Scottish Islands Peaks Row 2010 21st of May – indeterminate date
Sam Hesling

How we have made it so far without motoring is nothing short of a muscle powered miracle. It’s 10am on Sunday morning and Canna has become a familiar sight, as has the infinitesimally slow speed of the anemometer spinning on the mast. There was much talk from the marshals of motoring during the kit check on Jura last night , much or which we didn’t take in properly in the usual five minute kit check panic, and something which the crew of Blue Chip have busted a gut to avoid.

Fridays dash around Oban went well with Lochaber and HBT vying for pole position with David Riach and I bowling along behind with Brendan and Angela. David and I made good progress to finish third, just ahead of Brendan and Angela, before diving into our dinghy and being rowed to the boat by one of our heroic sailors, Scott.

The sail out of the bay was non existent, the rowing full pelt with the two main oars and two paddles going at it full pelt. Once at sea we sailed to Salen, well almost, with the final half mile or so being oar propelled by the sailors in ship shape fashion racing (and beating) another boat in.

Mull went well with the first 8 or so miles being dispatched in quick time. The initial climb up the Ben was stodgy and slow but once over we were able to fly round a gradually rising contour before heading directly round on the 580m contour below the scree. Having passed a pair on the first climb, and having another pair started only five minutes behind at Salen we were pleased to look back and see no-one behind but up on the horizon, only twelve or so mins ahead were Jon Morgan and Al Powel having set off about fifteen mins ahead after sailing into Salen on Playing FTSE – we were gaining.

Some brilliant navigation by David took us straight off the top and down to the second checkpoint with no fuss, and we sped on around the corrie to cp three. After a debate on the way round we decided to drop down the far side of the col directly and take the left side of the valley floor to avoid the plethora of burns which incise the steep side. The route paid off and it wasn’t long before we were back on the track passing lots of pairs heading on up clearly psyching themselves up for a nigh time up and down of the mountain. We were back at the boat just after ten PM knackered after the long road run but fit for large quantities of food which were duly guzzled. More rowing saw us out of Salen and chugging slowly south west under sail towards Duart.

Eerie silence, mist and zero wind, we were floating down the middle of the channel still a couple of miles shy of Duart with nill visibility and every chance of being smashed by anything big making its way through the night. One thing for it, row to the Mull shore and drop anchor for a few hours to give the sailors a chance for some kip and to avoid a visit to the sea bed.

Five am Saturday morning and there is a sniff of a breeze. We got going again and rounded Duart and headed south. Much debate ensued as to the best line – the eastern line down the Jura Coast or the western line through the Corryvreckan. Option two was chosen and after several hours of rowing by our heroic crew the boat powered through and was spat out into the Sound of Jura at a fair lick (the best yet). But it wasn’t to last. Hours and hours of rowing was necessary to get the boat into Craighouse, the final couple of hundred meters being neck and neck with another tri – Memec.

We passed two pairs on the hill, and held off a third, getting some excellent banter, bizarrely the midnight chat on the second pap was all about Olly and his PB attempt. Some excellent navigation by David saw us dispatch the three hills in good style and we ran back along the road and jumped on board Blue Chip for the inevitable row out to sea. Sleep ensued, and the skippers son had somehow coaxed us south to Canna where we are still sitting at what is now 11am. But the tide has turned and we are standing still (actually going backwards) in zero wind. The sea is like glass and the sun shining. It’s been awesome…

... we had a call to make. The boat was still adrift and there was no way to tell for how long. We figured that with the best will in the world we would be pushing it to get to Arran - Goatfell - Troon before work (and exam revision) would beckon at 9am on Monday. All five of us debated the decision at length and come 11.30am on Sunday we chucked it, hit the motor and sped towards the Mull.

Once around, as if from nowhere, there was wind. The boat was soon powered up and hitting 15 knots on our way to Tarbert where we had chosen to retire to. Sailing this fast was totally new for me and amazing fun, especially under a glorious sun. The rapid journey continued up Loch Fyne and we berthed at about 8pm, tired, tanned and already plotting another crack at it next year.

In the absence of finishing I reckon the Blue Chip crew deserve the following:

David (runner and the man with the plan) - the prize for navigation and route finding of the highest order which contributed big time to our speed on the hills;

Steve (skipper par excellence) - twenty out of ten for providing the awesome boat and rowing it solidly for hours on end;

Graham (the human wind vane) - top marks for sniffing out mere breaths of a breeze on an otherwise mirror like sea; and

Scott (pasta in a flask dude) - for rowing the dinghy like sheet lightening.

The top class banter (and the experience in general) is summed up here.

Enough said.

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