Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer Sea Races

These events at Ravenglass, Coquet Island, Conwy and Hilbre Island are becoming a well-established series of sea kayak races in England and Wales during the early part of the summer.

It all kicks off with the Ravenglass Seaquest which is run by Copeland Canoe Club. This event was inspired by the original Seaquest which is usually held in September on the Wyre Estuary at Fleetwood. It's an orienteering challenge on the tidal waters of the estuaries of the Irt, Mite and Esk. The start and finish is on the beach in Ravenglass where all three estuaries meet. Competitors need to visit as many controls as possible within a 3 hour time limit. It's an event for everyone with everything from racing K1 and performance sea kayaks to sit-on-tops and Canadian canoes.

The following weekend I met some members of Manchester Canoe Club for a weekend in Northumberland. On the Saturday we capitalised on the favourable weather and explored the Farne Islands. On the Sunday we headed south to Amble and the Coquet Island Race. The course begins in the estuary of the river Coquet. Paddlers then race out through Amble harbour, round Coquet Island then back into the estuary to finish at the Coquet Canoe Club Shorebase. The winds were really light but it was so misty that the island could not be seen from the harbour entrance. The race went ahead anyway without too many navigational difficulties, although one of the surf-ski racers finished unexpectedly late because he paddled round the island twice!

There was a gentle following wind for the Conwy Ascent race which was perfect for fast times. The main excitement was from racing past the booming cannons being fired from the pirate festival on Conwy Quay. It turns out that the winning K2 team broke a long-established course record.

Photo: Kathy Morton
Liverpool Canoe Club have been running a race in their local waters for the last 10 years. Its a challenging course on shallow choppy waters loaded with awkward currents. For the most part, competitors have to paddle against the tide. Its a great event with competitiveness taking second place to light hearted Scouse banter.

Photo: Kathy Morton
I always enjoy these races and in spite of the fact that I know I'll never win, I always look forward to the next one!

Monday, July 04, 2016

That's why Jim's gone to Iceland!

Reykjavik is the gateway to the frozen shores on my trips to East Greenland and I have spent many happy days wandering around the beautiful city. On each of my visits I become more and more curious about the paddling this intriguing country has to offer.

I was invited by Magnus Sigurjonsson to help him out with some guided sea kayaking trips offered by Arctic Adventures.

The first trip was started in the sleepy fishing town called Stikkisholmur. Our team was a group of American school children. Most of them had not paddled before and some had never been camping. We paddled to a remote island, and made camp whilst Magnus' partner, Ellen cooked a huge pot tasty stew with beef and pasta. Later, I sat on a north-facing cliff to watch the sun go down. It such a long time that I went to bed before sunset.

After our overnighter, we said goodbye to our American friends and the brief spell of good weather. Heavy rain and strong winds tugged at the trailer as we made our way back to Reykjavik. We didn't see the sun for another three days...

In the meantime, we took a group of tourists on a short paddle in a sheltered Fjord called Hvalfjordur. This is a deep fjord gouged out by glaciers during the las ice-age. Tabletop mountains rise from the sea to over 1000 metres. The misty, drizzle weather gave this place a haunted and mysterious feel.

The next day the weather showed signs of improving so we made the most of the day off by doing some tourism of our own. We did what is known as 'The Golden Circle. Spreading tectonic plates at
Þingvellir, spectacular eruptions of boiling water at Geysir and the thundering waterfalls at Gullfoss kept us entertained all day. We finished off with a visit to the deep, flooded volcanic crater at Kerið.

On my final day Magnus, Ellen and me visited the place where the local paddling club have their base. Kayakklubburinn is on an isthmus beach just to the north of Reykjavik. We paddled from there around the nearby island of Viðey. The bird life and scenery was amazing with Eider, redshank, oystercatchers and terns.

It was a fantastic week full of adventures. Many thanks to Magnus and Ellen for their lovely company, delicious food and for making me so welcome in their homes. I'll definitely be back very soon.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Manchester goes to Norway

Padlefestivalen is a sea kayaking festival held the Hordaland region of Norway close to Bergen. The location at Langoy Kystkultursenter is ideally situated beside sheltered lagoon and channels that lead to the open rocky North Sea coast after a 30 minute warm up paddle.

Last year was my first at this festival. This time I brought three paddlers from Manchester Canoe Club. We arrived in Bergen mid-afternoon so by the time we got to Langoy Kystkultursenter we were itching to get on the water. The evening weather was really good so we managed to paddle out west over the rolling swell to the island of Løno.

One of the popular sea kayaking Brottpaddling which is a cross between rock-hopping and surfing. The idea is to surf swell and waves amongst reefs and rock gardens. Its a real favourite amongst the Norwegian paddlers and has become a speciality for me.

On my second day of Brottpadling a thick sea fog had rolled in. This changed the game dramatically. Accurate navigation was crucial. Although we still found plenty of mischief in the rock gardens, I decided to rename the workshop as 'Spøekilsepaddling' which means ghost paddling. The guys from Manchester Canoe Club had been taking part in a variety of workshops in navigation, leadership and skills with one achieving 3 Star award by the end of the festival.

At the end of Saturday's workshops Padlefestivalen hosts the 'Head 2 Head Challenge'. This is always a fun competition on the water with rules that change at the drop of a hat. This year it was to be a race in canoes and I knew that the guys from Manchester Canoe Club could do well. After a fierce and chaotic battle, the Manchester team came in second place. We will win next time!

The Saturday evening is the social high point of the festival. There is a grand barbecue and campfire and there was drinking and singing late into the night.

On the Sunday we paddled to the Utermarkeriet which sells a wide range of delicious cakes and bakery treats before heading out to sea to explore some of the off-lying islands and reefs. When we landed, it was time to say goodbye to our festival friends as most people were going home this evening. Me and the guys from Manchester took one final paddle on the Monday morning before packing up and getting and evening flight home. Many thanks to Ashley and Ronny for making us so welcome. We will be back!

Thursday, April 14, 2016


North West Sea Kayakers has been a little dormant recently so it was pleasing to 20 paddlers meet at the Anglesey Outdoors Centre for a weekend of paddling fun. As soon as we started to congregate in the Paddlers Return Bar, the plotting and scheming began.

On Saturday I went with a small group to The Skerries the long way... from Porth Dafarch. An unexpected southerly breeze greeted us at the waters edge and provoked the race at Penrhyn Mawr into a mischievous state. It was a forbidding scene with dark grey skies and a choppy sea.

The wind had settled down by the time we had arrived at South Stack but by then we could see that we would need to wait for one of the Dublin ferries to pass. As we drifted on the tide past North Stack we saw another ferry approaching. Our patience was being tested as we were eager to head on. Having confirmed with port control at Holyhead harbour that there was no more traffic, we resumed our course.

An hour later we arrived at The Skerries. At high water the beach near the light house is submerged. We landed on the rocks and had our picnic lunch.

I called port control at Holyhead harbour before starting our return. We timed our passage so that the two ferries would pass in front of us before we reached the tide races at North Stack and South Stack.

We arrived back at Porth Dafarch in warm sunshine and celebrated a splendid day out with others from the meet on the balcony with beer and snacks. Other groups had also been to The Skerries from Church Bay, and another group had fun rockhopping and exploring between Rhoscolyn and Trearddur Bay.

After the evening meal and traditional slide show, it didn't take many beers before we were all fast asleep.

Before heading home on Sunday we spent the day rockhopping along the shore between Rhoscolyn and Rhosneigr. The sun was climbing high into a hazy blue sky and it was difficult to leave our sheltered, comfortable lunch spot at Cymyran.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

To Knoydart for Easter

In an effort to make the best of a for day weekend we began our mad dash for the Scottish Highlands straight after work on Thursday night. The van, crammed with gear and with 4 kayaks on the roof was taking the strain well. We celebrated crossing the border by scoffing down a late supper of haggis and chips. Eventually we arrived at Arisaig after 2am on Good Friday morning. We wearily pitched our tents in the dark and promptly fell asleep to the peaceful sounds of the Scottish sea.

The view in the morning was breathtaking. What a sight to wake up to. Crystal blue skies, warm sunshine and a gentle breeze set the scene for breakfast time. However, the forecast was for strengthening winds from the south. Our plan was to make it into the sheltered waters of Loch Nevis as quickly as possible.

By late morning the skies had darkened and the wind had arrived. Before long it was cold and rainy and we were glad of our booking at the Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse. It was the perfect place to settle down on an increasingly stormy afternoon. As we ventured along the track to the Old Forge Pub we gazed at the whirling columns of sea spray whipped up by the gale force gusts. We were glad to have landed as early as we had.

We spent Saturday exploring the shores of Loch Nevis and visited Tarbert where there is a portage track into neighboring Loch Morar. The bunkhouse run by the late legendary 'Frank', is closed for now but I was assured that there are plans to re-open it next year.

On the way back to Inverie we passed Tom McLean's Highland Outdoor Centre and his bizarre 'whale ship', collected mussels and paid a visit to the holy statue that overlooks the entrance to the Loch.

It rained all day.

Improving weather on Easter Sunday prompted us to head out of the loch and look for somewhere to camp for the final nigh of our trip. It was so pleasing to finally see blue skies and paddle in the sunshine again. However, it wasn't long before we were pelted with hail and blasted with squally gusts.

We were left with only a short paddle on the bank holiday. The overnight weather had left the air cold, crisp and clear. Blue skies had returned and the island of Rum had a shiny new white coat. Among the rocks and skerries we spotted an otter chewing a stump of kelp. This is the special scenery that we had come for.

Thanks to Andy, Andy, Andy and Ian from Manchester Canoe Club for their company. The fish and chips at Mallaig was the perfect way to end the trip.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Manchester Canoe Club Spring Sea Kayak Meet

The Anglesey Outdoors Centre provides a great base for sea kayaking activities. There is a variety of budget priced good quality self-catering accommodation, close proximity to a terrific coastline and The Paddlers Return Bar. We began to arrive in the bar in dribs and drabs and by 10pm on Friday evening we were beginning to formulate a plan for the following day trip.
After breakfast on Saturday the first challenge was for everyone to meet at ‘Summit to Sea’, which is the local kayak store. Sea kayaks can be rented here from £20 per day. As soon as we were all kitted up we headed off along the North coast of Anglesey to start our day trip at Bull Bay. 

The plan was to keep out of the strong southerly wing by paddling among the rocks beneath the cliffs. Many of the group had never paddled sea kayaks before so before heading out of the bay we spent half an hour brushing up on some basic skills to get acquainted with these unfamiliar and unwieldy craft. Three of the group are working towards the 4* Sea Leader Award so they each took responsibility of leading sections of the trip during each day.

It wasn’t long before we were treated to the sighting of a porpoise. The group stopped and gazed across the waves for the occasional glimpse of the fin arcing over the water. The rockhopping along this coast is excellent. Arches, caves, and narrow rocky channels kept us entertained as we weaved our way towards Porth Wen. 

Photo: Andy Hamilton
Once we arrived at Porth Wen it was time for lunch and a little exploring. The ruins of the abandoned brick works are intriguing. Production of ‘firebricks’ began here around 1850 but ceased in the early 1900s. After lunch we paddled back to Bull Bay before heading back to the Anglesey Outdoors Centre. 

Entertainment on Saturday evening took the shape of a pub quiz in The Paddlers Return Bar based on general sea kayaking knowledge as well as some of the features of the day trip. Plenty of fun was had and mickey taking was dispensed washed down with a generous helping of booze!
Sunday’s trip was at the rockhopping centre of the world known as Rhoscolyn. The coastline is strewn with reefs and rock gardens. In some places, timing was key because there were sets of powerful waves coming in filling the rock gardens with tricky white water. 

After Lunch in the sunshine we paddled out offshore for a brief tour of Rhoscolyn Beacon. The swell made it difficult to venture close to the rocks but it was fun to feel the swell off the outermost reefs. Finally, it was time to finishing off with some more rescue skills and towing practice before packing up and heading home to Manchester.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The 8th UK Storm Gathering

The 8th UK Storm Gathering was held at the Anglesey Outdoors Centre. Normally when we have a 'Storm Gathering' mother nature provides us with some suitable weather. This was to be a normal Storm Gathering!

I paddled with groups on rockhopping journeys looking for a reasonable degree of shelter. Even so, the north coast had enough boisterous energy to keep us all entertained, on our toes and on one occasion, into the water amongst undercut rocks infested with barnacles who had recently sharpened their pointed crowns.

Steve Whetman and I delivered the evening entertainment on Saturday. We were asked to do something amusing based on the weather. There was only a limited time that we could draw out jokes about wind and wetness so we showed some silly videos and moved on the The Paddlers Return Bar for further nourishment.

Photo: Steve Godfrey
The event finished on Monday with some great rockhopping at Rhoscolyn. The sun was out, the winds were light but there was plenty of swell crashing into the rock gardens. 

In the following days there was an incident management course laid on by the International Sea Kayak Guides Association. I managed to keep myself amused with walks along the coast in the sunny weather that followed the storm...

...but also went paddling along the southern shores of Anglesey. Sometimes its important to keep a little corner of your favourite sport for yourself.