Tuesday, September 29, 2015

West Wales Sea Kayak Meet

Its a long old haul from Manchester to Pembrokeshire and all the more difficult through the Friday night rush. Upon arrival at the Glendower pub in Goodwick, the road miles were quickly forgotten. I had arrived at the West Wales Sea Kayak Meet.

The event is hosted by local sea kayak guide Mike Mayberry of Mayberry Kayaking and based at the Phoenix Centre. We started each morning with a powerful cooked breakfast at the nearby Beaches Diner before organising a variety of day trips around the local Coastline.

On the Saturday I paddled with a small group to explore some offshore rocky islets that lie amongst the strong tidal streams of West Wales. The Bishops, Clerks and Bitches sounds more like a variation on a vicar's and tart's party!

Having Launched from Whitesands Bay, we began the ferry glide out to North Bishop. This proved to be more straightforward than we expected. However, we encountered more challenging waters at we passed Carreg Rhosson (The Clerks) en route to the rugged west shores of Ramsey Island.

The south end of Ramsey gave us some challenging flows to fight in Midland Gap but we were soon on our way round to 'The Bitches' and the challenging tidal rapids of Ramsey Sound.

After we had our dose of adrenalin we drifted back to Whitesands Bay to fininsh in warm golden afternoon sunshine. Later on, back at the centre the was fun round the barbecue and up in the bar where Wales beat England at Rugger! I have poor memories of the evening having been rendered speechless by Mr Browns high octane home brew.

Needless to say, I chose a more sedate paddling venue for Sunday Morning. The waters Dinas Head would be well sheltered and the rocky coastline would provide just the right dose of soothing entertainment.

The caves, gullies and sea creatures were perfect. We set off from Cwm yr Eglwys, weaved our way around to Pwllgwaelod and ate cake in the sunshine.

Many Thanks to Mike Mayberry for organising the event. I hope there will be another one soon... 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Greenland 2015 - Johan Petersen Fjord

In Early July the sea ice off the East Greenland coast had failed to clear as it would normally during early summer. This meant that there would be no boats running from Kulusuk to take us to the Sea Kayak Expedition base at Tasiilaq. We took the unusual step of making this journey by Helicopter.

The 10 minute ride was spectacular. We flew close to a couple of places that we had camped during past trips before crossing Kong Oscar Havn and landing at Tasiilaq. The weather was gloomy and cold (2-4 Celsius) but there was plenty of excitement in town for the evenings football match.

Over the next few days, we made our way through densely packed ice-laden waters and headed around to the north side of Angmagssalik Island. This involves paddling the length of a 20 mile long channel called Ikasagtivaq. It is bound on each side by spectacular snow capped peaks and is a major highway for local hunters. Danish ex-pats refer to is as the E45 after the biggest motorway in Denmark.

We visited the settlement at Tiniteqilaq before entering Sermilik Fjord and its roving collection of ice bergs. The highlight of the trip was reaching the depths of Johann Petersen Fjord. In Previous years it had been clogged with huge ice bergs but this time it was surprisingly clear.

The back of the fjord is a frozen amphitheatre on a grand scale. Steep rock walls and ice-falls stretch skywards from the sea. Beyond lies the timeless expanse of the Greenland ice-cap. This place is an other-worldly experience where sometimes the loudest sound is of silence.

Many thanks to Martin Rickard of Sea Kayak Adventures for another wonderful adventure, and to  P&H Custom Sea Kayaks, Mitchell Blades, Clif Bar UK and Peak UK for their continued support.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Off to the races

Over the last three weekends I have been off to the races! The first was to tried and tested Conwy Ascent Race. This wonderful event has been hosted by Dyfryn Conwy Paddlers for many years and is always well-attended.

The Le Mans style start makes this event a real favourite for me. Tripping, stumbling and splashing your way into a 15km race usually results in a bit of chaos and entertainment. All good fun! The race ends at Dolgarrog in a civilised manner with endless cups of tea and giant sandwiches.

The bird life on the Farne Islands is amazing this time of year but the annual Midsummer pilgrimage to Northumberland just wouldn't be complete without the Coquet Island Race! The Coquet Canoe Club were proudly showing off their new facility on The Braid at Amble. Its always great to meet up with my northern friends and have beers in the lovely pubs in Beadnell.

Finally, I took part in the Hilbre Island Race for the first time. This event is hosted by Liverpool Canoe Club at the Dee Sailing Club. As we glanced across the Dee Estuary before the start, Wales disappeared in a monstrous rainstorm. On this occasion, it seemed to be more a storm endurance test than a race. Highly enjoyable! The sun even came out to dry the bedraggled paddlers and organisers.

Cackle TV - Kayaking the Aleutians

It isn't often that I sit and watch TV and I certainly wouldn't normally bother to write about the experience. However, on this occasion it seems right to mention the latest offering from Justine Curgenven's Cackle TV.

I have watched plenty of Justine's previous films. They always tell great stories and there is rarely a dull moment. Kayaking the Aleutians is no exception. The expedition was an audacious challenge especially considering Sara Outen's limited sea kayaking experience.

This film tells the story of two amazing women on a paddling adventure to make your eyes water. Exposure, exhaustion, exhilaration and nudity!

One morning, Sarah bears all to go for a wash in a stream. The first inkling that she got that there was something fishy going on, was when a grizzly turned up looking for lunch! In the meantime, in true journalistic style, Justine reached for her movie camera. It turned out that Sarah had gone skinny dipping in a salmon river. 

It takes skill and dedication to keep filming on expeditions when exhausted, or in scary situations. The depth of the story is greatly enriched when Justine and Sarah take time to meet people along the way in  the isolated Aleutian communities. The get welcomed ashore with traditional music and dance and afterwards get to sample some wholesome Aleutian food.

Kayaking the Aleutians is available to buy from the Cackle TV website. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Padlefestivalen - Sea Kayak Festival in Norway

Missing my connection in Oslo was hardly the best way to begin my introduction to Norway. However, Scandinavian Airlines were very helpful and got me on my way to windswept rainy Bergen. I was met at the airport by Ronny Riise from God-Tur kayak store who together with Ashley Williams organises Padlefestivalen.

The weather on the island of Langøy was much better than in Bergen so it made a great end to Thursday to paddle around the neighbouring island of Algrøyna. This island and its associated reefs and skerries would be the central location for the activities for the coming days. The evening talk was about paddling in southern Greenland given by Camilla Ianke from Northern Exposure.

On Friday Morning I teamed up with local kayak guide Anja Rydning to run a workshop in something called 'Brottpadling'. I was relieved to discover that this was nothing to do with paddling kayaks made from bread. During the session I found that 'Brottpadling' is a mixture of rockhopping and surfing over shallow reefs and through rock gardens. The area to the north west of Algrøyna is perfect for this. 

Photo: Camilla Ianke
In the evening more people turned up for the weekend sessions as I prepared for deliver my talk on paddling amongst the ice and mountains of East Greenland.

On Saturday I was let loose with a group of strong paddlers who had signed up for a session entitled 'Open Ocean'. We headed out of the sheltered areas and worked our way as far north as we could without falling off the map. After a short snack break we then headed south along the outside of the reefs and skerries. 

The swell exploded powerfully on any of the rocky islets. We were planning to end the day by visiting the beautiful island of Løno. However,  during our lunch break the wind and sea state increased. This made it easy to decide to leave our final destination and head back to Langøy. This meant paddling round the south west tip of Algrøyna where the seas were getting rather exciting. 

Almost as soon as we arrived back the evening entertainment began with the 'Head 2 Head Challenge' which is a light-hearted kayak competition with different categories for SUP boards, sit on kayaks and sea kayaks. All rather pleasantly silly with rules that seem to change as frequently as the wind. This was followed by Barbecue, presentations, prize giving and drinking late into the night.

Getting motivated on Sunday was a little difficult at first but the weather was great and I was assigned to do 'Brottpaddling' again. We had excellent conditions with regular swell and a group that was game for almost anything. It was just such a shame when it was all over. I stayed on at Langøy with the organisers to help with the clean up. Most of the participants were heading home which made it an evening full of goodbyes. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Ronny and Ashley for inviting me to their wonderful Padlefestivalen, Jan Kåre for putting me up on his lovely fishing boat and to Anja for showing me around the islands and educating me in the world of 'Brottpaddling'. I made so many other new friends during the festival and I'm sure I'll meet up with many of them again soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Anglesey Sea Symposium 2015

In many respects this is the event of the sea kayaking year. Hosted by Sea Kayaking UK and Celtic Paddles, over a hundred paddlers from all over Europe congregated at the Anglesey Outdoors Centre to participate in guided trips, training sessions and workshops. Its also a great chance to catch up with old friends from near and far.

This year the weather was colder and wetter that any previous Anglesey Sea Symposium but that did little to dampen our spirits. It gave plenty of opportunities to practice rescues in rough conditions in a controlled environment.

On one of the less windy days Mark Tozer and I took 2 new designs from P&H Custom Sea Kayaks out for a spin. This included trying out the Code Zero sail.

After evening lectures were over, symposium night life was entertaining as ever with live music from local band 'The Coffin Dodgers'. They seemed oblivious to the gun fight that had been facilitated by an outlaw who smuggled water pistols into the event.

The following week was filled with BCU courses and workshops and guided trips for those taking a more leisurely approach to symposium life. At the end of each day replenishment would be found at the 'Paddlers Return' bar. For those who had passed assessments, congratulatory drinks could be bought. For those less successful, sorrows could be drowned.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Springtime on Bardsey

The island of Bardsey is a magical place at any time of the year but springtime makes this place extra special. Its Welsh name of Ynys Enlli means 'island in the currents'. Bardsey is only two miles from the end of the Lleyn Peninsula but the strong tidal streams that run up to six knots make the crossing of Bardsey Sound particularly challenging.

Trevor and I arrived through choppy waters on Saturday afternoon having set out from Porth Colmon on the North Coast of the Lleyn. Almost as soon as we had landed we spotted the first swallow. Throughout the weekend we would see many more of the summer visitors such as wheatear, chiffchaff and Manx shearwater.

Saturday morning started with short lazy walks and before long it was lunchtime. As we set off for a tour of the island a bank of thick fog rolled in. The precipitous slopes on the east of Bardsey are no place for the faint hearted. Only the most sure footed venture here and later in the Spring the nesting sea birds should be left to themselves.

From the summit of Mynydd Enlli we could occasionally see over the banks of rolling sea fog to the higher hills of the Lleyn. Later in the afternoon the fog thinned and cleared as we arrived at the Lighthouse.

As darkness drew in the shearwaters began their eerie calls. They have returned to Bardsey from the south Atlantic to breed. They nest in small burrows on the steep ground. Their tiny legs are hardly strong enough for them to stand on but are great for tunnelling.

In the morning it was time to leave. There was no wind and if we could see the sea it would be calm. Dense fog had again rolled in overnight. This set us quite a challenge for finding our way back across Bardsey Sound and along the north coast of the Lleyn to Porth Colmon. I'd like to thank Trevor for his company throughout the trip and Steve & Jo Porter for their hospitality. Ben Porter is a talented photographer and his website provides further insight into the wildlife of Bardsey Island.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Chilly Northumberland Spring

Having spent so many recent weekends having fun in North Wales, it was high time to reacquaint myself with the big skies and spreading shores of Northumberland. This was also to be the first camping trip of the year. My hopes for mild temperatures were dashed when I saw the forecast gentle easterlies and their associated bitter chill.

We arrived at the Springhill Farm campsite just after dark on Friday evening. From the camping field we could see the lighthouses of Longstone and the Inner Farne, and to the north was Bamburgh Castle floodlit in all its grandeur. We hurriedly put up our tents before heading to the pub to keep warm.

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On the walk to The Old Ship Inn at Seahouses the streets were deserted. It was a pleasant surprise to find the pub packed with locals. There is always a wide selection of fine ales in this characteristic hostelry and the atmosphere on this particular Friday evening was lively.

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On Saturday Morning we assembled on Bamburgh Beach in readiness for a trip out to The Farne Islands. We set off from 'stag rocks' through small surf and headed for the tiny rocky islet called Megstone.

Megstone was crowded with Shags and inquisitive seals which followed us part of the way to our next destination of Staple Island and Brownsman. Reaching further out to sea we found deeper swell and rougher seas on the way out to Longstone and its historic lighthouse. This group of islands is where the story of Grace Darling is secured in maritime history.

After lunch on Longstone, we returned along the dark edges of Brownsman and Staple Island. Huge flocks of guillemots and razorbills were circling the cliffs and sea stacks known as 'The Pinnacles'. The swirling movement of the birds combined with the lively swell made for a mesmerising journey back to Bamburgh via Inner Farne.

Sunday dawned with lighter winds but greater movement in the sea. The increased swell would prove to be a challenge.  We set off from the sheltered beach next to the harbour at Beadnell. The Castle ruins at Dunstanborough stand high upon a tall headland of Whin Sill to the south. Beyond lies the tiny harbour of Craster. All along this coast there are rocky reefs. The imposing swell trips upon the reefs forming isolated breaking waves known as 'boomers'. Their presence may drain the mouth of saliva and increase the heart rate, but they are easily avoided. As we passed Football Hole and Low Newton we found that the noise of the waves crashing on the Dunstanborough Cliffs made for a nerve wracking and claustrophobic approach through the last couple of reefs to the tiny entrance of Craster harbour.