I was surprised to discover that the River Tay, in terms of volume of discharge, contains more fresh water than any other river in the United Kingdom. It shouldn’t have come as a shock as it has a catchment area of nearly 2,000 square miles, much of it mountainous. Downstream of Perth the river becomes tidal and it was this stretch of the river that we explored on Sunday morning.
The morning dawned damp and overcast. But we were keen to get on the water when we met in the small village of Newburgh, which is on the south shore of the River Tay. The tide had just turned and the plan was to use the ebb tide to carry us in the direction of Dundee and the famous bridges.
It was a journey of 11 nautical miles, a distance which slipped quickly past but didn’t seem to require too much effort. The tide seemed to be doing most of the work. I was surprised to see a number of seals. One in particular seemed to be enjoying his morning break, feeding on rather a large fish and in no hurry to move out of our way.
Coming from Jersey, I enjoyed paddling past relatively long stretches of wooded shoreline. An environment which is relatively rare on the island. The sight of deer running through the fields or walking along the shore was an added bonus.
The dominant feature of the paddle though was the Tay Railway Bridge. The original bridge was opened to railway traffic on the 1st June 1878. On the evening of the 28th December 1879 a violent gale was blowing. At 7.13 pm a train headed across the bridge but disappeared in the darkness. The exact number of people who died isn’t known but thought to be 74 or 75.
The events of that evening were described in the poem by Willaim McGonagall, “The Tay Bridge Disaster.” I remembering studying it for English A Level at school. So bad that it was shown to us as an example of how not to write poetry.
Paddling under the new bridge and seeing the remains of the old bridge, one couldn’t help but reflect on the events of that night, 150 years ago. It was a fitting place to complete our Sunday paddle on the River Tay. Thanks once again to the enthusiasm and knowledge of Piotr, the owner of Outdoor Explore.
Following the pattern of kayaking in cities, on Friday evening it was the turn of one of Scotland’s newest city, Perth. A quick search produced a number of options but we were really successful in that we selected Outdoor Explore, a relatively small company based in eastern Scotland.
We met the owner Piotr at The Willowgate, just downstream from Perth on the River Tay. Whilst we were waiting for Piotr, an osprey flew past, which we took as a positive sign. As soon as Piotr arrived we unloaded kayaks, added the final items of kit and in what seemed like a few minutes were ready to launch.
The plan was launch and head upstream towards Perth in the hope that we would see some of the beavers, that have come to call this stretch of water home. Sadly we didn’t see the beavers although we saw plenty of evidence of their activity. We did see plenty of other things though, which would attract the attention of kayak tourists.
Piotr was so much more than a coach, he was a passionate leader, his enthusiasm and knowledge about the river and its surroundings was infectious. Our journey through Perth was so much more than a paddle. We did manage to push the current and we were able to get through the arches of the oldest bridge to span the river, the return journey was so much easier!
The biggest surprise of the trip was that we were on the water for over two and a half hours, we only really noticed how long we had been out when it went dark! We didn’t paddle that far but what we saw and heard was fascinating and all within the boundaries of what is know as “The Fair City”, thanks to Sir Walter Scott and the publication of his book “The Fair Maid of Perth in 1828.
Gothenburg is somewhere I hadn’t really considered visiting but when there were cheap flights available back to London on British Airways, it seemed like to good an opportunity to miss. Whilst in the Swedish city it was a great opportunity to get in some kayaking so I booked a two hour rental with Point65, before we left Jersey.
It was just our luck that on the morning concerned there was virtually total cloud cover, for what seemed like the first time in weeks. It didn’t detract from the paddling but meant that the photographs weren’t quite as dramatic as we hoped for.
The Point65 centre was on the water front, easily reached on foot, from the Central Railway station area through the Nordstan shopping centre and an elevated walk way.
If in doubt look for the largest sailing ship you have probably ever seen, the Barken Viking, which is slightly upstream from the Opera House, and should see the racks of kayaks.
We were quickly changed and ready to go. The staff were friendly and in contrast to so many rental locations, we were offered spray decks, without having to ask. On the dockside we were also offered a choice of kayaks, shorter and more stable, longer and with a rudder or even a sea kayak without a rudder. Without hesitation we settled for the latter.
Soon we were turning west from the marina into the main harbour, looking for the entrance to the canal network. On the way we passed a number of ships, including a submarine, which were clearly part of the maritime museum. We were looking for the entrance to the Gota Canal
Paddling through the centre of a large city is always enjoyable, offering a totally different perspective on an urban area, whilst proving to be an item of interest to the pedestrians on the bridges or canal side walks. The distinctive thing about the canal in Gothenburg was just how low most of the bridges were, it set me wandering if the waterway was still navigable. It was quite a surprise therefore to have a tourist boat, the Paddan tour boats, appear around a corner. A knowledge of the rules of the road is vital when kayaking in such restricted waters.
Possibly the most unusual aspect of our paddle around the city was the need to press a button to change the traffic lights. Construction of a new bridge was underway and there was a button, which it was necessary to press to obtain the green light to proceed. This was certainly a novel experience for me.
We entered the main harbour and although it was literally a couple of hundred metres back we decided to return the way we had come. The canal route was probably six or seven times longer and certainly more interesting. Once you have seen one large car ferry in the distance you have seen them all, as far as I am concerned.
Sadly we didn’t get to press the traffic light button this time, one of the tourist boats was heading in the same direction as us and the lights had already been changed, so we just tucked in behind.
On the return journey we did see “John Scotts Brewery” though. Probably my main paddling partner in the 1980’s and early 90’s was Peter Scott, whose dad is John Scott. We felt it only appropriate to go and have a pint in honour of Pete’s dad in his namesakes pub! A great way to celebrate a lovely mornings paddle.
An evening in Sark is always memorable, we had a superb meal on the terrace at Stock’s Hotel and spent some time taking advantage of the Dark Sky Island status. Staring of the night sky was very productive, shooting stars, satellites and aircraft passing overhead against the backdrop of countless stars. We couldn’t spend too long looking at the night sky though, as our return from Sark the following morning, back to Jersey required quite an early start.
The morning dawned with perfect conditions for kayaking and just after 8.00 we were heading down to Dixcart Bay to pack the kayaks and get on the water. Although a weekend visit to Sark is enjoyable, 3 days is much better. A day to paddle up, a day to paddle around the island and a day to return from Sark. The coastal waters are some of the most dramatic to be encountered anywhere.
This weekend we were only going to be able to explore a short section of the south east coast before we had to turn south and catch the tide back to Jersey. The accepted wisdom has always been to paddle to Sark on spring tides, whilst this weekend they were neap tides. In reality both crossings seemed to pass remarkably easily. The 12 nautical mile return from Sark was paddled in 2 hours 50 minutes, which is a pretty respectable time, perhaps we need to rethink, which tides we select for paddling on when we visit our nearest inhabited neighbour.
In the middle of last week the weather forecast was certainly indicating that a kayaking visit to Sark in July, was a definite possibility. In fact, the forecast only improved as time went on, so on Saturday morning at 11.00 we were busy packing our kayaks at L’Etacq in preparation for the 12 nautical mile crossing.
The tide had just started to flow in a northerly direction and we used this flow to speed our departure from Jersey. Crossings of this length are all about preparation. Tidal vectors drawn in advance, key locations and times identified, followed by constant monitoring whilst on the water.
There was plenty of other boat traffic around, Channel 82, which is the reporting channel for Jersey Coastguard, was continually in use as local and visiting boat owners were taking advantage of the superb weather. Although we were crossing a shipping lane we only encountered one large vessel, we did have to adjust our bearing to avoid a potential near miss with the ship. This slight adjustment to our course, did cost us some time but we were really pleased with the 3 hours that the crossing took.
Sark is a truly superb sea kayaking destination, and a circumnavigation is a superb way to spend a day but this visit didn’t have enough time to explore the Island. So it was a matter of sorting the equipment out on the beach, heading to the campsite before making the most of water Sark has to offer. A meal had been booked at Stocks Hotel, and as usual we were not disappointed.
A great day but an early start was required the next morning to catch the flood tide home.
I have written in previous posts how much I enjoy the opportunity to paddle around a city. Gaining a totally different perspective to that gained by those visitors who restrict themselves to dry land activities. Recently we had the opportunity to paddle around Copenhagen.
I must admit that I was slightly apprehensive as it was the first time that I had been in a closed cockpit kayak since I ruptured my achilles at the beginning of April. Fortunately we were in a double kayak, which meant that it had a relatively large cockpit and if started to feel rather tired I had Nicky as an extra engine.
We booked our tour with Kayak Republic, who are conveniently located in the centre of Copenhagen. We we were quite a large and diverse group who headed away from the dock side at the kayak rental store. It was also clear that there was a broad spectrum of ability, but most soon slipped confidently in a paddling rhythm.
It wasn’t a particularly long paddle but it did add an extra dimension to our visit to Copenhagen, which was to actually see Paul Simon, in concert, on his farewell tour but that’s another story.
5th April 2018 is etched in my memory as the day that I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon, whilst kayaking in Gozo. It has been a difficult and at times frustrating 3 months but today I felt I made a significant step forward on the road to recovery. For the first time I went to the gym.
Although I wouldn’t place myself in the category of a gym fanatic I must admit that when the opportunity arises I do enjoy spending an hour or so in the gym, listening to some music and working up a sweat on some of the cardio- vascular machines.
My machine of choice has always been the Concept 2 rowing machine, for a couple of reasons. Firstly it seems to be the most suitable machine for maintaining my kayaking fitness and secondly it seems to give you an all round work out , without any significant impact on the body.
I started off gently on the bike and then the cross trainer, all seemed to be going well. So I thought I would try the rowing machine, managed one pull before having to get off, it might be some time until I get back on the Concept 2. The long road back to fitness might be slow and bumpy.
The gym I go to, the D-W Gym, must have one of the best views of any. Looking across St Brelade’s Bay to Pt Le Fret, the scene of some great sea kayaking in the past and hopefully in the future, once my leg has recovered.
The next waymark on my route a degree of normality will be when I manage to get in a kayak, that day may still be some time off, but you never know.
After a wet night and voracious insects we woke to a beautiful morning and a high tide, meaning we could launch without the problems we faced landing the previous day. It was a real shock how far the tide went out.
We headed south from the bay before rounding Indian Point and heading into Sheepscot Bay, were we began to feel the swells rolling in from the south east. There were a couple of areas, where boomers required attention with our route finding. As we paddled north though the swells subsided and soon we were inside the shelter of Five Islands.
It was here that we really began to appreciate one of the pleasures of sea kayaking in Maine, stopping off for a lobster lunch and a glass of Allagash Blond before carrying onto the evenings campsite. We stopped of at Five Island Lobster Co. and ate a delightful lunch on the outdoor terrace.
The afternoon paddle to Whittum Island, where we aimed to camp for the night, easily passed by, fueled by lobster and soon we were putting up the tent on our island home. It was a great place to sit and watch the tides swirl as the Sheepscot River went through its daily cycle. The most obvious other residents were the ospreys, so we maintained our distance from the area around their nest.
The following morning was another incredibly early start, those fishing boats really are noisy! We ferry glided across the ebb tide before passing through Townsend Gut, a sheltered passage, which avoids paddling around some of the larger headlands. Heading east we had to be aware of the significant boat traffic which was operating in the area of Boothbay Harbor. A couple of headlands, including Pemaquid Point, demand respect, particularly if the sea is anything but flat calm.
What was particularly interesting about the mornings paddle was that there was virtually nowhere to stop. We eventually paddled all the way to Bar Island, where we were going to spend the night, 16 nautical miles and very few places to land. In contrast to virtually everywhere else I have paddled it is not possible to just land wherever you want. Parts of this coast was kayaking through some very exclusive suburbs. Lunch and rest stops require planning in advance.
Bar Island was a lovely place to stay, with a couple of wooden tent platforms, we spent the afternoon and evening exploring our island home. The following morning some stewards form the MITA turned up and it was great to have the opportunity to discuss the Trail, with them and they very kindly took our rubbish away.
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.
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.