Maine Island Trail

I first visited Maine in the summer of 1994, on a canoeing trip to the West Branch of the Penobscot.  Our girls were 5 and 7, so it seemed to be a great way to get in some multi-day paddling trips.  I did manage to get a day in sea kayaking and recognized the possibilities of paddling in the area.  Over the years I heard about the Maine Island Trail but it wasn’t until 2016 that the opportunity arose to paddle a section of the Trail.
The support provided by the Maine Island Trail Association, is crucial to making the most out of your journey along the coast of Maine.  We rented sea kayaks from Portland Paddle, who were really friendly and helpful.
With the position of Portland on the Maine coast, we planned to head north east towards Penobscot Bay, before returning back to Portland, hopefully by a slightly different route.  We did delay our departure for a day because of the intensity of the thunderstorms, which were forecast.  A delay which proved to be a sensible decision from both a meteorological perspective as well as allowing us time to visit LL Bean, in Freeport.  Always a treat.
Leaving Portland we headed east through the islands, which shelter the waters of Casco Bay, having lunch on a delightful beach at the southern tip of Jewell Island before heading north to a lovely campsite on Bangs. To make the most of your journey and to support continued access to the Maine coast it is important to join the Maine Island Trail Association.
The Maine Island Trail extends for 375 miles from the border with New Hampshire all the way to Canada and the Association maintains over 200 sites, which are available for day use or camping.  Membership of the MITA provides you with an annual printed guide to the trail as well as an App, which some people find more useful.  It is an essential $45 if you are going to be kayaking in the area.
Bangs was just an ideal place to spend our first night, not too far to paddle but far enough to produce a feeling of isolation.  We were clearly on our way!  For us one of the strange things was watching the sunset over the mainland US, living on the west coast of Jersey our sunsets are always over the sea.
We woke early the next morning to the sound of the local fishing boats heading out, I am surprised that engine silencers haven’t reached the United States.  There was no need for an alarm clock, whilst we were away!  We had left by 07.40, passing just to the north of Eagle Island State Park, which was the summer home of Arctic explorer Robert Peary, on another visit I am sure we will stop to visit the museum.
Ball Head and Small Point seemed to have the potential to have challenging conditions but we paddled around in flat calm water before stopping for lunch.  Ahead we knew that there was a potential hazard in the form of the entrance to the Kennebec River, and we weren’t disappointed.  There was a significant tide race down the sides of the islands but coming from Jersey we are used to moving water and managed to comfortably hold our ferry glide just upstream of the waves before reaching the sheltered waters on the eastern side of the river mouth.
We were aiming for the Sagadahoc Bay Campground but we knew that the tide was dropping rapidly and eventually we grounded about 0.5 miles short of our target.  Abandoning the the kayaks we carried the tents and clothing up to the campground whilst waiting for the moon to perform her magic.
As the tide started to return I floated the kayaks up the channels, unfortunately as the sea started to flow in the the rain the started to fall and the insects started to bite.  I have to admit it was a pretty miserable couple of hours moving the kayaks up the bay and once I reached the shore it was a matter of retreating to the tent and not re-appearing to the following morning.
An interesting 19 nautical miles covered with a slight sting in the tail at the end of the day, but the forecast was for the rain to clear overnight so we went to sleep with a degree of optimism.

Maine Island Trail
Beach at the southern end of Jewell, where we stopped for lunch on day one.
Maine Island Trail
First nights campsite. Bangs Island
Maine Island Trail
Sunset over the land. An unusual perspective for somebody who lives on the west coast of Jersey
Maine Island Trail
Just passing to the north of Eagle Island State Park. Robert Peary’s summer residence.
Maine Island Trail
Typical scenery along the coast of Maine.
Maine Island Trail
Sagadahoc Bay, the sea has disappeared, leaving the kayaks high and dry.

Edie

Edie

I know that this isn’t a film review website but after watching the recently released “Edie” this afternoon I feel that I must put some thoughts down.
It follows the journey of Edith Moore, after the death of her husband, who she has looked after for 30 years, but what was in effect a claustrophobic marriage.  When her daughter wants to put her in a Care Home, she heads north to Lochinver, following a dream that was ignited by a post card from her father many years earlier.
As somebody in her 80’s climbing Suilven, an iconic mountain rising to a height of 731 metres, was clearly going to be a major challenge.  She was assisted in her endeavours by Jonny, who just happens to work in the local outdoor shop.  He was in a prime position, therefore, to be able to sell her a significant amount of high quality outdoor equipment.
Jonny was also in an ideal position to provide appropriate training for the proposed ascent of the mountain.  The relationship between Edie and Jonny is the corner stone of the film and is what helps make the film more enjoyable than might be expected.
One of the most emotional points in the film is when they are rowing and Edie reflects on her wasted life.  So many years spent in unhappiness, which can never be regained.  I enjoyed the performances by both Shelia Hancock and Kevin Guthrie.
The background to the film is the superb landscape of north west Scotland, although this is a film set in the mountains there are glimpses of a coastline far below, which many of us are familiar with, and if we aren’t, it is an inspiration to head north to discover the superb coastal and mountain scenery.
A showing of Edie may not be that easy to find.  At our local cinema it was only shown Monday to Thursday at 3.00 in the afternoon.  So if you had a normal job watching it is virtually impossible, that may well explain why there were only 5 people at the showing we went to.  It deserves to be seen by a wider audience though.
At times the film seems cliched and the end was never really in doubt but it is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend 102 minutes of your time.

Buoyancy Aids (PFD’s) & Life Jackets

One of the pleasures of my week is listening to Paddling Adventures Radio, a podcast from Canada.  Essentially Sean Rowley and Derek Specht chat about a range of topics related to all aspects of paddle sport.  This evenings opening article on people wearing buoyancy aids (PFD’s) got me thinking.
My first buoyancy aid, which I had for Christmas at the end of the 1960’s, was filled with kapok, a vegetable material, which was used in life saving devices in the Second World War.  I feel certain that it must have been one of the last buoyancy aids to contain kapok.  Towards the end of the 1970’s, most paddlers in the UK were wearing life jackets, which met the specifications of BS 3595.  They were designed to support an unconscious person in the water, if the inherent solid buoyancy had been topped up with air.
The only disadvantage, being that they were cumbersome and seriously uncomfortable.  As a consequence many paddlers used to carry them under the rear deck elastics as opposed to wearing them on the person.  As shown by the photograph of Nicky taken off the Ecrehous, in the summer of 1979.  How that contrasts with the photograph taken last summer, off the west coast of Greenland, where everybody is properly equipped.
I can’t remember the last time I paddled to the Ecrehous, with my buoyancy aid under the deck elastics.  It must be at least 20 years ago.  Putting on a buoyancy aid is now an automatic reaction.  The last time I remember consciously not putting on my PFD was on a seriously hot, flat calm day in Baja, when I judged that I was more at risk from heat exhaustion than from an unexpected capsize.
There is no doubt that equipment has improved dramatically over the last 50 years that I have been kayaking and the current buoyancy aids are far more comfortable to wear than their predecessors.  So the best advice is to wear it.
Another point to consider is the explosion in paddle sports in recent years, it is rare to be alone on the water nowadays.  Mid week in January, on a rainy windy day doesn’t guarantee isolation in 2018.
Regularly whilst out paddling we come across paddlers, particularly on sit on tops, and it is amazing how many of those paddlers aren’t wearing buoyancy aids.  What is particularly scary is when you see 3 people, normally 2 adults and a child on a double sit on top, and none of them wearing buoyancy aids.
There are 2 potential responses, paddle over and have a friendly word, I have done this a few times as people on SOT’s have been approaching tide races, but my advice has always been ignored.  The other response is to hope that by wearing the appropriate equipment you will be a positive role model and raise people’s awareness of the need to wear buoyancy aids.

Nordkapp
Nicky off the Ecrehous, in the summer of 1979. A classic image of the time, a beautiful orange Nordkapp HM and the BS 3595 Life Jacket tucked under the rear deck elastics.
Buoyancy aids
The group from the Jersey Canoe Club in Greenland last summer. All wearing their buoyancy aids, even though the conditions were pretty benign, apart from the water temperature.

The Art of Kayaking

The Art of Kayaking

I first met Nigel in 1979 at the 3rd National Sea Canoeing Symposium in Sheffield, when he spoke about his trip to Newfoundland.  Following on from this when I needed an assessor to assist with an Advanced Sea Assessment (5 Star) I asked him to come to Jersey early in 1981 and this was the first time that we paddled on the water.
It was clear right from the start that Nigel’s skill level was way ahead of most coaches who were active at the time.  I remember seeing him reverse loop a sea kayak, in a narrow gully, rotate 180 degrees and surf in the opposite direction, there was absolutely no margin for error.
Later that year Nigel went on his solo paddle in the Hudson Strait, which was significantly more challenging than anticipated.  Nigel has remained active, over the years, as a coach, designer, author and explorer and this book is a result of his undeniable passion for all things paddling.
“The Art of Kayaking” is divided into sections covering equipment, flat water skills, dry skills (navigation, weather etc), applying skills (moving into more challenging conditions) and a short section on breaking down skills.
All the chapters are supported by a large number of colour photographs, illustrating the key points.  Some of the photographs are clearly quite old, whereas others have probably been taken for the book and have been annotated clearly to emphasize the salient points.  The photographs clearly reflect Nigel’s considerable experience as a kayaker.  My only slight gripe, about the book, is that it doesn’t always say where the photographs were taken.  Its the geographer coming out in me, I like to know where places are.
This book will appeal to kayakers of all abilities, those starting out on the journey as a sea paddler will be able to dip into the book frequently as they gain experience and extend their horizons.  Coaches will also appreciate the clarity of some of the explanations and diagrams, enhancing the quality and variety of their coaching.
There are quite a number of sea kayaking manuals available and it is always difficult to decide which ones to buy.  Some are specialized, whereas others such as this one are more comprehensive and offer something to paddlers of all abilities.
If you are in the market for a sea kayaking manual or just want to add to your kayaking book collection then “The Art of Kayaking” is one book to seriously consider.

Nigel Foster
Nigel at the Port Townsend Symposium in 1995. Performing at skills session, to a crowd of approximately 100 people.

Sea Kayaking Frustration

It has been nearly nine weeks since I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon, whilst kayaking and swimming on the south coast of Gozo.

Gozo
Taken on the 5th April in Mgarr ix Xini, on the south coast of Gozo. About 20 minutes after I ruptured my achilles.

Today it was time for another visit to the hospital, to have my cast taken off, be seen by a consultant, with the possibility of a further few weeks in plaster.  In fact was transpired was good news, no more plaster and the start on the long road to recovery.  Physio has started and at some point in the next couple of months, hopefully the possibility of some low level paddling.
I think I can count myself fortunate that I have reached the age of 61, without having to have any part of my body put in plaster. The last 9 weeks with my lower left leg in plaster have been a complete revelation.
Simple everyday tasks take on a new challenge. Carrying drinks is virtually impossible unless they are put in flask or a jar with a lid on. I actually haven’t made a hot drink since my injury as I am concerned about the possibility of spilling boiling water.
Public toilets are a whole new challenge, normally access is relatively easy for those people with reduced mobility. The real hazard is the area around the wash hand basins. Normally there is a significant amount of water on the floor, which when combined with the normally slippery surface creates a real problem for somebody on crutches. Twice I have slipped on a wet floor, so now in the interests of personal safety I stopped washing my hands in public toilets.
Some shops are easier to navigate than others, one particular outdoor shop in Fort William was a nightmare.  Steps with broken bricks to navigate and stairs inside the building making browsing the products inside the shop a major challenge.  What I have developed over the last few weeks is a greater understanding of the challenges that some people have to face everyday.
Today though, instead of another few weeks in plaster, I have been given a modified boot, had my first appointment at the physio department and started on the rehabilitation road.  Any form of normal activity is still many weeks away, my decision to cancel my paddling trip to the Lofoten’s in July is still justified but I feel confident enough to start to plan a short trip to Herm, in September, to coincide with their beer festival.
By the time I get back on the water, probably towards the end of August, it will have been 5 months since I have been out kayaking, which is quite possibly the longest time without going on the water, since I took up kayaking.  I don’t think I will ever take paddling (or getting around towns) for granted again.

Herm
Approaching Herm in 2017 after paddling the 17 nm from Jersey, in one direct crossing.

Jersey Kayak Guide

The updated version of my Jersey Kayak Guide is now available on the site.  Hopefully  both visiting and local kayakers will find some of the information useful.  Starting at Corbiere, the guide takes you around the island in anti clockwise direction, which just happens to be the best place to start and the preferred direction of travel if you are hoping to paddle around Jersey.
As well as information about key places to visit there is guidance on tides and areas where challenging tidal races can develop at certain stages in the tidal sequence.

Jersey Kayak Guide
At certain stages of the tide quite challenging conditions can develop off Noirmont so always plan accordingly.

Over the coming months the aim is to add further paddling guides to certain areas, which will hopefully contain useful information for people visiting areas for the first.  A guide to Belize has already been produced, and others are in the pipeline.
If they are useful please let me know.

Jersey Symposium

It is amazing that the Scottish Symposium has hardly finished and already our thoughts are turning to events 12 months from now.  Unfortunately arranging a sea kayaking event in a popular tourist venue is a bit like arranging a wedding.  All the best locations get booked really early.  So this is the first official announcement of the 2019 Jersey Symposium.
It will start on the Friday evening, 24th May 2019, and will run will the normal format.  This is Saturday, Sunday and Monday workshops and paddles followed by 4 days of the extended paddling programme.  Most evenings there is some form of organised activity, which ranges from the Keynote lecture, a sea kayaking quiz, BBQ in a historic fort and live music, just for starters.
We are hoping that, as usual it will attract kayakers from a wide range of European countries and further afield.  Ensuring a true international mix of coaches and participants.
Jersey has a significant tidal range ensuring that there is plenty of opportunity for playing in tidal races, but the event is about so much more than rough water. Kayak handing skills, practical workshops, cliff jumping, open crossings are all topics that will be included in the final programme.
If you are interested in pre-registering for the Jersey Symposium please complete the form below, the first newsletter will be going out later in the summer.

Jersey Symposium
Just down the road from where the Symposium is based is this iconic lighthouse. Corbiere.
Jersey Symposium
There is plenty of kayaking available around the south coast, passing a number of historical buildings.
Jersey Symposium
The refs of the south east corner are a unique marine environment and well worth exploring by kayak.
Jersey Symposium
It is amazing what you might come across at lunch time. These German guns were thrown over the cliffs at the end of the Second World War.
Jersey Symposium
Fancy something a bit more challenging, a trip to the Ecrehous is an essential paddle.

 

Scottish Symposium

Well the Scottish Symposium has been and gone, all that remains is the extended paddling programme.  Two things set this event from the others, firstly it is the last one in its present format and secondly the unbelievable weather.
I travelled north in the expectation that I would be delivering a range of talks, including such diverse topics as Expedition Planning, Baja and Thirds, Twelfths and 50/90’s.  As it turned out the weather was superb and in reality who would want to sit in a classroom listening to somebody ramble on about sea kayaking when they could be out on the water experiencing, first hand the impact of a Scottish heat wave.
Nearly 200 people attended the final Scottish Symposium, in its current form.  The programme was the usual diverse mix of workshops, talks and paddles, delivered by some of Britain’s most experienced coaches.  Fortunately common sense broke out among the participants and pretty much everybody went on the water with virtually every classroom session cancelled.
The key note lecture on Saturday evening, delivered by Gordon Brown and was very much in the form of a tribute to our friend Duncan Winning, who sadly passed away earlier this year.  He was one of the most influential sea kayakers of the 20th Century as well being a vital cog in the machinery of the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium.  His presence at the event was sorely missed.
As the Symposium drew to a close, after a weekend of perfect weather and the extended paddling programme started you couldn’t help but think that Duncan would have been with pleased with the way the weekend had evolved.

Scottish Symposium
Nicky outside the Gaelic College, wearing her Moderate Becoming Good Later T shirt. Our nephew was starting his journey around the Shipping Forecast areas that day.
Scottish Symposium
A really unusual picture. Nicky and Gordon tucking into ice creams at Armadale. Almost unheard of at any of the previous symposiums.
Scottish Symposium
A group on a day trip around the Point of Sleat heading south in front of the College. Just a stunning backdrop.
Scottish Symposium
A busy Greenland Rolling session at Armadale. With the weather rolling was a pretty popular option.

Atlantic Coastal Kayaker

The June 2018 issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker, a magazine published 8 times a year in Massachusetts, contains an article written by yours truly on sea kayaking in the waters around Jersey.
Each issue contains a range of articles, many not surprisingly with a focus on the sea kayaking opportunities of the north east United States but with others, which will clearly appeal to a wider audience.  This issue contains a report on an event arranged by the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, the hazards of cold water, places to launch in Massachusetts and an article on fishing, amongst others.
Subscriptions cost $24 for a year in the US or $44, for international subscriptions.  The online version is $15 a year and, in my opinion, well worth subscribing too.

Atlantic Coastal Kayaker
Front cover of the issue which contains the article on kayaking in Jersey.

Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium

Over 6 weeks has passed since my incident in Gozo, which resulted in a ruptured achilles, I still have my leg in plaster and at times feel frustrated by my inability to get out on the water.
This weekend I had arranged an Advanced Sea Kayak Leader training course with paddlers visiting the Island from both the UK and France to take part.  I was really looking forward to working with Olly Sanders, but it was not to be last weekend.  I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange for Calum McKerral to fly down from Scotland and cover me at the last minute.
I was able to spend some of the evening preparing for the Scottish Se Kayak Symposium, which starts this Friday evening on the Isle of Skye.  Having attended them all since 1995 it is an event, which holds great memories for me.  Some fantastic paddles, inspirational talks and great social evenings over the last 20 plus years.
As this is due to be the last one it was an event I was particularly looking forward to attending and to do some more paddling in Scottish waters.  In fact the plan was to remain in Scotland for a further week and to paddle around the Small Isles, with some of the other members of the Jersey Canoe Club.
With my leg still in plaster flying isn’t an option so Nicky and myself leave this evening on the ferry, to start the long journey north, taking slightly longer than normal as we are stopping off in Bristol to see Joan Baez in concert, on her farewell tour.
Instead of being out on the water this weekend with the Advanced Sea Kayak Leader Training, it has largely been spent inside the house preparing my talks for next weekend.  I might not be able to paddle but at least I will be able to contribute to the lecture programme.
So it has been time spent re-acquainting myself with PowerPoint and searching through external hard drives for that one photo, which I feel might make all the difference but in reality won’t have an impact at all.
So talks on Expedition Planning, the weather, tidal planning, 12ths,3rds and 50/90, Baja and sea kayaking in the Mediterranean have gradually taken shape.  Although there is still plenty of work to do before I am satisfied with the finished product.
Fingers crossed that I don’t have to deliver all of the talks.  If there is good weather on Skye next weekend people attending the Symposium should be out on the water, experiencing all that the island has to offer.  Far more enjoyable than hearing me ramble on about Proxigean Tides or the Coriolis Force, with the occasional pretty picture of kayaking thrown in for good measure.  That said if the wind blows, the rain falls and people feel the need to shelter from the worst of the Scottish weather I will be ready to go.
Whatever happens next I know that next weekend on Skye there is going to be a great sea kayaking event with plenty of paddlers having a great time.  I hope to see some of you there.

Symposium
Taken in the 1990’s these are just a selection of the kayaks lined up on the beach on Cumbrae.
Symposium
A helicopter demonstration in 2005. It was great fun being blown around by the down draught from the rotor blades.
Symposium
The extended programme in the week after the Symposium has always been enjoyable and at times experienced some great weather. Looking towards the Cuillins, on a day trip from Elgol. Always a favourite.
Symposium
Another day trip from Elgol, when the weather wasn’t so kind. Howard Jeffs on Soay, close to the basking shark factory.