Keldafest - Hoy Camping Trip
11 - 13 July 2008

By Peter Woodward 

With club member Kelda scheduled to make an all too brief return home from her self-imposed exile in the wastes of darkest Hordaland, a weekend paddling trip was organised in her honour.  Based at Rackwick and titled Keldafest it promised to be one of the largest celebrations of paddling Keldas ever seen in Hoy.

Friday 11th July

John, Kristian, Kelda and Peter assembled at Houton ferry terminal at 12:55 on Friday, the idea being to put Kristian’s van on the ferry with the Kayak trailer and then to paddle across and meet it at Lyness in Hoy. The problem was that the ferry was due to sail at 13:20 but we all still had to get changed and to unload enough boats and gear to get ourselves to Lyness. Not surprisingly we succeeded in annoying the ferry crew when we pushed it to the last minute but they were still good enough to take the van and trailer and park them safely at the other side.  Thank you Hoy Head crew for not deserting us.
The group set off from Houton at about a quarter to two with a 20mph north westerly wind blowing straight along the Bring Deeps between Houton Head and the closest point of Hoy, at 90 degrees to our intended route.  The sea was fairly choppy with the white horses just starting to appear around us but there was little swell or tide to deal with so  we were able to stick to out intended course and headed straight for Scad Head, peeling off to the south a little before we reached the shore.  Close in to Hoy we gained a little shelter from the wind were able to relax a little as we made our way south along the shore.  Peter relaxed a little too much and capsized but rolled back up again wishing that he had paid more attention to the neck seal of his cagoule before he left Orphir. 

We then headed southward along the eastern side of Hoy, taking trips into both Lyrawa bay and into the head of Pegal Bay.  The look and feel of both these bays is more like places on the Scottish mainland with Lyrawa being a little like Sutherland and Pegal featuring lush vegetation and resembling the shore in Argyle.   The sheep at Pegal clearly overheard Kristian’s tales of his time in New Zealand made their excuses and left us to enjoy the exotic plant life and shelter.

Back out in Scapa Flow, the group then cut straight across Mill Bay, arriving at Lyness ferry terminal at approximately 4:10.  Kristian collected his van and the trailer and we waved goodbye to John for 24 hours.  Kristian, Kelda and Peter then travelled by road to Rackwick.

It turned out that none of Friday night’s three campers had been travelling light and, by the time we had transported all our gear and some fire wood along from the van we had each made at least two return trips along the 400m track between the bothy and car park to the bothy before we were all ready to pitch our tents.

Friday evening was windy and showery but we kept the fire well fed and fired up our barbeque on the hearth.  It came to light that Kelda and Kristian’s views on what cooked meant differed wildly from Peter’s with the result that Peter ate his, rather crunchy, sausages half an hour later than the others.  This at least gave Peter the chance to explain how, unbeknown to the others, he had been cruelly tricked en-route to the bothy.

Saturday 12th July

The north westerly wind rose during the night and conspired with heavy showers to interrupt the sleep of the campers but, thankfully, the weather settled down during the course of the morning.  Ruling out paddling early in the day due to the conditions, the group turned their attention to playing badminton in the bothy with a pair of squash rackets and an improvised court and shuttlecock.

By lunchtime the threat of showers had  receded but the wind and sea were still too wild to consider paddling out of Rackwick so the group took to the hills with a walk up to St John’s Head via The Old Man and back through Berriedale.

During the hill walk, Kristian had at times seemed to be struggling to clear his throat.  It hadn’t been obvious at the time but by late afternoon it was becoming clear that this throat problem had heralded the return of the Yoda like kayaking guru last seen during the river trip in April.  Kristian, or Yoda,  had, for some time, been intending to introduce Kelda and Peter to Kayak surfing but there was a problem.   Kristian had irritated a shin injury during the walk and now the surfing lessons hung in the balance.  Desperate measures were needed in order to make sure that the chance wasn’t missed.  A cunning ruse was devised.  The plan was to tempt the ailing Kristian to the beach with the promise of instruction on moon-walking on the singing sands from Kelda.  The others knew very well that once Kristian had set foot on the beach his attention would be drawn to the sea and that a favourable surf inspection verdict was likely.  The plan worked and before long we were on our way to get the river boats which had been brought along with surfing in mind.

Following instruction on the sand from the guru, the cycle helmet wearing novices took it in turns to accompany him out through the surf to await the arrival of a suitable wave.  Peter was first up and found that sitting out just behind the surf waiting for a wave was a quiet, surprisingly relaxing thing to do.  He also found that to keep on pushing for speed when already rushing down the face of a wave was a difficult thing to do.  Despite his readiness to lean back and brace rather than keep leaning forward and paddling, he caught and successfully surfed in on several waves.  On one of his earlier ones he arrived close to the shore at some speed feeling pleased with himself only to be knocked over as the wave he had just surfed broke over him.  He rolled back up and carried on but lesson learned!

Kelda went next and though she had never tried surfing before picked it straight away and was soon surfing straight back in whenever a suitable wave appeared.  The north westerly wind had the pair blown along the beach once or twice and a good few successful runs before Kelda pushed things too far and capsized. Back in the boat she carried on surfing until the others were cold and the camera batteries were long dead.

During the lessons Kristian had been practising his own surfing technique and had, despite the small waves been pushing hard enough to capsize.  This was no problem and he simply carried on, if anything trying harder than before.  The modest size of the waves was no challenge to him and, as if to underline this spun his paddle like a drumstick while running down the face of a wave.  Poser!

After the surfing, Kristian and Kelda dunked themselves in Rackwick Burn to rinse off some of the salt.  Peter, discouraged by the oily, peaty sheen of the water opted to use the tap water and basin in the bothy.

John, who had been away working for the last day, returned at this point at pitched his tent as the others lit the fire and prepared the barbeque.

The wind had, by this time, fallen away to a breeze and we had seen the last of the rain so the wait by the fire for the steak, pork chops, mushrooms and chocolate filled bananas to cook was no hardship.  We eventually started our dinner after eleven o’clock.  Perhaps it’s just as well we couldn’t see it.

Sunday 13th July

The weather overnight was calm and dry and once people started to get underway after about 8:30 it wasn’t long before the sun came out but there was no hurry to get underway.  By the time everyone had eaten and packed up and we had carried the sea boats along to the sand by the bothy, it was 11:30.

With the sea calm and the sun blazing we set off towards Old Man passing close to the 150m high cliffs at Black Nev.  Approaching the arch at Rora Read it became clear that it would be possible to pass through the arch.  Kristian and John passed through the arch from south to north while Peter entered the cave through a side entrance and exited on the north side.  Out of the shelter of Rora Head the swell was a little bigger than to the south.  This made exploration of the impressive caves to the north side of the head less attractive than it might otherwise have been so we set off again for the Old Man.

Passing by Sandy Geo Kristian spotted a large fin on our seaward side.  The badly damaged fin, was completely missing it’s upper part and now resembled two small fins one immediately in front of the other, and appeared to be moving slowly in a southerly direction.  Peter’s first reaction, not being keen to tangle with killer whales, was to urge the group to keep paddling.  It did, however soon begin to look like that there might be the tip of a tail breaking the surface a little way behind the damaged fin.  Reassured that the animal was probably a basking shark, Kristian and Peter set out to investigate.  As we drew closer it became clear that were indeed approaching a large shark. 

The shark, although aware of us appeared to not be concerned by our attention and it was possible to paddle parallel to the animal as close as 3 or 4 metres.  From doing this it was obvious that it was comfortably longer than our 17 foot long sea boats, probably around 20 feet long.  We were both surprised by the flexibility and agility of the large animal as it manoeuvred around and alongside our boats.   When the shark had had enough of our company it very deliberately and speedily headed north.  Kristian and Peter headed north to rejoin John and Kelda who, by this time, had landed at the foot of the Old Man.

The group spent around half an hour at the base of the 140m Old Man of Hoy, climbing around the basalt base amongst smashed chunks of sandstone, occasionally glancing upward to check that we weren’t about to be squashed as another section parted from the stack.  For those of us who hadn’t been there before it was a big thrill to be standing down at the base but quite a relief to paddle away from the threat of falling sandstone chunks.

Kristian was first away as we left the launching point and as he cleared the base of the stack noticed that, amidst  a gathering of gulls about 100m from the Old Man, the shark had re-appeared.  The wind had dropped away completely and, although there was still a little swell, conditions were even better than during the first encounter.
Again the shark appeared unconcerned by the little boats and on more than one occasion cruised straight towards individual boats dipping it’s raised nose beneath the surface at the last moment and passing beneath a boat or two, reappearing a few metres away a few seconds later.  Quite exciting!

After a few minutes shark watching we noticed that what looked like a crowd of people had gathered on the cliff top opposite the Old Man.  We later heard that, from the cliffs, the shark could be seen moving around the boats.  I wonder whether anyone took any photographs?

The shark eventually moved away to the north and, conscious of the time, we set off toward Rackwick.  As we paddled by the cliffs at Sandy Geo Kristian spotted another shark, this time much smaller but with an intact dorsal fin.  Peter broke off to investigate and found the smaller fish, which he estimated to be about 10 feet in length, was faster moving and less keen to spend time with kayaks but relaxed enough to travel parallel to the kayak at a distance of around 3m for a time before dipping and passing under the bow.

The group then paddled back to Rackwick and were able to take advantage of the calm conditions to land amongst rocks and boulders to the north side of the bay close to the track.  This meant that we avoided the need to carry the boats back along from the bothy and, although we still had to collect some of our gear from the camp site, saved a lot of time and probably made the difference between catching and missing the last ferry back to Houton.  Yes, once again we struggled to catch the boat but at least this time we avoided a row!

Despite the very changeable and at times unfavourable weather and weather forecasts, which put off some paddlers, the group managed to safely do everything that they had planned to do and all those who attended were rewarded with a very memorable and fun weekend.


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