The Kingdom of Dal Riata

Scotland: a fascinating, mystical land of castles, rainbows, and wild seas. Last November, the AFS team set off on an expedition to film a downwinder mission amidst this unique setting. Although the elements were occasionally challenging, the opportunity to be so immersed in nature throughout the trip made it unlike any other they’d experienced.

Words: Paul Wakelin
Photos: Christian Brown

The Facebook post jumped out at me… “Join us on a 102ft tall ship, sailing through Scottish waters for a week in search of the best downwinder routes suitable for the weather of the day. Wingfoil amongst waves, whales and rainbows.” I was sold, instantly. Personally, I was itching to take on the developing discipline of downwinding amongst a group of like-minded enthusiasts under the guidance of two practiced Oban locals, Andy Corbe and Patrick Winterton. I was looking for a wingfoil, downwinding shunt. Little did I know at that time, how that desire would fully take shape and develop.

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Over the following couple of months, I took up the fantastic opportunity to come onboard with AFS, one of Europe’s leading Carbon Foil manufacturers. Joining the AFS team further fueled the fire – the desire to downwind had intensified. Now amongst equally enthusiastic wingfoil professionals, the foundations for a bespoke Scottish AFS team trip were well and truly set. So in early November 2022, we all headed north… In planning conversations with Andy, he further shared the region in which they now lived (and chased waves within) – the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata.

“I have always been fascinated by Scotland, its wild landscapes, its castles, its legends and of course its highland cows… I think we all feel very lucky to have been able to discover this magnificent place amongst fully motivated enthusiasts. Letting the swell be your guide, the experience of gliding through the air is all the more unique when you are surrounded by such a mesmerizing landscape.”

Richard Boudia

Dal Riata was an ancient Gaelic kingdom that encompassed the seaboards of western Scotland and northeastern Ireland on each side of the North Channel. At its height in the 6th and 7th centuries, it covered what is now Argyle, most of the Inner Hebrides and part of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Open seas, sounds and locks were the main means of transportation, and by necessity, it was a highly skilled and knowledgeable seafaring culture. Today the area is still absolutely, uniquely stunning. Our AFS riders were now set to ride those same waves on very different craft, joining local riders with a mutual love of the unique seascape and a fascination for the history. Over the trip we were also further testing the concepts of downwinding under SUP and wing foil, with the awesome Blackbird, the brand new AFS downwinding board, all in front of the camera. On top of that, Alan Fedit continually let rip with aerials in a most un-downwind like fashion, because he could… Then there was the depth to our on-water team, local chargers and guides Andy and Patrick, along with Keith from Calshot and Sarah from Dale in Wales. Christian, our cameraman and also a rider, like I, ironically only had one brief session over the week. There was just too much to do to capture the event. Clement, AFS Director and lead cameraman is a specialist, and simply enjoyed the show from behind the lens.

There was also a personal challenge behind the trip for downwind expert and AFS’ International Business Manager, Richard Boudia: to explore the world through downwinding and travel amongst the most beautiful places on Earth. He confirmed that the Scottish coast is now definitely one of them.

“We were able to discover beautiful landscapes and the perfect sailing conditions allowed us to go out on the water every day and to enjoy it to the full. As we crossed the country, we soaked up the local culture, from breakfasts in Scottish pubs, to meeting the famous highland cows.”

Alan Fedit

As ever, we are at the mercy of the weather, thankfully mild for the time of year, and the winds truly delivered. Early excitement and build up led to a perfect 30km downwinder route, from Easdale to Oban. Then the wind swung to the SE and increased, heralding a storm that was best tackled on Loch Fyne. A further 16km downwind in 50 knot squalls against an outgoing tide, all in torrential, driving rain. Unfortunately, none of the footage was suitable for the final film although the tales, experiences and adventures of that particular day will stay with us all. We then diverted to Dunadd (Gaelic “Dún Ad”) meaning “fort on the river”, a hill fort, in the area of Argyll and Bute, dating from the iron age. It is believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata, a seat of the kings. It was great taking it all in. When the storm passed, the wind disappeared, the sun came out and a little swell remained. Although not specifically what we traveled north for, a memorable surf foil sessions was scored at Machrihanish, all within sight of Northern Ireland, just across the channel.

“For this trip we had to make some sacrifices, notably on our sleep and letting Bruno Andre drive the truck for both of the 12-hour drives, but I’m very happy to have captured a great surf foil session at sunset, to have met this beautiful team…”

Clement Nicolet

Our final day of filming took us from Oban, across the Isle of Mull to Iona, with all of us visitors totally unaware of the breathtaking scenery we were crossing in the darkest of mornings before sunrise. It was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had and certainly the only one I had risen at 3am for! The aim of the day was to search out crystal clear green waters to add to our footage. This was not to be, however we did score a fun session in a dropping breeze at the tiny Isle of Ioan, beautiful and remote yet an ancient center of learning and religion. These remote Islands had a greater population in ancient times than they do today. The Highland scenery on the drive back to the mainland was simply breathtaking, stunning… words fail it. Back in Oban, Patrick kindly hosted us for a final evening’s BBQ, including scallops he’d retrieved from the seabed himself. Highland cows, rainbows galore, waves and smiles, Dal Riata truly delivered and lifelong memories and friendships were built.

Striving to develop the best foiling products also means going out to meet real enthusiasts, exchanging ideas, sailing together, testing the equipment in all possible conditions. Observing, listening, experiencing. Taking inspiration from all possible angles in order to be attentive and in constant evolution.

And what did we conclude from the trip? Whilst the craft we travel on have developed, the coastlines and waters of Dal Riata remain timeless.  

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