The AJAX gigs, Norge and Pymbs, have not been sailed together since 1966. That’s 50 years this year. This was one of the main reasons for our choice of mode of transport for our Duke of Edinburgh Gold expedition. Not only rowing the gigs but sailing them also, would be something that has not been done before, this really interested us as a team. The fact that we had the choice to do something other than hiking for our DofE expedition really motivated us towards doing the award with Ajax as many of us have completed other stages of the award through school where you hike for your expedition.
Just over a month ago, between Friday 26th August and Wednesday 31st August 2016, ten explorer scouts made the trip up to Loch Lomond in Scotland, just north of Glasgow. We took two gigs with us that were fully kitted out with sailing rig and rowing rig as well as SeaDog, a powerboat and our safety boat if it was needed. It was also the boat for our leaders/supervisor and the DofE assessor, Jimmy Patterson.
It took us 12 hours to travel up to Scotland on the Friday in our convoy of four cars, three of which were towing.
We rigged the gigs and launched the boats at Ross Priory. This involved putting up the masts, attaching the main sail to the boom and the gunter, attaching the jib, hoisting the sail and gunter and loading the kit into the boats.
We set off around 10am on the Saturday for our first day of the expedition. There was not a lot of wind so we ended up rowing which is hard work but at least there are no currents to contend with.
After travelling for a day in and around the stunning islands, we camped on the Inchlonaig for the first night. In Scotland you are allowed to wild camp, which is brilliant, you just have to avoid the privately owned islands. Inchlonaig was beautiful and quite interesting as when we had some time to go exploring, some of us saw a stag run past. As one of our leaders said “This adventure was real Swallows and Amazons!” This night was also our first experience of Scottish midges – personal score 56 bites.
The next day, we travelled further North up the Loch. Again there was little wind so we rowed most of the 20 odd miles and then camped on the mainland opposite a place called Tarbet. Our camp was on the highland trail so all of us had the opportunity to go for an explore along it, throughout the evening. This area was very remote with no one in sight or near us and the views down the loch were amazing in the evening. Midge score up in the 100s.
The last night we camped on an island called Inchmoan. This was near to Inchconnachan which is better known as Wallaby Island due to the Wallaby colony on it. We tried to camp on this island but the ground was too boggy and so we camped on the nearest island to it. The island we did stay on had a ruin of a stone cottage on it which was rather interesting, and a beautiful sandy beach on the south side and that was only on the part we managed to explore. Amazingly – no midges this night!
This night the weather on the Loch picked up as a strong wind was coming in that night. Over the first few days, the weather had been lovely and sunny but unfortunately lacking in wind so we ended up rowing a large percentage on those days. On the third day, the wind started to pick up and so we could sail for the majority of the last two days.
Our team of 10 was made up mostly of Ajax Explorer Scouts but we also had two Sealion explorers who joined us to make up two crews of five. They fitted in really well, even showing us certain highlights and benefits of Scotland, (they were both Scottish!) including how to burn in 20 minutes of sunshine even after having put on sun cream.
The trip itself was a huge amount of fun which we could not have done without the help of our leaders, our parents, and the other scouts groups who kindly lent us their gig trailers, Warspite and Jaguar. In particular, we’d like to extend a huge thank you to Diane, Andy, Graeme, Liz and Martin for driving us all up there, Mark and Chris for fixing up the gigs in time for us and lastly again Diane who has put in effort above and beyond the call of duty in order to make this possible, including sorting out trailers, sorting meetings for us with Mark about the gig, filling out numerous scout forms that were required for the expedition to go ahead and generally organising the rest of us.
This Gold expedition has been an amazing, incredible and memorable experience for all of us, and we are hugely grateful for the opportunity. We will be back to encourage more scouts to participate in DofE and to aim high with their expeditions!