Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pagaia Sea Kayak Symposium

The Pagaia club is a sea kayaking club based in Costa Brava. Every two years it hosts the biggest sea kayaking symposium in Europe with around 250 paddlers attending the week-long event.

Last January I was invited to coach at the symposium  and the first thing I was asked to do was to make a short video to help promote the event.

The flight into Barcelona was spectacular. The weather was clear and there were spectacular views over the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees. Next was a two hour drive along the coast to Llança where the symposium is based.

The first three days of the event are spent doing workshops in specific skills like rolling, forward paddling and boat handling. I teamed up with my friend Rick to coach rock-hopping and incident management.

After the first day a banquet was held for all 250 participants. The seafood paella was made and served up by volunteers from the Pagaia Club. The evening was rounded of with a warm rum drink, which is traditional among fishermen and sailors from this region.

The rest of the week was spent helping out with guided trips of the region. This is an opportunity to put the skills learned during the weekend workshops into practice. We even started some of our trips in Port Lligat which is famously overlooked by the house of Salvador Dali.

For the most part we were very lucky with the weather and sea conditions. There was only one day with any significant swell. On that day many paddlers felt 'tested' in the two-metre swell with awkward choppy clapotis.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Pagaia Club de Caiac Cap de Creus for inviting me, and for making me feel so welcome. I hope to be back in two years time.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Blowing the Cobwebs Away

The team of Manchester Canoe Club sea kayak leaders has been on Anglesey riding winter waves, practicing rescues and brushing up on navigation.

The choppy waters of Trearddur Bay looked challenging. The force 5 wind was onshore giving us the required safety net. If anything went badly wrong, we would just be washed ashore. There are numerous coves for shelter as well as treacherous jagged reefs that must be avoided at all costs! We started by working our way gradually to the eastern edge of the bay. This brought us to Raven’s point where the swell was reaching close to 3 metres. With some of these waves beginning to break we didn’t stay for long.

After lunch we indulged in some incident management in amongst the reefs. The increasing wind made rigging towlines difficult, but the experience will be worthwhile in the long run. The same goes for the various deep-water rescues and rolling puzzles we set about.

After tea and cakes at the Anglesey OutdoorCentre we set off for The Menai Straits. The shelter of the northern section was perfect for an introduction to night navigation. Each leader took it in turn to manage the group and navigate by compass bearing, timing and map reading. The exercise went well and we were back at the centre in time for food and beer in The Paddlers Return Bar.

The objective on Sunday was to reach ‘The Skerries’ which is a group of small rocky islands off the north west point of Anglesey. There are strong tidal streams here and timing is crucial. On this occasion, it meant getting out of bed at 6.30am! There was barely enough time to have a brew and a biscuit before driving to Cemlyn Bay and getting on the water soon after 8am. A chilly breeze, swirling mists and howling grey seals greeted our arrival. The Skerries fog horn sounded as we finished our breakfast. As the fog closed in, we found our navigation skills all in order for the return journey.

We look forward to the program of trips and events in the Manchester Canoe Club sea kayaking calendar for the coming year. Come and join us.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Festive Paddling

The festive paddling season started off with the Liverpool Canoe Club tradition of an early trip at Llandudno followed by a Christmas meal. The winter sun stays low in the sky which makes for a spectacular ceiling with thin layers of cloud.

It was great to finish early in the afternoon while there was still a little warmth form the sun. After we had got changed it was time to head over to the Grand Hotel for drinks and a 3 course Christmas meal.

Manchester Canoe Club hold a Boxing Day race and tour on the River Goyt. We assembled at Brabyns Park where we launched upstream of the 2 weirs. There were a couple of comical swims before the group made the rest of the 3 kilometre, grade 2 descent to the club site at Dale Road. Once back at the clubhouse we fortified ourselves with a festive buffet of pork pies, assorted sandwiches and mince pies.

Later that day I made a quick dash over to Anglesey for a few days of sea kayaking. I was joined by Andrew and we quickly planned a few days of paddling to make the most of the limited winter daylight hours. The stretch between Porth Dafarch and Rhoscolyn provided us with lively seas whilst our day on the north coast was much more serene.

On the third day we launched at Porth Eilian to explore Point Lynas and the East cost. Andrew was feeling adventurous and decided to try some maritime cave scrambling at Freshwater Bay.

Finally, on the way back to Manchester we paid a visit to the Great Orme at Llandudno. This time it was much more quiet the my previous visit with Liverpool Canoe Club 2 weeks earlier. Many thanks to Andrew for his company. It has been a wonderful festive season and now i'm looking forward to the lengthening days of Spring!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Lancaster Round Revisited

I haven't been paddling along the Lancashire coast since my Northern England & Isle of Man guidebook was published in 2011. This is a trip that combines the sheltered tidal waters of the Lune Estuary with a stretch of the historic Lancaster Canal.

I met Amanda at Glasson dock beside the Victoria Inn. I was disappointed to find that the pub closed down several months ago. It is hoped that it will re-open soon but all too often, once these places close, that stay that way. We arrived in plenty of time and needed to wait for the tide to rise before we could launch. It was great to find the muddy estuary shore teeming with bird life!

The launch was exciting. The fog was so thick we could't see the opposite shore so we took a couple of bearings and headed off into the gloom. In fact the fog was so thick that we lost sight of both shores within minutes of setting off upon the rising tide.

The strong currents brought us swiftly up the estuary towards another historic Lune side pub. The Golden Ball Hotel was known as 'Snatchems' during the 18th Century in the days of smugglers, pressgangs and the Lancaster 'hanging judges'.

Progress became a bit more difficult when we ran out of tidal assistance as we passed St Georges Quay and the centre of Lancaster. We pushed on beneath the Lancaster Millennium Bridge, Skerton Bridge and up to Skerton Weir.

After portaging the weir we left tidal waters behind us. Next, it was time to stretch our legs (and other muscles) and trolley our kayaks 20 metres up on to the Lancaster Canal which is carried across the river by the 18th Century Lune Aqueduct.

The canal then runs back through the middle of Lancaster, through deep wooded cuttings and out into rolling countryside. It was an eerie dusky scene with new mist beginning to settle in the hollows and on the water. Continuing towards the village of Galgate we watched a kingfisher catch his fish supper. We could only dream of ours because we were still over 9 kilometres from the end of our trip.

After reaching Galgate Marina in almost complete darkness, our final challenge was to make the right turn onto the Glasson Branch and complete the descent to Glasson Dock. It may only be 4 kilometres to the end but there are 6 locks to portage. Steep slippery banks are difficult enough in broad daylight but we had complete darkness and the thick mist made our head torches next to useless.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Amanda for her company on the trip; it was her idea! From the start in misty golden morning light we had an adventure with diverse settings and varied scenery all within a journey of 26 kilometres.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Autumn Colours

The beginning of Autumn was a seemingly endless string of dazzling sunny days and warm evenings and many of us made the most of an extended summer. Soon enough we see the sun setting earlier, rising later and the leaves beginning to change colour.

This years wet spring and summer followed by dry, warm and sunny autumn days but cool nights provide the right conditions for the kind of vivid colours that we have this year. It helps that we haven't really had much in the way of strong winds to prematurely tear the leaves from their branches.

There are so many signs along the river bank that nature's beasts are making a final effort to stock up and prepare for leaner times ahead.

I've been making the most of good paddling conditions as ever. This included attending the Tyne Tour hosted by the Hexham Canoe Club. This event has a little bit for everyone. Scenic river paddling, excellent social scene and a wonderful firework display.

Now that many of the leaves have fallen from the trees, the silver birches are taking centre stage in the late afternoon sunshine. This evenings plummeting temperatures tell me that winter is just around the corner. Time to look for my hat and gloves!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Wild Camping on the Anglesey Coast

The ultimate attraction of sea kayaking is ending a perfect day of paddling with a camp on a deserted beach. This timeless form of adventure brings an overwhelming sense of freedom.

On the first of the trips with Manchester Canoe Club I was joined by Diane, Andrew, Holly and Dez. We launched onto the Menai Strait heading for the isolated beaches and dunes on the south west corner of Anglesey. Blue skies and warm sun could not distract us from the freshening southwesterly breeze. The increasing wind made our progress tough. We rested in the shelter of some trees near to Port Dinorwic and later again in the shadow of Caernarfon Castle. The final leg took us through rough water and strong currents. Having been battered by waves over 4 feet high we finally found a suitable place to camp with good shelter from the wind among the dunes.

There was plenty of driftwood for a fire and we picked mussels fresh from the shore. Beer and wine flowed with stories and jokes until the embers faded.

By morning, the wind had dropped and our journey back to Menai Bridge was uneventful; possibly overshadowed by last nights revelry around the fire.

The second trip started at the northern east tip of Anglesey. This time I was joined by Amanda, Andy, Frances and another Andy. We took a trip around Puffin Island and marveled at the inquisitive inhabitants of the seal colony at its northeastern tip. Soon afterwards the tide race in Puffin Strait gave a few emotional moments. When we landed on the pebbly beach beside the Trwyn Du Lighthouse, tea and cake was soon on order at the nearby café.

After our refreshments it was time to head out west and look for somewhere to camp. After a few kilometres of surfing down wind we found a steep pebbly beach with an abandoned quarry. The flat areas on the beach and the grassy quarry floor made for good camping with excellent views from out tents. We even gathered enough driftwood for a fire that lasted well into the night. As the evening rain came in we sheltered under a tarpaulin. It wasn't long before the sound of distant thunder rolled across the sea. This was just the beginning of a terrific storm with continuous thunder and lightning with hours of torrential rain. An amazing experience.

The storm abated in the early hours and the rain stopped in time for breakfast. However, there were streams running through the quarry and it was lucky that some tents didn’t get washed away.

The paddle out was atmospheric along a damp, misty coastline with waterfalls cascading over the rocks. The final blessing was a spell of warm sunshine, which arrived neatly in time for us to get changed and pack up.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Farewell to Shetland - a few more paddles

After the high energy of the Shetland Sea Kayak Symposium, many of the paddlers headed north to The Voter Centre near to Brae. On the Monday morning, after 7 days of paddling I decided to take a day off to go for a few short walks.

I started off by driving to Esha Ness to take a look at the cliffs and stacks. I parked up beside the lighthouse but after a few minutes a thick mist descended. It quickly became cold and drizzly, and the views along the coast became obliterated. Down at Strenness the conditions were much more pleasant and I spotted some paddlers heading for Dore Holm. This 36 metre high rock stack has a spectacular rock arch. When viewed from certain angles it is not surprising that this feature is nick-named 'The Drinking Horse'.

I’d heard all about how the coastal architecture in Ronas Voe is special but I could never have been prepared for what I experienced that day. We started on a small sand beach next to a shingle spit called ‘The Blade’ and followed the rocky shore northwest. After about a kilometre of sparse rock-hopping we paddled round an ordinary looking corner and found a grand looking arch, then a cave another and then more…

I openly declared, “It’s started!”

The coastline grew into labyrinth after labyrinth. Arches, caves, and timeless deep mysterious gullies led from one to the next. It was easy to forget where we were. Occasionally we would emerge into a broad bay with a beach. Just for the novelty we would stop to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat.
As we approached the northern tip of this stretch we saw the effects of the strong south-westerly winds. There were huge breaking waves crashing past a headland called ‘The Faither’. We braved the intimidating swell and rounded Gatli Stack before running back for cover and winding our way back around, along and beneath the shore that we had already explored. 

After all the excitement in the vote a short easy but fun trip with rock-hopping was on the menu. The rocky coast of Cunningsburgh was an easy choice and it was conveniently close to Lerwick for the boys from Orkney to catch their ferry home later that day.

Evening discussions continued late into the night in the Voxter Centre and as a result, a trip around  Muckle Roe was inevitable. We set off from the marina at Roe Sound. After heading south for the first four kilometres the coastline took on a grand stature so typical of Shetland's exposed shores.

Our exploring took us to a narrow opening that led into a huge cavern. In turn, this led out into a cove, a bay and another place. We later discovered this to be the Hole of Hellier.

Our subterranean adventures continued with passages at Harri Stack and Little Ness giving us moments of complete bewilderment, and quotes like, "How the heck did we end up here?" The final 3 kilometres were a welcome wind down. This had been a day of intense adventure.

I took it easy on the last couple of days. I made a final pilgrimage to Mousa and did some sightseeing around Lerwick. I drove onto the ferry and settled down for a coffee and only half heard the announcement that we would be taking the northern route past the towering cliffs and Gannet colonies of Noss. This was a perfect end to two weeks of adventure on Shetland. I have seen so much but there is still so much to see. I must return soon.