Tuesday 15 November 2011

40 000 paddle strokes later...

Coaching at the Storm gathering, part of a four star course and a coastal navigation course were hardly the ideal preparation for yet another attempt at bettering Isla Wilkinson's fantastic 12hrs 24min time for circumnavigating Anglesey, but that's the way it turned out. I had just spent a day in a classroom teaching a coastal navigation course, when over the packing up, chatting to Howard Jeffs, I mentioned that the following day would be a good tide and weather window for another bash. I guess it's easy to be enthusiastic about someone else doing something crazy like that, and Howard was certainly encouraging. He even supplied me with a mountain of food for my ordeal.
Next morning I found myself driving over to Penmon at stupid o'clock, ready for a pre dawn start. It was dark, cold and the sea looked particularly uninviting, but I set off keen to try out an anticlockwise circumnavigation for the first time.
On a clockwise trip I usually stay well offshore in Red Wharf Bay but this time I hugged the shore to avoid as much adverse tide as possible. It was still hard work getting to Moelfre where I was sure of some tidal help all the way to Point Lynas.
I arrived at Point Lynas just as the ebb was starting its west going push. All the way along the North coast I was accelerating along as the tide gained strength. East, Middle and West Mouse islands came and went, usefull markers of my progress towards Carmel Head and the roller -coaster ride round the Stacks.
Crossing Holyhead Bay I scanned the horizon frequently for any sign of ferries about to run me over, ready with the VHF in case any appeared on a collision course. All the time I was heading as fast as I could paddle towards my mid-tide appointment with the Stacks. The wind was light but followed several days of very strong winds and the sea was not exactly a millpond. At North Stack my speed increased to a very satisfying ten knots, and the sea picked up into a series of green waves. These waves increased in size as I passed South Stack, always green, with a long wavelength and very pleasant to paddle over.
I stayed offshore in order to maximise tidal assistance all the way to Llanddwyn Island, by which time any help was negligible. By now I was starting to feel the effect of the early start and the miles covered.
My next hurdle was to find a way into Abermenai Point, past sandbanks exposed by the super low tide. At times the water was about 8" deep but I managed to keep moving, though pitifully slowly. Once in the straights I thought I'd get a big boost from the early flood, but alas, it was not to be. I guess the water had the same sandbanks to negotiate as I had and the three miles to Caernarfon felt like paddling in golden syrup.
Eventually the water started to move and gave me a shove in the right direction. My next problem was that I was running out of daylight. With Caernarfon still in front of me a fantastic pink and orange sunset lit up the sky over my left shoulder. As the sun dipped below the horizon, and the temperature dropped it occurred to me that it would be pitch black as I reached the Swellies. I was more than a little apprehensive as I approached. I could hear it roaring but as yet could see nothing. I was not even familiar with where the interesting bits were on the flood having spent far more time playing in the rough water on the ebb. I reckoned that I would be safe enough if I kept to the right. By now it was completely dark, and you can imagine my surprise when I passed another kayaker playing around the Platters area. I bet he was surprised to see me cruising on past.
All the way up the Straights I had been concentrating on the Swellies and now that the scary bit was done I felt like I had finished. The only problem was that there was another 7 miles to go. I was paddling very slowly and it seemed to take forever.
As I approached Beaumaris I became aware of the glimmer of bioluminescence in my bow wave. The phenomenon intensified as every splash of water emitted a green sparkle as millions of dinoflagelates disturbed by my paddle produced photons of light. I trailed my hand in the water and was rewarded with a firework display of glitter. For 5 or 10 minutes I was enthralled by the spectacle, my paddling was rejuvenated and for a short time I forgot the discomfort of more than 12 hours in the boat. As quickly as it started the show was over, I was plunged back into darkness with just a few green and red navigational marks for company.
This was the point that it all got a bit uncomfortable. Every time I lifted my right paddle blade above my head it felt like someone was sticking a knife into my shoulder. I tried many attempts at a lower stroke but it hurt just the same so I kept with my usual high action. The hours of pushing on the footrest had resulted in blisters across my lower back from my backrest and my hands were a bit of a mess. Discomfort made the last bit of the journey pure purgatory and I vowed to myself that this would be my last attempt.

To be continued.....

Friday 9 September 2011

Warm water paddling

As the British summer struggled to a soggy end I set off to accompany a group of girls undertaking a Duke of Edinburgh's award expedition along the east coast of Sardinia.

The sea was impossibly blue.

Limestone cliffs were hollow with caves...

... punctuated by towers.

The group explore caves...

...and arches...

...and more caves.

The beaches were stunning and only accessible by boat. Once the last boat had collected the tourists we had the places to ourselves to camp.

Our boats and paddles were hired from Clark Weissinger who is based on the island and trades as Sea Kayak Sardinia . The majority of the boats were P&H Scorpios and Scorpio LVs with a couple of Valley Nordkapps as well. Paddles were Lendal Kinetic Touring.

We started our journey at a campsite at Porto Sos Alinos and paddled south round the Gulf of Orosei and back north again to Cala Gonone. This out and back trip was to make bus transport to and from the airport easier. Both campsites are on a direct bus route to and from Olbia airport.

Introducing....The Green Goddess

Forget those post-war Bedford fire trucks or Diana Moran strutting her stuff clad chin to toe in emerald lycra, the new green Goddess has arived. This Green goddess is, like Diana, slim and elegant but unlike Diana, made of fibreglass with sparkly bits.

Her maiden voyage was from Fort Victoria to the Needles, on the Isle of Wight, via Hurst Castle. It was a glorious sunny day and the sparkly bits in the green deck looked fantastic. She's a Cetus LV with all the high performance handling characteristics I'm used to from P&H. Here are a few pictures of the views.

Here's a different Green Goddess

And here's the other one!

Possibly My Favorite bit of British Coastline

My last day on Orkney before heading south and the wind was forecast to be a blustery force 5 easterly. The obvious solution was to paddle the west coast of Mainland close under the cliffs. Mary had promised me that this would be spectacular and I was not to be disappointed. Starting at Stromness we were treated to a fast, but flat start in Hoy Sound. The picture is desceptive, we were being hurtled along at nearly 20km/hr.

Once under the cliffs of Black Craig the fun started. There were caves everywhere.

Some were so deep I needed a torch. Unfortunately I didn't have one so exploration was done in the dark. The booming sound of the swell hitting the distant recesses of the cave was quite eerie

Inside the caves the rock appeared bright pink, with tiny yellow barnacles.

We came across a cave, just above sea level that was blowing the most amazing spumes of spray with every swell. Mary and I had a little game to see how close we could get.

There were more caves, these ones at North Gaulton.

And this is North Gaulton Castle, one of many spectacular stacks along our route.

After lunch, perched on a rock ledge at the base of another stack at Yesnaby, Mary led us into a cave. From the outside it looked just like any of the other caves we had already explored. Perhaps the confidence with which she plunged into the darkness should have told us that this one was different.

Round the corner we could make out daylight coming from a rock window. The light made the water look emerald green.

This inconspicuous bit of dry stone wall is in fact the remnants of an ancient building, the 'Broch of Borwick'. Presumably when it was built it was a little further from the sea. It has however been standing for around 2500 years. I wonder how many buildings that are going up now will last that long?

This is Ramnageo, a huge cleft in the cliffs. Shags were perched on every rock ledge as we paddled in, soon to dive underwater and turn from ungainly land birds to sleek underwater torpedoes. The water was so clear we could see them swimming along under our boats.

This photo is taken from Yettna Geo, another great abbyss in the cliffs, this time with a huge cave in the depths. The word Yettna is from the Norse word for Giant. The booming of swells in the depths of the cave made such strange noises that it is easily conceivable that people may heve believed giants to heve resided within

This trip had one little sting in the tail. Approaching our landing beach at Skara Brae, we were exposed to the full force of the easterly wind. Here's Mary just rounding the final headland, complete with hole in the rocks.

Here's a route trace from the GPS. Every time we went in the caves the GPS has had to manage with few or no satellites and has come up with some wild guesses as to where we were. They may look extraordinary but may not actually be far off the mark. Some of the caves were huge.

This has got to be one of my favorite trips. The only thing that could have improved it would have been leaping dolphins, a few otters, perhaps a whale or two..... I can dream!

Wednesday 10 August 2011

A visit to Copinsay

Another fantastic day out, and another island. This time Mary, Lesley and I paddled to Copinsay for a bit of exploring.
We wandered up[ the hill to the lighthouse...

And then looked over the cliff top and found this little chappie. I think it is a fulmar chick. It didn't appreciate having its photo taken and made vallant attempts to regurgitate yukky stuff at us, like the adult birds do, but hadn't quite mastered the tecnique. We were spared the smelliness that is fulmar oil.

A little further along the cliff top I found a spot that was obviously a favorite for a bird of prey. There were numerous regurgitated pellets, many of which still had the legs of the poor unfortunate bird that had been the meal attached. I've included the radio in the picture to give an idea of size. I'm not sure what bird can eat things this big, but I'm wondering if it is a sea eagle.

Paddling away from Copinsay we found hundreds of grey seals basking on the exposed rocks. Unfortunately one had got its head stuck in a loop of old fishing netting and was slowly garotting itself to death. It was clearly not happy as it didn't jump in the sea as we approached, so Mary and I landed to see if there was anything we could do. It didn't work, we got to within 5 metres of it before it shuffled off the rock and swam away. I hate to think of it dying a slow death but it was obviously not sick enough to let us help it.

The wind had increased a little as we paddled back to Newark slip and was now opposing the tide, creating some fun little white topped waves to surf.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Orkney, East Mainland

Time for a bit of rockhopping. My usual paddling style is to stay offshore and just blast past all he interesting bits without really looking left or right, so this is a little different. I paddled with Mary, organiser of the Paddle Orkney 'do' at the weekend and she promised to complain if I missed out any of the good bits.

Launching at Holm Kirk gave us a short warm up before the fun started at Rose Ness. The caves in the cliffs were just amazing and I wished I had taken a torch. One particular cave had three connected entrances in the shape of a letter Y, and the water was calm enough to paddle through all of them.

After a brief lunch stop we continued on through the Copinsay Pass and round to the East coast of Deerness where we met a very friendly fisherman who gave me a fantastic lobster. The creature was named 'Lobbie' and deposited in my front hatch for the remainder of the journey. I'm not sure what Lobbie will have made of my rockhopping antics, but he did make a fantastic starter course later in the evening.

The highlight of the padling was a visit to a feature called the Gloup, a huge long cave with a collapsed roof, and more cave continuing beyond. The picture doesn't really do it justice.

This is Lobbie.

And here he is again.

Monday 8 August 2011

Paddle Orkney Symposium

For two days the weather gods smiled on us, the wind dropped and it didn't rain (much). Fifty paddlers attended sessions on rockhopping, paddling in tide races, rescues in rough water, leadership and personal paddling skills. Here we are pondering the finer points of a rescue session.

Later in the afternoon we were treated to a visit by the coastguard rescue helicopter from Shetland. A bunch of brave souls ventured out into the bay at Scapa while the helicopter hovered progressively lower and lower overhead. Remarkably they all emerged upright and unscathed.

Orkney, Another Biggie.

After yesterdays big day out I wanted something a little gentler today. A 40km trip round South Ronaldsay seemed to fit the bill. Within minutes of setting out I was regretting the decision. I still felt thirsty and dehydrated after my exersions of the day before. I had only brought two small bottles of drink which were clearly not going to be enough.
I started at Churchill barrier no.4 and headed off towards Grim Ness. I didn’t feel much effect of the tide until I was nearly at Halcro Head, where cliffs and caves were abundant. I was swiftly pulled along until my intended lunch stop at Ham Geo. While sitting on the pebbles contemplating life, the universe etc. I became aware of a distant roaring sound. It was obviously time to make a move. As I crept round the corner I was faced with a pile of shifting water topped with white froth. This was like Penrhyn Mawr on steroids! The race continued for as far as I could see (and it was neaps). I have to admit to sneaking round through gaps in the rocks to avoid the main maelstrom.
The south coast was a succession of cliffs and caves, not high but obviously storm battered. Brough Ness was another tide race which sped me on my way past Burwick to The Wing.
The guidebook led me to believe that I would find favourable flow up the west coast of South Ronaldsay, but I was met by a succession of back eddies, some as much as 4 knots. At Harraborough Head there were caves connecting with caves making a hollow network of tunnels in the cliffs. Had I been less tired I might have been more inclined to explore, but sadly the beauty of the caves were lost on me as I trudged on.
Another slog to Hoxa head and the narrow entrance to Scapa Flow. Cloud had lowered so I struggled to make out the island of Flotta on the other side of the channel.
From here on there was no tide as I made my way past St Margaret’s Hope and back to the Churchill Barrier. I arrived so tired that I could barely lift my boat up the steps to the car park and my waiting van.

Orkney, A Slightly Longer Paddle

I decided to make the most of the calm weather and lack of swell and planned a big trip for myself. Setting out from Stromness I paddled all the way round Hoy and back to Stromness again, a total of 62km.

Setting out I managed to get a little tidal assistance through Clestrain Sound and Bring Deeps, passing the islands of Cava, Rysa Little, Fara, Flotta and Switha to reach the eastern most point at Cantick Head. There were numerous reminders of the importance of this area during wartime with gun emplacements positioned to keep the unwanted out of Scapa Flow.

I stopped for lunch at a small inlet where overhanging cliffs meant I could shelter from the rain. It had been raining on and off ever since I set out and by now I was getting a bit fed up of hood up, hood down, hood up, hood down etc. etc.
From South Walls I sat on a roller coaster of big round green waves, shoving me faster and faster towards Torr Ness. The next section of coastline was a committing stretch of high cliffs, hollow with caves and deep geos. A rock stack, called the needle towered above me as I paddle round its base, my neck aching from staring skywards for so long. The geo nearby was so deep that it was dark at the back, the walls green and slimy. As I paddled past, the rocks were alternately bright red and yellow, with the occasional streak of green, where freshwater trickled down from above.

As I approached Rackwick the wind funnelled through the valley caught me by surprise and it was as much as I could do to paddle across the bay. In my mind I was going through the possible contingencies including stopping for the night, but after a short while on the beach, the wind died down and I felt able to continue.
At Rora Head I was again hit by the wind, but this time it was head on, and was to continue for the rest of the trip, sometimes strong enough to prevent forward progress at all. Having been spoiled by the beauty of the cliffs further south, I was a little underwhelmed by the cliffs around the Old Man of Hoy. All that remained was a long slog against the wind until Hoy Sound, which I reached just after it had turned in my favour. The final stint into Stromness was straightforward, and I reached my start point some 9 ½ hours after setting out.