From Arran to Mull

June 2021 | Words and Photos by Klean Kanteen UK Ambassador, Cal Major

Klean Ambassador, Cal Major, gives us another update from her Scotland Ocean Nation expedition. Read on to find out how she reached two big milestones of the early trip, the Isle of Arran and then on to Mull.

"The Isle of Arran sits in the Firth of Clyde and is often described as a ‘mini Scotland’ because it has a bit of everything that makes Scotland so iconic! Including mountains, wildlife and whisky.

But first, I had to get there. From where I left off at the base of the River Clyde, I had a 10-mile crossing to get to the island. This gave little room for error or poor wind conditions, as out in the channel I would be miles from land if anything went wrong. I waited 2 days for the forecast to be good enough to paddle. On a SUP you’re really vulnerable to wind - it can easily blow you off course, and be horrendous, or impossible, to paddle against.

Finally, the weather conditions were perfect and I couldn’t ask for better, it was calm and glorious. I could see the enormous mountains of Arran ahead of me off into the distance, a view I did not bore of for the entire 4-hour crossing, as the light and clouds shifted hour after hour.

In the channel I was joined by porpoises, one of the more shy cetaceans who stayed a distance from me but were a joy to paddle near nonetheless. As I approached Arran, a moderately strong headwind funneled down off the mountains and definitely got my heart rate up for the final hour of paddling!

Arran to Mull - A much needed rest

Whilst on the Island, we were offered shelter at the COAST (Community of Arran Seabed Trust) centre. It wasn’t long before we started to meet some very interesting people. We were told the amazing story of Arran’s Marine Protected Area, in particular, the No Take Zone. This is Scotland’s first and currently only No Take Zone (NTZ), where no living object is allowed to be removed. This is fantastic news for the ocean which is given a proper chance of regenerating, and it’s thanks to the community that this was designated.

The waters around Arran, with their protection, are beginning to see the benefits, biodiversity starting to flourish again. However, we started to spot a recurring theme - out of sight and out of mind, our incredible underwater ecosystems around the world are often overlooked.

When it became time to leave Arran, set off from North Sannox at 4am and paddled North with a gusty tail wind. Paddling up to the North of Arran, I had another crossing to do back to the mainland! For 3 hours I was on my knees battling a side wind across the channel to the mainland; the wind was SO strong that I felt like a piece of driftwood on the surface of an angry, black sea being buffeted around, miles from shore. I put every last ounce of energy I had into getting over to the mainland and not being blown off course, dodging fishing vessels along the way, on my knees, head down, powering through, begging for the wind not to get any stronger.

Finally, on approach to Tarbert, my stop for the morning, the wind switched to a tail wind, blowing me into the harbour. I found a bus shelter just as the heavens opened, curled up in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag and extracted my TKWide flask of tea from my bag. I hadn’t been able to stop and eat or drink on the water because every second not paddling was being blown off course, so relished in drinking my entire flask of hot tea, and my breakfast in TKCanister, still hot, while waiting for James to arrive in the van.

Next, it was time to take on Dorus Mor with the goal of reaching Mull. Dorus Mor is an infamous tidal race between two islands which feeds the Corryvwreckan whirlpool, where fast-flowing and confused water can get even the biggest ships with the biggest engines into serious trouble, pulling yachts into the depths of the whirlpool let alone paddle boarders with moderately strong biceps!

This was all a case of having to be in the right place, at the right time. Too early, and we wouldn’t make it through the channel as it would be flowing too strongly against us. Too late, it could be flowing so fast we would be sucked through out of control. Slack tide would offer (we hoped) calm water and an easy passage through the channel.

Made it to Mull
Cal paddled through the Sound of Mull, part of the Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura Marine Protected Areas (MPA).

We made it the four miles to Dorus Mor very slowly, but arrived at bang on slack water, calm blue seas and barely a breath of wind. As we paddled through, it was as if someone flicked a switch! Tiny little whirlpools began to form underneath us, the water became messy and confused and even at just the beginnings of the tide we could feel the pull of the water all around us. We sped through and turned North towards the Sound of Luing. Here the tides just got quicker and quicker; at one point I was being flung through the narrow channels at such speed I felt like I was on a speedboat! Incredible forces of nature! There were heaps of smaller whirlpools and large boils of water to navigate; my entire focus on the water below and ahead of me. Flying past huge kelp forests, their enormous leaves waving frantically in the current. I’ve never paddled such incredible fast water.

Miles 15-23 were pretty hard going. I was feeling very fatigued. We were aiming for 30 miles to

Craignure in Mull but at mile 23 I said to James I’d be lucky just to make it to anywhere on the island. A big day, an early start, a lot of sun for a very pale person!

But then everything changed. A fin ahead of me popping out of the water. A dolphin, I thought! Fantastic! But more and more animal kept appearing through the surface! Either this was a very large dolphin or… OH MY GOODNESS my first evert minke whale sighting! All the pain in my shoulders was forgotten.

Refreshed and rejuvenated I felt like I could take on the world! One final battle against some pretty relentless side wind and we arrived at Craignure. I couldn’t stand up any longer - adrenaline dropped, exhaustion kicked in and I passed out on the slipway."