paddling – deeper and drier than conventional SOTs and with generous gear storage. Nice and stable, it handled the rapid easily. Richard in his sea kayak didn’t fare so well and was thrown onto the rocks resulting in a swim. No real damage or injury, luckily! I adopted the kneeling position and attempted to run through the middle but was also thrown into the water. Not a problem on a SUP because you just climb straight back on.
As soon as we were in Loch Moidart, we turned left and headed west past Farquhar’s Point and into the sea proper.
We needed to cover about 15-20 miles per day to complete our trip in three. Paddling on open sea is nearly always slower – you can expect to cover about 2mph on average over a few days.
Our first campsite was on a secluded beach at Kilmory. Always feels great to finish the first day of a trip. It makes you feel confident that the rest of the journey will go smoothly.
The next two days would consist of some huge crossings from point to point and around the famous Ardnamurchan Lighthouse itself. We had one leg on the second day when a Force 4 offshore wind kicked in making it very tricky to get to our desired camp from two miles out – all of us had a real battle on our hands.
We dealt with this fairly well and the rest of the expedition went smoothly – I’m sitting here writing this with a warm glow at the memories and surprised there were so few ‘issues’. Usually something goes disastrously wrong on these types of journey but I have to admit, this time it was plain sailing…
The sense of satisfaction, knowing that we paddled around a large, treacherous, wild part of Scotland is huge and we will be back again soon – possibly rounding the infamous Cape Wrath.
Watch this space…