Canoeing in Britain

I have recently managed to purchase 12 issues of “Canoeing in Britain” which was the British Canoe Union magazine, from between April 1962 and March 1967 plus 6 issues of “Canoeing” from between January 1962 and January 1963 from e bay. These are a few gems which help to illustrate the state of sea kayaking in Britain in the early 1960’s.
The September 1964 edition contained some interesting local information for Jersey, the small island where I live. In 1964 there were 6 qualified canoe coaches living on the island, whilst at the same time there were only 5 coaches in Scotland. How things have changed in the intervening years.
Surf kayaking was clearly developing, largely due to the efforts of Oliver Cock, with his annual surf weeks in Bude. The December 1964 edition contained warnings of possible future problems with Wadebridge Council in Cornwall asking canoeists to avoid Polzeath during August because it is too crowded. June 1965 saw the publication of a supplement to the surf beaches of England and Wales. 30 different breaks were described but Bude and Scarborough were obvious omissions.
One name which occurred on a regular basis was Chris Hare, which is hardly surprising as he was involved in the production of the magazine for a number of years. In the December 1964 he reviews the “Clyde Special” sea kayak. He describes it as “A first class attempt to make a sea boat that combines Eskimo qualities with adequate stowing space for sea touring.” At 17 feet 6 inches long and a 20 inch beam it was good value at £28!
The double version of this kayak was used in a significant journey which was described in the September 1965 edition;

“In June this year, Scottish canoeists Hamish Gow and his wife Anne, made the first crossing from North Uist to St Kilda, some 54 miles out into the Atlantic. Using a Clyde double fitted with a sail, they took 14 hours to reach Boreray, a cliff bound island where it was impossible to land. Because of fog and approaching night, they decided to shelter off the 1,000 foot cliffs until morning. Anne slept in her sleeping bag while Hamish kept the canoe upright, but at midnight Hirta became visible, and they set off to paddle the remaining 5 miles, arriving at 2 a.m. Congratulations on a fine achievement.”

Those few lines describe one of the finest sea kayaking trips of recent years.

Chris Hare continued to maintain a position at the forefront of sea kayaking. His description of a trip along the Northumberland coast in 1965 contains the first mention of a paddler who was to have a significant impact on sea kayaking throughout the world, a certain Derek Hutchinson.
Chris Hare also paddled on the west coast of Greenland although this trip was not without its controversy. In the June 1966 Canoeing in Britain he states one of his objectives on his return was to set up British seal hunting groups working around the coasts of Britain using the knowledge and techniques gathered at Igdlorssuit. His article concludes “So if any reader fancies a crack at seal hunting or any other kind of kayak hunting off the west coast of Scotland …..” This particular article not surprisingly, generated a heated response.
The issue of the magazine also contained information that a certain Frank Goodman had just passed his BCU Senior Instructor award. This was the original Level 3 Coach.
What is interesting is how many names that are well known in sea kayaking circles first came to prominence in the 1960’s. Derek Hutchinson and Frank Goodman have already been mentioned but Alistair Wilson, of Lendal paddles, was very active in the racing scene including the 1964 Olympics. Duncan Winning, who was at last year’s Jersey Sea Kayak Symposium was already involved in the administration of the sport as well as being involved in slaloms in the early 1960’s and contributing letters on kayak design.

Keep an eye open on e bay for other historical documents. They make fascinating reading.