Sea Kayaking Books

One of the things I have at the moment is time (ruptured achilles) so I am able to consider complete a few projects.  Something that I have been thinking about  is sea kayaking books.  Mainly, which ones have been influential over the years both in terms of coaching and the general evolution of the sport.

A substantial body of paddling literature has evolved over the last 170 years, with a wide range of books covering broad spectrum of topics. The last 40 years has seen a proliferation of sea kayaking books, offering both advice on skills and coaching, plus those describing journeys, many of which, provide inspiration.  I think that the selection of books below are all worth seeking out, giving an insight into how our sport has developed over the years.
Some of the key writers in the U.K. included Alan Byde and Derek Hutchinson. I remember seeing “Living Canoeing” by Alan Byde for the first time.  Published in 1969 there is the classic photograph of Mike Ramsay vertical at Hambledon Weir, I sat there staring at it as a 13 year old wondering how on earth the paddler got into that position. This is a book which provided inspiration to a generation of paddlers, both sea kayakers and white water paddlers.

Sea kayaking books

For me the next big development was the publication of Derek Hutchinson’s book “Sea Canoeing”. I had seen it advertised in Canoeing in Britain, the BCU magazine of the time and couldn’t wait for mine to arrive in the post. There was no way that the local bookshops were going to stock such a specialist title in 1976.  My copy was signed some years later by Derek and I feel fortunate that I got to know him.  For me one of the most significant aspects of the book were the photographs, they showed just where it was possible to take sea kayaks and they encouraged us to start to explore further afield.

Sea Canoeing

“The Book of Canoeing” by Alex Ellis, first published in 1935 has 7 pages devoted to sea kayaking.  He states:

“Paddle technique could be described in detail, but it is doubtful if a theoretical description would be of any great value.  It has to be acquired gradually by actual practice.”

Although this is 80 years old it remains very sensible advice. There are no real shortcuts to competence with a paddle and a kayak.  The author mentions two paddles, which he thinks are suitable for sea canoeing.
1.) Fort William to Largs
2.) South West Ireland
Paddles which 80 years on would still be seen as significant achievements.

Sea kayaking books

“Kayak to Cape Wrath” by J. Lewis Henderson.  I am not sure to the exact date of publication buy my copy has a dedication in the front, dated Christmas 1953.  A journey from Fort William to Cape Wrath along the west coast and then a crossing of northern Scotland, via a line of lochs, to finish on the east coast at Lairg.  A significant journey undertaken over several summers.  It is a journey, which, an self respecting sea kayaker would be pleased to complete today.  Joe Reid was clearly an accomplished paddler in several areas as he was in the K2 1000m event at the 1948 Olympics.

Sea kayaking books

“The Canoeing Manual” by Noel McNaught.  First published in 1956, includes a whole chapter on crossing the English Channel, something which some paddlers still aspire towards but is actually discouraged because of the shipping hazards.

Sea kayaking books

“Vikings, Scots and Scraelings” by Myrtle Simpson, published in 1977 was the first book I read about kayaking in Greenland and it fired my imagination, encouraging me to consider heading north in pursuit of sea kayaking heaven.

Sea kayaking books

“Paddling my Own Canoe” by Audrey Sutherland from 1978.  Her initial paddling was in a nine foot inflatable canoe but she started her explorations by swimming the coast of north east Molokai.  She went on to paddle in several areas of the world providing inspiration to, particularly, a more elderly generation of paddlers.

Sea kayaking books

“Scottish Sea Kayaking” by Doug Cooper and George Reid published in 2005. In many ways this was the first of a new generation of sea kayaking guides, in full colour and full of useful information about a whole range of topics. Pesda Press have gone on to publish a whole range of sea kayaking guides, covering most of the British Isles

Sea kayaking books

So that’s my personal selection of sea kayaking books, which are worth seeking out.  There is no doubt in my mind that if was to write this piece in a couple of weeks time some of the titles would have changed.

North to Athabasca

Athabasca

In the summer of 2000 I took a group of young people from Jersey to paddle the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in northern Maine.  I remember sitting on the shore of one of the lakes watching a float plane come into land and drop off a solo paddler.  I made a note in my journal to the effect on the 23rd June.  Several years later I came across a book “Canoe Trip” by David Curran, in which he describes his solo trip down the Allagash after having been dropped off on Umsaskis Lake on the 23rd  June 2000.  Although we were clearly on the river at the same time, apart from that distant view I have no recollection of seeing a solo paddler again on that trip.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, so was pleased when towards the end of last year I came across a second book by the same author, “North to Athabasca”.  Once I sat down to read the book at the end of last week I quickly became  hooked and finished it in a couple of days.  With his friend Walter they decide to paddle a river, significantly more challenging than the Allagash.  Flying north into Saskatchewan their aim was to paddle the MacFarlane River, a rarely paddled river which flows into Lake Athabasca.
Actually getting to the launch site was a major undertaking and once on the river they were effectively in their own, although as is the case with many remote trips today they did carry a satellite phone.
The river flows through a pristine wilderness with all the challenges that traveling through such an area entails.  Through David’s writing we gain a flavour of what they experienced, ranging from the wildlife encountered to the physical challenges involved in paddling in the Canadian north.  They were clearly at home in such an area but I do have to say that I questioned their behaviour with one particular bear, if it had been me I would have been paddling flat out in the opposite direction.
At the end of the book, besides thinking I would always take a GPS with me, my overall feeling was one of envy.
It has been nearly 15 years since I last did a long canoe trip and reading “North to Athabasca” made me realize that it has been too long.  It is an easy book to read, the ideal scenario would be on an aircraft en route to a paddling trip.
Just be prepared to start planning your own adventures.

The A – Z of Sea Kayaking. An update.

A-Z of Sea Kayaking

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.

Tide, Feather, Snow

In 1998 I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks kayaking in Alaska, I remember being particularly excited as it was the first sea kayaking trip away that I had organized completely via the internet.
We flew into Homer, chartered a boat to take us out and spent 3 weeks paddling back in to Homer.  It was a scenically spectacular area with great wildlife and we were lucky that for the first 10 days we didn’t experience any of the rain for which the region is famous.

Alaska
This is the view across Kachemak Bay towards the Kenai Fjords National Park. It was taken at the end of our trip to the State and there were already indications that winter was approaching

I came across the book “Tide, Feather, Snow” by Miranda Weiss towards the end of last year.  It describes the life of somebody who moves to Alaska and lives in Homer.  The book describes the Homer that we knew, I recognized the descriptions of the town, of the bars and some of the towns characters, reading it brought back some great memories of that summer at the end of the 1990’s.
It is a delightful read which reflects on the challenges of living in the largest State.  Anybody who has an interest in the north or has been to Alaska will really enjoy this book by Miranda Weiss.

Tide, Feather, Snow