This year was an alternating year when the Lochawe weekend goes on tour. After phoning just about every village hall in Scotland we went to the GlenIsla village hall near Kirriemuir. A great hall with showers, a fantastic kitchen and a pub 300m away. It also brought a new area with new rivers and sea trips, but more later.

After some ins and outs the group ended up as 12 people, with a mix of river and sea participants. A game of paper-scissors-stone on Saturday morning gave Misha a sea day followed by a river day, whereas Graham had a river day then a sea day. Rain overnight had meant that a debate of West Water (Grade 3 / 4) or South Esk (Grade 2/3). The group (Graham, Derek, Gianni, Marcus and Sam) stopped for a look as we crossed the South Esk and it looked big and brown and seemed a good choice. The gauge when we got a phone signal in the morning was “Medium”. By the time we set off the water was lapping the car park, now somewhere between “very high” and “huge” (See the peak of the pink chart below). Although in the guidebook as grade 2/3 the river was going like an express train and Sam after some early warm up ferry glides decided it wasn’t for him that day.

Derek took the lead and off we headed, with 6km to the get out. It proved a good day to add to Derek’s leading and inspecting experience. With the water level well into the trees that would normally be “lining the bank”, the eddies all very, very small and with pretty much the full width running at top speed it meant Derek had to walk down the bank to check round almost every corner.

The river was challenging with it forcing a couple of rolls, a steep learning curve on how to paddle in flood stage rivers and how to make very small eddies. We were maybe halfway when everything got a bit more serious. Looking back upstream I could see Marcus was upside down and attempting to roll, but quite close to the bank. He was then out of his boat and swimming for the bank. Although in most situations this is good choice, in a flood stage river it can be hazardous. Gianni was beside Marcus, with Derek and me downsteam. I managed to slow down below a mid-river pourover and after Marcus came downstream we managed to get Marcus holding onto the tail of my boat. As we floated downstream, a short stretch of river bank with no dangerous trees was visible and with me paddling and Marcus kicking we made it to the bank, maybe 400m below the original capsize.

Pretty shaken up and with his boat and paddle off downstream we managed to get the group together and Derek and Marcus headed to a nearby farm to walk to the cars. Gianni and I carried on carefully to the get out, keeping an eye out for paddle or boat but no luck, they were probably on the way to Montrose Basin 8 miles away. Once we got a signal Marcus made a phone call to the police to advise them of an unattended boat.

Back to the Hall to meet up with the sea group who had had a day in big swell and some challenging paddling with a few swims. Even more challenging was the Van driver who collected another wing mirror sticker for the side of his van, having taken out Andrew’s car mirror. Bev had catered for the group all weekend and we had a fantastic curry, with Carly and Donald providing the cake and custard.

Next morning we headed off: the river group to the Braan, the sea group planning to go from Lunan Bay to Arbroath (15km).

Although a much more benign forecast that Saturday (Force 2/3 from the south and 2-3 foot swell), it proved a challenging day out. Launching from the beach the surf was up to 3 foot high and although part of the group made it through we became split up, with Zoe, Andrew and Hannah outside the surf zone and Bev, Sam, Donald and Carly inside at the beach (with all but Donald having had a capsize). We hopefully get to learn for our own and other people’s mistakes so I share one of mine here. In my urgency to get back to the group outside the surf zone I failed to clearly communicate that I wanted the group on the beach to walk their floating boats the mile along the beach to the shelter of the end of the bay to the South where we could meet up they would then be able to launch through much smaller surf. I then headed out to the rest of the group and began paddling south with them. With the 4 of us starting to head south we saw the rest of the group walking their boats along the beach but we didn’t see them again for some time and I believed we would meet them at the small collection of houses at the end of the beach (the wave height made seeing the beach quite hard).

Just as we reached the shelter at the south end of the beach where had planned to land, Bev and Carly paddled up behind us, having paddled out through the surf and caught up with us. Both Donald and Sam were back along the beach where Bev and Carly had paddled out. Bev and Carly had remained outside the surf zone opposite where Sam and Donald had stayed on the beach (out of their boats) for about ten minute before paddling after our group.

A surf landing though 1-2 foot surf got everyone safely to dry land and Bev and I walked back along the beach and met Donald back at the cars (Sam had managed to get a lift to Arbroath to collect his car). A drive down a pothole strewn farm road to the rest of the group to collect the boats and we were all reunited and then off to Tiso in Perth for coffee and cake. The river group were first back to Tiso’s having had a less eventful day on the Braan with medium levels.

More excitement still to follow, the trailer bearing gave up the ghost in Yoker, 2 miles short of Clydebank. Some shuttling of boats to the store to lessen the weight, Derek adding some grease to the bearing to let it just about turn and a 10mph drive the last few miles to the store.

Definitely a more stressful than usual couple of days paddling with some lessons to learn from both days.

Written by Graham