Having seen the Oban Sea Kayak Race posted on FB back in May, I was immediately hooked by the thought of doing something different and taking in some new scenery. With that in mind, I decided to collar my good friend Simon Garbett (Garbo) to join me in heading North to the slightly cooler climate of Oban, instead of making my annual trip south to Porto for the Nelo Summer Challenge. As you can imagine, travel plans and paddling kit were quite different!!
So the road trip was planned and we were off! First stop for Garbo was Junction 27 on the M5 in Devon to pick me up at 10pm. Our plan was to drive through the night and avoid all the traffic. After copious amounts of coffee and the odd conversation about ski design, paddle kit, that race ‘back in the day’ and other equally gripping topics, we pulled up at Carlisle Services at 5am for a well deserved kip. I can’t imagine why Garbo’s other half thought better of being on a 13 hour road trip with us. She said she might get bored for some reason???? Can’t understand it! 🙂
3 hours well deserved kip, another large Costa and we were on the road again. By 3pm we were having scones and cream on Oban sea front – un bias Devon boy verdict – Devon cream teas rule 🙂
Having not planned much at all our next job was to find a campsite. This was very simple as there was a great campsite about 3 miles out of Oban overlooking the water – Oban Caravan and Camping Park, thoroughly recommended!!
With everything set up and ready, we spent Friday taking in a few sights of Oban and visiting the local kayak shop, ‘Sea Kayak Oban’, where we had a great chat with Stuart the owner. We soon realised that this is the hub of kayaking in Oban as there was a constant stream of paddlers dropping by for a social or a much needed piece of kit for the next days racing.
Tourist selfies done and local knowledge noted at the kayak shop, it was time to head for the pre-race evening social. As with all kayaking / ski events, we were greeted by a lot of friendly faces, good banter and a real appreciation was shown for making our road trip from the SW. Just when we thought we’d get the prize for furthest traveled, we were out done slightly by an entry from Australia!!
As forecast, the weather didn’t let us down. The wind was blowing, although I wish the rain prediction wasn’t so accurate! However, this didn’t deter anyone from turning up as there was a real expectation of some challenging conditions round the back of Kerrera Island followed by tempting runners all the way home from Port Dubh! With the race briefing and kit inspection completed, an impressive flotilla of about 75 kayaks and skis assembled on the water, ready to paddle down to Oban Harbour for the mass start.
At 1 o’clock the horn sounded and we were off! The first 30 minutes was a tough battle against the tide and strong head wind down Kerrera Sound. Then for a paddle across the back of the Island with some interesting side wind to test your balance! There was a solid 3 foot side chop to play with going past Eilean Orasaig. (apologies for my inaccuracy in the local detail!!) and lots of runs to be had if you knew what to look for :-).
Having navigated the back of Kerrera and now heading for home, it was like paddling on a completely different planet! From a side on ‘washing machine’, we were now enjoying a steady tail wind in relatively calm seas chasing the runners. There’s a bit of ‘cat and mouse’ to be played on this stretch. Do you go wide of the islands and catch the wind and tide or take the shorter route and cut in close? I’d like to say that my race tactics took me wide based on my research and fine navigational skills! However, the truth is, I looked to cut inside but couldn’t see the route to take! Fortunately for me, going wide seemed to be the best route on that day. This was a pleasant surprise as I have been known to go completely the wrong way before!! I’ll save those stories for a post race pint sometime!
Finishing the race in record time (1:39:47) was a great feeling and I certainly plan on heading back next year to try and shave a few more seconds off. It was a great race that really tests all your paddling skills over 20km. From an organisers point of view , this is a great course as it provides a ‘bit of everything’ to test the paddler. You’d also need seriously stormy conditions to make it unsafe to paddle on. This is also good to know if you’re travelling a long way to the event. It’s very unlikely this race would be cancelled due to adverse conditions.
A great days racing was completed with a post race BBQ kindly provided by the race orgnanisers. As you can see from the picture, the prizes didn’t disappoint either! (I’ve only had a few ‘nips’ of the fine malt since being home).
Even with a 13 hour drive back south, our enthusiasm for next years race wasn’t dampened! A great event and well worth sticking in the diary! Massive thanks to Gus Brydon and the team for organising. Look forward to seeing you next year!