50 years of adventure and life-changing experiences in beautiful isolation, 1969 – 2019

Rough seas and a wet ride around Handa Island

Relative calm beneath the Great Stack

Autumn sea kayaking

Rough seas and a wet ride around Handa Island

Sharpening some leadership skills beneath the Great Stack

Thursday September 15th 2011

by Mark

The RSPB reserve of Handa Island sits just off the coast, a couple of miles south of the open mouth of Loch Laxford. During the summer the cliffs on its western edge become home to thousands of nesting guillemots, puffins and razorbills. They cover the sea like a blanket whilst feeding, and line the horizontal ledges and cliff top burrows like regiments defending their nests from canny arctic skuas.

Less than 100 yards off its northern tip is the Great Stack of Handa, a mass of red sandstone rising vertically out of the sea to a height of nearly 200 feet.

With a combination of 3 knots of tide pushing around its western coast on a spring tide, a couple of tricky reefs and complete exposure to Atlantic swells, the sea doesn’t often lie still for kayakers wanting to explore its varied coastline. But today Mark and I were looking for the rougher waters, to sharpen our rescue skills in big seas.

The forecast of a southerly force 5 was about right giving heavy seas against the western cliffs but allowing us to nip through the channel at the foot of the Great Stack and escape into near-millpond calm.

Assisted and self-rescues, and rough water landings were on the cards today in preparation for an assessment over the winter, with a battle into the wind to round the island and return to Tarbet after lunch.

The RSPB volunteers were standing faithfully on the beach to greet visitors, despite the horizontal rain and apparent absence of visitors on a day better spent inside. Great enthusiasm for a fantastic place! Weather... what weather!

We now have dates on the website for our sea kayaking holidays for adults, based at the Adventure School on the shores of Loch A Chadh Fi, ideal for beginners or those with a little experience wanting to learn more knowing that there is always a warm stove and great home cooking to return to each afternoon.

We will also be running a BCU 3 star sea kayak training and assessment course for intermediate sea kayakers who want to add a few more skills to their repetoire and come away with a nationally recognised 'stamp' of competence. More details will be on the website soon.