I have recently come across this advert for SABENA, the Begian airline that went bankrupt in 2001. It was in an old copy of a National Geographic magazine, dating from the 1960’s I think.
The paddles, that they are using are particularly impressive, as is the attention to safety, not a buoyancy aid in sight.
It made me wonder, in addition to SABENA, what other companies have used kayaking in their attempt to sell a product. Ed Gillet is well known as the person who kayaked from California to Hawaii, over 64 days in 1987. It is reckoned to be one of the greatest achievements in modern sea kayaking. Have a look at Canoe&Kayak Magazine for more details about this significant crossing. I was in his shop, near San Diego, in 1999, when I saw an advert on the wall from Continental Airlines, which made reference to his paddle to Hawaii. I can’t remember the exact words but it was along the lines that it was easier to fly to Hawaii than to paddle there
More recently McDonalds have been showing an advert of a kayaker losing his paddle and being carried down an artificial slalom course in a rather relaxed style.
As far as I can remember the first chocolate bar in the United Kingdom, which was produced in a waterproof wrapper was the Twix. This transformed what we ate on the water, it was suddenly possible to keep a chocolate bar in your buoyancy aid pocket without fear of it disintegrating. Interestingly the TV advert, which promoted the new chocolate bar, featured a shot of a car driving onto a ferry with a couple of sea kayaks on the roof. It would be nice to think that it was planned but I imagine that it was just a coincidence.
2017 has seen us undertake some significant warm weather kayaking but perhaps none as unusual as Mauritius. A winter holiday evolved into some great sea kayaking as well as running some British Canoeing courses.
A quick e mail to Patrick Haberland at Yemaya Adventures to try and arrange a day’s paddling, gradually evolved into something else. The initial offering of a sit on top tour through mangrove swamps was replaced by the opportunity to paddle in sea kayaks out to Ile de la Passe, off the east coast of Mauritius, in exchange for some days of training.
This was a perfect combination and allowed us to see some areas of Mauritius, which we might have missed if we hadn’t managed to get out on the water.
Our first experience of paddling in Mauritius was when we headed out from near Preskil Beach Resort on the east coast of the island. We passed close to Ile aux Aigrettes. This is a stunning nature reserve with close links to Jersey Zoo, so we had more than a passing interest in the island. Some of the species on the island have been part of a captive breeding programme so it felt a real privilege to see a Pink Pigeon in the wild as opposed to in Jersey.
We paddled across Mahebourg Bay towards Ile de la Passe. This was an area, which originally had been settled by the Dutch but was settled by the French in the early 18th century. We were headed towards Ile de la Passe, with its military fortifications dating from the 18th century onwards.
On the 20th August 1810, at the Battle of Grand Port, the French inflicted their greatest naval defeat on the British, a victory which is commemorated on the Arc de Triumph. The fortifications on Ile de la Passe were enlarged by the British during the 19th century and again during the Second World War, when Mauritius, despite its isolation was dragged into the conflict.
Against this rich historical background was some delightful sea kayaking. To the east the the southern Indian Ocean was releasing its energy on the reef, which fringes the east coast of Mauritius. Within the reef the water was relatively calm and in areas very shallow. We landed on Ile de la Passe before heading north to Ile aux Fouquets or ile au Phare, with its British built lighthouse, which has sadly fallen into disrepair. This was a completely different marine environment, to which we were used to paddling in but it was really memorable.
Salina is the final island of our Aeolian Islands adventure. The crossing from Lipari to Salina is only a couple of miles but it is across waters busy with commercial traffic so it is important to be aware of the passage of the ferries and their intended routes. They are fast and frequent so always be aware when crossing possible routes, if in doubt stop and allow them to pass. We did have relatively close encounters with a couple of ferries on our crossing but the main distraction were the dolphins heading south. As a group stay close together, it is easier for you to be seen.
We headed up the west coast in virtually perfect conditions, warm October sunshine and virtually no wind. Stopping for an early lunch on the beach at Rinella, we took advantage of the warm water for a pre-lunch swim. What was surprising was just how many ferries entered the harbour, for such a small town. In little more than an hour this small village saw more ferries visit than Jersey in a whole day.
As we headed up the north west coast of the island we witnessed one of the most memorable bird sights I have seen in a long time. Numerous Eleonora’s Falcons were flying along the towering cliffs. At times we reckoned that there were up to 30 birds flying overhead, and this was a spectacle that lasted for several miles. It was impossible, therefore, to work out just how many of these amazing birds we saw.
The opportunity to watch Eleonora’s Falcons is one of the real pleasures of kayaking around some Mediterranean islands. Nesting on sea cliffs they delay their breeding until the autumn so that they are able to take advantage of the southerly autumn migration. Catching the smaller migrating birds to feed to their young. Eleonora’s Falcons, themselves, then migrate heading across Africa to Madagascar for the winter. Superb fliers, it is always a thrill to see them cruising along the sea cliffs and this day was without doubt the best display I have ever seen.
This was probably the hottest day we spent on the water, whilst in the Aeolian Islands and at times it was refreshing to paddle underneath the cliffs, in search of shade. The paddle around Salina from Lipari also turned into our longest distance, with 17 nautical miles covered. Our destination for the day was the main port on the island, at Santa Marina, as we had a ferry to catch.
Landing on the beach, just north of the harbour, on the east coast of Salina, we could see that we were less than 100 metres from the ferry ramp. A relatively straightforward carry, as we waited for the car ferry, which was going to take us to Stromboli. A relaxing beer and snack were enjoyed, whilst watching over the kayaks. As the ferry approached, it was the large ferry which operates the overnight service to Naples, we moved a couple of the kayaks close to the ferry ramp. My Italian is almost non-existent, but I eventually worked out from some passerby that the ferry was arriving on a different ramp to the one we were standing on.
What followed was the most exhausting 15 minutes of the whole trip, as we had to carry 9 fully loaded kayaks, 8 singles and a double, several hundred metres through the crowds on the waterfront. Alex, in his usual style was not optimistic about making the ferry, Janet was saying that she would stand on the ramp and I was convinced that we would make it, but only just. As it turned out we had plenty of time but it was 10 very sweaty kayakers who eventually settled down in the bar, for the 3 hour crossing to Stromboli. As we sipped our drinks and tried to get our heart rates back to normal we were blissfully unaware that the following day we were going to experience some of the most dramatic sea kayaking of our lives.
I first started logging my canoeing and kayaking trips in January 1979, when I was starting to work towards a number of British Canoe Union Awards. Sea Proficiency followed by Inland and Canoe Proficiency before moving onto Senior Instructor and Advanced Sea. A logbook was a pre-requisite for most assessments, as is some form of documentary evidence today.
I found that once I started documenting my paddling experiences it became more and more difficult to stop. It has eventually developed into a series of notebooks documenting my paddling adventures of the last 38 years. It is a record of not just my paddling but includes details of where we parked the car when visiting new areas, any unusual weather, birds and animals seen etc.
One thing that I have recorded is the distance covered and have watched it gradually increase over the years. The initial thought was “had I paddled around the distance of going round the earth at the equator”? According to Google the circumference of the earth at the equator is approximately 21,640 nautical miles.
A pleasant morning was spent, several years ago, sorting through my logbooks and compiling an annual total. I discovered that I had passed the circumnavigation distance a couple of years earlier but have carried on keeping a record of my paddling journeys.
Kayaking around Stromboli was a memorable paddle, not only from the scenery but because I also went past 26,000 nautical miles in my logbook. The location was in the channel between the main island and the small stack of Strombolicchio to the north east. After watching the GPS tick over to record the distance we paused for a few moments reflected on 26,000 nautical miles and carried on paddling to our landing, close to the harbour. We had a volcano to walk up!
The volcanic cone, of Stromboli, rising from the sea floor of the Mediterranean, dominates many of the seascapes of the Aeolian Islands. It is the volcano of children’s picture books. We approached the island on the car ferry from Salina, calling at the small village of Ginsotra before carrying on to the main settlement at San Vincenzo. Today’s population of about 500 is significantly lower than the several thousand people who lived on the island at the end of the 19th century.
After an early breakfast, and a quick glance at the warning signs regarding tsunamis we headed around the island in a clockwise direction. Agnes, our guide and friend from Planete Kayak, knows the area well and proved to be an ideal leader, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for the area.
Onto the west coast we reached the small village of Ginostra. About 40 people live year round in this small village with the only reasonable means of access being by boat. The small harbour is supposed to be one of the smallest in the world although a larger one for the ferries was constructed in 2004.
Leaving the harbour we turned north and approached one of the most amazing physical spectacles I have seen anywhere.
We continued our circumnavigation of the Island, landing back at the harbour, prior to catching the early morning car ferry back to Vulcano. What is certain is that Stromboli is one of the most dramatic places that I have ever paddled and feel certain that I will return at some point in the future.
Our second day on Lipari, started with a paddle north to beach at Porticello. On the way we passed the significant remnants of the pumice quarrying industry, which must have had a significant impact on the economy of the island when they closed. Their closure was linked to the Aeolian Islands being granted World Heritage Site status.
The afternoon was spent climbing to the summit of Monte Pilato, which gave superb views across the other islands of the archipelago. In addition it gave us our first views of Etna, which had remained shrouded in cloud since we arrived on the islands.
The following day we headed south in an increasingly strong westerly wind but were able to gain shelter from the high land. Amazingly just as we were about to cross the harbour at Lipari Town, we were stopped by the Coast Guard and told that we couldn’t cross the harbour. We would have to go around the west of the Island. This was a 13 nautical mile detour along the base of high cliffs, most of which would have been exposed to an onshore force 5 wind. All we wanted to do was paddle 200 metres across the bay.
We explained that going all the way round to the west wasn’t an option but the Coast Guard remained adamant that we couldn’t cross the harbour. We remained adamant that his detour wasn’t an option. Eventually he agreed that we could cross the harbour but had to mover further offshore. Bizarrely into stronger winds and with greater exposure to the path of the fast ferries. We did have to question his judgement as a supposed professional mariner.
Our final short crossing to Vulcano proved to be reasonably entertaining. The westerly wind was pushing a reasonable sea through the gap between the islands. It provided the opportunity for a bit of surfing as our course turned parallel to the coast. All that remained was the final short paddle back to Sicily in Kayak to return our kayaks.
From Vulcano we crossed the narrow channel to Lipari, our plan was to paddle north along the west coast and return south down the east coast later in the week. It seemed like a good plan, which worked, although not in the way that we intended as it actually involved rapid disembarkation from a car ferry.
The channel across from Vulcano is only a few hundred metres wide but does require a degree of caution when crossing. It is regularly used by the high speed ferries which connect the various islands in the group. Both times we crossed we encountered ferries which necessitated in changes in direction. Approaching the south west corner of the island is like paddling onto the pages of a geography textbook. Caves, arches and stacks all positioned in the order, which is depicted in the diagrams shown in geography books.
There is one large beach on the west coast of the island, Spiaggia Valle Muria, with a small bar/cafe in a cave, which appears to have rather erratic opening times. The remainder of the coast is a playground for the sea kayaker. There were numerous geographical features waiting to be explored, which we took full advantage of, whilst en route to Salinas.
The east coast of Lipari, wasn’t necessarily on our agenda but a forecast of particularly strong winds encouraged us to book the ferry from Stromboli back to Vulcano. Unfortunately the wind was stronger than forecast, which prevented the ferry docking at Vulcano. Suddenly we were forced to abandon ship in Lipari Town.
Our unexpected arrival allowed us plenty of time to explore Lipari Town. It is the largest settlement in the Aeolian Islands. We were able to settle into our guest house, the Villa Rosa, a great find right on the waterfront. The citadel proved to be an essential visit. Walking around the narrow lanes and courtyards it was hard to imagine that Mussolini used the area to contain political prisoners.
The forecast for the following day was for lighter winds so we anticipated being able to paddle the east coast before crossing to Vulcano.
Arriving on the ferry, at Vulcano, the first thing to strike you is the sulphurous smell, indicating that you have arrived on a volcanic island. The smoking crater, rising above Porto di Levante provides further evidence of geological activity in the area. The ancient Romans believed that the volcano was the chimney of the fire god, Vulcan.
The crater rises to a height of 391 metres and a walk around its rim should be on the tick list of anybody visiting the island, which is the closest of the Aeolian Islands, to mainland Sicily. Although I am fascinated by physical geography, the reason for our visit was to rent kayaks from Sicily in Kayak at the start of a 7 day paddle around the islands. As we disembarked the owner Eugenio was waiting with his distinctive yellow mini bus to transport us round the start of our journey, just in front of his premises.
After the usual delay as equipment was sorted, kayaks packed and provisions purchased we were were soon heading south along the east coast of the island. Whilst packing we became aware of one of the more intrusive aspects of life on Vulcano, mosquitoes. Some of the group reacting more than others, but everybody was finding them surprisingly active, if visiting be prepared.
The slopes drop steeply into the Mediterranean Sea, although in places there appeared to be signs of some old terracing. Ahead we could see the north coast of Sicily but what was really attracting our attention was the view towards the other islands, particularly Stromboli with a plume of gases rising steadily from its summit. There is virtually no access to the east coast, with the first easy landing being Spiaggia Cannitello, on the south coast. There was a bar, restaurant, sun beds etc but absolutely no sign of human activity.
The were a few people fishing off the jetty at the small port of Gelso then we were on our own again along the west coast of the island. There are a number of amazing caves along this stretch of coast, including the Grotta del Cavallo, which is big enough to accommodate tourist boats. As kayakers we will probably want to explore some of the smaller caves, which are just waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive paddlers.
Just before reaching Vulcanello are the black sands of Spiaggia Sabina Nera, its probably easy to identify because of the number of yachts at anchor in the bay. There is a bar on the beach but it is a relatively short walk across the isthmus to the port area where there are more options for food and drink. The isthmus was created in 1550, the last eruption of Vulcanello, which constitutes the northern part of the island. Vulcanello appeared in 183 B.C. following some underwater eruptions. From the north coast of Vulcanello it is a relatively short crossing to Lipari or you could follow the coast back to harbour and your departure point.
Which ever option you chose you won’t be disappointed Vulcano is a pretty dramatic sea kayaking destination. We were out for 7 days so our interest lay to the north and some truly spectacular kayaking.
It was a distinct change today to paddle a short kayak, rather than the normal sea kayak. We launched from Bonne Nuit, one of the small bays on the north coast of Jersey. Bonne Nuit is one of those bays which gives easy access to relatively deep water.
We paddled out of the small harbour which was built in 1872, to provide shelter for the local fishing fleet as well as providing a place for the export of stone from Mont Mado quarry which is located on the hillside above, whilst trying to avoid the fishing lines of the people above.
One of the more unusual aspects of today’s paddle was the size of the tide, there was only 3.4 metres of difference between high and low water. In a weeks time the height difference will have increased to 10.1 metres. This meant that there was very little water moving so instead of searching for tide races we looked for rock gardens and swell.
Paddling short kayaks has a positive impact on our skill levels. Their manoeuvrability and lack of directional stability forces you to concentrate on improving your kayak handling and in particular the ability to paddle in a straight line. This can only be beneficial when transferred to the more usual sea kayaks that we paddle.
The A – Z of Sea Kayaking was the first book that I published for the Kindle. The concept was very simple, write down everything I knew or I could find out about sea kayaking. It was a fascinating journey, which changed direction several times in its development. At one time I was also going to include information on some classic paddling destinations. That idea was eventually put on hold but I did include information on such varied topics as coaching, skills, weather, navigation, personalities etc.
The finished product came out at just under 100,000 words and occupied several hundred pages on my Kindle, it is still the longest book I have completed. The latest title “Coasteering: A Practical Guide” has just under 24,000 words, although it does have significantly more photographs.
Over the last week I have been revising the book and rather naively I thought it was going to be quite a simple exercise. When I first published the title Sandy Robson was just setting out from Germany on a 5 year expedition tracing the route of Oskar Speck. Olly Hicks and George Bullard hadn’t even started to think about kayaking from Greenland to Scotland, something they achieved in 2016. Sea Kayaker magazine was still in production, as were other paddling magazines, which have since disappeared.
Other changes have seen of one of the most respected governing bodies in the sport renamed. The British Canoe Union has become British Canoeing. Sadly a number of the most influential and prominent paddlers of the second part of the 20th century have passed away.
So far I have added another 5,000 words and appear to have only just scratched the surface of the significant number of changes, achievements and developments in the sport. It is amazing to see just what has been achieved in the last six years, a true reflection of how dynamic modern sea kayaking is.
So what started as a simple project has grown significantly but the plan is still to have the new edition available before the end of the year.