Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mousa Broch

Mousa Broch is probably the finest example of broch surviving today and is just over 13 metres high.  Built about 2,000 years ago it provided shelter and protection in troubled times.  It is probably in such good condition because situated as it is on a small island it was more difficult to remove the stones for more modern buildings.  The tower is formed from two concentric stone walls, which were made from local stone.  A narrow spiral staircase rises between the walls giving access to the top of the Broch, from where there are stunning views.
We visited the island one late evening in July, paddling out from Sandwick to ensure that we arrived at the Broch as darkness fell.  We explored the insides then sat and waited.  Gradually the whole area became alive to the sound of soft churrings as the Storm Petrels, which call the inside of the stone walls and the hollows under the surrounding boulders home, returned to their nests.  It was truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever encountered.  The birds fluttered literally inches in front of our faces.
As we paddled back to Sandwick the short Shetland night gave way to a new dawn but it had been a memorable visit to a superb historic site.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gino Watkins - "Northern Lights

Numerous books have been written either about Gino Watkins or concerning his exploits in the 1920's and early 1930's prior to his untimely death in the waters of eastern Greenland, an area which very few modern paddlers complete with the equipment of the 21st Century venture into.  How much more demanding must have these travels been when undertaken in the equipment of the day?
Watkins is credited with being the first English man to be able to roll his kayak.  A  skill which he thought was essential to master if the aim was to supplement the food supplies with locally caught species.  It was this desire to live off the land which probably cost Watkins his life, although no body was ever found his kayak was recovered and is preserved today at the Royal Geographical Society in London.   
The book, which is probably easiest to acquire today, is simply called "Gino Watkins" by J M Scott.  It seems that most second hand bookshops, which are searched, will reveal a copy of this book. 
A less common title is "Northern Lights" by Spencer Chapman.  It was the official record of the expedition in the 1930’s, which was trying to find an air route from Europe to North America.  I had been looking for a copy for several years when I came across a copy at a bookseller in London.  The fact that it was store in a locked glass cabinet should have been enough of a signal that this was a book, which was out of my price range, but curiosity got the better of me and I needed to see exactly what it was like.  Once I had regained my composure after seeing the price, it cost more than some of the cars I have bought in the past.  It was a joy to behold though and as I opened the covers it only got better.  The author Spencer Chapman signed it, but more importantly it contained the original cutting from The London Times announcing the death of Watkins.  This was before the contents of the book were reached.  I knew that this was an important volume but one that I was unable to justify without discussing at home.  Marriages have probably fallen apart for a lesser sum!
I reluctantly placed the book back in the hands of the shop assistant and left with his card in my hand and hope in my heart.  After discussion at home it was decided that there could be no better Christmas present for the paddling bibliophile than this particular volume.  It was with some relief that I was able to order the book over the telephone a few days later.  Today it occupies pride of place on my paddling bookshelf.     

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hans Lindemann - Atlantic Crossing

Whilst searching through my kayaking literature last week I came across my copy of "Life" magazine from 22nd July 1957.  I managed to find a copy a few years ago through the wonders of ebay.  A seller in Miami just happened to be selling something which I had been trying to find for years.
He left Las Palmas in the Canary Islands on the 20th October 1956, in his folding kayak, Tangaroa, eventually making landfall 72 later on St Martin.  
During the crossing there were numerous incidents, a chance meeting with a cargo ship half way across the Atlantic, capsizing and clinging to the upturned hull throughout the night, another capsize in daylight, hitting a shark with his paddle etc all while fueled with tins of condensed milk and beer.
It really is one of the most significant sea kayaking trips of all time, if you haven't a copy of Life Magazine then search out a copy of "Alone at Sea" which describes the crossing in some detail, leaving you wondering "why on earth would you do it?"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Ecrehous Sovereignty

It was 60 years ago today, 17th November 1953, that the Sovereignty of both the Ecrehous and Minquiers was awarded to Jersey by the International Court of Justice.  These are two delightful reefs off the coast of Jersey.  The Minquiers, the larger of the reefs are approximately 12 miles south of the Island whilst the Ecrehous are about 5 miles north east of Jersey.
Both reefs are superb sea kayaking destinations But I can't help but wonder how different things might have been if sovereignty had been awarded to France, with all of the restrictions that have been placed on our sport by the French authorities over the years.
There was a half hearted attempt by a few renegade French men to invade the Ecrehous in the 1990's but that has faded away.  Today both these reefs remain as exceptional sea kayaking destinations for Jersey paddlers and visitors to the Island.
 Looking to the east, the French coast is just visible.
 Exploring the reef on delightful summers afternoon.
 Looking to the west.  Jersey is just visible.
Its days like this, which make the Ecrehous such a special place.
It is only when seen from the air that the full size of the Ecrehous reef can be appreciated.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sea Kayaker Magazine

It was with some sadness that I received the news today that Sea Kayaker magazine is ceasing publication after the next edition.  It was launched in the Spring of 1984 and I managed to get a copy at the Crystal Palace Canoe Show that year.  If my memory serves me correct John Dowd was there in person.  Initially it was published quarterly before moving to its current schedule of once every two months.  Since then I have looked forward to receiving every copy, and over the years they have contained some superb articles.
In the first edition there were articles by paddlers who were stalwarts of the sea kayaking world.
George Dyson and David Zimmerly both had articles on the Baidarka.  Derek Hutchinson recalled some incidents in the BCU Coaching Scheme.  Rosalind Rickard and Greg Blanchette were interviewed about their journey along the Northwest Passage whilst David Burch wrote about basic navigation.
In that first edition there were far less adverts than are found in today's magazines.  Ocean River Sports in Victoria took out a half page advert, Feathercraft Kayaks made an apperance, whilst Werner Paddles were presented by Pacific Water Sports.  Patagonia took out a full page advert with what looks like Yvon Chouinard surfing a very substantial wave in what looks like a Perception Mirage.
Over the last 30 years sea kayaking has changed beyond all recognition but throughout that time Sea Kayaker has been a constant source of information and inspiration.  It will be missed but thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Baja Sea Kayaking

It would be easy to run of adequate descriptive words to describe our sea kayaking trip to Baja this year, it was just great and if you haven't been to this area start planning, you won't regret it.  
Hopefully the photographs will stimulate your interest if you haven't visited the region before.
When heading out on a trip it always helps if the hotel where you stay the night before has a map on the wall.  We paddled south from Loreto to La Paz.
Just one of the many stunning camp sites we used as we paddled through 150 nautical miles of dramatic coastal scenery.
 At lunch time it was necessary to seek out shade as the temperature climbed into the mid to high 30's.  There was only one day when we were unable to find natural shade.
 If there was a list of great lunch spots in the world, this bay must surely be in the top 10.  Isla San Francisco.
Popping on a snorkel and looking under was full of memorable surprises.
 As well as the wildlife the geology was pretty spectacular
 From this beach it was another 6 days before we could get a mobile phone signal.  How often do paddle in areas which feel that remote.
 It was the sea kayaking we went for and it surpassed our expectations.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Sea Kayaking Memories

Whilst looking through thousands of slides last week, as I was trying to sort out a talk for a 60th birthday celebration, I came across a number of slides which brought back memories of sea kayaking over the last 30 plus years.
Also makes me think about how sea kayaking images have been lost as we have all made the switch to digital.
Holyhead Harbour at dawn towards the end of August 1980.  We are leaving for Ireland.  All was going well until 2 kayaks the same colour as ours were washed ashore under South Stack, resulting in a search being launched.  We were located by a helicopter, followed quickly by a lifeboat.  It took the edge of our trip so we returned to Holyhead.
Crossing to Bardsey in July 1981.  The hatches on my new Nordkapp were held in place by string.  My kayak was one of the first to be fitted with the new hatches, unfortunately the compound was unstable resulting in the rims collapsing inwards.  Valley were great and replaced the hatches without question.
A welcome beer in Carteret, France.  There were significant restrictions placed on kayakers who wished to paddle to France but in April 1984 we were given permission to cross from Jersey to France, by the French authorities, and here we are celebrating our passage to our nearest neighbour.
Surfing at St Ouen's in 1985.  KW7's were the craft of the day.  Still a great general purpose kayak.
Pete on a rocky beach in northern Norway, in August 1986.  We only had 2 days in 4 weeks when we were unable to paddle because of the weather.  We were heading towards Nordkapp.
Beachy Head Lighthouse in 1986.  Probably the most dramatic headland on the south coast.
Cap Frehel is one of the largest headlands in northern Brittany.  We paddled the length of the north Brittany coast back to St Malo before jumping on the ferry back to Jersey.
Its not everywhere that Osprey's nest on navigation marks.  Penobscot Bay, Maine 1995.
 An arch on Gola, off the north west coast of Ireland in 1996.  Exploring the uninhabited islands was a great way to spend a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Sea Kayaking in southern Brittany

When the number 56 on the car registration becomes the most numerous you know that you are entering the Department of Morbihan, in southern Brittany and some superb sea kayaking is within your reach.
In the Gulf Of Morbihan I normally head east, following the main flow of the tide and threading my way through the myriad of islands which are contained within this "inland sea".  This day though the aim was to follow the western branch of the Gulf up to the old port of Auray, which is one of those delightful Breton villages which you feel you should visit on several occasions.  In the sunshine they look particularly attractive and we were not disappointed with our day out.
If you are heading this way be sure to get hold of the superb sea kayaking guide, which was published earlier this year.
Entering the Gulf of Morbihan, we were staying on the western shore, following the river north towards Auray.  Although we were only on neap tides in places we had about 5 knots of assistance.
Passing underneath the bridge carrying the main road from Brest to Nantes.  This 20th century concrete bridge was in complete contrast to what lay ahead.
Arriving in Auray, a delightful French port, complete with traditional French sailing craft.
 Kayaks were hauled onto the quay side whilst sea paddlers went in search of some refreshments.  It was here that Benjamin Franklin landed on the 3rd December 1776, in disguise and after a difficult crossing of the north Atlantic he was serve as the US Ambassador to France for 9 years.
 Many of the old buildings are well preserved and the town of Auray is a delightful place to pass a few hours, but the tide had turned and it was time to hitch a free ride back to Locmariaquer.
 Getting ready to leave Auray.
Back at the campsite at Locmariaquer, a great base for sea kayakers and well worth a visit.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Some more aerial photographs

I always find looking out of the window of an aircraft more interesting than most films, particularly if you also have the moving map working as well.  So here are a few more photographs taken out of the window of some of my flights, with a few classic sea kayaking areas featured.
The Isle of Dogs area of London in April 1994.  Many of the high rise buildings of Canary Wharf had yet to appear and the O2 is still 5 years away from being built.  Some photos here illustrate how much the area has changed.
The Olympic Park area in the east of London.  Heading to Scotland for a weeks sea kayaking 2013.
Beachy Head and Eastbourne.  The lighthouse is just visible in the sea.  It is probably 20 years since I paddled along this section of coast.  We were en route to warm weather kayaking in Gozo.
 Clouds over the English Channel as we start our descent into Jersey.  July 2013
 Taking off from Jersey April 2013.  St Aubin's Harbour and Fort are clearly visible.  The large headland is Noirmont, where a entertaining tidal race develops just after high water.
 Arriving over the eastern shore of the Baja Peninsula in March 2013, at the start of a truly memorable 10 days sea kayaking.
 Final approach over St Ouen's Bay in September 2012.  A day with no surf.
Looking north from a light aircraft off the south coast of Jersey in May 1990.  The obvious chimney was at the desalination plant, but has since been demolished.  The large white building to the left of the chimney is the Highlands Hotel where next summers Symposium is going to be based.  The large bay is St Ouen's whilst the island in the distance is Sark.
Hurst Castle Spit, towards the western end of the Solent, taken in August 2012 whilst flying home.  Every time I fly over the Isle of Wight area I think that I really must kayak there more often.  My last visit was in 1983, perhaps 2014 will be the year that changes.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Baja - a special campsite

Baja, Mexico as a sea kayaking destination first entered my consciousness in November 1983.  Derek Hutchinson showed me some photographs at the BCU Coaching Conference that month and I was intrigued.  It only took me 30 years to achieve my ambition to visit this Mexican sea paddling destination.  I certainly wasn't disappointed with the variety of sea kayaking that I discovered in the Sea of Cortez.
 Nicky paddling along the eastern coast of Isla Danzante.  This delightful little island is not that far offshore and a circumnavigation would be a very pleasant day trip, but our ambitions lay further offshore.
 Punta Baja, the most southern point of Isla Carmen.  The two palm trees are instantly recognizable in numerous sea kayaking photographs.  This day we had the point to ourselves.  A memorable place to camp.
 There were a significant number of Pelican's in the area, in addition to other bird life.
 As the sunset behind the Baja Peninsula the dramatic landscape was a perfect backdrop as we ate our evening meal.
 We quickly tuned into the rhythm of the day.  Up before dawn so that we could avoid paddling in the heat of the day.

 Breakfast, with part of the day's route behind.
  We thought that our journey south may have been slowed down by strong winds, but on days like this, the miles just flew past.  Nicky is just preparing to cross back to the Baja Peninsula